We’re going through the gospels looking for some clues to the self-understanding of Christ and the way his contemporaries saw him and other relevant factors to our understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. Today, we’re going to look at Matthew’s account of the crucifixion.
What I’d like to focus on this time are the unique events that happened at the crucifixion. N.T. Wright has stated before that what makes these unique is not simply that they happened but when they happened. Using the resurrection as an example, had the thief on the cross been resurrected, we would have said this is certainly an odd universe we live in, but it would not have led to him being seen as the Messiah. What made Jesus be seen as Messiah is not simply that he rose again but the context in which he rose again. Thus, what makes these events even more incredible is not that they happened but that they happened at the crucifixion of Christ.
The first is the darkness that covered the land. There are other writers who have stated this happened, such as Phlegon. I have thought before that this could be an event that some Christians might have thought of as fulfilling the words of Amos 8.
9 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD,
“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your religious feasts into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.
The darkness could indeed be a time of mourning in that the light that had come into the world was going out, as it were. No. I do not mean Jesus ceased to exist at this point, but I am saying he died, in that his soul was separated from his body, much as what happens to all of us when we die.
The earthquake is another event worth noting as earthquakes had been seen as divine judgment before. This doesn’t mean every one was, but the fact that an earthquake occurred at this point and again at the resurrection can mean the actions of God.
One of the most noted events though is the resurrection of the dead that took place. Now I do believe that this was a historical event and someone will then say “Well geez. If that really happened, why are we not told what happened to them or left any witness of people that they talked to?”
Frankly, because it doesn’t matter.
Yes. This will be the same when we get to the temple veil tearing which I’m saving for last. The earthquake event is not meant to tell us about seismic events going on in Jerusalem. The darkness over the land is not meant to tell us about what the sun was doing at the time. The resurrection of the dead is not meant to tell us about the dead.
All are meant to tell us about Christ.
If the dead had been focused on, it would have taken people away from Christ. Now some of you might think that that surely wouldn’t happen. Oh really? Go read the story again in Matthew 14 with Peter walking on the water and ask yourself, “How often do we hear sermons on this and the preacher is talking about the faith of Peter and stating things like ‘at least he got out of the boat.’?” However, Peter is not the point of the story. Jesus is. When we forget that, we’re guilty of doing what Peter did, taking our eyes off of Jesus.
If we can do it with the story of walking on the water, then we can surely do it for an event we consider much more remarkable.
However, it was a belief at the time in Judaism by some that when Messiah came, there would be resurrections. Matthew is using the resurrections there to point to the identity of Jesus and not to tell us about the dead people that were raised.
Finally, the temple tearing and this for our concerns is probably the most important one in Matthew. Matthew was writing to orthodox Jews who would know exactly what was meant by this. The way to the Holy of Holies was no longer blocked.
In the past, the high priest alone could enter the Holy of Holies and he could only do so once a year. He had a rope tied around his foot and he wore a robe with bells hanging from it. Why? Because if he was unclean, he would die and they knew he was still doing his duties if they heard the bells ringing. If they stopped, well no one could go in and get the high priest so they had to tie a rope on his leg so that they could pull him out.
That system is gone now.
Now all can be made holy by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Our great high priest has made intercession. There is no longer need for any other priests to make intercession for us. (Which is why I also have a problem with Mormons having temples and a priesthood. Christ made those all obsolete.)
Tomorrow, we shall turn to the resurrection to see what it says about Christ.