Did Jesus Die on a Friday or Thursday?

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Although the crucifixion is generally believed to have taken place on a Friday, there are problems with this contention. The first problem is found in Matthew 12:40 where Jesus clearly states that he would be in the grave for “three days and three nights”. By counting a few minutes of Friday and a few more Sunday morning, it would be possible to speak of one full and two partial days, but in no way could there have been more than two nights. If we are to discount the one, how can we uphold the other? And if Jesus says that this is a special “sign”, then it must be taken seriously!

The reason why Friday was determined as the day Jesus died is because of the statement in Mark 15:42, that it was “the day before the Sabbath.” This is true, but Mark was NOT talking about a weekly Sabbath, but the first day of the Passover, which was a festive Sabbath (15th of Nisan).

A study of the Jewish calendar and their feast days shows that the Jews not only kept a weekly Sabbath, but also festive Sabbaths. The same rules held for the festive Sabbaths that applied to the weekly Sabbath (Exodus 12:15-18; Leviticus 23:4-8 and Numbers 28:16-25).

John speaks of there being a “high day” in that year (John 19:31 KJV). The Greek word used is megas which means great or extraordinary. We get the word "mega" from this word. When used without an object, the object "one" is assumed. The translation could thus be rendered, "That Sabbath was a great one." Because the Jewish Feast of the Passover is a movable festival, a festive Sabbath (there are seven each year) could coincide with a weekly Sabbath, or it could create two consecutive Sabbaths.

Regardless of which weekday the Passover fell on, the 15th and 21st of Nisan were always “Sabbaths.” The day before any Sabbath, whether a festive Sabbath or a weekly Sabbath, was a day of preparation. No work was permitted on holy days.

Because there was double the work in preparing for consecutive Sabbaths, Rabbis devised "four rules of postponement" to prevent such from occurring. Some expositors reject the consecutive days version for this reason, but we don't really know when these rules were instituted and how they may have affected the Passover in the year of Christ's death. The rules seem extremely complicated but anyone wishing to learn more should check the following website: http://www.bibarch.com/concepts/calendrics/Rules.htm

My Time Line for a Thursday buriel of Jesus:
9th of Nisan, Friday sunset until Saturday sunset (weekly Sabbath)

10th of Nisan, Saturday sunset until Sunday sunset (first day of the week)
According to John 12:1, Jesus traveled from Ephraim (John 11:54) to Bethany "six days before the Passover."

11th of Nisan, Sunday sunset until Monday sunset
According to John 12:12, the triumphal entry took place on the day after Jesus and the disciples traveled from Ephraim to Bethel. Jewish homes were searched for leaven from the 11th until the evening of the 13th. It was important that there be no trace of leaven in the house on the 14th, the day of preparation.

12th of Nisan, Monday sunset until Tuesday sunset
It is notable that Jesus "cleansed" the temple in this time period. He overturned the tables of unscrupulous money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals and drove them out of the temple. This was when all Jews were ridding their homes of all traces of leaven!

13th of Nisan, Tuesday sunset until Wednesday sunset
The disciples prepared the meal on the 13th of Nisan and ate it in the upper room after sunset at the beginning of the 14th. Interestingly, some OT accounts report the Passover being eaten on the fourteenth: Joshua 5:10; Ezra 6:19; Ezekiel 45:21, so it should not surprise us that the Lord chose to eat it with his disciples on that day.

14th of Nisan, Wednesday sunset until Thursday sunset.
The synoptic gospels declare that Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples in the upper room before his betrayal and arrest. The disciples ate the Passover meal 24 hours before the normal time. John refers to this simply as “a meal” and even states emphatically that it was not yet the Passover (John 13:1-2). Jesus himself called it the Passover. Luke 22:15 reads, And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. When most Jews ate their Passover meal, Jesus was in the tomb. It was at this meal that Jesus indicated who would betray him. According to John 13:30, it was night when Judas left. The other disciples assumed that he was going shopping for things they would need for the actual Passover feast. The markets were still open. Had it been a holy day such as a weekly Sabbath or the 15th of Nisan, no shops would have been open. After the meal, Jesus took three disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. They slept while Jesus prayed, sweating the first drops of blood for their salvation. Christ was betrayed by Judas, arrested and tortured throughout the night. In the morning (still Thursday, 14th of Nison), Jesus was brought to trial before Pilate and three times, and three times, Pilate said, “I find no fault in him.” Yet in order to appease the people, Pilate gave him over to the executioners. Jesus was crucified on the afternoon of the 14th at the time when the Passover lamb was normally slain. That was certainly an appropriate fulfillment of I Corinthians 5:7: Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Jesus was nailed to the cross in the third hour and died at the ninth hour. There was a great darkness and an earthquake during this time. The veil in the temple was rent from top to bottom. The wealthy Joseph of Arimathea offered his tomb for Christ’s burial and Pilate consented (Mark 15:43), perhaps because the tomb was near the city and time was precious (John 19:42). Joseph and Nicodemus (John 19:39) had to hurry with the burial of Christ because it was nearly sunset (beginning of the festive Sabbath, not the weekly Sabbath) and the work needed to be finished quickly.

