1. The Darkness


When we think about what God was doing while Jesus hung on the cross, it shouldn’t really surprise us that He provided some visible miracles for those who were onlookers.

Whilst Christ hung on the cross, there were four miraculous events which occurred.

1. The 3 hours of darkness, Matthew 27:45/ Luke 23:44-45.

2. The veil of the temple was torn into two, Matthew 27:50-51/ Mark 15:37-38.

3. An earthquake, Matthew 27:50-52.

4. The graves opening up and dead people being raised to life, Matthew 27:50-53.

In this study, we will look at the significance of the 3 hours of darkness.

‘From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.’ Matthew 27:45

‘It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.’ Luke 23:44-45

Both Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus has been on the cross for three hours.

It’s now noon, which means the sun would have been high in the sky. All of a sudden, complete darkness falls over the entire land for three hours.

Luke tells us that the sun stopped shining altogether.

The word ‘land’ is the Greek word, ‘ge’ which can mean a region which would imply all of Palestine but it can also mean the whole earth. So whether this darkness fell over Palestine only or the whole earth is really difficult to say.

The word darkness is the Greek word, ‘skotizo’ and it carries with it the idea of sudden darkness. This wasn’t something which happened over a period of time, it happened suddenly.

We can almost picture the silence as every animal and every person was wondering what was happening. We can almost imagine people speaking with each other, trying to understand exactly what was going on, Job 5:13-14 / 1 Samuel 2:9.

Proof Outside Of The Scriptures That This Darkness Happened

Tertullian said the following.

‘In the same hour too, the light of day was withdrawn, when the sun at the very time was in his meridian blaze. Those who were not aware that this had been predicted about Christ, no doubt thought it an eclipse. You yourselves have the account of the world portent still in your archives!’ Tertullian, Apology in the Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957), Vol. III, p. 35.

Why would Tertullian appeal to Proculus, a Roman senator, if the Roman records concerning this darkness weren’t true?

The Greek Historian Rufinus when writing to Roman historians says the following.

‘Search your writings and you shall find that in Pilates time, when Christ suffered, the sun was suddenly withdrawn and darkness followed’. Rufinus, Greek Historian

Rufinus would never have asked the Romans to search their records for the account of the darkness if it didn’t happen.

The point is that this miraculous event did happen, and we know it happened because of Pontius Pilate himself wrote about the event.

Pontius Pilate sent the following report to Tiberius, emperor of Rome. Note, the following quote has been debated for years as to whether it is legitimate.

‘And when he had been crucified, there was darkness over the whole earth, the sun having been completely hidden, and the heaven appearing dark, so that the stars appeared, but had at the same time their brightness darkened, as I suppose your reverence is not ignorant of, because in all the world they lighted lamps from the sixth hour until evening. And the moon, being like blood, did not shine the whole night, and yet she happened to be at the full.’ Pontius Pilate, To Tiberius in Ibid., Vol. III, p. 463.

Who or what caused the darkness?

There are a few people who try to come up with answers as to where the darkness originated but for this study, we’ll only look at four possibilities.

A Natural Phenomenon

1. There are those who believe that the darkness was caused by a simple natural phenomenon.

They believe it was probably just an earthquake or some kind of volcanic eruption, after all, Matthew records there was an earthquake around this time, Matthew 27:54.

Although a volcano erupting may indeed cause thick dust to fill the air, both Matthew and Luke record that the entire land of Palestine was in complete darkness but the darkness suddenly left after three hours.

Also, the Bible doesn’t mention any other earthquake happening before the darkness came, but it does record an earthquake happening afterwards when an angel rolled away the stone from Jesus’ grave, Matthew 28:2.

Dust Storm Or Dark Clouds

2. There are those who believe that the darkness was caused by some kind of dust storm or cloud cover.

Most people who have witnessed dust storms and thick black cloud coverings tell us that they can be spotted coming on the horizon, whereas the darkness recorded by Matthew and Luke came suddenly.

An Eclipse

3. There are those who believe that the darkness was caused by an eclipse of the sun.

Remember the reason for this darkness was because ‘the sun stopped shining’. Luke 23:45.

The last total eclipse in the UK was on 11 August 1999. It could be seen over Cornwall and parts of Devon, which were on the path of totality, although cloud cover ruined the view for many areas.

The Natural History Museum says the following.

‘A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth. When the Sun, Moon and Earth line up exactly, it causes a total eclipse. This is because the diameter of the Sun is 400 times that of the Moon, but coincidentally it is also 400 times further away. During an eclipse, the Moon temporarily covers the Sun, blocking out the daylight for a short period and casting a shadow on part of Earth.’

The miraculous darkness recorded at the time of Christ’s crucifixion could not have been a solar eclipse because Passover always occurred at the full moon.

Many of us have witnessed eclipses in our lives and we know that they don’t happen suddenly. As I mentioned earlier, the word ‘darkness’ is the Greek word, ‘skotizo’ and it carries with it the idea of sudden darkness. The darkness here happened suddenly and note also that the darkness was all over the land for three hours, Matthew 27:45 / Luke 23:44-45.

A normal eclipse only ever lasts for a few moments.

NAASA say the following.

