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A Fresh "Look" Inside the Tomb of Jesus, John 20:1-10 by Aharon Blevins

Updated: 6 days ago

Inside "Look" at the Face Cloth and Graveclothes of Jesus
This depiction is for teaching purposes only. It is not meant to portray the actual tomb or his burial clothes. The full-size version was created by Hector "Rooster" Marin and The Tabernacle Man in 2010.

Previous Look at the "Napkin"

Before we take a "fresh look" inside the tomb of Jesus again, let's remember something from our previous blog - "Unfolding the Truth: The Folded Napkin - Separating Myth from Reality, John 20:7. Some internet folks talk about the folded napkin inside the tomb, as a sign of Jesus' second coming because of the dinner table etiquette. The message of and the reassurance of his second coming is hidden in the folding of a napkin. Unfortunately, we are asked to believe this hidden message is only known from "Hebrew tradition" and "Jewish culture."


The napkin myth makes a good story but in reality, the story of the "folded napkin" is not true and cannot be found in "Hebrew tradition" or "Jewish culture" as some suggest. The face cloth laid over the head of Jesus had nothing to do with the Jewish dinner guests or a Jewish carpenter coming back because he enjoyed the meal.


But let's focus on what John wrote. He said the cloth covering Jesus' head wasn't just thrown aside. It was neatly rolled up and put in a different spot from where Jesus lay. This might mean that nobody rushed in and took Jesus' body. The cloth wasn't tossed around like a thief in a hurry. Instead, it was carefully separated from the rest of the grave clothes in the tomb.

The folded napkin or soudarion that covered Jesus' face.
The soudarion or facecloth of Jesus photo by Terry Harman © 2010

A Fresh Look Inside the Tomb

Let's think about what John and Peter saw that made them believe Jesus came back to life, and that nobody took his body. John offers some interesting details about how the burial clothes looked when they found the tomb empty.


John 20:1-10 KJV

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. 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.


Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.


For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.


Burial Customs

Let's think about how they did burials back when Jesus died. Unlike the Egyptians, the Jews did not embalm the bodies of the deceased. In Israel, where it was hot, bodies rotted away fast, so they usually buried their relatives within a few hours of passing. If someone died late, they'd wait till the next day, but always within a day. Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried during the Passover season, and with the Sabbath close, time would be limited for preparing the body for burial.

Body of Jesus wrapped in linen shroud with facecloth covering. This is a teaching prop only. It is not meant to depict the actual body of Jesus wrapped in graveclothes. photo © 2010 Terry Harman
The body of Jesus was wrapped in a linen shroud with a facecloth covering. This is a teaching prop only. It is not meant to depict the actual body of Jesus wrapped in grave clothes. photo © 2010 Terry Harman

The oldest son or closest family member would gently shut the eyes of the person who had passed away. They would wash and anoint the body to show respect and keep the process sacred. The mouth was closed and tied with a cloth over the face. Jewish people at that time did not use coffins or preserve bodies like the Egyptians did. They wrapped the body in a large linen cloth, about 14 feet long and 7 ½ feet wide. Some call this cloth a burial "shroud."


The Difference Between Seeing and Seeing and Believing

The Greek text of 20:8 reads "finally, finally," indicating that Peter had rushed inside the tomb! John did not immediately go inside the tomb. It seems plausible that John emphasizes that Peter kept urging him to come in and “see” what he “saw.” The Apostle John, the Beloved, wrote this account, and he reports that he finally “saw.” This is an eyewitness account of the empty tomb.


John appears to stop short of going inside the tomb. He stops at the entrance of the tomb. He bends over and looks inside the tomb. John uses the word "blepo," to describe what he saw. This word means "to see or notice something." This is not a detailed examination of something. It is more like a glance or something that catches your attention. We are not told what he saw or how it impacted him at first sight.


Peter, however, barged past John and entered the tomb. He saw the graveclothes in a different way than John. Peter saw or "theoreo," which means not to look at something but to look in amazement or to pay close attention to the details. This means Peter visually inspected the clothes lying inside the tomb. What was it that Peter “saw” that caused him to convince John to “finally” enter the tomb for a look-see and then "believe"?

