The Empty Tomb!
Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. Then they went home.
John 20:3-10 (NLT)
John 20:3 suggests that Peter started off first to run to the tomb, but John 20:4 reports that John got there first. Perhaps John was a younger man in better physical condition, or perhaps John was just a better runner.
It is tempting to “spiritualize” this footrace and relate it to Isaiah 40:31 and Hebrews 12:1-2. When a believer is out of fellowship with the Lord, it is difficult to run the race of faith. However, both men deserve credit for having the courage to run into enemy territory, not knowing what lay before them. The whole thing could have been a clever trap to catch the disciples.
When John arrived at the tomb, he cautiously remained outside and looked in. Perhaps he wanted Peter to be with him when he went into the burial chamber.
What did John see?
The graveclothes lying on the stone shelf without any evidence of violence or crime. But the graveclothes were empty! They lay there like an empty cocoon, still retaining the shape of Jesus’ body.
Peter arrived and impulsively went into the tomb, just as we would expect him to do. He also saw the linen clothes lying there empty and the cloth for the head carefully rolled and lying by itself.
Grave robbers do not carefully unwrap the corpse and then leave the graveclothes neatly behind. In fact, with the presence of the spices in the folds of the clothes, it would be almost impossible to unwrap a corpse without damaging the wrappings. The only way those linen clothes could be left in that condition would be if Jesus passed through them as He arose from the dead.
John then entered the tomb and looked at the evidence. “He saw, and believed.”
It seems incredible that the followers of Jesus did not expect Him to come out of the tomb alive. After all, He had told them many times that He would be raised from the dead. Early in His ministry He had said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). After His resurrection, the disciples remembered that He had said this (John 2:22); however, His enemies remembered it too (Matt. 27:40, 63-64).
He compared Himself to Jonah (Matt. 12:40), and on two occasions clearly announced His resurrection after three days (Matt. 16:21; 20:19). On Thursday of His last week of ministry He again promised to be raised up and meet them in Galilee (Matt. 26:32, and see Luke 24:6-7).
What kind of faith did Peter and John have at that stage in their spiritual experience?
They had faith based on evidence. They could see the graveclothes; 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 evidence, for the material evidence (the tomb, the graveclothes) is no longer there for us to inspect.
But we have the record in the Word of God (John 20:9) and that record is true (John 19:35; 21:24). In fact, it is faith in the Word that the Lord really wanted to cultivate in His disciples (see John 2:22; 12:16; 14:26). Peter made it clear that the Word of God, not personal experiences, should be the basis for our faith (1 Peter 1:12-21).
The disciples had only the Old Testament Scriptures, so that is what is referred to in John 20:9. The early church used the Old Testament to prove to both Jews and Gentiles that Jesus is the Christ that He died for sinners and that He arose again (Acts 9:22; 13:16; 17:1-4; etc.). The Gospel includes “and that He arose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4).
What Scriptures did Paul and John have in mind?
Paul saw the Resurrection in Psalm 2:7 (Acts 13:33). Peter saw it in Psalm 16:8-11 (Acts 2:23-36 and note 13:35). Peter also referred to Psalm 110:1 (Acts 2:34-35). The statement “He shall prolong His days” in Isaiah 53:10 is also interpreted as a prediction of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus Himself used the Prophet Jonah to illustrate His own death, burial, and resurrection (Matt. 12:38-40); and this would include the “three days” part of the message. Paul saw in the Feast of Firstfruits a picture of the Resurrection (Lev. 23:9-14; 1 Cor. 15:20-23), and again, this would include “the third day.” Some students see the Resurrection and “the third day” in Hosea 6:2.
After His resurrection, our Lord did not reveal Himself to everyone, but only to selected witnesses who would share the good news with others (Acts 10:39-43). This witness is now found in Scripture, the New Testament; and both the Old Testament and the New Testament agree in their witness. The Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Apostles together bear witness that Jesus Christ is alive!
Peter and John saw the evidence and believed. Later, the Holy Spirit confirmed their faith through the Old Testament Scriptures. That evening, they would meet the Master personally! Faith that was eclipsed has now started to dawn, and the light will get brighter.
Bible Exposition Commentary – Be Transformed