Reading in Matthew this morning and the account of Jesus’ death. And what particularly captured my attention were the events recorded immediately after “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit” (27:50).
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 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.
(Matthew 27:51-53 ESV)
And as I hovered over these verses the term “the saints” caught my eye. My first thought was that it seemed out of place. If you had asked me yesterday where I thought the term “the saints” was first used in the New Testament, I would have said probably in the book of Acts. After the church was born and the gospel was being proclaimed and many were being added to the church. Apparently not. However, of the 61 times “saints” appears in the ESV New Testament, only once does it show up before Acts. This is the only time “saints” is referred to in any of the gospels. And that led to my second thought, “How come?”
I’ve mentioned before in other posts that as a young believer “the law of first mention” was put on my radar. That the first use of a word, or phrase, or concept in Scripture is significant. So I’m asking myself, “Self, what’s the significance of the saints being first mentioned here?”
Here. After Jesus has just endured the wrath of God for sin. After He has yielded His spirit up. After the hand of God reaches down from heaven and tears the thick curtain of the temple in two from top to bottom. After the earth shakes and the rocks split and tombs are opened. And here, when after three days and Jesus rises from the dead, “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” coming out of their tombs and appearing to many in the holy city.
I take it that these people were recognized by those they appeared to in the city, thus able to attest to the miracle of the dead coming back to life. And so I’m thinking that they were those who came to faith in Jesus during his earthly ministry. The first to receive the good news of the kingdom. And the first to believe that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16). The first to be given the eyes of faith which recognized Him as Immanuel, God with us (Mt. 1:23), the Word become flesh (Jn. 1:14). The first to trust Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). The first to have died with hope in Him as Savior. And thus, the first to have followed Him in bodily rising from the dead.
So I’m thinking “saints” is first used in the context of the final outcome. Emphasizing that those who put their faith in Jesus will also, like Jesus, defeat death. That those who follow Jesus spiritually here on earth will follow Him physically beyond earth “that where I am you may be also” (Jn. 14:3). That the hope of eternal life will be found in the eventual reality of a resurrected body. And that those set apart by Him and for Him will, by their resurrection, be witnesses to all creation, declaring through their risen lives, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Mt. 27:54).
O saint rejoice! For as a people we are first mentioned in the context of eternal victory. As those set apart we are linked with all that will testify to the promises and power of God. As those declared holy through the finished work of the cross, we will rise to forever worship Him behind the curtain, in the holy of holies, as we declare with all creation, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isa. 6:3).
By His grace. For His glory.