While the four gospels contain similar characteristics in regard to the Resurrection Narrative, there are also many differences, differences which reflect their own particular theological purpose. There are some facts that are common to most if not all of the resurrection stories. In all the stories, angels or angel-like men announce the resurrection (Jn 20:12, Lk 24:4, Mt 28:2, Mk 16:5), though in John there is a difference in that the angels appear to Peter and not to the women as in the other three. This is in continuity with the angelic announcements of Christ’s conception or birth found in Matthew and Luke (Mt 1:20, Lk 1:19, 28, Lk 2:9). In each, one or more of the women report the resurrection (Mt 28:8, Mk 16:10, Lk 24:9, Jn 20:2). This can be seen as a continuation of the emphasis on spreading the gospel as taught in the gospels themselves. (Jn 20:21, Lk 2:29-32, Mt. 5:16, Mk 15:15-16) It is also particularly important given the place of women at this time. In each of the gospels, Jesus appeared to the apostles (Lk 24:33, Mk 16:14, Mt 28:17, Jn 20:19). And in each, one or more people did not believe. A difference here is in Matthew where the doubting is not prominent, taking only half a sentence (Mt 28:17b). In addition to this, the chief priests conspired to cause the public to disbelieve (Mt 28:11-15). With the exception of Matthew, Christ seems to suggest that the disciples should have known he would rise again (Lk 24:25, Mk 16:14, Jn 20:29). In Matthew and Mark Jesus tells the disciples to go be witnesses (Mk 16:15, Mt 28:19). This is not done in Luke because it is said before the ascension in Luke’s second book, Acts (Acts 1:8), and in John it was stated in the high priestly prayer (Jn 17:20). Though important to the Christian faith, the ascension only occurs in two gospels (Mk 16:19, Lk 24:51). It could have been left out of John because of the confirmation by Christ that he would go to be with the Father in the high priestly prayer (Jn 17:11, 13). Matthew gives us an open ending with the disciples and Christ standing simply on a hill (Mt 28:16-20), the ascension perhaps left out for the sake of brevity.
Some of the differences in the gospel account are due to the particular theological attitudes of the gospel writers. For example, the story of the placing of the guards at the tomb and the bribing of them after the resurrection (Mt 28:11-15) could be part of Matthew’s attempt to counter contemporary Jewish claims. Matthew appears to have been written for former Jews who were possibly living in a largely Jewish environment. In Mark, there is an emphasis on the miracles of Jesus to prove that he is the Son of God. After the resurrection, Jesus says that miracles would be done by those who believed and they would be done “in my name,” (Mk 16:17) as a continuation of the miracles done by Christ. Writing for a mixed audience and being a Gentile himself, Luke wanted to show other Gentile Christians that their faith was rooted in the Old Testament. That is why he adds the story of the road to Emmaus when Jesus explains why the crucifixion had to take place by using the Old Testament (Lk 24:27). John, with its theological emphasis, includes the instance where Thomas does not believe the resurrection, but when he sees Christ he is so convinced he can declare that Christ is his Lord and, more importantly, his God (20:28). It is also pointed out for the sake of the readers who will not have such an opportunity as Thomas that it is more blessed for them to believe despite not having seen the risen Christ (Jn 20:29).
The four gospel accounts provide a unified picture of the resurrection. Where they are the same, we can see what truths were important to the whole Christian community. Where they differ, we can see teachings that were important to their own communities.