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Sep 11 2012

Matthew 27:52, where did the risen saints go?

In Matthew 27:52-53, where did the risen saints go after they appeared to many?

I read several commentaries researching this question, and even in popular and well-respected commentaries, there are large differences of opinion. Who the saints were, whether the exposed bodies came to life or remained lifeless, to whom they appeared, how they appeared, and whether they went to heaven after they appeared or returned to their tombs are all subjects of much conjecture and speculation.

Bible scholars have debated over these questions for centuries. When Matthew penned these verses under God’s inspiration, he did not make us privy to the answers.

Matthew 27:52 — And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised.

Matthew 27:53 — (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.)

They certainly are an odd pair of verses. One commentary I read suggested that the removal of these two verses from this Bible passage does not affect its coherence and flow.  An argument was offered that verses 52-53 were probably not written by Matthew, but rather tacked on at a later date by someone else and therefore not  to be included in the canon of the Bible.

Other commentators cast doubt on Matthew 27:52-53 by stating that the event is only mentioned in the gospel of Matthew, and that surely bodies being raised out of their graves would have been a noteworthy event that the authors of the other gospels would certainly have mentioned had they witnessed it.

There is, however, an Old Testament prophecy that is fulfilled by the saints being raised from their tombs when Jesus died, which is  Ezekiel 37:12.

Ezekiel 37:12 — Therefore prophesy, and tell them, ‘This is what the sovereign LORD says: Look, I am about to open your graves and will raise you from your graves, my people. I will bring you to the land of Israel.

In addition, Matthew’s gospel is addressed primarily to the Jews.  Jews believe that when their Messiah comes for them, the “righteous dead” will be resurrected, so the fact that the event is only found in Matthew does not appear to be an aberrancy or inconsistency.

Because the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, we cannot disregard verses because they seem odd or we have difficulties with them. We must simply be satisfied with what God has revealed to us, and not, as Matthew Henry states in his commentary, “desire to be wiser above what is written”.

The Bible describing bodies being raised out of tombs by an earthquake is a powerful and peculiar event that piques our curiosity and compels us to want to know the details. I readily admit to being curious about the details, but if we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, the focus and center of the event is Christ and His work on the cross.  God could easily have satisfied our curiosity about the risen saints if He desired to, but He limited His revelation to what He desires us to know.

It is not that the question is not a “good” question. It is an interesting question, and we tend to ask questions like this whenever we encounter something curious or difficult in the Bible. God, however, does not seem to be particularly interested in satisfying our curiosity about the details of the event, but rather in confronting us with the central message that Jesus died on the cross as payment for our sin.

Matthew 27:50-51 Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit.  Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart.

Jesus completed His mission! His death on the cross caused the temple curtain to be torn in two, which symbolized that His salvation was available to all men, both gentiles and Jews. This is the most singularly important event in all of human history!

Matthew 27:54 Now when the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were extremely terrified and said, “Truly this one was God’s Son!”

It truly was God’s Son who died on the cross and then was resurrected in order to redeem us so that we could have eternal life through believing in Him.  Jesus and His disciples had performed many miracles, but God’s power displayed in this event, on both physical and spiritual levels, was enough to literally shake bodies out of their tombs.

Based on what God has revealed to us, we can only speculate on where the saints went after they appeared. The focus of the event centers on Jesus, His death and resurrection being the foundation of Christianity, and the saints being raised from their graves foreshadow His return, when the dead will be raised imperishable.

1Corinthians 15:52 — in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

 

This post is adapted from an answer written for GotQuestions.org

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12 comments

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  1. Margaret

    Ed,
    How good it is to accept the word of God because it has proven itself to be most trustworthy over thousands of years of time. Thank you for posting on this.

    1. Ed

      Hi Margaret!

      I agree on how faith-building it is when we consider how completely
      trustworthy the Bible has been over the centuries. It’s coherence,
      fulfilled prophecies, and how everything fits together continues to
      awe me and inspire my faith.

      Thank you for your comment, my sister in Christ.

      your brother Ed

  2. Paul

    Hello Ed and Margaret,

    I’m the new (old) guy here. I enjoy visiting Tishrei’s Fruit of the Word very much. And I agree with Ed, this is a curious question to ask, “where did they go after they appeared to the many?” I’m going along with Ed’s answer of we need to ” step back and look at the bigger pictue.” And I agree with Margret also, how we can accept the word of God, because it is proven to be trustworthy.

