“Then the graves were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. Coming from the graves after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and were visible to many.”
Everything…everything…for the record, everything surrounds the resurrection of Christ. At the death of our Lord, we are told that there were many (a large number of) saints (believers) who were raised from their graves. Literally, the text reads that their bodies were “awakened,” which is an euphemistic reference to death and being raised from the dead (this does not teach some sort of “soul sleep” as was popular for a brief time in some theological circles). But, while they were raised from the dead — brought out from their graves or tombs — they did not enter the Holy City until after Jesus’ resurrection. As Christ’s body laid in the tomb during that time, though raised from the dead, they too remained in their tombs.
Some object to this reading, suggesting that there was nothing physical that would have impeded these saints from returning to Jerusalem on that very Friday of the crucifixion. I would respond that it was not something physical, but spiritual that so impeded them — the very will of God the Father. And so, these saints remained at the tombs until such a time as the Father released them to come en masse into the city. What were they doing in the meantime? Probably praying and worshipping God.
What is the significance of this raising? It is an anticipation of what is to come. Jesus is the firstborn of the dead (Revelation 1:5), thus with his rising will come the rising of others. The advent of his resurrection being christened, as it were, by the raising up of many believers from the tombs.
Some ask, “what kind of bodies did these raised saints have?” The answer is that we are not told. They could have been raised to natural bodies, as had been the case with Lazarus and others and then would eventually die once again. Were I to speculate, I would suggest that perhaps these saints were raised to glorified bodies, again, joining Jesus in his triumphal entry into the heavenly realms, singing his praises as the Galileans had done a week prior as Jesus entered into Jerusalem. This speculation is one that we cannot be dogmatic about, but it would certainly add light to the language in Ephesians 4:8 that reads:
“Therefore it says, ‘Ascending on high, he led many captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
and Psalm 68:18:
“You ascended to the heights and led many captives, bringing gifts to man that even the rebellious may dwell with Yahweh God.”
and Romans 5:8:
“Yet God demonstrates his own agape love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
The appearance of these saints became visible to many as a first sign of the Resurrection of the Lord…a promise of good news that not only did the grave fail to keep Jesus, but that it would fail to keep believers as well. And did you notice of whom this text speaks? The dead were not raised indiscriminately, but it was the saints — literally, “the holy ones” — who were raised. Jesus did not die for all people without distinction, but he died for believers to pay our debt before God. Those who die in their unbelief will have to stand before God in their own merit — a dreadful thing indeed.
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom Yahweh does not count iniquity, in his spirit there is nothing fraudulent.”