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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.


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.




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.


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.”[1]

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!

“Then something else struck him—the grave-clothes were not dishevelled 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. The whole point of the description is that the grave-clothes did not look as if they had been put off or taken off; they were lying there in their regular folds as if the body of Jesus had simply evaporated out of them. The sight suddenly penetrated to John’s mind; he realized what had happened—and he believed…The part that love plays in this story is extraordinary. 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.” [2]


What, then, did he see? A century ago Henry Latham[3], a scholar from Cambridge University, wrote a classic describing the details of this scene.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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[7] 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.[8] 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.” [9]

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 sight of that empty shell, those tightly wrapped strips, stained by death, darkened by blood, fragrant with ointments, hardened by the resin combining with the spices. It took John a few moments to process what he saw. And then it was so simple to see. 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 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.



John 20:7-9 and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together [literally ‘rolled tightly’] in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.


John beat Peter to the door, looked in and waited. Peter came chugging up and dashed in to see whatever it was the angel had told the women they needed to see. Grave robbers are never neat, they hastily take what they want and go before they get caught. Any haste in getting just he body of Jesus would have spread 100 pounds of spices everywhere. But that didn’t happen, no hurried event was evident. Everything was neat and tidy, just like three days before when the two servants had finished their hallowed work on Christ’s body.


What he saw were the grave clothes in which Jesus had been buried. These would include strips of linen to tie the hands and feet, a strip to bind the jaw, and wrappings in which dry spices[10] were enfolded to offset the stench of decay. Rolled up in a place by itself was the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The significance for the reader is twofold:

  • First, that two men saw the evidence was important for Jews in that the Law (Deut. 19:15) required such for valid testimony.
  • Second, the undisturbed grave clothes are a strong refutation of the theory that the body was stolen. As Chrysostom (AD 347–407) long ago observed, if anyone had removed the body, he would not have stripped it first, nor would he have taken the trouble to remove and roll up the napkin and put it in a place by itself.[11]

The only way those linen clothes could be left in that condition would be if Jesus passed through them as He arose from the dead. On this the late Mr. Pierson wrote:


“‘Wrapped together,’ fails to convey the true significance. The original means rolled up, and suggests that these clothes were lying in their original convolutions, as they had been tightly rolled up around our Lord’s dead body. In 19:40 it is recorded how they tightly wound – bound about – that body in the linen clothes; how tightly and rigidly may be inferred from the necessity of loosing Lazarus, even after miraculous power had raised up the dead body and given it life (11:44). This explains v. 8: ‘And he (John) saw and believed.’ There was nothing in the mere fact of an empty tomb to compel belief in a miraculous resurrection; but, when John saw, on the floor of the sepulcher, the long linen wrappings that had been so tightly wound about the body and the head, lying there undisturbed, in their original convolutions, he knew that nothing but a miracle could have made it possible.”[12]


 “What kind of faith did Peter and John have at that stage in their spiritual experience? They had faith based on evidence. They could see the graveclothes; they knew that the body of Jesus was not there. However, as good as evidence is to convince the mind, it can never change the life. Those of us who live centuries later cannot examine the evidence, for the material evidence (the tomb, the graveclothes) is no longer there for us to inspect. But we have the record in the Word of God (John 20:9) and that record is true (John 19:35; 21:24). In fact, it is faith in the Word that the Lord really wanted to cultivate in His disciples (see John 2:22; 12:16; 14:26). Peter made it clear that the Word of God, not personal experiences, should be the basis for our faith (1 Peter 1:12–21).” [13]




John 20:10-12 Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.


“Mary still thought that Jesus was dead. Another verse comes to mind—Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Mary’s weeping was the loud lamentation so characteristic of Jewish people when they express their sorrow (John 11:31, 33). There is certainly nothing wrong with sincere sorrow, because God made us to shed tears; and weeping is good therapy for broken hearts. The sorrow of the Christian, however, must be different from the hopeless sorrow of the world (1 Thes. 4:13–18), because we have been born again “unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3, nasb). We weep—not because our believing loved ones have gone to heaven—but because they have left us and we miss them.


When Mary looked into the sepulcher, she saw two men in white. Their position at either end of the shelf where the body had been lying makes us think of the cherubim on the mercy seat (Ex. 25:17–19). It is as though God is saying, “There is now a new mercy seat! My Son has paid the price for sin, and the way is open into the presence of God!” Mary apparently was not disturbed at seeing these men, and there is no evidence that she knew they were angels. The brief conversation neither dried her tears nor quieted her mind. She was determined to find the body of Jesus.[14]




Seven—A Risen Christ!


