I have to say that I do not think anyone truly knows, but we can have a theory. I have heard that perhaps in that time period Christ was presenting His offering to God. All creation was distressed by the torment and apparent imminent death of The Lord Of All. Even the animals, plants and rocks knew and responded to the circumstance of that time.
Although the New Testament does not give us a clear cut answer regarding the three hours of darkness I believe there are symbolic parallels in the Old Testament. The first is found in Genesis 22; the offering of Isaac. In the opening verses of Genesis 22 God calls to Abraham who immediately responds. He is then told to take Isaac “thy son, thine only son…. Whom thou lovest” into the land of Moriah (“chosen by Jehovah”) and offer him on one of the mountains to be later disclosed. (v.1-2). Abraham gets up early, takes two young men, Isaac, wood for the burnt offering then goes to the designated place. (Genesis 22:1-3) Isaac is the only other individual in the Bible aside from our Lord Jesus referred to as an “only begotten son”. (Hebrews 11:17) Isaac certainly had no claim to deity but he was the promised “seed” (Genesis 15:4) and also a miracle baby, (Hebrews 11:11-12). In verse 4 Abraham saw the place afar off. Acts 2:23 tells us that Christ’s crucifixion was not an accident, not the result of a crazed mob or retaliation of a scorned religious system. The crucifixion of our Lord was the effectual execution of a predetermined decision, plan and purpose of God. Christ was the lamb slain from the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 17:8).
Our God saw the “place afar off”, the specific place, the hour and very second Messiah would lay down His life. Verse 5 tells us that Abraham instructed his servants to abide where they were then said: “…….I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you”. Abraham didn’t instruct the young men to stay there just to watch the Donkey. They were only permitted to observe from a distance because the business at hand was sacred, personal and private between father and son. Consider also the wilderness tabernacle and specifically the Holy of Holies which contained the Ark of the Covenant. The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the tabernacle by a veil and could only be entered once a year by the High Priest. ““And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat. And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not:” (Leviticus 16:2-3) If we consider construction and arrangement of the Ark there were two cherubim, one at each end of the lid with wings spread to overshadow and conceal the mercy seat. The mercy seat is where the blood was applied first for the priest’s sin and then for the people. (Leviticus 16:13-15)
The young servants of Genesis 22 could only observe from a distance, while the intimate details remained hidden. Only the designated High Priest could go beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies and apply the blood. What took place on Golgotha during those three hours of darkness was a private transaction between God the Son and the Father. As Abraham prophesied in Genesis 22:8 “…….God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.” 1. God will provide the sacrifice. 2. He is providing the sacrifice to himself. 3. God in human flesh became the sacrifice. Why all the types, shadows and representations? Why the three hours of darkness?
I believe it was God’s way of showing the world that His plan of salvation is completely and totally of Him, to Him and through Him. We can look back in amazement and speculative wonder but be convinced in our hearts that salvation is of The Lord. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)
The time of foreshadowing are completed, as Jesus says in Matthew 10:26-27; nothing is hidden that will not be revealed and what the disciples heard whispered in their ears they shall proclaim on housetops. So much of our Bible in some way connects to another part of our Bible. Isn’t it absolutely fantastic. Just more proof that this book is from God and we are to study. Guess we all better get into the book more every day.