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A Closer Look at the Cross: Sorrow, Celebration, and Self-examination

21 Apr

God: Creator and Sustainer of All Things God: Creator and Sustainer of All  Things - Church of the Messiah

A closer look into the miracles that occurred at the cross.

God Is the Creator of the Universe

(Psalms 33:6 NIV) “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.”

 (Psalms 102:25 NIV) “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.”

(Hebrews 11:3 NIV) “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

As Creator, God Sometimes Used the Natural World to Accomplish His Will

Old Testament Examples – Localized Events

  • Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by fire and brimstone (Gen. 19:15-29)
  • Egypt inflicted with plagues because people of Israel retained (Exodus 7:8-12:36)
  • Earthquake consumes families and households of 250 wicked men of Israel; men consumed by fire from heaven (Num. 16:31-34)
  1. Old Testament Examples – Worldwide events

The earth flooded by water (Exo. 7:9-8:2)

The rainbow placed in the sky (Gen. 9:13-17)

The sun stands still “about a whole day” (Joshua 10:12-15)

Testament Examples – Localized Events

The Storm Stilled on Sea of Galilee by Jesus (Luke 8:22-25; Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41)

An Earthquake Opens Prison Doors for Paul and Silas (Acts 16:19-40)

An Earthquake Occurs and Rocks Split Open at Jesus’ Death (Matthew 27:51)

The Curtain of the Temple Torn in Half at Jesus’ Death (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45)

New Testament Examples – Worldwide Events

The Wise Men See a Star Appear in the East at the Birth of Jesus, Guides Them to the House Where Jesus Was (Matthew 2: 1-12)

The Three Unusual Hours of Darkness Before the Death of Jesus (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44).

Matt. 27:45-50; Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30

Mk 15:33 [MK 15:]33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.

Lk 23:45 [LK 23:]45For the sun stopped shining.

Mk 15:34-35 [MK 15:]34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”NIV-12-14

35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

Between noon and 3 p.m. darkness covers Judea. This is the first of three phenomena that accompany Jesus’ death. It is a supernatural sign of judgment (cf. Amos 8:9-10) which cannot adequately be explained naturalistically. For example, an eclipse doesn’t last for three hours nor does it occur during the full moon of Passover. A sirocco (a desert windstorm) would hardly cover the land in complete darkness as if “the sun stopped shining.”12-65 No, the hand of God shrouded the land.

After only six hours on the cross, Jesus dies. He cries out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi…”12-66 This fourth saying from the cross is perhaps the most theologically significant and perhaps too deep for us to fully appreciate. But it seems to point in at least two directions. First, Jesus is calling us back to Psalm 22:1 by quoting it verbatim. This passage is an incredibly clear prediction of Jesus’ crucifixion. It serves as a poignant reminder that this is God’s plan and it is still under his control no matter what it looks like on the surface. What is most striking about this Psalm, however, is that it was written about 1000 b.c., a full 600 years before crucifixion was in vogue. We are also impressed that the Psalm of the Good Shepherd (Ps 23) is prefaced by the Psalm of God’s Sacrificial Lamb (Ps 22).

Secondly, Jesus is not merely quoting Psalm 22:1; he is describing his present and insufferable separation from his Heavenly Father. From eternity past, Jesus has never known what it was like to be alienated from God’s presence. While we want to studiously avoid the error of the Gnostics and docetics who believed that Jesus ceased to be God in this moment, we do affirm that the Father, at some level, turns his back on Jesus as he becomes the embodiment of sin (2 Cor 5:21; cf. Rom 3:26; Gal 3:13). Jesus is forsaken by God, that is, he is abandoned, left without God’s resources or intervention, to suffer and die alone.12-67 But this word pops up again in Acts 2:27, 31 to describe how God did NOT abandon Jesus in the grave. God’s abandonment may be harsh, but it is only temporary. Even Psalm 22 ends with a note of victory. After all, behind the cross is an empty tomb.

Jn 19:28 with Mt 27:48; Mk 15:36 28Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29A jar of wine vinegar was there, so [immediatelyMT] they [one manMK] soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.

Mt 27:49 with Mk 15:36 49The rest said [he said,MK] “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.”

Jn 19:30 30When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

 Lk 23:46 with Jn 19:30 46[With that, heJN] called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this he breathed his last, [bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.JN]

John interprets Jesus’ fifth statement from the cross as a prophetic fulfillment, probably alluding to Psalm 69:21. Jesus asks for a drink and one of the men standing there responds immediately. He is likely a soldier who dips a sponge into his own stash. This wine vinegar is a poor-man’s brew. It is a bit sour but a great thirst quencher. This time they apparently don’t mix it with myrrh. He puts the sponge on a stick and lifts it to Jesus’ lips before anyone really knew what was happening.12-68 The crowd says, “Hey, leave him alone. We want to see if Elijah is going to come and save him.” Because they misheard “Eloi” for “Elijah” this provides one last opportunity to mock Jesus. Since Elijah never actually died, the Jews expected him to return literally as a precursor to the Messiah based on Malachi 4:5. Now that Jesus is “praying to Elijah” this would provide one last point of ridicule.

Their derision is cut short. As soon as Jesus receives the drink he said, “It is finished” and then shouted, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” With that he takes one last breath, bows his head and releases his spirit. But what exactly was finished? His life? NO!… Easter’s on its way! His work on earth was done (Heb 9:26; 10:12-14). The perfect verb tense highlights the total completion of his task. He had accomplished what he had come here to do (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45). In addition, some have speculated that Jesus is again alluding to Psalm 22, this time to the very last line, where God completes his task.

Even with his last breath he was alluding to Scripture. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” is likely taken from Psalm 31:5. Liefeld says that it was part of the Jews’ evening prayer (p. 1045). In turning to the Psalm itself, there is much there that would be relevant to Jesus at this very moment:

Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth. I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends—those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord (Ps 31:2, 4-5, 7, 11-14, 22, 24).

Some years ago as I was driving to a meeting on what is called Good Friday morning, I heard a radio program on which the speaker was making an attempt to acknowledge it as a very special day. It was a day he said, when a certain man was prosecuted for crimes he did not commit and, although innocent, was sentenced to death. The speaker was of course talking about the crucifixion of Christ. He commented on the inspiration of that special Person and of all others like Him who stand unflinchingly for what they believe in, disregarding the consequences.

But as well-meaning as that speaker may have been, he utterly missed the true significance of Jesus’ death. Like most people in Western society, he knew many of the bare facts of the crucifixion but had no grasp of its meaning apart from the obvious travesty of human justice. And from what was said on that program, Jesus’ resurrection was considered to be more myth and legend than history. No divine purpose, activity, or accomplishment were so much as hinted at.

As noted in a previous chapter, by the time of Christ the Romans had crucified some 30,000 men in Palestine alone. It seems probable that some of whose men were also innocent of the charges against them. The majority of them were executed for insurrection and doubtlessly were sincere patriots who hoped to free their people from oppression. They died nobly for a cause they believed in. Why, then, we may ask, does history remember the name of only one of those men?

