Soon much of the once culturally “Christian” West will celebrate Easter, which originally recognised Christ’s death on the cross for our sins, followed by His resurrection 3 days later. (I use scare quotes on the word Christian because the West has now become post-Christian).
In respect of Christ’s resurrection scripture tells us something quite strange.
Jesus, when He had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was rent [torn] in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake [earthquake] and the rocks rent [split]. 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints [believers] which slept [ie. were dead] arose, 53 and came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the holy city and appeared to many.Matthew 27:50-53 KJVER
At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion the temple veil was ripped down the middle exposing the holy of holies because Jesus is and was the final payment for all sin. There is no further need for temple worship with the ark of the covenant because the covenant with God and man is complete. Christ sealed the covenant/agreement between God and man with His blood shed on Calvary. Daniel 9:24 and 27b. See Daniel 9 prophecy. Jesus paid it all. He is the only intercessor between man and God the Father, the righteous Judge.
Also we read there was an earthquake and rocks were split. This is worth remembering. Then something remarkable happened. After His resurrection the graves were opened and bodies of the believers, who had died before this time, were resurrected and came out of their graves and went into Jerusalem and appeared to many.
This is not mentioned anywhere else in scripture. No sermons are preached on it, as far as I know. What other evidence is there for it elsewhere? Look at the following verses, where Jesus is speaking, at a time before His death and resurrection.
Verily, verily I say to you, he that hears My word and believes on Him that sent Me, has everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life [eternal life with God].
25 Verily, verily I say to you, The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
26 For as the Father has life in Himself; so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself; 27 And has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.
28 Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming in which all [the dead] that are in the graves shall hear His voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, to the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation [judgment].John 5:24-29 KJVER
At the crucifixion there was an earthquake. That certainly would open up graves. The writings of the prophet Zechariah chapter 14 seem to be foretelling Christ’s first advent. Verse 1 speaks of the coming day of the Lord. Verse 2 speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem which we know happened in 70 AD when God sent General Titus and the Roman legions to destroy the temple and the city and crucify millions of Jews who did not follow Jesus’ warning and leave.
And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall cleave [split] in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley, and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north and half of it toward the south.Zechariah 14:4 KJVER
That certainly sounds like an earthquake. Zechariah 9:9,10 defines this period of time.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, thy King comes to you! He is just and having salvation, lowly, and riding upon an ass and upon a colt, the foal of an ass [which is exactly how Jesus entered Jerusalem, now celebrated as Palm Sunday].
10 And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off; and He shall speak peace to the heathen, and His dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.Zechariah 9:9,10 KJVER
Jesus was given all power by His Father in heaven. He fulfilled the prophecy when He rode into Jerusalem on an ass’ colt. This event is definitely referring to Christ’s first coming and His crucifixion and His victory over hell and death.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth.”Mathew 28:18 KJVER
And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the First Begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth. To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood,Revelation 1:5 KJVER
To him that overcomes, will I grant to sit with Me on My throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with My Father on His throne.Revelation 3:21 KJVER
Jesus was given all power after His resurrection as these verses indicate. But also Revelation 1:5 says He is the “first begotten of the dead”.
Looking again at John 5:25, which says “The hour is coming and now is, …”. Could this be Jesus referring to the resurrection of the dead saints after His resurrection? It couldn’t happen until after Jesus’ resurrection because He is the first begotten of the dead–the first to be resurrected.
On the cross, just before He died, Jesus cried out: “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Could it be those who were believers but waited in the grave (a waiting place, not hell) heard His voice and came forth, after Christ’s resurrection? This is similar to Jesus calling Lazarus out of His grave (John 11:43). But Lazarus was raised to an earthly body which could still die. Those raised to a heavenly body can never die.
This first resurrection of the saints could not happen until Jesus was resurrected, because He is the “first resurrected (begotten = rebirth) of the dead”.
Let’s look at these verses in John 5, particularly 25 and 28,29.
Verse 25 uses the expression “the time is coming and now is”. The “time is coming” for the dead to rise again. This could be a general future statement. But “now is” implies it has arrived already.
Yet verses 28, and 29, I contend, are Jesus giving us a very clear description of what is going to come to pass at His second coming. The graves will be opened and all the dead will be resurrected at about the time time. The righteous believers will inherit eternal life and the wicked unrighteous ones will be damned and sent into the lake of fire. There is only one event here. No secret rapture of the saints and later another coming of the Lord and judgment on the wicked. No, it is all to happen on the Day of the Lord. It is perfectly described in Revelation chapter 20.
And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead [JGH–all of the dead, saved and unsaved, righteous and unrighteous], small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.Revelation 20:11-15 KJVER
Ok, so that is the final judgment at the end of the age. But what about those who came out of the graves after Jesus resurrection? Matthew 27:52 clearly states that they were saints of God. Thus they were the righteous ones who had died prior to that moment in time. How did they get to be righteous?
The following passage in 1 Peter 3 gives us a clue to who they were.
