Unlike Peter or Mary, when John went into Jesus’ empty tomb, something incredible happened. Not only did he see all that Peter saw. He believed (John 20:8). Why did John believe before the others?
According to what we known about the burial customs in that part of the world at that time, people would leave the face, neck, and top of the shoulders of the body bare when they prepared it for burial. They would cover the upper part of the head with a cloth twirled about like a turban. The rest of the body was wrapped in strips of linen with a mixture of spices inserted between the folds. Without Jesus’ body in them, the burial cloths deflated and lay exactly in the same position as if they had not been disturbed. The space between the burial cloths and the twisted turban head cloth measured the space where Jesus’ bare face, neck, and upper shoulders would have been. Jesus did not come out of the tomb like Lazarus, needing others to unbind him (John 11:44). His body left the tomb in its resurrected form.
In movies, sometimes directors will put together a montage of scenes that happened earlier in the movie. In that tomb, something similar must have happened in John’s mind. He sees, in his mind’s eye, the scribes and Pharisees pelting Jesus with a request, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” And he remembers Jesus responding: “…no sign will be given [this generation] except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40) He sees, in his mind’s eye, Jesus saying, “…unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) He sees Jesus saying. “…when I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32) Those cryptic teachings of Jesus became crystal clear in John’s mind in that empty tomb.
John’s entire gospel account led up to this moment. John picked up his pen for precisely this reason. He wanted everyone who read his gospel account to do what he did in that empty tomb, believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, “and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)