Matthew 27:52
And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
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(52) Many bodies of the saints which slept arose.—It is scarcely, perhaps, surprising that a narrative so exceptional in its marvellousness, and standing, as it does, without any collateral testimony in any other part of the New Testament, should have presented to many minds difficulties which have seemed almost insuperable. They have accordingly either viewed it as a mythical addition, or, where they shrank from that extreme conclusion, have explained it as meaning simply that the bodies of the dead were exposed to view by the earthquake mentioned in the preceding verse, or have seen in it only the honest report of an over-excited imagination. On the other hand, the brevity, and in some sense simplicity, of the statement differences it very widely from such legends, more or less analogous in character, as we find, e.g., in the Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, and so far excludes the mythical element which, as a rule, delights to show itself in luxuriant expansion. And this being excluded, we can hardly imagine the Evangelist as writing without having received his information from witnesses whom he thought trustworthy; and then the question rises, whether the narrative is of such a character as to be in itself incredible. On that point men, according to the point of view from which they look on the Gospel records, may naturally differ; but those who believe that when our Lord passed into Hades, the unseen world, it was to complete there what had been begun on earth, to proclaim there His victory over death and sin, will hardly think it impossible that there should have been outward tokens and witnesses of such a work. And the fact which St. Matthew records supplies, it is believed, the most natural explanation of language hardly less startling, which meets us in the Epistle, which even the most adverse critics admit to be from the hands of St. Peter. If he, or those whom he knew, had seen the saints that slept and had risen from their sleep, we can understand how deeply it would have impressed on his mind the fact that his Lord when “put to death in the flesh” had been “quickened in the spirit,” and had “preached to the spirits in prison” (1Peter 3:19), so that glad tidings were proclaimed even to the dead (1Peter 4:6). Who they were that thus appeared, we are not told. Most commentators have followed—somewhat unhappily, I venture to believe—the lead of the Apocryphal Gospel just named, and ι have identified them with the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament. It is clear, however, that St. Matthew’s statement implies that they were those who came out of the opened graves, who had been buried, that is, in the sepulchres of Jerusalem; and, remembering that the term “saints” was applied almost from the very first to the collective body of disciples (Acts 9:13; Acts 9:32; Acts 9:41), it seems more natural to see in them those who, believing in Jesus, had passed to their rest before His crucifixion. On this supposition, their appearance met the feeling, sure to arise among those who were looking for an immediate manifestation of the kingdom—as it arose afterwards at Thessalonica (1Thessalonians 4:13)—that such as had so died were shut out from their share in that kingdom; and we have thus an adequate reason for their appearance, so that friends and kindred might not sorrow for them as others who had no hope. The statement that they did not appear till after our Lord’s resurrection, is from this point of view significant. The disciples were thus taught to look on that resurrection, not as an isolated phenomenon, but as the “firstfruits” of the victory over death (1Corinthians 15:20), in which not they themselves only, but those also whom they had loved and lost were to be sharers.

Matthew 27:52-53. And the graves were opened — Some of the tombs were shattered and laid open by the earthquake, and doubtless continued open all the sabbath, since the law would not allow of any attempt to close them on that day: but the dead bodies which were in them did not come to life till Christ’s resurrection had taken place, as is implied in the next clause, for he was the first-born from the dead, Colossians 1:18; and the first- fruits of them that slept, 1 Corinthians 15:20. And many bodies of the saints which slept — The bodies of many eminently holy persons; arose and came out of their graves — Or tombs, while they remained unclosed; after his resurrection — Probably immediately after it; and went into the holy city — That is, Jerusalem, called the holy city, on account of the temple and its worship; and appeared unto many — Who knew them; thus attesting the truth of that most important event, Jesus’s resurrection, and declaring their own rescue from the grave, as a kind of first-fruits of his power over death, which should at length accomplish a general resurrection. It is and must remain uncertain who these saints were that had now the honour of being the first-fruits of Christ’s resurrection. Mr. Fleming thinks, that they were some of the most eminently holy mentioned in the Old Testament; and that they appeared in some extraordinary splendour, and were known by revelation to those to whom they appeared, as Moses and Elijah were to the disciples at the transfiguration. But Mr. Pierce, Dr. Macknight, and many others, think it more probable that they were persons who had died but lately, perhaps, such as had believed on Christ, and were well known to surviving disciples. Whoever they were, their resurrection was a most extraordinary event, and doubtless was much spoken of in Jerusalem among those to whom they appeared, and other well-disposed persons to whom they mentioned it. It is not improbable that Christ’s prophecy, recorded John 5:25, referred to this event, and thereby received its accomplishment, being distinguished from the general resurrection predicted in Matthew 27:28-29 of that chapter. As it is only said, these saints appeared to many in Jerusalem, but not that they continued with them, it is probable that as they were undoubtedly raised to immortality, they attended their risen Saviour, during his abode on earth, and afterward accompanied him in his ascension, to grace his triumph over death and the grave, and all the powers of darkness, Ephesians 4:8; Colossians 2:15. Thus, as the rending the veil of the temple intimated that the entrance into the most holy place, the type of heaven, was now laid open to all nations, so the resurrection of a number of saints from the dead demonstrated that the power of death and the grave was broken; that the sting was taken from death, and the victory wrested from the grave; and if they ascended with him too, it was thus shown that the Lord’s conquest over the enemies of mankind was complete, and not only an earnest given of a general resurrection of the dead, but of the kingdom of heaven being opened to all believers.

