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Matthew records that immediately after the death of Jesus, many Old Testament saints who had died came back to life, went into Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.

51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. Matthew 27:51-53 NASB

I think it is interesting that this occurred at the death of Jesus and not the resurrection, and I'm not sure what the reason for this could be. My main question though is what the significance was of the Old Testament saints coming back to life physically at this time. This appears to be a sort of "Zeroth" resurrection (borrowing from the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics, that was asserted after there was already a first and second).

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Presumably such was a further confirming sign of "It is finished." (Just as the spiritual Holy of Holies was "opened" to the people [see Heb. 10:19-20] with the curtain tearing as a sign, this resurrection would be a sign that Death was dealt the mortal blow at the cross.) This is not enough for an answer, but it might be a start for a helpful answer. –  Paul A. Clayton Jul 30 '13 at 21:18

2 Answers 2

If we read the words carefully one interpretation has it that the graves were opened at his death but they were not raised out of them appearing to many people until ‘after Jesus’ resurrection’.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (NIV, The New International Version. (2011). Mt 27:51–53)

This is how Lange takes it:

The rising was the result, not the immediate accompaniment of the opening of the graves, and is mentioned here by Matthew in anticipation, but with the qualifying insertion: after His resurrection, to preven misunderstanding. Christ’s death opened their tombs. His resurrection raised them to life again, that He might be the first-born from the dead (Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew ,p. 528)

If we follow this logic is seems to fit well. There is an earthquake; it strikes the temple curtain symbolizing the breaking of the death that separated man from God and subjected him to the separation and curse under God’s holy laws. Removed the curse of law and death is opening a way to a new heaven and a new earth. The earthquake comes across the earth, including rocks and tombs, shattering the death that bound us. After his resurrection, whereby he presented the merits of his death and righteousness to God as our high priest, some sample saints come from out of the tombs, to symbolize the guarantee of our future bodily resurrection into life forever and ever.

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In addition to what's been said already, this is a preview (mini-version) of Jesus' second coming, when there will be a great earthquake on the Mt. of Olives (which is a giant cemetery even today) and the all the dead will rise from their graves.

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Welcome to the site. This is an interesting perspective. Do you have any quotes from some prominent theologians that support this? I mean the part about it being a "mini-version" of the second coming. –  fredsbend the Grinch Dec 24 '13 at 5:50

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