Scripture’s Most Baffling Event

Posted on April 30, 2020

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By David Ettinger

A Well-Read Episode
It’s right there in an immensely popular book and surely you have read it. The event is recorded in Matthew 27:52-53, but it is necessary to place it in its context, so let’s also look at the two previous verses:

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded 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. 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 (Matthew 27:50-53).

Four events are recorded here: 1) The death of Jesus; 2) the Temple curtain being torn; 3) the earth shaking and the rocks splitting; and 4) deceased saints coming to life again. Events 2 through 4 are the result of event number 1, and number 2 has been written about extensively.

Not written of in detail are events 3 and 4. Event 3, the earth shaking and rocks splitting, is straightforward and requires little explanation. Event 4, however, has very little written about it as even the most brilliant commentators are baffled by it. They – and me, and perhaps you – are baffled by it because no explanation of it is offered.

Nonetheless, let’s attempt to glean what we can.

Various Thoughts
I visited several commentaries, and here’s what they offered:

Chronology: Verse 53 reads, “and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.” Though events 2 and 3 occurred at Jesus’ death, this event, number 4, happened following the resurrection. Why are they listed together?

The consensus is that placing this in its proper chronological spot in Chapter 28 would have added confusion to, or taken importance away from, Christ’s resurrection. In other words, the account of the resurrection of Jesus would have “competed” with the account of the raising of these saints. Therefore, Matthew chose to separate them.

The Saints: The identity of these saints (“holy” or “righteous ones”) is not hard to discern. They are either those who believed in Jesus when He was on Earth, or true God-worshipers such as Anna and Simeon who were “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). These saints were probably buried in cemeteries near Jerusalem.

Whether they were “recent” saints – those who had died several years prior to Christ’s ministry – or “far back” saints, we don’t know. Also, we know they appeared to many, but don’t know what their precise purpose was.

Raised or Resurrected: This is the biggest unknown. Were these saints raised in their natural bodies (and died again), as were Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter, or resurrected in the new imperishable bodies described in 1 Corinthians 15? The Greek word for “raised” – egeirō – doesn’t help. This is a generic word for “rise,” “rouse,” and “awake,” and is used in ordinary circumstances – such as someone rising from a chair – and the extraordinary: Christ’s resurrection.

Logic leans toward earthly bodies, as the sight of beings in glorified bodies would have been frightful to mere humans. Either way, it appears these saints remained for but a short time as they are mentioned nowhere else in Scripture.

Me teaching, but not on this topic

My Thoughts
The first time I pondered this verse, I thought, Is that it? Is there nothing else said of these raised saints? To my frustration, the answer is, yes and yes.

I have often mused on these risen saints and imagined what their presence in Jerusalem would have looked like? Did they appear to loved ones – spouses, children, and even parents? If so, wouldn’t this have given these loved ones the shock of their lives and caused them emotional trauma?

I seriously doubt that. My study of Scripture leads me to believe that these risen saints – by their mere presence – bore witness as to the living Christ, that He was precisely who He said He was: The Son of God and Israel’s long-awaited Messiah.

Also, far from traumatizing their loved ones, the saints’ appearance would have greatly comforted them, assuring them that life is eternal, and that this eternal life could be theirs if they would worship the risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

To me, this is the most baffling event in the Bible, and even though I have little understanding of it, I fully trust that because of it the Lord Jesus Christ was glorified and that others in and around Jerusalem came to acknowledge Him as their Lord and their God!