4. The Opened Graves And The Resurrected Dead


When we think about what God was doing while Jesus hung on the cross, it shouldn’t really surprise us that He provided some visible miracles for those who were onlookers.

Whilst Christ hung on the cross, there were four miraculous events which occurred.

1. The 3 hours of darkness, Matthew 27:45/ Luke 23:44-45.

2. The veil of the temple was torn into two, Matthew 27:50-51/ Mark 15:37-38.

3. An earthquake, Matthew 27:50-52.

4. The graves opening up and dead people being raised to life, Matthew 27:50-53.

In this study, we will look at the significance of the graves opening up and the dead rising to life.

In Bible times, tombs were often cut out of solid rock and large rocks were used to cover the entrance as we read here concerning Lazarus’ tomb, John 11:38, and Jesus’ tomb, Matthew 27:60.

The door to the tomb was usually made of a circular-shaped stone, running in a groove and settled down into a channel, so it could not be moved except by several strong men. This was done to ensure that no one would disturb the remains.

Bruce in his commentary, says the following.

‘The usual mode of shutting the door of the tomb; the Jews called the stone golal, the roller.’ (Bruce)

Bible Gateway says the following.

‘Cemeteries were generally located in Biblical times outside inhabited settlements, usually near the city or village, even as in modern times. Every city had its own burial place. The dead were generally buried in the ground, away from dwellings, and rarely within the occupied settlement itself. The tombs were usually prominently marked, sometimes painted with whitewash, so that no one would be accidentally defiled by contact with the dead.’ (Leviticus 21:1 / Numbers 6:6 / Numbers 19:13).’

The Opened Tombs And The Resurrected Dead

‘And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.’ Matthew 27:50-53

Some believe that the opened tombs weren’t a miracle in themselves, it was simply the result of the miraculous earthquake. This is certainly possible, but when we also read that the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life, this tells us that God was responsible for the tombs opening up as well as raising the dead back to life.

We don’t know how long those who rose when Jesus was on the cross had been dead. Maybe they’ve been dead for a few days, weeks or even years, the Bible doesn’t tell us how long they have been dead.

But we do know these holy people were raised back to life just as Christ said they would earlier in His ministry. In John 5:25-29 we read that Christ speaks concerning Himself and judgement and He speaks of two resurrections.

1. Spiritual, ‘now the hour is coming’, Pentecost, Ephesians 2:1-5, dead in sin.

2. Physical, ‘all in the tombs’, all physically dead, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.

In other words, what we’re about to study, was part of the fulfilment of Christ’s words.

Who Were These Holy People?

Some believe they were the ancient patriarchs, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob etc. Others believe they were modern saints, such as his father Joseph, Zechariah, Simeon, John Baptist, etc. The truth is, we simply don’t know because we are not told.

When Did They Rise From Their Graves?

“The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” Matthew 27:52-53

Interestingly, it’s only Matthew who records this event, so we can’t look at any other passage to help us understand what the chronology of this event is.

Is Matthew telling us that these holy people rose from the grave, and then somehow stayed in their tombs for three days until Christ rose?

Is Matthew telling us that they actually rose from their graves when Christ rose from the grave?

Some suggest that they rose from the grave after Christ rose from the grave because of what Paul writes to the Colossians, Colossians 1:18. But the word ‘firstborn’, doesn’t necessarily mean the first one, it can refer to the ‘pre-eminent’ one.

We know that Jesus wasn’t the first person to rise from the dead, there were others, Jairus’ daughter, the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus.

Paul tells us Jesus is the first to rise, never to die again, and is declared to be the ‘firstfruits’ of the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:20-23.

These holy people rose from the grave but would later physically die again.

I believe that Matthew is saying that those saints who died arose and came out of the graves, and after Jesus’ resurrection, they entered into the holy city and appeared unto many.

The Wycliffe Bible translates these verses this way.

“And burials were opened, and many bodies of saints that had slept, rose up. And they went out of their burials, AND AFTER his resurrection they came into the holy city, and appeared to many.” Matthew 27:52-53 Wycliffe Bible

Lenski says the following.

‘Already the death of Jesus brought resurrection to these saints, hence the account of this occurrence is properly connected with the death of Jesus and not with his resurrection.’

