45 Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” 47 And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49 But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 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. 52 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. 54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” 55 Many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee while ministering to Him. 56 Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
In verse 50 we see that Matthew didn’t know of Jesus’ final words, but we see them recorded in John 19:
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
And also in Luke 23 we see what Jesus says to commit His Spirit:
44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. 46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.” Having said this, He breathed His last.
So from about noon until 3pm local time (sixth to the ninth hour) a great darkness fell upon the land. These were Jesus’ final hours as a human being. This is the time we attribute to Jesus’ bearing all of our sins upon Him. With the darkness covering the land and Jesus crying out about feeling abandoned, we imagine this was Jesus’ darkest hour (s). Indeed, His body was fading away. For His entire life He had been intimately close with the Father but in this moment, the Father couldn’t look. His Son was dying and sin was sucking the life out of Him. This was the moment that the Father hid His face from the Son because He could not bear to watch. The majority of parents probably couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be to see your only child hanging on a cross for crimes He didn’t commit.
Jesus’ statement which is translated into English as “it is finished” has a very specific meaning. We can very easily look at it as His mission is completed, His death is final, His suffering is over, but the truth is what He said was, “paid in full.” The word that Jesus used while hanging on the cross is the same word that was stamped on the Roman tax documents when a citizen paid their taxes to the government. Tetelestai means that the debt which once existed has now been paid! In physical terms this would be your taxes, a loan you took out, a debt you owe to someone, or even a judgment sentence for a crime. Here, Jesus paid our debt that was owed in regards to our sin. He evened the score for us so we could once again be reunited with God our Father.
Last week I had the opportunity to “camp out” with some boys from our church in the backyard of our house. We sat around the campfire and talked about what Holy Week represented and we all recounted what we could remember from the series of events starting Monday all the way through Resurrection Sunday. We spent a good amount of time talking about what happened after Jesus died. What was the purpose of His death? Why is it significant that the veil was torn? Why was there an earthquake? Why did dead believers get resurrected? Was this all so the centurion would finally recognize who Jesus is? The reason these things happened were to signal a new beginning.
The veil being torn reveals to us that there is no longer a separation between God and man. The veil existed to shield the people from the glorious presence of God so we didn’t die from it. God wants to be among His people but until then, His people could not bear it for they would surely die. This isn’t some sort of punishment that God set up, but the fact that He is God and we were stained with sin is what separated us and created the need for the veil. In God’s mercy through Jesus’ sacrifice there is no longer a need for the veil! We are now free to live in communion with God our Father as we were originally intended to.
The earthquake represents a new Kingdom on earth. Satan had become the ruler of the earth since Adam and Eve gave him power back in Eden through their distrust in God. God put us in charge over all the earth and animals that inhabit it. Satan took the title deed from us over the earth in exchange for knowledge of good and evil. The earthquake represents this being broken (we will see in the coming days more of what this means for us). Satan’s kingdom on earth took a huge blow this day, even though he thought he had won by inspiring people to kill Jesus.
The resurrected bodies of the saints (a part that is seldom remembered) represents the beginning of new life. As Jesus will reveal to us in His resurrection on Sunday, we now have new life in Him as a result of His death. Jesus spoke of this various times to His disciples, trying to explain to them that there will be a time of resurrection both physically and spiritually. We get some explanation of this as recorded in John 5:
25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; 27 and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. 28 “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
There is much more written about this in Revelation, but at least for now we can see that Jesus’ words were at least partially fulfilled on the day of His death as a foreshadowing of what is to come in the final days of the world as we know it. These tombs in the vicinity heard Jesus’ voice as He cried out His last breath when the veil was torn, the earth shook, and the tombs busted open to reveal the truth in His word as recorded in John 11 when speaking to Martha about Lazarus:
24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
All of this was made possible because Jesus paid it all! He paid the debt of sin that had kept us separated from God. He paid off the debt that kept us powerless over Satan and his kingdom on earth. He even paid the price of spiritual and physical death so that we no longer have to suffer from it. The question is: will we live as if this debt is paid or continue to live as if we are still under the debt?