Elder Beebe: - Please give your views, through the “Signs of the Times” on Matthew 27:52. “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.” Your compliance with this request will oblige,
Milwaukie - May 19, 1867.
Reply: – We have no further light on this subject than what we derive from the literal reading of the text, and we fear that our views may fail to satisfy our inquiring correspondent.
The opening of the graves of the slumbering saints, and the resurrection of their bodies, are recorded in connection with all the other astonishing displays of divine power on that eventful occasion in demonstration of Christ’s identity as the Son of God. These demonstrations, however spiritual in their import, were literal and apparent to the apprehension of the natural understanding of all who witnessed them; therefore when the centurion and they that were with him saw those things, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
We cannot doubt that the sun in the heavens ceased to shine from the sixth to the ninth hour; or that the earth quaked, and the rocks were literally rent, and that the vail of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. That these wonderful manifestations were literally made, none will dispute; and why then should we doubt that the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, literally.
That all these wonders, though literally performed, have a figurative and spiritual signification perfectly imperceptable to the natural mind of the natural men, we have not the smallest doubt; and that in their literal development they were perceptible to ungodly men is clear from the confession of the centurion and those that were with him. This was apparent from their consternation as well as from their confession, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
We think it must be admitted that the graves were opened and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of their graves after his resurrection, and went into the Holy City, and appeared unto many, and literally and perceptably to the centurion and his company, so far as witnessed by them; for it is distinctly so declared. What the centurion and they that were with him saw was what occurred at the time Jesus yielded up the ghost; but the resurrection of the bodies of many of the saints, their coming out of their graves and going into the Holy City was not until after the resurrection of our Lord: and this was witnessed only, so far as we are informed, by those in the Holy City, to the many to whom they appeared; these we presume were chosen witnesses. Now what became of these risen bodies we are not informed. Whether like those of Lazarus and the widow’s son, they were subsequently remanded to their graves, or like the bodies of Enoch and Elijah, they were translated, or like the body of Moses, disposed of in a secret manner by the Lord, we have no information, and therefore judge that it is not proper for us to know. The testimony given we are bound to accept; and what God has seen best to conceal from us, we should leave with him, and cautiously avoid all vain speculations.
The Holy City in which these bodies of the saints appeared unto many we understand to be Jerusalem. Who these many were, and how the bodies appeared to them, we must leave just where the sacred record has left the matter.
But while we confess our inability to trace the literal bearings of our subject any farther than simply to accept and believe the statements as they are given to us in the faithful record, there is to our mind a sublime glory in what we perceive to be their spiritual import.
The three hours of darkness when the sun at mid day, as though utterly extinguished, ceased to shine upon the earth, answering to the three days and nights in which the Son of Man was in the heart of the earth, according to the sign of the prophet Jonah, shows the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, “And I will shew wonders in the heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come (Acts 2:19,20).” In his death, he who is the Sun, the fountain of that life which is light, was turned into death or darkness; and in that period in which he dwelt among the dead, there was no other sun, or light to supply his place; for truly there is life, light and salvation in no other name. But as soon as the three hours, or days of darkness were fulfilled, the Sun of righteousness arose with healing in his wings. Having in his death abolished death, so in his resurrection he brought immortality to light.
The quaking earth and rending rocks, responding to his dying groans, gives witness of the power of his atoning blood; which when and where applied, shall rend and break the obdurate and adamantine hearts of those for whom he died. Nature convulses, stirs up volcanic fires, and earthquakes rock the world. All this portrays the quaking of our earthly nature, the upheaving of our mortal powers, when, resulting from an application of his death and sufferings to his people, the law with all its fiery power, produces a quaking of the soul, and the vast magazine of hidden fiery wrath, like the irrepressible power of an earthquake throws up to our astonished view the mountains of our guilt, and sin revives, and the sinner dies.
The vail of the temple, which represents the law which hid the ark, the mercy seat, the cherubim, and all the sacred things of the Sanctum Sanctorum, from the congregation of Israel, was rent in twain; thus at once disclosing that way of life and salvation which the law had so long concealed. For that vail still remains untaken away from them that still read Moses. (See II Corinthians 3:1-18.)
The opening of the graves, spiritually considered, leads us to enquire how and by what power the graves were closed and barred upon us. “The sting of death is sin, the strength of sin is the law.” “Death has passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” The challenge is given, “What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave (Psalm 89:48)?” The valley of dry bones which Ezekiel saw shows the utter impossibility of dead delivering themselves from the power of the grave (Ezekiel 37:1-4). “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave.” “Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, 0 my people, and brought you up out of your graves (Ezekiel 37: 12,13).”
When divine justice had accepted Christ as the sacrifice for the sins of all his people, and laid on him the iniquities of us all, the doors of death and the grave were to them unbarred by his death; and he could say, as he said to the soldiers who came to arrest him, “If ye seek me, let these go their way.” But although in his death he ransomed them from death, and canceled the demands of the law which had closed the grave upon them, yet their resurrection must be in the resurrection life and immortality of the Son of God; and in that, as in all things, he must have the pre-eminence; he must be the first fruits, the first begotten from the dead, the first born of every creature. Hence they could not, though the bars of death were removed and their graves opened at his death, come up out of their graves until after his resurrection. Dead with their crucified Lord, to their Adamic or mortal life, which is put away with the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; they are buried with him by baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so they should be raised up by the same power and glory of the Father, to walk in newness of life: as the children of the resurrection.
Those bodies of the saints which came out of their graves after Christ’s resurrection, and went into the Holy City, and appeared unto many, beautifully exemplify or figuratively set forth the quickening of those who were dead in trespasses and sins, and their experimental deliverance from their graves when made alive by the Spirit, and born of the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead. Those who have been thus quickened and brought out of their graves, in a spiritual sense, or in other words, taken up out of the horrible pit and miry clay, have many of them appeared in the spiritual Jerusalem, the Holy City, and have there been seen by many of their kindred in Christ Jesus.
We might pursue this subject still farther, as we believe that all the wonderful events of that day when Jesus suffered and died on the cross, and which attended his resurrection, were designed to signify and represent the wonderous power and grace of God which has been subsequently manifested in our deliverance from wrath and bondage, and induction into the liberty of the sons of God: but what we have written we will submit for the present.
November 1, 1867.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 94 – 98