How is it that at the death of Christ some saints rose from the dead and appeared in the town?
This story is told to us only by the Evangelist Matthew:
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and gave up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. Also the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now as for the centurion and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the other things that were happening, they became extremely frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” And many women were there watching from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee while caring for Him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Matthew 27:50-56 NASB)
This passage is a difficult text to interpret. The evangelist Matthew does not give us details about the resurrection of the saints from the dead. How did they rise? With what body did they rise? Moreover, a quick reading of the text gives the impression that the saints were resurrected when Jesus died, but did not leave the graves and did not appear to the town until after His resurrection. What were they doing all this time? Who are the resurrected saints? To all these questions, Matthew gives us no answer.
Jerusalem is in a seismic zone and earthquakes are a fairly well-known phenomenon in Israel. In the case described in the text mentioned above, the earthquake opened the graves. The tombs were caves dug into the rocks and covered with a stone that rolled outside the cave. A stronger earthquake could move the stone at the entrance of the cave to one side. But what about the resurrection of the saints?
The Jews believed in the resurrection of the righteous and believed that the resurrection is associated with the coming of Christ. Matthew’s message we want to understand is that the resurrection of those who lived before Jesus Christ and those who died after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus depends on the death and triumphant resurrection of the Savior. Christ was crucified to fulfill God’s plan and to fulfill the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Christ’s death is not the end of His history, but the beginning of the end of the age and the beginning of a new age that is marked by an earthquake and a partial resurrection of “many” buried in the region of Jerusalem. Not all the saints are resurrected, because it was only partly a resurrection of the saints, part of what will take place at the end of the age. Until then, however, it is time to make disciples, as Matthew announces in 28:19-20:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Translated by Nicoleta Vicliuc