51) And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
52) And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
53) And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many
How do we explain this amazing account of people being raised from the dead in connection with Christ's death and resurrection?
Matthew is the only gospel writer who tells us of certain saints who came out
of the graves (verses 52-53). There was an earthquake which took place at the
time of Christís death (verse 51). This earthquake caused the rocks to split and
the graves to be opened, but Matthew is careful to explain that the bodies of
these saints did not come out of their graves until "after His resurrection"
(verse 53), which indicates that Christís resurrection took place first (compare
1 Cor. 15:20). These risen saints went into Jerusalem and appeared to many
people, letting them know that Christís victory over death also guarantees that
His believers will have victory over death.
This is all that Matthew tells us about this remarkable event, so we need to be careful not to be dogmatic about what the Scripture does not reveal. When the Bible is silent we need to be silent. Or, if we have a theory about what we think might have happened, we need to be careful to make sure people understand that it is just a theory.
There are two possible ways of understanding the timing of when these believers were raised up: 1) They were raised up from the dead on the day that Christ died at the time when the graves were opened, but their bodies remained in their tombs until after Christís resurrection; 2) They were raised up from the dead after Christ's resurrection at which time they went into Jerusalem and appeared to many, even though their tombs were opened three days earlier, at the time of Christ's death. The Greek grammar is somewhat inconclusive; either view is possible.
The better understanding seems to that these saints did not rise up from the dead until after Jesus had been raised, even though prior to that, on the day of Christ's death, many of the tombs were opened as the result of the supernatural earthquake. [Alford and Jamieson/Fausset/Brown support this understanding.] It does not make sense that they were raised up at the time of Jesusí death and sat around for three days in the tombs before finally coming out and going into the city. It is more reasonable to say that they were raised up after Jesusí resurrection even though their tombs were opened prior to this. This would harmonize with the fact that Jesus was "the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15:20 and compare Acts 26:23), which would seem odd if these believers were raised ahead of His resurrection.
We are not told where they went after they entered Jerusalem.
This passage does not answer the question as to whether these saints were raised like Lazarus [and like the other examples given below] only to die again, or whether they were raised up in a resurrection body never to die again. We are just not told. My own theory is that they were raised up in resurrection bodies and after they appeared to people in Jerusalem, then they were taken to heaven. This makes sense because we never hear about these people again. But I cannot prove this. The passage just does not give many details.
It seems that God wanted to demonstrate to people that Christís resurrection would guarantee the resurrection of His believers, and He accomplished this amazing miracle to prove this point.
"Because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19).
Bible Accounts of People Raised From the Dead
Old Testament Times:
1. Elijah raised the son of the Zarephath widow from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-22).
2. Elisha raised the son of the Shunammite woman from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-35).
3. A man was raised from the dead when his body touched Elishaís bones (2 Kings 13:20, 21).
People Raised from the Dead by Christ:
1. Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain from the dead (Luke 7:11-15).
2. Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Luke 8:41, 42, 49-55).
3. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44).
People Raised from the Dead by the Apostles:
1. When Christ sent the disciples out to preach, He told them to do four things: "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons" (Matthew 10:8). We assume that they did what they were told and that some people were raised from the dead but the Bible does not give specific examples. Since Judas was included in this group that was sent forth (v.4), it is possible that he too raised someone from the dead.
2. Peter raised Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:36-41).
3. Eutychus was raised from the dead by Paul (Acts 20:9, 10).
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