Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is,
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
And some of them that stood there, when they heard it, said, This man calleth Elijah.
And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
And the rest said, Let be; let us see whether Elijah cometh to save him. And Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom;
and the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent;
and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep were raised; and coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered into the holy city and appeared unto many.Matthew 27:45-53 ASV
The Seven Miracles at Calvary
2. The Darkness
3. The Ripping Of The Veil
4. Resurrection of Saints
5. Undisturbed Grave Clothes
6. Opening Of The Graves Of The Righteous
7. The Earthquake
From noon until three o’clock in the afternoon; there was darkness everywhere. It was not mere eclipse, lasting far too long for that; it was not a dust storm, mist or fog; Luke added the words that the “sun’s light failed.”
The gospels, therefore, clearly intended this wonder to be viewed as altogether supernatural (see more on this under Matthew 27:51).
The inconsistency in supposing that Elijah’s Lord would call upon him for aid only indicates the utter failure of the Pharisees to see in Christ the true Son of God.
They were aware, of course, of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God (see Matthew 27:40,43), but they rejected it out of hand.
Incidentally, their quotation of Jesus’ claim, as witnessed in Matthew 27:40 and Matthew 27:43, shows conclusively that Christ made that claim in its highest, that is, its supernatural sense.
The “Son of God,” as Jesus claimed to be, was thought by the Pharisees to be capable of coming down from the cross, and in that they were right.
On Christ’s receiving the vinegar, see under Matthew 27:34. In this instance it must be viewed as an act of mercy, prompted by his saying, “I thirst.”
All this talk of Elijah sprang from Pharisaical prejudice and the propaganda they had waged, alleging that Jesus could not be the Christ “because Elijah had not yet come.”
Theirs was a misinterpretation of the prophecy that “Elijah must first come.” Christ had already identified John the Baptist as that Elijah which was to come – the Elijah foretold by the prophecies.
Doubtless the Pharisees were still harping on their old argument to the effect that Christ could not be the Messiah (see Matthew 17:10-13).
Matthew stressed the fact that Jesus submitted to death by personal surrender, as an act of his own volition, and well ahead of the time it could have been naturally expected.
The words, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” are given by Luke; Matthew gave scant attention to the “seven utterances.”
The time of the Master’s death was three o’clock in the afternoon on the day of preparation for the Passover, making it occur on the afternoon, before sunset, when the actual Passover legally began.
Matthew 27:51-53 relate to the Six Wonders of Calvary which received considerable attention in Matthew’s gospel and which are of such surpassing interest that a special study of them is here included.
THE PHENOMENA ATTENDING THE CRUCIFIXION AND RESURRECTION
There are actually seven Calvary miracles, the greatest and most wonderful, of course, being the resurrection of Christ.
Attending that prime wonder of all ages were six others, truly wonderful in themselves, and designed to support and confirm the greater miracle they attended.
The Three Hours of Darkness
The Ripping of the Curtain (Veil)
The Opening of the Graves
The Undisturbed Grave Clothes
The Resurrection of the Saints
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.
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. Tertullian said:
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 that quotation, 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.
Only the true God and Creator of the universe could step forth and lay his hand upon the established routine of the natural creation and bring to pass such a darkness as that which enveloped the world during three full hours of the crucifixion.
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.
The Ripping of the Curtain of the Temple
The miracle in this instance, other than its timing which is a feature of all these wonders, was that a veil untouched by human hands should have fallen into two equal pieces, in a progressive rending from top to bottom, the force which parted it coming, not from beneath as if violent hands had been laid upon it, but from above as though some unseen hand had passed down the center of it.
It is from this group of eyewitnesses to that remarkable wonder that we may suppose is the explanation of why such a large “company of the priests believed” (Acts 6:7), being later converted to Christ.
One may only imagine the fear and awe which attended the rending of that veil, witnessed by so many priests, busy with their lanterns, apprehensive of the enveloping darkness, and eventually associating the event with the final cry of Christ as he perished on the cross.