27:51-56 The rending of the veil signified that Christ, by his death, opened a way to God. We have an open way through Christ to the throne of grace, or mercy-seat now, and to the throne of glory hereafter. When we duly consider Christ's death, our hard and rocky hearts should be rent; the heart, and not the garments. That heart is harder than a rock that will not yield, that will not melt, where Jesus Christ is plainly set forth crucified. The graves were opened, and many bodies of saints which slept, arose. To whom they appeared, in what manner, and how they disappeared, we are not told; and we must not desire to be wise above what is written. The dreadful appearances of God in his providence, sometimes work strangely for the conviction and awakening of sinners. This was expressed in the terror that fell upon the centurion and the Roman soldiers. We may reflect with comfort on the abundant testimonies given to the character of Jesus; and, seeking to give no just cause of offence, we may leave it to the Lord to clear our characters, if we live to Him. Let us, with an eye of faith, behold Christ and him crucified, and be affected with that great love wherewith he loved us. But his friends could give no more than a look; they beheld him, but could not help him. Never were the horrid nature and effects of sin so tremendously displayed, as on that day when the beloved Son of the Father hung upon the cross, suffering for sin, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. Let us yield ourselves willingly to his service.And the graves were opened - "Graves" or sepulchres were most commonly made, among the Jews, in solid rocks or in caves of rocks. The rending of the rocks, therefore, would lay them open. The graves were opened by this earthquake, but the dead in them did not rise until after his resurrection.

And many bodies of the saints arose - Of course, it is not known who these were, nor what became of them. It is probable that they were persons who had recently died, and they appear to have been known in Jerusalem; at least, had the ancient saints risen, they would not have been known, and would not so soon have been credited as those who had recently died.

Which slept - Which had died. The death of saints is often called "sleep," Daniel 12:2; 1 Corinthians 15:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:15.

52. And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose—These sleeping saints (see on [1377]1Th 4:14) were Old Testament believers, who—according to the usual punctuation in our version—were quickened into resurrection life at the moment of their Lord's death, but lay in their graves till His resurrection, when they came forth. But it is far more natural, as we think, and consonant with other Scriptures, to understand that only the graves were opened, probably by the earthquake, at our Lord's death, and this only in preparation for the subsequent exit of those who slept in them, when the Spirit of life should enter into them from their risen Lord, and along with Him they should come forth, trophies of His victory over the grave. Thus, in the opening of the graves at the moment of the Redeemer's expiring, there was a glorious symbolical proclamation that the death which had just taken place had "swallowed up death in victory"; and whereas the saints that slept in them were awakened only by their risen Lord, to accompany Him out of the tomb, it was fitting that "the Prince of Life … should be the First that should rise from the dead" (Ac 26:23; 1Co 15:20, 23; Col 1:18; Re 1:5).

and went into the holy city—that city where He, in virtue of whose resurrection they were now alive, had been condemned.

and appeared unto many—that there might be undeniable evidence of their own resurrection first, and through it of their Lord's. Thus, while it was not deemed fitting that He Himself should appear again in Jerusalem, save to the disciples, provision was made that the fact of His resurrection should be left in no doubt. It must be observed, however, that the resurrection of these sleeping saints was not like those of the widow of Nain's son, of Jairus' daughter, of Lazarus, and of the man who "revived and stood upon his feet," on his dead body touching the bones of Elisha (2Ki 13:21)—which were mere temporary recallings of the departed spirit to the mortal body, to be followed by a final departure of it "till the trumpet shall sound." But this was a resurrection once for all, to life everlasting; and so there is no room to doubt that they went to glory with their Lord, as bright trophies of His victory over death.

The Centurion's Testimony (Mt 27:54).

See Poole on "Matthew 27:53".

And the graves were opened,.... Which were near the city of Jerusalem: this was a proof of Christ's power over death and the grave, by dying; when he through death, destroyed him that had the power of it, and abolished death itself; and became the plague of death and the destruction of the grave, taking into his hands the keys of hell and death:

and many bodies of saints which slept, arose: not that they arose at the time of Christ's death: the graves were opened then, when the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent; but the bodies of the saints did not arise, till after Christ was risen, as appears from the following verse; but because the other event now happened, they are both recorded here: these were saints, and such as slept in Jesus; and of whom he is the first fruits that now rose; and not all, but many of them, as pledges of the future resurrection, and for the confirmation of Christ's, and the accomplishment of a prophecy in Isaiah 26:19. And they rose in the same bodies in which they before lived, otherwise they could not be called their bodies, or known by those to whom they appeared: but who they were is not to be known; some have thought them to be the ancient patriarchs, as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, &c. In the Septuagint on Job 42:17, Job is said to be one of them, and a tradition is there recorded, which runs thus:

"it is written, that he rose with whom the Lord rose.

