The Grave Cloths in the Tomb

Stmarkdepere   -  

By Family Minister Brandon Steenbock

Why do the Gospel writers make note of the grave clothes being folded neatly in the tomb? What is the significance?

First, these details indicate an eyewitness account. Pointing out simple things like the arrangement of the grave wrappings reminds us that this is not some fantasy story. This happened, people were there, and they talked about what they saw. I like to think of John, writing this down 50 years after it happened, smiling to himself as he can see it as clearly as if it just happened.

Second is how the cloths were found. John 20 tells us that Peter and John came to the tomb and found the grave wrappings folded up neatly inside the tomb, with the head cloth a little separate from the rest. The word John uses for “folded” is actually the same word used by Matthew and Luke when they say that Joseph “wrapped” Jesus’ body for burial. So, they find the grave clothes wrapped up just as if they were still around a body, only there is no body.

This isn’t a scene of a grave robbing. If it had been, there would either be no wrappings (as they would just take the body, cloths and all), or the wrappings would be strewn about (a weird thing for Jews to do, since the law taught them to be reluctant about touching dead bodies). The calm and peace of a tomb where the cloths are neatly wrapped says that Jesus left unhurried, in control, powerful. Because “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). Death has been defeated. Jesus didn’t have to fight and claw and wrestle his way to life. He had the time to leave his own grave neat and orderly.

But the scene says another thing as well. The arrangement of the cloths suggests that his body left them supernaturally. That is, he didn’t have to unwind himself and tear himself out of the wrappings. His body just… Left them. Just as they were. There is no sign of death more clear than a body wrapped in burial cloth. It binds the body in death. And even Lazarus, when raised from death, had to be unwrapped. He couldn’t do it himself.

But Jesus didn’t need to be unwrapped. Death had no hold on him. His body was completely free of death, so he just rose right out of the cloths. Jesus’ glorious body is not bound by death.

And we’re told in Philippians 3:21 that on the last day, our bodies will be changed “to be like his glorious body.” This is why the cloths were there – a sign to tell us that the glorious body of Jesus is free from death, and that our glorious bodies will also be free from death.

Go read John 20:1-10, and see the promise of Easter in the burial cloths left behind. Happy Easter!