The Roman soldier knelt over the outstretched left hand as it lay atop the rough hewn wooden cross. He hadn’t served in the legion for more than two years but he was becoming an experienced and calloused veteran of executions. He seldom took any particular notice of those he took helped execute but he saw something odd about this condemned prisoner. Unlike so many others there was no begging or pleading for mercy from him. He didn’t have to force or hold the arm down with a knee, nor grasp the hand to keep it stationary so he could administer the deadly fastener through it. This was the empires worst manner of death yet this prisoner was completely passive, in fact cooperative.
The wooden cross was still quite green so he had to swing his hammer with such force that the pounding of the seven inch spike could be heard across the Kidron Valley as it was driven through the strangely complacent hand. Overall the execution was going smoothly, with mechanical efficiency, incident free, except for the mass hatred toward the condemned. It was an odd one all right and about to get odder.
For instance: Why did only a very small crowd of friends and family gather on Golgotha to mourn for this condemned one? Why did a dry-eyed mother simply stare upward with a look on her face that seemed to accept something that most everyone else couldn’t appreciate? It seemed like the entire region traveling the nearby trails and roads, going about their Passover preparation business, were mocking and cursing at the prisoner. Usually it was the soldiers, hated and unwanted occupiers of their land who would be subjected to curses and threats. But not today. Not this execution. The Temple priests even showed up jeering “He saved others; Himself he cannot save.”
From all around what the locals called “Skull Hill” could be heard “Hail, hail the King of the Jews!” and “You raised the dead, let’s see you raise yourself from that cross!” Whatever all that was about, the soldier thought, this was his first execution of someone who had thoughts of grandeur. Yes, that must be what’s unusual about this one. “This guy was a god or king wanna be” he thought to himself.
His closest friend on the death detail, also in his early twenties, was in charge of the opposite hand. Oblivious to the few grievers present, he too jested out loud that he drove his spike further, faster than his pal. “That’s all right” said the first soldier. “I’ll outdo you for the robe this ‘King of the Jews’ won’t need any longer!” as he drove the spike through the docile, overlapped ankles.
The first soldier then got the real privilege of the day. With the robe wrapped around his hands to protect them from the thorny barbs, he made the sarcastic comment “There you are your majesty” as he shoved the crown of thorns as deep as he could onto the convict’s head.
Then the six man detail all joined in, raising the cross up and sliding its base into the anchor hole in front of it, dropping it in with a heavy thud. As the day progressed the soldiers heard the criminal make statements to no one in particular, and a few to the others sharing his fate on either side of him. One of them sounded like something out of sorcery. It went like “today you’ll be with me in paradise” and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Most of what came out the criminal’s mouth they paid little attention to; after all they were busy gambling for the fairly nice garment he “bequeathed” to them.
But it was when he said “It is finished” and almost immediately a loud thunder clap from overhead came rolling across the countryside, that they looked up from the gaming dice. The sky quickly turned black and a fierce wind began to blow. The ground took on a life of its own shaking and rumbling. It was the middle of the day, time for the detail’s lunch break, but all appetites disappeared.
A Centurion, recently transferred from Capernaum and overseeing the death detail, was rumored to have had a servant healed miraculously by some sorcerer in the desert, perhaps this prisoner. He, a battle hardened veteran, used to giving orders, was visibly distraught and trembling. In fact a sense of terror of the unknown fell upon the entire, normally confident detail, the “Masters” of the earth. Maybe it was from talk in the community about mighty miracles this particular condemned man had performed. Some said he even raised people from the dead. Now, the life was gone from him and they had a hand in it. The Centurion, got down on his knees, clasped his hands in front of him, looked up at the now limp body framed by the black sky saying “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” Then the quiet, eery darkness veiled the sky for three hours.
Christ’s Dramatic Timing in the Use of Natural Wonders
The Easter season serves as a reminder of the fulfillment of a new covenant between the creator of the universe and we his creations, at least those who accept Him and live their lives like they meant it.
