Harmony of the Gospels


(2) Peter and John See the Empty Tomb

John 20:1-10

Tom Lowe



Date: Sunday—A.D. 30
Location: Near Jerusalem





This passage from John’s gospel shows the Confusion surrounding the empty tomb. Mary jumped to conclusions and soon had Peter and John on the run. They saw the evidence for the Resurrection, but it did not change their lives. They needed a meeting with the living Christ.


1 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.

The first day of the week was Sunday; the morning after the Jewish Sabbath. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb before dawn. It is likely that the tomb was a small room carved in the side of a hill or cliff. The stone was no doubt shaped like a coin—round and flat. It would fit into a groove or gutter along the front of the tomb and could be rolled across the door to close it. When Mary got there, the stone had been removed already.

Since Christ had been buried in haste, these holy women had bought scented spices (Mark 16:1[1]); to complete the embalming procedure began by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus Friday evening. John only mentions Mary of Magdala, because he appears to want to give a more detailed history of her conduct than any of the rest; but the other evangelists speak of three persons who went together to the tomb; Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome: (Mark 16:1[1]).

It is significant that the first witnesses of the resurrection of Christ were believing women.  Among the Jews in that day, the testimony of women was not held in high regard.  “It is better that the words of the law be burned,” said the Rabbis, “than be delivered to a woman.” But these Christian women had a greater message than that of the Law, for they knew that their Savior was alive.

When was the Sabbath day changed?  This question is often asked by folk who believe we should be observing Saturday as the day of rest and worship. It was changed when Jesus Christ arose from the dead.  He was dead during the Sabbath day; he became alive on Sunday.  From that time on, believers have been gathering together on the first day of the week (It became known as the Lords Day).  The Sabbath day belongs to the old creation.  After God had created everything, He rested on the Sabbath day.  We have come to the new creation in Christ Jesus.  Pentecost occurred on Sunday, the first day of the week.  It is interesting that John, The last of the gospel writers, emphasizes that it was the first day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead.

 2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.

Mary immediately ran to Peter and John (John calls himself “the one Jesus loved. I wonder what the other disciples thought about that.) with the breathless announcement that someone had removed the Lord’s body from the tomb (She mentions nothing of what the angels had said). She did not say who had done it, but just said “they” to indicate that this was all she knew.

We find Simon Peter and John together.  Apparently John has taken him in. I wonder if some of the other disciples, when they heard of Peter’s denial, had pushed him to the outside.  Thank God, John touched him at a time when Peter desperately needed someone to befriend him.  John, the son of thunder, has become the apostle of love.  What a wonderful thing that is.

Mary told the disciples that someone had stolen the body of their Lord.  This happened after the women had seen the angels, who said Jesus was risen from the dead (Luke 24:4[2]). She told, not only Peter and John, but the other apostles also (Matthew 28:8[3]); but only the two disciples mentioned above went to the tomb to see if what she had said was true. But to actually steal His body would have been inconceivable, since a Roman guard was set to watch at the sepulcher, because the enemies of our Lord remembered what His disciples had forgotten, and they came to Pilate and said, “sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was still alive, After three days I will rise again.  Command therefore that the sepulcher be made sure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, he is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.” And Pilate said to them, a bit sarcastically, “Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can!” and they did make it as sure as they could, but no human effort could hinder the working of an omnipotent power when the hour came that God’s Son was to come back in triumph from the grave.

The faithfulness and devotion of women at the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord should be noted. The disciples had forsaken the Lord and fled. The women stood by without regard for their personal safety.

3 Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.

It is difficult to imagine what Peter and John were thinking as they hurried out of the city to the garden near Calvary. John was probably younger than Peter and reached the tomb first.  Calvary was a skull–shaped hill outside Jerusalem where Jesus died.  “In the place where He was crucified was a garden and in the garden a sepulcher.” In that sepulcher they laid the body of the Lord Jesus.”

These particulars that the Lord has given to us have an air of truth about them. Mary, in her grief, runs to the two apostles who were soon to be so closely associated in proclaiming the Savior’s resurrection, and they, followed by Mary, hasten to see with their own eyes, leaving Mary to follow at her own gait.

4 So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.

John did not outrun Peter because he had a greater desire to see if what the women said was true, or because he was younger, and a faster runner.

5 And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.

The younger disciple outruns the older. He stoops, and he gazes in, but he does not go into the sepulcher; maybe he was held back by a reverential fear. It is likely that there was a low opening to the tomb, requiring one to stoop to enter or to look in. John saw the linen cloths lying there. Had they been unwound from the body, or were they still in the general shape in which they had been wrapped around the body? I suspect that the latter was the case.

