“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 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” (Matthew 27:50–53 NKJV).
This text speaks of the culmination of the crucifixion and the events (the tearing of the Temple Veil, the Earthquake, the opening of some of the graves of saints) that were simultaneous with it.
As Christ died on the cross, He cried out with a loud voice, “It is finished” (i.e., tetelestai, Greek) and committed His Spirit into the hands of God (Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30). He affirmed that the redemptive work of grace that reconciles mankind with God by faith (Ephesians 2:4-8) had been accomplished.
Tetelestai is said to have been a very familiar phrase in the First Century as it was often used in written form in the market place or in a business transaction as a means of receipting that a bill had been paid in full. To the Greek speaking audience of the New Testament, it would unmistakably imply that Jesus Christ died to pay for our sins in full.
Concurrent with Christ’s death, the Veil of the Temple was torn in half, from top to bottom by God, signifying that the divine and the human were now bridged together by Christ our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:3-6), at this very instant permitting access to God. This Veil separated the Holy Place from the the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:31-35; 2 Chronicles 3:14) and contained the Ark of the Covenant upon which sat the Mercy Seat. It is said by Talmudic sources to have weighed 8,000.lbs+, require 300 priests to handle or carry it, and to have been about the thickness of the palm of the hand (about 4 inches wide). Therefore, it would have been impossible for anyone to have divided it; so, this feat itself was an obvious divine act of God.
Also notable, when the Veil of the Temple tore, it was at the very hour (i.e., 3 p.m.) that the high priest was slaying the second of two lambs offered daily as a continual offering, a perpetual sacrifice, to God for the atonement of His people. These lambs, known in Jewish tradition as the Tamid, were to be unblemished male lambs and offered everyday throughout all generations on the altar of the Temple (Exodus 29:38-46) in both the morning and the evening, described as a sweet aroma ascending before God. This expression underscores that reconciliation between God and man is a joyous moment with God marked by an angelic celebration in heaven (Luke 15:7, 10). According to external ancient Jewish sources, they infer that “the morning offering of the Tamid took place at 9 a.m., while the evening offering took place at 3 p.m.” (Mishnah, Tamid 3:7; Josephus, Antiquities 14.4.3; Philo, Special Laws, 1:169). So, these two offerings would have coincided with the beginning (9 a.m.) and ending (3 p.m.) of Christ’s passion on the cross (Mark 15:25, 33–37), upon which He would have agonized for six hours!
Yes, Christ, the innocent, sinless, Lamb of God Who removes the sins of the world (John 1:29), was sacrificed (crucified) for us (1 Corinthians 5:7; Revelation 13:8) at the same times that the lambs for the perpetual sacrifice (morning and evening) were slain at the altar in the Temple. Yes, He who is our Perpetual Lamb, our Passover Lamb, atones for us by His blood that opens the way into the presence of God, the Holy of Holies. Just as the curtain of the Temple was torn from top to bottom, His flesh was torn for us, and provided immediate access to our Holy God and Father through Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 15:38; Hebrews 10:18–23).
At the time Christ died, the earth trembled! An earthquake broke rocks and shook everything. We also know from other Scriptures (Matthew 27:45; Luke 23:44, 45) that a darkness covered the land for about three hours, from noon until 3p.m., when Christ died. All of creation (except unregenerate mankind; Romans 1:28) knows and acknowledges the Creator! The earth shook and the skies darkened when Jesus died! Earlier in the weeks, Christ said in rebuke of the religious leaders who wanted Him to silence the crowds who greeted Him with shouts of “Hosanna,” that if He did so, then the rocks would cry out this praise (Luke 19:37–40)! Yes, creation honors its Creator! The stars sing (Job 38:7)! The waves of the oceans roar His name (Isaiah 51:15)! The seas roar in praise, the fields rejoice, the trees sing for joy and rustle with praise (1 Chronicles 16:32, 33; Psalm 96:12)! The mountains and hills burst into song and the trees clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12)! The song, “Was It a Morning like This?” sung by Sandi Patti, gives us this reminder about earth’s response to Christ’s resurrection: “Did the grass sing? Did the earth rejoice to feel you again? He is risen!”
The apostle Paul said that creation groans in anticipation of redemption (Romans 8:18-23). Indeed, when God made all of creation, He said, “It was good” (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) But, when He made mankind in His likeness/image (i.e., a spirit being), He said, “It was very good” (Genesis 1:27–30)! Do you, as the crowning creation of God, acknowledge and worship the One who made you in His likeness and in His image?
At the death of Christ on Friday afternoon, around 3p.m., the graves of many saints were opened. However, these who predeceased Him remained dead in their graves until after Jesus was resurrected on early Sunday morning (Luke 24:6)! Later, these saints arose from the dead and went into Jerusalem and appeared unto many. We are not told what happened to them afterwards; but, I believe they would have eventually died a natural death again, like the others who Jesus resurrected during His earthly ministry (i.e., Lazarus, the son of the Widow of Nain, Jairus’ daughter, etc.).
The apostle Paul declares in his letter to the Corinthians that Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20–23)! This means that He who died on the cross, was buried in the tomb, and rose again on the third day, will never die again! He is the first one (i.e., the first fruits) to rise from the dead and then live forever without dying again! John the beloved heard Jesus say “I am the Living One, who was dead, but I live forever more and have power over death and the grave” (Revelation 1:18). The apostle says that we all will have our turn in the resurrection! You and I, and all who believe are privileged to join in this glorious resurrection to eternal life.
Are you trusting Him, as the Resurrection and the Life, to raise you from the dead one day? Yes, we, who know Him, will have our turn in the resurrection.