Matthew 27:51-54: Behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection, they entered into the holy city and appeared to many. Now the centurion, and those who were with him watching Jesus, when they saw the earthquake, and the things that were done, feared exceedingly, saying, "Truly this was the Son of God." -- World English Bible
It has been the claim of some that these verses speak of the dead saints rising from the dead and going to heaven with Jesus. Actually, nothing is said about such in the scriptures, and the idea has to be read into what is said.
Others believe the saints were resurrected at that time (although nothing is said about a resurrection, but only that their bodies were raised from the tombs).
The Sinaitic manuscript does not have the phrase: "And the tombs were opened," and it does not have the the word "entered".
While there is some doubt that Matthew actually wrote the words in these verses, let us assume that he did.
(1) The persons mentioned could not have been the saints of the OT, perfected; because of those the Apostle declares that "they without us [the Gospel Church] shall not be made perfect." In other words, their resurrection will not be due to take place until after the first resurrection of the Church has been completed. (Hebrews 11:39,40) So if these "saints" were the faithful ones of old, then they would have only been returned to life temporarily as discussed under point (3).
(2) The class mentioned cannot have been saints of the Gospel Church, because the Church had not been selected. If it referred to any disciples who were following Jesus, we would have to assume that those disciples had died, and were buried in that particular cemetery, since we have no record of any of the disciples having died, except Lazarus, who had already been raised from the dead. In reality, we have no reason to think that the apostles had died, so as to think that they were raised from the dead.
(3) The record as it appears in most translations seems to imply that the earthquake which occurred at the time of our Lord's death opened these graves -- produced the raising of the bodies mentioned; but that the ones raised for some unstated reason did not come out their tombs until Jesus' resurrection. It then seems to say that these arisen saints went into Jerusalem and appear to many in Jerusalem. Lord's resurrection.
At the very most, if there was an awakening (the scriptures do not actually say that they were awakened) it was an awakening similar to that which Lazarus experienced, and the daughter of Jairus, and the son of the widow of Nain, to die again, later on. We may be sure of this because the express declaration of 1 Corinthians 15:20 is: "Christ is the first-fruits of them that slept" -- the first one -- the first one lifted out of death to perfection of life. The persons mentioned could have been no more than merely aroused from the slumber of death temporarily, and for some purpose of which we have no knowledge.
(4) The Greek word translated "arose" does not necessarily refer to coming back alive. The ones entering into the city do not necessarily mean the dead bodies of the saints. Nor does it necessarily mean that the dead saints made an appearance in the city; rather that their bodies had appeared to many who then went into the city.
The New World Translation thus renders these verses like this: "And look! the curtain of the sanctuary was rent in two, from top to bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rock-masses were split. And the memorial tombs were opened and many bodies of the holy ones that had fallen asleep were raised up, (and persons, coming out from from among the memorial tombs after his being raised up, entered into the holy city, and they became visible to many people."
However, as we noted at first, some, based on an examination of Bible numerics pertaining to this chapter, claim that the parts of this scripture referring to bodies of the saints being raised out their tombs were not originally part of Matthew's account, but were added later. Paul S. L. Johnson notes this in his book
Another explanation offered by some is that the expression, "bodies of the saints" [pure or holy people], is a reference to some of Jesus' disciples who were watching these events from the area of the tombs, perhaps hiding themselves among the caves that contained the sepulchers. Having waited for so long, the theory is that these had gone asleep; thus when the earthquake occurred at Jesus' death, they were awakened and came out of the tombs. Seeing what had happened they went back into Jerusalem and told others what had taken place. They would have verse 53 to read like this: "And came out of the tombs area after their awakening, and went into the Holy City and disclosed [told what they saw] to many.