“So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.” (John 20:3-10)
From today’s text, we concentrate our attention on the actions and behavior of both Peter and John. Both were fishermen. Both became disciples of Jesus. Both became Apostles of Jesus and leaders within the early church. Both were men God used to compose New Testament Scripture. Finally, both men came to the empty tomb following the announcement by Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-2). However, in spite of their similarities, they were also different from each other, as today’s text reveals.
To begin with, and this may seem silly, John was a faster runner than Peter. The text says that they were running together, but then John outran Peter and arrived at the tomb first. Why is this fact so significant? Because it indicates that even though the two men arrived separately at the tomb, they both arrived at the “same” tomb. They both knew were Jesus’ tomb was located. They did not arrive at the wrong tomb, but rather the actual tomb where Jesus had been. This is one evidence for the reality of the resurrection.
Second, John appears to be more timid than Peter. John looked into the tomb and saw the linen cloths Joseph of Arimathea had wrapped Jesus in for burial (John 19:38-40) but he did not go into the tomb. The text does not say why. However, when Peter arrived, true to Peter’s bold and impetuous personality, he immediately went right into the empty tomb.
Once into the tomb, the text says about Peter that, “He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” The orderly condition of the Jesus’ grave clothes are an indication that His body was not stolen (Matthew 28:11-15). Thieves would not take the time to fold the burial linen and place them separately in an orderly fashion.
As commentator Robert Rothwell explains, “The presence of the grave clothes makes grave robbery impossible. Grave robbers would hardly have spent time disrobing the body of Jesus in the tomb but would have absconded with the body immediately lest they be caught and punished, for grave robbery was a serious crime. Furthermore, linen and spices were expensive in the first century. They would have been the only things of monetary value in the tomb of our Lord, so grave robbers would not have left the layered linen and spices behind. Add to this that grave robbers would have to have gotten past the Roman guard posted at Jesus’ tomb (Matt. 27:62–66), and the idea that the tomb was empty because someone took the body of Jesus becomes wholly implausible. The only explanation is that something supernatural happened.”
The text continues to say, “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;” Upon seeing the evidence, John’s verdict or conclusion was that Jesus was alive. He believed!
However, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture that he must rise from the dead.” While both Peter and John believed that Jesus was alive, they still did not understand the full weight and significance of this event. They were still ignorant of all the Old Testament had to say about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Luke 24:13-27). It was this moment that Peter and John went back to their homes.
Dr. John Walvoord writes, “When Peter … arrived he rushed in and saw (theōrei, “beheld attentively”) the grave clothes and the separate burial cloth. He must have remained inside puzzled at what he saw. After a period of time John went in and saw (eiden, “perceived”—the third Gr. word for “see” in these verses) the significance of the grave clothes and believed. Peter must have been thinking, “Why would a grave robber have left the clothes in this order? Why take the body of Jesus?” But John perceived that the missing body and the position of the grave clothes was not due to a robbery. He realized that Jesus had risen from the dead and had gone through the grave clothes. The tomb was open not to let Jesus’ body out but to let the disciples and the world see that He rose.”
The tomb was not open to allow Jesus’ body out, but rather to allow the disciples and the world in. The sinner’s only hope for the removal of guilt, the forgiveness of sins and life after death is solely in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9-10 says, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
By God’s grace alone, through faith alone, may you receive Jesus Christ alone as your Lord and Savior and thereby be justified.
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Sol deo Gloria!