Summary: If the grave had been empty, life would be empty.

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If the Gospel of John had been an ordinary biography, there would be no CHAPTER 20.

1Early 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. 2So 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!”

3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8Finally 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.) (John 20:1-9)

Jesus had been crucified on Friday (or Thursday, as some believe). His body was in the tomb until the resurrection, which certainly took place before dawn on Sunday morning. The Gospels tell us that a group of women walked to the tomb from Jerusalem bearing spices to anoint the body of Jesus. There were at least four women and maybe more. Matthew says that the group included Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. Mark adds that Salome was present. And Luke says that Joanna was among them. These women started out while it was still dark and arrived at the tomb very early in the morning.

When they reached the tomb, they were astonished to find the stone removed from the entrance. We can imagine them standing there, afraid to go too close and wondering what had happened. Who moved the stone? Had the body of Jesus been stolen? What should they do? Finally, they decided that the disciples must be told, and Mary Magdalene was dispatched to find them. Not one of them imagined that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

After awhile it began to grow lighter and the women grew bolder. They decided to look into the tomb. Then they saw the angels. The women were frightened. But one of the angels said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen” (Matthew 28:5-6).

Meanwhile, Mary found the two chief disciples, Peter and John. Perhaps they were at John’s house where the beloved disciple had taken Jesus’ mother on the day of the crucifixion (John 19:27). The two disciples started for the tomb, running and leaving Mary far behind. Outrunning Peter, John arrived at the tomb first. He stooped to look through the narrow opening, and saw the grave clothes. Then Peter arrived, out of breath and in a hurry; he brushed John aside and plunged into the tomb. The Bible says that Peter “went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen” (John 20:6-7). Afterward, John entered, saw what Peter had seen and believed in Jesus’ resurrection (v. 8).

After this the appearances of the Lord began. Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene who arrived back at the tomb after John and Peter had returned to the city. Next He appeared to the women, then to Peter alone, then to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and then, later that night, to the disciples (minus Thomas) as they were gathered in the upper room. All those who saw the risen Lord believed. But John believed first, and he did so before he actually saw Jesus. What made him believe? What did he see that convinced him of Jesus’ resurrection? John believed because he saw the undisturbed condition of the grave clothes. He understood that Jesus’ body had passed through the grave clothes. He was risen! (adapted from James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John, pp. 1564-1565)

After Peter and John witnessed the empty tomb, “they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to [must] rise from the dead” (John 20:9). The resurrection was something that had to happen because the OT predicted it. (Paul also tells us that Jesus was raised “on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:4.) But what passage does John have in mind? We can’t know for sure, but there are a few possibilities.

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