Matthew 27:52-53 says that when the temple veil was torn, the tombs were opened and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. Could you explain more about these two passages. I thought that when Christ comes again, the bodies of everyone will be raised again for final judgment. This seems like such an important revelation, but it is only mentioned in this passage in Matthew. Thank you.
Matthew 27:45 tells us that it was the sixth hour in Jewish time, which would have been 3:00 p.m. At that time total darkness occurred. Verses 50-53 tell us that Jesus died and immediately the veil in the temple was torn from the top to the bottom. An earthquake occurred, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and many saints were resurrected. The question is, “Why were people resurrected when Jesus died?” What follows answers this question.
What Happened When Jesus Died?
Matthew 27:45, 50-53 records the resurrection of some people after Jesus died on the cross. The passage says,
Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour . . .
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 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. Matthew 27:45, 50-53 (NASB)
For those that were present on the day that Jesus died, there were at least four major signs that screamed loudly that Jesus was not any ordinary man. He was God.
The first sign, was that an unusual darkness was discussed by secular historians. Secular historians attempted to determine how this could have occurred. Today we know that there is no scientific explanation for what happened. The historians state the darkness occurred in the middle of the day. Since Passover had started, there was a full moon since Passover occurred at full moon. A solar eclipse was not possible since the sun would have been on the far side of the earth. Also, a solar eclipse cannot occur during a full moon. What happened was a miracle with no scientific explanation.
The second sign that occurred was that the temple veil was torn from the top to the bottom. The temple veil was four inches thick and could not have been easily torn.
The next sign was the occurrence of an earthquake. No ordinary person can cause an earthquake.
The fourth sign is that many graves were opened after the resurrection. Then those in the now open tombs were resurrected and walked around the city.
All four miracles reveal that Jesus was God. Read the testimony of the centurion and the soldiers keeping guard over Jesus as they proclaim, “Truly this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54). The total darkness and the tombs opening up on their own cannot be caused by any human. These were signs at the time of the crucifixion to everyone present that Jesus was God.
Why Were People Resurrected After Jesus Died?
Notice that the people who were raised were many and not all. These saints were under the old covenant since Hebrews 8:6-9:28 reveals that Jesus’ death and resurrection instituted a new covenant. Thus, these saints were some of the Old Testament saints. They received their glorified bodies when Jesus died on the cross. John MacArthur states,
Who were they? Saints. What are saints? Holy ones from out of the Old Testament era who were waiting for their resurrection, who had been waiting perhaps a long time. When Jesus died, their spirits came from the abode where righteous spirits dwell and were joined with glorified bodies that came out of those graves.
Also, notice that there is a break in time between the resurrection of these saints and their appearance after Christ’s resurrection.
“. . . many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection . . .” Matthew 27:52-53 (NASB)
The passage clearly states that these saints came out of their tombs after Jesus was resurrected.[2, 3] This is an important comment because 1 Corinthians 15:20 states that Christ was the first fruits of those who had fallen asleep. These saints could not have been resurrected before Christ. Thus, we should conclude that the tombs were opened after Jesus’ death. Then as Matthew 27:53 states, these Old Testament saints were resurrected after Jesus was resurrected.
Many Bodies of the Saints Were Raised
Not everyone was raised from the grave. Notice the words, “many bodies of the saints.” Those who returned to life were Old Testament saints. Only a portion of the Old Testament saints returned to life at this time. However, we do not know how many or who they were, but people in the city saw them. This was a partial celebration and a foretaste of the final resurrection of all the Old Testament saints prophesied by Daniel 12:2, and the New Testament saints at the time of the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The rest of the Old Testament saints will be resurrected after the second coming of Christ and before the millennial kingdom begins (Revelation 20:4).
There are three more resurrections in the future. The first is the resurrection of all Christians since Jesus was here on this earth. That is called the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:3). The next resurrection is called the First Resurrection in Revelation 20:5. This is the first of two resurrections after the millennial kingdom has come to an end. It is the resurrection of all the saints who died during the time of the Tribulation. The final resurrection is called the Second Resurrection. The last resurrection is for all non-Christians (Revelation 20:11-14). It is a resurrection to the Lake of Fire.
On this day Christ died on the cross. He returned to life on Sunday and returned to heaven after 40 days (Acts 1:3). That resurrection occurred before He returned to heaven. Why did it occur? Listen to this . . .
Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:45, 54 (NASB)
His resurrection declared to all the world that Jesus the Christ was the Son of God; He is God! Now we are waiting for Him to return. We have the assurance that since He was raised, when He returns He has the power to raise all believers from the dead to live with Him eternally. Praise the Lord!
1. John MacArthur. Matthew 24-28. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Moody bPress. 1989. pp. 275-276.
3. Grant Osborne. Matthew. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan Publishing. 2010. p. 1046.
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