ORS-20   WTB-33 

Who Moved the Stone?

John 20.1-15

Nothing in all the Bible compares to the drama of John 20. In these short verses we have the very heart of all we believe. Jesus Christ declared to be the Son of God – by the glorious power of the resurrection!


Join me at daybreak just outside Jerusalem.


It is Resurrection morning and we watch the scene at the tomb from the perspective of the God of Heaven and Earth—as He captures an incredible, inspired record of that moment. Each person, each event are captured as God wants us to see and remember them. Each of the following seven events are in exactly the order and emphasis that God wants you and me to have. His goal? Verse 31 of this chapter—so that we may believe His Word! If nothing else tonight remember that—God wants you to trust His Word!


First survey the scene with me and note the events of John 20. What were those 7 telltale proofs of Christ’s resurrection?  They are all in John 20, verses 1-15.


  1. A Stone Removed, four eyewitness accounts in the Gospels. They all agree! 1
  2. An Empty Tomb, v. 2 The Tomb was sealed and guarded. The Tomb is empty. Then and to this day no body has ever been found!
  3. An Absent Christ, v. 3. Neither friends nor foes took Him, but both find out that He is gone.
  4. An Undisturbed Pile of grave clothes in the shape of Jesus is now deflated, lying UNDISTURBED, v. 5. The abandoned Grave clothes silently shout.
  5. A Face Napkin which was tightly rolled up is still rolled as it was, v.7
  6. A Witness from two ANGELS, v. 12
  7. A Risen Christ giving Personal, Face-To-Face Meetings. It is JESUS, v. 15-18. Witnesses who saw Him alive. He Transformed the lives of His disciples. His Rising marked the New day of Worship for Christians.


Let’s just pause over each of them briefly —



John 20:1 Now 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.


Mark relates in chapter 16 the anxious concerns of the women because of the enormous size of the stone. They asked among themselves who would they get to help them roll the stone away.

Mark 16:1-4 Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large.


The stone that the disciples thought separated them from the body of their beloved Jesus was very large. But nothing was going to thwart God’s plan.

Matthew 28:1-4 Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.


God’s messenger, an angel tore open the tomb and sat there to guard the empty tomb so that the world would see through the eyes of Christ’s disciples—what God had done!


God confirmed the Tomb was empty, the work of salvation was done, the promise was kept, and His Word is true! Christ was alive and gone!




John 20:2a 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…”


Notice they were SHOCKED. Can you see how clear it was that they didn’t expect it. Also — in all history no one has ever claimed that He was there. Many false explanations have been offered—stolen, moved, resuscitated–but all end up the same. Jesus Christ’s body was not found in the tomb. In fact, for the first three centuries of the record of Christ’s Church there is an amazing absence of ANY reference to the tomb.


As soon as the dazed soldiers, petrified by fear, overwhelmed by just the sight of God’s glory reflected in that resurrection witnessing angel—came to themselves they fled to the chief enemies of Jesus. The only hope a Roman soldier had to preserve his life if he failed to keep his watch was the intervention of someone above him in power. So while the glorious news of Christ’s resurrection overflowed from the hearts of His own, Christ’s enemies were trying to hide the truth.


“The Roman seal had been broken, the stone had been rolled away, and the body was not in the tomb. For a Roman soldier to fail in his duty was an offense punishable by death (Acts 12:19; 16:27–28). But the soldiers were shrewd: They did not report to Pilate or to their superior officers; they reported to the Jewish chief priests. They knew that these men were as anxious to cover up the miracle as were the soldiers themselves! Between the chief priests, the elders, and the soldiers, they put together a story that would explain the empty tomb: The body was stolen.” [1]


Even the fabrications of the chief priests and soldiers to cover the truth prove Christ’s resurrection. If Christ’s body was gone either friends or foes had to have taken it. We know what Christ’s friends thought—they came to anoint a dead body. We know what Christ’s foes thought—they were boldly guarding that dead body to make sure no one got near enough to launch any hoax about Him rising. So neither group, friends nor foes, got near that body.


Almost as amazing as the event is the lie to cover it. To say that a band of disheartened, disillusioned disciples, hiding in fear could overpower an armed detachment of soldiers, run them all off in fear, break a Roman seal, extricate Christ’s body from its tightly wound wrappings and sneak off undetected and unseen? Yet that was what the soldiers said happened, because all they found when the angel rolled back the stone and scared then almost to death—was a pile of linen strips that had bound Christ’s body in that tomb.




