In our Easter-week series, we look at a rather unusual and often overlooked Good Friday event: three “flash-forwards” that point to what would happen on Easter Sunday. It’s best to begin from part one, on Monday.
The second flash-forward we see in the account of Jesus’ death is a mini-resurrection. One that points forward to the defeat of death itself. Read from verse 52:Mt 27:52-53 The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs[, and] after Jesus’ resurrection [and] they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
Can you imagine how freaky this would have been? Yet it’s a testament to the authenticity of the gospel account that something so bizarre and miraculous is mentioned in passing, in just a couple of verses. Oh yeah, and some dead people came out of their tombs and showed up downtown. ‘Hi Bob, haven’t seen you around for a while. Where’ve you been?’ ‘Oh, I’ve just been dead.’ ‘Really? That must be nice this time of year. Did you take the whole family?’
I mean, what’s going on?? People rising from the dead! Being seen not just by Haley Joel Osment, but by ‘many people’. This is huge. It’s spectacular. It’s unprecedented… And it’s also a little confusing. I mean, why now? What’s the point of it all, here, at the point of Jesus’ death?
Well again, it’s a flash-forward. It’s pointing toward Jesus’ resurrection in two days’ time. And it’s a sign that God is about to do something spectacular. Something significant. Something that was spoken about to the prophet Ezekiel several centuries earlier, and was read at every Passover feast of the Jews.
In Ezek ch 37, God shows him a valley of dry bones, and says to him:Ezek 37:11-14a these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.’
This mini-resurrection, then, is a sign that God was bring restoration & renewal to his people. That he was bringing life to the spiritually dead. That he was about to pour out his Holy Spirit. A flash-forward to the new life Jesus’ resurrection would make possible. Life that comes through trusting in him. This is what Jesus was on about in John ch 5, where he said:Jn 5:24-25 I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.
Jesus came to bring eternal life. That is, life of an eternal quality that begins now. Those of us who have placed our trust in Jesus have already crossed over from death to life. We’ve heard his voice, and we’ve been spiritually resurrected.
And yet, this too, is merely another flash-forward. This life we experience now, with Christ, as good as it is – it’s another glimpse of our glorious future. A pointer toward the resurrection of everyone at the end of time. As Jesus goes on to say:Jn 5:28-29 Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
The mini-resurrection at Jesus’ death is simply a sneak-peek of the resurrection that is to come. Death has been defeated by Jesus’ death, once-and-for all. Eternal life has been made possible by Jesus’ resurrection. At Easter, we celebrate the death of death itself.