What happened to the saints that got up out of the grave after Jesus' resurrection?
The book of Matthew tells us that on the afternoon that Jesus died on that wood cross, not only was the sun darkened during a full moon, the temple veil was torn from the top to the bottom, and some Old Testament saints came up out their graves. Here is Matthew’s record of this historical event,
And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split, and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. (NASB) Matthew 27:51-53
Matthew tells us that many of the bodies of the Old Testament saints returned to life after Jesus came back to life – “after His resurrection.” Why did Matthew give us this piece of information here at the time of Jesus’ death? It appears that maybe many of the graves were opened when the earthquake occurred at the time of Jesus’ death, but the saints’ return to life did not occur until Jesus returned to life.
What did they do? What happened to them? These are questions that many have asked, but Matthew gives us very little information. Matthew does tell us that they entered the holy city, and many people saw them. They probably had new immortal bodies since decay would have made many, if not all, of them completely unrecognizable. Decay would have eaten away their flesh and dissolved their bones. Remember that Jesus’ new immortal body was recognized by the apostles after He opened their understanding (Matt. 28:10-11; Luke 24:14-16, 31). Therefore these saints or holy ones probably had new immortal bodies in order to be recognized, but we cannot be dogmatic. Otherwise, they would have walked around with partial skeletons and missing flesh.
Just imagine, maybe someone saw a friend who had died years ago. Maybe a mother saw her dead son, or a wife saw her husband. This must have been a very great emotional surprise and shock to many people in Jerusalem. They had to know that it was connected to Jesus’ death.
Why did this occur? Why shock people with men, women, and children who were once dead but are now alive and walking around? I believe God was making a point. These people had believed in Jesus and they came to life to tell others about Jesus. God was seeking the spiritual souls of unbelievers. Jesus cared for and loved them, even though they had just murdered Him. This displays God’s great love for us. He is seeking us and wants us to believe in Him.