In his book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, puritan Thomas Brooks cites an early tradition about Dionysius, one of the men converted to Christ when Paul preached at Mars Hill (see Acts 17:34): “Dionysius being in Egypt at the time of Christ’s suffering, and seeing an eclipse of the sun, and knowing it to be contrary to nature, cried out, ‘Either the God of nature suffers, or the frame of the world will be dissolved.’”
Dionysius was onto something, even though at the time, he knew nothing about Jesus and could not comprehend the truth of his own words. At the moment when the Son of God cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” the sun was darkened and the earth quaked (Matthew 27:45–46,50–51). These natural signs symbolized something of the spiritual realities that were occurring at the crucifixion of Christ. In the Old Testament, darkness denoted the wrath and curse of God. When God was in the process of delivering Israel from bondage in Egypt He sent “darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that [could] be felt” (Exodus 10:21). Similarly, when God foretold the covenant curses that would come upon His people if they rejected Him, He promised “that at noon [they would] grope as a blind person gropes in the dark” (Deuteronomy 28:29). And Jesus Himself spoke of hell as “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13).
When He hung on the cross, He did so in the place of condemned sinners, bearing the wrath of God in order to redeem and deliver those for whom He died. Many had hung on a cross before Him, dying a cursed death, but none had endured the cross like Jesus had. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
It is a well attested fact that many who died by crucifixion hurled insults at passersby and at one another. The Gospel records tell us that even those who were crucified with Jesus reviled Him from their place of condemnation (Matthew 27:44). After witnessing Jesus’s actions, it became evident to those standing at the foot of the cross that He was no mere man suffering. The centurion and those who kept watch over Jesus cried out, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (v.54). The divine nature of Jesus shone forth in the darkness of the natural surroundings, leading those who witnessed this cosmic event to see Him for who He truly is.
The darkening of the sun, the earthquake, the veil of the temple being torn in two from top to bottom, the Son’s crying out—each of these events points to the greater significance of what Jesus endured on the cross. As we meditate on what Jesus Christ has done for us, let us acknowledge that He truly is the Son of God, our Creator who took on flesh to suffer in our place and for our sin.
Written by Nick Batzig