All the Way to Glory: The Amazing Race

Let’s back up just a little. The women were on the move early in the morning. Although it was dark when they set out, there was enough light now to make sense of their surroundings. By the time they approached the tomb, they knew something had happened. It is likely that the first one of their group to notice was Mary Magdalene. She is listed first in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Mat 28:1; Mar 16:1; Luk 24:10), and John actually credits her with the discovery: “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early … and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre” (Joh 20:1).1 Without bothering to brainstorm with the other women as to what may have occurred, she took off. She just had to tell someone.

Mary Running

“Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved” (v2). If she had stayed a little longer to hear what the angel announced to the rest of the women, her report would have been entirely different. Instead, the only thing she had to say was, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him” (v2).

We may wonder why she only went to Peter and John (the disciple whom Jesus loved), but it is possible that they were the only two whose locations she knew since the disciples scattered.2 Also, the repeated preposition “to” (“and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple”) suggests Peter and John were in separate locations. The order of their mention might indicate Peter was told first. If so, it didn’t prove to be an advantage, as we’ll see in a moment.

The Women Running

We don’t know how far behind Mary the other women were, but they surely had more of a spring in their step than she did, for the news they carried was more accurate and far more significant. No one had taken the Lord out of the tomb; He came out Himself for He had risen from the dead. It’s no wonder the women ran also; “And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word” (Mat 28:8). But it was not only women running on this monumental day.

Peter and John Running

They wasted no time. All they knew was what Mary Magdalene had told them, but they had to get there and see for themselves.3 At some point, they must have spotted each other, perhaps coming from different directions, or taking different courses to the destination. Luke suggests something else happened along the way. As Peter4 and John ran to the tomb, they were met by the other women who had recently left the tomb and now gave their fuller report.5 With this additional news, the race was on! “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” (Joh 20:3-4).

Apparently, the Roman guards had not only been seized by fear at the appearance of the angel of the Lord (Mat 28:4), but by this time had fled (v11), since no mention is made of them once Peter and John arrive. But John arrived first. “And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in” (Joh 20:5). Was Mary Magdalene right? Had someone indeed taken the Lord’s body from the tomb? Or were the rest of the women right? Was it actually possible that Christ had risen from the dead? John didn’t have long to ponder the possibilities before he heard Peter panting behind him. And in typical brash fashion, Peter dared to go farther than John.

Not interested in observing from the outside, Peter barged in. “Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre” (v6). What he saw was nothing short of amazing. He saw “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” (vv6-7). The word translated “wrapped together” (Greek entulisso) could be better rendered “rolled up” (NET, ISV). Clearly, the body of Christ was gone, but what thief would take the time to unwrap a corpse, and not only leave the wrappings behind (which in this case were quite expensive) but roll them back together? Mary wasn’t right; the Lord’s body wasn’t removed by grave robbers.

Incidentally, the wrapping around the Lord Jesus’ head said to be “in a place by itself” does not indicate that it was moved by the Lord after He rose. Jesus rose through the graveclothes, not with them still on His body. There is no indication that Christ removed His own graveclothes, but that one moment He was in them and the next moment He was not. The usual practice of wrapping a body was not one continuous wrapping from head to foot, but two wrappings, one for the head and one for the remainder of the body. Thus, when the Saviour rose, there would be a visible gap between the two wrappings, with the headpiece being “in a place by itself.”

The presence of the graveclothes in the tomb suggests something else to us. John records that when Lazarus was raised and came out of his tomb he was still wrapped in his graveclothes, including the headpiece (11:44). Lazarus would need them again because he would die again. But Christ would never need them again, for He had risen never to die again (Rev 1:18).

Luke tells us what was going on in Peter’s mind as he left the Saviour’s tomb. He “departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass” (24:12). John’s reaction was not mere wonder. “Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed” (Joh 20:8). John doesn’t use the word “believe” lightly in his Gospel. I think he means by this that he believed that Christ was risen, even though John had not seen Him, thus making him the first of the disciples to do so. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (v29). Yet John is careful to add, “For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead” (v9). So even though John believed, it was eyewitness testimony combined with evidence, not Scripture, that led to his proper conclusion. “He had faith but no understanding or knowledge; the knowledge would come later and affirm the faith.”6 This knowledge would come to the disciples as Christ expounded from the Old Testament Scriptures “the things concerning himself” (Luk 24:27,44-46).

A wondering Peter and a believing John departed. “So the disciples went back to their homes” (Joh 20:10 NET). The amazing race was over. John had gained a precious prize, not for arriving at the tomb first, but for believing what he heard and saw once he got there. And in all probability, John brought the good news of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection to His mother, whom he had taken “into his own home” (19:27).

We close this meditation by noting how the Lord prizes our faith. He could have appeared to all His own immediately after His resurrection. They would have seen and believed. Instead, He chose to commission angels to report the news and for those who heard it to spread it further, so that Christ’s followers could each experience the blessing of believing without seeing. And such a blessing is still available today.

We stood not by the empty tomb
Where late Thy sacred body lay,
Nor sat within that upper room,
Nor met Thee in the open way;
But we believe the angel said,
Why seek the living with the dead?7

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

2 After Mary’s report to Peter and John, it is possible that the other disciples got wind of the news and quickly came together in the upper room, where the other women would find them later.

3 John 20:11 suggests that Mary Magdalene followed Peter and John back to the tomb and remained after their departure (v10).

4 Luke only mentions Peter (24:12), presumably as a representative disciple.

5 A possible harmonization of the succeeding events is as follows. Well before the women reached their destination, Peter and John (with Mary trailing) arrived at the tomb. After Peter and John departed to their homes (Joh 20:10), Mary remained behind and became the first to see the risen Christ (vv11-18; Mar 16:9). In close succession, the Lord appeared to the returning women (Mat 28:9-10) as they ran to bring the news to the rest of the disciples. Then the Lord appeared to Peter alone on his way home (Luk 24:34; 1Co 15:5), to the two travelers to Emmaus (Luk 24:13ff.), and finally to the assembled disciples (without Thomas) in the upper room. These all occurred on “the first day of the week.”

6 Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening John’s Gospel and Epistles (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), 251.

7 Anne R. Richter (died 1857), altered by John Hampden Gurney (1802–1862)