The answer is clear almost from the opening words of Scripture. The sin of Adam and Eve not only caused their own fall and that of all their descendants but also brought corruption of the entire earth. It was for that reason Paul declared that the physical world groans like a woman in childbirth, longing to be restored to its God-designed perfection (Rom. 8:19-22).

Immediately after the Fall, God gave the first veiled promise of deliverance from the sin that had cursed mankind and the rest of the world. He told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Gen. 3:15). Because men, not women, carry the seed of procreation, the seed of Eve was a prediction of the virgin birth of Christ, who would have no human father and who would be bruised temporarily “on the heel” by Satan but would bruise Satan permanently “on the head.”

When God provided the ram as a substitute for Isaac, whom He had ordered his father, Abraham, to sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-14), He provided a beautiful picture of the sacrificial offering of His own Son, Jesus Christ—except that for Him no substitute was or could be provided. And through the animal sacrifices prescribed in the law of Moses, God portrayed to His people the necessity of shedding blood for the remission of sin. But the blood of those animals had no power to remove the slightest sin, and the sacrifices had to be repeated continuously throughout the history of Israel. Yet imperfect as they were, they nevertheless pictured the true, sufficient, and once-for-all sacrifice for sins that Christ’s blood shed on the cross would provide. Only one of the 30,000 crucified died for the sins of the world!

Isaiah graphically predicted that the coming Messiah would be “pierced through for our transgressions,… crushed for our iniquities,” carrying in His own body the sins of all fallen mankind (Isa. 53:5). Zechariah predicted that one day God’s chosen people will turn as a nation to the One whom they had pierced, “and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son,’ (Zech. 12:10).

In the New Testament Paul explains that on the cross Christ was made a curse for us who deserve to be cursed (Gal. 3:13). Peter declares that He “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Heb. 9:28), and John speaks of Christ as the supreme sacrificial “Lamb who has been slain,’ (Rev. 13:8).

But nowhere in Scripture is the meaning of the cross delineated more powerfully than in Matthew 27:45-53, which records six miracles that form Almighty God’s own commentary on the meaning of the cross.

While Christ hung on the cross, some miraculous events happened – events which demonstrated perfectly that the cross was a triumph, not a tragedy. The cross was the Messiah’s great triumph!

As we have been reading the story of the Crucifixion, everything seems to have been happening very quickly; but in reality the hours were slipping past.  It is Mark who is most precise in his note of time.  He tells us that Jesus was crucified at the third hour, that is at nine o’clock in the morning (Mark 15:25), and that he died at the ninth hour, that is at three o’clock in the afternoon (Mark 15:34).  That is to say, Jesus hung on the Cross for six hours.  For him the agony was mercifully brief, for it often happened that criminals hung upon their crosses for days before death came to them.

In verse 46 we have what must be the most staggering sentence in the gospel record, the cry of Jesus:  “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  That is a saying before which we must bow in reverence, and yet at the same time we must try to understand.  There have been many attempts to penetrate behind its mystery; we can look only at three.

(i)  It is strange how Psalm 22 runs through the whole Crucifixion narrative; and this saying is actually the first verse of that Psalm.  Later on it says, “All who seek me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; ‘He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!'” (Psalm 22:7, 8).  Still further on we read:  “They divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18).  Psalm 22 is interwoven with the whole Crucifixion story.

It has been suggested that Jesus was, in fact, repeating that Psalm to himself; and, though it begins in complete dejection, it ends in soaring triumph-“From thee comes my praise in the great congregation . . . .  For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:25-31).  So it is suggested that Jesus was repeating Psalm 22 on the Cross, as a picture of his own situation, and as a song of his trust and confidence, well knowing that it began in the depths, but that it finished on the heights.

It is an attractive suggestion; but on a cross a man does not repeat poetry to himself, even the poetry of a psalm; and besides that, the whole atmosphere is one of unrelieved tragedy.

(ii)  It is suggested that in that moment the weight of the world’s sin fell upon the heart and the being of Jesus; that that was the moment when he who knew no sin was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21); and that the penalty which he bore for us was the inevitable separation from God which sin brings.  No man may say that that is not true; but, if it is, it is a mystery which we can only state and at which we can only wonder.

(iii)  It may be that there is something-if we may put it so-more human here.  It seems to me that Jesus would not be Jesus unless he had plumbed the uttermost depths of human experience.  In human experience, as life goes on and as bitter tragedy enters into it, there come times when we feel that God has forgotten us; when we are immersed in a situation beyond our understanding and feel bereft even of God.  It seems to me that that is what happened to Jesus here.  We have seen in the garden that Jesus knew only that he had to go on, because to go on was God’s will, and he must accept what even he could not fully understand.  Here we see Jesus plumbing the uttermost depths of the human situation, so that there might be no place that we might go where he has not been before.

Those who listened did not understand.  Some thought he was calling on Elijah; they must have been Jews.  One of the great gods of the pagans was the sun-Helios.  A cry to the sun god would have begun “Helie!” and it has been suggested that the soldiers may have thought that Jesus was crying to the greatest of the pagan gods.  In any event, his cry was to the watchers a mystery.

But here is the point.  It would have been a terrible thing if Jesus had died with a cry like that upon his lips-but he did not.  The narrative goes on to tell us that, when he shouted with a great shout, he gave up his spirit.  That great shout left its mark upon men’s minds.  It is in every one of the gospels (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46).  But there is one gospel which goes further.  John tells us that Jesus died with a shout:  “It is finished” (John 19:30).  It is finished is in English three words; but in Greek it is one-Tetelestai-as it would also be in Aramaic.  And tetelestai is the victor’s shout; it is the cry of the man who has completed his task; it is the cry of the man who has won through the struggle; it is the cry of the man who has come out of the dark into the glory of the light, and who has grasped the crown.  So, then, Jesus died a victor with a shout of triumph on his lips.

Here is the precious thing.  Jesus passed through the uttermost abyss, and then the light broke.  If we too cling to God, even when there seems to be no God, desperately and invincibly clutching the remnants of our faith, quite certainly the dawn will break and we will win through.  The victor is the man who refuses to believe that God has forgotten him, even when every fibre of his being feels that he is forsaken.  The victor is the man who will never let go his faith, even when he feels that its last grounds are gone.  The victor is the man who has been beaten to the depths and still holds on to God, for that is what Jesus did.

Eight events show this clearly.

  1. The terrifying darkness (v.45).
  2. The mysterious, loud cry (v.46-49).
  3. The great shout of triumph and the yielding up of Jesus’ spirit (v.50).
  4. The great veil of the temple torn: from top to bottom (v.51).
  5. The terrifying earthquake (v.51).
  6. The resurrection of many saints (v.52-53).
  7. The confession of the centurion and others (v.54).
  8. The courage and love of the women (v.55-56).

