The opening of the graves symbolized the removal of all obstructions to the final glorious resurrection because it removed the obstacles to raising the revived dead bodies of the saints. But sealed tombs, even when sealed with rock, are only flimsy obstacles compared with the difficulty involved in the final, glorious resurrection.
Consequently, it signified that the better resurrection was now in operation. Whatever had made it impossible for the corrupted physical bodies of the saints to be raised in incorruption was now—by virtue of those opened graves—removed.
And since the resurrection body implies the presence of the spirit to which it belongs, whatever had made it impossible for the disembodied spirits of the Old Testament saints to leave Hades and receive their glorified resurrection bodies, that too, by virtue of those opened graves, was now removed.
Hades (HAY-deez) is a term used in the Bible to describe the place where the dead dwelt until Christ’s resurrection. The Greek word occurs eleven times in the New Testament. Although some English translations render the term as hell, the word is never used to describe the place of final judgment.
Thus, the opening of Hades was the counterpart to the opening of the graves. That is, the entire nature of death—the spirit’s separation from the body as well as the body’s natural decay—was now virtually abolished for the saints. Every saint in Hades could then be removed from Hades and be reunited to their bodies, now glorified and incorruptible. There was no longer any obstacle preventing it, and it was now only a question of God’s appointed time.
What about Hades?
In light of the victory that was accomplished, God’s saints will no longer enter Hades, that place where God once comforted His Old Testament saints, though their freedom was restricted. Ever since the resurrection and ascension of Christ, they have ascended to Him, far above all heavens.
Not only that, but Jesus brought back with Him all those Old Testament saints who had gone into Hades, when He Himself returned from there, and carried them with Him into heaven. The gates of Hades did not prevail against His church. How beautifully symbolic, then, that it was by the earthquake that the graves were opened! In other words, the victory of the Savior’s death had reached into “the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40) and had demolished the gates that had barred their passage.
That victory in “the heart of the earth” reverberated to the surface. The trembling earth and splitting rocks were symbols of the joyful revolution that had been accomplished for the Old Testament saints in Hades. We can see, therefore, that a part of what was accomplished for the spirit, symbolized by the opening of the graves, has already become the blessed experience of those who have died in Christ.
Meanwhile, that which was done for the body, likewise symbolized by the opening of the graves, all God’s people are still waiting for. It was accomplished and is as real as though it were now true. Every obstacle to the full and blessed resurrection of the soul and the full resurrection glory of the body was violently removed, and we believers wait only for our divine appointment to be revealed in glory. It was the death of Jesus Christ that accomplished such a wonderful victory for us.
When were the graves opened? Precisely at the instant of His death. That instant is emphasized because the dead bodies weren’t revived to life until Christ arose on the third day. The graves were opened, even though the actual coming to life was not going to take place yet. This signified that there was a direct connection between the death of Christ and the opening of the graves.