For Christians, funerals can be a mixture of joy and sadness. We grieve the loss of our loved one, knowing we’ll miss their voice and presence. However, when a Christian dies, we’re also comforted by the reality that their life didn’t end when the body stopped functioning, and we know we’ll see them again if we’re followers of Jesus, as well.
The marvelous idea of heaven, like we’ll be sitting on a cloud hanging out, sounds boring. Thankfully, as mysterious as the Bible is about heaven, the apostles share a few things. According to 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, we’ll have a new and resurrected body, a doctrine taught by Jesus in the Gospels and repeated by the apostolic writers. Once this world is judged, the book of Revelation discusses a new heaven and earth.
Everything will be remade from the eternal, redeeming all creation from corruption. We’ll live in that new earth as a temple and city to God, relating with peoples and nations as the intimate dwelling place of God. There’s purpose and intimacy within that, and it’s not boring at all. Something significant had to happen to make this happen, to provide the chance to go from death to life, from destruction to thriving in God’s Kingdom. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection changed everything.
However, one of Jesus’s disciples, a former tax collector, shared a strange detail during His crucifixion that none of the other Gospel writers did. Still, it tells us something essential about the power of the cross.
Did the dead rise when Jesus died?
Each of the Gospels describes Jesus’ crucifixion in their own way. There are similarities, but each highlights different times that give us a complete and complex picture of what happened on the cross when Jesus died. In Matthew 27, there’s an odd description. In verse 50, with a loud voice, Jesus cries out and gives up His spirit. Following His willing death, sacrificing His divine and eternal life for the dying world, a number of things happened.
The veil in the Temple before the Holy of Holies ripped from top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks split. A centurion testified that Jesus was the Son of God and righteous. During this traumatic event, dead people got out of their graves and started walking around. Matthew 27:51-53 says that the bodies of godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead, leaving the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection. From there, they went to Jerusalem and appeared to many people. Imagine the scene: the earth goes through a great turmoil of rocks breaking in two and earthquakes.
Then, stones that covered tombs started rolling away on their own will, opening while the dead started sitting up within. Shows like “The Walking Dead” and others have made zombies a popular feature in horror over time, going all the way back to “The Living Dead” films. However, it would be wrong to imagine these people in the Bible as zombies. These people were resurrected at the crucifixion, but they didn’t leave the cemetery until the resurrection three days later. Cemeteries weren’t in the city for various reasons, but for the Jews, dead bodies made things unclean.
Numbers 19:11-13 says that once you touched a dead body, you had to wait a week before being clean again. With that sentiment in mind, as well as other space and health issues, cemeteries were away from the main population. However, these people didn’t touch the dead; they were formerly the dead, and the law didn’t have a rule for that. The implication is that they waited until they knew Jesus was alive, and then they were allowed to reveal themselves.
Who were these people? According to Matthew, they were godly men and women” who followed God faithfully before their death. They went into Jerusalem, the most holy city, where God was said to dwell and the home of the Temple of God. They appeared to people, giving testimony to the miracle that occurred. What happened to these people? The Bible doesn’t say, but we can speculate, which is interesting. Were these resurrected, new bodies? Did they translate to heaven like Jesus? We won’t know until we get to heaven and ask God.
Where else do the Gospels discuss the rising of the dead?
The Gospels record much for us to pull into this discussion, but let’s first discuss a group of people called the Sadducees. They, along with the Pharisees, were one of the two most influential religious groups of the day, like political parties with doctrines and platforms except within Jewish culture and the Temple system. The fundamental way the Bible differentiates the Sadducees was that they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. That was a part of their whole philosophy against the supernatural, including miracles.
They challenged Jesus about the dead’s resurrection because it was one of his central teaching points. The famous story in Matthew 22:23-34 was when they asked about a woman who married numerous men, each of them dying. The Sadducees asked who she would be married to when she got to heaven. Jesus answered that there isn’t marriage in heaven, so she wouldn’t be married to any of them. Another sign of the importance of the resurrection to Jesus was when Martha spoke to Him before Christ raised Lazarus from the dead.
Martha is sad, but Jesus comforts her by telling her that Lazarus will rise again. She answers theologically, knowing Lazarus will be resurrected. Jesus tells her that He is the resurrection and the life. The resurrection isn’t only an event in the future; it’s a person. The truth and reality of that person, Jesus, is shown through the bodily resurrection of saints from the dead, a promise of eternal life that only happens because Jesus is immortal and the resurrection.
Why is it important for the dead to rise?
The resurrection has its roots in the cross. The cross gives us life, and if we lose our lives for the sake of Jesus, we find it. Paul preached that Christ was crucified, which was a stumbling block to the Jews and Gentiles, but it is life to those being saved, according to 1 Corinthians 1:18. It was finished at the cross. John 19:30 tells us, “It is finished!” before Jesus died. He didn’t say it was finished at the resurrection but at the cross.
If God Himself declares something is finished, how finished is that? The dead rising from the graves shows God’s faithfulness, His finished work, and the hope we have that all will be revealed. He wastes nothing and will work all things for our good and His glory. We should look to God as our hope and not lose heart, for He will reveal His finished work.