Matthew records in his gospel an event of dead persons coming back to life during the resurrection of Jesus. In this post I want to address the phenomenons that happened during the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Matthew 27: 50 - 53 states, “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, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”
There are many phenomenon that occurred at Jesus death and resurrection:
From noon until 3:00 pm it became dark over the whole land
The curtain in the temple torn into from top to bottom
A violent earthquake
Tombs broke open
Jesus resurrects from the grave
Many holy people who had died came to life
Darkness covered the whole land the three hours Jesus hung on the cross. Personally, I don’t think we want to make too much of this, but one could argue the darkness covering the whole land could signify the darkness or sinfulness that covers the human heart for which Jesus came to restore unto us our light.
The curtain in the temple was torn into from top to bottom. This curtain was very large and was about four inches thick. Meaning, this curtain was large, heavy, and near impossible to rip. The significants of the curtain being torn into from top to bottom is understood in its purpose. The curtain separated the holy place from the most holy place in the temple. The most holy place was the dwelling place of God, and no one was allowed to enter the most holy place except one chosen priest once a year. (It so happens, the once a year the priest could enter the most holy place was the Friday of Passover, which is the day Jesus was crucified. While Jesus is outside the city dying on the cross as the sacrificial lamb, the priest was in the most holy place offering up sacrifice for the people’s sin. Coincidental?) This curtain made it impossible to come into the presence of God. Upon Jesus death the curtain in the temple was torn into from top to bottom signifying there is no longer a separation between us and God. Each of us can come to God and enjoy His presence. It also signifies there is no longer to be sacrifices given as offerings for sin, as Jesus is the last and final sacrifice.
A violent earthquake and the tombs were opened. I put these two together because they go together. Tombs in first century Palestine were small caves cut into the rocks. The earthquake caused many of these graves to open up as the rocks split. Remember, this is Friday afternoon, at six o’clock Friday evening the Sabbath begins, and as part of the Sabbath you could not come in contact with the dead. Therefore, as some of these tombs opened up because the rocks splits the dead bodies were exposed and would lay untouched until after the Sabbath which wouldn’t be until after Saturday 6:00 pm. However, we have another issue, this is the Sabbath following the week of Passover. The first day following the Sabbath (Sunday) following the Passover was a holy day known as the Day of First Fruits. Which meant, these dead bodies would have to lay opened and untouched from Friday until Monday.
Jesus resurrected from the grave. On the morning of the Sabbath the tomb where Jesus was buried was empty as Jesus had resurrected over death. This is symbolic that 1) Jesus was the Messiah who has power over life and death, 2) as Jesus resurrected from the death, so we too will resurrect to new life.
Many holy people who had died came to life. Those tombs that had been opened due to the earthquake, and those dead persons whose bodies were exposed, resurrected after Jesus resurrection. Now for me, this verse creates all kinds of questions and concerns.
Many people suggest these dead persons were holy people of the Old Testament.
How would people recognize someone who had died perhaps hundreds of years before they were born. They didn’t have selfies back then. And wouldn’t the bodies of someone who had been dead for hundreds of years be decomposed?
2. It would appear these dead bodies were persons who had recently died.
This in my opinion makes the most sense in many ways. If these dead persons were people who had recently died then it would make sense how people would recognize them as these persons walked into the city after their resurrection. Imagine three weeks earlier you had buried your dead father/grandfather. Three weeks later, following all the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus your dead loved one knocked on your door alive. The significances of these resurrected bodies serve as a witness that we too will experience a resurrection. Without these graves opening up and the bodies resurrecting it would be very easy to conclude that resurrection is something only Jesus would experience, because after all he was the Messiah. We are not given anymore information about these persons so we don’t know what happened to them. Did the ascend back to paradise when Jesus ascended? Did they go on living another 10-20 years? We don’t know.
What we do know is all of these phenomenal events gave people much to talk about for many years. One don’t experience events such as these and forget them!
Darkness looms in our world, but our resurrected Lord still reigns. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but I trust my God will make all things right in his time by his will.