Imagine you happened to be walking past one of the cemeteries of Jerusalem when this event began: “Jesus when he had cried out again with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit. And behold the veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many”. (Math 27:50-53)
What would your reaction have been? You don’t see people climbing out of their graves and begin walking about, every-day. If we ask some questions and consider this a little deeper it will help establish it in our minds as a real event.
The graves may have been opened during the earth quake and the splitting of the rocks. We can see Gods hand in this because only selected graves had opened. What would we have seen if we had been there? Did the ground open? Were the heavy stones broken in pieces? Did the doors on the tombs fall off their hinges?
This Scripture begins with Jesus on the cross and finishes after His resurrection. The raising of the bodies happened at the time Jesus yielded up His Spirit. They did not come out of the graves until after His resurrection. Jesus was raised on the third day; therefore, the graves were open many hours before the saints came out. They had been raised but continued to lie in the open graves until the third day. What form did this raising take? Were their bodies decomposed and reconstituted again by God into living bodies. We read they had fallen asleep – does that mean their bodies did not decompose even after years of being in the ground?
They finally came out of their graves after Jesus’ resurrection. Which ever way it happened they now had living bodies and were able to walk around. Who were these people especially selected by God to be witnesses of the power of Christs’ sacrifice? They seem to be forerunners – a sample you might say – of the final resurrection to come: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout……..and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds….”. (1Thess 4:16,17)
John Wesley thought this group may have included John the Baptist, Simeon and Zacharias who had recently died and would have been well known in Jerusalem. The early church believed many Old Testament saints who died in faith might be in this group. If that was the case how do we explain Moses and Elijah already risen and talking with Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration? The word ‘many’ describes this group – there was quite a crowd of them. Imagine the reaction of the people when these risen ones walked into Jerusalem showing themselves to many. What was distinctive about them that the people knew they had come back from the dead? It certainly would have had people talking for weeks afterwards. Where did this crowd of risen ones go after their appearances? Jesus told the thief on the cross he would be in paradise with the Lord that day. (Luke 23:43) Did this crowd of witnesses pass on to paradise or did they go to heaven? Are paradise and heaven the same place? Commentators such as Mathew Henry also asked some of these questions and were not able to answer all of them satisfactorily.
The thrilling thing is this is a record of a real event. It proves to us Jesus sacrifice on our behalf means we will not taste of death. (Luke 9:27) If we can’t get the questions answered here, I am sure they will be easily answered when we get to heaven. For more about the resurrection of the dead see the book ‘How to Raise the Dead’ by Tyler Johnson. Available on Amazon.