What We Can Learn from the Spookiest Scene in the Bible

What We Can Learn from the Spookiest Scene in the Bible

Complete and utter darkness in the middle of the day. The earth shakes violently. Rocks split in two. Tombs open up on their own. The dead come alive, walking from the graveyard into the nearby town. Though no one is there, a large curtain in the church rips straight down the middle from top to bottom. 

This is not a scene from The Walking Dead or the latest horror movie debuting just in time for Halloween. It’s not a scary ghost story you would share around a campfire while roasting s’mores. It’s the spooky scene described in Matthew 27:45-54.

“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27: 45-46)

“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27: 51-54)

What are we to make of this crazy – and frightening – scene in Scripture? Scholars have debated the logistics of what happened here, and its meaning, for centuries. Truthfully, it leaves more questions than answers. Even renowned  biblical scholar NT Wright said, “Some stories are so odd that they may just have happened. This may be one of them, but in historical terms there is no way of finding out.”

Sure, there’s a lot we can’t explain. But we do know this about the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s death: God’s power is on display.

I can only imagine how those residing in Jerusalem felt during this time – experiencing the darkness, feeling the earth shake, then seeing many of their buried loved ones reappearing and talking to them again. It’s a little terrifying, to say the least. While certainly confused by it, I’ve always loved this passage of Scripture as it has so much to teach us. It shows us the mighty hand of God. And, it reminds us how Jesus’s death changes everything.

Today, people have a fascination with zombies. You see them everywhere in pop culture. But, the description here is not of reanimated, soulless, brain-dead bodies traipsing around looking for human flesh. These are resurrected saints with a new mission.

In verse 53, it says that the saints go into the city “appearing to many.” The word for “appear” can also be translated “to show, signify or explain.” It paints a picture, not of a ghost outside a window, but of a resurrected believer glorifying God and telling their friends about Jesus’s death and resurrection. They show themselves as walking, living testaments to the power of the gospel.

When we become followers of Christ, we experience a spiritual resurrection. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I love the movie The Green Mile. I often think of that walk the prisoners would make to the electric chair, while one of the guards would say, “Dead man walkin’. We got a dead man walkin’ here.” Before Christ, we are dead – in our own sin. Through Christ we are made alive, just like those saints in Matthew 27. Now, who do we need to “appear” to and explain what Jesus has done?

Jesus’s death – and subsequent resurrection – changes the course of history. It sets into motion this supernatural series of events that prove He wasn’t just a prophet or teacher. 

“The least we can say is that the death of Jesus has effects on more than spiritual relationships,” writes John Piper. “What has just happened on the cross has to do with the one who holds the earth in his hand and can shake it. And the one who holds boulders between his fingers and can split them. The earth was shaken and rocks split by a sovereign earth-controller and a powerful rock-ruler. Human deaths don’t shake the earth and split rocks. God does. Rocks don’t have a mind of their own. They do what God bids them do. And they shook and split.”

This scene in Matthew 27 reminds us of God’s power, in case we forgot it. Throughout history, God has performed miracles, often commanding nature itself, to prove His power to man. He unleashed the ten plagues on Egypt. He parted the Red Sea. He sent fire down as Elijah stood up against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. And, Jesus performed miracle after miracle, healing and raising the dead to life.

These signs and wonders have a purpose – to bring about change in the human heart. In Matthew 27, they do just that. 

“When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54). Those who had witnessed what had happened suddenly knew this wasn’t just an ordinary man.

Jesus changes everything. And this moment changed the course of history. It wasn’t just an earthquake and some rock-splitting. That’s certainly a phenomena. The risen saints walking around and talking definitely makes you think something unusual is happening. But, the temple curtain ripping is the real game-changer. Suddenly, the centurion and those looking on surely must of thought of all of Jesus’s claims during his public ministry.

“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10: 9-10).

At that moment, the curtain separating God from man was removed. This temple curtain housed the Holy of Holies, or the earthly dwelling place of God’s presence. Once a year, it’s where the priest would go to make an animal sacrifice for the atonement of the people’s sins. Instantly, that was no longer necessary. We all have access to the Father through Jesus. Jesus bore our sins and made atonement for us. 

This collection of miracles was enough to move the guards who witnessed it to believe. Surely, the risen saints in Jerusalem were telling the citizens there about this miraculous news. Jesus died for our sins. No more of the old way. Jesus gave us the new way. Jesus is THE way.

This “spooky” scene in Matthew 27 is the most important and hope-giving passage in all of Scripture. Jesus paid it all. The weight put on His shoulders was so heavy it caused the earth to bend and break under the pressure. And, as a result, the temple curtain ripped and gravestones started to roll, giving up their dead and sending them on a mission to share the good news.

Now, that’s a story actually worth sharing around a campfire.

Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/johnnorth

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