The Graves Were Opened
April 2, 2006 / No. 3300
Dear radio friends,
When God’s Son closed His lips in death, God took it upon Himself to speak. God spoke through three miraculous signs, very plainly, concerning what the cross of His Son Jesus Christ meant for every child of God in every place and in every age. God spoke.
He did not speak, however, in a language of human lips, through words formed by the tongue, throat, and larynx. But He spoke in the language of the living God. He spoke clearly, powerfully, eloquently of the blessings of the dying Jesus Christ. God gave His own vivid word pictures to explain the vital blessings of the cross of His Son, Jesus Christ.
There were three such words of God spoken after His Son had cried out, “It is finished. Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” First, He spoke with the most significant and eloquent and glorious language in the rending of the veil. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record for us that the veil of the temple was torn from the top to the bottom, right in the middle. At the very hour of evening sacrifice, as the temple was busily being prepared, the sound of a loud rip filled the temple. The thick veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place was torn in two. And the meaning? The Word of God itself tells us in Hebrews 10 that the significance is this, that now the way into the holiest, into the very communion and presence of God, is open through the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son. Christ, by His death upon the cross, has provided us a new and a living way whereby we may come boldly into the very presence of God without fear of ever being cast out.
God spoke again. This second word that God spoke is recorded for us only in the Gospel According to Matthew. We read in chapter 27:51, “the earth did quake, and the rocks [were] rent.” The ground underfoot shook, and huge boulders around Calvary were broken in half. God had spoken again. He said His Amen. God said, “I am now near in all the power of My salvation to bless My children.” And God said that, upon the basis of the death of His Son, He would come in the fierceness of His anger against all sin and impenitence.
And then God spoke the third time. Again this is recorded for us only in the Gospel According to Matthew. We want now to consider that third word of God, perhaps the most mysterious of the three words that God spoke. It was a prophetic word. It was a word that pointed ahead. But it was also a word that put in simple language (simple for children) what the cross of His Son means.
We read in Matthew 27:52, 53: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”
Those events were simultaneous with the death of Jesus Christ and the events that happened immediately after His death. That is indicated by the very first words: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” God tells all these things that happened, clustered together, around the cross the very moment that His Son had cried out with a loud voice, “It is finished,” and gave up the ghost. The veil of the temple was torn in half, the rocks were rent and the earth shook, and these things also happened.
First of all, the tombs were opened. We read, “And the graves were opened.” In Palestine it was very difficult to dig graves. People were not buried as we are accustomed to in western society. The ground was gravelly and rocky. So sepulchers were hewn out of the stone and rocks — caves — and the bodies were laid in these sepulchers. There were stones and slabs covering the entrances to these graves. And we read that these stones, upon Christ’s death, were rolled away and the graves were opened. This was not an automatic side effect of the earthquake. The earthquake did not cause these rocks to be rolled away. But we read very deliberately that these graves were opened. God opened them. God divinely, and evidently in a select manner, opened some (not all) of the tombs in that area. God opened the graves. He removed the stone coverings.
Secondly, “and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.” The word “sleep” in the Bible is used to describe the dead in the Lord with respect to their bodies, not their souls. The heresy of soul-sleep leads to the heresy of annihilation. The Bible is plain. At death the soul of the believer goes to God for conscious glory. These saints, these holy ones who were dead and were buried and were in the sleep of death, and whose bodies were in various stages of disintegration — these saints arose. Their bodies came to life and their souls entered again into their bodies and they arose bodily from the floor of their tomb.
Next we read, “And came out of the graves after his resurrection.” The reading here, as we have it in the King James version, could mean that the bodies arose but stayed somehow in the tomb for three days, until the resurrection of Christ on Sunday morning. Most likely that is not so. We could translate it this way: “And many bodies of the saints which slept arose and came out of the graves, and after his resurrection entered into the holy city and appeared unto many.” Raised bodies came out of the tomb and waited unto the day of His resurrection, at which time they entered Jerusalem and appeared unto many. They disclosed themselves. They made themselves known to many.
Three things then happened when Jesus died. The graves of many saints were opened. The bodies of these many saints arose from the floor and they came out.
Then, further, we read that there were events connected with Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. We read that then they went into the holy city (Jerusalem — holy because God had chosen it as the place of the temple and the place where His presence would be felt among His people). After Jesus arose, these resurrected saints went into the city, the very city where Jesus had been condemned, the very city that had rejected Christ; and they appeared.
