Matthew 27: 52-53 – And the graves were opened; and many body of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
Muslims, Atheists and Sceptics alike use this passage of the Bible to prove that the Bible is not from God because, they say, this is an event that should have made headlines in all of the history books in the entire Middle East, because all people (Romans, Jews and Palestinians) supposedly witnessed it. How come this event is not documented anywhere in the history books and/or ancient historical records?
Correction: It does not say, all people witnessed it. It rather says, they appeared to many. Appearing to many does not mean everyone witnessed it and it’s also possible that they only appeared to believers, or people who knew them while they were alive (I’ll explain why later).
Let’s, first, examine the text itself:
51. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52. And the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53. And coming out of the graves AFTER His resurrection; they went into the holy city and APPEARED to many.
Now, one thing I would have to note very early on is that this text cannot really be talking about dead bodies simply falling out of their tombs and seen by people; rather they (dead bodies) appeared to many AFTER Jesus’ resurrection (not seen by people). To appear is more like they chose who they showed themselves to. Just listen to Peter’s explanation about the resurrection of Jesus for instance. Not everyone saw Jesus after His resurrection:
38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: 40 Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; 41 NOT TO ALL THE PEOPLE, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.
The scripture also says that the resurrections themselves did not actually occur until after Jesus rose from the dead. This is very important to note. The tombs may have been opened by the quake, but the people themselves did not rise until later.
In addition, Mark 15:33, recording the same event, reads,
Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
So, in other words, the entire land was covered in darkness around the time that this quake would have happened. Did anyone actually witness the tombs being opened unless they happened to be right by said tombs?
Granted, the text does say there was darkness “until the ninth hour” but considering we are told Jesus also died at the ninth hour, this doesn’t necessarily mean that as soon as the clock hit the ninth hour that the darkness lifted.
Now, in verse 53 we read, “and coming out of the graves AFTER His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”
So, we know from this that it couldn’t simply be dead bodies that were raised out of tombs and bounced into the city of Jerusalem. These were people who were raised from the dead, who walked into the city and appeared to many, not seen by everybody.
Now here’s a question. Someone comes up to you on the street in tattered clothing and covered in dirt or dust. Would you immediately assume this person has just been raised from the dead? How would you know unless they or someone else told you, since this could also have happened because of the earthquake? Meaning, people who survived the quake could have been in mess, full of dirt. How would anyone know who the resurrected ones were?
Jesus’ disciples knew Jesus was raised because they knew He had died, His tomb was found empty and because they knew Jesus before He died. Here is the key.
It would only be known to any that the dead had raised if relatives of said dead who knew them saw them.
Also, bear in mind something that happened right after Jesus’ resurrection recorded in Matthew 28:11-15,
Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests ALL THE THINGS THAT HAD HAPPENED. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and DID AS THEY WERE INSTRUCTED; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. Matthew 28:11-15
Now, look at what happened here. The religious authorities bribed the soldiers into keeping quiet about what had happened to Jesus. If they were so shrewd as to try to cover up the resurrection of Jesus, do you think they would not try to cover up the resurrection of others if indeed these things had occurred, especially if they gave credence to Jesus’ resurrection? Ignoring one missing body is one thing, but hundreds or possibly thousands is another.
Moreover, look also, what the authorities tried to do the previous time when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 12:9-11,
Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, WHOM HE HAS RAISED FROM THE DEAD. 10 but THE CHIEF PRIESTS PLOTTED TO PUT LAZARUS TO DEATH ALSO, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.
They didn’t want this story to be published. So what makes you think they suddenly want to publish the resurrections of thousands of people? (If they witnessed it).
Let’s also remember that this is not the 21st Century we’re talking about, it’s 1st Century Israel. There was no internet, no blogs, no newspapers. Not everyone knew how to write and indeed, oral transmission was favored higher than the written word at this time. If most of these raised people would have been seen by average people or not even recognized at all, would we expect written accounts from them?
If they were seen by Roman soldiers who may have been bribed into secrecy, would we expect written accounts from them?
If any other nations were present, would we expect any different for them from the average Jew present? Would they even have known such people had been raised?
I don’t think so.
However, let’s also think about the first audiences who would have heard this account. They would be contemporaries of eyewitnesses and in other scriptures, readers of this time were challenged to go and seek these eyewitnesses if they had doubts. They didn’t need written records, the witnesses were right there!
Finally, David prophesied about this event in Psalm 24: 7-10 when these people were ascended with Jesus to heaven after His resurrection (Matthew 27:53).
Psalm 24: 7-10,
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.
This is the scene of what happened when they were at the gate of heaven with Jesus. The angels who guarded the gate didn’t recognize them, but they kept on exalting Jesus for what He had done, calling Him the King of glory that He is. He conquered hell (Ephesians 4:9, Colossians 2:15) and death (Hebrews 2:14).
How do I know this was at the gates of heaven? No other gates or doors are “everlasting” but heavens’.
After His resurrection, the Bible tells us that Jesus appeared to His disciples quite few times, but was He seen by other than His disciples? NO! Therefore, it’s possible that these saints were not seen by everybody too. I mean, how would anybody who didn’t know them believe that they were just raised from the dead? I believe when the Bible says, “they appeared to many”, this “many” was only believers, who didn’t need any more proof and go around to unbelievers who wouldn’t believe their testimonies as happening to Muslims who made this assertion anyway, or people who knew them before, that they were dead indeed.
In fact, in Luke 16: 19-31, Jesus told a story about Lazarus and the rich man in hell. In Verse 31, responding to the rich man’s request, Abraham said this:
…If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
So what’s the use of going around telling them when they didn’t even believe Jesus’ resurrection?
But thank God, through the Holy Spirit, we, Christians believe it though we weren’t there when it happened. He witnesses to us today that God’s Word is true. Glory be to Jesus!
Thus concludes my exposition of Matthew 27:51-53, and I’m calling all Muslims and sceptics who isn’t saved yet to come to Christ. Please click here. God bless you.