“Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.”—Psalm 30:4
In the Word there are four phenomena that are mentioned to have occurred before, during, and three days after Jesus’ crucifixion. First, darkness fell, though the day was new. Second, the veil that separated the Holy of Holies—housing the ark which had made the veil ebb and flow with God’s breath until the moment Jesus gave up His Spirit—from the rest of the Temple, was torn in two. Third, the earth quaked, and rocks were split. Fourth, tombs were opened and saints who had died were raised from the dead.
These events, along with further recorded events surrounding Jesus’ sentencing, execution, and resurrection, are found to varying degrees in the Word and the historical records of both Jew and Gentile. For instance, the High Priest, Joseph ben Caiaphas, despite having been the first instrument of Jesus’ sentencing by sending Jesus to Pilate, not only wrote that he saw Jesus after he had been crucified, but gave reports of the soldiers accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of the saints. Pontius Pilate also gave much information on these events—in fact, more so, since he was of a more favorable opinion of Jesus—ranging from the darkness that fell, to “appalling scenes of nature” including a dreadful earthquake, and of course, the accounts of the commander in charge who guarded Jesus’ tomb and his witnessing the raising of the saints.
Tombs Opened and Saints Raised:
Many unusual things occurred at the time Jesus was raised from the dead. Yet, one of the major phenomenon mentioned in the book of Matthew and corroborated by historical sources is the opening of tombs and raising of the saints.
Only Matthew recounted all four of the major phenomena relating to the death and resurrection of Jesus. While the more skeptical among us might believe this to be a result of Matthew’s imagination or trying to further the amazement of his readers and generate belief, it is not so. Historical records—many from skeptics or non-Believers of the time—bear striking similarities. For instance, while Matthew is the only disciple to mention the earthquake corresponding with Jesus giving up His spirit, a historian at the time wrote of the unusual occurrence of darkness AND earthquake—providing corroboration for Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s mentioning of darkness; and for Matthew’s mentioning of both darkness and earthquake. Further, this is not the only instance of Matthew’s descriptions being corroborated. Through historical sources, archaeological finds, and even geological evidence, we are not only able to corroborate the testimonies of Jesus’ disciples, but we are able to garner additional facts and perspectives that amazingly, still align with the Word.
“…and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”—Mathew 27:52-53
Interestingly, it was Caiaphas, and not Pilate, who had the greatest doubt about who Jesus truly was—though there is a great possibility Caiaphas came to believe before his death. Yet, neither Caiaphas nor Pilate were shy in recounting what they had heard regarding the raising of the saints.
According to Pilate’s report, there were one hundred men under the command of Ben Isham, the lieutenant of Malkus—the captain of the royal city guard—who were guarding the tomb of Jesus. Further, they were all Jewish soldiers. For Pilate, having heard the worry of the Jewish leadership that Jesus’ disciples might try to steal His body, decided that they should be responsible for guarding Him; that way none of the Jewish leadership would be able to make a complaint of Roman complicity or ineptitude.
One hundred guards, and yet some of those against Jesus still tried to claim that His disciples slipped through and stole the body. However, the testimony of soldiers, such as Ben Isham, were recorded not only favorable to the resurrection, but speak of multitudes in grave clothes—the risen saints.
That two men who had much to lose—Caiaphas and Pilate—saw fit to include accounts that could easily hurt their cause is astounding…
In Caiaphas’ second report (the first prior to Jesus’ resurrection and far less favorable), he stated:
I sent for Malkus, the captain of the royal city guard, who informed me he knew nothing personally, as he had placed Isham in command of the guard; but from what he could learn from the soldiers the scene was awe-inspiring, and the report was so generally believed that it was useless to deny it…
“He said that all the soldiers he had conversed with were convinced that Jesus was resurrected by supernatural power and was still living, and that he was no human being, for the light and the angels and the dead that came out of their graves all went to prove that something had happened that never occurred on earth before…
“I sent for the lieutenant, who gave a lengthy account of the occurrence… From this I am convinced that something transcending the laws of nature took place that morning, that cannot be accounted for upon natural laws, and I find it is useless to try to get any of the soldiers to deny it, for they are so excited that they cannot be reasoned with. I regret that I had the soldiers placed at the tomb, for the very things that they were to prevent they have helped to establish.” (William Dennes Mahan. THE ARCHKO VOLUME; Or, The Archeological Writings of the Sanhedrim and Talmuds of the Jews)
While Caiaphas was still obviously doubtful of Jesus, he did seem to believe that something had occurred. Additionally, he not only questioned Mary and Joanna who went to Jesus’ tomb that morning, but Peter and John as well. He also claims to have had Jesus appear in his room after the resurrection, while he, his wife, and her father were in a locked room. Astonishingly he closes with a desire to give up his position as High Priest.
Beyond Caiaphas’ reports from the soldiers, Pilate gives an account not only as to the number of soldiers and reasons for their presence, but of his bringing in Ben Isham for questioning. He relates:
…about the beginning of the fourth watch they saw a soft and beautiful light over the sepulchre. He at first thought that the women had come to embalm the body of Jesus, as was their custom, but he could not see how they had gotten through the guards. While these thoughts were passing through his mind, behold, the whole place was lighted up, and there seemed to be crowds of the dead in their grave clothes. All seemed to be shouting and filled with ecstasy, while all around and above was the most beautiful music he had ever heard; and the whole air seemed to be full of voices praising God. At this time there seemed to be a reeling and swimming of the earth, so that he turned so sick and faint that he could not stand on his feet…
“I asked him in what condition he was when he came to himself. He said he was lying on the ground with his face down. I asked him if he could not have been mistaken as to the light. Was it not day that was coming in the East? He said at first he thought of that, but at a stone's cast it was exceedingly dark; and then he remembered it was too early for day. I asked him if his dizziness might not have come from being wakened up and getting up too suddenly, as it sometimes had that effect. He said he was not, and had not been asleep all night, as the penalty was death for him to sleep on duty…
“I asked him how long the scene lasted. He said he did not know, but he thought nearly an hour. He said it was hid by the light of day. I asked him if he went to the sepulchre after he had come to himself. He said no, because he was afraid; that just as soon as relief came they all went to their quarters. I asked him if he had been questioned by the priests. He said… They wanted him to say it was an earthquake, and that they were asleep, and offered him money to say that the disciples came and stole Jesus; but he saw no disciples; he did not know that the body was gone until he was told.” (William Dennes Mahan. THE ARCHKO VOLUME; Or, The Archeological Writings of the Sanhedrim and Talmuds of the Jews)
According to Matthew 27:52-53 and the accounts of Caiaphas and Pilate—including questioning Ben Isham—there is ample proof as to the resurrection not only of Jesus, but of the saints. Indeed, the accounts, questionings, and symmetry in records—while still remaining unique—is not only strong evidence, but profound when you consider that BOTH the men who wrote these historical accounts of the raising of the saints and resurrection were instrumental in the conviction of Jesus.
After Jesus and the saints were raised from the dead it is said that all—or many—of the soldiers who guarded the tomb came to believe Jesus is the Son of God; just as many who witnessed the crucifixion, or the rending of the veil in the Temple, came to believe.
That so many who were staunchly convinced that Jesus was a mere troublemaking man came to believe in Him in so short a time is truly remarkable and gives us a wonderful insight into the wonder of God.
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”—2 Peter 3:9