At a Jewish meal during Biblical times, the napkin carried necessary and symbolic meanings for the master and the servant. When the master prepared to leave the evening table, he either tossed his crumpled napkin onto the table, or he neatly folded it by his plate. Either way, the servant knew exactly what to do. The crumpled napkin meant the meal was finished, and all was to be cleared. However, the folded napkin meant the meal was unfinished, and the master was coming back.
This symbolical meaning is illustrated in the resurrection of Christ. When Simon Peter arrived at the tomb on Sunday morning, he entered and saw the strips of linen lying there as well as the face cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The “napkin” was not crumbled, but was folded, separate from the linen. Either the two angels, seated where Jesus’ body had been, folded the napkin, or Jesus himself folded it. Wow! What an unhurried peace of the Living One as He left the grave and walked away from the dead. His “meal” unfinished, the master Jesus is returning for us, His servants.
What a beautiful custom to reinforce His promise in John 14:3: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” When we become discouraged or we doubt if he is returning, remember, Jesus folded His napkin. The master is not finished. He’s coming back.
Read John 20:1-9 for the complete story of the folded napkin.