Posted March 20, 2017
“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.
In the Apostle’s Creed the Church of all ages confesses that Jesus Christ “descended into hell.” What Christ suffered in hell cannot be depicted on a TV or movie screen. Nor can his suffering in hell be imitated by anyone. John Calvin explains the truth of Jesus’ suffering in hell and its significance for believers:
But, apart from the Creed, we must seek for a surer exposition of Christ's descent to hell: and the word of God furnishes us with one not only pious and holy, but replete with excellent consolation. Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God's anger, and satisfy his righteous judgment, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death. We lately quoted from the Prophet, that the "chastisement of our peace was laid upon him" that he "was bruised for our iniquities" that he "bore our infirmities;" expressions which intimate, that, like a sponsor and surety for the guilty, and, as it were, subjected to condemnation, he undertook and paid all the penalties which must have been exacted from them, the only exception being, that the pains of death could not hold him. Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God. It is frivolous and ridiculous to object that in this way the order is perverted, it being absurd that an event which preceded burial should be placed after it. But after explaining what Christ endured in the sight of man, the Creed appropriately adds the invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he endured before God, to teach us that not only was the body of Christ given up as the price of redemption, but that there was a greater and more excellent price—that he bore in his soul the tortures of condemned and ruined man (Calvin’s Institutes, book 2, chapter 16 sect. 10).