How strong a proof of the gospel narratives is the statement of the rending of the veil.
The evangelists were bold to publish their accounts in the midst of the Jews, and under the very eyes of the priests.
Were they ever contradicted?
How it would have been caught at and used by those acute and watchful infidels, Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian! But no!
The enemies of Jesus were silenced. They could not say that never before had they heard of it.
The simple statement of the evangelists proves itself. It is the true story of the veil’s destruction.
The meaning of the veil and its tearing is extensive:
(2) The ancient worshiper (in the person of the high priest) went through the veil to the Holy of Holies; the present-day worship has access through Christ into heaven (Hebrews 10:19).
(3) It symbolizes his death on Calvary. As the veil was rent, Christ’s body was torn for the sins of the whole world.
(4) The tearing also means the removal of obstructions between the worshiper and his God. No longer is there a veil. When some ecclesiastic would seek to put it upon again and hide himself behind it to hear confession or grant absolution, tear it down and trample upon it.
(5) The torn veil means that the Old Testament can now be understood in the light of the New. Out of Christ, the Old Testament is a mystery; in him it is gloriously understood (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).
(6) The rending meant that Christ has conquered death, the fear of it now, the fact of it ultimately (Isaiah 25:7,8).
Squarely between the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies, it corresponds to death which lies between the church and heaven; and all who enter heaven shall pass through the veil of death, or be “changed” which is equivalent to it.
Where is death’s sting?
Where, grave, thy victory?
Where all the pain?
Now that thy King the veil that hung o’er thee Hath rent in twain?
Light of the World, we hear thee bid us come To light and love in thine eternal home!
(7) The torn veil abolished the office of the earthly high priest. The line of demarcation between lesser priests and the high priest was removed by God’s hand.
All functions held and performed by earthly high priests, for a season, have now been taken over by the true high priest, Christ (Hebrews 9:11).
All Christians are “priests” (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:10)
Since the only true high priest is in heaven, and all God’s children are now priests, every human being who moves into a position between one of the Lord’s children (priests) and tries to be something of a higher priest to grant absolution or perform other mediatorial functions is merely trying to patch up that old veil.
But God has torn it down. Let no man, therefore, hide behind a veil to hear another’s confession, to pass sentence, demand penance, make intercession, grant absolution, or to perform any service whatsoever.
The veil has been torn in two. Do not let it come back. Take it away forever. Let it come no more between the face of the redeemed and that of the Redeemer.
The access assured to the sons of God is not subject to human permission and does not derive from human authority, but is from God.
And the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent.
Why was this earthquake a miracle, seeing that earthquakes are ordinary events?
First, even the most ordinary of earthquakes would in this case, due to its timing, have been strongly suggestive of the supernatural; but this was far more and utterly different from any ordinary earthquake.
The peculiar violence of the quake was sufficient in the vicinity of Calvary to rend the rocks, yet the great buildings of Jerusalem, not more than a mile away, were left undisturbed.
Insinuations of skeptics and even some commentators that no earthquake occurred are dissolved in the plain light of the New Testament words that “the earth did quake” (Matthew 27:52) and that the people who witnessed it “feared exceedingly” (Matthew 27:54).
There is a historical occurrence of just this type of earthquake within very recent times, Three-quarters of a mile northeast of the village of Novice, Texas, during the 1950’s, a violent earthquake took place in the center of a cornfield at three o’clock in the morning, while the village was asleep.
A family friend was living there at the time, and we have seen the devastation wrought by that earthquake in which several hundred thousand tons of rocks, some of them ten feet in thickness, were rent and cast up from the earth in a very grotesque geological disturbance covering many acres in the heart of that field.
Seismometry teams from a number of universities and colleges examined it and diagnosed it as an earthquake, having a very high epicenter, with the focus only a couple of hundred feet beneath.
The strange story of that little earthquake received widespread newspaper coverage throughout the United States, especially in scientific journals; and there are many pictures of it, some of which were made by this writer, and which show the corn rows leading directly into it.