John 20:2b 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.”


The clearest point of the event on Resurrection morning is this—His body was gone. Christ was absent, and those closest to Him, Christ’s inner circle—didn’t know where to look. So the stone was removed, the tomb was empty, and Jesus was absent—and neither the friends nor the foes had any idea where He was.


What is most amazing about Easter morning is the way those closest to Jesus had missed what He said so many times.

  • At the start of His ministry John records this promise of rising from the dead, John 2:19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
  • Jesus repeatedly sketched out the coming plan of God: death, burial, and resurrection! Matthew 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Matthew 20:19 and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.”
  • At Christ’s Last Supper Passover He promised that He would rise andf meet them where His ministry began—in Galilee. Matthew 26:32 But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”
  • It wasn’t just the disciples who began to remember that Christ’s promise was to rise the 3rd day, His enemies remembered it also. At the Cross the religious leaders mocked Him saying: Matthew 27:40 and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
  • The Chief Priests were so aware of His Word that they went to Pilate and quoted Christ’s words to him as their motivation for securing the tomb. Matthew 27:63-64 saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”
  • The angels also reminded them of Christ’s many promises, His words to them that they were to trust and obey. Luke 24:6-7 He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, 7 saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ ”
  • But it wasn’t until after Christ’s resurrection, that His disciples remembered that He had said He would rise. Then the desired effect resulted–it caused them to realize that His Word could be trusted. John 2:22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.


What is amazing about this whole scene were the details. The Jewish leaders bought Judas to betray the greatest man of all time by false affection, and now they buy the soldiers to cover the greatest event of all time by false accusation.


“Mark Twain once wrote that a lie can go around the world while truth is still lacing up her boots. There is something in human nature that makes it easy for people to believe lies. It was not until the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the powerful witness of the Apostles, that the Jews in Jerusalem discovered the truth: Jesus Christ is alive! Any sincere person who studies this evidence with an open heart will conclude that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historic fact that cannot be refuted”. [2]


To say that the disciples stole the body of Jesus and that they had Him hidden somewhere was the clearest proof that the religious leaders did not know where Jesus was, they just knew that the tomb was emptied–and it wasn’t by them. So we know that the disciples didn’t do it, now we know that the leaders didn’t either. So what is left? Who moved the stone? God did—to show us that Jesus Christ was alive, and all that His Word says—is true!



Fourth—An Undisturbed Pile of Grave Clothes.


John 20:3-9 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 [blepi = glanced] the linen cloths lying [in orderly arrangement, undisturbed. He had left them. No robber, no hoax.] there; yet he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw [theorao = looked intently] 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 [eidon = perceived with understanding] and believed. 9 For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.


Jesus left behind the burial wrappings exactly as they had covered Him in death–that is what John stared at for such a long time. His power as God the Son, conqueror of death was evident. And that is why the invitation of the angel was so much more than at first is realized.


Matthew 28:5-7 But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”


What was so special about seeing the “place where the Lord lay”? It was because that pile of undisturbed wrappings left the distinct shape of the body that had departed from them. Now look back with me at John 19:40:


“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.”


Now turn back to see these customs recorded in Scripture. Remember the story of Lazarus? When Jesus raised him what did he look like and what did those around him have to do for him? “The Lord ordered that he be unbound to take up life again in this world. Jesus on the other hand left His wrappings in the grave as a sign of His resurrection into the life of God’s eternal order.”[3]

John 11:44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”

Now back to John 20. Look again at what they saw.


John 20:3-9 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) NIV


John 20:3-9 Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they were going to the tomb.4 And the two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter, and came to the tomb first;5 and stooping and looking in, he *saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in.6 Simon Peter therefore also *came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he *beheld the linen wrappings lying there,7 and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed.9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. NASB


The key to this entire account is the unfolding sight that these two witnesses capture for us. They were the first of the apostles, Christ’s witnesses (as Acts tells us they were meant to be) to arrive on the scene. 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!

[1]Wiersbe, W. W. 1996, c1989. The Bible exposition commentary. “An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire ‘BE’ series”–Jkt. Victor Books: Wheaton, Ill.

[2]Wiersbe, W. W. 1996, c1989. The Bible exposition commentary. “An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire ‘BE’ series”–Jkt. Victor Books: Wheaton, Ill.

[3]  Beasley-Murray, John, 372.