Who were resurrected after the crucifixion? Why is this event only mentioned in one Gospel (Matt 27:52-53)? Is there any significance in it? Do we know any of the holy people it talked about?
When Jesus died and conquered death, was this like a first rapture? All the old heroes of the Bible – Noah, Abraham, Moses, David etc – were they all in waiting and Jesus brought them into heaven through what he did? (Someone told me and I can’t remember where it is in the bible about Jesus going to Hades, preaching and bringing people back. Now if this is true does it link in with the verses in Matthew in any way!?)
Here‘s the passage you refer to:
Matt 27 52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
First, there are many things which are only mentioned in one Gospel, for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan is only mentioned in Luke (10 30ff).
When you consider how the Gospels were written, this is not surprising:
Mark’s Gospel was probably written very early. It was Peter’s account, which Mark wrote out for him (technically we say Mark was Peter’s “amanuensis”). Mark’s account would have been copied and passed around, first of all among the other disciples, then more widely circulated.
Matthew was an educated man, being a former tax collector, so he was well able to write a reliable account. He certainly had access to Mark’s account, but rewrote stories as he remembered (not forgetting the Holy Spirit’s inspiration!), and added in details which Mark had not included.
Luke was a Physician/Historian, given a commission by a rich man called Theophilus to produce an account of Jesus’s life and what happened to the apostles afterwards. Luke also had access to Mark’s, but possibly not Matthew’s account. He did some independent research among the followers of Jesus, and came up with plenty of accounts which are not in Matthew or Mark.
John wrote his account last, when an old man in exile on the island of Patmos. He wrote around 90AD, and all his accounts are directed to one end: “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”. (Jn 20 31) So John missed out lots of accounts in the other three gospels, and includes much material that they don’t.
So, there is no special significance in this account being in only one gospel. It’s only what you would expect when the Holy Spirit partners with the rich variety among human beings.
We know no details of the Holy People it refers to. We only know that their bodies came to life at the moment of Jesus’s death, and stayed alive for several days, and many people were witnesses that they were alive again. However, there is no suggestion in scripture that this was a resurrection to “Spiritual bodies” which is what we will get at the Rapture.
We can deduce this because we have no evidence of them still being alive. So they came back to their ordinary mortal bodies, and, although we are not told, we must presume they were “taken back” at some stage by God, they did not stay alive on the earth.
Did they “die” again? We don’t know, although we have the example of Lazarus and Jairus’s daughter, who had both died once, and were then brought back to life again. They would eventually die a natural death once again – this time permanently!
In fact, it strikes me that this is the easiest way to explain the passage you started with. Jesus had brought back to life a small number of people in his life on earth. Now he brings back a larger number at his death. When you consider the cataclysmic nature of the death of Jesus, perhaps it is not all that surprising.
And one day, the sound of his voice will call millions to rise from their graves – permanently. (1 Thess 4 16) This is just a preview.
And, although it is tempting, I don’t think there is a connection between this and the difficult to understand passage about Jesus and Hades, This resurrection happened at the moment of Jesus death and referred to a physical resurrection of physical bodies, whereas the passage you refer to was what happened to Jesus’s spirit DURING his body’s time in the tomb.
Here’s the passage:
1Pet. 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,
This (I hope!) brings us to the last subject, what happened to all the “old heroes of the Bible – Noah, Abraham, Moses, David etc”? How did the death of Jesus affect them?
We must start by remembering that the way the ancient world thought about death revolved around what was there in front of their eyes – what they SAW happening.
It was not till the time of Jesus that he started to teach in more detail about being with God after we die.
So let’s see some examples of this:
If your Uncle Pete died in the ancient world, there would be two things you could immediately notice about his body. It didn’t breathe, so its spirit was gone – spirit and breath are the same word in Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma). Secondly, if death had been violent, the loss of blood and the loss of life were simultaneous, so it was natural to think the “life was in the blood” (Lev 16 11).
The next thing you did was to put the body in a hole in the ground. If anyone asked, “where’s old Pete?”, you’d point to the ground and say, “There”.
Just notice, it didn’t matter if Pete had been an absolute saint, or a wicked old man. You still put him in the same hole. To you, the godly and the wicked all went in the same hole.
So a word came into use which expressed “where dead people are”.
“Sheol” (usually translated as “the grave”) actually meant, “the place under the ground where dead people go”.
We know NOW there is more to it than this, but we have to realise that their perspective EXACTLY fitted the observable events.
Then along came Jesus, with the most vivid account in the New Testament of life after death. It’s in Luke 16 19-31 (interestingly enough, only in this gospel!) and it’s the story of a godly poor man and a wicked rich man (I bet Jesus had great fun telling stories like this in a society where the rich regarded themselves as good, and poor people as bad!)
The poor man dies and is carried to “Abraham’s ‘bosom’”. The Greek word which our bibles render as ‘bosom’ or ‘side’ actually means the place where a child would sit when being cuddled by his father. We could say “lap” but it needs to carry the concept of a protective hug too. As Abraham was the great ‘Father’ of the nation, can you see how deep and emotive this expression was?
The rich man died and went to a place Jesus called “Hades”. This is a Greek term, which had a meaning similar to Sheol, but carried more unpleasant overtones of darkness and gloom. Jesus uses “Hades” in this story to describe a place of punishment.
Between Abraham’s Bosom and Hades there was a “great chasm” which could not be crossed (Luke 16 26).
The other concept Jesus drops on us is that of “Paradise” Originally this referred to the Utopian surroundings of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, where all kinds of fruit trees shaded you, and dripped fruit into your hands. In Luke 22 43, Jesus tells the repentant thief that he will THAT DAY be with Him in Paradise.
We learn more about Paradise from Paul in 2 Cor 11 2-4, where he equates it to the “Third Heaven” (I’ve written about this in the question “Third Heaven’.) This is the highest point in the spiritual world, the very dwelling place of God, his throne-room.
Rev 2 gives us even more: 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Where is Paradise? Where the Tree of Life is. Where have we come across that BEFORE? Eden, a physical place with no division between the physical and the spiritual, because God could come down and walk in the Garden. Where do we come across it AFTER? In the New Jerusalem of Rev 22.
So what are we to make of all this? How many places ARE there for dead people to stay?
It’s not too difficult to account for the place of the ungodly. When they were alive they made it plain to God that they did not want to be associated with him. Accordingly, they continue after this life in a place where He is ‘not’.
So how about the place of the godly? Did the Old Testament Saints live in a different place from where the New Testament saints now go?
I’m in the middle of answering a question from Jamie, in which I point out that the grounds of salvation, in all of history, Old Covenant or New Covenant, are exactly the same. We are ONLY saved by Jesus. If we lived before him, we are saved by looking forward to him. If we live after him, we are saved by looking backward to him.
This was harder, of course, on those who lived before him, so they were given “pictures’ of what would happen, so they could glimpse what was to come. Sacrifices were pictures in this way.
The relevant passage which clarifies this is 1 Cor 10 1: For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
So THEY were saved by the same process of faith in the Messiah as WE are. The only difference was that for them, he was TO COME; for us he HAS come.
So, where did they go? I think to the same place we will go: the very presence of God, the Throne-Room, the Third Heaven, Paradise.
There can be no separate “waiting place for the godly who had the misfortune to be godly BEFORE Jesus came”. On what justification could such a place exist? Was the dying thief more loved by God than Abraham, Noah, Moses?
No, there are only two parts of the spiritual world: that part where God’s presence pervades every inch, and the part where he has removed his presence completely (though he still rules in Sovereignty).
Abraham, Noah, Moses are waiting for us in His presence.
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