"Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?... And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves (after his resurrection,) and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many."
All these things happened at the same time and at the ninth hour in context. Never mind that no one ever mentions this event again. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, writing during the second half of the first century AD, produced two major works: History of the Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. He says nothing about this most extraordinary occurrence. This one missed his attention big time so he reports nothing of this, and does not interview any of the "many" who must have been around for years after just itching to be asked about how it felt to be back.
Peter never mentions it in all his attempts to convince the masses that Jesus did rise, in fact, from the dead. Paul never mentions this event as proof of Jesus resurrection either and of course had died before any such tales were told. The early church seems to have overlooked it as well. The fact that these risen saints must still be alive and now members in good standing of the early Church never seems to come up. You'd think they at least would get to be deacons and elders! I would hope they did not rise then die again real fast when they were no longer needed as a type of the general resurrection of the saints! One death is scary enough and the few who were not part of the many resurrected might be the lucky ones after all.
Everything in the Bible is so dramatic! The sun goes out for three hours and the earth shakes, renting rocks. And if the rocks rent, why did not most of Jerusalem, including the Temple fall down? High roof, pillars, big basins--all good candidates for renting and falling over. But, of this, no one records a thing, save for this one observation by Matthew. But back to the account.
"And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many."
So here we have Jesus on the cross, still alive and distressed that God has forsaken him. At this time it appears, or perhaps by implication, at the moment of his death, the graves of many of the "saints" open and they rise from the dead. Well not quite yet because it appears someone spotted a problem with this verse and added just a bit to make it doctrinally acceptable for future reads.
But first, what's with these people being "saints?" Aren't saints members in good standing of the Church and converted Christians? Jesus is not even dead yet, or just died! There is no church and certainly no saints unless just following Jesus around as a curious follower the past one or three years depending on which Gospel you read qualified one as a "saint." It is something you would ad to the story when the church was up and running decades later.
Some believe these may have been Old Testament "Saints" such as Adam and Eve, Moses, Isaiah, Abraham and other notables listed in Hebrews 11. You'd at least think this would be noted and having these folk back might qualify them for some positions of leadership in the early church. This reasoning merely reflects the fact that this story stretched the imaginations of even the early church fathers who also found this tale fantastical.
Secondly, it says that it was a resurrection of "many bodies of the saints." Many? What happened to "all." There could not have been too many to leave some behind! Can you imagine the conversations that must have followed in the weeks following this event?
"Hey, Shlomo is back! So, where is your Benjamin? Oh, really? Not one of the many huh? Sorry." Or...
"Hey Mary, my Sol, who you remember, died last year, says hi. So wasn't your husband one of the blind that Jesus healed, and died about the same time. What's he up to today?"
Anyway, it seems that only the many but not the all got raised.
Next we have the problem of the graves being opened, but no one being allowed to come out of them until after Jesus personal resurrection. This is where being doctrinally correct comes in. Not correcting this would cause the same problem some have with Matthew's story of Herod killing all the babies endeavoring to get to the newborn Jesus. It would seem that all those babies had to die for Jesus before he died for them, some reason.
Matthew, or the editor who spotted this problem, could not have Jesus being preceded in resurrection, by any, much less, many of the "saints." This would be putting the cart before the horse. Jesus could not be the "first born of many brethren," if many of the brethren had already been up and running around from the dead while Jesus was either on the cross wondering why God had forsaken him, or newly dead and not yet resurrected himself. So the phrase, "after his resurrection" was inserted to make this a doctrinally correct event. Had that phrase, "after his resurrection," not been added, the story would be an unending source of doctrinal problems, as if it isn't now.
So here we have these graves opened, but the bodies just lying there, open to view, bones mostly, not bodies anymore, even though it said bodies. If it was decaying bodies, then Zombies. Then, after Jesus rose, the bodies stood up and went home to see the family and friends. You'd think someone would have mentioned this later, but it didn't make much of an impression on anyone but Matthew it seems.
One other way this might have been was that the saints were brought back to life right when the graves opened, (how do they open I wonder?), but had to just lie there for three days and three nights until Jesus was back. Talk about boring and scary if you didn't know what was going on! You'd think, in either event, that the disciples, Joseph of Arimethea-- who buried Jesus, the women who brought spices to the tomb and everyone would have noticed all the opened graves and not of Jews or Romans, but of Saints! Evidently no Romans noticed anything strange or at least did't record it.
If the graves were opened for three days, would not word get out and the town get about the business of filling them in again? If they were fresh bodies, what a stink and if they were alive fresh bodies laying low for now, what a scare! I can imagine, as a kid of course, a small crowd around each open grave chatting with the saint, and the saint saying, "Help me, I can't move. Not knowing he had to lay there until Jesus was resurrected first. I can also imagine a small crowd hearing this plea, dispersing rather speedily.
Well, it's a great story that no one but Matthew seems to be aware of or use to further the Gospel. Knowing the writer of Matthew, it never happened. Matthew was great at over reaching and searching the scriptures to make a point about Jesus. Matthew could make an Old Testament story mean what it was never meant to mean. All of Matthew's "and thus it was fulfilled" accounts in the birth narratives of Jesus, where he goes back into the Old Testament to prove everything from Jesus virgin birth to it being predicted that he would be from Nazareth or return out of Egypt after Herod dies, are examples of this over reaching. No one else quite had this way of proving Jesus down pat as well as Matthew, whoever Matthew really was and may not be who you think. It would be a bit like me using portions of Lord of the Rings to show how Tolkien prophecied the rise of Donald Trump. .
So off to visit friends in Jerusalem these saints went. But we have no names and no further accounts. We have no stories of happy reunions of the dead with the living. No one seems to write about this in any public records and no one ever after uses this event to further the proof of Jesus resurrection or the power of God. Actually, it never happened, and only the most uncritical thinker and die hard (pun intended :) literalist would dig this gravely strange story as a real event in space and time (pun intended again:)