A Matter of Faith

The burial wrappings


“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him.’ So Peter went out with the other disciple and they ran to the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the burial cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in.” — John 20:1-5 (ESV).

John tells us that the napkin or face cloth, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not lying with the grave clothes, but set aside by itself. The Bible takes an entire verse to tell us that the napkin was neatly folded and placed separate from the grave clothes.

“Then Simon Peter arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth (napkin) which had covered Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded up in a place by itself. —John 20:6-7 (ESV).

To understand the significance of the folded napkin or face cloth (soudarion), one has to understand the Hebrew tradition of that day. This face cloth would have been tied, rolled like a triangular bandage, under the chin and over the top of the head to secure the mouth in a closed position. The folded napkin was not with the burial cloths, but rolled up in a separate place.

The folded cloth indicates that the scene in the empty tomb was evidence of a very calm and orderly process, rather than that of a burglarized tomb, from which the body of Jesus was clandestinely stolen — from a sealed tomb, guarded by soldiers.

The significance of the linen wrappings lying there shows there was no struggle or no hurried unwrapping of the body by grave robbers. More likely, if the body was stolen, the linen wrappings would have gone with the body. Jesus must have passed through them as He rose from the dead, leaving them where His body had been.

The Greek participle (keimai) translated here seems to indicate that the wrappings were flattened, deflated, as if they were emptied when the body of Jesus rose and disappeared —as if it had come out of the wrappings without their being undone, passing right through them (just as He later entered the Upper Room when the doors were shut).

One can easily understand how seeing the empty tomb would amaze a witness, something one could never forget.

I’m amazed and I wasn’t even there. Are you?

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