A pertinent question for Easter came to me from my daughter, Charis. She received an email that told this tale and wondered what I thought of it. I’ve summarized it here (and corrected some of the grammar):
When Peter arrived at the grave of Jesus the Bible says the napkin that covered Jesus’ face was neatly folded up. To understand the significance of that you have to understand a little about Hebrew tradition.
When a servant set the table for his master, he would stand aside waiting until the master had finished eating. When the master left the table if he was done eating he would rise, wad up the napkin and toss it onto the table. The wadded napkin meant, ‘I’m done’.
But if the master got up from the table, folded his napkin, and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not touch the table because…. the folded napkin meant “I am coming back.” He is coming back!
A: My thoughts on the story.
1. Jesus IS coming back and I am glad.
2. Cute story but very thin on facts.
3. While KJV does call the cloth a “napkin”, new KJV does not and the Greek indicates more of a towel for wiping sweat.
4. This “Hebrew tradition” is not unique to the Jews or the first century. Duh! We still do that today. Plus, my research shows that no such “tradition” existed then any more than it does today.
5. It would have been just as significant (and more Biblical) if He had wadded it up and tossed it aside indicating, “I am done.” (It is finished!)
So is it significant that the towel was folded and separate from the grave clothes? Certainly! You do not find irrelevant, filler facts in God’s Word. There may be a more profound meaning than this (stay tuned for any further understandings) but the most obvious is to reinforce that the body was not stolen- as the Jewish leaders would declare.
Remember the main message of John – the only gospel where this detail is found – was the divinity of Christ. His resurrection was an essential element of establishing the fact that He was not just a man – He was God in the flesh. When He left the grave, there was no hurry, no scrambling by disciples or grave robbers to not get caught. In fact, who would undress a body before stealing it? Thieves would not take the body and leave the valuable cloth. The disciples would have taken the body and the clothes if trying to fake a resurrection.
But the living Jesus had no more need of graves clothes. Unlike Lazarus, who had to be set free from his grave clothes and would later die again, Jesus was and is alive forevermore! In fact, think about this, later Jesus would walk through walls into a locked room. He did not need the stone moved away to get out. The angels didn’t open the grave to let Him out but to let us peer in
and see, “He is not here! He is Risen!”
It may be a cute story but sadly these intentional fabrications, no matter how well meaning, tend to make Christians look foolish. We have the most awesome story of all human history to proclaim. We only cheapen it with unsubstantiated, clearly flawed and easily disproven fables
such as this. Sadly they undermine the credibility of the true message. Stick to the facts. Stick with God’s Word. It is awesome enough without embellishment.