The Death of Christ

"Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land" (Matt. 27:45). Jesus had already been on the cross for approximately three hours when it became unnaturally dark. The darkness lasted from noon until 3 P.M., which is when the sun usually produces the most light and heat. It is unknown whether the darkness was global or restricted to the land of Palestine. However, it should be noted that for the sun's light to fail for such a lengthy period there must be a miraculous explanation (not a natural one, like an eclipse). The darkness lifted in conjunction with Jesus' death at approximately 3 P.M. Some believe this is essentially the same time the lamb for the evening offering was slain (cf. Exo. 29:38ff).

"And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" (Matt. 27:46). Just moments before He gave up His spirit, Jesus cried out to His Father with these words (cf. Psa. 22:1). From a purely mortal perspective, it is impossible to fully understand what Jesus was enduring. Certainly His physical pain was immense, but even greater was the spiritual agony. No one can fathom the depth of anguish that the perfectly righteous Son of God (cf. Heb. 4:15) experienced in bearing all the blackness of sin upon Himself for everyone. There are many passages of Scripture that touch on this vital theme, and I encourage you to study them (e.g., II Cor. 5:21; Isa. 53:6,10,11; I Pet. 2:22-24; Gal. 3:13; John 1:29; Heb. 9:13-20; I John 2:2).

It is difficult to understand exactly what Jesus meant in His comment about the Father forsaking Him. Some have suggested that His words here were spoken for man's benefit alone (i.e., to call man's attention to what was really happening that day). This may be correct since it is certain that Jesus understood the purpose of God allowing Him to suffer and die in this way. It is also difficult to know if there really was a spiritual separation between the Father and Son while Jesus was being crucified as an offering for sin (cf. Eph. 5:2). Some believe that Jesus' words demand this; others are unable to see how there could ever really be a separation between members of the Godhead. Thus, they view Jesus' comment as essentially an expression of His feelings at that difficult hour. It seems safest to conclude that this "forsaking" is somewhat of a mystery to us. However, even though one may not fully comprehend it, one can know that Jesus was agonizing intensely regarding it.

"Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, 'This Man is calling for Elijah!'" (Matt. 27:47). Jesus had now been upon the cross for six hours. The fact that He was under a lot of strain and had a dry throat likely rendered His articulation difficult and indistinct. For this reason, some of those who stood by, though perfectly familiar with the language, misunderstood Him and thought that He called upon Elijah.

"After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, 'I thirst!'" (John 19:28; cf. Psa. 22:15; 69:21). Jesus fulfilled all of the prophecies about Him, whether they were of a primary or secondary nature, without fail. Although the Jews rejected Him, the prophecies of God's word confirmed Him as the only begotten Son of God.

"Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink" (Matt. 27:48). Nearby there was a vessel full of sour wine ("vinegar," KJV; cf. John 19:29). The fact that the sponge was put on a reed gives a hint as to the height of the cross. Jesus was evidently several feet off the ground. This can be deduced since the sponge was not put directly up to his mouth by hand and since the greatest length of a hyssop reed would not have exceeded four feet. This beverage would not have done much more for Jesus than satisfy His thirst, which is all He desired.

"The rest said, 'Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him'" (Matt. 27:49). It is unlikely that the people are expressing opposition to the sour wine being offered to Jesus. This seems rather to be a general statement meaning: "Let us do nothing to prevent Him from calling upon Elijah, or to prevent Elijah from coming."

"So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, 'It is finished!'" (John 19:30). These three words sum up all that Jesus came to do. The redemption of mankind was now being achieved, and the course which had been laid out for Him from the beginning had been completed. His life and work, His suffering and death, and the shame and agony of the cross are all viewed as behind Him. He had come, ministered, suffered, and would now conquer. He had triumphed through His righteousness on behalf of mankind; He had fulfilled the Law and the Prophets (cf. Matt. 5:17,18). Death was becoming the door to the realization of His glory and not the shame that His enemies intended. His mighty task had been accomplished! All that was left for Him was to release His life and overthrow death.

Jesus bowed His head and "yielded up His spirit" (i.e., "He breathed His last") after crying out in a loud voice - "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit" (Luke 23:46; cf. Psa. 31:5). His loud cry was one of triumph, not defeat. Jesus deliberately put His head down into a position of rest as He laid down His life. He yielded it voluntarily; it was not taken from Him (cf. John 10:18).

"Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split" (Matt. 27:51). This veil was a heavy curtain which hung between the Holy and Most Holy Places in the sanctuary. It shut out everyone from the Most Holy Place (except the high priest who would enter therein once a year, cf. Lev. 16). The message conveyed by the ripping of this curtain was that "the way into the Holiest of All" was now manifest to all (i.e., through Jesus; Heb. 9:7,8). The Levitical priesthood would be replaced by a priesthood composed of Jews, Gentiles, men, and women (cf. Heb. 7:14; I Pet. 2:5,9; Gal. 3:27,28), and the Old Law would be replaced by a "better covenant" (Heb. 8:6-13; cf. Col. 2:14). The Most Holy Place of the temple no longer had much significance to God, which is obvious since He caused it to be exposed in this manner. It is interesting to note that when the veil was torn in two pieces it was not ripped from the bottom to the top as men might do standing on the floor. It was ripped from the top to the bottom by the power of God and was symbolic of the spiritual significance of Christ's death (cf. Eph. 2:14-22; Col. 2:14-17; Heb. 8-10, especially 10:19-23). Priests ministering in the Holy Place would have witnessed this event as it happened.

"And the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised" (Matt. 27:52). This was caused by an earthquake that also occurred at Jesus' death. "And coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many" (Matt. 27:53). Matthew records the fact of their resurrection here since it was convenient, but these resurrections did not actually take place until at least three days later (cf. Col. 1:18). What a powerful testimony all of these resurrections must have been!

"So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'" (Matt. 27:54). There was no other rational explanation for everything that had happened at His death. This man rightfully interpreted them as signs from heaven, indicating that this was no ordinary crucifixion. Certainly Jesus' words on the cross and His demeanor would also have influenced the man's thinking on the matter. He then knew that Jesus was indeed a "righteous Man!" (Luke 23:47). This Roman surpassed in faith many who had better opportunities. However, he was not alone in his faith.

"And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned" (Luke 23:48). The meaning here is that they left the scenes of Golgotha with a feeling of deep sorrow (sorrow over the fact that they had acted wrongly under the influence of the Jewish authorities). Less than two months later, these feelings would lead to the action of 3000 souls obeying the gospel on the Day of Pentecost.

"And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar" (Matt. 27:55; cf. Psa. 38:11). Although woman was the first to sin originally, she was the last at the cross, the first at the empty tomb, and the first to bear the news of His resurrection (cf. Gen. 3:6; Matt. 28). "Among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons" (Matt. 27:56; cf. John 19:25). Since they weren't mentioned here, some have incorrectly speculated that John and Jesus' mother had already left, perhaps being no longer able to endure the sight. John 19:34,35,27 disproves this notion, however.

Besides John and the women, where were the other disciples? Sadly, they were conspicuously absent--probably because of fear.

Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.