Were the Resurrected Saints in Matthew 27:52 Contemporaries of Those Who Saw Them?


In a previous Q&A about Matthew 27:52, we stated that many saints who were raised at the time of Christ’s resurrection were raised to ordinary physical life, continuing, “The fact that the people who were raised appeared to many in the holy city implies that they had been contemporaries of the people who saw them.” Doesn’t this contradict our teaching that during the life of Jesus Christ here on earth as a human being, no one received the Holy Spirit? How could the saints then have been “contemporaries of the people who saw them”?

In our Q&A on Matthew 27:52, we explained:

“… the Bible includes numerous examples, prior to Christ’s death and resurrection, of dead people coming to life again. 2 Kings 13:21 relates the record of a dead person who ‘revived and stood on his feet,’ when the bones of Elisha touched him. Also, John 11:38-44 records the story of the resurrection of the dead Lazarus. We also read, in Luke 8:49-56, that Christ brought a dead girl back to life. In all these cases, however, we must realize that these were resurrections to temporary physical lives — not to eternal, immortal life. In the case of the young girl, we read that Christ commanded the parents ‘that she be given something to eat’ (verse 55) — indicating that this was a resurrection to physical life, as immortal beings have no need to eat physical food.

“When we carefully analyze the nature of the resurrection of the saints, described in Matthew 27:52… we must conclude that these were likewise resurrections to physical life, not to eternal life… The resurrected saints in Matthew 27:52-53… came out of the graves ‘after His resurrection’ (verse 53), and they appeared to many in the holy city, apparently to confirm the fact that God DOES resurrect the dead. Nothing more is reported about those saints — but we know that they did die, in due time, to await the resurrection to eternal life…

“The Nelson Study Bible points out: ‘Because the Lord Jesus is the firstborn from the dead… and the firstfruits of those who are asleep…, these people could not have received their resurrection bodies. They probably were raised, as Lazarus was, to ordinary physical life. The fact that the people who were raised appeared to many in the holy city implies that they had been contemporaries of the people who saw them.'”

As we can see, the passing comment regarding “contemporaries” was a quote from the Nelson Study Bible. The purpose of our Q&A on Matthew 27:52 was not to prove that point, but rather to show that the resurrected saints were raised to physical life… not to eternal life.  However, in this Q&A, we will explore the question as to whether the Nelson Study Bible was correct in stating that the resurrected saints were or might have been contemporaries of the people who saw them.

As was pointed out above, we do indeed teach that no one received the Holy Spirit while Christ was alive as a human being. This question was addressed in a Q&A dealing with John 7:39. We stated the following:

“In John 7:38, Christ spoke of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the apostle John added in verse 39: ‘But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom [better: which] those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.’… Christ’s glorification and His ascension to heaven were necessary BEFORE the Holy Spirit could be given to His disciples. While He was alive as a human being, He told His disciples that He was WITH them, but He also said that there would come the time when He would be IN them. He referred, first, to His presence as a Man who was WITH them, but in the future, to the gift of His Holy Spirit which would dwell IN them (John 14:17). But in order for Christ to dwell IN His disciples (John 14:18; Galatians 2:20), through the Holy Spirit, He had to be first glorified with the glory which He had BEFORE He became a human being (John 17:5). As a mere human being, He could not live IN somebody else. That could only happen after He became again a glorified being.

“When a true disciple of Christ receives God’s Holy Spirit, it is the Spirit of the Father AND the Son which emanates from both glorified God beings, and which dwells in the disciple (John 14:23; Romans 8:11, 14-17; Romans 8:9, second part; Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:19).  When Christ was here on earth as a Man, it was the Holy Spirit of God the FATHER that dwelled in Him. He did His mighty works because of the Father’s Spirit in Him (Acts 10:36-38; John 14:10-11). When He became a human being in the womb of Mary through the power of the Father’s Holy Spirit, He ceased to be a glorified being. He became flesh–He changed into flesh (John 1:14). With that change, His Holy Spirit–the Spirit emanating from the glorified God being called the Son, the second Member of the God Family–no longer existed! Rather, it was the Holy Spirit of the Father which was within Him, without measure, from His inception; and which was with and in Him throughout His human life. And we read that God the Father, through His Spirit, resurrected Christ from the dead (compare again Romans 8:11).

“Christ was resurrected as a glorified God being, and from then on, His Holy Spirit emanated from Him again in the same way as it did prior to His human conception. That is why the apostle John said, in John 7:39, that the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. It was not only the Holy Spirit of the Father, but also of the Son, which would be given to true disciples AFTER Christ’s glorification…

“What John’s statement in John 7:39 means, then, is that in New Testament times, nobody who was born after Christ’s conception as a human being would receive the Holy Spirit until after Christ’s glorious resurrection. We read that John the Baptist had God’s Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb–but he was conceived six months BEFORE Christ’s human conception. One might ask what happened to the Holy Spirit emanating from Christ, which was dwelling in John the Baptist, when Jesus became a human being. But we need to remember that the Holy Spirit emanates from both God the Father AND Jesus Christ, and the Bible teaches that it is ONE; that is, it is the SAME Spirit, as God the Father and Jesus Christ are ONE in mind, goal, purpose and action.

