“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour” (Matt. 27:45).
It was on a Thursday night that the betrayer and his band came to take our Lord. And it was in the wee hours of Friday morning that he was tried and condemned. Led like a lamb to the slaughter, he was nailed to the accursed tree at the third hour—about 9:00am (Mk. 15:25). During the next three hours Calvary echoed with the mocking voices of the enemies who wagged their heads and cast their cruel words in his teeth.
But then at the sixth hour—high noon—they were silenced. Not a sound was heard. Because it was then, when the sun would have been at its zenith, that the darkness descended. It was a thick, inky blackness, like a heavy blanket thrown over the land. It was the kind of darkness that muffled all sound, the kind of darkness “which may be felt” (Ex. 10:21).
No purely physical explanation of this darkness will do, an eclipse of the sun, for example. Like the darkness that fell upon Egypt in Moses’ day, like the halting of the heavenly bodies in Joshua’s day, and like the darkening of the sun at the end of time, so also was the darkness at Calvary a miracle wrought by the hand of the wonder-working God.
But what is the explanation for it? Consider these two things from the viewpoint of the world:
- By sending the darkness, God called the world’s attention to what was going on at Calvary. God would not allow the central event of history, the death of his only-begotten Son, to take place without anyone knowing about it. The darkness drew the eyes of the world to Calvary. It stopped them in what they were doing as God called attention to what he was doing.
- By sending the darkness, God signified the judgment of the world. God could have called attention to the cross by a special star in the sky or by sending an angel to herald the news. But he didn’t. He sent darkness. Because darkness is a picture of his wrath and judgment (cf. Ps. 97:2–3; Joel 2:1–2; Rev. 6:12ff). The cross was the judgment of God upon the world for her sins.
But that’s not all. Consider these two thoughts from the viewpoint of Christ:
- The significance of the darkness for Christ is that during that time he endured the deepest reproach and pains of hell. The one voice that was heard out of the darkness was the anguished cry of the Savior: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Absolutely alone. God-forsaken. The darkness was hell.
- What he endured at Calvary was shrouded in impenetrable darkness because what he experienced is unfathomable. What human witness could comprehend what he endured? What human pen could write of what it was to be forsaken by the Father? What human words could express hell? How deep was that darkness!
But then to think: He did that for me! He endured the unspeakable and unfathomable for me! He took upon himself the black guilt of my sins, so that I might be righteous before God! He drank the cup of God’s wrath, so that I might enjoy his favor! He endured the deepest abyss of hell, so that I might enjoy the glorious heights of heaven! How can it be?
And because he did that, the darkness was dispelled. At the ninth hour—about 3:00pm—the darkness was driven away and the sun shone again. And we live and walk in that light, as children not of the darkness but of the light.
Thanks be to God that we will never know that awful darkness!
Thanks be to God that we will enjoy only the light of his fellowship and favor forever!
Rev. Joshua Engelsma is pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa and will be assisting Rev. Spronk in writing for the RFPA blog.