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WHAT DID JOHN SEE
WHAT DID JOHN SEE IN JESUS’ TOMB–THAT MADE HIM FIRST TO BELIEVE?
The key to this entire account is the unfolding sight that these two witnesses capture for us. They did not immediately get it. The immensity of what had happened dawned upon them in stages as their minds processed what their eyes were seeing. First off, there are three distinct Greek words used in these verses for the English word “saw”. When John then entered the tomb he looked at the evidence. Later under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he recounts what he did by using three different Greek words for seeing.
• In John 20:5, the verb simply means “to glance in, to look in.”
• In John 20:6, the word means “to look carefully, to observe.”
• The word “saw” in John 20:8 means “to perceive with intelligent comprehension.” Their Resurrection faith was now dawning!
“Then something else struck him—the grave-clothes were not disheveled and disarranged. They were lying there still in their folds—that is what the Greek means—the clothes for the body where the body had been; the napkin where the head had lain. It was Mary, who loved Jesus so much, who was first at the tomb. It was John, the disciple whom Jesus loved and who loved Jesus, who was first to believe in the Resurrection.”
What, then, did he see? A century ago Henry Latham , a scholar from Cambridge University, wrote a classic describing the details of this scene. According to Jewish burial customs, after a hurried trip under Nicodemus and Joseph’s care Jesus’ body was wrapped in linen bandage strips. First, the hands were tied at the wrist and then each arm and then each leg and then the torso were tightly wrapped with spices sprinkled into the cloth as it was tightened. A separate length of cloth was used to bind His head. Often that head bandage was over the top of the head and under the jaw to keep the mouth closed. It was also customary for them to leave His face and neck unwrapped and left bare. This was done outside the tomb. Then they would have carried Him into the tomb on a stretcher made of woven strands. Once inside they would have laid His tightly wrapped and spiced body down on the stone floor or a carved shelf, with His face turned up, and His hands folded on the chest. There His body was left and the stone was rolled in place, and later sealed.
It was this absence of movement that marks the empty tomb. Nothing had moved except the body. And that was the impossible element. To get a body out of those tight wrappings with no spilled spice, no twisted strips, no sign of any disturbance—that was what struck John to the heart. That is what he saw and believed. Jesus was supernaturally raised up out of the bandages of death, the strips caked with all the evidence of burial.
“When Jesus rose He experienced a resurrection, not a resuscitation. He did not begin to move, and then yawn and stretch and get up and return to His former life. We should not think that angels came and unwrapped the grave clothes and folded them in neat piles. No, had we been there we would have seen the body simply disappear. It passed through the grave clothes as it would later pass through closed doors (John 20:19, 26). Once the support of the body had been removed, the clothes would have collapsed under the 100 pounds of spices and would be lying flat. The napkin that had surrounded His head lay in a place by itself, i.e., separated from the grave clothes by the space where Jesus face and neck had been. Not being weighted down with spices, it retained its concave shape even though no head was now inside it. In short, John believed (John 20:8) because he saw that the grave clothes were undisturbed—the Lord had withdrawn without disturbing their arrangement. This entire study was found in the Emmaus Journal.”
The reason that God had the angel at the empty tomb say what he said was to lead the disciples to enter in and witness the undisturbed body wrappings. Those wrappings were the ultimate witness. They were still tightly wound, interspersed with spices and resin. They still were exactly spaced where Christ’s body had been laid. The body wrappings and then the head wrappings exactly in the spot they had been on the day that Joseph and Nicodemus laid Him lovingly into the tomb. They silhouetted the form of Christ but were empty. Unmoved, undisturbed, unshaken, untouched—they silently shouted.
The truth was so clear that even an unlettered fisherman knew—Christ’s body has come up through those strips without moving them. Those linen strips settled down and rested on the cold stone of that borrowed tomb as an indisputable witness that He had died, He had been buried, He had been left in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights, and now with no human help—He has risen up out and through and beyond anything known on earth. He had risen indeed.