Much has been debated, written, and played out on stage and screen about the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ; but are you aware of how he escaped being killed before ever reaching the cross? Have you ever wondered why Christ thwarted those attempts? Well we don’t have to wonder. The Gospels reveal that he surely had a day, and a particular time of the day, for his death in mind.
Since He is all-knowing and created the universe, since He brought about the virgin birth, and even resurrected the dead, wouldn’t He have the power and ability to use an act of the natural world, which he created, to coincide with his purposes? Remember the great plagues that swept Egypt in the Exodus event, and the rainbow that He made appear for Noah after the great flood?
The following are entries from the Holy Bible, with respected commentaries, describing instances where Jesus Christ thwarted the attempts to murder him:
Then all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them He went His way. Luke 4:28-30. (New King James).
Either in so strong and powerful a manner, and with so much swiftness, that being once out of their hands, they could not lay hold on him again; or else he put on another form, or made himself invisible to them; or he held their eyes that they could not see him, or know him, as in (Luke 24:16) however it was, he made use of, and showed his divine power; and which he did, because his time to die was not yet come, nor was he to die such a death: and this also shows, that when he did die, he laid down his life freely and voluntarily, since he could then have exerted his power, and delivered himself out of the hands of his enemies, as now: and went his way; from Nazareth elsewhere; nor do we read of his returning there anymore. John Gill, John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible (n.d.).
Yet he escaped, because his hour was not yet come: He passed through the midst of them unhurt. Either he blinded their eyes, as God did those of the Sodomites and Syrians, or he bound their hands, or filled them with confusion, so that they could not do what they designed; for his work was not done, it was but just begun; his hour was not yet come, when it was come, he freely surrendered himself. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (n.d.).
Then they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come. John 7:30
because his hour was not yet come;
to suffer and die, to depart out of this world, and go to the Father: there was a precise time fixed for this in the council and covenant of God, by mutual compact, called “due time”; as his coming into the world is called “the fullness of time”; nor could he die before that time, and therefore no man was suffered to lay hands on him, whatever good will he had to it. Gill, supra.
Fourthly, Christ had his hour set, which was to put a period to his day and work on earth; so have all his people and all his ministers, and, till that hour comes, the attempts of their enemies against them are ineffectual, and their day shall be lengthened as long as their Master has any work for them to do; nor can all the powers of hell and earth prevail against them, until they have finished their testimony. Henry, supra.
“John is at pains to point out at every point that the persecution and death of Jesus followed a predestined course.” A.T. Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament. (Copyright © Broadman Press 1932, 33, Renewal 1960).
And no man laid his hand on him, because his hour was not yet come. Because it was not the will of God that he should be arrested at this time. J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton, the Fourfold Gospel, also known as a “Harmony of the Four Gospels” (n.d.).
Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand. John 10:39
but he escaped out of their hands;
either by withdrawing from them in some private way; or by open force, exerting his power, and obliging them on every side to fall back, and give way to him; or by rendering himself invisible to them; and this he did, not through fear of death, but because his time was not yet come, and he had other work to do, before he suffered and died. Gill, supra.
He escaped, not because he was afraid to suffer, but because his hour was not come. Henry, supra.
Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself , and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by. John 8:59
Not that Christ was afraid or ashamed to stand by what he had said, but his hour was not yet come, and he would countenance the flight of his ministers and people in times of persecution, when they are called to it….This was not a cowardly inglorious flight, nor such as argued either guilt or fear. Henry, supra.
He was hidden. No Docetic vanishing, but quietly and boldly Jesus went out of the temple. His hour had not yet come. Robertson, supra.
So, apparently Christ wasn’t going to let anyone pick his day to die. He set the day that he wanted to die, and a specific time of that day to die for us on the cross. What more control of the matter could He exhibit than to coincide it with a marvelous wonder of turning daylight into night; something that only He knew was to come? We know it happened from personal eyewitness accounts:
Now from the sixth hour (12:00 Noon) until the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.) there was darkness over all the land. Matthew 27:45. (New King James).
Now, when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. Mark 15:33. (New King James).
And it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Luke 24:44. (New King James).
