The Bible contrasts two incredible miracles. First, Jesus restored Lazarus to physical life. Then Jesus was killed—and God raised Him in a profoundly different way!
One of the most remarkable of all miracles is the restoration of life to those who died.
In addition to a group of people raised at one time (Matthew 27:52-53), the Bible tells about eight individuals who died and were restored to life through the intervention of God’s servants. The eight include two children and one man in the Old Testament and five men and women in the New Testament.
John’s Gospel gives us the account of one of those eight.
The raising of Lazarus
Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary, lived in the village of Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem. Jesus was close friends with these three. So when their brother became seriously ill, the sisters sent word to Jesus, expecting Him to come to heal Lazarus (John 11:1-3).
Jesus, knowing that God His Father was going to use His friend’s sickness to demonstrate His power and glory, waited several days before going to where Lazarus lived. Finally, He said to His disciples that it was time for them to go. “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up” (verse 11).
Jesus knew Lazarus was dead, but in God’s eyes death is like a deep sleep. Many scriptures liken death to sleep from which God has the power to awaken people. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days.
Jesus met Martha on the way and told her that her brother would rise again. She thought He was referring to the resurrection at the end of this age. He then told her that He had the power to give life. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (verse 25).
Her sister Mary came, and Jesus asked where the tomb was that held Lazarus’ body. One form of burial in the Jewish world was to wrap the body in strips of linen cloth and place it in a cave dug in the side of a hill.
When they came to the burial site, Jesus told them to take away the stone that covered the opening. Martha protested that the body would be stinking by this time.
Jesus responded, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe, you would see the glory of God?” (verse 40).
Following a short prayer of thanks to His Father for hearing His prayers, Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come forth!” (verse 43).
And from within the dark cave, the figure of a man appeared wrapped in strips of linen. “And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go’” (verse 44).
Word of this remarkable event quickly reached the Jewish religious authorities. Perceiving Jesus as a threat to their positions and perhaps even their nation, they plotted to take His life.
Little did they realize that the stage was being set for another death and a very different resurrection.
Jesus’ death and burial
The apostle John also records this death, burial and resurrection. But this resurrection was to be different from all others that have ever taken place! It was the first resurrection to a spirit body and immortal life!
Around 3 p.m. on Passover day, the life of Jesus Christ was ended by the upward thrust of a Roman soldier’s spear. His life-giving blood gushed out, and the Savior breathed His last breath (John 19:30, 34).
Shortly afterward, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus quickly went into action. Joseph courageously stepped forward to claim Jesus’ body and prepare it for burial. Nicodemus contributed a large amount of costly spices to use in the burial. Time was short, for at sundown the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread would begin.
The warm climate and religious customs mandated that a body be buried soon after death. The Jews practiced neither cremation nor embalming. The poor were often buried in the ground; while those better off were placed in caves or tombs dug in a hillside. These often had several shelves for other family members’ later use.
If death occurred just before a Sabbath, it was especially important that the body be taken to its resting place before sundown. The Jews would not bury the dead on a Sabbath day.
The body was normally washed and wrapped in clean linen cloth or strips of cloth. Those who could afford it would put perfumes, ointment and spices on the body and between the wrappings of cloth (see John 19:31-42). In some cases the spices and ointments would be thick enough to cause the outer layers of cloth to harden in time to something like a cocoon.
Myrrh is specifically mentioned as being used in the preparation of Jesus’ body. It is a very aromatic resinous substance from several types of trees in Arabia and North Africa. Usually a separate piece of cloth would be used to wrap the head of the deceased.
Mark mentions that the women bought additional spices after the Sabbath, and Luke states they prepared the spices before the Sabbath (Mark 15:47-16:1; Luke 23:56). This confirms there were two Sabbaths involved that week—an annual Sabbath and a weekly Sabbath. After resting on the weekly Sabbath, Saturday, the two Marys went as early as possible to the tomb the next day to finish placing spices on His body.
A grave without a body!
When the women arrived at the tomb, they discovered the stone had been rolled back and the tomb was empty! An angelic being reported that Jesus was risen and they should go tell the disciples what had happened.
They rushed to inform the other disciples. Mary Magdalene didn’t yet understand there had been a restoration to life, and she told Peter and John someone had taken Jesus’ body away.
But when Peter and John arrived and saw evidence of what had happened, they realized Jesus Christ had indeed been raised to a new life—exactly as He had said He would be. They noticed something the women had missed.
What was this evidence? Among the Gospel writers, only John records it.
“So Peter and the other disciple set out and made their way to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and reached the tomb first. He peered in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not enter. Then Simon Peter caught up with him and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the napkin which had been round His head, not with the wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed” (John 20:1-8, Revised English Bible, emphasis added throughout).
What did the disciples see that made them believe?
