The Folded Burial Cloth

“Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.” John 20:7 NKJV

Yesterday while listening to an Easter sermon, the story of the linen napkin (to read the story see the end of this post) was brought up and within it was one of the truths the speaker wanted us to take away from Jesus’ resurrection.  I have heard about the linen napkin story for a couple of years now and just this week saw it floating around Facebook. So when the speaker told a modified version of it, my ears picked up and even this morning it was on my mind.

I am a firm believer that everything that Jesus did in the New Testament is a fulfillment of something in the Old Testament – The Scriptures as He called them. This “story” is no different.

However, if you look up the basis of the linen napkin story, you will not find it as “Jewish” history.  There was nothing I could find indicating this was the Biblical reason Jesus folded His facecloth.  It is an “urban legend” so to speak.

But, that begs the question . . . Why Did Jesus fold His handkerchief (facecloth)?

To find the answer, I believe, we must turn to the Book of Numbers (yes, that book with all the names and numbers in it.) Read with me Numbers 4:1-15 (NKJV)

4 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 2 “Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the children of Levi, by their families, by their fathers’ house, 3 from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting.

4 “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of meeting, relating to the most holy things: 5 When the camp prepares to journey, Aaron and his sons shall come, and they shall take down the covering veil and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. 6 Then they shall put on it a covering of badger skins, and spread over that a cloth entirely of blue; and they shall insert its poles.

7 “On the table of showbread they shall spread a blue cloth, and put on it the dishes, the pans, the bowls, and the pitchers for pouring; and the showbread[a] shall be on it. 8 They shall spread over them a scarlet cloth, and cover the same with a covering of badger skins; and they shall insert its poles. 9 And they shall take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand of the light, with its lamps, its wick-trimmers, its trays, and all its oil vessels, with which they service it. 10 Then they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of badger skins, and put it on a carrying beam.

11 “Over the golden altar they shall spread a blue cloth, and cover it with a covering of badger skins; and they shall insert its poles. 12 Then they shall take all the utensils of service with which they minister in the sanctuary, put them in a blue cloth, cover them with a covering of badger skins, and put them on a carrying beam. 13 Also they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth over it. 14 They shall put on it all its implements with which they minister there—the firepans, the forks, the shovels, the basins, and all the utensils of the altar—and they shall spread on it a covering of badger skins, and insert its poles. 15 And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is set to go, then the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them; but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die.

“These are the things in the tabernacle of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry.

I love the Old Testament more and more every time I read it.

Now to the general reader you would not think much of this passage and the verse in John but stay with me and I will try to connect the two – verse by verse.

Verse 2 “Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the children of Levi, by their families, by their fathers’ house,  from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting:  (Now we know that Jesus is from the tribe of Judah but that is the way God designed it – does not negate the duties of Jesus.)  As you read this verse, we see that the requirement for service in the tabernacle is age 30 and above – Jesus was 30 when He began His ministry.

5 When the camp prepares to journey, Aaron and his sons shall come, and they shall take down the covering veil and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of badger skins, and spread over that a cloth entirely of blue; and they shall insert its poles.  From reading the accounts of the Jesus’ last day we know that the veil was torn in two (from top to bottom) – but in this case, Jesus body (the ark of the Testimony) was covered with burial cloths.

This passage gets me:  7 “On the table of showbread they shall spread a blue cloth, and put on it the dishes, the pans, the bowls, and the pitchers for pouring; and the showbread shall be on it. They shall spread over them a scarlet cloth, and cover the same with a covering of badger skins; and they shall insert its poles.  And they shall take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand of the light, with its lamps, its wick-trimmers, its trays, and all its oil vessels, with which they service it. Then they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of badger skins, and put it on a carrying beam.  Jesus is the Showbread.  He is the Bread of Life.  His body was covered in His blood (the scarlet cloth).  He is also the Light of the World. The utensils are the Words He spoke to us.  And the carrying beam – The Cross.

Same here – Jesus is the golden altar.  11 “Over the golden altar they shall spread a blue cloth, and cover it with a covering of badger skins; and they shall insert its poles.  Then they shall take all the utensils of service with which they minister in the sanctuary, put them in a blue cloth, cover them with a covering of badger skins, and put them on a carrying beam.

Verse 13 – Also they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth over it. True, Jesus did not burn up (but He did visit hades).  But they did take His body away from the altar – the altar where He gave up His life for ours.  They then wrapped His body in burial cloths (we just assume they were white)

And finally – verse 15:  And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is set to go, then the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them; but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die.

That last verse is the kicker.  Now you’re probably thinking, this doesn’t explain why Jesus folded His handkerchief/facecloth.  Here’s why I believe He did (based on Numbers 4).

Upon Jesus’ death – there are no more places to go.  No more places to take the Tabernacle – no more reasons to cover the utensils. It. Is. Finished.  There will not be another burial.  He did not need the coverings of the altar anymore or to be carried somewhere – it is done.  His final destination is Heaven. Death is defeated.

So Jesus folded His facecloth – one, to indicate that there was not a grave robbery.  Two, because God is of order and not chaos.  And three, Because He did not need them. Put them away. He is not dead.  He is alive and when you’re alive you do not need burial clothes.  His clothing is now the royal robe.

But, there is one piece of truth about the Linen Napkin Story that is found in Scripture – He is coming Back!!!!!!!! And when He does He will be wearing The Robe (you know, the one dipped in blood).

(Disclaimer:  I am not discounting the story about the linen napkin (printed below) as a story; it does make for a neat lesson and we can all learn something from stories. In fact, Jesus told them.)

The Linen Napkin Story

Why Did Jesus Fold the Napkin. (Read) I never noticed this before. Have you? The Gospel of John 20:7 tells us that the napkin, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the grave clothes. The Bible takes an entire verse to tell us that the napkin was neatly folded, and was placed at the head of that stony coffin. Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, ‘They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and I don’t know where they have put him!’ Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb to see. The other disciple out ran Peter and got there first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying to the side Is that important? Absolutely! Is it really significant? Yes! In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day. The folded napkin had to do with the Master and Servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, and the servant would not dare touch that table, until the master was finished. Now if the master was done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, ‘I’m done’. But if the master got up from the table, and folded his napkin, and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because… The folded napkin meant, ‘I’m coming back!’ HE IS COMING BACK!!!

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About Follow 2 Serve {Lorna}

I am a follower of Christ and I love to serve Him. I am married with two sons. I received my Liberal Arts Associate Degree in May of 2012. My hobbies are reading, crocheting, quilting, knitting, nature photography, and being with my sons.
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