27:45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.NRSV Jesus had been put on the cross at nine o’clock in the morning. Death by crucifixion was slow and excruciating, sometimes taking two or three days. Three hours passed while Jesus put up with abuse from bystanders. Then, at noon, darkness settled over the land for three hours. We do not know how this darkness occurred, but it is clear that God caused it (Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention this). Some have suggested an eclipse occurred, but Passover was held at a full moon, a time when an eclipse is not possible. Along with the earthquake in 27:51, it could have been a natural event with supernatural timing.

Nature testified to the gravity of Jesus’ death, while Jesus’ friends and enemies alike fell silent in the encircling gloom. The darkness on that Friday afternoon was both physical and spiritual. All nature seemed to mourn over the stark tragedy of the death of God’s Son. Some see a fulfillment of Amos 8:9, where the darkness was a sign of God’s judgment: “‘In that day,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight'” (niv). See also Exodus 10:21-22.

(27:45) Jesus Christ, Death—Earth, Darkness: the terrifying darkness. A supernatural darkness hung over the land from the sixth to the ninth hour, or according to our time from noon to 3 p.m.

Think for a moment. Just imagine…

Who it was hanging on the cross…

God’s only Son, the Sovereign Lord of all beings, both visible and invisible (cp. Col. 1:16).

The great architect and creator of the whole universe, of all nature.

 

What He was doing there on the cross…

Bearing the sins of all men.

Bearing the judgment and wrath of God against sin for all men.

Dying the death of man for all men.

Doing all that was necessary to free men from sin, death, and judgment so that they might live forever.

What the depth of God’s plan is…

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

When the facts are really meditated upon, is there any wonder that all things, including nature itself, were drastically affected by the death of God’s Son? The darkness demonstrated and symbolized several things.

  1. The darkness demonstrated that Christ was definitely God’s Son. Before Him all mouths are to be stopped in fear and reverence. There is no doubt that fear and wonder stopped the mocking mouths of the crowd standing around the cross. There is no mention of jeering taking place during these hours. The crowd was stricken with a sense of terror, wondering just what was happening (Matthew 27:54).

            “And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy” (Mark 14:33).

            “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16-18).

            “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11).

  1. The darkness symbolized the darkest day of human history. This was the day when the Son of God Himself was being put to death for the sins of men.

            “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

            “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

  1. The darkness symbolized the darkness of sin: sin which demands darkness to carry on its acts.

“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:19-21). Sin which leads to the most terrible darkness of all—death.

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

  1. The darkness symbolized the darkness of the human soul and its works. The darkness of the human soul was now being borne by the Son of God—all for man.

            “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).

            “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)….But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephes. 2:1-5, 13).

            “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people” (Psalm 22:6).

  1. The darkness symbolized the withdrawal of the light of God’s presence from the sinner. Christ hung upon the cross as the sinner—all for us—the sinner who was becoming sin for us.

            “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

            “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

  1. The darkness symbolized the anger of God at sin. Sin and the sinner deserve nothing but the judgment of darkness. Sin deserves no light from God’s presence, none whatsoever.

            “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).

            “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

            “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).

When Jesus was born, the night sky around Bethlehem was filled with  supernatural light as “the glory of the Lord shone around” the shepherds in the  field (Luke 2:9). John spoke of Jesus as “the light of men,’ and “the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man,’ (John 1:4, 9). Jesus spoke  of Himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12; cf. 12:35-36).

But the first miraculous sign that accompanied Jesus’ death was not glorious  light but dread darkness. From the sixth hour (noon), when the sun is at its zenith, supernatural darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour (3:00 P.M.). Jesus’ crucifixion had begun at the third hour, or 9:00 A.M. (Mark 15:25), and when the darkness began He had been on the cross for three hours.

During those first three hours, the silence was broken by Jesus only three times. The first was by His saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34), and a short while later He said to the penitent thief beside Him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (23:43). Shortly after that He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” and to John, “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26-27).

At the beginning of the second three hours the great darkness fell upon all the land. The Greek  (land) can also be translated earth, indicating the entire world. It is therefore not possible from the text to determine how widespread the darkness was. God was equally able, of course, to make the darkness local or universal. Shortly before the Exodus, He caused a great darkness to cover the land of Egypt (Ex. 10:14-15), and some forty years later He caused the sun to “stand still,” probably by temporarily stopping the rotation of the earth (Josh. 10:12-13; cf. 2 Kings 20:9-11).

Several interesting reports in extrabiblical literature suggest that the darkness at Jesus’ crucifixion was worldwide. The early church Father Origen (Against Celsus, 2.33) reported a statement by a Roman historian who mentioned such a darkness. Another church Father, Tertullian, wrote to some pagan acquaintances about an unusual darkness on that day, “which wonder is related in your own annals and preserved in your own archives to this day” There was also a supposed report from Pilate to Emperor Tiberius that assumed the emperor’s knowledge of a certain widespread darkness, even mentioning that it was from twelve to three in the afternoon.

To describe this darkness Luke used the word, which has the literal meaning of failing, or ceasing to exist, and is the term from which eclipse is derived. But a normal astronomical eclipse would have been impossible during the crucifixion, because the sun and moon were far apart on that day. Regardless of its extent, therefore, the darkening of the sun was by the supernatural intervention of God. During that three-hour period, Luke explains, the sun was obscured (23:45).

The purpose for the darkness is not explained in the gospels or elsewhere in Scripture, but according to the Babylonian Talmud many rabbis had long taught that darkening of the sun was a judgment of God on the world for an unusually heinous sin. If, indeed, that was God’s intention at the crucifixion, He presented a gigantic object lesson to the world regarding the greatest sin ever committed by fallen mankind.

Some interpreters have suggested the darkness was a means of God’s casting a great veil over the sufferings of Christ, and others that it was an act of divine fatherly sympathy given to cover the nakedness and dishonoring of His Son.

But in light of many scriptural teachings and events, it would seem that the crucifixion darkness was indeed a mark of divine judgment. In speaking of Assyria’s being used by God to punish Israel, Isaiah spoke of “darkness and distress” that would cover the land, when “even the light is darkened by its clouds” (Isa. 5:30). In describing the day of the Lord, the same prophet declared that “the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light” and that “the sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will not shed its light. Thus I will punish the world for its evil,” God said, “and the wicked for their iniquity” (13:10-11).

Also speaking of the day of the Lord, the prophet Joel wrote of “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Joel 2:2). Amos asked rhetorically, “Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:20). Zephaniah wrote, “Listen, the day of the Lord! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Zeph. 1:14-15).

In those Old Testament passages and many others the judgment of God is directly associated with darkness, and similar association is found in the New Testament. Peter declares that God cast the rebellious angels “into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment” (2 Pet. 2:4). In much the same words, Jude speaks of those angels being “kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). Jesus Himself frequently spoke of divine judgment in terms of “outer darkness,” where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).

The cross was a place of immense divine judgment, where the sins of the world were poured out vicariously on the sinless, perfect Son. It was therefore appropriate that great supernatural darkness express God’s reaction to sin in that act of judgment.