Jesus Christ had told them several times that He would die and rise again, but it hadn’t sunk in. What Peter and John saw convinced them not only that His body had not been stolen, but also that God the Father had raised Jesus to glory and immortality (Acts 3:13-15)!
Christ’s wrapped body had been laid on a rock shelf in the tomb. Yards of linen cloth had been wrapped around His body. Spices and thick myrrh were placed inside those wrappings, essentially pasting them together. What Peter and John saw as they peered into the dimness of the cave was the layers of wrapping that had encircled His body and the napkin that had been around His head rolled up, or “folded together,” as the New King James Version translates John 20:7. If someone had removed Jesus’ body, why would they leave these wrappings?
No tomb robber trying to steal the corpse would have taken the time to laboriously unwrap the body—especially since he would have been in danger of being discovered by the guards (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-15).
This resurrection was not like the resurrection of Lazarus, in which his life was physically restored to live a few more years. This was the resurrection of a human corpse to a spirit body (see 1 Corinthians 15:44).
What John saw made a profound impression on him. The grave clothes were not disheveled and disarranged, as would have been the case if someone had removed them or someone had struggled to free himself from the wrappings. The original Greek wording implies they were laying there still in their folds, the cloths for the body where the body had been and the “napkin,” a smaller, separate piece of cloth, near where the head had lain.
Apparently, the grave clothes did not look as if they had been torn off. They were lying there in their regular folds as if the body of Jesus had simply evaporated out of them. Notice what a few biblical resources say about this.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words notes this about Jesus’ head covering being “wrapped together in a place by itself” (John 20:7, King James Version): “‘Wrapped together’ might suggest that this cloth had been ‘rolled’ or wrapped up and put in a certain part of the tomb at the Lord’s resurrection, whereas, as with the body wrappings, the head cloth was lying as it had been ‘rolled’ round His head, an evidence, to those who looked into the tomb, of the fact of His resurrection without any disturbance of the wrappings either by friend or foe” (1985, “Roll”).
It seems that Jesus’ glorified body had passed right through the cloth!
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states: “Significantly, the grave clothes were undisturbed. ... Long ago, Chrysostom pointed out that grave robbers would not have stolen the body naked because of time restraints and other difficulties (‘it was buried with much myrrh, which glues linen to the body not less firmly than lead’ [Hom. 85 on Jn. 4]). The Gospels describe an orderly scene, not one of confusion that would have resulted had the grave clothes been torn from the body. That something extraordinary had taken place is shown by the fact that the beloved disciple ‘saw and believed’ (Jn. 20:8)” (1988, Vol. 4, p. 151).
In a footnote on John 20:7, The Companion Bible explains that John’s original wording “implies that the cloth had been folded round the head as a turban is folded, and that it lay still in the form of a turban. The linen clothes also lay exactly as they were when swathed round the body. The Lord had passed out of them, not needing, as Lazarus (11:44), to be loosed. It was this sight that convinced John (v. 8).”
In viewing the linen wrappings, John quickly realized what had happened—and he believed. It was not what Jesus had said so often that convinced him that Jesus had risen. It was what he saw with his own eyes!
John recorded significant differences in these two resurrections. The stone covering of the tomb was removed so that Lazarus could get out. However, the stone covering of Christ’s tomb was rolled back not so Jesus could get out, but so that the disciples could see that Jesus had already gotten out!
Lazarus had to have others remove his wrappings; Jesus passed through His wrappings in a spirit body.
Later, John wrote that Christ’s true followers will likewise be resurrected to immortal spirit life: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! ... Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).
Many of those early disciples were witness to those resurrections, and no doubt the assurance of what they had seen helped sustain them through the trials, persecution and, for several, even martyrdom.
Paul’s belief in the resurrection
Paul knew of hundreds who had witnessed the resurrected Christ, and he saw Him too (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). This gave him confidence to write to the Corinthians about the surety of life after death, the hope of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).
He was able to stand before his accusers strongly and faithfully stating: “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:14-15).
And before King Agrippa, Paul asked, “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8).
Paul believed, and he courageously acted on his belief.
Acting on our belief
Do you believe there is a resurrection of the dead? Is that your hope? Is it in your future? It can be. When we repent, are baptized and receive the gift of God’s Spirit, we at the same time receive the promise of the gift of eternal life.
Study more about what God calls on us to do in our free booklet Change Your Life!
Sidebar: Could Jesus’ Body Have Been Stolen?
If Jesus was not resurrected, what became of His body?
If it had been stolen by the Jews, they would have displayed it the very moment that the disciples began to preach that Christ was the true Messiah and had been raised from death by His Father.
But they didn’t.
If Jesus’ disciples secretly stole it to concoct a story of His resurrection, then they would have known they were preaching a lie—that everything they taught was based on something that didn’t happen.
But scores of men and women don’t suffer death and torture as martyrs for what they know to be untrue!
Jesus was resurrected just as He had promised and as the Bible records!