The gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection describe that when Peter and John entered the empty tomb, they saw the linen grave clothes and face cloth lying there (John 20:6-7). These seemingly ordinary cloths contained critically important evidence that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Let’s explore the significance of Jesus’ grave clothes and what they meant for the truth of His resurrection.
The gospel writers took care to record details about Jesus’ burial, including his grave clothes. Why are these details important? Because the state of the grave clothes provides evidence that refutes the claim Jesus’ body was stolen and proves the miraculous nature of His resurrection.
After Jesus’ death, Joseph of Arimathea hastily buried Him since the Sabbath was approaching (Mark 15:42-46). Scriptures record Nicodemus bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing around 100 pounds to wrap Jesus’ body according to Jewish custom (John 19:39-40). So Jesus was wrapped tightly in linen cloths filled with spices.
When Peter and John came to the tomb that Sunday morning, they didn’t simply find an empty tomb. They found the grave clothes and face cloth lying separate from the rest. This shows Jesus’ body hadn’t been unwrapped by human hands. Rather, He supernaturally passed through the clothes, leaving them intact in the shape of His body.
The key takeaways about Jesus’ grave clothes are:
- Jesus was buried in linen cloths filled with a large amount of spices according to Jewish burial customs. This rules out the possibility the body was stolen.
- Jesus’ body passed through the grave clothes supernaturally, leaving the cloths lying intact in the shape of His body. This rules out human tampering.
- The empty yet undisturbed state of the grave clothes serves as convincing evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.
In the rest of this post, we’ll look deeper at why the condition of Jesus’ grave clothes is so compelling as historical evidence for the resurrection.
Jewish Burial Practices in Jesus’ Day
To understand the meaning of the grave clothes, we first need to look at Jewish burial customs during Jesus’ time. When a Jew died, the body was typically washed and then wrapped tightly in linen grave clothes containing spices and ointments:
“As the custom of the Jews is to bury.” (John 19:40 NKJV)
“Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.” (John 19:40 NKJV)
The spices served several purposes. They suppressed the smell of decomposition, slowed down decay, and counteracted the stench of bodily fluids leaking out. The Jews used a large amount of spices for burials:
“And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” (John 19:39 NKJV)
So Jesus’ body would have been wrapped very tightly in multiple linen strips layered with a large amount of gummy spices. This resulted in a firm, solid encasement around His body, akin to a plaster cast.
Why are these Jewish customs important? Because they show it would have been extremely difficult to steal Jesus’ body. The thieves would have to take time to carefully unwrap the body and remove the hundred pounds of spices – all while guards stood watch! This burial practice points strongly away from the body being stolen.
The Empty Tomb and Grave Clothes
All four Gospels describe women coming to Jesus’ tomb on the Sunday after His crucifixion and finding it empty:
“But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away – for it was very large.” (Mark 16:4 NKJV)
“…and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in.” (John 20:5 NKJV)
“And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there…” (Luke 24:12 NKJV)
Importantly, the tomb wasn’t just empty. The grave clothes were still there, lying intact on the slab where Jesus’ body had been placed. John provides the most details:
“And Simon Peter followed him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.” (John 20:6-7 NKJV)
Note a few things: the linen strips were still in the tomb, left lying where Jesus’ body had been. And the face cloth was separate, folded up neatly by itself.
Jesus’ body was gone, but the cloths retained the shape of His body. This shows the cloths weren’t unwound or unwrapped. They were undisturbed, just empty of Jesus’ body.
Why is this important? Because it provides convincing evidence no one stole the body. Grave robbers wouldn’t neatly unwrap and fold the face cloth after stealing the body. The scene clearly pointed to a miracle!
The Significance of the Cloths
Let’s summarize the evidence the grave clothes provide:
- The cloths lay flat – After passing through the cloths, Jesus’ body left them lying intact in the shape of His body. If thieves stole the body, they wouldn’t leave the cloths neatly lying there.
