We can clearly see the order of the developments of the earliest post-crucifixion tales. At least we can see the order of the first three. They are 1) John: 21.2-21.5, 2) Mark: 16.1-8 and 3) Matthew: 28:16-20. I will argue for this. Afterward, as a corollary hypothesis, I will propose an interpretation of John 21.2-25, wherein Jesus, as a ghost, leads Peter to his death and the writer reveals him/herself as the disciple whom Jesus loved and also the disciple who betrayed Jesus.
We have three Galilee-based tales: the short ending of Mark (16.1-8), Matthew 28:16, and John 21.2-24. I will argue that the Galilee tales predate the Jerusalem tales and that we can order the three tales as 1) John (21.2-25), 2) Mark (16.1-8,) and 3) Matthew (28:16).
Here is Mark 16.1-8:
6.1And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salo’me, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 16.2And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. 16.3And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” 16.4And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; –it was very large. 16.5And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. 16.6And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. 16.7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” 16.8And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.
We may take it that the writer was not aware of any Jerusalem resurrection tales. The disciples and Peter are being told that Jesus is going to Galilee and you will see him, as he told you.” If the author was aware of any of the Jerusalem resurrection tales, she would be directly contradicting them. Worse she would making Jesus out to be a liar. He apparently already told the disciples before his death that he would be going to Galilee and he would meet them there. If the writer knew about the Jerusalem resurrection tales, she would have had to add something to explain why Jesus ends up meeting the disciples in Jerusalem. She would have had to say something like, “Some folks are telling false stories about me meeting you in Jerusalem, don’t listen to them. I’ll only meet you in Galilee.”
Logically, the Short Ending of Mark presupposes the writer knew of no Jerusalem resurrection tale.
Luke is going to change the Short Ending of Mark:
24.5 and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 24.6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 24.7 that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” 24.8 And they remembered his words, 24.9 and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
Luke agrees that there was a message that Jesus gave to the disciples of Galilee, but the message wasn’t that he was going to meet them there after death, but the non-specific message that he was going to be crucified and rise on the third day. Luke simply erases the specific message and gives a pointless dogmatic slogan. If Jesus is going to meet them in Jerusalem in a few hours as Luke portrays, the disciples will see that he has risen on the third day. Why state the obvious? There is no reason for the women to tell the men this. It is an empty message. It is the equivalent of sending an email, saying I told you I am going to send you an email and I am now sending you one, so look in your email box for it now. The design of Luke is not to replace the clear message of Mark with another message, but to erase the “see you in Galilee,” message of Mark. He just covers it with an advertisement slogan: Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.
Once we establish that the Short Ending of the Mark Galilee tale comes before the Jerusalem tales, we can ask how it stands in relation to Matthew 28.16-20.
28.16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them 28.17 And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted 28.18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 28.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 28.20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
The important thing to notice here is that it occurs on a Mountain. The Mark tale doesn’t say anything about a mountain. If Mark was going to have this scene take place on a mountain, we have expected him to say so. He would have written, “he is going before you to Galilee; to the Mountain. There you will see him, as he told you” Rather then erasing Mark Galilee trip, as Luke does, Matthew is fulfilling it. However, he too is just adding the advertisement to go forth and baptize. He is not writing an actual scene with interaction between the apostles and Jesus.
We can be reasonably certain that the Shorter Ending of Mark predates Matthew 28:16-20.
What about the Shorter Ending of Mark versus John (21.2-25)
21.2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 21.3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing. 21.4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 21.5 Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 21.6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. 21.7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. 21.8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. 21.9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. 21.10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 21.11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. 21.12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 21.13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 21.14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
21.15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 21.16 A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 21.17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 21.18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” 21.19 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.”
21.20 Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21.21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 21.22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” 21.23 The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” 21.24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. 21.25 But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
This appears to fulfill Mark in that the disciples are meeting Jesus in Galilee. However, the disciples did not recognize Jesus. Why? If he had told them they were going to meet, and the disciples go to the meeting place, we should expect that they would immediately recognize him. Rather, we see that this is not a pre-arranged meeting. In his short ending, Mark is actually trying to explain John 21.4 “Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” Mark explains this because the women at the tomb were too afraid to tell their message about meeting Jesus. The disciples never got the message and that is why the disciples did not recognize Jesus. The writer of the Mark Shorter Ending must have known about this ending in John. This ending in John is quite ambiguous. Is it really Jesus? Why are the disciples unsure? The writer of Mark is actually having his angel in the tomb testify that this really is Jesus.
Thus, we can say that the Shorter Ending of Mark presupposes and reacts to the Final Galilee ending of John. Thus we have the following order of the Galilee endings:
1) John: 21.2-21.5
2) Mark: 16.1-8
3) Matthew: 28.16-20
The Luke-Acts resurrection appearances and the two Jerusalem endings of John are later.
As a side note, I should mention that one line, ( 21.14) “ This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead,” is a later addition to this passage, added after two Jerusalem appearances were put in.
If this is correct, this totally unexpected meeting in Galilee, is the first post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. He is not portrayed as resurrected, but simply as a ghost.
What we have is not a resurrection story, but a good old-fashioned ghost story, which predates the burial and empty tomb story. The original gospel, we can assume ended with the pronouncement by the Roman Soldier Mark 15.39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!
Second Hypothesis: Jesus is leading Peter to His Death as Punishment for Denying Him and Allowing the Disciple who betrayed Jesus to continue living
We can now make a corollary proposition if this is the case, Jesus is actually taking Peter away to die in this tale. Notice:
21.20 Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21.21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 21.22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” 21.23 The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
The idea that the man was not following Jesus and therefore not going to die could only come about if we see that the text is really showing Jesus leading Peter to his death. By following Jesus, Peter is going to die. By not following Jesus the beloved disciple is going to live (not eternally, but a long time). When Jesus tells Peter to “Feed my sheep,” he is saying that “I am taking you to death with me, do not be afraid, your death will feed my sheep.”
The betrayal is recalled in the text, ‘(21.20) Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” ‘We may suppose that in the original version the beloved disciple betrays Jesus. Jesus is here getting his revenge on Peter for denying him. Peter wonders why the betrayer isn’t going to die along with himself. Jesus just tells him to mind his own business. Jesus is angry because he still loves the man who betrayed him and cannot bare to put him to death as he is doing to Peter.
An alternative possibility is that the beloved/betraying disciple is actually Mary Magdalene. The fact that the identity is hidden and the talk of lying close to a breast, strongly suggest this.
The writer is telling us a great deal in this ending. He/she is very old, but not immortal as some people think. He was the disciple whom Jesus loved and the disciple who betrayed Jesus. The fact that the writer is describing himself as someone who betrayed Jesus is designed to give the story more veracity.
We may say that the original gospel concluded with this fantastic ghost story, as good as anything written by Edgar Allan Poe. The resurrection stories did not improve it, but added different dimensions to it.