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51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

It is initial said the moment Christ died the curtain was torn,tombs were opened and the holy people raised to life,but the next verse seems to say they were raised when Christ was resurrected.

Was it during the death of Christ or when he was resurrected that the holy people came to life?

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Matt 27:52, 53 is a much debated passage. Here is my translation starting in V51:

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn from above to below in two; and the earth was shaken; and the rocks were split; and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints having fallen asleep were raised; and having gone out from the tombs after the resurrection of Him they entered the Holy City and they appeared to many.

Notice the simple structure of what Matthew is saying - when Jesus died the following seven events occurred:

  1. the curtain of the temple was torn from above to below in two
  2. the earth was shaken
  3. the rocks were split
  4. the tombs were opened
  5. many bodies of the saints having fallen asleep were raised
  6. having gone out from the tombs after the resurrection of Him they entered the Holy City
  7. they appeared to many

Note further, the V54 breaks this sequence as it begins with a different conjunction back at the time of the death of Christ with a remark from the guarding centurion.

Now, there is nothing in the sequence about how much time elapses between each of these seven events where it is a few seconds or days. However, we can note a few clues:

  • the sequence of seven events does reference the resurrection morning, days later
  • an earthquake occurred on resurrection morning, Matt 28:2. That is, were there two earthquakes (one on Friday and another Sunday morning) or just one?

There have been essentially three interpretations of Matt 27:51-53 & 28:1, 2 -

(A) Events 1-5 occurred almost immediately after Jesus death with events 6 & 7 on Sunday morning following Jesus' resurrection and the second earthquake of Matt 28:2. On this interpretation, event 6 would be punctuated as follows: "having gone out from the tombs, [ie on Friday] after the resurrection of Him [on Sunday] they entered the Holy City"

(B) Events 1-4 occurred in the hours following Jesus death with events 5-7 occurring on resurrection morning following Jesus' resurrection and the second earthquake of Matt 28:2

(C) Event 1 occurred immediately following Jesus death on Friday, with events 2-7 occurring on resurrection morning following Jesus' resurrection and the only earthquake of Matt 28:2. That is there is only one earthquake and Matt 27:51 and 28:2 are the same earthquake.

Interpreters are divided and I will not clutter this site with numerous and differing views - I leave that to the reader. Suffice to say here that a reasonable case can be made for each of these (there may be more) as the grammar is consistent with all three interpretations. That is, any one of them is equally possible both semantically and grammatically.

Put another way, there is nothing there that makes each of these seven events follow immediately after the previous one - it is only a sequence and no time is implied. All that is certain is these seven events occurred in that order. For example, events 4 and 5 may be separated by more than 24 hours, as could events 5 and 6.

It is possible that the repeated use of καί (= "and") could, in this sequence be translated by "then" without changing the meaning at all.

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  • 1
    This is an excellent presentation of a challenging passage, +1 Jun 8 at 14:49
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A similar foreshadow event happened in 2 Kings 13:21

Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man's body into Elisha's tomb. When the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.

The coincidence here is clear.

Matthew 27:

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

The passage reads like quick-fired happenings, one after another.

Were the holy people raised to life the moment the curtain was torn in Matthew 27:51-53?

While one cannot be certain based purely on hermeneutics, reading it as a movie script of actions, I would bet on a yes.

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The raising of the saints fits into the overall rhetorical devices and strategies used by Matthew in his gospel. Examining Ezekiel 37 and the bones raised to life in connection with this story reveals that an Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in the raising of these saints. Additionally, the raising of the saints relates directly to the coming kingdom. The raising of a few and not all of the saints shows that Jesus has power to resurrect, but also points forward to the second coming and judgment of Jesus Christ, which will include all those whose names are written in the Book Life by faith in the grace of God. Knowing that Jesus has died and conquered death through His resurrection ought to hasten our desire to repent and trust Him alone for salvation so we too can one day be resurrected “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52).

[from: What is the meaning of those who were raised to life at Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:52-53)? gotquestions.org]

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There are no holy people as all people are the same. That would make everyone "holy" people.

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  • Could you please explain, with references is appreciated, your statement "there are no holy people" if the scriptures themselves mention that the nation of Israel is God's holy people?
    – agarza
    Jun 8 at 17:29

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