- The face cloth was folded – John notes the face cloth was folded up separately from the other wraps. Grave robbers or those stealing the body wouldn’t take time to do this.
- The spices remained – The hundred pounds of spices were still present, with no indication of unwrapping. Thieves wouldn’t leave valuable spices behind, and wouldn’t have time to carefully unwrap them.
- The scene matched Jesus’ prophecy – In John 2:19, Jesus said: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” He predicted He would raise His body back to life. And that’s just what the scene showed – life miraculously emerging from the shell of burial wraps.
Taken together, this evidence decisively refutes the “stolen body” theory. The condition of the cloths points to one conclusion – the tomb was empty because Jesus had supernaturally risen through the cloths, leaving them intact just as He prophesied!
Peter and John’s Response
John records that when he saw the grave clothes, “he saw and believed” (John 20:8 NKJV). He realized Jesus’ resurrection explained the scene.
Seeing the undisturbed cloths caused Peter and John to believe Jesus was alive. Luke notes this led to their excitement over Jesus’ resurrection:
“And they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together…saying, ‘The Lord is risen indeed!'” (Luke 24:33-34 NKJV)
The remarkable state of the grave clothes was a defining moment for Peter and John. It turned them into bold witnesses to the resurrection.
This matches Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20 that those who saw Him resurrected would believe:
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word”
Seeing the grave clothes resulted in Peter and John believing and then proclaiming Christ’s resurrection to many others, fulfilling Jesus’ prayer.
Addressing Alternative Theories
Skeptics have proposed alternative explanations for the empty tomb and grave clothes, seeking to avoid the resurrection:
Theory 1 – Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross but merely fainted, then revived in the cool tomb.
Rebuttal – This doesn’t fit the evidence. A man too weak to push aside the cloths couldn’t roll away a stone weighing over a ton! And Jesus’ brutal scourging and crucifixion confirmed He was certainly dead (Mark 15:44-45).
Theory 2 – The women and disciples went to the wrong tomb.
Rebuttal – As Jesus’ followers buried Him, they knew which tomb He was placed in. And the Roman guards wouldn’t mistakenly guard the wrong tomb.
Theory 3 – The scene was staged – the body was removed and cloths arranged to look like Jesus rose.
Rebuttal – Who would do this, and why? The disciples were despondent after the crucifixion. And the Roman or Jewish authorities certainly didn’t stage a fake resurrection. They wanted to quash news of any resurrection.
Theory 4 – The story of Jesus’ resurrection is a legend that developed over time.
Rebuttal – The gospels record eyewitnesses like Peter and John seeing the empty tomb and grave clothes, then telling others. Over 500 saw the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 15:6). Legends take generations to develop, not mere weeks.
So alternative theories fail to reasonably account for the evidence. The miraculous resurrection remains the best explanation.
Conclusion and Key Takeaways
The gospel accounts provide compelling historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. The state of the grave clothes plays a key role, showing Christ’s body wasn’t stolen but rather He rose and passed through the cloths. This fulfills Jesus’ own prophecies that He would suffer, die, and rise again on the third day (Luke 18:31-33).
The key takeaways about Jesus’ grave clothes are:
- Jesus was wrapped in linen strips and coated with a large amount of spices per Jewish burial customs. This rules out the body being stolen.
- The cloths were left in the shape of Jesus’ body after He rose through them. This shows the event wasn’t staged by humans.
- The excitement of Peter, John and others stemmed from seeing the empty yet undisturbed grave clothes. This led them to boldly proclaim Christ’s resurrection.
- Alternative theories fail to reasonably explain the evidence. The miraculous resurrection remains the only satisfying explanation.
The undisturbed yet empty grave clothes provide compelling evidence that our Savior Jesus conquered death just as He predicted. This gives us assurance today that those who trust in Christ will also one day be resurrected to eternal life with Him (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). Praise God for this magnificent hope!