The “sixth hour” is mentioned several times in the Bible, primarily in the New Testament. But what exactly does this term mean? In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the meaning of the sixth hour in the Bible, examine key passages that reference it, and summarize the theological significance of this specific time reference.
Understanding Time in the Bible
To grasp the meaning of the sixth hour, we first need to understand how time was reckoned in biblical days. In ancient Jewish culture, the day was divided into 12 equal parts called “hours.” However, these hours were not fixed units like our 60-minute hours today. Since the length of daylight changes with the seasons, the length of an “hour” also varied.
The 12 daylight hours were numbered, with the first hour starting at sunrise (around 6:00 AM in modern timekeeping) and the 12th hour ending at sunset. The sixth hour was therefore around noon, when the sun was highest in the sky.
This method of dividing up daylight hours was based on sundials, which measured the sun’s movement across the sky. Sundials had markers for each of the 12 hours of daylight. As the sun’s shadow moved from one marker to the next, it signaled the beginning of the next hour.
So in summary, references to the sixth hour in the Bible correspond to what we call 12:00 noon or midday in modern timetelling. It was the middle of the daylight period.
The Sixth Hour in the Gospels
The sixth hour is specifically mentioned in the gospel accounts of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. All four gospels state that darkness came over the whole land from the sixth hour to the ninth hour as Jesus hung on the cross (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44; John 19:14).
This three-hour period of supernatural darkness was a miraculous sign highlighting the climactic spiritual battle taking place as the Son of God bore the penalty for the sins of the world. It dramatized the blackness of humanity’s evil that Christ took upon himself, plunging the world into darkness as the Light of the World hung in agony.
The gospel of Mark provides additional detail, noting that at the ninth hour, when the darkness lifted, Jesus cried out loudly and breathed his last (Mark 15:33-37). His sacrificial work was finished, and he gave up his spirit at the conclusion of the darkness, at approximately 3:00 PM.
So according to the gospel writers, the sixth hour marked the beginning of the darkness covering the crucifixion, while the ninth hour marked the close of the darkness and the death of Jesus. This three-hour window framed the most pivotal moment in human history???the atoning death of the Savior.
Other Sixth Hour Events
In addition to the crucifixion passages, the sixth hour is connected with a few other important events in the New Testament:
- Peter’s rooftop vision in Acts 10: Before going to the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius, Peter had a vision of clean and unclean animals while praying “about the sixth hour” (Acts 10:9). This vision prepared Peter to share the gospel with Gentiles.
- Pilate’s judgment of Jesus in John 19: Right before handing Jesus over to be crucified, Pilate brought him out to make a final judgment “about the sixth hour” (John 19:14). This was likely around 6:00 AM.
- The darkness at noon when Paul was converted in Acts 26: As Paul (then Saul) traveled to Damascus to persecute Christians, a bright light and the voice of Jesus stopped him in his tracks. Paul recalled, “at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven” (Acts 26:13). This supernatural light at noon mirrors the darkness at noon during Christ’s crucifixion.
So in a few strategic cases, important gospel events took place at the sixth hour. But the majority of references connect the sixth hour specifically to the crucifixion, emphasizing it as the central turning point in salvation history.
What spiritual truths should we draw from the biblical emphasis on the sixth hour, particularly in the crucifixion narrative? Here are some key implications:
- It fulfilled prophecy: By specifying the time frame of the crucifixion darkness, the gospels showed that Jesus’ death fulfilled the prophecy of Amos 8:9: “And it shall come to pass in that day, says the Lord God, That I will make the sun go down at noon, And I will darken the earth in broad daylight.”
- It displayed God’s power over nature: The fact that darkness covered the land for three straight hours in the middle of the day was a remarkable miracle that defied the laws of nature. It demonstrated God’s dominion over the physical world as a dramatic backdrop to the spiritual climax of redemption.
- It depicted Christ’s sacrificial agony: As mentioned earlier, the blackness conveyed the agonizing weight of our sin that the perfect Son of God bore. His anguished cry from the cross pierced the darkness after carrying divine wrath in our place.
- It marked the fulfillment of salvation: By bookending the crucifixion with precise time markers, the Bible reinforces that this was the centerpiece of God’s predetermined plan. Right on schedule, Christ’s finished work brought redemption for sinners.
- It signified judgment and mercy: Darkness is often associated with judgment in Scripture, and Christ’s death brought judgment on sin. Yet in mercy, God’s wrath was poured out on His Son instead of on all who believe in Him. The blackness of the sixth hour displayed both justice and grace.
So in summary, the sixth hour represents a critical point on biblical history’s timeline, highlighting both chronology and theology. God in His sovereignty orchestrated events down to the exact hour to accomplish the salvation of sinners through the death of His Son Jesus Christ.
Conclusion & Key Takeaways
To conclude this overview of the sixth hour in the Bible, here are some key takeaways:
- The sixth hour corresponded to 12:00 noon during Jesus’ time, as the day was divided into 12 daylight hours.
- All four gospels specify that darkness covered the land from the sixth to the ninth hour while Christ hung on the cross.
- This three-hour darkness fulfilled Old Testament prophecy about the crucifixion. It also displayed God’s power over nature.
- The blackness of the sixth hour symbolized the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death and the judgment due for sin. But its passing reflected the light of mercy and grace.
- The bookend of the sixth to the ninth hour marked the precise fulfillment of redemption through Christ’s finished work.
- Details like the sixth hour reveal God’s sovereignty in carrying out His plans down to the exact times. It highlights the historical and theological centerpiece of the crucifixion.
So for Christians, the sixth hour represents both the agony of the cross and the fullness of restoration through submitting to Christ’s work on our behalf. Each time marker in the gospel narrative displays the perfection of God’s redemptive purposes.
All Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) translation of the Bible.