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The Day the Earth Trembled

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The historians Phlegon, Thaddus, and Julius Africanus all referred to the darkness that covered the earth at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Critics of the Bible have attempted to explain away this supernatural darkness by alleging that it was due to an eclipse of the sun. This is impossible, however, for the Passover occurred at the time of a full moon.

The Bible informs us that the darkening of the sky started at the sixth hour (see ; ; ). This is significant, for the sixth hour (noontime) was the very moment that the high priest Caiaphas, arrayed in his full priestly garments, began the procession in which he would enter the temple courts to slaughter a pure, spotless Passover lamb.

In fact, a great number of unblemished lambs were slaughtered in the temple courts during those hours of darkness -- one lamb slaughtered for every household in Israel (unless, of course, the household was too small). This supernatural darkness that covered the land lasted until the ninth hour -- about the time when the sacrifices of the Passover lambs would be coming to an end.

It was at this moment that Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” ( ). As He heaved upward to breathe for the last time, Jesus gathered enough air to speak forth a victory shout. His assignment was complete! After proclaiming those words with His last ounce of strength, tells us that He “…yielded up the ghost.”

What Matthew tells us next is simply amazing! He writes, “And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom….” The word “behold” is the Greek word idou. This is a very difficult word to translate, for it carries such intense feeling and emotion. The King James Version most often translates this word as behold. But in our contemporary world, it might be better rendered, Wow!

This word idou carries the idea of shock, amazement, and wonder. It’s almost as if Matthew says, “Wow! Can you believe it? The veil of the temple itself rent in twain from top to bottom!” Matthew wrote about this event many years after the fact, yet he was still so dumbfounded by what happened that day that he exclaimed in effect, “Wow! Look what happened next!”

There were two veils inside the temple — one at the entrance to the Holy Place and a second at the entrance to the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest was allowed to pass through the second veil once a year during the Festival of Atonement. That second veil was 60 feet high, 30 feet wide, and an entire handbreadth in thickness! One early Jewish writing states that the veil was so heavy, it took 300 priests to move or manipulate it. Humanly speaking, it would have been impossible to tear such a veil.

At the exact moment Jesus was breathing His last breath on the Cross at Golgotha, Caiaphas the high priest was standing at his station in the inner court of the temple, finishing the sacrifices of the spotless Passover lambs. In the same instant that Jesus exclaimed, “It is finished!” -- miles away from Golgotha inside the temple at Jerusalem, an inexplicable, mystifying supernatural event occurred. The massive, fortified veil that stood before the Holy of Holies was suddenly split in half from the top all the way to the bottom!

The sound of that veil splitting must have been deafening as it ripped and tore, starting from the top and going all the way down to the floor. It was as if invisible, divine hands had reached out to grab it, rip it to shreds, and discard it.

Imagine how shocked Caiaphas must have been when he heard the ripping sounds inside the temple and then watched as the veil was torn in half, leaving two sides of the once-massive curtain lying collapsed to his right and his left. Just think what must have gone through this evil high priest’s mind when he saw that the way to the Holy of Holies was opened — and that God’s Presence was no longer there!

You see, when Jesus was lifted up on the Cross, that Cross became the eternal mercy seat on which the blood of the final Sacrifice was sprinkled. Once that Sacrifice was made, it was no longer necessary for a high priest to continually make sacrifices year after year, for Jesus’ blood had now settled the issue forever!

For this cause, God Himself ripped the veil of the temple in half, declaring that the way to the Holy of Holies was now available to everyone who came to Him through the blood of Jesus! This is why the apostle Paul wrote that Jesus “…hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us” ( ).

Jesus’ death was such a dramatic event that even the earth reacted to it. says, “…the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.” The word “earth” is the word ges, which describes the whole earth. The word “quake” is the Greek word seiso, which means to shake, to agitate, or to create a commotion. It is where we get the word for a seismograph, the apparatus that registers the intensity of an earthquake. It is interesting to note that Origen, the early Christian leader, recorded that there were “great earthquakes” at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.

I find it so amazing that although Israel rejected Jesus and the Roman authorities crucified Him, creation always recognized Him! During His life on this earth, the waves obeyed Him; water turned to wine at His command; fishes and bread multiplied at His touch; the atoms in water solidified so He could walk across it; and the wind ceased when He spoke to it. So it should come as no surprise that Jesus’ death was a traumatic event for creation. The earth shook, trembled, and shuddered at the death of its Creator, for it instantly felt its loss.

The earth shuddered so violently when Jesus died that even “…the rocks rent.…” The word “rocks” is petra, referring to large rocks. The other word that could have been used for “rocks” is the word lithos, which meant small stones. But Matthew tells us that huge, large rocks were “rent” by the shaking of the earth. The word “rent” is schidzo, meaning to rend, to tear, to violently tear asunder, or to terribly fracture. This was a serious earthquake! It makes me realize all over again the incredible significance of the death of Jesus Christ!

When Jesus’ blood was accepted at the Cross as final payment for man’s sin, the need to habitually offer sacrifices year after year was eliminated. The Holy of Holies, a place limited only to the high priest once a year, has now become open and accessible to all of us! As “believer-priests,” each of us can now enjoy the presence of God every day. This is why says, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.… Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience….”

The way into the Holy of Holies has been thrown wide open to us. Now it’s up to us to take a few minutes each day to enter into the presence of God to worship Him and to make our requests known. Jesus died for us so we could “…come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” ( ). He has done His part. Now it’s up to us to come with boldness before the throne of grace to receive the divine help God has already provided for us.

How to give your life to Christ:

1. Admit you are a sinner and need forgiveness.

2. Believe that Jesus Christ died for you on the Cross and rose from the grave.

3. Through prayer, confess that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and commit to live for Him for the rest of your life.

What to Pray:

Dear Lord Jesus,

I know that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I believe that You died on the cross for my sins and rose from the grave to give me life. I know You are the only way to God so now I want to quit disobeying You and start living for You. Please forgive me, change my life and show me how to know You. In Jesus' name. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, please click here to let us know

Or you can call our CBN Prayer Counseling Center at (800) 759-0700. We would love to talk with you and send you some resources to help you begin your walk with the Lord.

How you can know you are forgiven:

The Bible, God's Word says: You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better that we deserve. This is God's gift to you, and you have done nothing on your own ( ).

For those who put their faith in Jesus: He gave them the right to be the children of God... God Himself was the one who made them His children ( ).

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Chronicle, Olympiad, trans. Carrier (1999). Eusebius quotes Phelgon.

Against Celsus, Chapter XXXIII, Origen

Rick RennerRick is founder and pastor of one of the largest and fastest growing churches in Russia, The Moscow Good News Church. He is the author of more than ten books including the best-sellers, Dressed to Kill , Sparkling Gems from the Greek, Ten Guidelines to Help You Achieve Your Long-Awaited Promotion, Dynamic Duo: The Holy Spirit & You, and more. His daily television broadcast, “Good News with Rick Renner” can be seen by a potential 100 million viewers across Russia.

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