The empty graveclothes laying in place with the strips of linen remaining tied in place.© 2010 Terry Harman
The empty graveclothes laying in place with the strips of linen remaining tied in place. © 2010 Terry Harman

The Shell of the Graveclothes

I cannot verify the exact process of using aloes and myrrh to prepare the body for burial. The aloes mentioned here are not the modern "aloe vera" jell. The aloes used in burial practices were from a tree called Aquilaria Agallocha, sometimes referred to as the "eagle wood tree." (1) The myrrh was prepared to be like shellac, very aromatic, which would help mask the odor of the body beginning to decay. The mixture of aloes and myrrh was applied to the linen shroud as the body was wrapped from the feet to the neck of Jesus.


Nicodemus purchased the expensive and highly fragrant powdered aloes and myrrh and brought them to the tomb. John records that Nicodemus provided a mixture of 75 pounds of these two spices. The powdered aloes were mixed with the syrupy myrrh to saturate the folds of the linen grave clothes.


The body would be wrapped, but the head would be left uncovered. After the body was wrapped in the shroud, the face covering would be secured to the head. The shellac-like mixture of aloes and myrrh would dry and form a crust within about 24 hours in that climate. Jesus’ body was in the tomb for approximately three full days. Therefore, the body would be encased in a hardened linen cocoon. (2)


Conclusion

It is possible that upon investigation, what Peter observed and was amazed by was the empty shell of hardened linen wrappings that lay before him. Before his eyes, he saw the face cloth was “folded up by itself, separate from the other linen windings.” The rest of the grave clothes were an empty shell that was stiffened to the point that he could observe that a body had once been inside the wrappings.

The empty graveclothes laying in place with the strips of linen remaining tied in place.© 2010 Terry Harman
The empty graveclothes laying in place with the strips of linen remaining. tied in place. © 2010 Terry Harman

Not only was the face cloth folded or rolled up, but the body shroud or wrappings were still intact! Yet, a body was not inside! John, an eyewitness, provides a detailed description of the tomb and the undisturbed location of the grave clothes, indicating that Jesus’ body was miraculously freed from the burial clothes. If this is accurate, and the shellac-like mixture had not completely hardened, the burial clothes would have collapsed in place.


The Conversation between Disciples?

Did Peter observe two pieces of physical evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead? Can you imagine what the conversation was like? "John says to Peter, Are you seeing what I am seeing? I did not see the facecloth until you pointed it out! The grave clothes are still intact as if the body just disappeared." Peter agrees and says, "John this is what I was trying to tell you. The face cloth was rolled up neatly and put over there on purpose. This does not look like someone came inside in a hurry and stole the body. The shroud still has the linen straps tied in place. Does this mean Jesus is alive?" Both had no idea what they had seen. John may not know how this happened but he "sees and believes" Jesus is alive.


John makes a point to inform the reader that both Peter and himself came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus even before they “understood from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead” (20:9).


You be the judge. What do you "see?" Are you like Mary Magdalene who comes to visit the tomb, sees something unusual, and turns and runs to discuss with others what she thinks she saw?


Maybe you are like Peter who first examines the evidence of the empty tomb. But he hesitates to make a decision.


Or are you like John who is excited about the news of Jesus and outruns others to the tomb, then only takes a peek at the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus? Then like Peter, after reflection, he chooses to "believe" what he "sees" even before he understood the scriptures.


If this blog helped you I have another suggestion. Instead of donating to The Tabernacle Man why not bless one of your neighbors who is struggling financially? Mow the lawn of that widow or invite him or her to your table for a meal. Randomly do some act of kindness for someone you do not know. Call your minister, priest, or rabbi and thank them for what they do for the congregation and the community. Support your local house of prayer with your time, talent, and treasure. You have been blessed to be a blessing.


References

(1) Gaudiano, Anthony V. "Spices, Myrrh, and Aloes." Plaza1.net,


(2) Russ. "Finding Purpose: What about the Grave Clothes?" Finding Purpose, https://findingpurpose.net/what-about-the-grave-clothes/

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