Apr 10, 2009

An often missed Good Friday story...

I've often wondered why this Good Friday account found in Matthew's Gospel is rarely, if ever, talked about:

"And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!' " Matthew 27:50-54 ESV

Perhaps it is because apparently through the centuries there have been many interpretations of these verses, called signs, and their significance. All three of these signs (the curtain of the temple torn in two from top to bottom, the earthquake and opening of tombs, and the resurrection of some saints) appear to have happened at the three o'clock hour on Good Friday, at precisely the moment when Jesus gave up his spirit. We've all heard reference to the first two in sermons and hymns, but how often have we heard about the saints who were raised from the dead, many of them?

For one thing, I think we don't want to entertain the thought that some dead saints were raised before Christ was raised. Scripture does seem to indicate that they did not appear to many in Jerusalem until after Christ's resurrection, but it seems quite clear that they came out of their tombs at the same time the other signs occurred, namely, at the time of Christ's death.

What a mysterious event! Can we even dare to imagine this sight, people who had died and were buried in tombs, coming back to life and making appearances to many people?

We do not know where they were from 3 o'clock on Good Friday until sometime after Christ's resurrection on Sunday morning. But they did not appear to many until then. Likewise, we do not know where Christ was during the moments in between his bodily appearances after his resurrection. But we know that he did appear at least 10 times, and to hundreds of people.

I'm not a theologian in the strict sense of the word, but I do think that possibly the reason we don't hear about the saints that were raised from the dead is it sets up a conflict with the idea that Christ was the first to rise in a resurrection body. I'm sure there is an explanation, and maybe by next Easter I'll have it figured out! Obviously the coming back to life in bodily form for those saints is connected with the significance of the death and resurrection of the One and Only Lord who is praised forever and ever. The power of this historical event may never be fully understood this side of eternity, and I'm ok with that.


Andy said...


You're sure right that we don't often dwell on this pretty amazing part of the Good Friday narrative from Matthew.

I haven't done any checking, but in the text you quote above, it seems like it can be taken that these sleeping saints were raised after Jesus was raised. It at least seems to read that they didn't come out of the tombs until after his resurrection.

The gospels have many (to our ears) awkward places in their narratives where commentary about later events are spliced into the unfolding story. Maybe this is one of them?

Jacquelyn said...

I really don't know. The commentary we have takes it at face value, that these people were raised at the time of the other events on Good Friday. It doesn't appear to be connected with the events of Sunday. However, different versions of the Bible have commas in different places, which could change the sequence. It would be nice to know for sure WHEN it happened, but just to realize that it DID happen at some point between Good Friday and Sunday morning is amazing enough, isn't it!

Andy said...

I'd say "face value" is disputable here. The way it reads in the text you quoted sounds to me like it might prefer my way of reading it. But like I said---haven't done ANY checking up. Just done the "face value" thing. :-)


Jacquelyn said...

Let me know what you think after you read the commentaries you had me buy dad. I agree that the text I cited, with a "comma" after the word "raised" it totally changes the meaning. If the "comma" was after the word "tombs" instead, the argument the commmentary makes would make more sense...that the dead were raised at the time of Christ's death, and that they went to the Holy City after his resurrection. My big question is how does this all fit with the theology of Christ being the first to be raised in a resurrection body?

Andy said...

The people who were raised weren't necessarily raised in glorified bodies. Remember: Lazarus in John 11. He got to die twice, and these folks may have too!

If only they used commas in Koine Greek (or, for that matter, periods, lower-cases, and spaces in between words)!

Jacquelyn said...

That is a good point, Andy, and would serve as a more simple explanation. Look at Hendriksen's commentary...he says not...Some day we'll know for sure. Its a good thing eternity is a long time, because I have lots of questions! For sure we know that some dead came back to life, and that in itself is sort of a testimony of our own eventual bodily resurrection from the grave. You have to believe these bodies had most likely been rotting for a while.