Matthew, alone among the Evangelists, reports that at Jesus’ death, there was a great earthquake and that many who had died were suddenly raised to life (Matt 27:51-52). Indeed, Matthew has an unusual fascination with earthquakes: he reports three of them (8:24, 27:51, 28:2), while there are none in the other three Gospels, and each of these “earthquakes” is connected to resurrection: in Matthew 27, the earth quakes, and many dead “saints” are raised from their tombs (27:52); in Matthew 8:24 as waves swamped their small craft amid a “seismos megas,” the disciples frantically “raised” (egeiran) Jesus (Mt 8:25); and in Matthew 28, the women arrive at Jesus’ tomb just as an angel descends amid a “great earthquake,” and rolls back the stone, to reveal that it is already empty (28:2).
Let me suggest that Matthew is obsessed with earthquakes because of Ezekiel 37:7, which in the Septuagint reads: “καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ ἐμὲ προφητεῦσαι καὶ ἰδοὺ σεισμός.” As Ezekiel prophesies God’s resurrection to the dry bones of Israel (Ezek. 37:11), there is an “earthquake,” and when the Lord explains the sign, he promises, “ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἀνοίγω ὑμῶν τὰ μνήματα καὶ ἀνάξω ὑμᾶς ἐκ τῶν μνημάτων ὑμῶν καὶ εἰσάξω ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν γῆν τοῦ Ισραηλ” (Ezek. 37:12, LXX; cf. Mt. 27:52). With his repeated pairing of earthquakes and resurrection, Matthew underscores his insistence that in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, God is bringing to pass his eschatological promise to raise his people from their death in the exile of sin.