As a matter of comparison, none of the houses in Novice was damaged by that violent little earthquake so near to it, although the shock was sufficient to rouse people from their slumbers for many miles in all directions.
In the light of this, how unpardonable is the question of Plummer, “We seem to have here a tradition with a legendary element in it.
If this extraordinary earthquake was of the type described above, its miraculous element would consist of its extreme rarity and timing; but there is the strongest evidence that it was far more than that. Again from Nicholson:
Now we say that this earthquake was not only supernatural, but non-natural as well that is, miraculous.
It was supernatural in that it was an interference of God, and non-natural, in that it was not the result of any of the natural causes of earthquakes, or any combination of them.
Note that the earthquake did not disturb the cross, that it discriminated among the graves of Calvary, opening those of the righteous but not the others; and, from these considerations, one would be hard pressed indeed to explain it as an ordinary earthquake, however timed!
The meaning of the earthquake does not lie solely in the opening of the grave but bears an independent testimony of its own. It was Calvary answering to Sinai.
There was a great earthquake at Sinai (Exodus 19:18) when the Law was given; and that Law, so long associated with sin and death (Romans 8:2), was being removed and replaced by the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus.
Also, there was prefigured and symbolized the earth-shaking consequences of Christ’s redemptive death and the gospel which would be preached and which was destined to shatter ancient empires and destroy the power of the devil himself (Hebrews 2:14).
THE OPENING OF THE GRAVES OF THE RIGHTEOUS
The implication that only the graves of the righteous were opened comes from the immediate connection with what followed, the resurrection of the saints.
At first it seems those two events occurred simultaneously; but the next verse notes that it was “after his resurrection” that they actually came out of their graves and appeared in the city, thus the mention of the saints in Matthew 27:52 is for the purpose of revealing which graves were opened.
This, of course, is a great miracle of discrimination.
Incredulous scholars have sought in vain for evidence of an interpolation here, but none exists.
There is no textual evidence that the passage is an interpolation.
Accepting the amazing fact recorded here by Matthew, one naturally turns to a consideration of its meaning:
(1) It means that God knows the location of every grave where his redeemed ones are at rest. Matthew’s use of “sleep” for “death” suggests that death is a sleep only for the righteous:
(2) It means that all the dead shall eventually rise from the tomb; and, although this resurrection was but a few compared to the numberless millions of the dead, it is a pledge of much more wonderful things to come when “all that are in their tombs” shall come forth (John 5:28).
(3) The resurrection of the “bodies of the saints” indicates a bodily resurrection for all.
The opened graves had to be left open over Passover, since it would have been unlawful for anyone to have filled a grave during that holy week; it would have been unlawful even to touch one.
While the graves were exposed for three days and nights, a period was provided during which the identity of the graves as belonging to “the righteous” could have been made and verified.
No record is left of the awe and wonder that doubtless accompanied the events connected with so strange and supernatural a phenomenon.
THE UNDISTURBED GRAVE CLOTHES
Matthew made a very slight reference to the PLACE where the Lord lay (Matthew 28:6), but John gave a full account of this miracle, as follows:
“Simon Peter therefore also cometh, following him, and entered into the tomb; and he beheld the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, that was upon his head, not lying with the linen cloths; but rolled up in a place by itself.
Then entered in therefore the other disciple also, who came first to the tomb, and he saw, and believed.
For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.”John 20:6-8
Matthew’s words attributed to the angel, “Behold the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:6), have meaning only in the light of what was there.
Thus it may be said that Matthew recorded all of the Seven Wonders.
Precisely what was the wonder here?
It was the FORM of the grave clothes as they remained after our Lord’s resurrection.
Even the napkin, uncollapsed, appeared appropriately where his head had been. Thus Jesus rose “through his clothes” just as he rose through the tomb.
The angel did not roll away the stone to let the Lord out but to let the witnesses in! The tomb remained as it was, and so did his grave garments.
