A Question I Was Asked:

Who Were the Saints Who Came Out of Their Tombs in Matthew 27?

Who were the saints who were raised to life and came out of the tombs after Jesus' resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people? (Matthew 27:52-53).

What happened to them after they appeared?

UK Apologetics Reply:

We don't know because Scripture never tells us, that is, they are unnamed.

Let us look at this:

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus' resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:51-54).

Of course, this pointed to the resurrection of Jesus and was telling everybody who wanted to take note that Jesus was the Saviour of Mankind - no ordinary person. What eventually happened to these people? Well, they eventually died again of course and so here we have a group of people who - apparently - underwent the first (physical) death twice!

As Gill points out in his commentary, these people rose in the same bodies in which they had previously lived, otherwise it could not be referred to as 'their bodies' which arose (verse 52). Gill also reports thus:

In the Septuagint [note] 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 ...[then] 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."

The Popular Commentary states the rather more fanciful opinion that these saints arose with glorified bodies:

This remarkable event was both supernatural and symbolic, proclaiming the truth that the death and resurrection of Christ was a victory over death and Hades, opening the door to everlasting life. Who these 'saints' were, is doubtful. Perhaps saints of the olden times, but more probably those personally known to the disciples, as seems implied in the phrase: 'appeared unto many.' Such saints as Simeon, Anna, Zachariah, Joseph, John the Baptist, or [possibly] friends of Christ, it has been suggested. Whether they died again is also doubtful. But probably not, as the next verse intimates an appearance for a time, not such a restoration as in the case of Lazarus, and others. They may have had glorified bodies and ascended with our Lord. Not much has been revealed, but enough to proclaim and confirm the blessed truth of which the event is a sign and seal. Jerusalem is still called 'the holy city,' a title it could retain at least until the day of Pentecost.

I think that opinion may well be to take it too far. It does not seem likely that these people arose with glorified bodies and later ascended into heaven with the Lord, otherwise would not their ascension with Christ have been mentioned in Acts 1? Also, as already pointed out, it is only stated that their "bodies" arose. Therefore I come down on the side of those who remind us that this is only referred to in Scripture as a bodily resurrection and that these saints eventually died again and now await the full resurrection of body and soul in heaven.

Robin A. Brace. April 25th, 2014.