They appeared, we read, to many. The emphasis here is that they showed themselves alive. They spoke to many. They showed themselves to many. While our Lord Jesus, after His resurrection, restricted His appearances to the select group of His disciples, the saints appeared to an indiscriminate many. We are not told that they appeared only to the disciples, but to many.
So, here is what we are told: At the moment of His death, after the veil of the temple had been torn in twain and after the rocks had been rent and the earth quaked, the graves of many saints were opened. They arose bodily and they came out. And, upon the day of His resurrection, they went into Jerusalem and appeared unto many.
Now, there are, of course, many questions that we would have but cannot be answered. We will have to wait until another Sunday, a day of perfect rest, which dawns when we shall be with Him in heaven and He can give us the answers.
We ask, who were they? How many? What did the people say? We read that the bodies of many saints arose. Were they old worthies who had died a hundred, two hundred, a thousand years before? Or were they made saints during the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ — perhaps saints like Zacharias and Elisabeth, Simeon and Anna? We do not know. God’s Word does not say who they were and we cannot say anything except that many bodies of the saints arose. We ask, where did they stay between Good Friday and Sunday when on that resurrection Sunday they appeared in the holy city? We do not know. What did people say who saw them? What was their reaction? Exactly who did they appear to? Did they go to their families? We do not know. What happened to them? They arose bodily, body and soul united — a body called from the dust and from bones, and from stages of decomposition. I believe that those bodies were made like unto His most glorious bodies — immortal life in the body. What happened to them? They did not go back to the grave, did they? They did not die again like Lazarus, like Jairus’ daughter. Beloved, I do not know. God did not tell us. He could have, but He did not, because He thought that it was not necessary for us to know the answer to those questions. And that is our point.
We must draw our lesson today from what God has told us, not from that which He has not told us. Faith is active when it submissively bows before the silences of God. Nowhere in the Bible do we find the answer to those questions. Faith says that God’s silences are good. And they are good especially because when God is silent He is directing our ears to what we need to hear. He is God. He says, “My message for you is contained in the facts that I have told you. In those facts you will find wondrous food for your soul.” In those facts God speaks to us of the blessing, of the power, of the benefits found in the cross of our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ.
What are those blessings? First of all, this fact of the resurrected saints shouts to us that Christ’s death on the cross has power, virtue, for all of His people entrusted to Him of the Father. It says that what Jesus did on the cross applies directly to all who are His. It says that the cross is the power to save them to the uttermost. At its most basic, elementary, simple level these glorious events of the opening of the tombs and the resurrection of the bodies of these saints speak to us powerfully of the power of the cross for God’s children. They tell us that that cross has delivered us from destruction. They tell us that Christ was not on the cross merely to give some type of influence. We do not stand today before the cross with the question, “What was He up to on the cross?” We do not leave the cross shaking our heads and pondering, “What does all of this mean?” God makes it very plain. He says to us that He was there to do something, to do something for His people. And, having done it, it now belongs to them.
While alive, our Lord Jesus Christ repeatedly stated that what He would do upon the cross would be in the behalf of His own who were given to Him of the Father’s gracious election. He had said in John 10: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. I lay down my life for the sheep.” He had said in Matthew 20, “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many.” In other words, His work was to have virtue, benefit for all of His people. It was to gain something for them. It was to work something for and in them. His death was not simply an influence. It was not simply to show them how to do it themselves. But His death was for them, in the place of them, applied to them. And by its virtue, His people are redeemed.
This glorious event of the opening of the tombs and the resurrection of the saints at the moment of Christ’s death tells us that Christ, the Head of the church, has sustained and earned our redemption. Romans 5:12-21 opens this up for us. There the Scriptures give us the doctrine. Now in Matthew 27 God gives us the picture. The doctrine is that Adam was not a private person, the first man. But the human race was piggybacked on Adam. By Adam’s sin, all died. But Romans 5 goes on to say, By one man’s disobedience, condemnation came upon all men unto death. Adam fell. His one act profoundly affected you and me. It constituted us guilty and condemned and depraved. We read in that passage, By his disobedience, condemnation came upon us. But we also read this: By the obedience of one, justification of life came upon all those who have received abundance of grace. All of the elect who were in Christ — the benefits of His work come to them as theirs. That is the doctrine. Jesus’ death was not an isolated event. It was not something that happened to one man. But the cross is tied inseparably to me, and to all those who by the grace of God believe in Jesus Christ.