(Matthew 27:45 NIV) “From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.”

Its Cause–The Sun’s Light Failed (Luke 23:44).

  1. Not a lunar eclipse – Jewish Passover occurred during a full moon – a time when the moon would be ton the opposite side of the earth from the sun
  2. Roman astrologer Phlegon wrote that in the 14th year of Tiberius occurred “the greatest eclipse of the sun that was ever known…for the day was so turned into night that the stars appeared.”

Its Effects – like the three-day darkness on Egypt (Ex. 10:21-23)

(Exodus 10:21-23 NIV) “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt–darkness that can be felt.” {22} So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. {23} No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.”

A darkness that could be felt (vs. 21)

A thick darkness (vs. 22)

A darkness in which no one could be seen (vs. 23)

A darkness in which no one moved (vs. 23)

Its Scope  — Covered the entire world (Luke 23:44; Amos 8:9)

(Amos 8:9 NIV) “”In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”

(Luke 23:44 NIV) “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour,”

Context of the Lesson

God used the three hours of darkness at Calvary to accomplish His will

  1. The Events of the Darkness — It Was a Time of Sorrow
  2. For God the Father

God’s only begotten son (John 3:16) hung on the cross with the sins of the world on his being (I Corinthians 15:3). Jesus’ earthly body bore the marks and bruises that resulted from the Roman soldiers beating and scourging him (Matthew 27:26-31); John 19:1-3; Mark 14:65; 15:16-20). The flesh of his nail-pierced hands (John 20:20, 25,27) tore and bled from the weight of his own body as he hung on the cross.

The tragic sight of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross was more than even God himself wished to witness. The crucifixion scene, and the whole world along with it, were enclosed in unfathomable darkness for three long hours as God sorrowed and mourned the loss of his only Son.

 For Jesus the Son.

From the time of his arrest until his death, Jesus still concerned himself with those people closest to him. At the time of his arrest, he asked that his apostles be allowed to go free (John 18:8). They then forsook him and fled (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50). As he was being taken to Golgatha, Jesus turned to the women accompanying the multitudes and told them not to weep for him (Luke 23:27-31). As he hung on the cross, he had compassion for one of the robbers that was crucified with him (Luke 23:39-43) and made provision for the future care of his mother (John 19:26-27).

Then, after asking His heavenly father to forgive those who had crucified him (Luke 23:34), Jesus himself endured those three long hours of darkness. He felt alone, even to the point of being deserted by His own father (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34; Psalm 22:1). But even then, he sorrowed not for himself, but for the sins of the world he suffered and died to overcome.

  1. For Satan and his Angels

The Prince of Darkness had long sought to undermine the ministry of Jesus. From the first temptations of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13) until Jesus last temptation on the cross (Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:23), Satan had tried every power in his command to defeat Jesus. Jesus had resisted every temptation (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). Now, at long last, Satan saw victory in his grasp. The prince of light hung dying on the cross. Even the world was darkened, he thought, to allow the forces of darkness to savor their triumph even more. It seemed a great day of evil triumphing over good. A day to rejoice.

It was a Time of self-examination

Every person who had personally come into contact with Jesus or who had learned of Jesus through word of mouth, now had three hours of darkness to examine their words and deeds, their thoughts and actions, their personal relationship with Jesus, their attitude toward him and his ministry. Three long hours in a darkness so thick that no one could be seen or move. A time to reflect on nothing except the cause of the darkness – the dying Son of God.

Everyone had the same time and opportunity – his apostles, his disciples, the Roman soldiers, the multitudes, the two crucified criminals, Pilate and Herod, Barabbas the murderer, the women disciples, the Jewish council; those who loved him and those who hated him; both Jew and Gentile; Pharisee and Sadducee; male and female; slave and free. Three long hours to ponder their words, their deeds, their actions.

God used the three hours of darkness to proclaim to the entire world that the man Jesus hanging on the cross was the true Son of God, the Savior of mankind, the ultimate sacrifice for man’s sins. God used the darkness to bring mankind to the realization that they were lost without Christ.

God Is Still Using Darkness Today to Accomplish His Will.

God allows man to be an independent being. He has the freedom of choice in matters of life. His decisions, and their resulting outcome, are entirely man’s own doing. Man’s decisions often bring him problems, troubles, suffering, pain, and agony – darkness in his life. Each of us have different degrees of darkness to deal with in our lives. As we weave the fabric of our lives, If we could but step back and see the big picture as God can we would see that these dark periods in our lives can actually result in beautiful patterns being formed. The patterns formed are entirely up to us, created by what we do with the darkness that comes Into our lives, how we choose to handle it or let it handle us.

At the cross of Calvary, some of those present allowed the physical darkness to alert them to the spiritual darkness of sin in their lives. They used the darkness for good, and turned from their sins. How are you handling the darkness in your own life?

Sovereign Departure

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying “Eli, Eli,  lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” And immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” (27:46-49)

27:46-47 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.”NRSV Jesus did not ask this question in surprise or despair. He was quoting the first line of Psalm 22. The context of this psalm indicates that this was a prayer of expectation for deliverance, not a cry of abandonment. Nonetheless, the whole psalm is a prophecy expressing the deep agony of the Messiah’s death for the world’s sin. Jesus knew that he would be temporarily separated from God the moment he took upon himself the sins of the world because God cannot look on sin (Habakkuk 1:13). This separation was the “cup” Jesus had dreaded as he prayed in Gethsemane (26:39). The physical agony was horrible, but the spiritual alienation from God was the ultimate torture. Jesus suffered this double death so that we would never have to experience eternal separation from God.

The bystanders misinterpreted Jesus’ words and thought he was calling for Elijah. Because Elijah had ascended into heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:11), a popular belief held that Elijah would return to rescue those suffering from great trouble (Malachi 4:5). He was associated with the final appearance of God’s kingdom. For example, at their annual Passover feast, each Jewish family would set an extra place for Elijah in expectation of his return.

(27:46-49) Jesus Christ, Separated from God: the mysterious, loud cry: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.” This was the great separation, the moment when God forsook Christ, His only Son. What is the meaning of this shocking statement? The very idea that God could and would “forsake” His only Son staggers the human mind. Yet Christ shouted out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The meaning cannot be ventured into lightly. The meaning requires reverence and much prayerful thought. But even then, even after an eternity of prayerful thought, the depth of the meaning remains fathomless and unreachable to man.

Scripture indicates at least the following meanings.

