20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 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 came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, 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.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
(John 20:1-10 NIV)
In yesterday’s passage, Joseph and Nicodemus ask Pilate for permission to take Jesus’ body down from the cross. The two men give Jesus’ body a proper Jewish burial in the tomb that Joseph had purchased for himself.
In today’s passage, it is now the third day since Jesus died and was buried. A group of women came to the tomb early in the morning to finish the proper burial of Jesus’ body. John focuses his account on one woman – Mary Magdalene.
When the women arrive at the tomb, they see that the stone was rolled away. Mary’s immediate reaction is that someone had moved Jesus’ body. She immediately ran to Peter and John to report her findings.
Peter and John know nothing about this situation, so they jump up and quickly run to the tomb to investigate. At this point, no one is thinking about the plausibility of Jesus resurrecting from the dead. A thousand scenarios were likely running through the disciples’ heads, but Jesus being physically raised from the dead is not even in the realm of possibilities.
John, an old man now, with a twinkle in his eye, loves to tell how he outran Peter on the way to Jesus’ burial site (v. 4). John tells how he stopped short of going inside the tomb (likely to not become ceremonially unclean), but Peter charges right in.
John gives a quick summary of what Peter first saw (vv. 6 – 7), and what he would soon see for himself (v. 8). The linen cloths wrapped around Jesus’ body were still there as if the body had miraculously vanished. This mystery was clearly not the work of grave robbers, nor was the body moved, because all the linen cloths were still there.
John is also careful to make the point that the cloth wrapped around Jesus’ head was separate from the other linens used to wrap Jesus’ body. Only a person who had seen the grave site firsthand would be able to recall that level of detail.
Verses 8 – 10 finish John’s account. Again, with a gleam in his eye, John figures out that Jesus could have risen from the dead. Peter and the others have not yet connected the dots. John concludes this statement by noting that he and Peter walk back to where they were staying.
While the disciples still did not understand what had happened, Jesus’ physical and bodily resurrection from the dead was the ultimate hope and proof of Jesus as Messiah. Jesus died, was buried, and now is alive again.
And He did all this for you and me, so we can be reconciled to God and have eternal life with Him. John said it best way back in chapter 3:
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned,but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
(John 3:16-18 NIV)