April 17 – Supernatural Darkness

“Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.”

Matthew 27:45


The darkness over the land while Jesus bore our sin was an indicator that the cross was a place of divine judgment.

The biblical phenomenon of light was not associated with Christ’s death. Instead, as today’s verse says, “Darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour [3:00 p.m.].”

Scripture says little about that darkness. Ancient historical reports mention an unusual, worldwide darkness that seemed to coincide with the date of Christ’s death. Astronomical records indicate that the sun and moon were too far apart that day for a normal solar eclipse. Therefore, the darkness had to be caused by God’s intervention.

But you may still ask, “Why did God intervene like this when Jesus died?” Again, sources outside Scripture provide a reasonable clue. For many years the Jewish rabbis taught that a darkening of the sun meant judgment from God for an especially heinous sin. Many passages in Scripture make the link between darkness and God’s judgment. Jesus spoke several times of divine judgment in terms of “outer darkness,” where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).

In sending darkness over the whole earth for three hours, God presents us with an object lesson concerning His attitude on the day Jesus died. The darkness was God’s sign of judgment against mankind for the gross sin of rejecting and murdering His beloved Son. It is also a sign of God’s reaction to sin as a whole. Darkness is a graphic portrayal of the cross as the focal point of God’s wrath, a place of His immense judgment, where sin was poured out on His Son Jesus, our Savior. This twofold object lesson ought to be a constant, fresh reminder to us of how seriously God views sin and how vital it was that the Lord Jesus die on our behalf.


Suggestions for Prayer: Thank God that He can use aspects of nature to illustrate spiritual truth for our finite minds. ✧ Pray that the Lord will never let you take for granted the awesome seriousness of the events at Calvary.

For Further Study: Read Exodus 10:12–29. How did the plague of darkness differ from the plague of locusts? ✧ What was Pharaoh’s ultimate response to these two plagues? ✧ How does this preview the onlookers’ reaction to seeing darkness at the cross?[1]

Supernatural Darkness

Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. (27:45)

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 ekleipō, 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.[2]

27:45 All the sufferings and indignities which He bore at the hands of men were minor compared to what He now faced. From the sixth hour (noon) until the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.), there was darkness not only over all the land of Palestine but in His holy soul as well. It was during that time that He bore the indescribable curse of our sins. In those three hours were compressed the hell which we deserved, the wrath of God against all our transgressions. We see it only dimly; we simply cannot know what it meant for Him to satisfy all God’s righteous claims against sin. We only know that in those three hours He paid the price, settled the debt, and finished the work necessary for man’s redemption.[3]

45 The darkness that “came over all the land” from noon until 3:00 p.m. (that is what “sixth hour” and “ninth hour” refer to) was a sign of judgment and/or tragedy. The Greek here means “land” rather than “earth,” since the darkness was meant to be a sign relating both to Jesus’ death and to the Jewish people; beyond the borders of Israel, the darkness would lose this significance. Str-B (1:1040–42) gives numerous rabbinic parallels, and Johann Jakob Wettstein an array of Greek and Latin authors. But the most telling background is Amos 8:9–10, and to a lesser extent Exodus 10:21–22. Both passages portray darkness as a sign of judgment, but Amos mentions noon and the turning of religious feasts into mourning, and says, “I will make that time like mourning for an only son” (Am 8:10; see comments at 2:15). The judgment is, therefore, a judgment on the land and its people (cf. Best, Temptation and the Passion, 98–99). But it is also a judgment on Jesus, for out of this darkness comes his cry of desolation (v. 46). The cosmic blackness hints at the deep judgment that was taking place (20:28; 26:26–29; Gal 3:13).

It is futile to argue whether the darkness was caused by an eclipse of three hours (!) or by atmospheric conditions caused by a sirocco or something else, not because it did not happen, but because we do not know how it happened, any more than we know how Jesus walked on the water or multiplied the loaves. The evangelists are interested chiefly in the theological implications that rise out of the historical phenomena.[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 27:45). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1309). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 646). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


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