“And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of 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)
Admittedly, these zombies didn’t go around eating people, but here we have dead bodies climbing out of their graves, walking back into civilization, and interacting with the living.
That’s terrifying. Imagine the events of that day. Jerusalem was stirring with the unusual trial of this Man who claimed to be the Messiah, the King of Israel. He was led out of town and crucified. In the hours leading up to his death (from noon to 3pm) the sunny sky turns black. And when he actually dies, a ripple of supernatural activity crosses the land. The 60 foot tall temple curtain is torn from top to bottom. The earth splits open with a violent earthquake.
And then a true Halloween terror takes place: hands that were once decaying in the grave stretched out into the fresh Palestinian air. Bodies that had been resigned to the darkness of the underworld stepped out into the light of day. Corpses that had been carried out of Jerusalem and planted in the earth now bloomed into new life and walked back through the city gates. Mouths that should have gone eternally silent began speaking to townspeople.
But this wasn’t some weak form of magic that gave a minimal amount of life, allowing decaying bodies to stagger through the streets but not fully regenerate. No, these zombies came to life with all of the power of the resurrection. For in that one moment, death had been dealt a lethal blow. The effects of decay were entirely reversed. The stain of the underworld was irrevocably removed. These men and women were the true undead (not the everything-but-dead as in our zombie tales). They had been dead, but death could no longer hold them because Life himself had just entered the realm of death and burst it open.
This true zombie story, then, speaks not of the reign of death, but of eternal life. It speaks not of the dead haunting the living, but of the newly-re-living haunting death and proving themselves untouchable.
We don’t know exactly who these once-dead people were. Very likely, they were faithful Jews who had died clutching to their hope that God would send his Messiah to restore his people eternally. In other words, they died waiting for Jesus, and on this day, their hopes were validated. We also have no idea what happened to these zombies after they entered Jerusalem. But it seems highly unlikely that they died again, since their life was a visual sign of the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Perhaps they ascended with Jesus in Acts 1.
While we’re missing some details, Matthew records this incident for us so that we can have confidence in our future and the reality that death is nothing but a passage to life. So when you see zombies this Halloween (whether they’re terrifying or two-feet tall and super cute), be reminded that God once sent zombies into Jerusalem to remind the world that death is an empty threat.