“Even though, upon Christ’s becoming a Man, the Spirit of Christ ceased to exist as emanating from the glorified Son–the second member and God being within the ‘Godhead’ or Family of God. But the Spirit of the Father continued to dwell IN John the Baptist. However, as is pointed out herein, once Christ became flesh and blood, the Holy Spirit would not be given henceforth to human beings until after Christ’s glorification.”

To clarify and to repeat, the Holy Spirit is “one,” insofar as mind, goal, purpose and action are concerned. But it is still Holy Spirit emanating from the Father AND from Christ. It is NOT one “entity” (the Holy Spirit is not an entity or a person), but it is Spirit flowing from the Father and the Son which has the same characteristics (being “one” in that sense), as the Father and the Son have the same characteristics.

With this background, we proceed to consider further who the “saints” were who are mentioned in Matthew 27:52.

We have addressed the meaning of the word “saint” in a Q&A about this topic. We stated the following, pointing out that the word “saints” refers to living persons (not dead ones who “went to heaven”):

“When the Bible speaks about saints, it addresses LIVING Christians. Paul wrote to ‘the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who ARE in Colosse’ (Colossians 1:2). He also wrote to the ‘saints who ARE in Ephesus’ (Ephesians 1:1), or to ‘ALL the saints in Christ Jesus who ARE in Philippi’ (Philippians 1:1)… He also wrote, in Romans 16:15: ‘Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who ARE with them.’ In 1 Corinthians 16:1, he spoke about ‘the collection for the saints,’ who were, at the time, in need of physical help. In Acts 26:10, Paul is quoted as saying: ‘This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison… and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.’ (Compare, too, Acts 9:13.)…

“Christians are called saints in the Bible BEFORE they die. We are told, in Psalm 116:15: ‘Precious in the sight of the LORD is the DEATH of His saints.’  According to the Bible, a saint is a person who is ‘holy’ or ‘sanctified’; that is, he is set aside or set apart for a special purpose. Once a person is ‘sanctified,’ he is ‘holy’ — or a saint…

“W.E. Vine explains in ‘Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,’ that the word ‘saint,’ as used in the New Testament, is derived from the Greek word, ‘hagios,’ meaning ‘holy’… Psalm 16:3 tells us that the ‘saints… are on the earth’…”

Using this explanation for the saints mentioned in Matthew 27:52, we must conclude that they had received the Holy Spirit PRIOR to Christ’s conception as a human being in the womb of Mary. This would not invalidate the above-quoted comments in the Nelson Study Bible, as they could have lived for a while after Christ’s conception, then died and were subsequently resurrected to physical life after Christ’s resurrection (Christ was about 33 ½ years old when He died), and they still could easily have been contemporaries of those who saw them after their resurrection.

There is an additional explanation regarding the use of the word “saints” in Matthew 27:52. As mentioned, the Greek word for “saints” is “hagios,” which is translated as “holy.” This word is used in a variety of cases. It is used for “holy” angels (compare Mark 8:38); for a “holy” place (Acts 6:13); and for the unconverted mate of a Christian and the children of Christians. We read in 1 Corinthians 7:14: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.” In that passage, the Greek word for “is sanctified” is “hagiazo” (derived from “hagios,” i.e., to be sanctified), and the word for “holy” is “hagios.” It is the same Greek word which is translated quite often as “saints” in the New Testament, including in Matthew 27:52.

But the English word “saint” is a translation of the Greek word “hagios,” as is the reference to “holy” children or a “holy” unconverted mate. The point is, children or unconverted mates do not have the Holy Spirit, but they are still called “holy” (or one might say, “saints”), because they are set aside or sanctified for a holy purpose (the possibility of having a holy relationship with God).  Applying this understanding to Matthew 27:52, the “saints” who were raised could have been those who had been set aside for a special holy purpose without having God’s Holy Spirit within them when they died… the holy or special purpose for them could have been to appear to many after their resurrection to physical life, testifying and validating the concept of the resurrection. We read that after Christ’s resurrection, they came “out of their graves” and went into the holy (“hagios”) city and appeared to many” (verse 53). In that case, they could easily have been “contemporaries” of those who saw them when they entered the holy city of Jerusalem.

The use of the word “saint” is somewhat of an interpretation. The New International Version states, “The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.” The New Living Translation reads: “The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead.” The Weymouth New Testament writes: “… and many of God’s people who were asleep in death awoke.” In Old Testament times, for example, Israelites who did not have God’s Holy Spirit would still be called “God’s people,” as they were set aside for a godly purpose.

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible writes: “Of course, it is not known who these were… It is probable that they were persons who had recently died, and they appear to have been known in Jerusalem; at least, had the ancient saints risen, they would not have been known, and would not so soon have been credited as those who had recently died.” Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible adds:  “But it should seem rather, that they were some later saints, such as Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, John the Baptist himself, good old Simeon, Joseph the husband of Mary, and others, well known to persons now alive.”

In conclusion, the quote in the Nelson Study Bible about “saints” appearing to contemporaries after their resurrection, seems to have much validity.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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