But it should seem rather, that they were some later saints, such as Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, John the Baptist himself, good old Simeon, Joseph the husband of Mary, and others, well known to persons now alive. Some think they were such, as had been martyrs in the cause of religion; and so the Persic version renders the words, "and the bodies of many saints who suffered martyrdom, rose out of the graves".

And the {r} graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,

(r) That is to say, the stones broke apart, and the graves opened themselves to show by this act that death was overcome: and the resurrection of the dead followed the resurrection of Christ, as the next verse indicates Mt 27:53.

Matthew 27:52. Τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἁγίων, of the saints that had slept) The name saints belongs equally to the living and the dead; yea, in the mention of the dead, the determining clause is added, “who had slept.” And these saints are reckoned such, not by human, but Divine Canon. Of the Saints, who had died either a long while before the birth of Christ, or not much after (see Gnomon on John 11:25), from all tribes no doubt. The ancients appear to have considered Job to have been one of these; for, at the end of his book, the LXX. and Theodotion add γέγραπται δὲ αὐτὸν πάλιν ἀναστήσεσθαι μεθʼ ὧν ὁ κύριος ἀνίστησιν, but it is written that he shall rise again with those whom the Lord raises.

Verse 52. - The graves (the sepulchres) were opened. The earthquake tore away the stones that closed the mouths of many of the adjacent tombs. This and the following fact are mentioned only by St. Matthew. Many bodies of the saints which slept (τῶν κεκοιμημένων, who had fallen asleep) arose. Matthew anticipates the time of the actual occurrence of the marvel, which took place, not at this moment, but after our Lord's resurrection, who was "the firstfruits of them that slept" (see the next verse). Who are meant by "the saints" here is doubtful. The Jews probably would have understood the term to apply to the worthies of the Old Testament (comp. 2 Peter 3:4). But the opening of the sepulchres in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem would not have liberated the bodies of many of those who were buried far away. The persons signified must be those who in life had looked for the hope of Israel, and had seen in Christ that hope fulfilled; they were such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, true believers, who are called saints in the New Testament. How did these bodies arise? or how were they raised up? They were not mere phantoms, unsubstantial visitants from the spirit world, for they were in some sense corporeal. That they were not resuscitated corpses, as Lazarus, Jairus's daughter and the son of the widow, who lived for a time a second life, seems plain from the expression applied to them in the next verse, that "they appeared unto many," i.e. to persons who had known them while living. Some have thought that in them was anticipated the general resurrection, that, delivered from Hades and united to their bodies, they died no more, but at the Ascension accompanied Christ into heaven. Scripture says nothing of all this, nor have we any reason to suppose that any human body, save that of our blessed Lord (mediaeval legends add that of the Virgin Mary), has yet entered the highest heaven (see Hebrews 11:39, 40). Another opinion is that these were not strictly resurrections, but bodily appearances of saints like those of Moses and Elias at the Transfiguration; but it is a straining of language to make the evangelist describe such visitations as bodies arising from open sepulchres. Farrar tries to elude the difficulty by a supposition, as baseless as it is dishonouring to the evangelist's strict and simple veracity. He writes, "An earthquake shook the earth and split the rocks, and as it rolled away from their places the great stones which closed and covered the cavern sepulchres of the Jews, so it seemed to the imaginations of many to have disimprisoned the spirits of the dead, and to have filled the air with ghostly visitants, who, after Christ had risen, appeared to linger in the holy city. Only in some such way," he adds, "can I account for the singular and wholly isolated allusion of Matthew." Because a fact is mentioned by one evangelist only, it is not on this account incredible. St. Matthew was probably an eyewitness of that which he relates, and might have been confuted by his contemporaries, if he had stated what was not true. An early witness to the fact is found in Igmatius, who, in his 'Epistle to the Magnesians,' ch. 9, speaks of Christ when on earth raising the prophets from the dead. The whole matter is mysterious and beyond human ken; but we may well believe that at this great crisis the Lord, who is the Resurrection and the Life, willed to exemplify his victory over death. and to make manifest the resurrection of the body, and this he did by releasing some saintly souls from Hades, and clothing them with the forms in which they had formerly lived, and permitting them to show themselves thus to those who knew and loved them. Of the future life of these resuscitated saints we know nothing, and will not presumptuously venture to inquire. When they have demonstrated that the sting was now taken from death, that the power of the grave was broken, that men shall rise again with their bodies and be known and recognized, they pass out of sight into the unseen world, and we can follow them no further. Matthew 27:52
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