The linen clothes lay by themselves. This was the fine linen which Joseph of Arimathaea bought, and wrapped the body in (Mark 15:46[4] ). As insignificant as this circumstance appears, it is, nevertheless, no small proof of the resurrection of our Lord. Had the body been stolen, all that was wrapped about it would have been taken away with it. John cautiously remained outside and looked in.  Perhaps he wanted Peter to be with him when he went into the burial chamber.

The question begs an answer; “Why didn’t he go in?”  Perhaps he was completely satisfied that the body was not there. “But why didn’t he grab hold of the linen clothes, and keep them as a prized relic?” Because he had too much religion and too much sense; and the time of superstition and nonsense had not yet arrived, in which bits of rotten wood, knots on trees, rags of rotten cloth, decayed bones (no one knows to whom they originally belonged), corn flakes, statues of Mary, and bramble bushes, should become objects of religious adoration.

6 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,

John looked in, but Peter went in without hesitation. The grave clothes were carefully folded and laid aside. There is something about his impulsive manner that makes us feel a kinship to him. He too saw the linen cloths lying there, but the body of the Savior was not there.

7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.

The providence of God ordered these very little matters, so that they became the best proofs against the lie of the chief priests, that the body had been stolen by the disciples. However, if the body had been stolen, those who took it would not have stopped to strip the clothes from it, and to neatly fold them, and lay them in separate places.

God carefully records through John another small but important detail.  The napkin that was wrapped around His head lay there intact, separate from the linen wrapped around His body.  It was in the shape of the head, lying just as it had been folded around the head.  I think this convinced Peter that the Lord had risen.

Wrapped together refers to the act of winding grave-clothes around the body of Jesus before the burial.  It may signify that the head passed through the napkin, leaving it in its circular shape, or that Jesus deliberately folded it up before leaving the tomb, showing that His departure was unhurried and peaceful.

8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.

John entered the tomb and saw the orderly arrangement of the linen and the handkerchief. But when it says that he saw and believed, it means more than physical sight. It means that he comprehended. Before him were the evidences of Christ’s resurrection. They showed him what had happened, and he ... believed (and if we had been there, we would have believed too). Believed what? There are 2 possibilities: (1) That he believed in the resurrection more certainly than Peter; (2) That the body had been taken away, as Mary had said.

A contrast existed between the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:44[5]) and that of Jesus.  While Lazarus came forth from the grave wearing his grave clothes, Jesus’ body, though physical and material, was glorified and was now able to pass through the grave-clothes much in the same way that he later appeared in the locked room (See John 20:19 – 20[6]).  The state of the linen clothes and handkerchief indicates no struggle, no hurried unwrapping of the body by grave robbers, who wouldn’t unwrap the body anyway, since transporting it elsewhere would be easier and more pleasant if it was left in its wrapped and spiced condition.  All appearances indicated that no one had taken the body; it had moved through the clothes and left them behind in the tomb.

What kind of faith did Peter and John have at this stage in their spiritual experience. They had faith based on evidence.  They could see the grave-clothes; 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 material evidence (the tomb, the grave-clothes), because it is no longer there for us to inspect.  But we have the record in the Word of God (John 20:9[7]) and that record is true.  In fact, it is faith in the Word that the Lord really wanted to cultivate in His disciples (see John: 2:22[8]). Peter made it clear that the Word of God, not personal experiences, should be the basis for our faith (1 Peter 1:12-21[9]).
9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.

Up until now, the disciples did not really understand the Old Testament Scripture which stated that the Messiah must rise again from the dead. The Lord Himself had told them repeatedly, but they did not take it in.  It is a fact that they had never seemed to grasp what he was saying.  They were not looking for him to rise again so when they saw his head fall forward as he hung there on that cross, after hearing him pray, “Father, into thy hands I commit My spirit,” their hopes were dashed into pieces and they felt that all his messianic claims were squandered.  John was the first to understand.

They did not know the scripture; Psalm 16:9, 10: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell For thou wilt not abandon my life to the grave, nor suffer thy Holy One to see corruption.” It was certainly a criticism of the disciples that they had not understood this prophecy, when our Lord had told them several times that He would be crucified and raised again three days later.

10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

Then the disciples returned to wherever they were staying—probably in Jerusalem; Either to their own houses, if they still had any; or to those of their friends, or to those where they had a hired lodging, and where they met together for religious purposes. (See John 20:19[10]). Some of them could be staying in the Upper Room, where Jesus had washed their feet and shared bread and wine with them. No doubt, they concluded that there was no use waiting by the tomb. It would be better to go and tell the other disciples what they had found.

Luke sums up what John wrote in verses 3-10 in one verse: “Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulcher; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass” (Luke 24:12).

  [1]And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him

  [2]And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: 

  [3]And they departed quickly from the sepulcher with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

 [4] And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulcher.

  [5]And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.  

  [6]Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 

  [7]For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.  

  [8]When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.  

  [9]Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.
Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. 

  [10]Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.


Please send your questions, comments, and prayer requests.

Make a Free Website with Yola.