On August 21, 2017, the U.S. will experience its first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years. This type of solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun completely blotting out the sunlight. The total eclipse will last up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds in places, with those in the “path of totality” experiencing complete darkness in the middle of the day.
The experience will certainly be unique and won’t happen again in the continental United States until April 8, 2024. It brings to mind the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion, which describe a total darkness similar to what many will experience in August.
It’s Greek to Me
The Greek text of Luke 23:44-45 is more properly translated:
“And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.” KJV
“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple as torn in two.” NIV
“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three, because the sun’s light failed. The curtain of the sanctuary was split down the middle.” HCSB
“And it was now about the sixth hour, and a darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun’s light failing: and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.” ASV
The Greek text reads “tou heliou eklipontos”. Tou heliou means “of the sun”. Elipontos is a participle of the verb ekleipo, which means “fail/leave off/cease.”
The synoptic Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke each describe an eerie darkness struck the land during the last three hours of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross (Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44–45).
What was it then? How was the “sun darkened” on Good Friday?
Passover is Important
All four of the Gospels link Jesus’ crucifixion to Passover:
“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified” (Matt. 26:2).
“It was now two days before the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth, and kill him” (Mark 14:1).
“Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it” (Luke 24:7-8).
[Pilate said:] “But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover; will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:39).
How Passover Worked
Passover took place on the 14th day of the month of Nisan (Leviticus 23:5).
Like every month of the Jewish calendar, Nisan began with the sighting of the new moon. If the moon orbits the earth every 29.5 days then 14 days into that cycle would be at or very near the full moon.
What kind of eclipse can occur at the full moon?
A lunar eclipse.
Not a solar eclipse.
So it’s natural to ask: Did one occur?
The traditional date of the crucifixion of Jesus is April 3, A.D. 33. According to NASA’s Lunar Eclipses of History, there was a partial lunar eclipse visible from Jerusalem when the moon rose that night.
The problem here is according to scripture, darkness covered the land from 12 noon until 3:00 pm. Moon rise would have occurred much later in the day and according to NASA’s report referenced above, Jerusalem would not have been in the path of totality. In addition to this, a lunar eclipse is only minutes in length, not hours.
While science can not explain away the miraculous, it is apparent to those who believe that this was a SUPERNATURAL EVENT, darkness fell during Christ’s death. Even the universe had to respond to His sacrificial death!
The Oxford Bible Church has said, “Thus for three hours a strange darkness covered the land. The sky was clear, and according to the historical records the stars appeared (this meant the darkness was not due to something in the atmosphere like dust or clouds). People would be asking themselves whether ‘the end of the world’ had come. The Jews knew from their Bible that ‘the day of the Lord’ would be ‘a day of darkness’, and Amos 8:9 says, ‘On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the Sun to go down at noon, and darken the Earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasting into mourning, and all your songs into lamentations.’
“This darkness speaks of a time of God’s judgement upon sin. At the crucifixion God the Father placed all the sins of mankind (including yours and mine) upon His Son Jesus Christ, and God poured out His wrath upon Him. Jesus stood in our place and bore the punishment we deserved. He cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was separated from his Father for 3 hours. God signified this by blotting out the sun until Jesus had paid the price for sin in full. The sun in scripture is often used as a symbol of the Son, the Light of the world, the glory of God (Malachi 4, Hosea 6, Psalm 19). So the sun being covered in darkness represented what was happening to the Son as He was covered by the darkness of our sin and judgement.”
Consider the words from the Pulpit Commentary, “We cannot doubt that the darkness was supernatural, conveying a solemn lesson to all who beheld it. When we consider what was being done on Calvary, who it was that was dying there, what was the object of his Passion, what was the infinite and unspeakable effect of the sacrifice there offered, is it wonderful that the Divine Architect controlled Nature to sympathize with her Creator, that as a supernatural effulgence heralded the Saviour’s birth, a supernatural darkness should shroud his death? We are in the region of the Divine. What we have learned to regard as natural laws (but which really are only our formulary for expressing our experience of past uniformity) were superseded for the time by the interference of the Lawgiver; He used the material to enforce the spiritual being the Lord of both.”
The Universe Testifies
The three supernatural phenomena recorded in Matthew at the moment of Christ’s death, the Temple veil was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51a), the earthquake (Matthew 27:52b), and the Rising of the dead saints after the resurrection – they do not proceed Him (Matthew 27:52-53) give further testimony to the significance of His death.
Those watching the events unfold responded, “So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54) and “the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned” (Luke 23:48) sorry for what they had done.
Christ came to suffer the horrible and ignominious death of crucifixion in order to die for the sins of the world. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).’
What are your thoughts? Leave us a comment.
To learn more about the Great American Solar Eclipse 2017, read our post Under the Shadow of the Moon.
If you would like to learn more about Jesus Christ, visit our Meaning of Life page.
To take a deeper look into the crucifixion of Jesus, visit our blog post The 7 Sayings of Christ.
Author: Shirley Pittenger
Shirley Pittenger was the Executive Assistant, Office Manager, and Digital Communications & Social Media Manager at Bixby’s First Baptist Church from 2009 to 2017. Shirley is married to Bob Pittenger who is the Community Groups Pastor at the Church at Battlecreek in the Tulsa Metro area. Shirley holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Baptist College of Florida. She enjoys teaching in the youth group, singing, reading, studying God’s Word, and spending time with her family.