Study By: J. Hampton Keathley, III
Scripture: Matt. 27:45-56
Surrounding Christ’s death on the cross, was a chain of miraculous events that gave tremendous testimony to (1) the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, (2) His claims as the Son of God, and (3) as a result, to the fact of the redemption that comes through faith in Him. Any one of these miracles alone would be astounding, but linked together they form an unbreakable chain of evidence that authenticates and declares Jesus Christ as truly the Son of God and the redemptive Savior of the world.
Matthew 27:45-53 Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani ?”that is, “ My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me ?” 47 And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 And immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49 But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split, 52 and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.
Five miracles are recorded in this passage. They include:
- The miraculous darkness that settled over the land.
- The rending of the veil in the temple.
- The shaking of the earth and the rocks splitting.
- The opening of the tombs.
- The raising of many saints who had died.
I. The Miraculous Darkness
The darkness from 12 noon until 3 p.m. is sometimes passed over with little comment by expositors, but it is rich in meaning not only because of the significance of the cross but because darkness itself is an important concept throughout Scripture from Genesis 1:2 through Rev. 16:10. The words for darkness and light occur approximately 390 times in Scripture (over 160 times for darkness and 229 times for light). It is not without meaning that the first act of God in Genesis was the removal of the darkness by the creation of light.
Background of this Miracle
Six trials were now over (three Jewish and three Roman). Christ had been illegally condemned and turned over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified between the two thieves. He had been chosen in place of the notorious Barabbas who was released because Pilate gave in to the cries of the Jewish mob–all of which is a fitting picture of Christ’s work as the innocent Lamb of God taking the place of the guilty.
Christ was nailed to the cross at the third hour (9 a.m.). This was a time of contrasts with a lot of activity taking place. There was the gross iniquity and activity of His malefactors who were parting his garments, casting lots for His seamless coat, watching, mocking, shaking their heads and hurled abusive language at the Lord as he hung on the cross for their sins and the sins of the whole world.
These were also busy hours for the Savior–hours of activity which stood out in striking contrast to those of His enemies. Though suffering horribly at the hands of men, His focus was on others rather than himself. It was in these first three hours of light that He utter his first three sayings.
Christ’s First Saying
Christ was audibly interceding on behalf of those crucifying Him, saying over and over again as the original Greek text suggests, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). This in itself is another wonder of the cross which showed the Savior’s uniqueness.
For the Jews it was an eye for an eye. For the Romans revenge was God. Together these had nailed Him to the cross. They had spit on Him, slapped Him, brought false accusers against Him, mocked Him and beat His face to a pulp so that His features were unrecognizable according to Isaiah 52:14. But Christ said, “Father, forgive them . . .” Note that He did not say “Father forgive me,” for He was without sin, spotless and pure. It was “forgive them.” “He committed no sin nor was any deceit found in His mouth.”
Christ was aware of His mission and purpose. He had come to die for their sin so they (as well as you and I) might be forgiven. This was a request to lay their sin upon Him. Christ was there to assume their debt and ours. He was there to die judicially and literally for the moral guilt of man (Isa. 53:4-6). Indeed, it was not just the Romans and the Jews who put Him on the cross, but the sin of the world, yours and mine.
Christ’s Second Saying
In Christ’s second saying, He was also personally caring for and listening to the cry of the dying thief and answering Him with the assurance of salvation–the salvation which He was about to purchase. To the thief He said, “today thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Christ’s Third Saying
In Christ’s third saying, He was recognizing the presence of His beloved mother and disciple and commending her to John’s care (John 19:25-27). In this He was executing His last will and testament, yet He was also thinking of you and me.
Please note, Christ called Mary not “mother,” but simply “woman.” He was destroying the basis for viewing her as a second mediator–the Queen of Heaven. She was the mother of His humanity, but as she stood before Him while on the cross, she was just a woman who, as with anyone else, had to believe in Him for salvation
The first three hours were hours of hate, rejection, mockery and cruelty on the one hand, but on the other they were hours of love, intercession, and mercy.
