Jesus is hanging on the cross. He has prayed to the Father that they be forgiven because they do not know what they are doing. We noticed in our last lesson how amazing it is to see our Lord still acting as an intercessor for the people, during his greatest suffering, and praying for those who had caused this suffering. Jesus has been enduring a cascade of mockery for six hours while on the cross, not counting the mocking that occurred during his trials before the Sanhedrin and before Herod. Jesus has told one of the criminals, who made this appeal to the Lord Jesus for entrance into his kingdom, that he would be with Jesus in Paradise this day.
Luke now records for us that Jesus has been on the cross for about three hours and at noon there was darkness over the land. The sun’s light failed. I would like for you to try to imagine what that looked like. Suddenly, when the sun should be high in the sky, the light from the sun fails. The word translated “failed” in the ESV means “to fail, to give out, to die out.” The sun did not have an eclipse. The sun was not darkened, blocked, or obscured. The light from the sun quit, is what Luke writes. Luke has used the Greek word ekleipo in two other places.
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9 ESV)
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV)
We do not know how widespread the darkness was. The word translated “land” can also mean “earth.” So we do not know if this was only in Jerusalem, or over all of Israel, the Mediterranean, or the whole earth. What we do know is that God was behind this act. Darkness represents the judgment of God in Old Testament prophecy (Zephaniah 1:14-15; Joel 2:2; Amos 5:20; 8:9-10). Listen to Amos predicted the doom on the nation of Israel for its sins.
“And on that day,” declares the Lord GOD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.” (Amos 8:9–10 ESV)
Amos was not prophesying about the day Jesus would be crucified. But the prophetic imagery is powerful. The darkness imagery represents the judgment of God for the nation’s sins. God is watching what is happening to the Son of God. God makes the sun’s light fail at midday to decree judgment.
Too often people have read this darkness as a severing of fellowship between the Father and the Son. There is nothing in the gospel accounts that tell us this. In fact, Jesus declared that the Father would not leave him.
Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. (John 16:32 ESV) Jesus said that the Father was with him even when his disciples had turned away. The darkness does not represent God’s judgment falling on Jesus. I do not know where we picked up this idea but it is not found in the scriptures. The darkness represents God’s judgment falling on Israel. That is what the darkness at noon represented in Amos’s prophecy and it means the same thing here. God is not showing his displeasure with the Son, but the with the nation of Israel. The crucifixion of the Son of God is the final straw as the darkness pronounces the doom of the nation.
Temple Curtain Torn (23:45)
Another amazing event is also happening according to Luke’s gospel. The curtain of the temple was torn in two during the Passover preparations. Josephus tells us that the curtain that separated the inner sanctuary (the Holy of Holies) from the Holy Place was 30 feet wide and 30 feet high. This is an enormous curtain of thick material. The symbolism of the torn curtain is immense. The Holy of Holies was a small room in the temple where the presence of God was pictured as dwelling. It was the room where atonement could be made once a year for the sins of the people. No one was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies ever with one exception. One time each year on the day of atonement, the high priest entered that room with the blood of animals and made atonement for the people. Listen to how the writer of Hebrews pictures the work of Jesus from the cross in the Holy Place.
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11–14 ESV)
Now Jesus has come as our high priest and he entered the holy places with his own blood, securing our atonement. His death brings about our eternal redemption. The tearing of the temple’s curtain represents how everyone has access to the presence of God and the end of the temple’s role in atonement. Now Jesus is where purification and atonement comes from. This event made an amazing mark on the priests. Luke records in the book of Acts that “a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). They saw something amazing and the gospel message explained to them what the tearing of the curtain meant.
The Righteous Sufferer (23:47-49)
Then Luke records the final words of Jesus. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” After saying these words, Jesus died. These are not empty words, but are a quotation from Psalm 31:5. Psalm 31 is the prayer of the righteous sufferer in the hands of his enemies calling for deliverance. The one who says these words is placing his fate in the hands of God. Jesus becomes the model for how to suffer for righteousness. As life is leaving his body, he declares that his fate is in God’s hands and he is trusting God for the very thing Jesus has predicted — resurrection. He entrusts himself to God who will raise him from the dead.