In other words, they were brought back to life at the time of Jesus’ death, but they did not go into the city until after Jesus’ resurrection.

We don’t know the reason for the delay in going to the city, but it is possible that they saw themselves as unclean, Numbers 19:11. They may be aware that others may have seen them as unclean, Numbers 19:16. No one would want to go anywhere near any open tomb because the law said that they would become unclean for seven days.

Imagine The Scene

We’re not told the number of people who were raised from the dead, but there were enough of them to cause some kind of a stir in Jerusalem.

We’re not told if any of these resurrected holy people remembered anything about where they were, what their bodies were like and who else was with them.

Did they know that they were dead but brought back to life?

We’re not told if they became believers or if they were to witness to others about what happened.

Were they to give some kind of testimony to the death-destroying, life-giving power of the Lord Jesus Christ?

We simply don’t know because the Bible doesn’t tell us. But I do wonder what they would have spoken about when they met their family and friends again.

Maybe like Paul, they weren’t permitted to say anything about their experience, 2 Corinthians 12:2-4.

Can you imagine these formally dead people walking back into Jerusalem?

Can you imagine their relatives seeing them again?

Imagine if this was someone whose funeral you actually attended and now, they are at your home visiting you.

That’s exactly what happened in Jerusalem, this was real, this was physical, and this was very public. I can imagine everyone in Jerusalem would be speaking about them.

Just as Lazarus, John 11:43-44, Jairus’ daughter, Luke 8:52-56, and the widow of Nain’s son, Luke 7:13-15, had died and were brought back to life by Jesus.

The good news is that these holy people were also raised back to life, the sad news is they like Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, the widow of Nain’s son would have to physically die again.

The Significance Of These Events

The significance of these events demonstrates Jesus’ ultimate power over death, 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 / 2 Timothy 1:9-10. They pointed to the fact that He Himself would rise from the grave, Matthew 28:5-6 / Matthew 16:21 / Mark 8:31 / Luke 24:46 / 1 Corinthians 15:4.

These events give us hope for the future because we too will be resurrected because Jesus was resurrected first, 1 Corinthians 15:12-14 / 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 / 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 / 1 John 3:2.

These events also point to the final judgment when all will be raised, regardless of whether they are ‘holy’ or not, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. It was a small sample in one location of the coming day when the saints will be raised triumphant, and all the graves of all the saints will be empty forevermore.

With the death of Christ, the penalty of sin had been paid, and the cause of death was dealt with, 1 Corinthians 15:56. When Christ returns death will be no more, 1 Corinthians 15:25-26 / Revelation 20:14 / Revelation 21:4.

Why did God open the graves and resurrect the dead?

God brought back to life some individuals to show that Jesus had the ability to give new life. Even as Jesus rose from the dead, He proved that His power over death enabled Him to give life to all that believe, John 10:10 / John 11:25-26.

Why did God open the graves and resurrect the dead?

Just as creation as a whole is awaiting its redemption, so too are those who have already left this earth. They too are awaiting the redemption of their bodies, Romans 8:23.

The opening of the graves and those who were resurrected at the death of Christ was a clear signal to all those who have already died, that their time of redemption is coming soon. In other words, God doesn’t want to save our souls, He wants to save our bodies.

Why did God open the graves and resurrect the dead?

God opened the graves and resurrected the dead because He didn’t want anyone in the land of Palestine to have any doubts that the death of Jesus was significant for all.

His Son came to die for the world, John 3:16, in order for us to have a way to be saved, John 14:6.

Just like the purpose of the miracles of Jesus, God used opened graves and raised the dead to bring about faith in His Son and who He claimed to be, John 20:30-31.


As Christians, we too were once dead, but thanks to the work of Christ on the cross, we are now very much alive in Christ, Ephesians 2:1-5 / Romans 6:8-14 / Colossians 2:13-15.

As Jesus hung on the cross, many people would have witnessed the miracle of the three hours of darkness, Matthew 27:45 / Luke 23:44-45, the veil of the temple torn into two, Matthew 27:50-51 / Mark 15:37-38, the earthquake, Matthew 27:50-52, the graves opening up and dead people being raised to life, Matthew 27:50-53.

They would have to conclude, as the centurion soldier did, that ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God,’ Mark 15:39.