The three hours of darkness from Noon to Three p.m.
At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.Matthew 27:45
At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.Mark 15:33
By this time it was noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 45 The light from the sun was gone. . .Luke 23:44-45
This darkness leaves us all wondering what happened. It has been debated for years, as you saw yesterday from a time soon after it happened. Everyone wants to work out what happened.
- Why it happened and how we explain it?
- Was it an eclipse or wasn’t it?
- Was the darkness local or did it cover the earth?
All good questions to grapple with. Now I will put my point of view, but before I do I would like to preface it with some thoughts on the approach many of us take to Scripture. Many try to harmonize the biblical text with modern earth science or the scientific knowledge of the 21st Century. So hence the attempt by many to interpret and re-interpret what went on behind of the scenes of this latest event that we are considering – the darkness at the time of the crucifixion. How do we explain it in natural terms? But I have learned that you can’t explain everything written in the Bible in natural, geocentric terms. God can’t be explained in naturalistic ways. Simply He is God and as such stands outside of human understanding or perspective.
Charles Lyall, who wrote the Introduction to Geology in the 1800’s developed the idea of uniformitarianism. He promoted the idea that “the present is the key to the past”. The present forces and processes we observe on earth are the key to understanding what happened in the past. Observe the phenomena we see currently and extrapolate back to the past. But that doesn’t work when it comes to things biblical or God. All earth processes and forces have not continued consistently and uniformly down through the ages. The Bible (God’s Word) tells us of times when things happen outside of the ordinary. When earth was watered from below, not from above; when a flood of a proportion never before seen occurred on the earth; when seismic and tectonic forces occurred on earth like never before; when the sun stopped or went backwards; or when darkness of a kind never experienced on the earth occurred. The same applies to the future when things will happen that will not fit the worldview or perspective we have of the world or the universe around us. Things will happen which won’t fit the way things normally are on earth. God can do whatever He wishes with this world He made. He is after all God.
Eclipse or something else?
Luke uses the word [ekleipo] in the text of his gospel (23:45) to describe the events. It is a word that was used to describe the phenomena of a solar eclipse where the sun is obscured by the moon which passes between the sun and the earth. Yes this is the Greek word which gave rise to the use of the English word “eclipse”. There is a degree of doubt between the documents on this verse as to whether the reading ought to be “the sun was darkened” or “the sun failed”. Was Luke’s purpose to use the verb [ekleipein] to mean the sun was darkened, eclipsed, obscured or did he mean to keep the original meaning of the word which carried the sense of fail, to die out, give out, cease to shine. There is much debate. As you have seen from the offering I gave in the last Gem, the counter argument to this being an eclipse has been around since just after the events themselves. It doesn’t make sense for this to be an eclipse. The duration is insufficient to sustain a three hour period, an eclipse can’t occur at the time of the full moon and as I hinted above, we don’t need to always look for current earth science processes to explain Biblical miracles. Leave space in your theology for a supernatural God.
Luke was a scientific-minded man who carefully chose his words to convey his meaning. I don’t think he has used the verb [ekleipein] to signify an eclipse. Rather I believe he is hinting that the light of the sun failed for a period of 3 hours. Not only that but Matthew describes for us some other phenomena which the other two gospel writers don’t refer to – namely earthquakes, rocks splitting and the graves opening and dead people walking around. None of these phenomena are part of a solar eclipse. To associate this happening with a solar eclipse is to miss the point of something more major occurring. In simple terms the light of the sun failed for three hours. The sun went out, the sun was turned off, its light failed. Why? Don’t look for naturalistic explanations. The God who created the sun shut down its light for three hours. This has to be a huge symbol of Divine Displeasure. Not only could Jesus say My God My God, why have YOU forsaken me? But all on earth could cry Our God, Our God, why have YOU forsaken us? To look to explain this event by means of an eclipse seems to me to miss the point of something greater happening. This was a sign of judgement on the earth at the very time when He was “judging” His Son for human sin. It was a sign in the sun of God’s displeasure.
It seems to me that it hints at a global event which is associated with a world in turmoil. Little wonder when its Creator was heaping His wrath on the human kind He had created. It was a solemn moment. Remember we have looked at what happened when Grace and Mercy walked or tabernacled among us or when God ran. Now God is heaping His wrath toward mankind on His Son. This moment was monumental. Little wonder that earthquakes raged, graves opened and dead people walked and the light of the sun was extinguished or at the very least dimmed. Not only has the Creator forsaken Jesus but He forsook the world. Just turn the light out LORD. To attribute this all to an eclipse is to me to miss the significance of the moment. Open your eyes wider than that. One thing that puzzles me is why Luke didn’t include the earthquakes and graves opening and the dead walking around as Matthew did. I would have thought such examples were perfect for Luke’s grander purpose. But he doesn’t include them. That to me is puzzling.
From that point of view let’s re-evaluate as to whether this event was local or global. Recapping: many ancient witnesses have cited such darkness was experienced in Jerusalem and its immediate environs, Judea and other districts, Bythnia, Nicaea, the whole of the Eastern Mediterranean, Rome, Athens, and the whole world. Maybe that should be qualified by “the whole of the known world”. The word Luke uses, [gē] means either land, whole land, entire land, region, country, earth, entire earth. [Interesting that it forms the basis for the modern word geology. Phooey on Charles Lyall. There are events which happen on this earth which can’t be explained by natural processes. This is one of them. I tend to agree with Gerardus Bouw, it is likely that given the above circumstances, the phenomena occurred all over the earth. In fact if we take the time as being 12.00 noon in Jerusalem, it is already 6.00 pm in Bali, Indonesia and night is already coming. If it’s 12.00 noon in Jerusalem then it would be 10.00 am in the morning in London. Thus everything to the west of Europe and the continent is in darkness. The only part of the earth which is in daylight when Jerusalem is between the hours of 12.00 and 3.00 pm lies between London and Bali. The rest of the earth is in darkness anyway by virtue of them being in night. I tend toward thinking the events described by Matthew, Mark and Luke covered not only the Eastern Mediterranean but that it was dark over the whole earth. That would certainly fit the symbolism of the moment.
Add the above to the significance of the veil being torn at the precise moment Jesus releases His Spirit we have a happening of global proportion. Or was it just dark in the Eastern Mediterranean?
I think not. I suspect it was dark over the whole earth. Put all of these events together and one would think it would have huge impact on whoever observed it. Next Gem we move on to look at the effect on those who observed the happenings.
The cross is God’s way of taking away all of our accusations, excuses, and arguments. The cross is God taking on flesh and blood and saying, Me too.Rob Bell
Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.John R.W. Stott
Nobody’s perfect. The only one that ever was, was crucified.Loretta Lynn
On the cross He did not hide Himself from sight; rather, He made all creation witness to the presence of its Maker.Athanasius of Alexandria
It is through the Cross that the Christian is challenged to follow his Master: no path of redemption can make a detour around it.Hans Urs von Balthasar
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.Plato