Recently, my friend Dr. William Bell did a video on the signs surrounding the Cross. I haven’t listened to the video yet, but I was talking briefly to Dr. Dallas Burdette, and he suggested I write a few things on Matthew 27. So, I apologize if there is a lot of overlap between this article and the video William has already done. Krister Stendahl gave a similar apology in the second essay in his book Paul Among Jews and Gentiles:
It is with some hesitation that I burden the reader with this article. Not that I do not believe in what it says. I do, and I even consider it important. But the reader will find that it repeats some of the things covered in the preceding essay… I apologize for the repetitiousness and take refuge in the often true adage: repetition is the mother of learning.Stendahl, Krister. Paul among Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1976. Print. (p. 78 – footnote)
In this first article, we will notice the signs surrounding the cross and give a short summary of each. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about how these signs relate to the time of the end.
There are four signs which accompanied the death of Jesus as seen below:
Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.Matthew 27:45
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”Matthew 27:50–54
The Darkness and the Earthquake
Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.Matthew 27:45
…and the earth shook and the rocks were split…when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happeningMatthew 27:50-54
Is this darkness a sign of the day of the Lord or a sign of Satan’s apparent victory? Fitzmyer in the Anchorage Yale Bible Commentary suggests the latter because of Luke 22:53’s mention of “the power of darkness.” I could see that as a possibility, but with the veil being torn, the earthquake, and the accompanying resurrection (not to mention the triumphant nature of John’s account; cf. John 12:31), I think this is a small taste of the day of the Lord. I’ll address this latter point more tomorrow.
It seems obvious to me that the darkness falling on the land of Israel is a clear reference to Amos 8. Observe the following:
Hear this, you who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over, So that we may sell grain, And the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market, To make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger, And to cheat with dishonest scales, So as to buy the helpless for money And the needy for a pair of sandals, And that we may sell the refuse of the wheat?”Amos 8:4–6
The people have a question: “When do we have to stop closing down shop on the Sabbath so that we can take advantage of people seven days a week?” The prophet gives an ominous answer:
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob, “Indeed, I will never forget any of their deeds. “Because of this will not the land quake And everyone who dwells in it mourn? Indeed, all of it will rise up like the Nile, And it will be tossed about And subside like the Nile of Egypt. “It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord GOD, “That I will make the sun go down at noon And make the earth dark in broad daylight. “Then I will turn your festivals into mourning And all your songs into lamentation; And I will bring sackcloth on everyone’s loins And baldness on every head. And I will make it like a time of mourning for an only son, And the end of it will be like a bitter day.Amos 8:7–10
The crucifixion is the answer to this prophecy. Of course it wasn’t totally fulfilled at the time of the Cross, but that is because we typically view “the day of the Lord” as a separate event from the crucifixion. While this seems logical, it isn’t biblical. The Cross and the Day of the Lord are the same “day” in prophecy. It can be seen in the above reference in a way, but it is made more clear by Zechariah 12.
I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo.Zechariah 12:10–11
John cites this passage in two places: John 19:37 and Revelation 1:7. To John, one can’t separate the events surrounding the Cross from the day of the Lord. Thus, he applies this passage to both.
So, when the sun goes down at the sixth hour (12PM), Amos 8 is the obvious passage to which the mind should turn. The darkness (and the earthquake) signify that the day of the Lord was truly at hand; the celebrations of the festal calendar would end in a day of misery and mourning.
It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two.Luke 23:44–45
This passage may seem straightforward until we ask the question “which veil?” The letter to the Hebrews reminds us there are two veils:
Behind the second veil…Hebrews 9:3
Fitzmyer describes the two main veils in the temple,
Which veil is meant? In the Temple there hung thirteen veils or curtains (pārōkôt). The two main ones were the one at the entrance of the “holy place” (see Josephus, J.W. 5.5, 4 § 212: “a veil … of Babylonian tapestry, with embroidery of blue and fine linen, of scarlet also and purple, wrought with marvellous skill.… It typified the universe” [cf. LXX Exod 26:36]) and one at the entrance of the “holy of holies” (ibid. 5.5, 5 § 219: “screened in like manner from the outer portion by a veil” [cf. Heb 6:19; 9:3; 10:20]).Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J. The Gospel according to Luke X–XXIV: Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Vol. 28A. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008. Print. Anchor Yale Bible.
He then goes on to offer a guess as to which veil was torn in two:
Older commentators in general merely assumed that the veil before the “holy of holies” was intended… But others insist on the veil at the entrance to the “holy place”… This seems to be more likely.Fitzmyer
I agree with Fitzmyer for one major reason: the veil to the holy place would have been the one seen by the crowds at Passover. The interior veil would have only been seen by the priests, and they would be less likely to share that information with the public. There is also no chance of the Centurion being able to see such an event.
I’ll give a theological reason for this interpretation tomorrow.
The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.Matthew 27:52–53
This resurrection event is the last sign surrounding the Cross, and it is the most interesting to Bible students. It’s interesting because Matthew is the only person who mentions it. It isn’t found in the other accounts of the gospel or any of the general epistles.
Some take this to mean that Hades was emptied at the resurrection. Others believe this is simply a sign to testify of Jesus’ resurrection. But the truth is we aren’t given any information or biblical commentary on this that I am aware of! In fact, there is much debate in the commentaries over the translation and even inclusion of the phrase “after His resurrection.”
Now, here is what we do know: this resurrection is not the general resurrection spoken of by Paul. For that resurrection, as he argued with those in 2 Timothy 2, had not happened yet. The saints of old were still waiting perfection at the time of the writing of Hebrews.
And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.Hebrews 11:39–40
Conclusion to the First Part
Today we looked at the signs surrounding Jesus’ death and gave quick summaries of them. When necessary, we included comments from various commentaries to support our findings.
Tomorrow, we will look at the eschatological significance of these signs.
Daniel, I thank you for shedding much light on Matthew 27 concerning the signs. As we know miracles were for the confirmation of God’s spoken Word (Hebrew 2:1-4; 2 Corinthians 12:12) and to certify who were Apostles. These signs following the Resurrection of Jesus proved beyond the shadow-of-a-doubt as confirmation concerning the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection. God confirmed the reality of this Resurrection. I look forward to reading your other essays. I am still in the learning stage of my understanding so much of God’s written Revelation.