The Resurrection of the Righteous: Matthew 27:51–53

resurrection righteous Ezek 37 (3)

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b) Matt 27:51–53: Another testimony affirming Jesus’s innocence consisted of raised bodies.[1] This resurrection of the righteous alludes to Ezek 37:12–13.[2]

In Dura Europos, Syria, archaeologists discovered a synagogue from 244 AD with many intact frescoes.[3]

Three of these depict Ezekiel’s vision,[4] verifying that Jewish people interpreted that prophecy as a promise of the bodily resurrection of the faithful in the last days.[5]

The Babylonian Talmud states, “And should you ask, in those years during which the Almighty will renew his world, as it is written, ‘And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. What will the righteous do?  The Lord will make them wings like eagles,’ and they will fly above the water…Ezekiel resurrected the dead in the valley of Dura” (b. Sanhedrin 92b).[6]



Returning to Matthew’s gospel, we will examine two images of the Codex Vaticanus.[7] Click here and then search for Mt 27:24. Verse 52 appears at the bottom of that page. The second half of the verse occurs at the top of the next page. A scribe wrote the Greek text in capitals, running continuously with neither breaks between words nor punctuation.


As a result, we have several translation options based upon the punctuation we select.

The best choice for making sense of the time frame for Matt 27:51–53 is to place a period after “and the rocks were split, and the tombs were opened.”

Then the next sentences say, “And the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised. And coming out of the tombs with (ΜΕΤΑ in Codex Vaticanus) his resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many [people].”[9]

Matthew merged the earthquake on Good Friday with the resurrection of the saints on Easter Sunday. He regarded the death and resurrection of Jesus as a single salvation-historical event,[10] for the combined effect of these two milestones broke the power of death (1 Cor 15:3–5; 14–17, 52–57; Eph 2:1–7).[11]

These holy people were likely Old Testament heroes and martyrs. They testified to the effect of Christ’s resurrection in a foretaste of the eternal life which all believers can eagerly anticipate (John 5:25–29).[12]

Consider this analogy. When an enormous boulder falls upon the soft sands of the seabed, the resounding thud reverberates in all directions, making ripples in the sand. When Jesus rose from the dead, that momentous event affected everything in the cosmos. Both the past and the future, including the era in which we live, have been forever changed (John 8:56–59).[13]



None of the other gospels discuss this incident, leaving many unanswered questions.[14]

Did these saints have resurrection bodies like Jesus’s? Or were they, like Lazarus, in resuscitated bodies and subject to die again (John 11:41–44; 1 Cor 15:20–22, 42–44)? [15] Did they stay on earth, or were they taken into heaven after appearing?[16]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Matt 27:51–53. How do you think the people of Jerusalem reacted to seeing these resurrected people? Why did this series of events vindicate Christ? What hope does it give to you?




Go to Conversion of an Executioner (Matt 27:54)

[Related posts include A Most Cruel and Ignominious Punishment (Matt 27:26–37); Forsaken (Matt 27:38–49); The Death of God (John 19:28–30); God Rends the Barrier (Matt 27:50–51); Conversion of an Executioner (Matt 27:54); Passed from Death into Life (John 5:24–27); A Second Resurrection (John 5:28–29);  Dead in Adam but Alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:20–23); Perishable Flesh and Blood (1 Cor 15:50); We Shall Be Changed (1 Cor 15:51–52); and Victory over Death (1 Cor 15:53–55)]

[Click here to go to Chapter 7: The Seed of the Serpent and the Seed of the Woman (Genesis 3:14–15)]


[1] Wilkins, Matthew, 905.

[2] Osborne, Matthew, 1045.

[3]Paul Post, “Dura Europos Revisited: Rediscovering Sacred Space,” Worship 86, no. 3 (1 May 2012): 222–44, 224, 233. Sadly, this site appears to have suffered great damage by members of the Islamic State.

[4]Wikimedia Commons, “Category: Dura-Europos Synagogue Painting,”

[5] Osborne, Matthew, 1045.


[7]The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, “Codex Vaticanus,”

[8]Dr. Joel Harlow, Personal communication, 3/15/2012.

[9] Wilkins, Matthew, 906.

[10] Osborne, Matthew, 1045.

[11] Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 850.

[12] Wilkins, Matthew, 906–7.

[13]Edward T. Oakes S.J., “The Apologetics of Beauty,” in The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts (ed. Daniel J. Treier, Mark Husbands, and Roger Lundin; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 220.

[14] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 1081.

[15] Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 850.

[16] Davies and Allison, Matthew 19–28, 634.