WHAT DAY WAS CHRIST CRUCIFIED?
(This article is based on one by Grady Daniel, but has been edited
and additional material added by Cooper Abrams)
No one disputes that Jesus arose on Sunday morning, but there is much debate as to what day He was crucified. Most of us were taught Friday was the day Jesus was crucified and this has been widely accepted as the traditional day of crucifixion. But if Christ was crucified on Friday, how was He in the grave for three days
and three nights as Jesus said He would be in Matthew 12:40? The context of Jesus' statement was that after He had cast a demon out of a man some Jews began to say that Jesus was the son of David, which is a term for the Messiah. However, the scribes
and Pharisees being alarmed that the people would think Jesus was the Messiah began to openly criticize Him
saying He had cast the demon out by the power of Beelzebub, meaning Satan. Jesus then rebuked them for their
unbelief and blasphemy. Blasphemy is attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the Devil and that is what they
did by saying that Jesus casting out the demon was the work of Satan. They showed the hardness of their hearts
by then sarcastically demanding that Jesus would give them a sign of who He was.
They had just witnessed a sign in Jesus casting out of the demon, but they would not accept it. Jesus then rebuked them by saying no sign would be given but the sign of the Jonah who was three days and three nights in the "heart of the earth." "Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights." (Jonah 1:17) The phrase "heart of the earth" referred to dying and being buried. This passage is the key to understanding when Jesus was actually crucified.
The traditional explanation mistakenly says that Jesus was crucified on Friday. In trying to justify that friday was the day of the crucifixion those that hold this view say that the Jews counted any part of a day as a full day. That is, part of Friday is day one; Saturday, day two; and if arose sometime Sunday morning - day three. This explanation has some serious problems.
It is true that the Jewish people did not reckon time the way we do. This is one of the first considerations.
1. The Jewish day ended at sundown and the new day began at sunrise.
2. Their Sabbath Day began at sundown Friday (about 6 p.m.) and ended at sundown Saturday. In Genesis 1:5 after the first day of creation, God said ". . . the evening and the morning were the first day." After the completion of each day of creation the Lord states the ". . . the evening and the morning were the______day."
If Jesus was crucified on the traditional Friday and rose again anytime after 6 p.m. Saturday (the Jewish Sunday) He could not have been in the tomb ("heart of the earth") three full days and three full nights as He said He would be. Some might try to dismiss the importance of Jesus' statement, but He said it would be a sign to the Jews that He was the Messiah. If He was not actually in the grave three full days and three full nights there would be no way to authenticate the sign, so He had to be in the tomb the full time as He stated.
In the Jewish way of reckoning time, from Friday at 6 p.m. to Saturday as 6 p.m. would have only been twenty four hours if Jesus was buried before 6 p.m. From Saturday at 6 p.m. until Sunday morning at day break would have been a maximum of twelve hours. That gives a total of only thirty six hours, not the seventy two hours the Bible records that He was in the grave. Jesus said He would be in the grave for seventy two hours and therefore He could not have been crucified on Friday.
WERE THESE THREE LITERAL DAYS/NIGHTS?
Some mistakenly refer to the passage where in John 11:9 Jesus asked, " . . . Are there not twelve hours in the day" to explain away the problem with the time. In creation God divided the day and night. The evening and the morning = 1 day. If there were twelve (12) hours in a day then there must have been twelve (hours) in a night and the total would be twenty four hours. Also, anytime in the Bible when the word "day" is preceded by a number, it means whatever number of days is denoted by that number. Day can also be used in the Bible to mean an unspecified period of days such as Day of the Lord.
Dr. Charles Halff, Director of the Christian Jew Foundation, in writing "The Fallacies of Easter" stated:
"Sometimes people ask, 'Didn't the Jews count part of a day as a whole day or part of a night as a whole night?' Let me say this, beloved. Whenever you have the expression 'day and night' mentioned together in the Hebrew Scriptures, it always means a full day and a full night. . . For instance, if you will turn to Esther 4:16; 5:1; 1 Samuel; 30:12-13, and of course Jonah 1:17, you will find the expression 'three days and three nights.' And in every instance it means full days and full nights - not part of a day and part of a night."
From Friday to Sunday is not three 24-hour days. Jesus said he would be resurrected after three (3) days. (Mark 8:31: "And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again." Counting backwards from Sunday three days, you will not arrive at Friday. Remember to count the way the Jews did.
