1. Matthew 27:45 (ESV)
  2. Exposition

What is the significance of the darkness over the land?

Matthew 27:45 (ESV)

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.

In short

The darkness falling over the land

  1. symbolizes God’s judgment on sin;

  2. symbolizes the cosmos holding its breath; or

  3. is a sign of God’s judgment at the end of time.

When Jesus is hung on the cross, he is mocked before darkness falls over the whole land for three hours. What does this darkness signify?

We know from other passages in Scripture that darkness is associated with divine judgment. For example, Isaiah says that when the nations judge God’s people, they will look to the land, but the land will be darkness (Isa. 5:30). Also, in Joel 3:15 we learn that the day of the Lord’s judgment is near, which means the sun will be darkened. We also know from Scripture that Jesus took the penalty for sin on the cross (Gal. 3:15). In other words, the divine judgment was brought to bear on the sins of the world through Jesus’ crucifixion. Thus, the darkness falling over the land is a symbol of God’s judgment on sin, a judgment that Jesus carried.

Some argue that when Matthew says darkness fell over the land, he leaves the phrase purposely ambiguous. That is, Matthew does not specify what it means that darkness falls over the land, so it is likely used as a narrative feature to suggest that the cosmos is holding its breath. The problem with this view is that darkness falling over the land at the exact moment that Jesus carries the punishment for sin does not seem ambiguous. Rather, it seems like the darkness has a definite meaning which likely has to do with God’s judgment.

Another view argues that the darkness indicates God’s end-time judgment, his judgment when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead. When we read about the coming end-time judgment in Scripture, we learn that darkness will precede it. The problem is that the darkness in Matthew 27:45 could not represent God’s end-time judgment because the crucifixion was not the end of the universe. Rather, it marks a new era in history when humans are reconciled to God through the blood of Christ. Thus, it is better to see the darkness as a symbol of God’s judgment on sin, rather than a symbol of end-time judgment.

When darkness falls over the land it indicates God’s judgment over sin, and in turn, the unspeakable burden that Jesus had to bear.

Interpretation 1:
The darkness symbolizes God’s judgment on sin.


After Jesus is hung on the cross, the land goes dark for three hours. This symbolizes God’s judgment on sin and the agony of Jesus’ suffering. Although Jesus was perfectly innocent, he carried the penalty for our sin as he was forsaken by God on the cross.

The darkness of the land symbolizes a turning point in human history. God’s justice must be satisfied for our sin, and the darkness symbolizes that satisfaction. May we bow before Christ who would lay down his life and carried the penalty for our sin.


  • Donald Carson

  • Leon Morris

  • David Turner

Minor differences:

Our authors agree that the land goes literally dark for three hours, and that the darkness symbolizes God’s judgment on sin. That is to say, the darkness symbolizes the fact that God is placing on Jesus the judgment that we deserve. There is a subtle difference between our authors. For David Turner and Leon Morris, the darkness symbolizes the judgment that Jesus carried. Turner says the darkness is appropriate given Jesus’ unspeakable suffering and divine abandonment.1 Likewise, Morris writes that the darkness has to do with God’s judgment on sin linked to the cross.2 Donald Carson sees things slightly differently. He agrees that the darkness has to do with God’s judgment on Jesus, which will culminate in Jesus’ cry of desolation, but also suggests that darkness represents a judgment on the land and its people.3 Carson does not explain his view further, so we are left to wonder what it means that in the darkness God was judging the land and its people.


Interpretation 2:
The darkness symbolizes the cosmos holding its breath.


Matthew recounts the fact that darkness fell over the land for three hours because of its narrative function. The darkness keeps the reader in suspense as he anticipates what might happen next.


  • Ulrich Luz


Interpretation 3:
The darkness is a sign of God’s judgment at the end of time.


Jesus is innocent, and once he is nailed to the cross, he is mocked and scorned by those who pass by. Then darkness falls on the land for three hours. Given that Jesus was the innocent Son of God, and the darkness is a sign of God’s displeasure at the crucifixion of his son, and a sign God’s end-time judgment.


  • John Nolland