For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened [made alive] by the Spirit: 19 By which also He went and preached to the spirits in prison; 20 Which sometime [once] were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.1 Peter 3:18-20 KJVER
Jesus “preached to the spirits in prison” who were not saved (they were disobedient) in Noah’s time but were witnessed to by Noah’s ark building efforts. An argument could be made that it was His death on the cross that preached retrospectively to those bound in prison. In this case prison is not the lake of fire (Gehenna) which sometimes is called hell.
It seems that the waiting place (prison) referred to here is the same place Jesus was referring to, while on the cross. He said to the repentant criminal on the cross that he would be with Him (the Lord) that day.
And Jesus said to him , Verily I say to you, Today shall you be with Me in paradise.Luke 23:43
Jesus called it paradise, so it was not hell but rather the grave, a place waiting for judgment. But clearly Jesus preached the gospel to the dead, that they might be redeemed through His shed blood on the cross.
Who shall give account to Him [God] that is ready to judge the quick [living] and the dead. 6 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.1 Peter 4:5,6
This could only happen after 1) Christ paid the price of our sin and 2) after His resurrection.
By His preaching He made some righteous. No doubt there were some who trusted in God before Christ first coming and so they are also saints who could be resurrected at Jesus resurrection.
An understanding of this then answers one of the objections to salvation in Christ, that is, that all have access to His redeeming power. No one who died prior to Christ’s first coming missed out on hearing the gospel and hence had the opportunity of saving grace.
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5 replies on “Who Were Those Resurrected After Jesus’ Resurrection?”
The saints who were resurrected when Jesus died on the cross were all of those Old Testament saints that Paul calls “True Israel”. When you think of the word “Christian”, it literally means a follower of Messiah – Christos + the suffix “ian”. We know from scripture that no man has been saved by the Law (Romans 3:20), so, how were “True Israel” saved prior to Jesus’ death on the Cross? “And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.” (Genesis 22:13 makes it clear). In actual fact, Abel was the first follower of Messiah recorded in Genesis. Abel sacrificed a lamb thereby testifying to God that he believed in redemption through the future coming of Messiah. Interestingly enough, Yeshua means “Salvation” and it is only through the shedding of blood that we are saved (John 1:29). Obtaining salvation prior to Christ dying on the Cross was ostensibly the same as today. True Israel lived by faith and by the Grace of Christ they received Salvation by offering a Lamb thereby testifying to God that they believed in redemption through the future coming of Messiah. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8 &9). See Hebrews 11 and “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8).
I would contend that the OT saints were only saved once Christ had redeemed them on the cross with His shed blood. From God’s not-in-time perspective this was accomplished from the foundation of the world. Yet Christ did preach the gospel to the spirits in prison through His actions on the cross. Under the human perspective, in time, this occurred after His resurrection and had to happen to cover those who died before Jesus came as the Son of Man.
Matthew 27:54 ….”when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.” I’m somewhat confused! The centurion witnessed the earthquake and the graves were opened at the same time. John 19:30 tells us that Jesus proclaims that His
commission has been accomplished – “when Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” Matthew 27:52 and 53 states …..”And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection (substitute the word “death” and it makes more sense!), and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” The question I’m asking here is whether Jesus was resurrected as soon as He died on the cross? Have a look at the meaning of the word [resurrection] in this passage as it seems to infer a different meaning (Strong’s 1454). It kind of makes no sense that the graves were opened and then the saints didn’t come out until three days later. Christ’s resurrection (Strong’s 386) and appearance to His disciples wasn’t a public event like when He died on the cross. When Jesus died, the veil of the temple was rent and Salvation, in a sense, came in effect.
No, you cannot change scripture ‘resurrection’ to ‘death’. Beside Jesus was the ‘first begotten of the dead’, so He must rise first before the OT saints could be resurrected. That is very clear.
Nor does Matthew 27:54 mention any graves being opened. Earthquake yes. So conceivably the earthquake happened and 3 days later the saints came out of the graves. I do not like to read into scripture something not stated. That is eisegesis.
Hi Gideon and Mark I have read through all of these notes and comments.
“when Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.”
51 And behold, the veil of the temple was rent [torn] in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake [earthquake] and the rocks rent [split]. 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints [believers] which slept [ie. were dead] arose, 53 and came out of the graves after His resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many.
Comment, it would be sound and reasonable to say that at the immediate moment of those finished works of Christ Jesus on the cross, as He gives up His Spirit/breathe to God, that one of the two veils within the temple was rent from top to bottom the Holy Place not the Most Holy Place, these veils were about 60feet in length from floor to ceiling, that the earth did also quake and the rocks were rent, and within that same moment of time the graves were opened, legally opened, legally ready to await a resurrection of the physical body of the saints in three days’ time after the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Was John the Baptist one of those saints raised bodily? Was Simion or Anna who died after seeing the Messiah before His crucifixion? The saints, your comment on the saints regarding True Israel is very good Mark, that is a theme running through the O.T even gentiles could become the True Israel, by that circumcision both of the flesh as required by the Law at that time, but by the true circumcision of the heart before God in keeping what was required under that dispensation of Law and grace etcetera.