As Jesus yielded up His Spirit and died upon the cross, a number of extraordinary events manifested in the physical realm in response to that spiritually momentous happening.  Not only was the veil of the temple rent in two to disclose the way through the veil of His death, and ours, into the holy place of God’s glory, but the rocks were rent as the Rock of our salvation was cleft for the living waters of His Spirit that would soon flow for our washing and regeneration (Tit 3:5-6).  The death of God’s own Son, through whom we exist (1Co 8:6), and in whom all things hold together (Col 1:16-17), was earth-shaking in every sense so that not only the earth but also the heavens were shaken.  For as the people of the earth throughout history would tremble at the rise and fall of its great kingdoms, now both they and the spiritual forces in the heavenly places that empower them would tremble as God installed His King on Mount Zion and established His kingdom on earth through the death and resurrection of His Son; cf. Mat 28:2.

What else does Matthew associate with Jesus’ death, the shaking of the earth, and the splitting of the rocks?  See Mat 27:52-53.  What does this event, and the future resurrection that it portends, also have to do with the great cry that Jesus let go as He died (Mat 27:50)?  See Joh 5:28-29, 1Th 4:16.  What physical relationship is there between the rocks splitting, the tombs opening, and the bodies of many saints being raised?  See Isa 14:15-19 and note that Sheol, the place of the dead, is often spoken of as a pit, the Hebrew word for which (בּוֹר) is also the same word used for a cistern and in a penal context for a dungeon or holding cell; see Jer 37:16 and the NAS text note there, as well as Jer 38:6-13 and Lam 3:53-55.  Cisterns were typically hewn out of rock (see Deut 6:11, 2Ch 26:10, Neh 9:25) in order to create a holding space for water collected in the rainy season that would not leak away; contrast Jer 2:13.  When not full of water they would therefore make a secure holding cell for prisoners.  Due to their construction in the earth, similar to that of a grave or sepulcher, the word also became associated with the pit or holding place of the departed spirits, i.e., Sheol, often with the negative connotation of a prison for the wicked or notorious; see Num 16:30-33, Psa 30:3, 40:2, Isa 24:22, 38:18-19, 42:6-7, Jer 41:7, Eze 26:20, Zec 9:11.  Hence, the earthquake and splitting of the rocks might be understood as the mechanism by which the holding cell of Sheol and the tombs were broken open to set free those saints who had been held captive by death; cf. Act 16:26, Eph 4:8-9.

From the connection to the tombs that were opened and their bodies being raised, what is clearly meant by those “who had fallen asleep”?  What is the great spiritual significance of referring to those who have been “laid to rest” in their tombs not as those who have died, but as those who have fallen asleep?  Cf. Dan 12:2, Mat 9:24, 1Co 15:20, Eph 5:14, 1Th 4:14.  In this context, what faith is communicated by the burial of the body of one who has fallen asleep, and how does that contrast with what is communicated by the cremation of a body that has died?  Think: would we cremate and so destroy the body of a soul who is just asleep as opposed to the remains of someone we think of who is dead and gone forever?  Think too: why in times past would the bodies of those believed to be heretics be burned rather than buried, and even exhumed from their graves and burned?  Cf. 2Ki 23:16-18, 2Ch 34:5, Jer 8:1-2, Amo 2:1.

Whose bodies does Matthew say were raised?  See Mat 27:52.  What does this remind us about the general favor or privilege granted to God’s holy people who are true saints, that is not given to those who are of the world?  Cf. Act 9:36-41, Rev 20:4-6.  Does Matthew say that the bodies of all the saints were raised?  Since not all were raised, who might we suppose those were who were raised?  Were they perhaps the Patriarchs or great heroes of the faith, such as Abraham, Job, Moses, or David?  Note that Abraham was buried in the cave of Machpelah near Hebron (Gen 25:8-9) and not in the tombs near Jerusalem, so that coming out of his tomb after Jesus’ resurrection to appear to many in the holy city (i.e., Jerusalem; cf. Mat 4:5) would seem forced for the words Matthew records.  Similarly, Job lived in the land of Uz, thought to be on the borders of Edom and Arabia near Damascus, and Moses was buried in the land of Moab (Deut 34:6).  David was buried in the city of David which was a part of Jerusalem, but would he have been recognized as such by anyone after a thousand years, and if he was recognized somehow, wouldn’t Matthew surely have named him?  Since not all were raised, and those who were raised are not named, are we to understand their raising as something inherent to those who were raised, or rather as something related to Jesus’ death and resurrection, as a further demonstration of the might and power that was unleashed not just in the physical but also in the spiritual realm?  Cf. Zec 4:6.  Might we therefore better understand those who were raised as a consequence of Jesus’ death to be some of those saints who had more recently died, who would have been recognized as such by those to whom they then appeared, having been shaken awake to life by Jesus’ death similar to the man being buried who came back to life after his corpse touched Elisha’s bones (2Ki 13:20-21)?