The disciples were expecting Jesus to conquer the Romans and install Himself as King. To their minds, the Messiah would be the conquering King. The predictions by Jesus of His death were not heeded. When He did die, they were totally unprepared.
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As Pastor and author Don Stewart affirms in the above quote, the disciples saw Jesus as a conquering Messiah who would rescue Israel from the Romans. Their hopes were dashed after they saw Jesus arrested, tried, beaten, crucified, and buried. It was over. Jesus was dead.
No disrespect is intended here, I assure you. In describing the certainty of Jesus’ death, it seems appropriate to borrow from Charles Dickens. “Yes, Jesus was dead. Dead as a door-nail. There was no doubt whatever about that!”
Jesus’ followers, however, were in for a huge Easter surprise! Jesus had died on a Passover Friday. Following the Passover, early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene made her way to Jesus’ burial cave and found it empty. Right away she went to Peter and John and told them someone or a group of people — “they” — had removed Jesus body, and she didn’t know where they’d put it.
20 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (John 20:1-2).
Doubtlessly curious, the two disciples went to the tomb themselves to see if they could figure out what had happened. What they would see would change their lives forever!
3 Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. 4 So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. 5 And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went away again to their own homes (John 20:3-10).
John’s account rings with simplicity, and at the same time, authenticity. Here is an eyewitness simply relating what he actually had experienced. Peter and John started to make their way to the burial site. In their excitement and curiosity, they “ran together,” but soon John outran Peter, so he was the first to arrive. John, “stooping down and looking in,” saw Jesus’ grave clothes but didn’t venture in. Peter then arrived and went in. Inside, Peter “saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around his head.” The “handkerchief”—the “cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head” (NIV)—was separate from the rest of the linen cloths, “folded together in a place by itself.” At this point, John also entered, and “saw and believed.” Peter and John did not yet fully understand all that had occurred; verse 9 tells us that “as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.” Even so, this was a pivotal moment for these two close followers of Jesus in terms of their understanding and in terms of their commitment to the One who had taught and mentored them for three years.
Knowing About Burial Preparations Helps Us Understand What Peter and John Saw
Let’s rewind in our minds the events of the previous few days to Friday afternoon when Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. John 19:38-42 says that after Jesus had died on the cross and had been confirmed dead,
Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. 40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.
According to Jewish custom of that day, no less than two persons were needed to prepare a body for burial. The body was washed thoroughly with lukewarm water. Those involved in the preparation made sure the mouth of the corpse was covered so that none of the water would get inside.2
After they had washed the body, those working on it prepared the burial spices. In Jesus’ case, probably 75 to 100 pounds of aromatic spices were used; we see in verse 39 that Nicodemus had brought with him “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” Myrrh, a gummy substance, was blended together with the spices and aloes—fragrant wood that had been pounded into dust particles. The preparers then wrapped the body in linen cloths that women had sewn together without using a knot a single time. A minimum of three linen garments had to be used.3
Beginning at the feet and moving toward the head, the preparers wrapped the body in the linen cloths, placing the myrrh and spices between the folds as they worked. They wrapped the body in this fashion from the feet to the armpits; then, with the deceased’s arms placed alongside the wrapped torso, preparers enveloped the arms in the linen and spices as well. They continued this process all the way up to the neck. For the head, they used an additional, separate cloth. What was the total weight of the encasement for an adult? Typically, about 117 to 120 pounds.4
Encasement is an appropriate word to use here, because that’s just what it was. The myrrh and spices placed between the linen cloths hardened. The grave clothes, therefore, did not consist of loose material but became a shell snugly surrounding the deceased individual.5
Back to the Tomb
Now, return to the tomb in your mind. Do you now see why Peter and John were blown away? What an Easter surprise this was! These disciples didn’t see the linen material that had enveloped Jesus’ body wadded up into a heap or otherwise loosely placed. Nor did they see the grave clothes neatly folded and resting where Jesus’ body had been situated after it was brought into the tomb; although, as the Scripture indicates, the headpiece was “folded together in a place by itself.” The “linen cloths lying there”—the grave clothes that had surrounded Jesus’ body—now were an empty shell made of linen and hardened myrrh.6
Here was proof positive that no one had taken Jesus’ body. Had anyone or any group of people stolen it, they would have had to carry out the grave clothes with it! Otherwise, they would have had to cut open the encasement and pry the body loose—something they would have had neither the time nor the resources to do.
The hollow encasement lay there, intact. No rips, tears, or cuts! Even though Peter and John didn’t yet understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead, they knew that something supernatural had happened.
John testified that he “saw and believed.” No wonder!
And this was just the beginning. As Luke later would write, Jesus “also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them [the apostles] during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
Jesus is risen, indeed!
Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.
1Don Stewart, You Be the Judge, (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1983), 71.
2Josh and Sean McDowell, Evidence for the Resurrection, (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), 174.
3,4,5McDowell and McDowell, 175
6McDowell and McDowell, 194.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Scripture passage marked NIV has been taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.