These deductions are mandatory in view of the fact that John devoted no less than ten verses to a description of this wonder, and to the fact that it was upon that evidence that John was said to have BELIEVED!
They came out of their graves horizontally; Jesus “rose” from his. Whereas their graves had to be opened, Christ’s did not, except to provide access for the witnesses.
They were subject to death a second time, as was Lazarus, presumably, whereas Christ rose from the dead never to die again.
They revived and came out; CHRIST AROSE!
THE RESURRECTION OF THE SAINTS
Emil Von Ludwig’s blasphemous biography of Christ, The Son of Man, contains a vigorous denial that any such thing as this could have taken place, based entirely upon the paucity of reference to it in the gospel narratives.
Only Matthew recorded it.
In the summary below, it will be further emphasized that so little reference to these wonders was a natural consequence of the greater wonder of the resurrection of Christ in which they were swallowed up and overshadowed.
By the suffrages of universal scholarship – and in some instances reluctant suffrages – these words are not an interpolation, but a part of the genuine words of the Bible.
And if there be in all the world a document more absolutely historical than the Bible, it is yet to be discovered.
There are eight resurrections recorded in Scripture, besides the resurrection of Christ which is uniquely different.
The other seven are:
(1) son of the widow of Sarepta (1 Kings 17);
(2) son of the Shunamite (2 Kings 4);
(3) the man raised by the bones of Elijah (2 Kings 13);
(4) daughter of Jairus (Matthew 9);
(5) son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7);
(6) Lazarus (John 11); and
(7) Dorcas (Acts 9:41).
One might also include Eutychus (Acts 20:9).
The resurrection of the saints (above) would thus make nine in all, besides that of Christ.
The meaning of this amazing event is:
(1) that Christ is the true Redeemer and Lord of all men;
(2) as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).
(3) Christ has the keys of death and of the grave (Revelation 1:18);
(4) Christ’s work on the cross was the center and climax of his saving mission to man.
The reticence of the holy writers in giving so little space to this resurrection is a warning against prying into secrets that are not revealed.
All questions relative to how those risen saints were recognized, what they did, what they ate, what became of them afterwards, etc., remain unanswered from the sacred page; and no expositor should intrude where the inspired evangelists have purposefully covered with silence those facts which, however they might stimulate or satisfy man’s curiosity, could not possibly add to the knowledge which is necessary to the salvation of the soul.
The seven miracles, the six treated here and the greater one, Christ’s resurrection, are actually one, knit together in absolute unity: That they comprise the number seven, a sacred or perfect number in the thinking of the Hebrews, is of deep interest.
The honeycomb, the snowflake, the carbon and other crystals, all exhibit this “footprint” of the Eternal.
Appropriately, therefore, these miracles arrange themselves in this strange universal pattern, two from above, two from beneath, and two from the surface of the earth, to form one perfect support for the greater miracle they surround, identify, support, and confirm.
As for the cavil that very little emphasis is placed upon them in the New Testament, it is a positive fact such is in keeping with human nature and common practice to this very day.
For example, how many men, even in the most intellectual circles, know anything about Lhotse, Makalu, South Col, Nuptse, Changtse, Baruntse, and Cho Polu?
Those are only THE HIGHEST MOUNTAINS ON EARTH, except Mount Everest.
Why have so few people ever heard of those great mountains, none of which is less than 21,000 feet high, and some of which are 27,000 feet in altitude?
They are overshadowed and minimized by the greater Mount Everest which towers above them and of which they are merely the adjacent and supporting peaks.
Similarly, those mighty “Foothills of Calvary” which we have noted here are overshadowed and cast into the background by the far greater wonder of that highest peak of all, the resurrection of Christ.
Viewed as separate wonders, each one of them is of surpassing magnitude and interest; yet in the glorious context where they lie embedded in that greater wonder, they are often overlooked.
1. Christ’s resurrection
2. The darkness
3. The ripping of the veil
4. Resurrection of saints
5. Undisturbed grave clothes
6. Opening of the graves of the righteous
7. The earthquake