  1. “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus sensed that God had withdrawn His presence from Him. He sensed that God was no longer with Him.
  2. “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus sensed that God had withdrawn His deliverance. Always in the past when Jesus was troubled, God had met His need. For example, God had sent a voice from heaven to assure Him (John 12:27-28); and when He was facing the cup in the garden of Gethsemane, God had even sent an angel to strengthen Him. But now, hanging upon the cross, God had forsaken Him. There was no deliverance from God. He was left all alone.
  3. “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus sensed that He was bearing the curse of God, the curse of separation from God, the curse of the judgment and condemnation of God against sin (cp. Galatians 3:13.
  4. “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus sensed that God’s life and holiness had left Him, that He had been delivered into the hands of the enemies of life and holiness, that is, into the hands of sin and death. He was being made sin and having to die. And both sin and death were foreign to God, alien to God’s nature which is life and holiness. Both sin and death stood as enemies of God and enemies to all that belonged to God.

In becoming sin and in dying, Christ experienced all that was contrary to the nature of God—all that was involved in God separating Himself from sin and death.

Jesus’ cry was prophesied in Psalm 22:1. The reason God had to forsake Jesus is given in Psalm 22:3: “Thou art holy.” Jesus had “become sin” for many (2 Cor. 5:21).

Christ bore sin for man; therefore, He had to bear the penalty due man—the penalty of separation from a perfectly holy God. In all the mystery of His death, Scripture proclaims: “[Jesus] His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree….” (1 Peter 2:24).

Note that some of the crowd misunderstood the words of Jesus’ cry. One had compassion and sought to help Him by giving Him a drink. But others stopped the man and superstitiously mocked by demanding that He be left alone to see if Elijah would come to save Him.

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

 “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).

“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9).

 “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).

“The reproaches of them that reproached thee are fall upon me” (Psalm 69:9).

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

“Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

A second miracle occurred at about the ninth hour, or three o’clock in the  afternoon, through an inexplicable event that might be called sovereign  departure, as somehow God was separated from God.

At that time Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama  sabachthani?” As Matthew explains, the Hebrew Eli (Mark uses the Aramaic  form, “,” 15:34) means, My God, and lama sabachthani means, why hast  Thou forsaken Me?

Because Jesus was quoting the well-known Psalm 22, there could have been  little doubt in the minds of those who were standing there as to what Jesus was  saying. They had been taunting Him with His claim to be God’s Son (v. 43), and an appeal for divine help would have been expected. Their saying, “This man is calling for Elijah,” was not conjecture about what He said but was simply an extension of their cruel, cynical mockery.

In this unique and strange miracle, Jesus was crying out in anguish because of  the separation He now experienced from His heavenly Father for the first and only time in all of eternity. It is the only time of which we have record that Jesus did not address God as Father. Because the Son had taken sin upon Himself, the Father turned His back. That mystery is so great and imponderable that it is not surprising that Martin Luther is said to have gone into seclusion for a long time trying to understand it and came away as confused as when he began. In some  way and by some means, in the secrets of divine sovereignty and omnipotence, the God-Man was separated from God for a brief time at Calvary, as the furious wrath of the Father was poured out on the sinless Son, who in matchless grace became sin for those who believe in Him.

Habakkuk declared of God, “Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13). God turned His back when Jesus was on the cross because He could not look upon sin, even—or perhaps especially—in His own Son. Just as Jesus loudly lamented, God the Father had indeed forsaken Him.

Jesus did not die as a martyr to a righteous cause or simply as an innocent man wrongly accused and condemned. Nor, as some suggest, did He die as a heroic gesture against man’s inhumanity to man. The Father could have looked favorably on such selfless deaths as those. But because Jesus died as a substitute sacrifice for the sins of the world, the righteous heavenly Father had to judge Him fully according to that sin.

The Father forsook the Son because the Son took upon Himself “our transgressions,… our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5). Jesus “was delivered up because of our transgression” (Rom. 4:25) and “died for our sins according to the
Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). He “who knew no sin [became] sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21) and became “a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24), “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust” (1 Pet. 3:18), and became “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Jesus Christ not only bore man’s sin but actually became sin on man’s behalf, in order that those who believe in Him might be saved from the penalty of their sin. Jesus came to teach men perfectly about God and to be a perfect example of God’s holiness and righteousness. But, as He Himself declared, the supreme reason for His coming to earth was not to teach or to be an example but “to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

When Christ was forsaken by the Father, their separation was not one of nature, essence, or substance. Christ did not in any sense or degree cease to exist as God or as a member of the Trinity. He did not cease to be the Son, any more than a child who sins severely against his human father ceases to be his child. But Jesus did for a while cease to know the intimacy of fellowship with His heavenly Father, just as a disobedient child ceases for a while to have intimate, normal, loving fellowship with his human father.

By the incarnation itself there already had been a partial separation. Because Jesus had been separated from His divine glory and from face-to-face communication with the Father, refusing to hold on to those divine privileges for His own sake (Phil 2:6), He prayed to the Father in the presence of His disciples, “Glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:5). At the cross His separation from the Father became immeasurably more profound than the humbling incarnation during the thirty-three years of His earthly life.

As already mentioned, the mystery of that separation is far too deep even for the most mature believer to fathom. But God has revealed the basic truth of it for us to accept and to understand to the limit of our ability under the illumination of His Spirit. And nowhere in Scripture can we behold the reality of Jesus’ sacrificial death and the anguish of His separation from His Father more clearly and penetratingly than in His suffering on the cross because of sin. In the midst of being willingly engulfed in our sins and the sins of all men of all time, He writhed in anguish not from the lacerations on His back or the thorns that still pierced His head or the nails that held Him to the cross but from the incomparably painful loss of fellowship with His heavenly Father that His becoming sin for us had brought.

Soon after He cried out to God about being forsaken, “Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, said, ‘I am thirsty’” (John 19:28). As John then makes clear (v. 29), it was at that time that immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink.

The one who ran to help Jesus was probably one of the Roman military guards, and by taking a sponge and filling it with sour wine, he hoped temporarily to slake Jesus’ thirst. The sour wine was a cheap wine highly diluted with water that was a common drink for laborers and soldiers. Because it had a high water and low alcohol content, it was especially helpful in quenching thirst. John gives the added detail that the reed was a hyssop branch (John 19:29), which would not have been longer than eighteen inches. In order for such a short branch to reach Jesus’ lips, the horizontal beam of the cross would have had to be rather low to the ground.

Offering the drink to Jesus was perhaps an act of mercy but it was minimal in its effect and served only to prolong the torture before death brought relief. But the rest of those standing near the cross used that gesture of kindness as another opportunity to carry their mockery of the Lord still further, saying, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.”

It seems incredible that even the pitch darkness of midday did not alarm the wicked crowd. They were so bent on scorning Jesus that even such a momentous phenomenon as the blocking out of the sun did not deter them. Being aware of the many Old Testament associations of unnatural darkness with judgment, it would seem they would at least briefly have considered the possibility that divine judgment was occurring at that very moment. But the single thought now on their minds was to make Jesus’ death painful and humiliating. They had no comprehension of the amazing alienation of the Son from the Father.

Self-Giving Death

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. (27:50)

(27:50) “It is finished”: the great shout of triumph and the yielding up of Jesus’ spirit. There are three important points here.