From Saturday 6 p.m. to Friday 6 p.m. = 1 day;
From Friday 6 p.m. to Thursday 6 p.m. = 1 day;
From Thursday 6 p.m. to Wednesday 6 p.m. = 1 day.
Total 3 days.
HOW COULD WEDNESDAY BE THE DAY BEFORE THE SABBATH?
But if He was crucified the day before the Sabbath, how could He have been crucified on Wednesday? The answer lies in the fact that the Jews celebrated more Sabbaths than just the weekly Sabbath. They had a number of feast days that were "High Sabbaths," or high days. He arose on the first day of the week after the Sabbaths* (plural). Sometime after 6 p.m. Saturday, end of the Jewish day, in Matthew 28:1 we read; "In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre."
The Scofield Reference Bible (1917 ed.) has a center column note which reveals that "Sabbath" in this verse is plural; from the Greek word "sabbata." (Also in Yougn's Analytical Concordance) The day after the crucifixion was not the regular (Saturday) Sabbath but a Special ("High" - Greek, "megas", large) Sabbath.
John 19:31 states, "The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away."
The Jews observed several "high" Sabbaths ("holy convocations") in their seasons. Leviticus 23:3-6; "Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings. These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons. In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord's passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread."
The first Jewish month (Nisan or Abib) is our April. The Feast of the Passover (a high sabbath) and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (another high sabbath) were celebrated on April 14th and 15th respectively.
The day Jesus died was the preparation day (Wednesday) of the Passover celebration on Thursday (John 19:14, 31: "And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he (meaning Pilate) saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!" This was the morning of the crucifixion day. Verse 31 states, "The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away."
Therefore, Passover was on Thursday, that year, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was on Friday, and the regular weekday Sabbath was on Saturday. Jesus was crucified in the morning on Wednesday and placed in the tomb before 6 P.M. He arose from the grave sometime after 6 P.M. on Saturday, which would be early Sunday morning, the first day of the week, according to Jewish time-keeping. This explanation fits Jesus' prophecy in Matthew 12:40 that He would be "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
A POINT OF CONJECTURE
If Jesus was born in 5 BC (The Bible Almanac, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980) and if He died about at 33 years of age, that would fix his death around 29 AD. The first Roman calendar was off four (4) years. Today's calendar is a product of the Julian & Gregorian calendars. There was a 1 BC and a 1 AD but there was no "0" between BC and AD. Counting 33 years forward from His birth in 5 BC would fix his death in 29 AD.
Herod the Great, who ordered the murder of all the babies less than two years old in Bethlehem, died in 4 BC. Therefore Jesus had to be born prior to his death and therefore Jesus probably was born in 5 BC or earlier. (Matt. 2:13-16)
Those special Sabbaths, Feast of the Passover and Feast of the Unleavened Bread, occurred on the 14th
and 15th of the first month of the Jewish calendar (about our April). Leviticus 23:5, 6 states, "In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord's passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread."
According to Encyclopedia Britannica the 14th day of Nisan ( also called Abar "green ears of
corn") (Easter 3:7), corresponding to parts of March and April in the year of Christ's crucifixion was the same as our April 7 on our calendar. (Julian and Gregorian calendars) The Perpetual Calendar [also from Encyclopedia Britannica] shows that the 14th day of Nisan, 29 AD (Passover), fell on Thursday. Hence, it would be followed by the Feast of the Unleavened Bread on the 15th (Friday), and the regular weekday Sabbath (Saturday). Jesus would have therefore been crucified on Wednesday the 13th.
(Information sources were many, including commentaries of the late Evangelist Dr. Oliver B. Greene; Dakes's Annotated Reference Bible, and the article "Sabbaths All In A Row" by Maret H. Dinsmore, Litt. D., Th.D., in The Biblical Evangelist, Vol. 18, No. 8, April 13, 1984, along with research by this writer.)
Passover was on 14th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar, or Nisan (Abib) 14th no matter what day in the week it fell on as the follow passages attest:
Exodus 23:15 Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:)
Exodus 34:18 The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.
Deuteronomy 16:1 Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.
Leviticus 23:5 In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD'S passover.
Numbers 9:5 And they kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at even in the wilderness of Sinai: according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel.
Numbers 28:16 And in the fourteenth day of the first month is the passover of the LORD.
Joshua 5:10 And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho.
2 Chronicles 35:1 Moreover Josiah kept a passover unto the LORD in Jerusalem: and they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.