Is there an explanation for the three days of darkness after the crucifixion?
Thank you for your question. I’ve included a video below as a little introductory overview to your question. Though originally designed for a younger audience, I feel it helps set the tone for my answer. In my response I will try to address two main thoughts/questions:
1. How were the days of darkness physically possible?
2. Why were there three days of darkness, rather, what was the significance?
HOW: How was this Physically Possible
How was it physically possible for there to be darkness for a period of three days? This is a great question, one for which I don’t think we have a revealed answer for yet. By reading the Book of Mormon account, there are however, various details we can learn about those three days of darkness that have caused some to speculate as to “how” the darkness was made possible. Details such as those are found in:
…thunderings and the lightnings of his power, by tempest, by fire, and by smoke, and vapor of darkness, and by the opening of the earth, and by mountains which shall be carried up.
17 And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth.
20 And it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallencould feel the vapor of darkness;
Though not specifically stated, much of the destruction described in the Book of Mormon is hypothesized to have been the direct result of massive volcanic activity and the resulting ash that would have poured into the atmosphere. While we do not know for sure the exact method of how this occurred, we can rest assured that it was by the hand of God that these events took place, and that he would have most assuredly used natural processes already at his disposal. Here is a video that I enjoy that talks further on this idea. While it deals with the events of the Savior’s birth, the concepts and core idea remain the same.
WHY: The Significance
By further turning to the scriptures, we can begin to address the question regarding the significance of the days of darkness. We see that the prophets prophesied about three days of darkness that would follow the Savior’s crucifixion as early as 1 Nephi 19:10, where we read:
“And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself, according to the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of his death unto those who should inhabit the isles of the sea, more especially given unto those who are of the house of Israel.”
We later read in the Book of Helaman chapter 14:20,27 as Samuel the Lamanite shares:
20 But behold, as I said unto you concerning another sign, a sign of his death, behold, in that day that he shall suffer death the sun shall be darkened and refuse to give his light unto you; and also the moon and the stars; and there shall be no light upon the face of this land, even from the time that he shall suffer death, for the space of three days, to the time that he shall rise again from the dead.
27 And he said unto me that while the thunder and the lightning lasted, and the tempest, that these things should be, and that darkness should cover the face of the whole earth for the space of three days.
After the Savior’s crucifixion, his physical body laid in the tomb for the space of “three” days until the time of his resurrection. The “three” days of darkness prophesied by the prophets was synchronized to last until his resurrection. In the Book of Mormon Student Manual Chapter 40 we learn:
“The three days of darkness symbolized the death of Jesus Christ, who is “the light and life of the world” 3 Nephi 11:11. Mormon emphasized that the three days of darkness was “a sign” given of the Savior’s death. After describing the damage caused by the “great storm” that lasted for three hours, Mormon documented the complete darkness as one of the signs that was now fulfilled. The darkness was so intense that “there could not be any light at all.” During this time of darkness, the body of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, lay in the tomb. On the day of His Resurrection, after Christ had overcome death, light came again to the people in America, signifying Christ’s victory over death and darkness”
In a time without modern technologies or forms of mass communication, darkness upon the land was used as a way of signifying to the inhabits of the world, even those few people on the “isles of the sea” that the Savior of the world had died. Not only was this a fulfillment of prophecy, it was also a teaching moment for many, and a time to help soften hearts unto repentance. This idea of using nature or natural events as a way to communicate with his children is not new, as evidenced by the use of a “star” at the time of the Savior’s birth.
Thank you again for your question Karen.