Christ’s execution is confirmed by the four gospels that say it occurred on Preparation Day, a day that always preceded the Sabbath (Saturday). It was called Preparation day, because no work was allowed the following day, the Sabbath. Passover traditionally was celebrated on the 14th day of the Jewish lunar month of Nisan. Therefore the crucifixion must have occurred in a year when Preparation Day fell on a Friday.
Pontius Pilate was appointed procurator of Judea by his friend Lucius Aelius Sejanus, second only to the emperor. His term ran during the years of 26 AD through 36 AD. With this fact in mind we can then search for Preparation Days that fell on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan. There were two of them: April 7th, 30 A.D. and April 3rd, 33 A.D. To help us choose which here are more clues from history:
Numerous secular historical sources agree that Sejanus’s infamous rule as second to Caesar ended in mid-October of 31 A.D. when he was executed by order of Emperor Tiberius for treason. When Pilate heard about this and how anyone associated with Sejanus shared his fate, he began to track back his anti-Semitic biases. He knew the now fully engaged Emperor Tiberius was on the look-out for others defying his foreign policy dictates. Thus Pilate’s reluctance to execute Christ until the allegation, recorded in John 19:12, was made: “If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend.” Pilate, knew the Emperor had his informers who were watching his every move for any sign of treason and that he could be ordered to Rome to probably share in Sejanus’ fate.
Only one Passover lunar eclipse was visible from Jerusalem while Pilate was in office after the demise of his friend Sejanus. It occurred on April 3, 33 AD. One ancient non-Biblical source confirms this. Phlegon Trallianus recorded in his “Olympiades:”
“In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [AD 32-33], a failure of the Sun took place greater than any previously known, and night came on at the sixth hour of the day [noon], so that stars actually appeared in the sky; and a great earthquake took place in Bithynia and overthrew the greater part of Niceaea,” obviously not a simple astronomical event.
Other ancient writers such as Thallus, Phlegon, Africanus, and Tertullian, have all written about this event. Even NASA stands as a witness, confirming that a partial lunar eclipse occurred on April 3rd, 33 A.D., and lasted two hours and fifty minutes. National Aeronautics & Space Administration, NASA Eclipse Website, Lunar Eclipses of Historical Interest, http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEhistory/LEhistory.html
These compelling evidences lead to only one determination: The Day of the Cross fell on April 3rd, 33 A.D.
So what do we take away from this? Three conclusions: First, he extended His grace to us by his sacrifice on the cross. Secondly, He once again demonstrated a majestic foresight and control over the universe and the natural rotation and positions of the earth, the moon and their relations to the sun.
About the crucifixion related quake let’s begin with another earthquake account that respected Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus wrote about. It happened in the Dead Sea area, along the Jericho Fault in 31 B.C., killing 30,000 people in 31 B.C. Archeological evidence that verifies the event has been found in excavations at Qumran on the northwest end of the Dead Sea.
It was felt very near the fortress of Masada, about half way down the western shoreline of the sea. “[In the] sediment outcrop is a distinctive one-foot thick ‘mixed layer’ of sediment that is tied strongly to the Qumran earthquake’s onshore ground ruptures of 31 B.C. Thirteen inches above the 31 B.C. event bed is another distinctive ‘mixed layer’ less than one inch thick. The sedimentation rate puts this second earthquake about 65 years after the 31 B.C. earthquake. It seems that the crucifixion earthquake of 33 A.D. was magnitude 5.5, leaving direct physical evidence in a thin layer of disturbed sediment from the Dead Sea.” Dr. Steven A. Austin, Senior Research Geologist, Logos Research Associates, Santa Ana, CA; Observations of Dead Sea sediment made by Steven A. Austin in 2001 (n.d.).
The third conclusion: He knew, as only He would know, that a time would come when his human creations would begin, as the great Johann Kepler described it, thinking His thoughts after him. They would learn to appreciate His creation of the heavens and the earth, and the rules of order that would govern them. He knew they would eventually learn to back-calculate eclipses and earthquakes to confirm the biblical eyewitness recordings of them in the Gospels and once again demonstrate Christ’s supremacy over all.
Kind of neat isn’t it? He is an awesome god! Happy Easter!