17.01.03 Mt. 27:52-54; Mk. 15:40-41; Lk. 23:48-49
PEOPLE STRUCK WITH AWE
Mt. 52 The tombs were also opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they were terrified and said, “This man really was God’s Son!”
Mk. 40 There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When He was in Galilee, they would follow Him and help Him. Many other women had come up with Him to Jerusalem.
Lk. 48 All the crowds that had gathered for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, went home, striking their chests. 49 But all who knew Him, including the women who had followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Just as there was a mysterious sign (star) in the above the earth when Jesus was born, now there was a mysterious sign (earthquake) when He died. And the best was yet to come.
“Many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” Literally, many holy people who had died were raised from death to life. Jesus said He came to give life and to give it more abundantly (Jn. 10:10). There was so much life in Him that when He died the Earth could not stand still. It shook violently and those who died previously were suddenly resurrected with new life. This resurrection of saints was both a fulfillment and a prelude to a future fulfillment of the prophetic verse of Daniel 12:2. They came forth from their tombs of death and walked around the holy city. This was one crucifixion that would not soon be forgotten and the best was yet to come. Note that they were raised from tombs, not graves, meaning they had only recently died.
Divine Judgment – Divine Promise
This miracle points toward both judgment as well as eternal life. When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, the earth fell under the bondage and curse of sin. From that time on the entire earth is waiting to be delivered from that bondage (Rom. 8:21). The blood of fallen Adam flows in the veins of every Jew and Gentile and only the shed blood of Jesus can raise a lost soul to the fullness of life now (Jn. 10:10) and promise eternal life to come (Jn. 3:16). Our life flows with the life of Jesus. The death of Jesus broke that bondage and curse of sin in such a powerful manner that the earth shook. The earthquake and torn temple veil of fine Babylonian tapestry were symbolic of the omen of pending judgment. His death was the redemption for all of creation, but obviously did not restore the earth to the age of the Garden of Eden. Since this new freedom of sin brings eternal life, the new life in Jesus was symbolized by tombs opening and holy saints, who had previously died, were now walking the streets. This must have created panic in the hearts of the Sanhedrin and Pilate. The bodies of many holy people of past times walking around Jerusalem were symbolic of the new age of grace and life in Christ that had been ushered in.
“People were terrified.” Suddenly, those who were mocking Him realized that there was a dynamic power to His death. The ground shook violently as darkness covered the land. The faithful followers of Jesus wept bitterly, believing that all their hopes and dreams were gone. In their opinion, no longer would there be miracles, signs, and wonders. There had never been a man like Jesus and their leaders executed Him.
The centurion, who guarded Jesus from prison to the execution site, pondered if this man really could have been the Son of God? Could he have concluded that, “This man really was God’s Son!” It is easy to read that into the Scripture. However, if He was not a follower of Jesus, then in all probability, he probably thought of Jesus as a son of God, a hero, or a demigod. In Mark’s version of what the centurion said of Jesus, Mark used the Greek word that could be translated as either righteous or innocent.
It was the centurion’s primary responsibility to serve as executioner and insure that all those sentenced to death were, in fact, dead. He was trained in the art of killing and had previously crucified many. He recognized death whenever it came to any man. Therefore, it is significant that he said that Jesus was … past tense, meaning death was achieved … the Son of God. Like Caiaphas and so many others, little did he know then that the Son of God would rise from the grave only three days later.
The words of the centurion were profound for another reason as well. As a Gentile, he was familiar with the Roman and Greek gods and their personalities and characteristics. He had taken an oath of allegiance to his emperor, who was considered by all, except the Jews, as god. Therefore, the son of any emperor was always known as the “son of god,” and was expected to eventually take his position as the head of government. As all who claimed divinity, there were fables of miracles and mysterious happenings associated with the emperor, which were quickly consumed by a superstitious populace. The centurion had, no doubt, known several young men who claimed to have such a divine nature. This certainly did not mean these young men were holy and pure in the Judeo-Christian sense of understanding, because pagan gods promoted all the vices and sins common to man. It does, however, mean that the centurion probably knew several so-called “sons of god,” such as the emperors, and they had made no impression upon his life. However, when Jesus died he was absolutely awestruck, as he finally realized who the real Son of God was. Hence, his incredible observation “Surely He was the Son of God.”
An interesting point is this: many Roman soldiers were devoted to the Persian god Mithra. Mithraism was a men-only religion that emphasized manliness for soldiers, and one of its emphases was the endurance of pain. The centurion most certainly did not regard Jesus as a blasphemer, but if he was a Mithra devotee, he was clearly impressed with His death. Luke said, of this account that the centurion said Jesus was dikaios, a term that means both righteous and innocent.
“Went home, striking their chests.” Striking one’s chest in mourning symbolized the ultimate sorrow and grief. Who were these people and why were they so sorrowful? Jesus remained popular among the common people of Israel. Clearly not all the Jewish people wanted to see Him crucified, but only a small clique of evil leaders planned and executed the conspiracy. There is not a single recorded event that indicates otherwise. These mournful people were beating their breasts because they realized there had never been a sage or prophet like Jesus. Now, another innocent Jew had been condemned to a Roman cross. Their mourning, however, would soon turn to joy.
. For a survey of the opinons of early Christians concerning the temple veil, see de Junge. “Matthew 27:51 in Early Christian Exegesis.” 67-79.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:232.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 392.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 402-03.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 404.