WHAT HAPPENED TO THOSE SAINTS RAISED FROM THE DEAD IN MATTHEW 27:52-53?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“When the graves were opened and the dead saints came forth and walked among people in Jerusalem, what happened to these people later on after Christ went up in a cloud? Where did they go and were they flesh and bone or flesh and blood? If they were flesh and bone then how could they be able to die again later on if that be the case? Any answers for this?”
The passage to which you are referring is somewhat mysterious; I have wondered about it for some time as well. I am not sure we will ever have all the answers about it in this life, but the following Bible verses may shed light on this passage. It is a rather complex study, but our conclusion should make it clear.
For those unfamiliar with this topic, we will begin by introducing the passage. We read in Matthew chapter 27: “ Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.  And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;  And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,  And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”
Firstly, it is important to remember not to misread these verses as some have. These saints raised from the dead were not raised from the dead when Jesus Christ died. They were raised again after Jesus Christ’s resurrection three days later. The earthquake at Jesus’ death opened these graves, but it was not until three days later that the people came forth from those graves.
While others in Bible history had been raised from the dead (the poor widow’s son—1 Kings 17:17-23; the man whose corpse revived after it was thrown on top of Elisha’s bones—2 Kings 13:21; the son of the widow of Nain—Luke 7:11-18; Lazarus—John 11:1-46; et cetera), Jesus Christ was the first to be resurrected, raised from the dead never to die again. Christ was the first man to be resurrected in history, never to die again. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, describing our own resurrection at the “Rapture:” “ But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.  For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.  But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” In agrarian terminology, the “firstfruits” is that small part of the crop that ripens first, before the majority of the crop matures. With regards to resurrection, Jesus Christ is the first Person ever.
As far as we know, the poor widow’s son of 1 Kings chapter 17, the man who was raised again in Elisha’s tomb in 2 Kings chapter 13, the son of the widow of Nain of Luke chapter 7, and Lazarus of John chapter 11, they all were raised from the dead only to die again. They were not resurrected. We have no record in the Bible to say that they went to heaven in any resurrected body. They certainly do not exist on Earth today as millennia-old senior citizens! The only logical conclusion that I see is that these people died again. Now, with that said, let us return to your question. What about those raised again in Matthew chapter 27? Considering the similar events that happened prior in Bible history, I tend to believe that those saints died again too. While some say that (as I used to believe) those saints of Matthew chapter 27 ascended into heaven when Jesus did in Acts chapter 1, I have since reexamined my position on the subject and now I do not see any Scriptural proof of it. We will let Luke inform us as to what was seen at the ascension:
We read in Mark 16:19: “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” And Luke 24:50-51: “ And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.  And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” And Acts chapter 1: “ And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.  And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;  Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”
Remember what Matthew 27:52-53 said: “many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” These were not one or two people, but “many” believers who were raised from the dead right after Jesus was resurrected. They obviously had literal bodies that could be seen, for the Bible says many did see them. Yet, when the apostles and disciples watched Jesus ascend into heaven, they saw “He was taken up… a cloud received Him out of their sight… Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven.” Those saints raised again had bodies that could be seen; yet the apostles did not see them go up at Jesus’ ascension. They only saw Jesus go into heaven. That would be conclusive evidence for me that those raised again in Matthew chapter 27 did not go up into heaven when Jesus did, but rather they continued to live on Earth for some time after before dying again. The same would be true of Lazarus; he was not seen at the ascension either, so the assumption is that he lived and then died again.
A verse that helped me reckon it all in my mind is 1 Timothy 6:16: “[The Lord Jesus Christ] Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.” This verse says that only one Person has physical “immortality” today. Jesus Christ left Earth in a physical body, and He is in that physical body today in Heaven. “Immortal” means “living forever; never dying or decaying.” Now, think about it. If those raised again in Matthew chapter 27, were caught up into heaven in resurrected bodies in Acts chapter 1 with Jesus, they too would be “immortal.” Like Jesus, they would have physical bodies never to die again. Yet, what does Paul say? Only Jesus Christ has “immortality,” only He has a body that will never die again. Could those saints of Matthew chapter 27, thus be in resurrected bodies in heaven today? No. The best explanation is that they died again after their coming back to life, and they are waiting for resurrected bodies like all the other saints of old. For this reason, I would say that the saints of Matthew chapter 27, had “flesh and blood” bodies, for there is strong Scriptural evidence that they died again—“flesh and bone” bodies are those that can enter God’s resurrection realm and His kingdom (cf. Luke 24:39; 1 Corinthians 15:50). They evidently, like us, are still awaiting flesh-and-bone bodies of the resurrection (never to die again).
WHAT ABOUT HEBREWS 9:27?
Some may say that to have the saints of Matthew chapter 27 live, die, raise again, and then live and die (to be resurrected beyond our day), is a contradiction of Hebrews 9:27: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” However, this verse is not an absolute. In Bible history, God has had some exceptions to this rule (but note that these exceptions involved believers only). It was not lost people dying and going to suffer in hell and then being removed and having a second chance for salvation into heaven; rather, the exceptions to the rule of Hebrews 9:27 always involved believers.
For example, Enoch never died physically and was caught up into heaven (Genesis 5:24; cf. Hebrews 11:5, which says, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death…”). The Bible seems to suggest that Enoch will never die physically at all. The one death of Hebrews 9:27 would not apply to Enoch.
The Prophet Elijah never died physically but was caught up into heaven in 2 Kings 2:11. Moses died in Deuteronomy 34:5 and God Himself even buried him in verse 6! In the book of the Revelation (chapter 11), which is future from our day, God’s “two witnesses” before the Antichrist seem to be, based on their actions, Moses and Elijah. (I would say this based on Moses and Elijah being at the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, Matthew chapter 17:1-9, and because Malachi 4:5 says that Elijah will appear before Jesus Christ’s Second Coming to end those seven years of the Antichrist’s reign.) Verses 7-13 of Revelation chapter 11 say that the Antichrist will overcome and kill these two witnesses, and then God will raise them up and call them into heaven. If they are indeed Moses and Elijah, by that time, Moses will have died twice and been raised twice, and Elijah will have died once and been raised once!
As an additional side-note, those Christians alive at the time of the Rapture (Jesus’ coming for His Body) will be instantly transformed and caught up into heaven, having never experienced physical death (1 Thessalonians 4:17)—the one death of Hebrews 9:27 would not apply to those Christians either.
Exactly what happened to the saints who were raised again just after Jesus’ resurrection, the Bible does not say in the context. From studying other verses, I would say that they eventually died again, and that they are still waiting a permanent resurrection (to one day receive resurrected bodies that will never die again). Nothing in the Bible indicates that they ascended into heaven in those bodies that had been raised from the dead. That would make me conclude they were “flesh and blood” bodies. No one but Jesus Christ today has a body of “flesh and bone,” an immortal body, one that will never die again.
All the Scriptural record indicates conclusively is that these saints in Matthew chapter 27, after being raised from the dead, went into Jerusalem and appeared to people who could identify them. These saints raised from the dead were additional proof that Jesus’ resurrection was not merely a swooning, a fainting-spell, a coincidence, et cetera. Their testimony proved that it was the work of God. It was not just one raising from the dead that the unbelieving Jews could discount; it was many demonstrable, irrefutable instances of people rising from the dead!
While Matthew 27:52-53 is still a puzzling passage, at this time, as far as we can explain it using other Scriptures, those saints died again and are awaiting a permanent resurrection.
» When will the Old Testament saints be resurrected?
» Are deceased Christians with the Lord yet?
» Who is the “great cloud of witnesses” of Hebrews 12:1?