Matthewby Mike Raiter
The Jewish leaders have spoken about Jesus: He is a blasphemer (Matthew 26:65). Pilate has spoken: He is innocent (Matthew 27:24). In mockery, the crowds have spoken (Matthew 27:20, 27-31, 41-44). Yet, up to this point, apart from the darkness (Matthew 27:45) the response from God seems muted. But now, Matthew concludes his account of the death of Jesus with the powerful voice of God.
We say that actions speak louder than words, and in this passage God speaks powerful action words. One feature of the language of the Greek New Testament is what is called the ″divine passive″. The passive voice is used to express God's action. Here we read that the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Who tore it? God. The earth was shaken (v. 51). By whom? God. The rocks were split open. Who smashed them? God. The tombs were opened and many holy people who had died were raised (v. 52). Again, this is God's doing.
God tore the curtain in the temple to announce that we now have full access to His presence. There is no longer a forbidden ″Most Holy Place″ (Hebrews 10:19-22). This occurred the moment Jesus breathed His last. Then God raised some of the dead to announce that death had been defeated and we will all rise from the dead one day. While the graves were split open, the raising of the dead actually took place ″after Jesus' resurrection″ (v. 53), because Christ must rise first (see 1 Corinthians 15:20).
By these two events God is showing us the real significance of the death of Jesus. It means the way is now open for us all to come to God (Hebrews 10:19-20), and it means the promise of our bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23). Of course, our rising from the dead will happen at the end of time, but like the preview of a coming attraction, God raises some of the dead right away.
How should we respond to God speaking? Matthew tells us through the words of a Gentile soldier who, while being part of the execution squad, witnessed all these events. He confesses, ″Surely he was the Son of God!″ (v. 54).
Whose voice are you listening to? Is it the taunts of the Jewish leaders and others like them today? Is it the lies and fabrications of the Pharisees (vv. 62-66) and of modern sceptics? Or is it the voice of the living God, who speaks words of truth, life, and hope?
″The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom″ (v. 51). What are the implications of this event for how men and women approach God?
What do you think caused the centurion to reach the conclusion that Jesus was God's son (v. 54)?