John 20:13-18 Then they said to her,  “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her,  “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.



Here we see the final proof–Christ personally and face-to-face meeting with His own disciples!  John only records 3 of the 10 meetings Christ had, each so purposeful! Some have said Christ only swooned and the cool mist revived Him.  At best the idea is absurd.


It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulcher, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening, and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that he was a conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life:  an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry.  Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which he had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it a loud voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.”[15]


Others say they imagined the resurrection:


“But difficulties not less insuperable present themselves when we try to think of them uniformly and without exception coming under the influence of a complete delusion. Somehow the rugged fisherman Peter and his brother Andrew, the characteristically doubting Thomas, the seasoned and not too sensitive tax gatherer,  Matthew, the rather dull Philip, intensely loyal but a little slow of apprehension, do not fit easily into the conditions required for an absolutely unshakable collective hallucination.  The terrors and the persecutions these men ultimately had to face and did face unflinchingly, do not admit of a halfhearted adhesion secretly honeycombed with doubt…Now the peculiar thing about this phenomenon is that, not only did it spread to every single member of the party of Jesus of whom we have any trace, but they brought it to Jerusalem and carried it with inconceivable audacity into the most keenly intellectual center of Judea, against the ablest dialecticians of the day, and in the face of every impediment a brilliant and highly organized camarilla could devise.  And they won.  Within twenty years the claim of these Galilean  peasants had disrupted the Jewish church and impressed itself upon every town on the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean from Caesarea to Troas.  In less than fifty years it had begun to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire.” [16]


Who moved the stone? God did to show us the empty tomb and the risen Christ. What should be our message? Perhaps what is in one of the best known and loved hymns of Easter.



Charles Wesley, 1707–1788


Charles Wesley was gloriously saved in 1738. Following his Aldersgate encounter with Christ, Charles began writing numerous hymns on every phase of the Christian experience, some 6,500 in all. This hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” has been one of the church’s most popular Easter hymns. It was written for the first meeting of the first Wesleyan Chapel in London—just one year after Wesley’s conversion. This hymn was written by Charles for the first service in that chapel. It has been said that the hymns of Charles Wesley clothed Christ in flesh and blood and gave converts a belief they could easily grasp, embrace with personal faith, and if necessary, even die for.


Christ the lord is ris’n today, Alleluia! Sons of men and angels say: Alleluia! Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth reply: Alleluia!


Lives again our glorious king, Alleluia! Where, o death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! Dying once he all doth save, Alleluia! Where thy victory, o grave? Alleluia!


Love’s redeeming work is done, alleluia! Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia! Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!


Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia! Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia! Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia![17]





The great defining passage on the Gospel is 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. Here, the Gospel is defined as the good news that –


  • “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
  • And that He was buried,
  • and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”


There are many details we will see in the days ahead.


  • Christ’s Resurrection was DECLARED as the Gospel we believe.
  • Christ’s Resurrection was PROMISED in the Old Testament and New Testament.
  • Christ’s Resurrection was WITNESSED by more than 500 individuals.
  • Christ’s Resurrection was RECORDED by the Four Gospel writers with perfect precision.
  • Christ’s Resurrection was APPLIED by Jesus for 40 days until His Ascension.



There are many details we will see in the days ahead.

  • Christ’s Resurrection was DECLARED as the Gospel we believe.


  • Christ’s Resurrection was PROMISED in the Old Testament and New Testament.


Although the prophecies of His resurrection in the Old Testament were not evident to a superficial reader, they should have been correctly understood by those in Israel who diligently studied the Word. Such prophecies as found in Genesis 3:15; Psalm 2:7; Psalm 16:9-11; Psalm 22:14-25; Psalm 30:2-9; Psalm 40:1-3; Psalm 110:1; Psalm 118:21-24; Isaiah 53:9-12; Hosea 5:15-6:3; Zechariah 12:10; and others, if carefully studied, would have indicated that the coming Messiah would be put to death and then rise again.


Even if they had not been able to anticipate the resurrection from the Old Testament, however, they had the clear statements to this effect from the lips of Christ Himself. Note John 2:19; Matthew 12:38-42; 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; 26:30-32; John 10:17-18; 16:16; and many other passages in the four Gospels. One thing is certain: the disciples could not have fabricated the story of the resurrection from their own imaginations. On the contrary, they somehow failed to anticipate it even after such an abundance of prophetic preparation for it, both from the Scriptures and from Christ. It took the strongest of evidences to convince them it had actually taken place. But once they became convinced, their lives were wholly transformed, and they went forth to live and witness and even to die for their resurrected Lord.


