(The first three of these questions and answers conclude the subject of the questions asked in the June magazine)
Is the raising of “the saints which slept” part of the fulfillment of the Feast of Firstfruits?
No, these saints, like Lazarus, were brought back to life, but would die again. The harvest of which Christ is the Firstfruit are the saints who will be brought out of death with glorified bodies like His (Phi 3:21) and they will never die. This harvest will be “at His coming” (1Co 15:23). Since Christ is the Firstfruit of the harvest, no others before the Rapture will be raised with glorified bodies like His.
The raising of the saints which slept in Matthew 27 is not part of this harvest; therefore they would have been subject to death after being raised from the dead.
Why does Matthew link the centurion’s confession with the earthquake?
Luke attributes the confession, “Certainly this was a righteous man.” (Luke 23:47) to “what took place” (JND). In light of what he confessed, “what took place” likely refers to the Lord’s closing words and His breathing out His spirit. Mark draws attention to the loud cry, thus noting the strength of His devoted service, and records the centurion’s confession, “Truly this Man was the Son of God,” (Mark 15:37-39) thus confirming Mark’s introduction (1:1). Matthew, however links the centurion’s confession with the earthquake and “the things that took place” (plural, JND). This includes the earthquake and at least the rending of the rocks. At that point, he would not have been aware of the raising of the sleeping saints – even if they did rise then.
His confession, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Mat 27:54), contrasts with the mockers’ questioning at the cross if Christ were the Son of God (vv 40, 43). The Gentile centurion was convinced without the evidence of the saints’ appearing in Jerusalem. On the third day, God gave the Jews the added evidence of saints who were raised and appeared to many. This may have been part of what Paul says declared Him “to be the Son of God with power . . . by resurrection of the dead [ones]” (Rom 1:4).
Is there a reason why John’s gospel doesn’t refer to the raising of these “saints which slept”?
Judging from what Hebrews teaches about Melchizedek (Heb 7:1-3), the inclusions and omissions of Scripture are inspired and significant. The reasons for John’s omission of this event are more profound and numerous than we realize. Some suggestions might be of value, however.
John is writing after the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. He is writing to “whosoever,” whether Jew or Gentile. The appearance in Jerusalem of those raised saints indicates this event was a testimony to the Jews, therefore not relevant to John’s message. In addition, John emphasizes the primacy of the Lord Jesus in resurrection. Perhaps that is the spiritual significance of “the napkin, that was about His head, . . . in a place by itself” (John 20:7). This is certainly the case in John’s unique statement from the Lord, “I ascend unto My Father and your Father” (v 17).
This passage affirms His teaching about the Church the Body (ch 10:16; 13:31-16), which was also the subject of His prayer (ch 17) and relates to Paul’s teaching in Ephesians (see Eph 1:3 ff.). Even the raising of Lazarus (John 11) affirmed the Lord’s introduction of the Church’s hope at the Rapture (11:25, 26). John’s gospel is teaching given during the time when Israel has been set aside and the Church age is clearly in focus. The saints raised at the resurrection of the Lord were not part of the Church and their return to life is different from the “out resurrection” (out from death to put on immortality, 1Co 15:52, 53), which is the hope of the Church.
From another viewpoint, John’s gospel is affirming that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (Joh 20:31). In doing so, he singles out seven signs (2:11, “This beginning of signs . . .” JND) to prove his case. The seventh sign, the raising of Lazarus, is climactic, convincing, and clinching. He needs no further evidence, for in raising the dead He revealed “the glory of God” (11:40). To mention the raising of the saints at Christ’s resurrection was apparently superfluous to John’s argument.
One other suggested reason centers on John’s early record of the Lord’s statement that His authority as God’s Son would be confirmed by His resurrection on the third day (2:19). This is a monumentally distinct claim. “I will raise it up” is in keeping with His later statement, “I have authority to lay it [My life] down, and I have authority to take it up again” (10:18, ESV). The fact that God would glorify the Son of Man in Himself (13:31, 32) with the glory which He, the Son of God, had before the world was (17:5) shows that His resurrection placed Him forever beyond death. The fulfillment of these predictions far outshines any accompanying events such as the raising of dead saints who would die again.
Was John the Baptist the Elijah that was to come?
The Lord said, “For all the prophets and the law have prophesied unto John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, who is to come” (Mat 11:13, 14). The angel had told Zacharias before John’s conception that he would turn many of the children to the Lord, as Elijah had done (Luk 1:16). John would also go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elias” (v 17).
Mankind, in its fallen condition, prefers darkness to light (John 3:19). For that reason, apart from redemption, the nation of Israel could not have received Christ when He came. They cannot, however, blame God for this by claiming He had not fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy, “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Mal 4:5). John would have been the fulfillment of that prophecy if the nation had received their prophets’ message and therefore their Messiah (John 5:46, 47).
Because the nation did not receive Christ, John does not fulfill that prophecy. That fulfillment awaits a coming day and John the Apostle points to that event (Rev 11:3-6).