". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


The Miraculous Darkness at Jesus’s Crucifixion

April 9, 2024

More than 30 million Americans live in the path of a total eclipse that occurred on Monday, and many more saw a partial eclipse. Some Americans were so excited about the eclipse that they changed their schedule or even travelled to view it — even though it lasted for a few minutes at most. There is a more significant and longer lasting implication, however: Monday’s eclipse proves the darkness at Jesus’s crucifixion was miraculous. This may seem like a strange thing to say. Monday’s eclipse happened nearly 2,000 years after Jesus’s crucifixion. How can it be related?

The two events are related by the phase of the moon. Because solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, they can only occur at the new moon, when that object reflects none of the sun’s light toward earth. Yet recall that Easter Sunday occurred only nine days ago, with Good Friday two days prior to that, just a few days after the full moon. The lunar phase cycle lasts around 29.5 days.

Good Friday always occurs around the full moon because it follows the Jewish calendar. Jewish months are lunar, which mean they follow the cycles of the moon, with every month beginning at the new moon (see Numbers 28:11, 29:6). The feast of Passover began on the 15th day of the first month (Numbers 28:16), right around the full moon. This Passover meal was Jesus’s last supper with his disciples (Luke 22:15) before he was crucified on the following day.

Thus, Jesus was crucified one day after the full moon. But an eclipse can only occur at the new moon, roughly two weeks away. Therefore, the darkness at Jesus’s crucifixion could not have been an eclipse. I am not the first person to make this point, and I forget where I first learned of it, but I believe it is not widely known.

An additional reason to think the darkness at Jesus’s crucifixion was not an eclipse was because of how long it lasted. Three gospels record that “there was darkness over the whole land” for three whole hours (Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44). By contrast, nowhere in the U.S. did the total eclipse on Monday exceed five minutes.

This raises the question, if the darkness at Jesus’s crucifixion was not an eclipse, how can we explain it?

It’s safe to say that this supernatural darkness was an act of God. On Day One of creation, “God separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4), establishing day and night three days before creating the sun and the moon. In the restored paradise, God’s people will need no sun to give light because God himself will give them light (Revelation 21:23, 22:5). If God can do that, clearly he can control light and darkness independently of heavenly bodies.

God had previously sent prolonged darkness as an act of supernatural judgment. In the penultimate, ninth plague on Egypt, the Lord sent “darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt,” a darkness which lasted for three whole days (Exodus 10:21-22). Scripture also used darkness to describe the condition of those trapped in sin and distress, before God redeemed them (Psalm 107:10-14, Isaiah 8:22, 42:7, 60:2). These themes converge on the cross. There God poured out the full measure of his wrath against sin on Jesus and accompanied it with this supernatural darkness of judgment. Under darkness, Jesus redeemed those trapped in darkness by bearing in his own body all the fullness of penalty their sins deserved.

Amid a prophecy about God pouring out his Spirit on all flesh, the prophet Joel foretold that “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Joel 2:31). Peter declared at Pentecost, “this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel” and cited the entire passage in full (Acts 2:16-21).

If Peter meant that this entire passage had been fulfilled, as he seems to say, then the sun being turned to darkness had to refer to the darkness that descended from noon to 3 p.m. at Jesus’s crucifixion. This would mean that God had foretold this supernatural darkness as a sign that would accompany his plan to pour out his Spirit on his people. This would happen through God enacting a new covenant with his people (Jeremiah 31:31-34), which Jesus inaugurated at the Last Supper (Luke 22:20).

Jesus’s death under the supernatural judgment and darkness of God satisfied God’s wrath against sin, so that God might come and dwell within us. The Holy Spirit’s presence within us has a sanctifying effect that accompanies our new life in Christ. A total solar eclipse by the moon is exciting for a few minutes, but a total eclipse of our sin nature by the new life God has planted within us — that is truly spectacular.

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.