“So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.” (John 19:42–20:10, ESV)
In Genesis 1:5 we have the record of the first day of creation. “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:5, ESV) From that we see that the progression of day began with the close of the previous day, at sunset. And when the Jews were instructed in observing feasts we read, “It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath.” (Leviticus 23:32, ESV) This had been a practice that they observed since the time of Moses, and it was deeply engrained in their system of rules.
Jesus was crucified on a Friday and the Sabbath was shortly to begin at sunset. The other three gospels record for us that Jesus died at the ninth hour with Luke writing, “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:44–46, ESV) Their day was divided into the twelve hours of daylight with the ninth hour representing mid-afternoon with evening quickly approaching when all work would have to cease. It was imperative that they be finished with the crucifixion by then, and had Jesus not already been dead the soldiers would have broken his legs so that He couldn’t lift Himself up for a breath. But to fulfill the Scriptures Jesus laid down His life before that time.
This brings us to verse 42 of chapter 19, where Joseph recognizing the late hour went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body that He might bury Him. This is what he and Nicodemus did, and after that Joseph had a stone rolled in front of the tomb in order that it might be sealed. Beyond that, we read that there were guards placed to guard against His disciples taking His body and claiming that He had risen. Even His enemies recognized His claim that He would rise from the dead, and they took steps to ensure that no one would steal away His body and claim that this had happened. And with this Friday ended, Saturday came and went, which was followed by Sunday morning—the first day of the week.
Assuming that Jesus’ body would still be in the tomb hastily prepared and untouched since He was laid there, John recorded for us that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning before the sun had even come up. Arriving and fully expecting to find the stone still in place Mary was surprised to find that it had been rolled away. Seeing the Jesus’ body was no longer there she quickly jumped to the conclusion that His body had been taken away, presumably by the Jews. Disturbed to see that He was not there she ran back to find Peter and John (the disciple Jesus loved). She told them exactly what she had seen and thought, which was not that He had risen just like He said, but rather, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
Peter and John didn’t stop Mary and affirm with her that they should have expected this because it was what Jesus had told them. No, they ran back to see for themselves. John got there first and peeked in to see that Jesus was indeed not there, but oddly enough His burial cloths were. When Peter arrived he went past John and entered the cave to see that not only were His burial cloths there, but the linens were laying in one place as if they had fallen right off of Him and the cloth that had been on His face was folded and laying by itself. That surely must have seemed strange to them. Why would someone unwrap His body and then steal it, and on top of that why would they have been so careful with His face cloth? This surely did not make sense if someone were to have taken Him.
After Peter had seen these things John also entered, saw what was there and of course who was not there. Then it all made sense. No one had taken His body. Jesus had told them what would happen, and they did not get it. But at that moment he did. He wrote, ‘Then the other disciple [John, himself], who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” Jesus had said that He was going to rise from the dead and return to the Father. Surely this must have been what happened. We read that John went, saw, and believed.
And what else was there for them to do at that moment knowing that Jesus had risen? There was no need to go search for His body, so John tells us that they went home. But as we will continue to read there were some who needed more convincing.
“And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”” (Matthew 20:17–19, ESV)
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4, ESV)
Christ died for our sins. He was crucified and buried on a Friday. He rose on a Sunday. God said it would happen. It happened. Those are the facts. This is the gospel truth.