That the sky should grow dark for a time is not in itself miraculous. A severe storm can cause darkness. The sky grew dark over Pompeii in a. d. 79 when Vesuvius erupted. An eclipse can cause darkness. But there are no volcanoes in Israel, it seldom rains, and this was certainly not an eclipse. An eclipse lasts only a few minutes. This darkness lasted for three hours. Besides, the crucifixion took place during Passover week, and Passover was always observed at the time of a full moon. An eclipse cannot take place at the time of the month when the moon is full. This was a special divine intervention in the normal workings of nature by which the sky grew dark in the middle of the day, at the sixth hour, which is twelve o’clock, and continued dark until three in the afternoon, when Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up his spirit.
This must have been a striking, sober, and well-observed phenomenon. Tertullian, the early Christian apologist, referred to the darkness when he reminded his heathen readers that the “wonder is related in your own annals and is preserved in your archives to this day.” But notice how restrained Matthew and the other Gospel writers are as they report it (Matt. 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44). They do not embellish their stories or speculate about the nature of the darkness or its source. In a manner that can only enhance their credibility as historians, they report only that “from the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land” (Matt. 27:45).
These are utterly silent hours. They represent a gap in the narrative, a time about which we know absolutely nothing. Much was going on before the darkness descended. Jesus had prayed for the soldiers who were crucifying him. He had words of promise for the believing criminal who was beside him on his cross. He commended his mother to the care of the beloved disciple. The chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders taunted him. But with the descent of the darkness all narrative ends, as if a veil had been drawn over the unspeakable suffering of God’s Son.
What happened during those hours of darkness? We know the answer. During those hours the Son of God took the burden of our sins on himself, was punished for them in our place, and experienced such terrible alienation from his Father that he cried out at the end of that dark period, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 46). The darkness veiled the anguish of the Son of God while he was bearing the punishment for our sins, because it was not right for human eyes to look on him in his suffering. At the same time, the darkness cried out against the blackness of our sin and testified to the tremendous cost to God of our redemption (sermon on Matthew 27:45-56).