  1. Jesus cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The Greek word tetelestai is the shout of victorious purpose. Christ had completed His work, mission, and task. He was not crying the cry of a defeated martyr; He was crying the cry of a victorious conqueror.
  2. “Yielded up the ghost” (apheken to pneuma) means that He willingly yielded and gave up His spirit. It must always be remembered that Jesus willingly died. He willingly came to this moment of yielding and giving up His spirit unto death. Both Paul and Peter cover the Lord’s work during the three days immediately following His death until the resurrection.
  3. On the cross:

                        “[He] spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it [the cross]” (Col. 2:15. Cp. Ephes. 6:12.)

  1. On the cross and after death:

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:18-20. See note— 1 Peter 3:19-20.)

  1. After death:

“Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)” (Ephes. 4:8-10. See note— Ephes. 4:8-10.)

  1. Christ died at the ninth hour, that is, three p.m. (Matthew 27:45, 50). This was the very hour when the priests began to make the evening offering of the Passover Lamb. While the priests were going about sacrificing the symbolic lamb for the people, the true Lamb of God was being sacrificed for the people’s sins outside the city walls (1 Cor. 5:7; Hebrews 13:12).

A third miracle of the cross was Christ’s self-giving death, the Son’s willing sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world in obedience to His Father’s will.

The fact that Jesus cried out again with a loud voice (cf. v. 46; Mark 15:37;  Luke 23:46) demonstrated considerable physical strength, even after the beatings,  scourging, crown of thorns, nail wounds, and hanging in agony for several hours. Jesus did not gradually fade away His life ebbing little by little until gone. Even  now He made it evident that He was not at the point of utter exhaustion and that He had the resources to stay alive if He so desired.

The last words the Lord cried out from the cross were first, “It is finished”  (John 19:30), indicating that the work His Father had sent Him to accomplish  was complete. Then, once again addressing God as His Father, He said, “Father,  into Thy hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46).  (yielded up) has the basic meaning of letting go or sending away  indicating an act of volition. Jesus’ life was not taken from Him by men, but  rather He surrendered His spirit by the conscious act of His own sovereign will.  As He had explained to the Twelve, no one could or would take His life from  Him. “I lay it down on My own initiative,” He said. “I have authority to lay it  down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18).

As just noted, Jesus’ ability to speak from the cross in a loud voice indicated  a reserve of energy unheard of for a person in His physical condition.  Nevertheless, even in light of His severe bodily condition, Jesus died much sooner than normal. Therefore when Joseph of Arimathea informed Pilate of  Jesus’ death and asked for His body, the governor was surprised and asked a  centurion to give verification (Mark 15:43-45).

Both of those facts attest to Jesus’ voluntary surrendering of His spirit. He  did not take His own life, but He willingly gave it up to those who sought to take  it and who otherwise could not have succeeded.

On the cross the Father judged the sin of the world that the Son took upon  Himself, and the Son, who divinely controls living and dying, willingly  surrendered His life as penalty for that sin.

Sanctuary Devastation

And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,  (27:51a)

(27:51) Veil Torn: the great veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. In the minds of the Jews, the veil was one of the most important things in the temple. Why? Because it surrounded the ark of the covenant which symbolized the very presence of God Himself. It was huge and beautiful, made of the very finest materials. It was sixty or more feet high.

To get some idea of the magnificence of the veil, imagine one of the other temple veils described by Josephus: “…before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was embroidered with blue and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. This mixture of colors [had] its mystical interpretation, but [it] was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet, there seemed to be signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air and by the purple the sea….This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens” (Josephus, Wars. 5. 5:4).

The significant point to note is that the veil was torn from top to bottom. This symbolizes that it was torn by an act of God himself. It symbolizes direct access to God (Hebrews 6:19; Hebrews 9:3-12, 24; Hebrews 10:19-23). It was the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Up until this time only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and He could enter only one day a year, the Day of Atonement (Exodus 26:33). Now through the body of Christ, any man can enter the presence of God. He can enter God’s presence and pray any time, any place.

“For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace” (Ephes. 2:14-15).

“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 6:19-20).

“For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).

“By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-23).

The fourth miracle that occurred during the crucifixion was the divine  devastation of the sanctuary, as the veil of the temple was torn in two. (temple) does not refer to the Temple as a whole but to the inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, where God dwelt in His symbolic presence. A huge woven veil separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, and Josephus reports that this massive curtain was predominantly blue and was ornately decorated.

Once a year the high priest was allowed to pass through the veil on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle blood on the altar for the sins of the people, and that only for a brief period of time. Because, like God’s presence in the Holy of Holies, even that special sacrifice was only symbolic. The ritual had to be repeated every year, anticipating the one, true sacrifice for sins that the Son of God Himself one day would offer.

When Christ gave up His spirit, that once-for-all sacrifice was completed and the need for a veil no longer existed. By coming to the Son, any man could now come to God directly without need of priest, sacrifice, or ritual. Consequently the veil was torn in two from top to bottom by God’s miraculous act, because the barrier of sin was forever removed for those who put their trust in the Son as Lord and Savior.

By rending the Temple veil, God was saying, in effect, “In the death of My Son, Jesus Christ, there is total access into My holy presence. He has paid the full price of sin for everyone who trusts in Him, and I now throw open My holy presence to all who will come in His name. The writer of Hebrews admonished, “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

The Father’s dramatic tearing of the veil was made while the Temple was filled with worshipers, which included not only countless priests but also many thousands of pilgrims who were at that very moment celebrating the Passover sacrifice. Although the Temple was not destroyed until some forty years later, in A.D. 70, the sacrificial system of Israel and its attendant priesthood ceased to have even symbolic value when the veil was torn in two and the Holy of Holies was exposed. The ceremonies and priestly functions continued until the Temple was destroyed, but their divine significance ended when Christ died, as the Old Covenant was abrogated and the New inaugurated.

Soil Disturbance

and the earth shook; and the rocks were split, (51b)

(27:51) Earthquake: the terrifying earthquake. The symbolism could be threefold.

  1. The earth could have quaked under the weight of the sin placed upon its Architect and Creator.

 “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

  1. The earth could have quaked and torn at its rocks to symbolize the fatal blow to Satan’s domain.

“Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:31-32).

“And having spoiled principalities and powers [upon the cross], he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15).

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

  1. The earth could have quaked to symbolize that it, too, is stirred to await the glorious day of redemption.

“Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10-13.)

A fifth miracle that occurred during the crucifixion was a supernaturally caused earthquake. Immediately after Jesus died and the Temple veil was torn in two, the earth shook; and the rocks were split. Making still another statement about His Son to the world, and especially to His chosen people, the Father brought a devastating earthquake to Jerusalem and the surrounding area.

Again the Old Testament gives insight into the significance of the occurrence. When God appeared to Moses on Mt. Sinai, “the whole mountain quaked violently” (Ex. 19:18), and when He appeared to Elijah on a mountain, “a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord,… and after the wind an earthquake” (1 Kings 19:11). David sang of the earth’s shaking and trembling when the Lord became angry (2 Sam. 22:8; Ps. 18:7; cf. 77:18).

