Luke 23:44, 45 says,
44 And it was now about the sixth hour, and darkness [skotos] fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 the sun being obscured [skoritizo, “covered with darkness”]; and the veil of the temple was torn in two.
Literally, it could read, “darkness came out of nowhere.” Darkness came at noon, which is the sixth hour as they reckoned time. It lasted three hours, while Christ repaired the great breach under cover of darkness. The Greek word, skotos, is from the Hebrew word choshek, which also implies a secret place. We may then look at this as the first work of Christ to cover sin, as He repaired the breach between God and men.
Of all the repaired breaches which Luke was setting forth through his gospel, this is the most basic breach of all. Jesus’ work on the cross was the mother of all breach repairs, and it seemed important to do it under cover of darkness. The veil in this case separated the people from God, and the rent veil signified that the way into the Holiest had now been opened to all men (Heb. 9:8).
At the same time, since this was the preparation day for the Passover, the people were allowed to slay the lambs between noon and sundown according to the law. Exodus 12:6 says literally, they could kill the lamb “between the two evenings,” which was between noon (when the sun began to go down) and sunset. The priests, however, had made a ruling that people could not slay the lambs prior to the six-and-a-half hour, or a half hour past noon, to ensure that no one inadvertently killed the lambs too soon.
The crowd at the cross did not seem too concerned about this, since most of them had others from their household to kill the lambs and do the work of preparation. Even so, when the sun was darkened, there is no doubt that many wondered if they could lawfully slay the lambs while it was dark. Yet God brought about darkness at noon in order to fulfill the letter of the law in a very precise way. Between the two evenings was literally at 3:00 pm, or the ninth hour, and when the sun then emerged, there is little doubt that all the people killed the lambs at the same moment on that particular Passover. The lambs were thus killed about the time that Jesus died as the Passover Lamb.
Matt. 27:45 and Mark 15:33 record this three-hour darkness as well. John omits this detail altogether. The first three gospels agree that it was at the ninth hour (3 p.m.) that Jesus uttered his final words.
It is Finished
Luke 23:46 says,
46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” And having said this, He breathed His last.
No doubt these were His final words, but John tells us that just before those final words, Jesus drank some sour wine and then said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). By combining the details from the gospels, it appears that the temple veil was torn when He said, “It is finished,” for then the way into the Most Holy Place was opened (Heb. 9:8). Luke’s account implies that the veil was torn in verse 45 just before He died in verse 46.
In other words, the tearing of the veil awaited the completion of His work, not the actual moment of His death. Recall that the statement, “It is finished,” was spoken by the high priest on the Day of Atonement after sprinkling the blood of the first goat on the mercy seat. This was done at the ninth hour of the day, the same time that Jesus finished His work on the cross at Passover.
When the high priest emerged from the temple at that time, he spoke, “Don’t touch me, don’t touch me” until he was able to wash his hands. Once his hands were washed, he could then be touched, and he sat down on the porch at the door of the temple, saying, “It is finished.”
So we see that Jesus’ words on the cross were the words of the high priest in regard to the first goat that was killed on the Day of Atonement. That first goat signified Christ’s death on the cross, even though it was killed on the Day of Atonement.
Various groups of Bible teachers have developed a teaching about “the finished work of Christ,” based upon Jesus’ words on the cross. While these teachings are not incorrect, they are incomplete, for most of them do not understand that there was more for Christ to do. There were two goats, not just one. There were two sets of feast days, not just one.
Perhaps such teachers are unaware that Jesus’ words repeated the words of the high priest on the Day of Atonement after sprinkling the blood of the first goat on the mercy seat. In fact, after the priest had sat down and had spoken the words, “It is finished,” he had to stand up again to do the work of the second goat. It is said that the high priest actually laid upon the goat, embracing it and squeezing it as if to impart sin to it, for all sin, iniquity, and transgressions were to be imputed to that goat before it was led into the wilderness.
