Three signs of the crucifixion

SERMON TOPIC: Three signs of the crucifixion

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 21 June 2020


Sermon synopsis: Matthew records three miraculous signs that God gave on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.

1) Darkness over the land.
2) The curtain in the Holy of Holies being torn.
3) The earthquake and the resurrection of some of the saints of old.

What was God’s purpose in giving these signs?

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Matthew records three miraculous signs that God gave on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.

1) Darkness over the land.
2) The curtain in the Holy of Holies being torn.
3) The earthquake and the resurrection of some of the saints of old.

What was God’s purpose in giving these signs?


When Jesus takes upon the sin of the world, “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.” ( Matt 27:45, NIV)

This physical darkness represents the spiritual darkness that sin causes in the lives of people.

The Bible talks of the unsaved as being in darkness, contrasted to God – who is light.

1 John 1:5-6 (NIV) This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.

Why is sin compared to darkness?

Those in darkness lack direction.

1 John 2:11 (NIV) “But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.”

Those in darkness live in ignorance of the true situation they are in.

“Dating in the Dark” is a reality show where 3 single men and 3 single women move into a light-tight house getting to know each other in total darkness. More often than not, when they finally see their date in the light they change the opinion that they formed of them in the dark.

Those in darkness will stumble over even a small obstacle.

John 11:9-10 (NIV) Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling because he has the light of this world to see by; but if he walks at night, he stumbles, because there is no light to guide him.”

Prov 4:19 (NIV) But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.

Those in darkness are unable to lead others. Even if they are willing, they are incapable:

Luke 6:39 (NIV) He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?”

Sin thrives in the darkness.

Job 24:13,15,17 (NIV) “There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths... The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed... For all of them, deep darkness is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness.”

Isa 29:15 (NIV) Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?”

Dallas Willard, an American philosopher also known for his writings on Christian spiritual formation, states:

“Almost all evil deeds and intents are begun with the thought that they can be hidden by deceit.”

The kingdom of evil is built on lies, secrets, and darkness. It requires the absence of light to survive. Thus, for all it’s fearsome appearance, the kingdom of evil is structurally very weak. Turn on the light, and the cockroaches scramble to go under the refrigerator. 1

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But the secrets of sin are only temporary. You can count on them being exposed by the light (if not in this world, ultimately on Judgement Day)

Mark 4:22 “For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light.” (NASB)

Job 28:11 (NIV) [God] ... brings hidden things to light.

Ps 90:8 (NIV) You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

Eph 5:13 But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them… (NLT)

1 Cor 4:5 (NIV) Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Job 12:22 (NIV) He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light.

Dan 2:22 (NIV) He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.

Their deeds of those in darkness are shameful and fruitless:

Eph 5:11-12 (NIV) Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.

Their lives are characterized by hate:

1 John 2:11 (NIV) But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness

John 1:5 (NLT) The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

Those in darkness hate the light because they know that it will expose their evil deeds:

John 3:19-20 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (NIV)

Because the people in darkness hate the light, 2000 years ago they tried to extinguish that light, by crucifying Jesus. But “the darkness can never extinguish” the true light.

The land being covered in darkness coincides with God turning his back on his Son. Thus at about three in the afternoon (Matt 27:46) Jesus cries out: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Because God is light (sinless and holy), the Father turns his back on his Son when he takes the sin of the world.

2 Cor 5:21 (NIV) God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

When Jesus began his ministry we read:

Matt 4:16 (NIV) “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

And Zechariah prayed concerning the coming Messiah:

Luke 1:78-79 (NIV) “because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

The darkness lasted until 3 p.m. when Jesus died. Light was then restored. This is symbolic of how Jesus’ death brought us from darkness into light.

Jesus said:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:46, NIV)

Jesus contrasted the people of this world to the people of the light: “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” (Luke 16:8, NIV)

The people of this world

The people of the light

When we are saved, we move from darkness into light:

Eph 5:8 (NIV) For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.

Col 1:13 (NIV) For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves

1 Thess 5:5 (NIV) You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.

2 Cor 4:6 (NIV) For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

The move from darkness into light is brought about by faith in Jesus:

Acts 26:17-18 (NIV) “… I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

And now you “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet 2:9, NIV)

We are instructed to “Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth).” (Eph 5:9, NIV)


The second sign was the tearing of the curtain in the Temple.

The curtain, which Matthew reports as being torn, separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (or Holy of Holies).