When the centurion, which is a Roman soldier, saw what had taken place, he praised God. This is the goal of our lives. How we endure, how we suffer, and how we entrust ourselves in the hands of God is for the purpose of others praising and glorifying God. It happens at this moment. The centurion praises God and declares the innocence of Jesus (a key theme in Luke’s record). Jesus is innocent of all crimes and sins. Therefore God will be faithful to him and deliver him from the bars of death.
The crowd of witnesses also have a powerful reaction. They return home, beating their breasts. This is not a routine response to death. This crowd has also been moved by the events they have witnessed. The acquaintances and women who followed Jesus seem to stand in shock, watching from a distance. It is over. Jesus has died. There was no deliverance. There was no miraculous intervention. The horror show has finally ended. Now Jesus’ body hangs limp on the cross.
The Burial (23:50-56)
A man named Joseph who is from the Jewish town of Arimathea was also there. We are told that he was a member of the Sanhedrin council, the council that had held a false trial and condemned Jesus to be handed to Pilate for execution. Surprisingly, he is not like those council members. Luke tells us that he was a good and righteous man and had not consented to the Sanhedrin’s decision to hand Jesus over to Pilate for execution. Luke says something that ought to ring a bell for us who have studied through this gospel. Joseph was looking for the kingdom of God. We were told about a man named Simeon who “was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). We read about a prophetess named Anna who was telling “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” about the birth of Jesus. There are righteous people who were looking forward and waiting for the Messiah and his kingdom. Joseph of Arimathea is one of those people. John’s gospel tells us that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus.
Joseph builds up his courage to go to Pilate (Mark 15:43) and asks for the privilege of obeying the scriptures. I find it interesting to say the least that the brothers of Jesus do not come to take the body, which was customary. The family would take the body. Rather, someone we have not heard about in the scriptures up to this point, asks to take the body of Jesus. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 taught that anyone who is hung on a tree must not be left on that tree after death. He must be buried that same day. So Joseph takes it upon himself to obey the command of the scriptures and asks for the body of Jesus from Pilate. I would like for you to think about being Joseph as he does what verse 53 records. He took down the body of Jesus from the cross. The Romans would have left the body up there to be picked apart by the birds. Joseph takes down the body of Jesus, wraps the body in a linen cloth, and laid his body in a tomb cut in stone. Being laid in an unused tomb of a rich man is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 53:9).
It is the Day of Preparation, which means it is the day before the Passover feast begins. It is the day to get all your preparations made before you had to Sabbath for the Passover. Luke tells us that Joseph has to hurry because the Sabbath was beginning. It is nearly 6pm when the new day started to the Jewish calculation. So Joseph must bury Jesus in his tomb before the next day began and they had to Sabbath according to the Law of Moses. The women are watching every move of Joseph. They are watching Joseph place Jesus in his tomb. They followed Joseph to the tomb and saw where and how he was laid in that tomb. We know why they are pay so close attention. When the Passover feast is done they plan to come back and place spices and perfumes on his body. So they watch where the body is laid, go home to prepare their spices, and have everything ready so that when their commanded rest is completed, they can immediately go back to the tomb and finish putting spices on his body. We clearly see that resurrection was not expected. They all just want a proper, honorable burial. They are preparing spices because they are expecting the body to decay. That is why they would put a hundred pounds of spices on the body. It was to help deal with the stink of the decaying body in the tomb. Decay is expected, not resurrection.
What do all of these events mean for us? The writer of Hebrews explains:
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:19–20 ESV)
We have hope as an anchor for our lives because Jesus has torn the curtain so that we can enter into the inner place of the temple. Jesus has led the way so that we can access our Father. The writer expands on this a little later in his treatise:
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19–22 ESV)
Jesus has opened the curtain that separated us from the presence of God. Jesus opened the curtain by his flesh and his our great high priest so that we can confidently enter the holy places. Jesus on the cross made it so we could have access to the Father. Therefore, there is no other way to come to the Father except through Jesus. The new way to the Father opened to us is through the flesh of Jesus acting as our high priest. But you cannot just walk in. You must walk in with a sincere heart. You must walk in full of faith. You must walk in with your hearts sprinkled clean. You must walk in with bodies cleansed with pure water. When you enter, you are given an assured hope that God will raise you up, just as Jesus was raised up from the dead.