In Matthew 27:51-53 it speaks of bodies of holy people being raised to life. Could you explain the significance of this, in light of Jesus being the first fruit and he had not been resurrected yet. What happened to these people? Did they die again?
Let us first explore what Matt 27:50-53 is telling us about this event: “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” NIV
Notice the following facts that the apostle Matthew is giving us at the exact moment Jesus died:
1. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
2. The earth shook and the rocks split.
3. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.
4. Only “after Jesus’ resurrection” did these resurrected saints go “into the holy city” and appear to many people.
What significance do all these events have?
Very simple, it proved beyond a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. This is confirmed by Matt 27:54 “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” NIV
1. The splitting of the temple curtain proved that all these animal sacrifices had found their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. John 1:29 “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” NIV The time of sacrifices was over. Jesus confidently said on the cross John 19:30 “It is finished.” NIV
2. No one ever experienced earthquakes before when someone died. Again this event was pointing out that we were not dealing with an ordinary person, but with “the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).
3. Most Jews associated the resurrection of the righteous with the coming of the Messiah (see for example Dan 12:1-2). Various Jewish groups disagreed on the details, but consented in the overall outline.
Matthew is saying here that although Jesus was crucified and died on a cross like a criminal, he still is the Messiah! How else could anyone explain the resurrection of “many holy people”? His death was no accident. It was part of God’s plan as testified by the many prophecies in the Old Testament. All throughout his gospel, the apostle Matthew underlines the fulfillment of many Old Testament Scriptures concerning the Messiah. Jesus’ death was also prophesied in the Old Testament and so was His resurrection.
The Messiah had just died, but this was not the end! Many were resurrected when He died, pointing out that Jesus is the resurrection: John 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” NIV
Jesus was the Messiah after all! Nobody could deny this any longer unless their hardened hearts blinded them.
4. Only after Jesus’ resurrection did these resurrected saints enter Jerusalem, corroborating that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Can you imagine living in that time period and seeing all these resurrected people walking in your streets? The Scriptures do not tell us if these saints said anything about Jesus. It only points out that they walked the streets of Jerusalem. Their presence alone was proof enough that Jesus was no ordinary man. Their resurrection could only be explained that Jesus was the Messiah.
One can wonder what happened to these people, but the Scriptures don’t say anything further about them. We could only speculate. One thing for sure though: They were the firstfruits of what will happen when Jesus will return (see 1 Thess 4:16-18).
The fact is that once their function as witnesses was fulfilled, they were of no interest to the apostle Matthew. Let us remember that their resurrection was due to Jesus. It was all about Jesus, not about the resurrected saints. Their resurrection was made possible because 1 Thess 4:14 “Jesus died and rose again”. NIV Matthew’s gospel is the story about Jesus, not the resurrected saints.
Because of Jesus, we do not have to be afraid any longer. Rev 1:17-18 “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” NIV Death is not scary to those who have accepted Jesus into their life and believe in Him. We welcome it! Why? Because we concur with the apostle Paul when he wrote Phil 1:23-24 “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” NIV
Would you like to gain such an assurance? You can. Accept Jesus into your life. Welcome Him with open arms and enjoy the confidence He will fill you with. Why don’t you answer the Saviour’s Call now? To do so, click here!
It is clear that Jesus would be the first fruit after conquering death. At the time of death, the graves of the saints of old were opened. It was only after Christ rose that the saints rose. We are told that the saints saw their family and friends. “It must be observed, however, that the resurrection of these sleeping saints was not like those of the widow of Nain’s son, of Jairus’ daughter, of Lazarus, and of the man who “revived and stood upon his feet,” on his dead body touching the bones of Elisha (2Ki 13:21)” —Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary.
Those resurrections were merely to prove the power Jesus had and what he gave his disciples. The resurrections of the sleeping saints shows that there is a second resurrection coming and soon. This was just a precursor to what is to come. Jesus was not teasing the saints just to send them back to the grave, they went to heaven just as Christ did when he ascended. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” (Hebrew 9:27)
The curtain of the temple being torn in two, and the bodies of holy people being raised to life was very symbolic and signified the immediate access to God made possible by Jesus’ death. No they did not die again. Once into the holy place, they were with the Lord. See Hebrews 10:19,20 also.
Jesus’ death was unique because He, as God, raised Himself from the dead. John 10:17,18.
“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”
Others who were raised from death (even though the Bible is silent) died again, because that is an appointment all must keep. Hebrews 9:27.
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:”
Delmer G. Lawson
The bodies of these saints were not raised until “after” Jesus was resurrected, as He had to be the firsfruit of the resurrection. The question says “he had not been resurrected yet” yet the Scripture says “”And came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared to many.” I believe these were the ones who were in captivity, which Jesus took captive and led on high. He was the firstfruit and there were others “in their order” resurrected, as will be in the future included as part of the first resurrection. This is an interesting question with many opinions. I thought I would bring this to your attention that Jesus was resurrected when the graves of these holy people were opened.
Jo Ann Kelly
Given the context of the scriptures Matthew 27:51-53 (KJV), that is, examining several verses before and after these, Jesus is seen completing the purpose for which He was sent by the Father to the Earth.
He (Jesus) did come to redeem and reconcile mankind back to God through His sacrificial death, burial and resurrection. This portion of scripture according to Matthew indeed is the physical manifestation of the spiritual consummation of God’s divine plan. As asserted by John the beloved, in Revelation 5:6,9 (KJV), the verb phrases “had been slain” and wast slain” supposes that the action of the verb was completed at some time in eternity past. That is, Christ was crucified and arisen long before he ever went to Golgotha.
In fact, the writer of Hebrews confirms this when he, through the Holy Spirit, penned Hebrews 4:3 (KJV). In this verse, the author does see the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at Calvary as a replay of a divine tape. The death and resurrection of Jesus was completed before it began.
John in Revelation 13:8 (KJV) writes to enlighten us that the the slaying of the Lamb of God who is Jesus was done and ended from the foundation of the world. That means, it happened before man was even created or sinned. This preordination by God of death and resurrection of Jesus before sin ever entered the world only authenticates God’s foreknowledge. Even in the main text: Matthew 27:51-53 (KJV), the prepositional phrase: “after his resurrection” further suggests that Jesus even resurrected before the others thus signifying his predominance – first fruit from the dead as written in the scriptures stated earlier by John and the writer of Hebrews.
James Tannah Sarweh, Jr., Buduburam, Ghana, West Africa