Having worshipped together for the past four months now, it should come as little surprise to you that I have more than my share of little quirks. Most of them are fairly harmless as oddities go. One such is that I really enjoy winter. I realize I’m not alone in preferring winter over summer; but still, at least in my house, I’m considered a bit odd. Given the choice between sweating in the summer or being bundled up in the cold, I’ll take the bundled up every time. But, the big appeal of winter for me is how early it gets dark. Yes, I really like it when dusk comes around 5:00 pm. Some might accuse me of being “a creature of the dark”; but I’d like to think that overstates it a bit!
The imagery of light and darkness in the Scripture is well known. Obviously, most of the imagery is metaphorical: that is, light, not as a product of the sun, but as a symbol of what is good and pleasing to our Lord. Likewise, darkness itself from a scientific standpoint—as in the absence of light rays—is not a concern for the biblical authors. Rather, it is darkness as a metaphor for the absence of insight, holiness, goodness, or the divine. This imagery plays out in rich and varied ways in the Bible, and while there is a common thread—light is good, darkness is bad—the variety provides insightful nuance.
Often, darkness is used to describe the realm of Satan’s activity and general evil. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (Isiah 9:2); Romans 13:12 talks of our evil deeds as “the works of darkness”, a vain life is one of darkness (Ecclesiastics 6:4, 11:8). In 1 Thessalonians 5:5, Paul describes Christians as children of the light and day not the night or darkness. Job pictures death and what follows in these terms (Job 10). Those in the grip of Satan live in darkness, work in darkness, and further the darkness.
Alternatively, darkness is also used to symbolize the absence of the Divine Father, playing off the imagery of God as light (1 John 1:5). So, rather than identifying darkness with evil, this slight twist links it with the lack of all that is good in God. The end-times vision of the Apostle John includes being constantly with God where there is always light—not because of the sun, but because of God’s very presence. But, to be separated from God is to be “cast into the darkness” (see Matthew 8:12, Revelation 20-22).
A further shift on the metaphor is the biblical use of darkness as revealing the horror of divine judgment and wrath. In describing the coming day of judgment, the Lord declares, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight” (Amos 8:9). Darkness is the punishment of the Lord (Proverbs 20:20). One of the plagues released on Egypt, the ninth plague preceding the Passover judgment, was darkness covering the land (Exodus 10, Psalm 105:28). A thick darkness covered the Egyptians while they pursued the Israelites who were in the light (Exodus 14). The Psalmist pictures God’s coming in righteousness and judgment as a coming darkness (Psalm 97). In this sense, darkness is not Satan’s realm, nor is it the absence of the divine, but rather the visible expression of God’s displeasure.
For three hours while Jesus hung on the cross, the land was pitched into darkness. I invite you to read Matthew 27:45-46 and consider the darkness that surrounds our Savior.
1. Why do you think Matthew gives a timeline here? What is he trying to communicate?
2. What biblical references can you think of where “darkness” appears? What are some common threads in the Bible’s use of “darkness?”
3. Read Amos 8:9-10 and the surrounding texts. What is the point here? How does this connect to our text today?
4. Both Matthew and Mark emphasize that Jesus used a loud voice when He cried out. Why do you think they mention the loudness of His cry?
5. How does Jesus generally address God? What term does He use? Notice it is missing here.
6. What is the meaning of “forsaken”? What does it feel like to be forsaken?
7. Why might Jesus have said that God had forsaken Him? What are the options? Which seems to make the most sense in context?