Harmony of the Gospels


(37) Last Three Hours on Cross

Scripture: Matthew 27:45-50 (focal passage); Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30

Tom Lowe


Time: Friday of Jesus’ Final Week
Place: Golgotha (Calvary)

The Holy Spirit has chosen not to reveal much of what went on during those last three hours Jesus was on the cross. I can’t even imagine how the Savior suffered. But there is something we can know about it: It happened just the way the Bible describes it, and the result is that salvation is available to those who believe in Jesus and that He died for them.

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? (Psalm 22:1)

(Matthew 27:45) Now from the  [1]sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the  [2]ninth hour.
(Mark 15:33) And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
(Luke 23:44) And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.
(Luke 23:45) And the sun was darkened, and the  [3]veil of the temple was  [4]rent in the  [5]midst.

All the sufferings and indignities which He bore at the hands of men were minor compared to what He now faced. From the sixth hour (noon) until the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.), there was darkness not only over all the land of Palestine (the whole land or earth; the Greek can mean either), but in His holy soul as well. It was during that time that He bore the indescribable curse of our sins. In those three hours were compressed the hell which we deserved, and the wrath of God against all our transgressions. We see it only dimly; we simply cannot know what it meant for Him to satisfy all God’s righteous claims against sin. We only know that in those three hours He paid the price, settled the debt, and finished the work necessary for man’s redemption.  [6]Mark 15:25 indicates Jesus had been placed on the cross at the third hour (9:00 A.M.). Then, by noon men had done all they could to the Son of God, and the cross became an alter on which the Son of God was offered.

The darkness was evidently supernaturally imposed since an eclipse of the sun at full noon is impossible. God’s wrath was poured upon His Son during this time of darkness. This was a sign to the nation of Israel. They had rejected the light, and now they would be judicially blinded by God.

The veil of the temple, the only thing that separated the priests from the Holy of Holies, was torn in two from the top to the bottom: “And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Mark 15:38). This pictured the fact that through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, a way of approach to God was opened to all who would come by faith ([7]Hebrews 10:20–22). No more do sinners need temples, alters, sacrifices, or priests, for all had now been fulfilled in the finished work of the Son of God.

It is significant that the curtain was torn from top to bottom, since only God could have done that.

(Matthew 27:46) And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
(Mark 15:34) And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

At about 3:00 p.m., He cried out with a loud voice, saying (in Aramaic), “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The answer is found in Psalm 22:3, “. . . You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel.” Because God is holy, He cannot overlook sin. On the contrary, He must punish it. The Lord Jesus had no sin of His own, but He took the guilt of our sins upon Himself. When God, as Judge, looked down and saw our sins upon the sinless Substitute, He withdrew from the Son of His love. It was this separation that wrung from the heart of Jesus what Mrs. Browning so beautifully called “Immanuel’s orphaned cry”:

Deserted! God could separate from His own essence rather;
And Adam’s sins have swept between the righteous Son and Father:
Yea, once, Immanuel’s orphaned cry His universe hath shaken—
It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!”
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(Matthew 27:47) Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for  [8]Elias.
(Mark 15:35) And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said,  [9]Behold, he calleth Elias.

When Jesus cried, “Eli, Eli ...,” He may have lacked the physical strength to speak clearly, and that could be why some of those who stood by said He was calling for Elijah. Whether they actually confused the names or were simply mocking is not clear.

(Matthew 27:48) And  [10]straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
(Matthew 27:49) The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

(Mark 15:36) And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down.
(John 19:28) After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.
(John 19:29) Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.

The general attitude of the observers was to wait and see if Elijah would fulfill the role Jewish tradition assigned to him—coming to the aid of the righteous. But it was not time for Elijah to come ([11]Malachi 4:5); it was time for Jesus to die.

As a final indignity, one of them put a sponge soaked with sour wine on the end of a reed and lifted it to His lips. Judging from  [12]Psalm 69:21, this was not intended as an act of mercy but as an added form of suffering. “Let be” was uttered by the crowd, who wanted the soldier to stop ministering to Jesus—some thought the sponge contained water.

John said that toward the end Jesus said, “I thirst,” indicating that Jesus was fully conscience and was aware of fulfilling the details of prophecies.

(Matthew 27:50) Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice,  [13]yielded up the ghost.
(Mark 15:37) And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.
(Luke 23:46) And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father,  [14]into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
(John 19:30) When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

When He had cried out again with a loud voice, He yielded up His spirit. The loud cry demonstrates that He died in strength, not in weakness. He … cried … with a loud voice, as a shout of triumph, and yielded up His Spirit. In other words having borne the wrath of God’s judgment against sin, He knew that He had triumphed over Satan and the curse of sin. His heel was “bruised,” but the serpent’s head had been “crushed ( [15]Genesis 3:15).”
The yielding of His life was the result of His voluntary surrender of His life for the sake of His own. The fact that He yielded up His spirit distinguished His death from all others. We die because we have to; He died because He chose to. Had He not said, “I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17, 18)? I have heard that there is something called the “death rattle,” that gasp for that last breath that we all want so badly. It is always a struggle and it comes with great effort. The two thieves on their crosses undoubtedly died that way, but our Lord didn’t go that way. He dismissed His Spirit. He went willingly.

Normally, victims of crucifixion died much slower deaths. Jesus being in control, simply yielded up His soul, committing it to God. Thus He “offered Himself without spot to God” ([16]Hebrews 9:14).

A Roman centurion was so overwhelmed by the scene that he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!”

The Maker of the Universe
As man for man was made a curse;
The claims of laws which He had made,
Unto the uttermost He paid.
His holy fingers made the bough
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.
The nails that pierced his hands were mined
In secret places He designed;
He made the forests whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.
The sky that darkened o’er His head
By Him above the earth was spread;
The sun that hid from Him its face
By His decree was poised in space;
The spear that spilled His precious blood
Was tempered in the fires of God.
The grave in which His form was laid
Was hewn in rock His hands had made;
The throne on which He now appears
Was His from everlasting years;
But a new glory crowns His brow,
And every knee to Him shall bow.
—F. W. Pitt

John 19:30 informs us of Jesus’ final words before He gave up the ghost: “It is finished.” And that declaration explains why the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. Jesus had paid the penalty for sin, and thus there was no longer a barrier between God and man. He Himself had said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). This veil was a heavy curtain that separated the Holy Place (Holy of Holies)—the place where God localized His presence—on earth.

And so the message of the gospel that goes out to all men everywhere today is this: “The work that saves is finished! Jesus did it all upon the cross.”


____________________Special Notes & Scriptures_____________________

  [1]Noon; 12:00 P.M.
  [2]3:00 P.M.
  [3]the name given to the two curtains in the temple at Jerusalem, one of them at the entrance to the temple separated the Holy Place from the outer court, the other veiled the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place
  [4]Torn, ripped
  [6]And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.
  [7]By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

  [9]Look, see
  [11]Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
  [12]They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. 
  [13]All life left His body as God the Holy Spirit left Him on the cross
  [14]This quotes Psalm 31:5: “Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth."
  [15]“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” This verse is known as the protevangelium, meaning “The First Gospel.” It predicts the perpetual hostility between Satan and the woman (representing all mankind), and between Satan’s seed (his agents) and her Seed (the Messiah). The woman’s Seed would crush the Devil’s head, a mortal wound spelling utter defeat. This wound was administered at Calvary when the Savior decisively triumphed over the Devil. Satan, in turn, would bruise the Messiah’s heel. The heel wound here speaks of suffering and even of physical death, but not of ultimate defeat. So Christ suffered on the cross, and even died, but He arose from the dead, victorious over sin, hell, and Satan. The fact that He is called the woman’s Seed may contain a suggestion of His virgin birth.
  [16]How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spotto God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?


Do you have any questions or comments?

 In northern Italy, a tourist found this beautiful picture of what it means to be expectant of Christ’s return. At the Villa Asconati, along the shore of Lake Como, he was introduced to a friendly older man who cared for the castle’s garden. The grounds were immaculate and the gardener was doing everything he could to further improve their beauty. To his surprise, the tourist discovered the owner of this castle had not been on the property in twelve years. He seemed confused by the man’s compulsion for perfection when the owner had not appeared in over a decade. So he said, “You keep this garden in such fine condition, just as though you expected your master to come tomorrow.” The gardener promptly replied, “Today, sir, today!” That groundskeeper had the expectancy that every believer should possess. Are you looking for his return tomorrow, or today?

Living Expectantly, Brian Harbour, 1990, p. 13

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