The crucifixion of Jesus is one of the most commented and discussed historical events in books, lectures, and even films. That may be the reason why we have become accustomed to reading or hearing the story of Jesus’ death, losing, to some extent, the sensitivity of understanding and appreciating the immensity of his sacrifice.
The death of Jesus was a very painful and humiliating one. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst malefactors and punishment was applied with forcefulness and cruelty. However, even in the midst of such a horrendous framework, there were some impressive events that made it clear that Jesus was not just any ordinary human being. He was God incarnate, with the specific purpose of saving and redeeming mankind; and death would not prevent its purpose from being fulfilled.
Let’s look at some of the amazing things that happened on the day that Jesus’ ascended, it surely was an event which was one without an equal.
The two most shocking events:
1. Jesus’ attitude of forgiveness
When they arrived at the place called La Calavera, they crucified him there, along with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
“Father,” said Jesus, “forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.”
(Luke 23: 33-34a)
Even in the midst of so much pain, horror, and humiliation Jesus chose to forgive those who crucified him. Jesus showed his love and compassion until the last moment of his earthly life. He could have asked God to send fire or revenge on his executioners, but he did not. He chose to forgive!
And it is that the cross is precisely that: God’s forgiveness for humanity. Thanks to the death on the cross of Jesus, the perfect Lamb (John 1:29), we no longer have to pay or die eternally for our own sins. Just believe that Jesus’ sacrifice is valid for us, accept him in our hearts as Lord and Savior, and live for him. We are forgiven and reconciled with God through Jesus! How much grace and how much forgiveness!
2. Death cannot hold Jesus: he rose again!
Just as he had been prophesied (Psalm 16:10; Matthew 16:21) Jesus rose again! Death could not hold him, it did not end him. And it is thanks to Jesus’ victory over death that we, who believe in him, will also enjoy eternal life with him.
The truth is that Christ has been raised from the dead, as first-fruits of those who died. In fact, since death came through a man, also through a man comes the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, in Christ also all will live again.
(1 Corinthians 15: 20-22a)
Other impressive events:
1. Darkness on earth
The Bible says that while Jesus was on the cross there was a time of darkness on the earth.
From noon until mid-afternoon the whole earth was in darkness.
Luke 23: 44-45 says the sun went down. Apparently, there was something similar to a solar eclipse but longer and unexplained. Nature did not remain indifferent to the death of Jesus, the perfect Lamb through which we have been redeemed.
If we look at the plagues that God sent to Egypt in the Old Testament, we see in Exodus 10: 21-23 that the ninth plague was a great darkness. After that plague came the death of the firstborn from Egypt, a country where the people of Israel had spent many years of slavery.
Only the children of the people of Israel survived that plague. God gave them precise instructions to smear the blood of a male lamb without defect on the two posts and on the lintel of the houses where they had gathered to celebrate the first Passover (Exodus 12: 1-14). Thanks to that signal, the blood of a spotless lamb on the doorposts, they did not suffer the death of their children.
2. The veil of the temple was torn in two
Another unexplained event during the crucifixion of Jesus was that the veil of the temple was torn in half just as Jesus expired. That thick and heavy veil separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, the earthly place where the presence of God dwelt, which only the High Priest could enter (Exodus 26: 31-34).
Then Jesus shouted again, and delivered his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple sanctuary was torn in two, from top to bottom.
(Matthew 27: 50-51a)
The torn veil symbolized the direct access we now have to the presence of God thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus. Only through him do we have access to God and the forgiveness of our sins. He offered himself as the perfect lamb so that, through him, we can have peace with God.
Indeed, Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a simple copy of the true sanctuary, but in heaven itself, to present himself before God on our behalf. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself time after time, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with the blood of others. If so, Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. On the contrary, now, at the end of time, he has presented himself only once and for all in order to end sin by sacrificing himself.
(Hebrews 9: 24-26)
3. Earth tremor
The Gospel of Matthew also mentions a great earth tremor, so strong that the rocks broke. We see once again that nature reacted strongly to the crucifixion of Jesus.
4. The graves were opened and some saints resurrected
Because the shaking was so strong, that the graves opened. But the most amazing thing is that many saints were resurrected. That is, people fearful of the Lord who had been dead until that day were now alive. Usually, that does not happen when there is an earthquake. Only the power of God can resurrect the dead!
The graves were opened, and many saints who had died rose again. They left the graves and, after the resurrection of Jesus, entered the holy city and appeared to many.
(Matthew 27: 52-53)
We see that, after the resurrection of Jesus, these people appeared in the city and many saw them. The Bible says they were saints, people who loved, and served God. Now they had a new opportunity to testify to God’s great power over physical death and spiritual death.
5. Centurion reaction and others present
The most wonderful thing that can happen is the transformation of a heart. The greatest of all miracles is to see a changed life by having an encounter with Jesus. The same centurion, chosen to oversee that everything happened as it should during the crucifixion of Jesus, could not resist the power of God’s redeeming love.
Then Jesus exclaimed loudly: Father, in your hands I commend my spirit! And in saying this, he expired. The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said: Truly this man was just. Then those who had gathered to witness that spectacle, seeing what happened, left there beating their chest.
(Luke 23: 46-48)
The centurion praised God! He realized that Jesus was not just any ordinary man. He knew that Jesus had died without deserving it and that he had done it for the love of humanity. Both the centurion and others who had witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus noticed something different in Jesus and were shocked by it. Their lives would no longer be the same.
And so it is. When we have an encounter with the crucified Christ, the one who died for each one of us, we cannot remain the same. His blood cleanses us from all sin and, thanks to him, we will enjoy eternal life.
And by virtue of that will we are sanctified through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, offered once and for all.