There is a scene in the Bible of two men racing to see for themselves the proof of what they had heard. It takes place in John 20. You are probably familiar with it. Mary Magdelene came early to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. She saw the stone taken away and she ran to tell Peter and John (John 20:1-2).
The two were running together; and the other disciple (John) ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in (v. 4-5).
John looked and saw the linens. This is the most basic and most common use of the word “saw”. It simply means that something was impressed upon John’s eyes. There was something visible to him. But the text continues…
And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb and he saw the wrappings lying there; and the face-cloth which had been on His head not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself (v. 6-7).
Peter came behind John, but he is not content to stop and look in from outside. He barrels his way into the tomb. Peter also saw the linens lying there, but he did more than just take in the sight. This word for “saw” indicates that Peter looked inquisitively. It means ‘to behold with intelligence; perceive or scrutinize (J.M. Boice – Epistles of John). Apparently, there was something about the linens that caused Peter to puzzle over them. Perhaps the fact that they were still there? Maybe the fact that they were left neatly? Whatever it was, the use of this word for ‘saw’ indicates Peter was perplexed.
But there is yet another word that is used for ‘saw’ in this text.
So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed (v.8).
John entered the tomb of Jesus after Peter and he saw the same thing Peter did. John, however, saw with understanding and believed. This is John’s conversion moment. The significance of the grave clothes got through to him, because he tells us, he “saw and believed.”
Later, John would write another noteworthy book of the Bible. First John is his epistle to the churches in the Asia region over which he exercised Apostolic authority. Gnostic teaching had infiltrated the church and people were trying to separate the deity of Jesus from His humanity. John writes this letter to show that Jesus was a real, flesh and blood person and the One True God.
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
It is the same word he used of his experience at the tomb that he now uses to describe to his readers his relationship to Christ. John says 3 times in these 4 verses that he ‘saw with understanding’. John’s experience with Christ was not just visible, although it was that too. His experience with Christ led him to an unshakable belief in the One True God who took on human flesh and became the God-Man. Fully human, fully God.
He writes 1 John to proclaim that which he heard, touched and ‘saw with understanding’ so that you and I may have fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. We have not seen the Christ as John saw Him, but we have the testimony of Scripture. We have the reliable eye-witness accounts of the Apostles and others. Through them and their proclamation of what they ‘saw with understanding’, we too can now ‘see with understanding’ and believe.