15th of Nisan, Thursday sunset until Friday sunset,
This day, like all Jewish days, began at sunset and was a festive Sabbath. The Passover feast was eaten shortly after sunset at the beginning of the 15th of Nisan. Nothing was to remain of the lamb by morning. The disciples were fearful and went into hiding behind bolted doors, but the Jewish leaders went to Pilate the next morning and requested that the tomb be sealed and Roman guards dispatched to make certain that the body of Jesus would not be stolen by the disciples! The High Priest would also have ordered temple guards to watch the tomb as Pilate advised (Matthew 27:65).

16th of Nisan, Friday sunset until Saturday sunset This was the weekly Sabbath (a “great sabbath” because it followed the festive Sabbath).
17th of Nisan, Saturday sunset until Sunday sunset (first day of the week),
On Saturday evening after sundown, the women went shopping for materials to embalm the body of Jesus. They obviously believed that there had not been adequate time to do this properly at his burial. The next morning early, the women came to the tomb wondering who they could get to roll the heavy stone from the grave. When they arrived, they saw the angel sitting on the stone and the grave was open! Jesus had risen from the dead! The angel did not need to roll the stone away to let Jesus out, but it was necessary to show the world that the tomb was empty. A sealed tomb could not contain the resurrected Christ any more than a bolted door of the room where the disciples were hiding could keep Jesus out (Matthew 28 and Mark 16).

Some Bible scholars object to a Thursday crucifixion and burial due to the statement of Jesus in Matthew 26:2 and Mark 14:1. where it reads, After two days was the feast of the Passover, and of unleavened bread. The King James Bible italicizes "the feast of" which means that these words were inserted by the translators. I personally do not feel that the insertion was needed to give clarity and it can even be confusing. The term "Passover" was used both generally and specifically. It could denote the entire eight day period of unleavened bread, the seven day festival or just the day of Passover. When we use the word "Christmas" we may be speaking of the historical event, the day of commemoration or the entire season of celebration. It was similar with the Jews. There is no clue in this passage as to the time period indicated by Jesus. He prefaced his statement with "Ye know" so we can assume that the disciples knew, but we do not need to know.

The Wednesday Theory
Some claim that Jesus died and was buried on Wednesday and resurrected from the dead on Saturday evening. This argument is based on the assumption that Jesus would have to have been exactly three days and three nights in the grave.

Jesus said that he would be three days and three nights in the grave just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish. Those who heard Christ's statement, however, would not have concluded that this period had to be exactly 72 hours! People had no clocks in those days and time was relative to light. Even today, we use the terms "night" and "day" rather loosely. The word "Easter" can refer to a holiday, a season or an event, but "three days and three nights" is more specific. Still, the phrase was generally used to indicate three days (periods of light) and three nights (periods of darkness).

The greatest difficulty for me in accepting a Wednesday crucifixion, is the idea of the resurrection taking place around sunset on Saturday. The angel didn't roll the stone away until Sunday morning and Jesus appeared to the women shortly thereafter.

I personally believe that Jesus was buried shortly before sundown on Thursday, 14th of Nisan, just prior to the beginning of the Passover Sabbath - 15th of Nisan. Jesus would have been in the grave three entire nights, two whole days and part of a third day. This does not present a problem, however, because Jesus prophesied that he would be resurrected on “the third day.”

The Old and the New
I believe that these feast days give a prophetical glimpse into the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Messiah. Stop to consider this for a moment: In the Old Testament man was rewarded for faithfulness. Following six days of work, came a day of rest. If the people were faithful, God blessed their harvest and helped them defeat their enemies. The Old Testament tithe was calculated after the harvest.

In the New Testament, the order is reversed.

Old Testament Jews worshipped on the seventh day of the week, but Christians normally worship on "the Lord's day," the first day of the week. All who confess their sins and ask forgiveness are given eternal life and the abundance of God’s grace. “All things are yours; ye are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (I Corinthians 3:22b). We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when we are born again, and we don’t work for rewards, but serve out of gratitude, with love for our Savior. Christians are called to give themselves and all they possess to God. We should present our bodies a living sacrifice unto God. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, body and mind and not just a tenth. We seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness and trust God to provide our needs (Hebrews 12:1-2; Luke 10:27; Matthew 6:33).

We are not promised earthly rewards for our faithfulness, but are rather to expect persecution and suffering in this life (II Timothy 3:12).

The Passover: Exodus 12:1-14 gives us the basic rules for the feast of the Passover. The month of Nisan was designated as the first month (v.2), which like all other months, began with the new moon. A perfect yearling lamb was to be selected on the 10th of Nisan (v.3). The lamb was to be slain on the afternoon of “the day of preparation” (14th v.6) and eaten the same night, which would be the 15th of Nisan (v.8). The Passover day was always the 15th of Nisan (full moon).

Days of Unleavened Bread: Exodus 12:15-20 gives the rules for this festive period. The actual Passover is only one 24-hour day, but the Day of Preparation precedes it and six more days of unleavened bread follow. The term "Days of Unleavened Bread" is sometimes used to denote the entire period of eight days, also called "Feast of the Passover" or "Festival of Unleavened Bread." The Day of Preparation (14th) was not part of the Passover, but it is included in the Days of Unleavened Bread because there was to be no leaven present during preparation of the Passover.

Ralph V. Harvey, 2018