Isaiah spoke of the Lord’s punishing His people through “thunder and earthquake and loud noise” (Isa. 29:6), and Jeremiah of His venting His wrath on the nations of the earth by causing it to quake (Jer. 10:10; cf. Nah. 1:5). The book of Revelation tells of God’s causing the stars to fall to earth and of mountains and islands being “moved out of their places” during the final judgment (6:13-14).

In the original creation there were no earthquakes, because the earth, like all else that God made, was perfect. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve lived in a perfect environment on earth in the very presence of God. But when they sinned, not only were they cursed and separated from God but the earth they inhabited was cursed as well. Since that time, both literally and figuratively the earth has been reeling under the destructive forces both of Satan’s evil corruption and of God’s divine judgment. One day there will be a new heaven and a new earth, but until that time when the usurper will be forever banished to the lake of fire and the true Sovereign, Jesus Christ, reigns in His kingdom, the earth will continue to suffer corruption and destruction.

Speaking of God’s judgment on unbelievers, the writer of Hebrews declares, “His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ And this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb. 12:26-27).

At the cross Jesus earned the right to take the title deed to the earth from the hand of His Father (Rev. 5:9-10). Therefore when God shook the earth at the death of His Son, He gave the world a foretaste of what He will do when one day He shakes the earth in judgment at the coming of the King of kings. Because Jesus became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” His heavenly Father “highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11).

Subduing Death

and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many (27:52-53)

(27:52-53) Believers, Resurrected: the resurrection of many saints. Just who these saints were is not known, not for certain. But several facts mentioned in Scripture need to be noted.

  1. The graves were opened during the terrifying earthquake (Matthew 27:51), but the bodies did not arise until after Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 27:52). Christ had to be the first to arise from the dead—the first who was never to die again (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5).
  2. Between these two events, the cross and the resurrection, was evidently the time that Jesus bore the full punishment of death and hell for man’s sins. He tasted death for every man—both physical and spiritual death (Hebrews 2:9, 14).
  3. Peter adds, “He went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19). This probably means that He confronted the lost in hell and proclaimed that the way of the righteous is now vindicated. John quotes Christ in Rev. 1:18, “[I] was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen: and have the keys of hell and death.”

Many believe that before the resurrection of Christ all dead people went to a place known in Scripture as Hades. Hades was divided into two areas, paradise and hell. The spirits of believers went to paradise; the spirits of unbelievers went to hell. Some commentators believe that when Christ arose He took the saints of paradise with Him to live in the presence of God forever. Now, since Christ’s resurrection, all believers go immediately into the presence of God.

  1. Paul adds “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive…but He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth….” (Ephes. 4:8-10; cp. the graves opening in Matthew 27:51 and the bodies being raised in Matthew 27:52). The idea is that Christ led captivity—sin, death and hell—captive. He conquered all the enemies of man and set man free to arise and live forever in the presence of God.

The resurrection of these saints symbolized at least two things.

  1. It symbolized the conquest of death by Christ. The sting is now taken from death; the power of death is now broken.

            “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:25-26).

            “Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:51-57).

            “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

  1. It symbolized the resurrection of believers. Believers shall arise and be recognized and know one another (Matthew 27:53).

            “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).

            “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).

            “Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you” (2 Cor. 4:14).

            “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thes. 4:16-17).

The sixth miracle at the crucifixion was closely related to the previous one, as the supernatural earthquake not only gave the world a foretaste of divine judgment but also caused many tombs to be opened.

The significant miracle of that event, however, was not the mere opening of tombs, as could occur during any earthquake. The great miracle was that many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After the veil of the Temple was torn in two and the earth around Jerusalem was violently shaken, the Lord selectively raised the bodies of certain believers who had died.

Matthew points out that many, but not all, bodies of the saints who had died were resurrected, making clear that this resurrection was divinely restricted to a limited number of believers. They had trusted in God during the time before and under the Old Covenant, and some of those bodies may have been in their graves many hundreds of years. When Jesus died, their spirits came from the abode of righteous spirits and were joined with their glorified bodies that came out of the graves. This was full and final resurrection and glorification, making this miracle another foretaste of God’s sovereign work during the end times, when “all the dead in Christ shall rise” (1 Thess. 4:16).

It is important to note that the phrase and coming out of the tombs should be followed by a period, indicating the close of the sentence. After His resurrection begins a new sentence and introduces a distinct truth, namely, that those select resurrected saints then entered the holy city and appeared to many.

Those saints did not appear in Jerusalem until after the Lord’s own resurrection, because He was divinely appointed to be “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). And just as Christ Himself appeared after His resurrection only to those who already believed in Him, it would also seem that the many to whom the resurrected saints appeared were all believers. We are not told what they said to their brethren in the holy city, but their appearance in bodily form not only testified to Christ’s resurrection but also to God’s promise to raise all those who put their trust in Christ (1 Cor. 15:22, 51-53).

Through those six miracles the Father was saying that the cross is the only hope for eternal life. When one’s sin is carried away by Christ’s atoning death, the wrath of God is appeased for that believer, and he is delivered from the death and condemnation that the Lord endured on his behalf. For those who believe in the Son, access to God is open wide, and they are assured of living in His eternal and indestructible kingdom in eternal and indestructible bodies.

 

 

Section 165 – Jesus’ Death (Mt 27:45-50; Mk 15:33-37; Lk 23:44-46; Jn 19:28-30)

[MK 15:]33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.

[LK 23:]45For the sun stopped shining.

[MK 15:]34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which means, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, Listen, he’s calling Elijah.

Between noon and 3 p.m. darkness covers Judea. This is the first of three phenomena that accompany Jesus’ death. It is a supernatural sign of judgment (cf. Amos 8:9-10) which cannot adequately be explained naturalistically. For example, an eclipse doesn’t last for three hours nor does it occur during the full moon of Passover. A sirocco (a desert windstorm) would hardly cover the land in complete darkness as if “the sun stopped shining.” No, the hand of God shrouded the land.

After only six hours on the cross, Jesus dies. He cries out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi…” This fourth saying from the cross is perhaps the most theologically significant and perhaps too deep for us to fully appreciate. But it seems to point in at least two directions. First, Jesus is calling us back to Psalm 22:1 by quoting it verbatim. This passage is an incredibly clear prediction of Jesus’ crucifixion. It serves as a poignant reminder that this is God’s plan and it is still under his control no matter what it looks like on the surface. What is most striking about this Psalm, however, is that it was written about 1000 b.c., a full 600 years before crucifixion was in vogue. We are also impressed that the Psalm of the Good Shepherd (Ps 23) is prefaced by the Psalm of God’s Sacrificial Lamb (Ps 22).

