Question: I have wondered about Matthew:27:52-53 for a long time and have never heard or read an explanation. What do you think about these “saints” who came out of the graves in resurrected bodies and “went into the holy city and appeared to many”?
Response: We must accept at face value what is said and interpret it within the context of the rest of Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church was not yet in existence and had not yet begun the unscriptural practice of giving certain persons the title of “saint” years after their deaths. All believers, living or dead, are saints according to Scripture.
The epistles are addressed to “the saints at Corinth...at Colosse...at Philippi,” etc. The “saints” mentioned here were obviously Old Testament believers such as Abraham or Joseph. We are not told which ones. They could have been unknowns not mentioned in Scripture. It neither says nor implies a temporary resurrection with these people dying again. Therefore, it must have been a special foretaste of the resurrection of “the dead in Christ” yet to come. Note that they did not “come out of the graves” until “after his resurrection.” We don’t know how long they stayed in “the holy city” appearing to believers, but it sounds as though it was for only a short time.
These resurrected saints must have been taken to heaven by Christ in their glorified bodies soon after His resurrection. This probably occurred when He emptied that part of Hades known as “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk 16:22) and took the souls and spirits of the believers waiting there to His Father’s house (Ps:68:18; Eph:4:8; Heb:6:20). Believers who die today go instantly to heaven: “absent from the body, and…present with the Lord” (2 Cor:5:6-8).
Matthew:27:52-53 is an unusual passage. It is also not a major one, not offered as proof of the resurrection, or we would read more about such appearances. It was a sign to those who saw these “saints” but not to us because we’re given so little data. Then what is the value for us today? Their resurrection along with Christ, together with the clear indication in Hebrews:11:13-16 that the Old Testament saints are heavenly citizens of the new Jerusalem and share in the “perfection” we will experience (v 40), answers an important question. It would seem to indicate that Old Testament believers who looked forward to the cross of Christ (“Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad”—John:8:56) are made partakers of the resurrection of Christ and will be raised with the New Testament saints (who look back to the cross) at the Rapture and caught up into heaven at that time as part of the church. There is no indication in Scripture of any other time when they are resurrected.