Jesus on the Cross: Three Hours of Darkness

When Jesus was suffering for our salvation on the Cross, there was darkness for three hours. Was this darkness natural or supernatural? And did this darkness affect the whole “land” or the whole “earth”?

It is a popular misconception that the darkness when Jesus was crucified was due to a solar eclipse. Jesus died on a Friday, at the beginning of Passover. More specifically, it was the preparation day of the Passover, when the Jews did the work needed to begin the 7 days of Passover that followed (including sacrificing the lamb). In the Jewish calendar system, the preparation day of the Passover is always the 14th of the month of Nisan.

And since the Jewish calendar months are based on the phases of the moon, the 14th always occurs about the time of the full moon, when the moon is on the opposite side of the earth from the sun. A solar eclipse can only occur at the time of the new moon (about 14 days prior to the full moon), when the moon is on the same side of the earth as the sun. So it was impossible for a solar eclipse to occur during any day of Passover, in any year. The darkness was not due to a solar eclipse.

Could the darkness have been due to a heavily overcast sky? The event of the Crucifixion is so important in salvation history that a mere overcast sky would not be a fitting cause of the darkness. Jesus performed many miracles during His ministry. So it was fitting that the culmination of His salvific work be accompanied by true miracles, not merely a coincidence of bad weather.

So the darkness was supernatural.

Was the whole planet affected, or only the land of Israel or Judea? The event of the Crucifixion is the source of salvation for the whole world, and so it was fitting for the entire planet to be affected by the miracle of darkness, not only the local area.

Jesus is the light of the whole world. But the world has long been darkened by sin. So the darkness at the time of the Crucifixion fittingly shows that Jesus is the only true light of the world. Without Him, we would all be in great darkness.

{27:45} Now from the sixth hour, there was darkness over the entire earth, even until the ninth hour.

{15:33} And when the sixth hour arrived, a darkness occurred over the entire earth, until the ninth hour.

{23:44} Now it was nearly the sixth hour, and a darkness occurred over the entire earth, until the ninth hour.

[John]
{1:5} And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

{3:19} And this is the judgment: that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness more than light. For their works were evil.
{3:20} For everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not go toward the Light, so that his works may not be corrected.
{3:21} But whoever acts in truth goes toward the Light, so that his works may be manifested, because they have been accomplished in God.”

{8:12} Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me does not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

{12:46} I have arrived as a light to the world, so that all who believe in me might not remain in darkness.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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