And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; 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.
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 27:51-54 RSV
THE THREE HOURS OF DARKNESS
“And it was now about the sixth hour, and a darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun’s light failing” (Luke 23:44,45).
Both in Luke’s words and in those of Matthew (Matthew 27:45), the Greek word for “earth” is used, indicating a far greater extent of the darkness than could have been the case with any local phenomenon.
This could not have been an eclipse, because:
(1) it came at Passover, always held at the time of the full moon when an eclipse is impossible, and
(2) it was too long in duration, lasting three hours, as contrasted with the very longest of eclipses which last less than an hour, and usually only a very few minutes.
It was not such a darkness as sometimes precedes an earthquake, like that of Naples in 79, when Vesuvius became a volcano.
The reason for this darkness was “the sun’s light failing” (Luke 23:45).
That, of course, is over fourteen billion tons an hour!
God halted the reaction for three hours during the crucifixion.
Appropriately, while the Sun of Righteousness was suffering humiliation and death, the literal sun refused to shine.
The Christian does not need the corroboration of independent witnesses, but in the case of this darkness it is available.
“Those who were not aware that this had been predicted about Christ, no doubt thought it an eclipse. You yourselves have the account of the world portent still in your archives!”
In the quotation above, Tertullian appealed to Proculus, a Roman senator; and it is certain Tertullian would not have made such an appeal to Roman records if it had not been true.
Pontius Pilate sent the following report to Tiberius, emperor of Rome:
“And when he had been crucified, there was darkness over the whole earth, the sun having been completely hidden, and the heaven appearing dark, so that the stars appeared, but had at the same time their brightness darkened, as I suppose your reverence is not ignorant of, because in all the world they lighted lamps from the sixth hour until evening. And the moon, being like blood, did not shine the whole night, and yet she happened to be at the full.”
From these two quotations, to which many others might be added, it is plain that one of the strong arguments used by early Christians in urging the truth of the gospel was their appeal, again and again, to persons in highest authority, to whom they invariably imputed the universal knowledge that such a wonder had indeed occurred.
This manifestation of God’s power should cause the soul to tremble!
Why did God do it?
It was a singular witness to the power and godhead of him who was crucified.
It was a signal that even the most brutal and depraved could understand.
The sneers and jibes of the mockers froze on their evil faces at the onset of that supernatural gloom; and as the somber hours dragged on, the awful fact must have occurred to many that, for all any of them knew, the sun would never shine again!
That awe-inspiring darkness was God’s seal upon the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ’s identity and mission upon earth.
It was a sign of God’s personal presence in the crucifixion. “Thick darkness was under his feet” (Psalms 18:9).
Light is also used as a symbol of God’s presence (James 1:17); but THIS darkness was also such a symbol, because God was the only possible source of it.
No man could have gone home that night and said, “I saw the whole thing.”
That darkness also marked the summary end of the sabbath day. Amos 8:9; Isaiah 13:10; Jeremiah 15:9 and Micah 3:6 are Old Testament Scriptures bearing on this significant truth.
That was the day the sun “went down at noon, and the earth was darkened in a clear sky,” as Amos prophesied.
That termination also extended to the dispensation of the prophets and the entire religious economy of the Jews.