What Does John 20:8 Mean?

So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.

John 20:8(NASB)

Verse of the Day

As we look back to Christ's Resurrection, we rejoice that He was willing to die as the substitute for our sin and rise again on the third day. But John 20 gives us a glimpse into the happenings on Resurrection Day and the heart of some of His disciples.

Mary Magdalene had come early in the morning to anoint the dead body of Jesus with spices, and finding that the stone was rolled away, immediately ran to tell the disciples. Two of them; Peter and "the other disciple" whom we understand to be John, ran to find it exactly as Mary had said. In verse 8 we read: "So the other disciple, who had first come to the tomb, then also entered, and he saw and believed."

Both disciples ran together, but "the other disciple" (John) outran Peter. He got to the tomb first, looked inside, saw the linen grave clothes lying there, but did not go inside. However, when Peter arrived at the empty tomb he went inside immediately and finally, John also entered and saw the grave clothes. One special thing he noticed was that the wrapping that had been on Jesus' head was not lying with the linen cloths but was folded up in a separate place by itself.

Both disciples saw the empty tomb, the grave clothes, and the napkin that had been wrapped around His head, folded in a place by itself. We read that "the other disciple...saw and believed" but we are not told exactly what he believed. Perhaps he simply believed Mary's report of the empty tomb; maybe he believed that Jesus was somehow alive (only a few days earlier he has recently seen Lazarus brought back to life, and maybe he really did believe that the Lord Jesus had indeed been resurrected from the dead, the first-fruit from the grave as Jesus had already taught them).

But there are some doubts that John believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. He did not suggest that Jesus was alive to his fellow disciple or the grieving Mary, who stood weeping outside the tomb. He did not suggest to the distraught woman that maybe Christ's teaching about His death and Resurrection could in fact be true, and the next verse seems to explain his quiet hesitation for we read: "They still did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead."

In His final weeks before the crucifixion, Jesus had told his followers on a number of occasions that He would be betrayed and handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, who would condemn him to death and then hand him over to the Gentiles. He had told them that he would be mocked, scourged, and crucified, but that He would rise again on the third day. 

However, it seems that unbelief, doubt, indecision, or uncertainty may have trumped John's faith in Christ's physical Resurrection for a time, for he and Peter simply "returned home" after seeing the grave clothes undisturbed but empty, with the head covering neatly folded by itself. Unbelief, doubt, indecision, or uncertainty would not have been so strange, for some of Jesus' 11 disciples even doubted when they saw the risen Lord.

Did John connect the empty tomb and folded grave clothes with Christ's glorious Resurrection? There was no outward appearance of rejoicing, but it does appear that a mixture of doubt and wonderment filled the heart of this young apostle "whom Jesus loved" because we read that "he saw and believed" once he had seen the grave clothes neatly lying there. It is apparent that John understood the significance of what he saw, but perhaps he needed time to reflect on all that Jesus had taught them over the previous three years and allow the astonishing happenings of the previous 24 hours to sink in.

The people that were present during the life, ministry, death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus belong to a unique generation because their life spanned the closing years of the pre-Cross dispensation of the Law (when Christ offered the kingdom to Israel, who rejected it), and the post-Resurrection dispensation of grace (where salvation is a free gift of God's grace, to all who will believe in Christ's death, burial and Resurrection for the forgiveness of our sin). And John's Gospel was written: "So that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And that by believing we may have life in His name."

We may not have had the opportunity to hear Christ's teaching, see His miraculous signs and wonders, visit the empty tomb, or meet with Jesus during his post-Resurrection ministry, but we are blessed beyond compare, for we have the Word of God which is living, active, and able to give us all that we need. And although we have not seen Him, we love Him. And we have a very special blessing, for Jesus Himself said, "Blessed are those that have NOT seen me and yet have believed."

My Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ. I am humbled and grateful for the privilege of being able to read Your Word and the truths it contains, thank You for Your love and grace in sending Jesus to be the substitute for our sin. Thank You for His sacrificial death and glorious Resurrection, and that by believing in Him, I have life everlasting. Help me to stand strong in my faith and keep me from allowing my feelings and senses to override the truth of Your Word. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.

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