And God puts it in a picture. We are at the scene of the cross. God’s Son, after three hours of darkness, cries out: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” He then cries out: “It is finished.” And He continues to say, “Father, into Thy hand I commend My spirit.” He bows His head in death upon the cross. The sacrifice for sin has been made.
What happens? The earth shakes. The rocks burst. The graves are opened and the saints come out. And what are we to think? We are to think that there is a direct connection between that cross and His church. What Jesus has done comes to them. He dies, they live. He bows His head in death, and they awake from the grave. He lays down His life, and they now take up their life. His death has power, virtue, for everyone who is given to Him — for me — by faith.
If we are to have the strength and the confidence of our salvation, we must understand these truths. His work on the cross has power — wondrous power, redeeming power — for me. The apostle Paul knew that. He could say in Romans 8:34, “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again.” He knew that there was no condemnation for him. How did he know that? It was Christ who died — died for me. When God’s Son hangs limp in death, the graves of the saints are opened, saying that Christ’s death has the power of salvation for all of His people.
You must apply that to your life today. So often we ask the question: “What has God done for me? Where is God in my life? Does He think of me in my needs? And, if He loves me, why does He send these things, these difficult things today to me?” Child of God, do not feel sorry for yourself. Never say, “But I’ve got nothing good. Everything is bad.” Don’t you dare talk that way! It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again. Apply that as the power unto a new and godly life. Stop in your tracks with the attitudes of bitterness and hate and resentment. Why did He die? So that I might live.
The open graves and the raised saints declare specifically that Christ’s death has destroyed our death and earned resurrection life for all of His people. Death would not be in our vocabulary except for the truth of these words ( Gen. 2), “The day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” The wages of sin is death. The soul that sinneth, it shall surely die. The words “funeral,” “casket,” “cemetery,” “headstone,” “putrifying flesh,” would not have been known or understood if sin had not entered the world. As long as sin reigns, death reigns.
That is also true in our experience as well. When sin reigns, fear of death inseparably, inescapably, torments the soul. The only way to destroy the reigning power of death is to destroy sin. Now what is God saying? As Jesus dies, the graves are opened — meaning that His death has exhausted the claims of sin and death. His death has secured our life. Put yourself again at Calvary. Stand there. In His victory He dies. He declares, “It is finished,” and immediately the saints come out of their graves. You do not need to be a genius to understand that His death secures the life of His people. Jesus Christ is not a private person. But He is representing all those given to Him of the Father. Therefore, what He has done for them is now theirs. His people were dead in trespasses and sins. They were under an unbearably great guilt of their sin. But Christ now has borne it away. His death is the pledge of our life. His death was the purchase of our life. His death frees us from the guilt and the power of sin. The power of our life is in His death. It is Christ crucified that is the power of God unto salvation.
The only power is the cross of Jesus Christ. On that cross Jesus gave Himself to experience all that we deserve, all the chosen of God. And in so doing, He has earned for them everlasting righteousness, grace, and life.
How do I know? God spoke. The graves were opened and the saints arose.
Do you have that confidence? Do you have it worked in you by a true and living faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that clings, serves, trusts, obeys, and glories in Christ? He is the power of our life.
When Jesus, shortly before His cross, stood before the grave of Lazarus, He said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And he that liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” He said, “All who are united to me cannot die. They shall live eternally.” And now, God validates those words. Jesus, His Son, dies, and the graves are opened. Christ’s death has destroyed our death. Christ’s death has opened to us eternal life. Christ’s cross leads to Father’s presence in glory. Christ’s cross removes our guilty stains and delivers us from Satan’s claws.
Do you believe, by grace, in this Lord Jesus Christ and His cross? Is He your boast? Blessed are you. And listen as God speaks when His Son dies. The graves were opened and the saints arose and they came forth. God is saying, “Because Christ My Son died for you, you shall live. And now, by His death, rise up and live unto God!”
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee again for the Word of God, for that wondrous cross. May we ever, O Lord, by faith bring ourselves there and see the perfection of our salvation. Bless Thy Word to our hearts. Be with us in this week. Forgive graciously those sins that yet cleave to us, forgiving them in His merits. In Jesus’ name, Amen.