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.
– Matthew 27:51-53
A scripture we normally read over fairly quickly is the above passage in Matthew 27. The main reason we do not spend a lot of time on this story, incidentally only found in Matthew, is because of the part in verses 52 and 53 where tombs are broken open and dead people come to life. Since that is something we have never witnessed or heard of happening, it causes us some problems in trying to explain what and how this might have occurred. One amazing fact that we often overlook because of the quick read, is the fact that these resurrected people only appeared after Jesus’ resurrection, three days later! Only after Jesus’ resurrection did these holy people go into Jerusalem and witness to people. Where did they go for three days and is the fact that they appeared only after the resurrection significant?
The answer to this question is a resounding, “Yes”! These people were the first fruits offered to God of eternal life for the believer. Jesus himself was raised on the day the the Jews celebrated the Feast of First Fruits (see Exodus 23:14-19). The Feast of First Fruits had, at its center, the idea that you gave to God the very first harvest of your crops as a way of saying, “I trust you to provide and protect the rest of the crop to me at a later date when the full crop is ready to harvest.” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:20, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (also read the next two verses, 1 Corinthians 15:21-23). Christ was the guarantee of the resurrection of all God’s saved and redeemed people and these first holy people were resurrected as the first fruits of that promise of eternal life. We have this promise in Scripture that God resurrected these people and will also give us that same resurrection from the dead.
Another interesting piece of information is that every major city in the Roman world had three parts. As you approached the city you first came to the graveyard, called the necropolis. Next was the city itself, called the polis, and finally came the acropolis, the high place that was fortified to withstand assault. Now, read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and picture in your mind Christ returning and picking up the dead in Christ – first on the outskirts of the city and then coming in to the city and picking up the living and taking them up to meet with him on the high place in the clouds. What an exciting picture of the hope that we have in Christ and a great thought for the upcoming Easter Sunday!
About the author:
Bob is the creator of this site and a disciple of Ray Vander Laan. Along with his wife of 50 years, he teaches a Bible study at Christ’s Church in Roswell, NM. He is also an avid hunter and fisher.
You are quite correct, the opening of the tombs and dead people coming to life is quickly read or spoken with little further thought. Does any other writer from that time period mention this fact? I presume that as ‘First Fruits’ they did not ascent with or following the Ascension of Jesus, do we know anything further about them?
Thank you for your insight into the necropolis, polis and acropolis sequence as I would never have seen that. Also the picture of the two cherubs inside Jesus tomb and the connection back to the Ark of the Covenant in another of your articles is one of those golden nuggets God put into His written word. Thank you for seeing and sharing it, what a great mental image with which to savour our Saviour!
It’s hard for me to imagine a friend or loved one dying some years earlier, then seeing them come walking down the street.
After further thought and reading, is it possible that though the tombs were opened, the dead saints were not resurrected until the time Jesus was?