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QUESTION: Re the Grave Clothes in Jesus’ Tomb

What is the significance of the cloth being folded neatly in the tomb when Jesus rose from the dead?

Thank you for this question, for it deals with something that convinced Peter and John that Jesus was risen.

The story is told in John 20:1-9. When Mary Magdalene first approached the tomb early that Sunday morning, she saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. The words that are used suggest, not that the stone covering the entrance to the tomb had been rolled back to open the grave, but that it had been completely thrown back away from the tomb. This was more than a casual opening of the tomb, such as the women planned so they could anoint the body of Jesus.

When she saw this, she immediately ran to Peter and “the other disciple” (which is the way John refers to himself in his account of the gospel). She told them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” She jumped to this conclusion from the fact that the stone was moved, not from a close inspection of the tomb itself. (Note that when she said “we,” she implied that there were others with her at the tomb, though John does not directly mention them. The others are, however, mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke.)

The two apostles immediately ran to the tomb. John, being younger, outran Peter and got to the tomb first. He stooped over and peered in. There, he “looked in at” the grave clothes. The word used here is the usual word for to look or to see. He did not, at that time, enter the tomb.

When Peter arrived, he went into the tomb and “saw the strips of linen lying there.” The word used here is more intense. It means to examine closely or to peer at intently. In other words, he was staring at the grave clothes and at the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head as he closely examined them.

“Finally the other disciple… also went inside. He saw and believed.” We have no indication of how long he watched Peter staring before he went into the tomb. The word used of how John saw the grave clothes when he went in is a word that means to comprehend or understand.

In other words, there were three distinctly different words used to describe how the two disciples saw the grave clothes. From outside the tomb, John saw the grave clothes, even though it would have been in the dimness of the tomb. When Peter went into the tomb, he stared at the wrappings for the body and at the separate cloth that had been twisted around his head. Then, when John entered the tomb where he could see more clearly, he understood and believed.

What did they see? Obviously, they saw the grave clothes, including the head wrapping. But what was their position? How were they arranged? Your question says “folded neatly.” But were they?

The word used for the strips of linen wrapped around his body literally means lying prone or stretched out. This is the same word used in verse 12 when Mary returned and looked into the tomb at where the body of Jesus had lain. What is the significance of this word? Some suggest (and I agree) that the clothes were lying undisturbed as they had been when the body of Jesus was enclosed within them – but the body was gone!

The word that describes how the head wrapping was positioned is properly translated wrapped (as in the King James Version), rather than folded up (as in the New International Version). That is, it was still lying as if it were wrapped around his head – but his head was no longer in the piece of cloth!

Later, as Jesus appeared to the disciples, he showed the ability to pass through solid objects. The position of the grave clothes suggest that this is what happened when he was raised from the dead. His body passed through the cloths that had wrapped him, leaving them undisturbed. (Some people believe this is what caused an image to appear on the Shroud of Turin – though radiocarbon tests suggest this shroud is not authentic.)

It was seeing these clothes that convinced Peter and John that he was risen, even though they did not know all of what that meant yet. They did not understand that the Scriptures had foretold this, and they had not yet seen the risen Lord. That came later. But the first convincing proof (cf. Acts 1:3) that they received was the grave clothes themselves.

Again, thank you for your question. I hope that these remarks will be of some help to you in understanding this great event.


2 Responses

  1. Jesus garnents were removed when He was crucified and yet He was clothed when He rose from the dead.

    Where do you suppose He got the clothes?

    • Jesus had clothing (at least a burial shroud and napkin) when He was placed in the tomb.

      I suppose He got His clothing in His resurrection from the same place we will get our “wedding garments” when we are resurrected to go to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Note that many saints have already been dead nearly 2,000 years. Their bodies and clothing are dust. In the Resurrection, all things will be new – including our clothing. Yet, there is no reason to believe we will be naked when we join the Father and the Son in the new heavens and new earth. Where will the clothing come from? The same place our new bodies come from. God will give them to us – just as He gave them to our Lord.


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