‘Total solar eclipses last anywhere from 10 seconds to about 7.5 minutes.’


4. The only possible reason the darkness came, was because it was God who caused it.

We only have to cast our minds back to the ninth plague which God hit Egypt with, it was the plague of darkness, Exodus 10:21-23. This was a judgment against the sun god, ‘Re’, who was symbolized by Pharaoh himself.

For three days, the land of Egypt was smothered with unearthly darkness, but the homes of the Israelites had light. The Israelites must be utterly shell-shocked by what’s happening.

They must have been in awe as they enjoyed the light but the rest of Egypt is in total darkness. They must have been thinking to themselves, ‘Is there anything that this God cannot control or do?’ I can imagine them saying to themselves, ‘No wonder our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob worshipped this God.’

It was God who created light in the beginning, Genesis 1:3, and it’s God who removes the light. God put Egypt in total darkness to the point where no one could see anything but at the same time the land where the Israelites were had light.

Imagine being in Egypt and witnessing this event, while Egypt is in total darkness, the land where Israel lived was completely sunlit.

Darkness Is Used Figuratively As God’s Judgment

Darkness is often used figuratively in the Scriptures to demonstrate God’s judgment. In Isaiah 5:30 we read about God’s judgment against Judah. In Isaiah 13:10-11 we read about God’s judgment against Babylon. In Ezekiel 32:7-8 we read about a judgement against Egypt.

When a Jew hears language like, the stars are going to be darkened, the moon is going turn to dark, the sun is going to fall. When they heard talk like that, they didn’t think that was the ‘end of the world,’ they thought, ‘What nation is God judging now?’

When Jesus uses that kind of language in His sermon, He’s saying that God is sending judgment on Israel, Matthew 24:19, just like He did on Judah, Babylon, and Egypt.

The Jews certainly believe that the darkening of the sun was a depiction of God’s judgment on the world for an especially heinous sin.

Darkness Is Used Figuratively As People’s Spiritual Condition

Darkness is also used figuratively in a spiritual sense, where people who don’t know God or have a relationship with Him live in spiritual darkness.

The way of the wicked is like darkness, they go through life stumbling time and time again without knowing why, Proverbs 4:19 / Micah 3:6 / John 11:10 / John 1:5.

The land of Zebulun, Naphtali, etc were the main sufferers in the first Assyrian invasion under Tiglath-Pileser, Isaiah 9:1-2. They were the first to enjoy the blessing of Christ’s teaching and to see His miraculous works.

The land of Galilee, which is the land of the Gentiles will indeed be honoured. They were in the darkness, but they will be in the light.

Jesus says He is the light of the world and speaks of darkness as a reference to those who are walking in sin, John 8:12. In 1 John 1:5-6 John uses the word ‘if’ to speak about the terms and conditions for having fellowship with God and His Son.

If we claim to have fellowship with Him, we can’t at the same time walk in the darkness, we can’t lie, we can’t continue to live in sin and we must live out the truth.

If God can cause the sun to stand still for a full day in order that Joshua can win his battle against the Amorite kings, Joshua 10:12-14, then why can’t He cover the land of Palestine or the whole earth with darkness?

Hezekiah, on his deathbed, was visited by the prophet Isaiah who told him that he was not going to die. Hezekiah asked for a sign as proof and so Isaiah spoke to the Lord and the Lord brought the shadow ten degrees backwards, 2 Kings 20:9-11.

If God had put the clock back ten degrees, that’s 40 minutes, then why can’t He cover the land of Palestine or the whole earth with darkness?

Why can’t the One who created the universe be able to cause the darkness? Genesis 1:1-5. When God spoke to Abraham about Sarah laughing when she was told she was going to have a son in old age. The Lord more or less said to Abraham, nothing is impossible for God, Genesis 18:14.

Why did God cause the darkness?

God caused the darkness because He didn’t want anyone either in the land of Palestine or everyone on the whole earth to have any doubts that the death of Jesus was significant for everyone.

His Son came to die for the world, John 3:16, in order for us to have a way to be saved, John 14:6. Just like the purpose of the miracles of Jesus, God used the darkness to bring about faith in His Son and who He claimed to be, John 20:30-31.

When Jesus hung on the cross and the land of Palestine or the whole earth became totally dark, we can only imagine what people must have thought.

I’m sure some would be scared while others would be intrigued. But make no mistake about it, this was God’s doing to prove to the world that His Son was indeed who He claimed to be.

Over and over again we read of the religious leaders demanding a sign from Jesus during His ministry, Matthew 12:39-40 / Matthew 16:4.

They asked for any kind of proof, any kind of miracle in order to prove that He was who He claimed to be. The only miracle they really needed to witness was the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus refused to give in to the religious leaders’ requests and as a result, they just wanted to get rid of Him, they wanted to kill Him, John 8:58-59.

As Jesus hung on the cross, many people would have witnessed the miracle of the three hours of darkness, Matthew 27:45 / Luke 23:44-45, the veil of the temple was torn into two, Matthew 27:50-51 / Mark 15:37-38, the earthquake, Matthew 27:50-52, the graves opening up and dead people being raised to life, Matthew 27:50-53.

They would have to conclude, as the centurion soldier did, that ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God.’ Mark 15:39.