    I like how you say in your post – ” God wants us to see the central message. The curtain was torn in two, salvation is available to all and mission completed – Amen! Very encouraging post to me, thank you for sharing Ed.

    In Christ, Paul

    1. Ed

      Hi Paul!

      I’m glad you found this post encouraging, and I thank you for
      your comment brother, because it’s an encouragement to me.

      Phlm 1:7 I have had great joy and encouragement because of your love, for the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.

  3. tevet

    Hi Ed,

    I find Tishrei and your articals about faith and God very educational. Please continue your good work, we all need you too! Currently I am trying to upload a photo and ” new name ” because paul would not work. If the upload process works ok my new name will be Tavet.
    Thanks, In Christ.

    Paul or Tavet!

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Paul/Tavet,

      I see you already registered for the blog under the name Tevet. I am editing this comment since I was explaining that you would need to register. Since you registered, you have a “gravatar” account. To go to your account, click on your name and that will take you to your gravatar account. From there you can upload a photo. Once you do, it will automatically be placed next to your name when you comment on this blog or any other WordPress blog. It could take a little bit for it to populate — perhaps an hour so don’t worry if you don’t see the photo next to your name in a comment right away.

      I’m editing this comment again, LOL. To upload a photo as your gravatar, you will need to do the above. However, once you are at your gravatar dashboard, instead of uploading a photo, you will need to click on “manage my gravatars.” It is there that you will upload a photo that you want to show up next to your name.

      If these instructions don’t make sense, email me by clicking on the “contact” tab at the top of the blog.

      This is awesome, it’s so good to see you here. Doug says Hi!

  4. tevet

    Hi Tishrei,

    Gravitar has been uploaded from, Manage my Gravitar. Thanks for your help!
    Tevet means Devine grace and it is the tenth month of the Hebrew calendar.
    Without God’s Devine (Saving) grace and forgivness where would I be.

    In Christ, Tevet

  5. Jeanna

    I was taught that in Matthew 27:52 meant that the tombs opened up because of the earthquake and a mere throwing of their bodies out of the tombs and ending up in the city for all the people to see…..is this an accurate teaching of this account?

    1. Ed

      Hi Jeanna, and thank you for your comment.

      The Bible does not provide us with many details regarding the
      bodies that were shaken out of their graves. It says that “they
      went into the holy city and appeared to many people”. This seems
      to suggest that there was more to it than just exposed bodies that
      were seen by many people, but it would just be guessing and conjecture
      to read more into it than what God has revealed to us.

      What you were taught seems very reasonable based on what the Bible says,
      although it does not say that the bodies were seen by “all” the people,
      just by many of them.

      thanks again for your comment!

      1. Robert

        Robert, If you know this scripture says v.53 that they came out of the graves after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared unto many. This took place most likely 40 day’s later, probably part of the miracles spoken of in Acts 1:3 this was an actual event according to 2TIM2:18

        1. MWA

          I like your stand on God’s Word being just that “God’s Word.” Even the parts I don’t understand are still God’s Word. It seems to me from the verse that they arose not at the death of Christ, but it says, “And came out of the graves AFTER his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” Now I don’t claim to know what happened, but Christ is the Firstfruit of the reselection and it plainly states that this event did not happen at the cross, but 3 days later, after Christ’s resurrection. So being this is the only reference to the event in scripture, I say it is best to follow what it says. By the way if it took an Earthquake to get them up, there was one at the resurrection also. Mat 28:2 says “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” There was a great earthquake when Jesus went into the spiritual underworld and a great earthquake when Jesus came up out of the spiritual underworld also. I personally think it was the second earthquake that those dead saint, whomever they were, came out of their graves and that great earthquake, that occurred at the resurrection of Christ, would place them, as the scripture says so, “AFTER His resurrection. :-)

  6. Nelson Hernandez

    Nonsense.

    Talk about intellectual dishonesty. You talk about how scholars talk about the verses being added after the fact. And how only one gospel reports this event. You then go on to talk about OT prophecy. Ummm…

    If there is an OT prophecy and writers of the NT knew this AND some scholars feel that these verses are a add on, then isn’t it possible that the authors knew of the OT prophecy and added these verses in to add legitimacy?

    Not far fetched when none of the other gospels mention it. When no Jewish writings exist that talks about this happened outside this one gospel AND when the continuity of the paragraph is not hurt by the removal of these verses…leaves too much to take this as the truth…yet you don’t even address any of the points in any sort of way. You just mention them and go straight to the bible. Nice evading the contrary points.

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