The Darkness and the Silence
It is now noon, the sun is high in the sky–and suddenly total, dismal darkness falls over the land accompanied by a somber silence.
Matthew 27:45 Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.
Luke 23:44-45 And it was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun being obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two.
We are told that at the brightest time of day “darkness fell.” “Fell” is the aorist tense of the verbginomai meaning “to happen, come to be,” and this tense combined with this verb suggest the suddenness of this. The darkness was sudden, not gradual. It was just like someone had turned out the lights.
“Upon all the land.” Whether the darkness was over the entire daylight portion of the globe, we don’t know. But we do know it was at least over the entire land of Palestine. The word “land” is the Greek word ge which may refer to (1) the earth, or (2) a region of land or country.
Can you imagine the scene? What must have become the mood of the moment? There was no abusive language now, no wagging of heads, no more jeering, only horror, amazement, shock, fear, suspense, and the anxious whisperings of the onlookers.
Listen to the words of 1 Samuel 2:9-10:
“He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven;”
Can you imagine the effect of this sudden darkness in the midst of all the activity of the spiritual darkness of this hour (Mark 15:33).
Listen to what we read in Job 5:13-14:
“He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away. Darkness comes upon them in the daytime; at noon they grope as in the night.
The Source and Cause of the Darkness
Where did the darkness come from? What caused it?
(1) An Eclipse? This was the time of the Passover and the time of a full moon. According to what I have read, an eclipse was impossible at this time. An eclipse never occurs suddenly as did this incident and an eclipse only lasts for a few minutes–never three full hours.
(2) A Natural Phenomena? Could it be a darkness like that associated with an earthquake or a volcanic eruption? Perhaps, but probably not. This darkness covered the entire land and it came suddenly. Also there is no record of an earthquake prior to this, only after this recorded event.
(3) A Dust Storm or Cloud Cover? What about a dark cloud cover which suddenly rolled in or perhaps a very heavy dust storm? Again, this seems unlikely because of its suddenness.
(4) An Act of God? The only proper answer is that this event was a miraculous solar eclipse or a cosmic sign. God the Creator who placed the sun, moon, stars and planets in their place caused it. This was God directly intervening in nature. As a miracle, we do not understand it, we only have the evidence that it occurred. But above all, the darkness was a fitting symbolic act of God. Through out Scripture, God uses darkness as a vehicle through which to express certain truth to sinful man (cf. Gen. 15:12-18;Ex. 10:21-22; 20:21; Josh. 24:7; Deut. 4:10;11; 5:22; Prov. 4:19; Joel. 2:2; Amos 5:20; Zeph. 1:15; Mat. 8:12; 25;30).
The Credibility of the Record
Since it does not appear to have been caused by any of the normal phenomenon of nature, we should say a word about the credibility of this account before we go on to its significance.
Recorded by Three Authors of Inspired Scripture
For the person who believes the Bible, this immediately settles the question. For others, there is the tremendous evidence for the uniqueness and incredible accuracy of Scripture which stands behind this record.
Luke records this event, along with Matthew and Mark, and tells us in connection with writing his gospel that he “investigated everything carefully.” Luke and Matthew were there in Palestine and probably Mark also. They were living at that very moment in that very place. They saw the darkness and talked to others who saw it as well.
Recorded by Church Historian
But in case that is not enough for someone, Tertullian, a great church historian and defender of the faith, writing as an apologist to his heathen adversaries in the second century wrote, “at the moment of Christ’s death, the light departed from the sun and the land was darkened at noonday, which wonder is related in your (speaking to heathen adversaries) own annals and is preserved in your archives to this day.”1
This was no normal action of nature nor a quirk of nature. Jesus, the Son of God, the God-Man was dying for man’s sin and God was, with great drama, declaring this to the world. Jesus hung between heaven and earth–the bridge from one to the other–and suddenly darkness covers the land.
This miracle was a providential act of God both to (1) authenticate and (2) to interpret the death of His Son to the world.
The Significance and Meaning of the Darkness
It Authenticated Christ’s Character and
Interpreted His Death and Mission
Christ told the people that He had come to save them from their sin and they were offended.
When He said, “I Am the Son of God,” they took up stones to stone Him.
Another time they said, “show us a sign from heaven.” Now they had a sign. And other signs would soon follow like reverberating peals of thunder echoing the world-wide importance of this historic event.
The Roman centurion standing close by got the picture. At the close of this event he exclaimed, “truly, this was the Son of God,” and proclaimed, “Certainly this man was innocent.”
The character of Christ’s sufferings, followed by the darkness, proved that Jesus Christ was without sin and qualified to bear our sins and deliver us from our own spiritual darkness.
PSA 107:10 Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains,
PSA 107:14 He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains.
But to do that, God had to face the blackness of doom for us in the person of His incarnate Son.
It Exhibited the Universal
Magnitude of Christ’s Death
This supernatural manifestation proved the importance of this person, and the death He was dying. His death was for man’s redemption from sin and reconciliation to God. From man’s standpoint, what could be more important than this?
It Demonstrated God’s Holiness
and the Barrier Sin Creates
As Isaiah declared, it demonstrated that Christ was judicially smitten of God. It showed that a holy God had turned His face away from His Son in a judicial sense, not a relational sense, and had poured out His wrath of divine justice on Christ who was there bearing our penalty, taking our place.
This was the point in time when Christ bore our sin and when God the Father and the Holy Spirit had to turn their backs on the suffering Savior.
The darkness demonstrated that:
- God is of purer eyes than to behold sin (Hab. 1:13).
- Christ was smitten of God because of God’s holiness and man’s sin (Isa 53:4-6).
- Christ was bearing the sin of the entire human race as man’s substitute (Isa 53:10-12).
But this does not mean that Christ was utterly forsaken by the Father. He was not, for the Father heard His prayers and delivered His Son from the cross and the tomb. But for a while the darkness spoke of Christ separated from God by the sin of the world and smitten for us as He bore our sin.
It was a Prophecy of the Doom
that Awaits the Unbelieving
(1) Scripture teaches about a coming day of darkness–the Tribulation (John 3:16-18, 36).
ISA 13:9-11 “See, the day of the Lord is coming –a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger–to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.”
ZEP 1:15 “That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness,”
(2) Darkness is also used in the Bible of the final day of judgment (Great White Throne Judgment) when all unbelievers will be cast into outer darkness for rejection of Christ.
MAT 8:12-13 “But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
It was Designed to Hide Christ’s
Sufferings from Human Eyes
It was not fitting that man should see the Son in this hour of His intense suffering when the sin of the world was placed on Him.
Think about your sins–fornication, pride, gossip, hate, lying, indifference or complacency, unfaithfulness, rebellion, etc. It was in this dark hour that God put our sin upon Christ. It was the time He bore the iniquity of us all.
Man could only hear the great cry, “Eloi, Eloi . . .” (Matt. 27:46). Was this the exact moment when our sin was placed upon Christ? Or was this cry because He could endure no longer our sin and the spiritual separation from God and He cried out for deliverance? We don’t know the answer to those questions. But what we do know is that Christ was bearing our iniquity in those hours of darkness and the cry affirmed His abiding trust in the Father’s deliverance, reflected in the words, “My God, My God.”
It was a Fitting Symbol of the
Darkness of the Human Soul
Concerning His arrest and all that would follow, Christ said to the religious leaders,
Luke 22:53 “Everyday I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour, when darkness reigns”
Pr. 4:19 “But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”
Christ came as the light of the world to lighten every man, but men loved darkness rather than the light and they rejected Him.
John 3:19 “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”
The Jews held two trials in the night, a procedure that was illegal according to Jewish law, to falsely accuse the Savior and to find a reason to kill Him because as the Light, He revealed their darkness.
In the early morning hours, another trial was held to make it all legal. Then came the Roman trials, another travesty on justice. This was followed by the first hours on the cross in the daylight with the sneering and insults–acts which demonstrated the darkness of the human soul–the very reason God had to send His Son.
Then suddenly the darkness came–a fitting picture of why Christ had to go to the cross.
The psalmist wrote,
“He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains (PSA 107:14).
“Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man. For the Lord is gracious and compassionate and righteous” (Ps. 112:4).
While the darkness portrayed the sin and darkness of man and the wrath of God upon sin, it also dramatically demonstrated the love of God acting sovereignly in history to deliver us from the darkness of Satan’s kingdom and from sin and death.
Thus, just as suddenly as it had come, the darkness was dispelled by the light of day and Christ was then heard to speak again. He said tetelesthai, meaning, “it is finished.” He was able to say this because during those hours of darkness man’s redemption had been accomplished once and for all.
The words “it is finished,” represents the Greek tetelesthai, the perfect tense of teleo. Interestingly, this word was used in the Papyri of a son reporting to his father that the job he had been sent to do was done, accomplished. It meant, “mission accomplished!”
Then, crying out one last time, Christ said, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my Spirit,” the Lord voluntarily, by the power of His own will, yielded up His Spirit and died. (Matt. 27:50)
John 1:4-5 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
John 12:46 “I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness.
In the Damascus road experience when the apostle Paul was converted, the Savior told him, regarding the world of lost men, that He had come
“ . . . to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18).
In Ephesians we read,
“Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:7-8).
Romans 13:12 tells us,
“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
Our Savior has conquered the darkness, and as His people, we ought to live as the children of light as we walk in the power of His life with His character and purposes as our own.
II. The Torn Veil
Background and Context
Matthew 27:50-53 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split, 52 and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.
Mark 15:37-38 And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. 38 And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Luke 23:46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” And having said this, He breathed His last.
John 19:30 When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.
There is a cause-and-effect relationship between Matthew 27:50 and the verses 51-53. It appears from the accounts of John and Luke that the last two sayings of Christ on the cross, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46), and “It is finished” (John 19:30), were said simultaneously and most likely these two together made up the last cry mentioned by Matthew and Mark.
Regardless, it is important to note both of these last words of Christ (summed up by Matthew as the final loud voice) present the death of Christ as occurring immediately afterward with the rending of the veil occurring at that point (cf. Mark 15:37-38). Luke 23:45 mentions the rending of the veil in connection with the sun being obscured and just before his final words, evidently not focusing on the chronology but on the fact and the general time. Even so, Luke closely associates His final words and death with the rending of the veil.
“It is Finished”
The preceding actions and words of Christ manifested what kind of man He was, sinless and innocent. They dealt with His person and showed Him to be the sinless God-Man Savior–the only one qualified to die for our sin.
But the cry, “it is finished,” dealt with His work. With these words, we see our Lord’s confidence and satisfaction with the past, with what has now been accomplished by His vicarious sufferings on the cross. He did not say “I am done,” but “it is done.” The “it” referred to His work as the Lamb of God.
“Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit”
With the words, we see our Lord’s confidence and satisfaction with the future. Earlier He had addressed the Father as “God.” But now he again addresses Him as “Father.” This means:
- Fellowship had been restored and God’s perfect holiness which demanded judgment on sin had been satisfied.
- Satan had been defeated.
- Jesus Christ had successfully born the sin of all mankind—both yours and mine.
Here we have the victorious Son, of His own volition, releasing His spirit in death. This was the final act of the cross. Christ entrusted Himself to the Father knowing he had paid the penalty for sin and that His resurrection was assured.
Immediately, following these words with their tremendous and obvious implications, our attention is focused on the next momentous event–the rending of the veil from top to bottom.
Matthew begins with “and behold.” Behold is designed to arrest our attention to show us that these miracles were authenticating signs from God which were brought about at this very moment to dramatically emphasize the accomplishments of the death of Jesus Christ. Each is significant in its own way and tells its own story concerning the results and significance of Christ’s death.
It appears that it was the loud voice of the victorious Savior and His death that caused the chain of miraculous events: the veil tearing, the earth shaking, rocks breaking, and the tombs opening with many bodies of Old Testament saints raised from the dead (cf. Mk. 15:37-38).
To see the significance of this next miracle in this chain of events, the rending of the veil, we would do well to review and study the meaning of the veil of the temple in Scripture.
The Symbolism of the Veil
The veil and the ritual of the temple took its meaning from the tabernacle as described in Old Testament Scripture. There were many differences between the temple and the tabernacle, but the meaning of the veils and the Old Testament ritual in their production and purposes remained the same.
The veil was a covering, a concealment and a barrier that stood between the holy place and the Holy of Holies. It spoke of the barrier that separates man from God. In the Old Testament ritual, it showed the way into God’s presence was not yet open.
Hebrews 9:1-14 Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. 2 For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. 3 And behind the second veil, there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, 4 having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant. 5 And above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail. 6 Now when these things have been thus prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle, performing the divine worship, 7 but into the second only the high priest enters, once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. 8 The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing, 9 which isa symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, 10 since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (NASB)
The congregation of Israel assembled in the court and daily the priests entered the holy place ministering according to their office. Into the Holy of Holies no one was allowed except the high priest, and he was only allowed once a year on the Day of Atonement. Each year on this day the high priest would come with blood from the altar of sacrifice and with smoke of incense from the altar of incense which he would place in the Holy of Holies.
This spoke of the person of Christ, who through death, opened the way into God’s presence (Heb. 10:20). It spoke of Christ as God’s way into His presence, but it also manifested the fact that Christ became the new barrier since there is no salvation apart from personal faith in Christ. So, the veil was prophetic and spoke of Jesus Christ.
John 3:16-17, 36 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. . . . 36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
The Significance of the Event
The tearing of the veil from top to bottom showed that the way into God’s presence had been opened by the death of Jesus Christ, the perfect substitute, so all men may now have fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 9:14-15 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
Hebrews 10:19 Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,
It showed the barrier which separated man from God had been removed and effectively dealt with once and for all.
Hebrews 9:26-28 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comesjudgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (NASB)
Ephesians 2:11-16 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands– 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
It showed that Christ’s sacrifice was the final and all-sufficient sacrifice. It signified that not only was He the fulfillment of all the Old Testament types and pictures, but that no other form of human works or system of religion opened the way into God’s presence.
John 14:6 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.
Acts 4:12 12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”
Colossians 2:16-23 Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 which allrefer to things destined to perish with the using– in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
Hebrews 10:10-14 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
Because Christ had fulfilled the Old Testament Law, it showed that the Old Testament system had been abrogated–done away by the work of Christ. It nullified any kind of elite and selective priesthood system and made every believer a priest of God with perfect access to God.
Hebrews 10:1-9 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, But a body Thou hast prepared for Me; 6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrificesfor sin Thou hast taken no pleasure. 7 “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come In the roll of the book it is written of Me To do Thy will, O God.’” 8 After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast not desired, nor hast Thou taken pleasure in them” which are offered according to the Law, 9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Thy will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second.
The tearing of the veil down the middle from top to bottom miraculously showed:
- Christ’s work was a work of God.
- Christ’s work was sufficient and complete
- No human works or religious system could ever accomplish what God had done in Christ
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it isthe gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,
John 6:26-40 Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled. 27 “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, even God, has set His seal.” 28 They said therefore to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” 30 They said therefore to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? 31 “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus therefore said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 They said therefore to Him, “Lord, evermore give us this bread.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36 “But I said to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
This is a stupendous event for man to ponder. It was no doubt one of the reasons that many priests came to accept Christ as their Savior (Acts 6:7b). Just imagine the picture. Priests were ministering in the holy place at the very time of Christ’s death when suddenly this huge curtain (19 feet high, 60 feet wide, and the thickness of a man’s hand) was ripped in half from top to bottom revealing the Holy of Holies and opening the way into God’s presence.
This was an historic occurrence, one alluded to by secular historians as Tacitus and Josephus, and even by the Jewish Talmud. It was an act of God authenticating and interpreting the death of Jesus Christ as God’s solution to the sin and death dilemma of the human race.
Significance for Believers
(1) It means complete confidence in Jesus Christ as the only means of eternal life or true spirituality. It means away with legalism or acts of self-trust. It means the need to trust fully in the finished work of Christ. It is not what I do that saves me, but what He has done.
(2) It means the need and moral obligation for full commitment–not as a proof of my salvation or to keep me saved–but because I am God’s child and complete in Christ.
(3) It means nothing is more crucial to an effective Christian life than a clear awareness of its foundation. Christian experience begins with a clear understanding of justification based on the finished work of Jesus Christ. Justification is the act of God which declares the believer to be acceptable on the basis of His finished work. If we are to become psychologically whole and spiritually mature, we must understand that our acceptability to God is not based on our merit or behavior, but rather on the merit and behavior of Jesus Christ.
Because people worry about their acceptance, they often look to people to feel accepted or to gain their acceptance. As a result they operate to please men, or in seeking to please God they are actually trying to be accepted rather than to please Him because they already are accepted.
(Cf. Hebrews 3:7f; 6:1f; 9:14 and 10:21f.)
Significance for Unbelievers
It means a need to honestly consider this tremendous evidence and to make a decision regarding receiving Jesus Christ by faith. It means facing the fact of the warning that if one rejects Christ’s death and judgment for his sin, then he will face God’s judgment for rejection of Christ (cf. John 3:18, 36, 8:24).
“Jesus Christ, God incarnate, paid the full penalty for man’s sin when He died on the cross of Calvary. Any person who, in simple faith, trusts in the risen Christ as their only hope of heaven, refusing to trust in anything else, receives the gift of eternal life which, once granted, can never be lost” (Statement of Faith, Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society).
III. The Earth Shaking and Rocks Breaking
This third miracle has a special significance of its own in the chain of miraculous phenomena surrounding the death of Christ. As with the darkness and the splitting of the veil, this occurred at the same time and was a supernatural notation from God to make known the significance of the death of Christ. As noted above, it was the loud voice of the victorious and dying Saviour which split the veil, shook the earth, broke the rocks, and opened the tombs (cf. Mark 15:37-38 with Matt. 27:50-51).
Not only was our Lord’s final shout and His death the cause of what followed–the opening of the graves–but it was a sign of great scope and great power. It demonstrated the earth-shaking nature of the death of Christ, the manifestation of the power of God for the entire world.
The Nature of the Event
Because of the precise moment of this event and the way Scripture connected it with the death of Christ, it was supernatural and miraculous.
- It was miraculous because it was the result of the direct interference of God.
- It was supernatural because it was not the result of any of the natural or normal causes of earthquakes. Because of the significance of the death of Jesus Christ, it was independent of nature: it was the sole act of God.
There are four things which I believe support this. There are four coincidences that form the evidence for this view of the shaking of the earth.
- It coincided with the death of Christ. It is set forth in Scripture as a result of His death.
- It coincided with and was a part of the attestations of the darkness and the veil–which were clearly direct miracles and unnatural events.
- It coincided with the final shouts of Christ’s victory on the cross, “It is finished” and “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” Thus, the Father acted to attest to the importance of Christ’s death.
- It coincided with the rending of the rocks and the opening of the graves. Yet, from the narratives of the gospels, nothing else was disturbed as in a normal earthquake. As violent and powerful as it was, nothing else seems to have been disturbed. It did not displace the Savior’s cross, though Golgotha itself was shaken. It opened graves, yet not all graves, only the graves of the saints. It worked selectively and intelligently as a miraculous act of God interpreting the death of Christ.
The Testimony of this Event (what it teaches us)
Testimony of Creation
When man sinned (the first Adam) mankind became cursed with sin and death, and the earth (theadamah), the ground out of which man had been made was also cursed. But when Jesus Christ died (the Last Adam, as Christ is called by Paul) the earth shook as a powerful display of the power and truth of the results of Christ’s death. Here was the one who had redeemed man from the curse of sin and would one day redeem nature or creation from its curse as well.
Testimony to Reconciliation and Propitiation
There was one other time when God caused the earth to quake miraculously. It was at Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Law (Ex. 19:16f). There it stood for the absolute holiness of God and warned the people that they could not touch the mount or even approach God apart from the sacrifices of the Law which, of course, pointed to the person and work of Christ.
The Old Testament Law given at Sinai is called “an administration of death” because it showed man his sinfulness and that, because of God’s perfect holiness, man was cut off from God, lost and without hope (2 Cor. 3:7). But the Law provided man with no power to break out of the clutches of sin and death. It only condemned man and showed him the sinfulness of heart.
But at the death of Christ, the quaking of Golgotha (the place of the skull–itself a picture of death) God was giving His answer to Sinai and the Old Testament Law.
- The quaking of Sinai stood for the barrier between God and man–God’s holiness and man’s sin which keeps man separated from God.
- The quaking of Golgotha stood for God’s love and grace which, through the death of Christ, satisfies the demands of a holy God and makes God approachable through the one who died on the cross.
IV. The Opened Graves
The disturbance of the place where people are buried has a special significance all its own. It stands as a climax to what has gone before. It also is an event of anticipation for people would wonder why the graves opened when nothing else was disturbed. The text tells us, “and the tombs were opened.”
As suggested by the chronology, it was caused by the shaking of the earth. The tombs opened were most likely the rock hewn tombs that were so numerous around Palestine which were sealed with stones covering the entrances.
The Significance and Meaning of this Event
Power of Death Broken
This was a further effect of the power and significance of the death of Christ. The Scriptures teach us that the power of sin is death. God told Adam regarding the tree of good and evil, “in the day you eat from it, you will surely die.” He would die spiritually and begin, as a result of sin, to die physically. Thus, throughout the history of the human race, men have died and have been placed in the grave–the wages of sin.
But now with the death of Christ, the penalty of sin had been paid, and so also the cause of death was dealt with. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:56, “the sting of death is sin and power of sin is the Law.” By sin death gains power over man. But then Paul added, “but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ by His death paid the penalty of sin, removed its stinger, and satisfied the demands of the law and the holiness of God.
An Act of Preparation
It was an act of preparation for that which would follow–the raising of the dead. The graves were opened immediately after Christ’s death and victory over sin, but their resurrection was delayed until after Christ’s resurrection.
Matthew 27:53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.
By the one act of Adam’s disobedience came sin and death on all, but by the one act of Christ on the cross came righteousness and life.
Romans 5:18-19 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
The graves were opened on Friday afternoon just before the Sabbath at the time the lambs were being slain. Because no work was allowed, the graves could not be closed. As a result, the graves stood open all day Saturday as a marvelous exhibition of the effect of Christ’s death.
V. The Raising of Saints Who Had Died
Because these people are called saints they had to be those who died as Old Testament believers–believers in the coming Messiah and the covenants of promise. They were undoubtedly those who had been buried around Jerusalem in the rock-hewn tombs to be an exhibition to those who could know about the death of Christ.
Note the text says, “many,” and not “all.” The number of people raised from the dead we are not told, but there were enough to cause a stir and give a great testimony. It did not include all Old Testament saints because this would contradict the chronology of Daniel 12 and 1 Corinthians 15. It was only a sample, a portion to serve as an evidence.
Time of this Resurrection
The NASB and the KJV translations of Matthew 27:53 shows us this resurrection did not occur at the same time as the opening of the graves, but after Christ’s resurrection. The NIV translation makes it simultaneous with the opening of the tombs, but with the Old Testament saints remaining in their tombs until after Christ’s resurrection. However, the Greek can be translated and understood as in the NASB, and from the analogy of Scripture, this seems best.