Secondly, Jesus is not merely quoting Psalm 22:1; he is describing his present and insufferable separation from his Heavenly Father. From eternity past, Jesus has never known what it was like to be alienated from God’s presence. While we want to studiously avoid the error of the Gnostics and docetics who believed that Jesus ceased to be God in this moment, we do affirm that the Father, at some level, turns his back on Jesus as he becomes the embodiment of sin (2 Cor 5:21; cf. Rom 3:26; Gal 3:13). Jesus is forsaken by God, that is, he is abandoned, left without God’s resources or intervention, to suffer and die alone. But this word pops up again in Acts 2:27, 31 to describe how God did NOT abandon Jesus in the grave. God’s abandonment may be harsh, but it is only temporary. Even Psalm 22 ends with a note of victory. After all, behind the cross is an empty tomb.

 

Jn 19:28 with Mt 27:48; Mk 15:36 28Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, I am thirsty. 29A jar of wine vinegar was there, so {immediatelyMT} they {one manMK} soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus lips.

Mt 27:49 with Mk 15:36 49The rest said {he said,MK} Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.

Jn 19:30 30When he had received the drink, Jesus said, It is finished.

Lk 23:46 with Jn 19:30 46{With that, heJN} called out with a loud voice, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. When he had said this he breathed his last, {bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.JN}

John interprets Jesus’ fifth statement from the cross as a prophetic fulfillment, probably alluding to Psalm 69:21. Jesus asks for a drink and one of the men standing there responds immediately. He is likely a soldier who dips a sponge into his own stash. This wine vinegar is a poor-man’s brew. It is a bit sour but a great thirst quencher. This time they apparently don’t mix it with myrrh. He puts the sponge on a stick and lifts it to Jesus’ lips before anyone really knew what was happening. The crowd says, “Hey, leave him alone. We want to see if Elijah is going to come and save him.” Because they misheard “Eloi” for “Elijah” this provides one last opportunity to mock Jesus. Since Elijah never actually died, the Jews expected him to return literally as a precursor to the Messiah based on Malachi 4:5. Now that Jesus is “praying to Elijah” this would provide one last point of ridicule.

Their derision is cut short. As soon as Jesus receives the drink he said, “It is finished” and then shouted, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” With that he takes one last breath, bows his head and releases his spirit. But what exactly was finished? His life? NO!… Easter’s on its way! His work on earth was done (Heb 9:26; 10:12-14). The perfect verb tense [tetelestai] highlights the total completion of his task. He had accomplished what he had come here to do (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45). In addition, some have speculated that Jesus is again alluding to Psalm 22, this time to the very last line, where God completes his task.

Even with his last breath he was alluding to Scripture. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” is likely taken from Psalm 31:5. Liefeld says that it was part of the Jews’ evening prayer (p. 1045). In turning to the Psalm itself, there is much there that would be relevant to Jesus at this very moment:

Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth. I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends — those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord (Ps 31:2, 4-5, 7, 11-14, 22, 24).

 

Section 166 – Responses to Jesus’ Death (Mt 27:51-56; Mk 15:38-41; Lk 23:47-49)

 

[MT 27:]51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

At the moment Jesus dies, the curtain of the temple is torn in two. It would have been more public if the torn curtain was the one between the temple courts and holy place. But Hebrews 4:16; 6:19-20; 9:11-28; 10:19-22 seems to indicate that the torn curtain was between the holy place and the holy of holies. Even though this would not have been seen by the general populace, it could hardly be kept a secret, especially by the priests who were later converted to Christianity (Acts 6:7). Edersheim says this curtain was sixty feet wide, thirty feet high, and as thick as the breadth of the palm of a hand (II:611). The fact that it was torn from top to bottom indicates that it was rent by the hand of God rather than human sabotage. Furthermore, while this tear probably happened simultaneously with the earthquake, we would be mistaken to think that the earthquake caused the tear. The entire building would collapse from an earthquake sooner than that curtain could be torn in two. No, this is a supernatural event which probably points in two directions. First, it symbolizes the impending destruction of the temple and the obliteration of all other sacrifices. Second, it marks the open access of God’s people to his holy presence.

More noticeable to those on Golgotha is the earthquake which shakes the city, also a sign of God’s displeasure (Isa 29:6; Jer 10:10; Ezek 26:18). The tombs of the city are torn open and the saints raised as if to preview 1 Corinthians 15:20-23. But exactly when are they raised? Verse 53 seems to indicate that they do not appear in the city until Sunday. Were they alive, hiding in their tombs for two days? Three simple changes in the NIV’s translation will clarify this verse. First, we place a period after “open” in v. 52. Next we eliminate the comma and the word “and” after “tombs” in v. 53. Third, we translate “they came out” (v. 53) [exelthontes] as a participle “having come out.” It now reads, “The tombs broke open. And the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life, and having come out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection, they went into the holy city.” Hence, the tombs were broken open on Friday but the resurrection took place along with Jesus’ on Sunday.

Because this account is so wondrously miraculous, some have questioned its historicity. But it is no more difficult to believe this account than 1 Corinthians 15, our own hope for resurrection. With this account, Matthew pulls together the death of Jesus and his resurrection and shows us the implications of both: The veil between us and God is torn apart by his death and the tombs which hold us in death are torn apart by his resurrection.

Mt 27:54 with Mk 15:39; Lk 23:47 54When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus {heard his cry and saw how he died [and]MK} saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and {praised God andLK} exclaimed, Surely he {this manMK} was the Son of God! {a righteous man.LK}

Lk 23:48 48When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.

Mt 27:55-56 with Lk 23:49; Mk 15:40-41 55Many women {who knew himLK} were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee {to JerusalemMK} to care for his needs. 56Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and {Salome,MK} the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

 

This earthquake shakes the foundations of Jerusalem as well as this centurion’s soul. There is something majestic, even divine, about the way Jesus dies. It is accompanied by this mysterious darkness, the earthquake, the rent veil and the opened tombs. All of this cascades upon his soul. In holy fear he worships God, affirming that Jesus was who he claimed to be — God’s Son. A short time ago the crowds mocked Jesus for that very claim; now the centurion honors him with it.

Being a Roman, he may not understand all the implications of being God’s Son. After all, the Romans often deified men upon their deaths. Furthermore, the definite article “the” is lacking in the Greek text. Hence, he may be saying nothing more than that Jesus was a Son of God. Luke’s version of “a righteous man” rather than “Son of God” may support this milder acclamation as well. But the centurion is a resident of Palestine and surely aware that this title was used by the Jews for their Messianic hope. Hence, he is at least saying this: “Jesus didn’t deserve this. He was the Jewish Messiah he claimed to be.”

The centurion isn’t the only one shaken by Jesus’ death. The crowds also go away in mourning in fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10 (cf. Jn 19:37). His faithful female followers stand there paralyzed with grief. They have come all the way from Galilee to care for his needs as they had done throughout his ministry (Mk 15:41; Lk 8:2-3). But here and now there is nothing to do but stand idly by and watch their master die. Their dreams are shattered. The man and the movement are dead.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2022 in cross

 

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