Earthquakes of Scripture - Part 2
Jeff Brown, Heath, Cardiff, Wales. [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
In our previous article we noted that there were five sets of earthquakes recorded in scripture associated with events of major biblical importance. In this article we will look at the earthquake recorded at Mount Sinai at the giving of the law,1 then examine those earthquakes associated with the crucifixion2 and the resurrection,3 and, finally, review the spiritual significance of all these events.
Mount Sinai – the giving of the law
God’s people (Israel) had been miraculously brought out of bondage in Egypt about three months previously,4 and had now arrived at Mount Sinai, situated in the centre of the southern portion of the present Sinai Peninsular, between the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba. Exodus chapter 19 verses 16-18 gives us a vivid picture of the scene – the thundering and lightning, the thick cloud, the loud trumpet voice, the smoke, and finally the great earthquake! Many of these features could be termed natural phenomena, but what occurred at Sinai was anything but natural. All these forces occurred at this specific place and at this specific time,5 on the third day (a.m.) after the children of Israel arrived at the wilderness of Sinai. God was in control.
The nature and character of God
- The whole scene reveals His glory, His greatness, and His omnipotence. He is God, yet in it all He descends to talk with man. Moses acknowledges these things when recounting this experience, Deut. 5. 24.
- Sinai also evidences the immediate presence of God Himself on earth, Ps. 68. 7-8.
- The dignified holiness of God is also seen here. The Hebrew words that have been translated ‘holy’, ‘holiness’, and ‘sanctify’ derive from a root which means ‘to divide’ or ‘to cut’ – thus, the biblical idea of holiness is that of separation, or setting apart. When God descended to the top of Mount Sinai, He set boundaries separating Him from His people, Exod. 19. 12, 23.
This emphasis on the holiness of God was seen in the tabernacle, and later, the temple. A barrier or veil existed between the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place, with only the High Priest able to enter once every year, and only with the blood of atonement. He entered into God’s presence on behalf of the people, and then came out to the people on behalf of God! As believers, we have a wonderful privilege of knowing One, our mediator, who has come between us and God, 1 Tim. 2. 5.
Present spiritual applications
Hebrews chapter 12 verse 21 tells us that even Moses, the man of God, trembled with fear. The lesson is surely that we should have a healthy, reverential fear of God. We don’t fear in the same way that Israel feared, because, as believers, we have come to another mountain, Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem.6 The factor that makes the difference between the New Testament believer and the people of God in the Old Testament is the work of Christ. We enter into God’s intimate presence, because of the death and resurrection of Christ, with a degree of boldness, joy, and thanksgiving, which were wholly lacking in Exodus chapter 19. That is not to say that we enter casually and without reverence! It is true that God is our Father, but we must never forget that our Father is still God! The way we see and appreciate the character and awesome holiness of God will affect our worship day by day, our service, and our lives generally.
God’s holiness indicates that He is distinctly different – set apart from all else that exists. God’s people were clearly required to be separated from the nations around them, and from that which was ceremonially unclean.7 This is a picture and a type of the divine requirement for us as believers today, to be holy in our conduct. Scripture shows us that holiness is the pattern that God desires for our lives,8 and indicates that holiness is essential, if we are to serve God as He wants us to.9 In addition, holy lives are a requisite if our prayers are to be heard and answered.10
Earthquakes associated with the crucifixion and the resurrection
Just as an earthquake was associated with the introduction of the old covenant, Exod. 19. 18, so one introduced the new covenant at Calvary,11 while another occurred at the resurrection.12 Matthew’s account13 records five miracles associated with Calvary:
- the three hours of darkness;
- the rending of the veil in the temple;
- the earthquake and the rocks splitting;
- the tombs opening;
- the raising of the dead saints, after His resurrection.
It was after the three supernatural hours of darkness that the Lord cried with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit – it was then followed by the other four miraculous events.
The three hours of darkness
Matthew chapter 27 verse 45 speaks of supernatural darkness from midday until 3 p.m., yet what an eternity of suffering was compressed into those three hours! Mankind was not to witness the intense suffering of Christ when the sin of the world was placed upon Him. This same verse states that ‘there was darkness over all the land’, land – ge, a word that can mean land locally or universally. However, Luke chapter 23 verse 44 states that ‘there was darkness over all the earth [ge] until the ninth hour’; this gives us a clearer picture of what actually took place. It is worth noting that God had intervened with the sun before,14 and each time all the world had been affected.
What caused this instantaneous darkness? It certainly was not an eclipse of the sun. This was the time of the Passover, the time of full moon, when eclipses are naturally impossible. Eclipses never occur suddenly, and they only last for a few minutes (maximum) – not three hours. What occurred here was supernatural – God directly intervening in nature, and in His creatorial power placing all relevant heavenly bodies in their right order. At Christ’s birth there was supernatural light in the night, Matt. 2. 2; Luke 2. 8-9, yet at His death there was supernatural darkness in the day! Midnight became mid-day, and mid-day became midnight!
The veil of the temple
The veil of the temple was rent not as a result of the earthquake, but after Christ’s final cry from the cross.15 This was divine intervention from above, not as a result of the earthquake below. What was revealed behind this veil/curtain as it split? The ‘glory’ had long departed, Ezek. 11. 23, so all that was seen was the emptiness of human religion without the presence of God. This miracle was proof that the work of Christ at Calvary was a work of God, sufficient and complete in itself, and that any religious system could never accomplish what God had done in Christ. The rent veil indicated that the way into God’s presence had now been opened up through the death of Christ.16 Just imagine the priests ministering there at that time – this huge curtain almost six metres high, eighteen metres wide and the thickness of a man’s hand, instantaneously split from the top to the bottom! Was this one of the reasons that many priests came to accept Christ as Saviour, Acts 6. 7?
The earthquake at Calvary
This was the next supernatural event surrounding the death of Christ, probably occurring simultaneously with the splitting of the veil and the opening of the graves, or certainly in very quick succession. This earthquake was independent of nature: it was a sole act of God, for a number of reasons:
- it coincided with the exact moment that Christ died, and His final cry from the cross;
- it is closely connected with other events which were clearly miracles – the three hours of darkness and the rent veil;
- it coincided with the rending of the rocks, and the opening of the graves.
Yet it seems that this earthquake worked selectively, and specifically, as nothing else seems to have been disturbed – it opened graves, yet not all graves, only the graves of some saints! Golgotha was shaken, but the cross was not displaced.
The significance of Sinai and Calvary
The earthquake at Sinai reminded man of the absolute power and holiness of God, and also man’s sin which keeps him separated from God. The law showed man as powerless to defeat sin, and it condemned him. The earthquake and associated events at Calvary were significantly different – it was an attestation of the perfect, finished, and never-to-be-repeated work of Christ. The demands of a holy and righteous God were fully met, and now God, through Christ, is approachable via grace.
The resurrection earthquake
In Matthew chapter 28 the great earthquake is connected with the descent of the angel of the Lord from heaven, and the rolling back of the stone from the tomb entrance. The order of events is interesting.17 We see a physical manifestation in verse 2, ‘a great earthquake’, which was the result of an angelic manifestation, also in verse 2, ‘for the angel of the Lord descended’. Finally, there was a divine manifestation in verse 9, ‘Jesus met them’. Here, and elsewhere in scripture,18 physical and angelic events cause fear and consternation, but their meeting with Christ in verse 9 resulted in comfort and worship!
1. Exod. 19. 18.
2. Matt. 27. 51-54.
3. Matt. 28. 2.
4. Exod. 19. 1.
5. Exod. 19. 16.
6. Heb. 12. 22-24.
7. Lev. 11. 44-45; 19. 2; 20. 7, 26. Compare with 1 Pet. 1. 14-16.
8. 1 Thess. 4. 3, 7; 1 Pet. 1. 15-16.
9. 1 Thess. 2. 10.
10. Ps. 66. 18; 1 Tim. 2. 8.
11. See note 2 above.
12. See note 3 above.
13. Matt. 27. 45-53.
14. Josh. 10. 10-14; 2 Kgs. 20. 9-11; Hab. 3. 11.
15. Matt. 27. 50-52 – note the order of events.
16. Heb. 9. 6-7; 10. 19-20.
17. Matt. 28. 1-9.
18. Luke 1. 11-12, 28-30; 2. 8-10; Acts 16. 27; Heb. 12. 21 and many more.