Peter and John at the Tomb of Jesus
“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” (vv. 8–10).- John 20:3–10
Mary Magdalene, early on that first Easter morning, came to the tomb of Jesus only to find it empty. Her first suspicion was that the body of our Lord had been moved elsewhere, as we see in her report to “Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved”—Peter and John (John 20:1–2). In itself, the conclusion was reasonable, since grave robbery was not unheard of in the first century. However, as we will see, the other details in the story make grave robbery an impossible explanation.
Upon hearing of the empty tomb, Peter and John set out running to investigate the matter themselves. John outran Peter and arrived at the grave site first (vv. 3–4). Arriving at the tomb, John only peered into the empty grave, but Peter went into the cave once he got there. Both men found the same thing—no body of Jesus but instead only His graveclothes (vv. 5–7). The presence of the graveclothes 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.
John, the Beloved Disciple, is the same John who authored the gospel of John, and he tells us that when he followed Peter into the tomb, he believed (John 19:8). He believed that Jesus was alive as soon as he saw the evidence, but John adds the comment that he and Peter “did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (v. 9). John means that while at that moment he knew that Jesus had been restored to life, he did not yet understand that the Scriptures predicted the resurrection of the Messiah. This is not surprising, for the New Testament is clear that the disciples did not have a full understanding of what the Old Testament has to say about Jesus until after He was raised from the dead (see Luke 24:13–27).
The Old Testament clearly predicts the death and resurrection of the Messiah, but apart from faith in Christ, the full import of these prophecies will remain hidden. But when we trust in Christ, we more and more understand that He is proclaimed on every page of the Bible. We must invite people to believe in Jesus so that they can understand the Scriptures as well.
Passages for Further Study
1 Chronicles 17:11–15