The Other Resurrections

Last Sunday, my pastor read Matthew 27:50–54 as part of his sermon. As I read this familiar passage, I noticed something that jumped out at me and surprised me.

The NLT says that the moment after Jesus “gave up his spirit,” the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook. Rocks split apart. Tombs opened. And the bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead after Jesus’ resurrection. They left the cemetery, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people. The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “Truly, this was the Son of God.”

How many times have you read that passage? How often have you pictured in your mind Jesus’ death and resurrection? How many pastors have you heard speak about the significance of the curtain in the Temple being torn in two? We imagine the Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion being terrified by the earthquake and acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God. After Jesus’ resurrection, we know that the disciples ran to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty, and we know He appeared to many of His followers in bodily form.

But wait. What about verses 52–53? When you’ve thought about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and His appearances to His followers, did you also picture the “many people” in the city of Jerusalem who saw the resurrected bodies of “many godly men and women who had died”?

I don’t see a reference to that in the other Gospels. But what a powerful miracle this was! Can you imagine just going about your daily routine in the city and then suddenly seeing the resurrected bodies of people you know who have died? What did they look like? Did they interact with the living? Maybe say something to their friends, relatives, strangers? Did they know why their bodies had been resurrected? Were they surprised? Shocked? In awe? Praising God?

I read a lot of biblical fiction. I love how these stories bring to life the people and situations we read about in the Scriptures—especially when we only have snippets of information about them. I’ve seen countless portrayals of Jesus’ death and resurrection in plays and movies, and I’ve read many accounts in books. I recall vivid scenes of normal, everyday people witnessing and reacting to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances. But I don’t recall ever coming across a scene in which an everyday citizen of Jerusalem sees multiple resurrected bodies wandering around town. How cool would that be!

I wonder if any of the people we read about in the Gospels died during Jesus’ time on earth and weren’t resurrected (like Lazarus). How about Jesus’ dad, Joseph? He was a godly man. Surely he was one who was resurrected and appeared in Jerusalem. Think he went around asking people about his kid? Or did he know the details that happened after his death as soon as he was resurrected?

If you’re a fan of biblical fiction and you’ve read a book or seen a movie that includes a scene like that, I’d love to hear about it! If you write biblical fiction, and your WIP covers the time of Jesus’ resurrection, I hope you’ll consider including that scene. (And if you do, let me know when that book comes out, because I want to read it!)