The Gospel includes “and that He arose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4). What Scriptures did Paul and John have in mind?

  • Paul saw the Resurrection in Psalm 2:7 (Acts 13:33).
  • Peter saw it in Psalm 16:8–11 (Acts 2:23–36 and note 13:35).
  • Peter also referred to Psalm 110:1 (Acts 2:34–35).
  • The statement “He shall prolong His days” in Isaiah 53:10 is also interpreted as a prediction of Christ’s resurrection.
  • Jesus Himself used the Prophet Jonah to illustrate His own death, burial, and resurrection (Matt. 12:38–40); and this would include the “three days” part of the message.
  • Paul saw in the Feast of Firstfruits a picture of the Resurrection (Lev. 23:9–14; 1 Cor. 15:20–23), and again, this would include “the third day.”
  • Some students see the Resurrection and “the third day” in Hosea 6:2.



  • Christ’s Resurrection was WITNESSED by more than 500 individuals.
  • Christ’s Resurrection was RECORDED by the Four Gospel writers with perfect precision.
  • Christ’s Resurrection was APPLIED by Jesus for 40 days until His Ascension.











They Shared the Good News with Others (Matt. 28:16–20)

Some Bible scholars equate this “mountain meeting” in Galilee with the appearance of the Lord to “more than 500 brethren at one time” (1 Cor. 15:6). The fact that some of the people present doubted His resurrection would suggest that more than the eleven Apostles were present, for these men were now confirmed believers. Our Lord’s ascension did not take place at this time, but later, after He had ministered to His disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:44–53).

Matthew 28:18–20 is usually called “the Great Commission,” though this statement is no greater than that in any of the other Gospels, nor is it the last statement Jesus made before He returned to heaven. However, this declaration does apply to us as believers, so we should understand the factors that are involved.



An activity (vv. 19–20a). The Greek verb translated go is actually not a command but a present participle (going). The only command in the entire Great Commission is “make disciples” (“teach all nations”). Jesus said, “While you are going, make disciples of all the nations.” No matter where we are, we should be witnesses for Jesus Christ and seek to win others to Him (Acts 11:19–21).

The term “disciples” was the most popular name for the early believers. Being a disciple meant more than being a convert or a church member. Apprentice might be an equivalent term. A disciple attached himself to a teacher, identified with him, learned from him, and lived with him. He learned, not simply by listening, but also by doing. Our Lord called twelve disciples and taught them so that they might be able to teach others (Mark 3:13ff).

A disciple, then, is one who has believed on Jesus Christ and expressed this faith by being baptized. He remains in the fellowship of the believers that he might be taught the truths of the faith (Acts 2:41–47). He is then able to go out and win others and teach them. This was the pattern of the New Testament church (2 Tim. 2:1–2).

In many respects, we have departed from this pattern. In most churches, the congregation pays the pastor to preach, win the lost, and build up the saved—while the church members function as cheerleaders (if they are enthusiastic) or spectators. The “converts” are won, baptized, and given the right hand of fellowship, then they join the other spectators. How much faster our churches would grow, and how much stronger and happier our church members would be, if each one were discipling another believer. The only way a local church can “be fruitful and multiply” (instead of growing by “additions”) is with a systematic discipleship program. This is the responsibility of every believer, and not just a small group who have been “called to go.”

The phrase “the end of the age” indicates that our Lord has a plan; He is the Lord of history. As the churches follow His leading and obey His Word, they fulfill His purposes in the world. It will all come to a climax one day; meanwhile, we must all be faithful. [18]


20:3-9. Peter and John started a footrace to the tomb. John beat Peter to the garden and looked in the tomb. It was not quite empty for John saw the grave clothes. Perhaps his first thought was that the women had made a mistake! He bent over and looked (blepei) in but did not enter the tomb, probably for fear of defilement. 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.

This section of John’s Gospel (20:1-9) is a powerful eyewitness testimony which strikes the perceptive reader as being psychologically and historically true. John commented (v. 9) that even after a long period of teaching by Jesus the disciples still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead (cf. Pss. 16:10-11; 110:1, 4; Isa. 53:11-12).


20:17-18. She may have embraced Him physically, for the Lord responded, Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them. . . . These words spoke of a new relationship, new relatives, and a new responsibility. Many wanted to “hold onto” Jesus. The KJV translation “Touch Me not,” has caused many interpreters to wonder why He could not be “touched.” The NIV translation is more accurate, for He certainly was not untouchable (cf. Matt. 28:9; John 20:27). Mary had lost Jesus once before (at His crucifixion) and it was natural to fear the loss of His presence again.

