3. The Earthquake


When we think about what God was doing while Jesus hung on the cross, it should not 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 earthquake.

When God finished creating the world and everything in it, He said it was ‘very good’, Genesis 1:31. We know that after mankind sinned not only were they going to feel the consequences of their sin but so was planet Earth, Genesis 3:17-18.

And I believe planet Earth is still feeling the consequences of mankind’s sin. Romans 8:19-22 tells us that creation is frustrated, it’s decaying, and it’s groaning all because of mankind’s sin in the garden.

Could it be that earthquakes are a natural visible sign of the Earth’s frustration, decaying and groaning?

Earthquakes are nothing new and they still happen all over the world even to this day. But despite scientists having really good technology to estimate if and when an earthquake is going to take place, many people still face the devastation that earthquakes cause.

Earthquakes have caused widespread destruction and the deaths of millions of people.

In ancient Greece, earthquakes were seen as bad omens. Philosophers attributed them to the congestion of the air or the movement of subterranean water. Astrologers related them to signs of the zodiac and tried to make out what they predicted.

They were commonly thought to accompany appearances or manifestations of something or someone divine.

What is an earthquake?

‘An earthquake is the sudden release of strain energy in the Earth’s crust, resulting in waves of shaking that radiate outwards from the earthquake source. When stresses in the crust exceed the strength of the rock, it breaks along lines of weakness, either a pre-existing or new fault plane. The point where an earthquake starts is termed the focus or hypocentre and may be many kilometres deep within the earth. The point at the surface directly above the focus is called the earthquake epicentre.’ ‘British Geology Survey’

The Presence Of God

In the Scriptures, God uses earthquakes to signify His presence. An earthquake is often used figuratively to represent the presence of God, Judges 5:4-5 / 2 Samuel 22:8 / Psalms 77:18 / Psalm 97:4 / Psalm 104:32 / Ezekiel 3:12.

When God Israel stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, God’s presence was made known by an earthquake, Exodus 19:16-19. The same thing happened to Elijah when he was up on a mountain and the Lord made His presence known to him, 1 Kings 19:11-12.

God’s Judgement Against Sin

God uses earthquakes to signify His judgment against sin. God used an earthquake to destroy Korah and his followers who started a rebellion, Numbers 16:31-33.

David often speaks about how earthquakes are a demonstration of God’s anger against His people or a nation, 2 Samuel 22:8 / Psalm 18:6-7.

Isaiah speaks about how God will punish His people because of their sin using an earthquake, Isaiah 5:25 / Isaiah 29:6. Jeremiah also speaks about how God will bring judgment upon the nations because of their sin using an earthquake, Jeremiah 10:10.

Nahum, Nahum 1:5, Habakkuk, Habakkuk 3:6, and Zechariah, Zechariah 14:5, all speak about how God will bring judgment upon the nations because of their sin using an earthquake.

Jesus, Himself speaks of an earthquake which would happen when God was going to bring judgment upon Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70, Matthew 24:7.

John, in his vision, speaks about how God will bring judgment against Rome and unbelievers, Revelation 6:12-14 / Revelation 8:5 / Revelation 11:19 / Revelation 11:13 / Revelation 16:18.

‘And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split, and the tombs broke open.’ Matthew 27:50-52

A Natural Earthquake

Some people may well conclude that this was just a random earthquake but when we consider the timing of this earthquake recorded in Matthew, we are left with no doubts that this was no random earthquake.

Earthquakes were common in Palestine, though there was nothing common about this one. The timing and accompanying events suggest this was a supernatural event.

Evidence Outside Of The Scriptures

The oldest known account outside the Bible of the crucifixion earthquake was recorded by the Greek historian Thallus around 50 AD. His three-volume history of the Mediterranean world included information about the crucifixion.

Thallus’ volumes no longer exist, but we have quotations from them by other early historians.

Julius Africanus, who co-founded Rome’s public library, wrote a five-volume History of the World in about A.D. 221 in which he referenced Thallus’ History about the Crucifixion.

He writes the following.

‘On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down.’ ‘From Extant Works (Julius Africanus), Fragment 18.’

The very fact that the darkness and the earthquake have been recorded as happening around the same time, during Christ’s crucifixion should give us confidence.

They should give us confidence in not only knowing that they reinforce what the Scripture says but this should also tell us that the earthquake itself was no ordinary earthquake.

A Supernatural Earthquake

This was no random earthquake; this was God working miraculously as he would do later when Paul and Silas were in prison, Acts 16:25-26.

We know that this was not a random earthquake because of the timing of this earthquake, it happened precisely when Christ died on the cross, Matthew 27:50-52.

The whole land shook and the rocks split precisely when Christ ‘gave up His spirit’.

Imagine if you had been there. Imagine hearing the loud sound of rocks and boulders fracturing and splitting apart. Imagine feeling the ground shaking beneath your feet. Wouldn’t you be wondering what was going on?

I am sure the people may have thought that this was just another earthquake. But remember the earthquake happened immediately after the darkness fell over the land for three hours, Matthew 27:45.

The sun would now be shining again and so, the people in Palestine would know this was no random earthquake. They would have to conclude that this was the miraculous work of God because of the timing of the earthquake.

Why did God cause the earthquake?

With an earthquake, the law was given Exodus 19:16-19, and with an earthquake, the law was fulfilled, Matthew 5:17. Straight after the law was given, 3000 people died Exodus 32:28, and so the law brought death.

It’s no accident that when grace and truth John 1:17, were preached on Pentecost, 3000 people were added to the Lord’s church, Acts 2:41.

And so, we are reminded that mankind was separated from God because of their sinfulness and mankind had no hope because God is so holy, Isaiah 59:2.

The earthquake which happened at Christ’s death signified that mankind can now approach God and have hope for fellowship with God because of what Christ achieved on the cross, Ephesians 2:17-18 / Hebrews 10:19-22.

Why did God cause the earthquake?

We also must note that the earthquake was so violent that the rocks actually split in two, Matthew 27:51. It appears that the death of Christ had a huge impact on the natural world too.

As I mentioned earlier, the fall of mankind had a huge effect on all of creation, Romans 8:19-22. Who subjected the creation to this bondage of corruption? God did. Only God could give creation hope because only God has the power to make this kind of change in His created world.

We can almost imagine creation looking forward to the day when something great is going to happen just as we look forward to the day when our bodies will be redeemed.

Is it possible that the earth quaked in response to the victory shout of Jesus?

Is it possible that God was sending a message out to all of creation, that your wait for freedom is getting closer?

Why did God cause the earthquake?

The Scriptures record another significant earthquake which happened afterwards when an angel rolled away the stone from Jesus’ grave, symbolising Christ’s power over death, Matthew 28:2.

God caused both of these earthquakes because He did not want anyone in the land of Palestine to have any doubts that the death and resurrection of Jesus were significant for all.

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 earthquake to bring about faith in His Son and who He claimed to be, John 20:30-31.


As Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly, most people praised Him and hailed Him as King, but the Pharisees were not impressed. They ask Jesus to rebuke the people, however, in response, Jesus tells them if the people keep quiet, then the stones will cry out and praise Him, Luke 19:39-40.

The earthquake certainly caught the attention of the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross of Jesus, Matthew 27:54. Notice that he and everyone else who had witnessed what had happened became terrified.

Luke tells us the centurion started to praise God and declared that Jesus was a righteous man, Luke 23:47.

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.

The Pharisees refused to accept Jesus for who He was, but after witnessing, the miraculous events surrounding the death of Jesus. They would have to conclude, as the centurion soldier did, that ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God,’ Mark 15:39.