The risen saints of Matthew 27

The risen saints of Matthew 27

In the account of Jesus’ death in Matthew’s gospel, we get some of the strangest verses in the entire Bible:

52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

                                                                         (Matt. 27:52-53 ESV)

No other gospel writer mentions this episode, only Matthew. And there is so little detail here! I don’t know about you, but there are so many things about this I would like to know, such as:

  • How many people were raised?
  • Were these people who died a few weeks back or in the timeframe of Abraham or David?
  • Did they rise when Jesus died, and only come about after Jesus rose again?
  • Did they have physical bodies and therefore died again, or spiritual bodies and ascended into heaven?

I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, and anyone who says that they know is speculating. It is one of those enticing episodes we’d love to be able to ask Matthew more about, but these two verses are all we have.

So instead of focussing on what we do not know, what do we know about this? There are two big takeaway points here:

  1. Jesus’ rising is a foretaste of our rising

Jesus is not only some example for us. Jesus’ death accomplished something, the forgiveness of the sins of God’s people. The penalty of eternal judgement that we would have received has been paid by Jesus, if we trust in Him. This means that we look forward to rising again in the future like Jesus did.

This episode is like the first fruits, a foretaste of what will happen for all believers. All who trust in Jesus will, one day, rise from the dead to be with Jesus forever. What is unusual about this passage is the timing, not the reality itself.

  1. All people are only saved through Jesus

Each of these people who rose again from the dead in Matthew 27 died before Jesus did. Yet they are called “saints”, holy ones, people who are raised through the work of Jesus. This shows us that Jesus is the only way people are saved. Those who trusted in the promises of God prior to Jesus’ death are still saved by the work of Jesus on the cross. There is not one way of salvation for Old Testament people and one for New Testament people. Jesus is the only way.


If nothing else, this strange episode in the middle of the account of Jesus’ death gives us hope. One day, all who trust in Jesus will rise like these people did. Right now, we might be in the middle of tough times, we might only feel the pain of life as sinners in a sinful world. One day, we will be with Jesus, and all the former things will have passed away. Our God is so gracious to his people.