And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 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. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
(Matthew 27:51-56 ESV)
Yesterday we saw that the curtain in the temple separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn in two at the moment Jesus died, symbolically declaring that sin had been forgiven and God and man were reconciled. But there were some other miraculous things that happened as well.
At that time the earth shook and rocks were split. Earthquakes are an indication of God’s judgment [2 Samuel 22:8; Psalm 18:7; Isaiah 29:6 et. al].
All sin must experience God’s judgment. If God failed to judge sin then He would not be holy. At the cross Jesus became sin and experienced God’s judgment in our place. The shaking earth and splitting rocks were visible, tangible proof that God had executed judgment on Jesus.
We also read that tombs were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. These people were Old Testament believers who trusted in God to provide for the forgiveness of their sins but who died before He did so.
They went into the city and were seen by many after Jesus’ resurrection. They could not have been resurrected or appeared to the living until after Jesus was raised from the dead Himself because Jesus was to be the first of those who were asleep (dead) [1 Corinthians 15:20]. Jesus had to be resurrected first, before any of us could be.
Jesus’ resurrection was the fulfillment of the Feast of the Firstfruits [Leviticus 23:10-14]. During that feast the people would bring a handful of grain reaped early in the harvest to the priest as a sacrificial token of the upcoming harvest,
As a parallel, on this occasion some, but not all, Old Testament believers were raised up as a token of the still-future resurrection of all believers (those who lived during the Old Testament and those who lived during the New Testament).
And while Jesus was the first to be resurrected from the dead, if He had been the sole one resurrected people might think that such special treatment was only for Him, being the Son of God. The resurrection and appearance of these Old Testament believers would avow that a new life was available to everyone, not just the Son of God.
Notice that those who were resurrected were “saints”. As we learned during our study of Ephesians, the term saint is just the way the Bible refers to believers. Anyone who recognizes their own sinfulness and need for forgiveness, and believes that God would send someone to pay the penalty for our sins, is a “saint”, whether they looked forward to that event (as those who lived during the Old Testament did) or they looked back on that event (as those who lived during the New Testament do).
The message of these saints is clear: death had been defeated. No one need have any more fear of death, as long as they had their sins forgiven by Jesus at the cross.
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