This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “King & Country: The Story That Changes Everything,” coming in summer 2017.
At the climax of the kingdom, as the king of the universe was enthroned on Golgotha’s hill, strange things began to happen. As the God-Man suffocated in his own blood and then expired, the skies grew dark, as if the sun itself was being snuffed out. The ground trembled and then quaked, like the whole world was coming apart. And then the really weird stuff started happening:
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)
This episode, sounding like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie, is only recorded in Matthew, and leads us to wonder what in the world is going on. But we wouldn’t be the only ones to be amazed and confused by the spectacle:
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)
So what is happening here? Nothing less than the future final judgment day penetrating time and space and converging on a hill outside Jerusalem. The Bible speaks of the last day of this age as a day of “clouds and thick darkness” (Joel 2:2), “great earthquakes” (Revelation 16:18), and of “those who sleep in the dust awakening” (Daniel 12:2). It is also a day of final judgment against sin (Revelation 21:12). But at the cross of Christ, that final judgment came early, as the overflowing cup of God’s wrath was poured out on the King himself. All the everlasting fury of hell and the full scope of justice for the sins of all God’s people throughout all of history came blazing into this one location in space and time, until reality itself began to come apart—as one day it will again, when the judgment of God breaks across the entire world. The bizarre events reverberating out from the death of Jesus are the future judgment day bleeding through the chasm ripped in reality by the death of the Son of God.
And now, for those of us in Christ, the meaning of the strange spectacle is this: because Jesus passed through the final judgment of God, you and I have too. The final verdict in the case of The Almighty vs. me has been handed down early: not guilty. Judgment Day for me is no longer future. It is past and finished, my sin executed on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago. The doctrine of justification is simply the reality that, in Christ, the future came early for me, too, and I am a part of the future kingdom today.
Once the future had expended all its fury on Jesus, his body was laid in a garden tomb, but the in-breaking of the future was not done yet. Ezekiel had foreseen the day when Israel would rise from the grave into new and permanent life (Ezekiel 37:12-14). And thirty-six hours after Judgment Day landed on Golgotha, Resurrection Day broke into the garden.