Expository Sermon on the Gospel according to Matthew | The Night of the Living Dead | Matthew 27:51-53

The Night of the Living Dead (Matthew 27:51-53)

My mother married when she was 16, and she had been 18 less than 3 weeks when I was born, so my grandparents were young—Mom’s parents were only 44 when I was born.

When I was around 6 (my grandparents would have been about 50), our next-door neighbor died, and Mom and Dad took us three boys and went to the funeral home for the viewing. On the way home, my brother Aaron asked why our neighbor died. Mom said, “Old age.” Aaron began to cry. Mom asked him what was wrong, and he said, “My Nannie is going to be dead soon.” Oh, to be the age where you think 50 is old!!

Around 25 years after that, Nannie did die, and we grandchildren were heartbroken; we loved our Nannie. Nannie died because death is the common lot of all men:

  • “Death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12).
  • “It is appointed for man to die once” (Heb 9:27).

You know quite well that “It is appointed for man to die.” How many of you have lost loved ones to death? How many members of this congregation, members whom you loved deeply, have gone to be with the Lord? How many of you have friends who have died? How many times have you visited the funeral home to pay respects to someone you knew? How many of you have lost members of your high school class—how many of you lost members of that class before you even graduated?

But have you ever pondered your death? “It is appointed for man to die once,” thus you will—unless the Lord Jesus returns first—die. Have you ever considered what it would be like to die? Do you ever ponder what it’s like to be carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom? Do you ever ponder what it’s like to open your eyes in glory and see the Lord? Do you ever ponder what it’s like to be reunited with loved ones? Do you ever ponder what it’s like to meet the saints of all the ages?

I’d strongly urge you to ponder your own death, for it puts this life into perspective. However, you must remember that death is only part of the story. The Night of the Living Dead reminds us that death is not the end; there is death, but there is also the resurrection of the dead. When Jesus died, “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Matt 27:52). The resurrection of these saints foreshadows the resurrection of all the saints; this passage demonstrates: “The holy dead will be raised to life everlasting.

Scripture (Matthew 27:51-53)

verse 51:

“The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” This curtain would have likely been the one separating the holy of holies, where God himself dwelt, and the sanctuary, where priests daily ministered. The curtain was torn from the top to the bottom—no mortal man could have done that. The tearing of the curtain likely demonstrates God’s departing the temple.

“The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” In the Old Testament, manifestations of God’s glory and his judgment were often accompanied by earthquakes. The image here may be God’s judging the world for the murder of his Son.

verse 52:

“The tombs also were opened.” The earthquake caused the tombs to open.

“And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.”

“Many bodies” of the saints were raised. Only God knows how he selected which saints would be raised and which would not be.

While not every saint was raised, only saints were raised. The Greek literally here is “holy ones.” Only those who had lived holy lives were raised from the dead when Jesus died.

verse 53:

“Coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”

The timing here is not easy to understand, but it appears that the earthquake at Jesus’s death opened the graves, and the saints were raised when Jesus was raised.

After Jesus was raised, these resurrected holy people went into Jerusalem and appeared to many people. Can you imagine being in Jerusalem and seeing someone who has been dead for a long, long time? Imagine running in H-E-B for a couple things and bumping into someone whose funeral you attended a couple years ago!

What was the likely purpose in God’s raising these saints?

  • One: This resurrection demonstrated that saints who died before Jesus were part of God’s people—Old Testament saints would not be left out in the final resurrection.
  • Two: This resurrection reminds one of the final resurrection when all the saints who have fallen asleep will be raised.

You see, these saints were raised when Jesus was raised. When Jesus returns, he will raise all the saints:

  • “As by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:21).
  • “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thess 4:16).


If Jesus delays his coming and you die, this passage lets you know you will be raised to life eternal—if you are holy. “The holy dead will be raised to life everlasting.” Yes, all the dead will rise when Jesus returns: John 5:28-29. However, the holy ones—saints—will have the “resurrection of life,” and the evildoers will have the “resurrection of judgment.”

Do you want to experience that “resurrection of life?” Do you want an eternity free of pain and sorrow, an eternity with God in the glorious home he has prepared for you, an eternity where you praise God throughout all the ages with the crown of life on your brow? Then, you must, like the dead who were raised with Jesus, Live a holy life.

God expects his people to be holy: “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:15-16). You are to be holy in all your conduct: when you’re at work, when you’re with your family, when you’re with friends, when you’re having fun, when you’re alone; if your heart is beating, you are to be holy. Without that holiness in all your conduct, you shall not see the Lord: “Strive . . . for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). The unholy will see only death and damnation: “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8).

How holy are you? The Bible describes a holy life: Colossians 3:12-17. Sit down with Colossians 3:12-17 and carefully examine your life. How well do you fit that description of the holy life in that text: Are you, for example, loving and forgiving and humble and patient? Be honest. Heaven and hell hang in the balance.

The Bible likewise describes an unholy life: Galatians 5:19-21. Sit down with that text, too, and carefully examine your life. Are you, for example, sexually immoral or jealous or angry or envious? Be honest. Heaven and hell hang in the balance.

If you lack some holy quality, add it; if you live in some sin, subtract it. Jesus died for you, and he wants to give you a heavenly home. The resurrection of the saints when he was raised shows that he wants to raise you to everlasting life, but he will only do so if you are holy. How holy are you? Do you need to come and claim holiness this morning as we stand and sing?

This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.

Share with Friends: