Signs at the Crucifixion

Bible Book: Matthew  27 : 45-54
Subject: Cross; Crucifixion; Jesus, Death of

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was of such profound significance that God called special attention to it by a series of miracles. These miracles--there were four of them--were signs. That is, the Lord sent them to convey to those present at the time, and to people of all future generations, certain powerful spiritual truths. So, let’s look at them together--these signs at the crucifixion--and as we do so, let’s pray that God will help us to grasp the truths being conveyed, and to apply those truths to our lives.

I. Darkness Over All The Land

The first miraculous occurrence is referred to in Matthew 27:45: “Now from the sixth hour there was DARKNESS OVER ALL THE LAND unto the ninth hour.”

Picture the scene. The Son of God has been nailed to the cross. The Roman soldiers, the priests, and the mob have now completed their foul deed in broad-open daylight. Then, suddenly a terrible, thick darkness engulfs the entire land. All of those present become fearful and confused. What was happening? Matthew tells us that it occurred at the sixth hour and continued until the ninth hour. The Jews counted 6:00 a.m. as the first hour, so that means that this strange darkness lasted from 12 noon, when the sun should have been at its zenith, until 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

This darkness could not have been caused by an eclipse, as some have supposed, for it was the time of the Jewish Passover, when the moon was full--and if it had been an eclipse, it would not have lasted even one entire hour. No, this darkness was definitely a result of God’s direct intervention. What was God saying--to them, and to us--by means of that supernatural darkness?

A. Darkness of the Deed Just Done

For one thing, it very likely was a reminder of THE DARKNESS OF THE DEED WHICH HAD JUST BEEN DONE. In the Scriptures, darkness often symbolized sinfulness. For example, in Ephesians 5:11 the apostle Paul said to his Christian friends in Ephesus, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” In John 3:19 Jesus said, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” So, by that three-hour darkness God was very likely reminding them and us of the shamefulness, the depravity of that terrible deed. Think of it! Sinful, finite men nailing the sinless, eternal Son of God to a cross. Surely that was the darkest crime ever committed.

B. Darkness of the Suffering of Jesus

But, in all likelihood, that unusual darkness also symbolized THE INTENSE SUFFERINGS OF JESUS ON THE CROSS. In the Bible, darkness sometimes symbolizes intense agony. The author of Psalm 88:6, crying out to God with a broken heart, said, “Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.”

Jesus’ physical suffering must have been horrendous. Those who have studied the history of how crucifixions were carried out tell us that along with the indescribable pain there were cramps, dizziness, fever, and agonizing thirst. There was almost complete inability to move--and every attempt to gain any small relief for the aching, tormented muscles only brought about even sharper, more acute pain.

But as bad as the physical suffering was, his spiritual anguish must have been far worse, as he bore on that cross the sin of a lost and dying world--and the most horrible part of that spiritual suffering is pointed up in verse Matthew 27:46: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

As Arthur Pink pointed out, just the word “forsaken” is a tragic word. He recalled a time when he passed through a town which had been deserted by all its inhabitants--a forsaken city. What awful thoughts, Pink reminded us, are conjured up by the word, “forsaken”--a man forsaken of his friends, a wife forsaken by her husband, a child forsaken by its parents--but think of the frightening experience of being forsaken by Almighty God.

That’s what happened to Jesus as he hung there on the cross. It’s utterly beyond our comprehension. The great central reality in the life of Jesus was his fellowship with his heavenly Father. Even when he was despised and ridiculed, he could fall back for comfort and encouragement on his close fellowship with God the Father. As they put him through a mock trial, and Peter denied him and other forsook him, he still could be fortified and strengthened by the presence of the Father with him. But now, for those hours on the cross, for the first time ever that sweet fellowship was suspended, broken, taken away.

How could that be? We will never fathom it. It is beyond us. Clarence Cranford said, “It is like peering into a dark cavern whose depths we know to be there, but cannot see.” Martin Luther, the great reformer, tried to comprehend that cry of Jesus, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Luther isolated himself so he could give it his full attention. He fasted, prayed, and meditated. Finally he exclaimed, “God forsaking God? No man can understand that.”

And so we can’t. All we can know of it is that he did it for us, to pay the penalty for our sins. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. One part of that penalty is physical death, to be sure--but the primary part of sin’s penalty is spiritual death. Physical death is the separation of the soul, or spirit, from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of a person from God. That’s what sin does. God is holy and cannot and will not have to do with sin. In Habakkuk 1:13 the prophet said to the Lord, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity....” That’s why God the Father withdrew his presence from God the Son, because all of our sins had been laid on Jesus there on the cross.

Just think of it. Jesus never had one wrong thought, or spoke one wrong word, or committed a singe wrong act, nor did he ever neglect a single duty--yet every filthy thought you and I ever had, every ungodly word we ever spoke, every unholy thing we ever did, plus all of our sins of omission--all of that was laid on Jesus in one unfathomably tortuous bundle there on the cross. What he endured there is utterly beyond our comprehension--it’s beyond our frame of reference.

Isaiah 53:6 says that “the Lord hath laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.” As Russell Bradley Jones said, “That statement staggers our minds. Think of gathering all the sin of humanity into one heap. What a seething mass of wickedness!” 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For he [God] hath made him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 1 Peter 2:24 puts it like this: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree [in other words, on the cross--made of wood from a tree], that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye are healed.”

A preacher was speaking to a group of men, trying to explain the crucifixion of Christ. He said to the men, “Now will one of you tell me, in your own words, what did the Lord Jesus do at the cross?” An elderly man, with tears in his eyes, looked up at the preacher and answered, “He swapped with me!” He had it right. That’s exactly what Jesus did--he swapped with you and me. You and I are the sinners. He was perfect. We are the ones who deserve to suffer the penalty of our sins. But he swapped with us.

As John MacArthur points out, one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith is that Jesus never sinned, yet he became sin for us in that he took upon himself all of the punishment that you and I and all the rest of mankind deserve for all of our sins. Even though he bore our sins, he never became a sinner.

C. Darkness of Judgment

But darkness in the Bible also sometimes symbolizes JUDGMENT. When Pharaoh refused to set the people of Israel free, one of the punishments that God sent upon Egypt is described in Exodus 10:22-23: “And moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days: They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.”

So, the three-hour darkness at the cross likely was intended also to symbolize THE JUDGEMENT OF GOD UPON THOSE WHO REJECT JESUS and his sacrificial death. In Matthew 22 Jesus told a parable about a king who gave a wedding feast. In verses 11-13 we read:

“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In Jude 13, the inspired writer refers to unsaved persons as “wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” It is said that a well-known atheist named Hobbes cried out in his dying moments, “I am taking a fearful leap in the dark!” How terrible will be God’s judgement upon those who refuse, while in this present life, to turn to Jesus--darkness, for ever and ever!

Now let’s read verses 47-50:

“Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elijah. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.”

Those verses contain profound and powerful truths, also--but we’ll confine ourselves in this message to four specific signs which occurred in connection with the crucifixion. We turn now to the second of those signs:


In Matthew 27:51 we read, “And, behold, THE VEIL OF THE TEMPLE WAS RENT in twain from the top to the bottom....”

There were two veils in the temple at Jerusalem, the second of which is most likely referred to here. It was a thick, heavy, ornate veil, of huge dimensions, which hung over the entrance to the “most holy place.” The “most holy place,” or “holy of holies,” was the inmost room of the temple, and symbolized to the Israelites the presence of God. Once a year the high priest would go behind that great veil, into the “holy of holies,” to sprinkle blood on the ark of the covenant and make supplication for the sins of the people. All of this was, of course, highly symbolic. The huge veil shutting off the “holy of holies” symbolized the fact that man, because of his sin, is separated from the God, who is holy.

But as Jesus hung on the cross, a tremendous thing happened. It was the time of the evening sacrifice, and the priests were in the temple performing their assigned rituals. Suddenly, as they look on in amazement, the great veil covering the “holy of holies” is violently torn apart from top to bottom.

A. The Sacrificial System was Ended

For one thing, this no doubt symbolized the fact that the Old Testament sacrificial system, with the priesthood and all the attendant ceremonies, was ended.

B. The Way Opened to God

But that wasn’t all. This ripping apart of that huge veil also symbolized the fact that Jesus, by his death, opened the way for men to enter into the very presence of God. In Christ there is eternal salvation--forgiveness, cleansing, and continuing access to the Father. In Hebrews 10:19-20 we read: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh.”

So then, no person need go on separated from God. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, his death being symbolized by the rending of the veil, the way to God is open to all who will repent and believe. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”


But now let us turn to the third of the supernatural signs which were given as Jesus hung on the cross. In the last part of Matthew 27:51 we read: “...AND THE EARTH DID QUAKE, AND THE ROCKS RENT.”

Although earthquakes had no doubt occurred before in the land of the Jews, it is obvious that this particular earthquake was of a miraculous nature. That is evident because of the particular time at which it occurred, in connection with these other supernatural events.

Picture that scene. The darkness has come; the veil of the temple has been mysteriously rent by the hand of God; and now, as the soldiers and the mob stand there frozen in terror, the very earth beneath their feet begins to rumble and shake. What was God saying by means of this earthquake?

A. Symbol of God’s Anger

Sometimes in the Bible a quaking of the earth symbolized God’s ANGER, as in Psalm 18:7: “Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.” Jeremiah 10:10: “But the Lord is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.” So, perhaps this earthquake which occurred while Jesus was on the cross was, for one thing, a reminder that sin angers God--and it was man’s sin, yours and mine, that sent Jesus to the cross.

Some folks have a distorted view of God. They think that love is his only characteristic and that his only response to our sins is to be sad. Well, it certainly is true that God loves us, and how thankful we are for that wonderful reality--and it is also true that sins breaks God’s great heart. But it is also true that sin stirs God’s wrath. The reason God gets angry at sin is because he loves people, and he knows that sin robs people of their potential. Sin tears down lives, breaks up homes, rips the foundations from under precious little children, ruins, destroys, and causes untold misery, so God gets angry at sin. Hebrews 10:31 says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 12:29 declares, “For our God is a consuming fire.”

B. God’s Presence and Power

At other times in the Bible God sent an earthquake to remind people of his PRESENCE and his POWER. We read of what happened prior to God giving the Ten Commandments, in Exodus 19:17-19:

“And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.”

Look at the effect that the earthquake had on some of those present: Matthew 27:54 says, “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.”

One of the greatest demonstrations of God’s power ever to take place was accompanied by an earthquake. Fast forward to the third day after the crucifixion. Here’s what we read in Matthew 28:1-6:

“In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”

In spite of man’s willful, malicious intents and actions, God was nevertheless in charge of what went on at Calvary. His presence and his power were clearly manifested.


Now we come to consider the fourth of this series of supernatural events--these signs--that took place in connection with the crucifixion. We read in Matthew 27:52-53, “AND THE GRAVES WERE OPENED; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”

Apparently the graves were opened at the moment the earthquake occurred. Then, three days later, after Jesus had risen from the tomb, the bodies of certain saints arose from those opened graves and appeared to many people in Jerusalem. 1 Corinthians 15:20 says, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.” “Saints” in the Bible simply refers to saved people. So, we’re told here that Jesus arose, and then the bodies of those saints were miraculously made alive, arose from those graves, and appeared unto many. What was God saying by means of this mysterious event?

Apparently this was a reminder to the world of Christ’s pledge regarding the future resurrection of all of God’s children. Jesus had previously said, according to John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live”--in other words, Jesus was saying, “though he shall die, his body will one day be raised from the grave, miraculously transformed, and united again with his soul, and he will dwell with me in heaven for eternity.”

How wonderful is Christ’s promise of the resurrection for the Christian. For the unsaved, the resurrection will be a terrible thing; the body will be united again with the soul, only to suffer the pangs of hell forever. But for the Christian the resurrection will mean triumph, glory, and everlasting joy.

One of the greatest chemists of all time was a fine Christian man named Michael Faraday. One day one of his lab workers accidentally knocked a silver cup into a solution of acid. It was immediately dissolved, eaten up by the acid. The lab worker was terribly upset about the loss. But then Faraday came in. Realizing what had happened, the great chemist put a certain solution in the jar, and in a matter of moments every particle of silver was precipitated to the bottom. Then the shapeless mass was lifted out and sent to the silversmith--and shortly the cup was restored to its original shape, shining more brightly than ever.

Surely if human genius can do a thing like that, the Almighty God who created us can one day take our decomposed bodies from the dust and miraculously make them over again. How tremendous is the promise of the resurrection for the Christian. When that grand day comes to pass, every believer may then say, in Paul’s words as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:54, 57: “Death is swallowed up in victory....thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ invites you, even now, to come to him. Repent of your sins. Commit yourself to him in faith. Hear him as he says, in Revelation 22:17: “...whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Come now, and unashamedly take your stand for Jesus.