The First Testimony of the Power of Christ’s Death

Strange things and words are often found in the Bible. At least they are strange to us. Some of them as mysteries will not be unfolded for us until we reach heaven. But one thing is sure, they serve the great cause of the Son of God, in His work of salvation. They all serve the cause of the good news, for the people of that day, for the people of generations to come, and for the church unto eternity. One of those strange happenings we 60d in Matthew 27:51b–53:

And the earth did quake. and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints that slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city and appeared unto many.

Unbelief never comes to the resurrection, and in as far as we know unbelievers in that day never saw the risen Christ. But the believers, though weaklings and small in faith were given may infallible proofs that the Savior arose from the grave and conquered death. Proofs of this Christ gave to the disciples in many ways, also later to the apostle Paul, and last but not least through the marvelous work of the Spirit of Pentecost. Further, this is given to us throughout the ages, in the infallibly inspired Bible. But the very first proof, the very first testimony of the power of Christ‘s death we have in the words of this text. A powerful testimony it was for the Christians of that day. May it also speak to us, even today, almost 2000 years later.

What a strange history! Jesus had just given up the ghost and died. Then, suddenly, there was this terrible earthquake. People just had to see a connection between the two. Large boulders of rocks were broken and split open. No doubt in many of these rocks there were sepulchers where many bodies had been laid to rest. And now, not only were the graves opened, but the saints that were buried in them arose from the dead.

Be careful that you dont overlook the details in this revelation. Not the graves of the wicked, but of the saints were opened. They were “sleeping” saints, people who in their lives had been devoted children of God. Who could they possibly have been? It is not likely that they were of former centuries, for who then would recognize them? Quite probably they were saints who had died recently, people like old Simeon, Anna, and others. Most likely they were people who were known to have been pious Christians waiting for the consolation of Israel.

When the earthquake took place they arose from the dead. But strangely, no one saw them as yet. An that the people knew (and this was a lot) is that their graves were empty. Imagine the excitement! An unheard of thing happened! Besides, probably some of these graves were graves of acquaintances and dear ones, this woman’s husband, that man’s wife. And now the bodies are gone. Where are they? Nobody knew. But this was evident to those who observed the happenings of the day, just at the time that Jesus died and gave up the ghost the earthquake took place. There must be some connection! What an excitement in Jerusalem!

It is so important to sec the tremendous testimony that God was giving by these incidents. Earthquakes first of all speak of judgments and always are signs of the coming great judgment on the final day. But they also speak of new things breaking through the surface of the sin-cursed world. This is the new life of the wonder of salvation. In this particular connection the testimony is that the power of death was broken. Nobody as yet was speaking of the resurrection. But they did know that bodies of “sleeping” saints were gone, by some miracle. It was not the work of man. Death had to surrender its victims. Satan no longer had the keys. Christ had them.

Who ever saw power in death? Death speaks of the very opposite, of weakness and frailty. Great men may leave behind a tremendous influence upon others, but their death is also an indication that they are helpless before the grim reaper. With this thought in mind the Jews killed the Christ. They will show that He was a dismal failure. This would be the end of all His work, influence, and power. And when He breathed His last they expected to breathe easier. But . . . as soon as He died this happened. Here was tremendous power at work. Calvary is not just a place where a certain Nazarene died, but where the Son of God paid for the sins of His people. And what power there is in His blood, also here!

For the wicked there is no hope. They remained in the grave. But for the saints, those who arc in Christ, the power of death has been broken forever. What a blessed hope for all the saints throughout the ages!

But the people must see more; we too. They must learn that the power of Jesus’ death also causes people to arise from the dead. On Good Friday they learned that the power of death was broken. On that following Sunday morning they must learn the positive side of this work of the Lord, namely, that Jesus’ death also causes them to arise from the grave. Notice how the text says that they appeared after Christ arose. In this interim obviously no one saw them. Where were they? This is just one of the thousand and one questions which the Lord does not answer for us. We don’t have all the answers. We don’t need them. We need faith in a God of miracles and wondrous doings. Christ must receive all the attention here; He must always be in the center of the picture. The people must hear of Christ’s resurrection first and then see these people as risen saints whose bodies had left the tombs at the earthquake.

And they appeared unto many. Also to unbelievers? Not likely, because we never read that Christ revealed Himself to unbelievers. Unbelief does not come to the resurrection. How can it? It sees only signs and then rejects them. Again, we can have many questions here. Did these people also speak to and communicate with others? What happened to them later? Again, we don’t know. God has one purpose in mind here for the people, namely to see the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

At the raising of Lazarus the leaders of the nation said that He had to die. Was the matter settled now? Jerusalem is “swarming” with raised people. Now Herod had reason to tremble. On the positive side, this tremendous work likely prepared the way for the conversion of the three thousand some fifty days later.

But what effect does it have on us? For those who trust in Him these are words of great comfort. Jesus paid it all. Death must give up its prey, and the deadly sting is gone. The power of this death of Christ continues to work. Throughout the ages millions of sinners have been raised to life with their new birth, the regeneration or first resurrection. They are new creatures in Christ. And it will continue to work, surely in the final day when the bodies of all believers will be raised. The first evidence of the power of His death and resurrection took place here at the earthquake; but that was only the beginning. The new heaven and the new earth, unto eternity, will be the real evidence of the power of Christ‘s death and resurrection. For all believers. . . .

John Blankeapoor is pastor of the Pine Creek Christian. Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan.