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The Dead Don’t Die – Matthew 27:51-53

The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Mt 27:52-53)

Once the blood of Jesus Christ was spilt and atonement made, Jesus bowed His head saying, “It is finished,” and He surrendered His life into His Father’s hands (Jn 19:30, Lk 23:46, Mt. 27:50). After the dreadful divine silence during His mocking and crucifixion, Jesus Christ would not just expire without His death being interpreted; rather, in a veritable supernatural explosion, God would finally “speak up” concerning the death of His Son. Matthew focuses his account of the crucifixion on five such supernatural events linked to the death of Christ, wherein God speaks in: darkness (v. 45), the split veil in the temple (v. 51a), an earthquake (v. 51b), open tombs and resurrected bodies (v. 52-53), and the salvation of a pagan soldier (v. 54). Unquestionably, the most unique and unusual of these events is the account in verses 52-53, where resurrected bodies of dead saints appear in Jerusalem, after Jesus rose from the dead.

The narrative seems so surreal that many have questioned its validity; but we do know that Matthew is recording an actual historical event here. Why else would he have mentioned that such an unbelievable thing happened at all? Certainly, this claim could have been confirmed or challenged by eyewitnesses in the early church. But admittedly this text does raise many questions: Are these saints who recently died? Just who are these people? How long did they remain alive? How public were their appearances? And why was this not mentioned in other secular or religious sources? Would these saints die again? Were they raised in natural or glorified bodies? Would these saints ultimately die again or be transported to heaven like Elijah? Why did this happen at all? It’s almost satirical how Matthew soberly and succinctly mentions that this happened, offering us no further explanation whatsoever. There have not been many sermons preached on this text, and quite frankly, many of these questions just cannot be answered with full assurance.  Yet the text gains significant import as we consider how it serves to link Christ’s death and the resurrection together. Jesus’s work on the cross is intimately tied to his impending resurrection, so much so that we can consider the two foci as a single event, both parts of which are essential to the Gospel message.