Jesus said, in effect, “This (the physical contact) is not My real presence for the church.

  • A new relationship will begin with My Ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church.”
  • Jesus then explained the fact of the new relatives. He called His disciples His brothers. Earlier He had said they were friends: “I no longer call you servants . . . instead, I have called you friends” (15:15). Believers in Jesus become a part of Jesus’ family with God as their Father (cf. Heb. 2:11-12; Rom. 8:15-17, 29; Gal. 3:26).
  • Mary’s new responsibility was to testify to His risen presence. She was the recipient of four special graces: to see angels; to see Jesus risen; to be the first to see Him alive; and to be a proclaimer of the good news. Christians today are also the recipients of special grace; they too are given this new responsibility to witness to the world (cf. Matt. 28:16-20).

Jesus’ words, I am returning to My Father indicate His unique sonship. Mary and the other women told the news to the disciples, but according to Luke, they did not believe her or the other women “because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11; cf. Luke 24:23).

  1. Jesus’ appearance to His disciples (20:19-23).



Why is Jesus’ resurrection the key to the Christian faith?

•     Jesus rose from the dead, just as he said. We can be confident, therefore, that Jesus will accomplish all he has promised.

•     Jesus’ bodily resurrection shows us that the living Christ, not a false prophet or impostor, is ruler of God’s eternal kingdom.

•     Because Jesus was resurrected, we can be certain of our own resurrection. Death is not the end—there is future life.

•     The divine power that brought Jesus back to life is now available to us to bring our spiritually dead selves back to life.

The Resurrection is the basis for the church’s witness to the world.


The Resurrection of Christ Importance of the Resurrection



In this chapter we wish to examine carefully the actual evidence for His resurrection. If all of this is somehow a delusion and if Jesus of Nazareth did not really rise from the dead, then He is no different from other great men who are also dead. He is worse than they, in fact, because He is thereby branded as either a charlatan or a madman, since He staked all His claims to absolute deity on His promise to return from the dead.


On the other hand, if the resurrection is really a demonstrable fact of history, then not only are His claims vindicated, but so are His promises. Death is not, after all, the great victor, but is a defeated foe. He has “begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). “Now is Christ risen from the dead,… even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 22).


The Foundation of Christianity


Without the resurrection it is quite certain there would have been no Christian church. With the ignominious death of their Master, the disciples were utterly confused and afraid for their own lives. There is not the remotest possibility that they could have continued as teachers of the Nazarenes doctrines, and even less that others could have been persuaded to follow them, in those circumstances.


But with their assurance that Christ was alive, they went forth everywhere proclaiming the resurrection, and multitudes became believers in their living Lord. The importance of the resurrection in the preaching of the early church is quickly seen by scanning the book of Acts. (Note Acts 2:22-36; 3:13-18; 4:10-12, 33; 5:29-32; 10:37-43; 13:27-37; 17:2-3, 30-32; 23:6; 24:14-16; 25:19; 26:6-8, 22-23; etc.).


Similarly in the epistles, the resurrection is paramount (e.g., Romans 1:3-4; 6:3-9; 1 Corinthians 15:1-58; 2 Corinthians 4:10-14; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:19-23; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 4:14; 1 Timothy 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:8-11; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 1:21; etc.). Even where the resurrection is not explicitly emphasized, it is always assumed. The final book, Revelation, opens with Christs identification of Himself as “the first begotten of the dead,” and as the one “that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore” (Revelation 1:5, 18).


Predictions of the Resurrection


The resurrection caught the disciples completely by surprise. There is no indication that they had any hope after Christs death. In fact, when they did see Him they were frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost (Luke 24:37).


And this was in spite of the fact that they should have known that He would die and rise again, both from the Scriptures and from His own words. He later told them: “These are the words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44).



[1]  Beasley-Murray, John, 372.

