ASK Commentary
March 6, 2005 

"Out of the Graves" after Christ's Resurrection

Commentary for March 6, 2005 — Are they Immortal?

QUESTION: What’s your take on Mathew 27:52–53??? Are these people still alive?

ANSWER: Like Lazarus they died months or years after their physical resurrection. They were not, and are not immortal. They are dead, as Lazarus is dead at the present time (and not living somewhere else, such as in heaven). The verses in question are included in a fuller context:

“And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his [Jesus’] resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
Now 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.’”

Matthew 27:51–54

The inserted comment about the saints being resurrected is a historical insert. We know this because it specifically states it occurred after Jesus’ resurrection.

These people who arose out of the graves were resurrected to physical life (and not with spiritual bodies) — just like Lazarus. This was another of the spectacular events that the people of Jerusalem witnessed and would have talked about for years. It would have marked this moment in history in the minds of those who live in Jerusalem.

It would have also given “cover” to Lazarus so he was not singled out for assassination, among so many others. Remember that along with Jesus, the Chief Priests also marked Lazarus for death:

“Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he [Jesus] was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus. On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, ‘Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.’”

John 12:9–13

The next day, after the dinner at Lazarus’ house the previous day, was Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem:
“These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, ‘Perceive you how you prevail nothing [how nothing we have done has worked]? behold, the world is gone after him.’”

John 12:16–19

The Confluence of Events

All the events of the crucifixion and resurrection had a profound impact on those in Jerusalem. The events of Lazarus physical resurrection, the earthquake at Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus’ resurrection and the physical resurrection of those in Matthew 27:52–53 (which took place AFTER Jesus’ resurrection, verse 53), all together helped convince those in that city that something remarkable had happened and it attracted the attention of many to investigate further.

All of the miraculous events of those few days opened the minds of many to receive the Gospel of Peter and the other apostles after Pentecost.

“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”

Acts 2:41

Later the total was up to 5,000 men (Acts 4:4), which means there were likely an equal number of women and even children. Many priests were likewise convinced:
“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”

Acts 6:7

Eventually tens of thousands were converted (Acts 21:20).
“And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands [myrias, ten thousand, in the plural] of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law.”

Acts 21:18–20

This means that all of the events from the time of Lazarus’ resurrection to physical life through to Pentecost resulted in over 10,000+ Jews in the Jerusalem area believing in Jesus’ resurrection, by the time of the apostle Paul’s visit to Jerusalem in Acts chapter 21. (The Greek word myrias actually means ten thousand.) This was a substantial percentage of the population of that city. Of course, this is only the number in the Jerusalem area that numbered, according to different experts, between 20,000 and 50,000 during non-festival periods (when the population temporarily increased five-fold or ten-fold). Also, remember that this number does not take into account those believers in other parts of Judea or Antioch or other churches Paul started among the Gentiles, or the churches the apostles began wherever Jews were located. The Gospel was very successful!

The success of the true Gospel message will be repeated. It will be exciting and thrilling to see and — God willing — participate in. It will be a brief time when good and true information will push aside bad and false information about God, His Living Word Christ Jesus and the written word of God, the Bible.

A Doubtful Reference

The verses of Matthew 27:52–53 may be the source for the error by some being taught to the churches Paul had founded:

“Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.”

2 Timothy 2:18

However, due to the decades since the incident in Matthew 27:52–53, I doubt that is the source of the error Paul is speaking about. If that is the case, then we cannot know exactly what was the reason for that error.

Resurrections

For a clear understanding of the biblical teaching on resurrections see Dr. Martin’s article: “The Time Periods for the Resurrections,” and in chapter 16, “Resurrections from the Dead” in Dr. Martin’s book Essentials of New Testament Doctrine. So I have given you my answer to the question. Read Dr. Martin’s answer in “Bible Secret Number 36” at 101 Bible Secrets That Christians Do Not Know.

David Sielaff
david@askelm.com

Go to ASK Home Page •  Print Page

© 1976-2014 Associates for Scriptural Knowledge - ASK is supported by freewill contributions