Heb 9:3-5 (NIV) Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant.

So in the temple, behind the curtain was the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary, the resting place for the ark of the covenant. Covering the ark was the mercy seat. The Holy of Holies was filled with the Shekinah glory of God i.e. the visible, tangible presence of God.

In the Old Covenant only one man “the high priest ever entered the Most Holy Place, and only once a year” (Heb 9:7, NLT).

On Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) the presiding high priest would take the blood of the bulls, goats, and lambs that had been sacrificed on the altar in the courtyard. He would walk through the Holy Place, where all the priests were allowed, but would go behind the separating curtain and into the Holy of Holies. It was there that he would offered the blood of the substitutionary sacrifice on the Mercy Seat of the ark. This blood was to atone for the sins of all Israel.

The way into God’s very presence was not open to all under the previous covenant. God had to be accessed by the priests and prophets:

Heb 9:8 (NIV) The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing.

When Jesus died, this thick curtain which separated all mankind from the presence of the holy God, was torn.

Matt 27:50-51 (NIV) And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

Early Jewish tradition (the Mishnah) stated that the Temple veil was massive: 40 cubits (18 metres) high, 20 cubits (9 metres) wide and as thick as a man’s hand. 1

1 Mishnah. Shekalim, c. 8. sect. 5. Shernot Rabba, sect. 50. fol. 144. 2. Bernidbar Rabba, sect. 4. fol. 183. 2.

Q: Who tore this massive curtain?

A: God did – Matthew records that it was torn “from top to bottom”. At a height of 18 metres no man could have done that. Also it was far too thick for a man to tear (multi-threaded material the width of a man’s hand).

God was showing that the way into the Holy of Holies was now opened – and that the lost relationship with God was restored. Our relationship with God was broken by sin which led to Adam and Eve being driven from God’s presence. Jesus as our mediator restored our relationship with God.

Rom 5:10 (NIV) For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son…

The sacrifices in the Old Covenant were just annual reminders of sin, because they couldn’t bring about forgiveness of sin:

Heb 10:3-4 (NIV) But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Because we have forgiveness of sin, the tearing of the curtain which led into the area where the blood from the sin sacrifice was offered for atonement – is symbolic of the fact that there is no longer a need for sacrifice.

Heb 10:15-18 (NIV) The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.

The tearing of the curtain was symbolic of the “tearing” of Jesus’ body on the cross which opened the way into God’s presence.

Heb 10:19-22 (NIV) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Unlike the Old Covenant all people now have free access into the Father’s presence.

We have “confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb 10:19, NIV) because our sins which alienated us from a righteous God have been removed.

Our covenant has “a new and living way” which allows us to “draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:19-22, NIV).



Matt 27:51-53 (NIV) The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

The last sign to accompany Jesus’ death was an earthquake, the splitting of rocks and the resurrection of some of the Old Testament saints.

Just before God introduces the Old Covenant (the Law) to Moses on Mount Sinai, the mountain shook:

Ex 19:18 (NIV) Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently

Now as God introduces the New Covenant (Grace) once again the earth is shaken. The splitting of the rocks and the resultant opening of tombs was a preview of the final resurrection, which would be guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead three days later.

We also see that the saints were raised. But while the earthquake happened at the time of Jesus’ death, verse 53 indicates that the saints were only seen after Jesus’ resurrection. Although the tombs were broken open at the time of the crucifixion, they could not come out of the graves until after Jesus’ resurrection. Why? Because Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection:

1 Cor 15:20 (NIV) But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

And so Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of these saints are a sign from God that through Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, we too have the hope of the resurrection and eternal life.

John 11:25-26 (NIV) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Rom 6:23 (NIV) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 John 5:11-12 (NIV) And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Matt 27:54 (NIV) When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified…

Surely he was the Son of God!

The centurion experienced the supernatural darkness and now the shaking of the earth when Christ dies.

His response is to declare Jesus to be the Son of God.

Mark indicates that it was also because of the manner in which Jesus died:

Mark 15:39 (NIV) And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

What is your response to Jesus’ death and God’s signs.

Will you leave the darkness and enter the light that came through Jesus death?

Will you enter through the torn curtain and have fellowship with God?

Will you become God’s child and so have the hope of the resurrection and eternal life?

Will you, like the centurion, declare Jesus to be the Son of God?


Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations are taken from the NIV: THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. (

Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV: Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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