[2]The Gospel of John : Volume 2. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. The Westminster Press: Philadelphia

[3]  Latham, The Risen Master, 3. Latham’s careful discussion goes on for 96 pages. In defending his thesis he offers the following observations: (1) The account in John 20:5–7 assumes that John saw only the grave clothes at first, but Peter, going in, saw the face-cloth or head napkin as well. This suggests that the body lay along the wall with the head away from the door [pp. 2-3]. (2) That the grave clothes were there confirms that the body had not been stolen. (3) The fact that the disciples went home and did not search for the body or notify Joseph of Arimathea of the empty tomb further demonstrates that they did not think the body had been stolen [pp. 13-14, 45]. (4) John, so specific about detail, makes no mention of seeing any spices in the tomb. Had the grave clothes been unwrapped and thrown aside a large amount of dry spices would have fallen to a heap on the ground. This suggests that the spices remained concealed in the folds of the undisturbed grave clothes [pp. 9, 36-37, 46]. (5) The different reactions of Mary Magdalene and the apostles—she concluded the body had been taken; John, at least, concluded Jesus had risen—is due to the fact that they saw the grave clothes, and she did not [pp. 38-40]. (6) The word “lying” [κείμενα] seems unnecessary if there was nothing remarkable in the position of the grave clothes. In v. 5, however, the word is not only used but placed in the emphatic position before “linen wrappings” [τὰ ὀθόνια]. This suggests there was something unusual in the way the grave clothes lay there [p. 42]. (7) The burial cloth that had been around Jesus head was likewise not unwrapped and folded but still retained a twirled form [ἐντετυλιγμένον, perf. pass. ptc. ἐντυλίσσω] as if surrounding a head—but the head was no longer there! [pp. 8, 36, 89–90]. Incidentally, Latham admits [p. 89] that the Greek words can be interpreted differently. (8) The phrase “in a place by itself” could refer to the raised portion of the slab where the head lay [p. 90]. (9) A disputed text in Luke [24:12] likewise notes—as if the point is significant—that the linen wrappings were “by themselves.” (10) The invitation in Matt. 28:6, “Come, see the place where He was lying,” may suggest that there must have been something to show, viz., the undisturbed grave clothes. “The open doorway served its end. It seemed to say to Jerusalem, ‘Come and see’ [pp. 50-52]. (11) Finally, Latham sees in the undisturbed grave clothes a sign to the people of Jerusalem. He finds some evidence for this in the Apocryphal Gospel of St. Peter [14:58] in which people are seen streaming to the sepulcher in crowds [pp. 15-17, 84, 108].

[4]  Henry Latham, The Risen Master (2d. ed., Cambridge: Deighton Bell, 1904), 1–3 and passim. Latham attributed the view to Arthur Beard’s pamphlet, The Parable of the Grave-clothes.

[5]  For “face-cloth” (NASB) , “napkin” (AV, NEB), or “cloth” (NIV) John uses the Greek word σουδάριον which is a loan word from Latin (sudarium), meaning “sweat-rag.” Cf. Bruce, The Gospel of John, 385. Morris (The Gospel According to John, 735, n. 18) understands this cloth to be the one used to hold the jaw closed. It more likely refers to a cloth wound round the head but not the face.

[6]  For these burial practices, cf. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 2 vols. (3d ed., 1886; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 1:556. For further information on Jewish burial practices, cf. S. Safrai and M. Stern, The Jewish People in the First Century, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), 2:773–87.

[7]  Cf. Latham, The Risen Master, 45.

[8]  “The body,” says Stott, “would have ‘vaporized,’ being transmuted into something new, and different and wonderful” (Basic Christianity, 52). Stott is not denying that Jesus rose in a real body, i.e., the same body that had been crucified. Rather he is emphasizing that it was a gloriously changed body.

[9]Emmaus Bible College. 1998; 2002. Emmaus Journal Volume 7 . Emmaus Bible College

[10]  Bornhäuser (The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, 190) argues that the mixture of myrrh and aloes (John 19:39) was a thick liquid, “about one hundred liters.” While myrrh in liquid form was used by the Egyptians in embalming, it was dried by the Jews into a powdered form. The powdered mixture in which Jesus was buried was a combination of dried myrrh and aromatic sandalwood. Cf. George R. Beasley-Murray, John, WBC (Waco: Word, 1987), 359; Roland K. Harrison, “Myrrh,” ISBE, 3 (1986), 450–51.

[11]  Chrysostom, Homilies on St. John 85.4 in NPNF, 1st Series, 14:321.

[12]  Pink, Arthur, W., Exposition of the Gospel of John Volume 4. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1945, p. 266-268.

[13] 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.

[14] 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.

[15]  Strauss, New Life of Jesus, I, 412(tr).

[16]  Frank Morrison, Who Moved the Stone, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 1958, page 114-115.

[17]  Osbeck, Kenneth W., Amazing Grace—366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications) 1997.

[18]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.

Gr. Greek

KJV King James Version

NIV New International Version

[19]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. 1983-c1985. The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures. Victor Books: Wheaton, IL

[20]Barton, B. B. 1993. John. Life application Bible commentary . Tyndale House: Wheaton, Ill.