It is clear, then, that it was only the first work of Christ that was finished when Jesus uttered those words just before He died. There remained a second work of Christ to accomplish, prophesied by the second goat in Leviticus 16 and the second dove in Leviticus 14. The first work was necessary to finish the second work at His second coming. The first work, as seen in the ceremony of the first goat, covered sin, while the second goat removed sin. The first work of Christ gave us a legal perfection and imputed righteousness to us, but it takes a second work to actually remove the sin and perfect us by the infusion of righteousness.
His work is not truly “finished” until both are fully accomplished, and so the concept of “the finished work of Christ” ought to be modified, lest it be unbalanced and incomplete. I did a complete study on the two works of Christ in my book, The Laws of the Second Coming.
An Earthquake Tears the Veil
When Jesus’s first work was finished, the veil in the temple was torn, as if an earthquake had occurred. Indeed, Matt. 27:51 says,
51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split.
Mark 15:38, 39 says,
38 And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
The centurion was positioned between Jesus and the door of the temple, which could be seen at a distance. Recall that this all took place near the Miphkad altar where the ashes of the red heifer were stored on the Mount of Olives. It was required that this altar be situated “before” (that is, “before the face of”) God in the temple.
Luke 23:47-49 says,
47 Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48 And all the multitudes who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return [to Jerusalem], beating their breasts. 49 And all His acquaintances and the women who accompanied Him from Galilee, were standing at a distance [from the temple], seeing these things.
It appears that John and the Marys were not the only friends of Jesus to witness firsthand the tearing of the veil in the temple. There were others present who were “His acquaintances.” The crowd—many of whom had mocked Jesus earlier—suddenly knew that they had done wrong and “began to return, beating their breasts.” Presumably, the bridge did not collapse, so they were able to use it to return to the city.
John, however, omitted this event in his gospel, since all three of the others had already testified of that event in their gospels.
An Early Resurrection
Matt. 27:52, 53 records a unique detail that no other gospel writer mentions.
52 and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.
The wording makes it unclear if this event occurred at the time of Christ’s death or at His resurrection. It almost sounds as if the bodies of the saints were raised at His death, but did not emerge from the tombs until His resurrection. However, that explanation is improbable, even though Matthew seems to link this resurrection to the statement of the centurion in the next verse, who “saw the earthquake and the things that were happening.” It is too vague to reconstruct the precise timing of these events.
A whole dogma has been built around this, which is a dangerous thing to do, since we have only one witness, and even he is unclear. Apparently, in later years some teachers began to treat this as if it were the first resurrection. Paul mentions this in 2 Tim. 2:16-18,
16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some.
Did Hymenaeus and Philetus teach that the resurrection in Matthew 27:52, 53 was the first resurrection? Paul does not say, but there seems to be no other feasible explanation.
I believe that Matthew’s gospel was the first to be written (around 40 A.D.), so it is likely these two Bible teachers had begun teaching that what John called “the first resurrection” in Rev. 20:5 had “already taken place.” Whatever the case, Paul opposed that teaching.
Breaking Their Legs
John provides us with the next event, which the three other gospel writers omit. John 19:31-34 says,
31 The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs; 34 but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water.
John then tells us that he personally bore witness of this event, explaining in John 19:36, 37,
36 For these things came to pass, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”
In Exodus 12:46 the law commanded that none of the bones of the Passover lambs were to be broken. This is because bones are to the physical body what laws are to the body of Christ. Bones provide structure and stability to the body, while laws provide structure and stability for the body of Christ.
Bones in Scripture represent the laws of God. Jesus had no broken bones, because He broke no laws. On the other hand, lawless Israel’s bones were dried up and scattered (Ezekiel 37:2), because their lawlessness had brought about their dispersion and idolatry in the lands of their captivity, as prophesied in Deut. 28:64,
64 Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known.
John also says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” The reference to piercing is a quote from Zech. 12:10. John applies Zechariah’s prophecy to the spear that pierced His side. Another prophecy in Psalm 22:16 said, “They pierced my hands and my feet.”
Breaking the legs of those crucified was done to hasten their death, so that they could be taken off the cross and buried before sundown, when the actual Passover Day began. Breaking their legs prevented them from pushing up in order to catch their breath, and so this caused them to suffocate and die quickly.
This event took place shortly after the ninth hour after Jesus had breathed His last breath.