By Will Hall, Baptist Message executive editor
ALEXANDRIA, La. (LBM)—The days leading up to and including Resurrection Sunday were unlike any others in history and any since, with the Gospel accounts detailing the various events that took place on each.
Yet, one of the most remarkable facts often overlooked about that first Easter is that others were resurrected with Christ – namely, followers of the Way.
Matthew 27 is the only Gospel account to record this detail, documenting in verse 52 that “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.” Moreover, the next verse informs us that these revived believers “went into the holy city and appeared unto many.”
In other words, these grandmothers, grandfathers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, and children – who had received salvation because of their faith in Jesus as the Christ – had their decomposed bodies restored and they returned to their homes, still wearing death shrouds with the smell of the grave embedded in the cloth.
The significance of this aspect of Easter is enormous in at least two aspects.
POWER AT PENTECOST
First, the resurrection of the many saints helps give context to the great awakening that took place on Pentecost, when 3,000 were baptized at one time.
The Holy Spirit used the opportunity of Pentecost to perform a great spiritual miracle. But many of the 3,000 who were baptized that day may not have been birthed just because of the events of Pentecost. They may not have been moved solely by the preaching of Peter or upon hearing the disciples speak in languages not learned in school or from exposure to foreigners. But the Holy Spirit also used the resurrection of the many saints to convince many among “the men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem” (Acts 2:14) to believe when Peter “testified and exhorted” (Acts 2:40).
Consider that the people of this city had known about Jesus for more than 33 years and witnessed His miracles of raising the dead and healing the sick for at least three years. Yet, there were only 120 disciples numbered among the 100,000 or so residents of Jerusalem. Indeed, there were only 500 or so believers in Galilee, where He walked daily during His earthly life and performed many miracles. John 15:24 makes this very point, noting “they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.”
But the resurrection of many saints that first Easter had to have had an enormous spiritual impact on the people of the holy city. Then they experienced — directly or through the eyewitness of others — Jesus preaching 40 days straight after His resurrection. A week after His ascension, the appearance of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost testified to Jesus as He promised (John 14:26) and 3,000 individuals were moved to seek salvation and obey Christ by being baptized.
POWER IN THE PROMISE
The resurrection of the many saints also has a special meaning for those of us who already are saved.
There have been resurrections before in history — three individuals in the Old Testament (including one man whose dead body touched the bones of Elisha) and five persons in the New Testament (in addition to Jesus and the many saints).
Each of those resurrections had a specific purpose or conveyed a specific message. But none of them speak to believers today in the ways that the resurrection of the many along with the resurrection of Christ should:
— Christ arose, never to enter the grave again. His resurrection underscores His eternal nature. Everyone else who has been resurrected to this point in history also died a second physical death. Jesus’ resurrection reflects His power over life and death, providing evidence of His power to raise us from the dead.
— Some Bible commentators say Matthew 27:52-53 is a fulfillment of a prophecy in Ezekiel 37 regarding the dry bones. But the greatest message represented by the resurrection of the many saints is the hope it conveys by pointing to the Kingdom to come. It was a prelude to the time when the Church will hear Christ say, “Come up hither” (Rev. 4:1).
Christ’s resurrection means that we can trust that He can forgive us of our sins – He died for our offenses and rose physically as a sign that He conquered the consequences. Meanwhile, the resurrection of many saints on that first Easter Sunday serves to remind us who believe that He will raise us, too, one day, with one great difference — we will not reenter the grave. Instead, we will be transformed into our eternal form, manifesting the glory of our risen Lord forever.