Here are parts 1 and 2:
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 27:52–53
When interpreting any passage, we must be careful not to make assumptions. This is especially true when attempting to attach meaning to Matthew 27:52-53 outside of the obvious: this is another sign that God was with Jesus. Anything past that is speculation for one major reason: this is the only place in the Bible that mentions this resurrection as far as I am aware. There is no additional commentary, no explanatory statements, and no cited prophecy.
In offering my suggestions for understanding this text, I am well aware that my opinions are just as speculative as anyone else’s, so please take what I say hesitantly and with caution. I am not attempting to give rock-solid evidence for my view at this time.
The primary, and possibly only, purpose of this passage is to show that Jesus is the Son of God. Notice the centurion’s reaction.
Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”Matthew 27:54
Even then, it is unclear whether the centurion saw these saints or just the darkness, earthquake, and rending of the first veil. But this passage makes something clear: the signs accompanying the Cross were designed to confirm Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.
But what meaning could we possibly find in these events? I’ve already spoken in great deal about the other signs, so what truths does this resurrection potentially offer us?
John Dominic Crossan in his book Resurrecting Easter writes,
In summary for Matthew, therefore, the sleepers and Christ rise together, so that Easter is a communal and corporate event with Christ rather than individual and solitary event for Christ.Crossan, John Dominic. Resurrecting Easter (2018)
In following the pattern of interpreting the darkness and the veil in the previous articles, is it possible that the presence of the resurrected saints in Jerusalem points to the resurrection as a communal or corporate event? That is, is the resurrection less about individuals and more about a body or community of people?
For example, notice the language of Romans 6.
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.Romans 6:3–7
Tom Holland, in his commentary on Romans, explains,
In this passage, it is clear that the new self (or new man) refers to a community… The only way this can be read is that the new man is the church, as it is in Eph 2:15. It follows that the corresponding reality to the new man – the old man – is also corporate.Holland, Tom; Romans the Divine Marriage, 168
Romans 6 is about the entire community dying and rising with Christ. This resurrection seems to be foreshadowed by the resurrection of those with Christ in Matthew 27.
In James 1, James says,
In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His [creation].James 1:18
The believers on Pentecost were the “first fruits” of the new creation with Jesus being the first fruit in fulfillment of that feast day fifty days prior. These resurrected saints in Matthew 27 paint a wonderful picture of the life that was secured for us in Christ.
Now to an important question: were those resurrected in Matthew 27 the fulfillment of any particular prophecy?
I have a hard time saying that they were.
While many in the early eastern church placed a lot of emphasis on this event, as seen in the Gospel of Nicodemus for example, it is unlikely Matthew 27 is a major eschatological event. My main reason for saying so comes from Peter’s argument in Acts 2.
Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.Acts 2:29
If those saints in Matthew 27 remained in a resurrected state, whatever that may mean, was David not among there number? David, who was a man after God’s on heart and the receiver of the Messianic promise, surely would have been among the “many” who were resurrected?
So, either he was left out, or this was not part of what some call the “general resurrection.”
Again, I believe that the most we can confidently say about this event is that it is a sign pointing to the validity of Jesus as the Messiah. Beyond that, we just don’t have enough information.
I hope you have enjoyed these few articles on the signs surrounding the Cross as much as I have writing them.