Christ is the resurrection and the life, He is the life-giving spirit. To make this evident, the resurrection of these saints was delayed until after His resurrection. Our resurrection is based on His death and resurrection.
As the one who broke the power of sin, He is also the only one who has the power of life and can break the power of death.
Type of Resurrection
Was this a resurrection like that of Christ with an immortal, imperishable, and glorified body? Or was it one like that of Lazarus–a body resurrected and revived to its former mortal and corruptible state, to an earthly body like ours?
If they were glorified bodies, there had to eventually be an ascension and nothing is said about this. An event of that magnitude would be of such importance, you would think Scripture would mention it.
Further, a resurrection to glorified bodies at this time seems to be out of God’s own established order for the resurrection, i.e., before the return of Christ (Cf. 1 Cor. 15:20f). Of course this could be an exception. One passage might support a resurrection like the Lord’s, since this would mean they would die twice, but it appears Lazarus did (cf. Heb. 9:27).
The opening of the graves implies the resurrection was like that of Lazarus. When Lazarus was raised by the Lord, Christ told them to take away the stone, and then Lazarus was told to come forth. Here the graves were opened first and then they came out. The stones covering the graves were removed to allow for the exit of the mortal bodies.
If their resurrection was like that of Christ, this would have been unnecessary. The stone was removed from Christ’s tomb after His resurrection in order to let men in to see the evidence of the graves clothes–not to let the Lord out.
This miracle was designed to show that Christ had conquered death, that He was the resurrection and the life. It was an evidence of the glorious power of our Lord.
If you are reading this study and have never put your trust in the Savior, may we invite you to turn to Christ and trust in Him as the blessed Son of God who gave His life for you personally that you might know God and receive eternal life as a free gift.
Maybe you have been trusting in your good works or your religious up-bringing, or maybe you have never thought much about spiritual matters. Regardless, God loves you and gave His Son for you. How can you know God, become a child of God, and receive eternal life?
The Bible declares that all have sinned and, as a result, fall short of God’s holy character. This means that apart from faith in Christ, you are spiritually dead, separated from God, and will face eternal judgment and a place called the Lake of Fire.
But the Bible also assures us that while we are all born sinners–spiritually dead and separated from God–God gave His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, that He might die in our place and bear our judgment, pay the penalty for our sin.
God offers eternal life freely to all those who will trust, believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, as their personal Savior for their sin problem. To trust in Christ means to turn to personal faith in the person and work of Christ as the sole means of salvation. Please read the following verses carefully.
John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God,even to those who believe in His name,
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it isthe gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
Acts 16:31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.”
May we encourage you to pray this prayer in faith (or one similar)? We assure you by the promises of the Word of God, you will be saved and enter into the family of God as a child of God, born anew by the Spirit of God.
“Father, I understand that I am a sinner and separated from you, but that Jesus Christ has died for my sin and offers me eternal life and an abundant life that can turn my life around through a relationship with Him. Right now I turn from myself and place my trust in Him as my personal Savior. Thank you heavenly Father for saving me and giving me eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ.”
If you have prayed this prayer, you are now a child of God, but you are also a babe in Christ who needs to grow through spiritual nurture. You need to be discipled, to have fellowship with other Bible believing Christians in a Church that truly teaches the Bible so you learn the Word of God. These things are crucial for your spiritual health and growth. For your personal study check out the series, The Basics: Truths that Transform, on our web site. Begin with the first lessons and use them as the foundation for growth and a personal walk with the Savior.
1 Peter 2:2 like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.
2 Peter 3:18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him bethe glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
J. Hampton Keathley III, Th.M. is a 1966 graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and a former pastor of 28 years. Hampton currently writes for the Biblical Studies Foundation and teaches Greek at Moody Northwest (an extension of Moody Bible Institute) in Spokane, Washington.