. . . 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. —Matthew 27:52–53
The sixth miracle of Calvary was the revivals to life that accompanied the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The text reveals to us that certain graves were opened by the earthquake at the death of Christ, and that the dead bodies arose and came out of them after Christ Himself had risen, and that they went into Jerusalem and appeared to many. It is a statement of one of the grandest miracles, an incredible example of supernaturalism in the sense that it was completely miraculous.
To this statement belong certain historical evidences. It stands in the same line as the other miraculous events of the time. It harmonizes with and explains the wonder of the opened graves in the same way that the opened graves were the product of the miraculous earthquake. And the earthquake was the miraculous counterpart to the tearing of the curtain, and the curtain was the answer to the shout of victory from the cross whose dying Sufferer had just emerged triumphant from the horrors of the symbolic darkness! So if all the previous miracles of Calvary were historical, then in order to maintain their harmony, this is the only conceivable way the great series of miracles could end.
Moreover, it is in complete accord with the whole teaching of salvation. Instead of being amazed that the resurrection was accentuated by such revivals to life in the Calvary graveyard, we would say instead, upon hearing of the incident, that, “It has a right to be here. It is credible because it expresses the pledge of the coming resurrection, when, from all the graveyards of the world, wherever the mortal remains of a saint may lie, this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal immortality!”
When Paul, the writer of 1 Corinthians, says that “this corruptible shall put on incorruption,” he is speaking of exchanging our mortal earthly bodies for immortal bodies
that will never die and decay.
Then again, consider the reticence of this statement. In that restraint we see a sign of truthfulness, where incredulous babbling is forced into silence, and even the severest criticism must express admiration. The evangelist tells his story of wonder; but we also have a curious story to tell on him, one barely less wonderful than his own. Our story is amazement that these few words are absolutely all he says.
He tells us that when the Lord was resurrected certain of the departed saints arose, left their graves, and went into Jerusalem, appearing to many. But he says nothing more. Who were they? How many were there? Did they go into the houses of the people or only walk the streets? Whether they appeared only once, or from time to time during the forty days of the Lord’s appearances, isn’t told us. How did their return from the dead affect them? Did they speak of the realms of the dead or of Christ’s recent entrance into those realms? How and when did they finally disappear, or did they continue to live? On all these questions there is not a word, not so much as the faintest recognition of the possibility of such questions being asked.
Nor does the writer even mention whether the risen saints had died recently. At first glance, it might be inferred that this is implied in their appearing to many, for why should they appear, except to be recognized and identified? And yet, Moses and Elijah were recognized by the disciples at the Transfiguration, although they had never before seen either one. Certainly the Holy Spirit is able to make known to people those who were strangers before. The Spirit is able to do it as easily and quietly as the light shines or a new idea comes into the mind.
The Transfiguration of Jesus is recorded in three places in the Gospels (MATTHEW 17:1–13; MARK 9:2–8; LUKE 9:28–36). The disciples Peter, James, and John accompanied Christ to an unidentified mountain where Jesus’s face “shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” (MATTHEW 17:2). Moses and Elijah joined the four on the mountain.
In fact, the thought in this text is not simply that they “appeared”—which doesn’t fully express the original—but that they were plainly recognized. It is not said that they were recognized by their names. The only thing implied is that they were plainly recognized as people risen from the dead. Now how do we respond to such restraint? Was there ever a myth in any fiction story that had such a brief setting? If history can be judged by the manner in which it chronicles events, then this is history. Furthermore, it is a divine history, for what uninspired historian ever practiced such a repressed imagination? The desire to pry into the secrets of the other world can be unbearable. One of the oldest superstitions is that of trying to speak to the dead. It
was forbidden in the Law of Moses. It was one of the world’s mischievous pursuits in the ignorance of earlier centuries. And yet we see a revival of it even now in our intellectual age, when human beings think they have finally gained a mature knowledge of life.
Necromancy, or attempting to communicate with the dead, was also called divination . This was explicitly prohibited under the Mosaic law (LEVITICUS 19:26; DEUTERONOMY 18:10).
So, I say, the silence in our text is almost as wonderful as the miracle itself. No one, writing about a miracle of such magnitude, would have said so little. What was the nature of their revivals from the dead? There are two kinds exhibited in Scripture. We are told of six resurrections that were only restorations to this present mortal life. The son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17), the Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4), the resurrection caused by the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13:20–21), the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:40–56), the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11–15), and Lazarus (John 11). In every one of those cases, it was only a revival of the natural body that would die again, and which, in those particular cases, undeniably did die again.