What Day Was Jesus Crucified?

It's been a while since Easter actually occurred around the same time as the Passover. That's a pretty big deal to me. I have done quite a few posts on the timing of both holidays, but today I want to talk about the day Jesus was crucified.

Introduction

In honor of Passover and Easter actually lining up this year, I thought I should write something. Most people don't seem to mind the fact that they can occur weeks apart because most people don't understand the significance of Passover as it relates to Jesus' crucifixion. To most Christians, Passover is just a Jewish holiday commemorating the exodus from Egypt.

Significance of Passover

The Passover specifically commemorates the final plague God unleashes on Egypt which spares the first borns of Israel but kills the first borns of Egypt. As a show of faith, the Israelites were to slaughter an innocent lamb, who was without blemish and without broken bones, then place the blood of the lamb around their door (Exodus 12). This was their salvation from death in Egypt.

It was a physical even that actually happened, but it also was a spiritual event foreshadowing that which was to come. Paul calls it "a shadow of things to come" in Colossians 2:17. The spiritual significance of the event is why it's important to Jesus' crucifixion.

Spiritual Symbols

Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Andrey Grinkevich
Babylon, Sodom, and Gomorrah are easily associated with sin. Egypt is used as frequently, but it is symbolic of God's nation before salvation. The Israelites were in bondage in Egypt just as we are in bondage to sin before we surrender to Jesus. The New Testament constantly reminds us that Jesus is the Lamb (1 Peter 1:19; Revelation—yes, the whole book); He was without blemish (i.e., sin), they didn't break His bones (John 19:33-36), and He was sacrificed so that His blood might save us. All of this was done in accordance with the Passover, because His purpose was to fulfill this ritual once and for all. This is what He means when He says He didn't come to destroy but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17).

Tethered to the Date

In the Western world, holidays are usually associated with a specific date or day. For instance, Independence Day is always on July 4th, but Thanksgiving is simply the 4th Thursday in November. Neither Easter nor Passover are that easily discerned. Most people require a calendar to tell them when these holidays are, even though both have a specific calculation.

Passover is the 14th day of Nisan (the first month of the Israelite calendar). The only reason this seems be random to us is because our calendar (the Gregorian calendar) is solar while the Israelite calendar is lunar—fun fact, the Islamic calendar is also lunar. Because of this, our dates don't line up exactly so it appears to us that the Passover is moving, but it's always the 14th day of the first month (Leviticus 23:5).

Easter, on the other hand, is "the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox."[1] The calculation of Easter has absolutely nothing to do with the Passover because Easter is a pagan holiday that was "Christianized" in the 4th century. I already wrote a few posts on this,[5] so I won't belabor the point. I mention it because resurrection is intrinsically related to the Passover, we know the date of the Passover, and therefore we shouldn't be celebrating Jesus' resurrection weeks before or weeks after the Passover.

When Did Jesus "Die"?

I'm making a big deal about when we celebrate Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection because unlike His birth, the Bible gives us exact timing. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover (John 12). He was captured and killed just before the Sabbath set in (John 19:31), and He rose on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9). God gave us the full timeline. The only point of contention, apparently, is when exactly Jesus died. Majority of Christians believe Jesus died on a Friday and rose on Sunday. There's also a large group that believe Jesus died on Wednesday and rose on Sunday. Then there are small groups who believe something in between that. If you fall into the Friday crucifixion camp (admitted bias: I don't agree with a Wednesday crucifixion), this year not only marks Easter falling in line with the Passover, but the timing is exact as well!

The Case for Wednesday

Those who believe in a Wednesday crucifixion base the belief off of the 3 days and 3 nights Jesus prophesied to be in the grave. If you do the math, a Friday crucifixion means He was in the grave 2 nights (Friday night and Saturday night) and 2+ days (part of Friday, all of Saturday, part of Sunday). To them, a Friday crucifixion contradicts the prophecy and thus doesn't work. It's a logical conclusion, and as a math major, I understand how people end up in this category. However, Wednesday still gives us too many days. Jesus would be in the grave 4 nights (Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night, and Saturday night).

The Case for Friday

The most compelling evidence for a Friday crucifixion is in John 19:31. John tells us that it was the preparation day, which is why they were in a rush to get Jesus' body off the cross and into the tomb. The preparation day, refers to what we call Friday—technically its from sunset Thursday to sunset Friday. Since work is not allowed on the Sabbath, the preparation day is used to prepare for Sabbath. This is when you would cook your meals for Sabbath (even God was down with meal prepping!), clean your home to be read for Sabbath guests, prepare a fire if it was cold, purchase anything you might need for the Sabbath, etc. Touching a dead body was already a ceremonially unclean act, but it also takes work to lift the body off the cross, carry it to the tomb, and roll a stone in front of it. All of this had to be done before the sunset so that they were all set to enjoy the Sabbath and not break it.

What's confusing is the 3 days/3 nights and the fact that the 7th day Sabbath isn't the only Sabbath the Israelites kept. So, let's get into that.

Sabbaths

Most people are familiar with the 7th day Sabbath which was established at creation. However, God also appoints other sabbaths for the Israelites to keep after the exodus. These sabbaths include holy days, like Passover, and yearly sabbaths, like the 7th year Sabbath and the year of Jubilee. People who argue for a Wednesday (or any other day) crucifixion usually associate the sabbath mentioned in John 19:31 with Passover instead of the 7th day Sabbath.

What we really need to establish is whether the preparation day was for the holy day Sabbath or the 7th day Sabbath. John tells us it was a high Sabbath, which means it was for the holy day. Of course the holy day could have fallen on a 7th day Sabbath. Either of these is possible.

What's important to remember is that the Passover itself is not a sabbath. It is the 1st day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which starts the day after the Passover that is a Sabbath. So the high Sabbath mentioned is the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (i.e., the 15th of Nisan). Jesus would have been crucified on the day of the Passover. This actually leaves room for a Thursday or Friday crucifixion, depending on how you reconcile the 3 days and 3 nights issue.

3 Days and 3 Nights

Before we surmise the meaning of 3 days and 3 nights, I think it's also important to note the significance of one or two Sabbaths spanning the time between Jesus' crucifixion and his resurrection. We usually lean on the fact that it was prophesied that He would wait 3 days to rise, but we don't often look at the logistics of why this is. The same God who spoke light into existence does not need 3 days to battle death. There are two primary reason I see for the delay: (i) an immediate resurrection would lead people to believe He never actually died and (ii) no work was to be done on the Sabbath.

With a Thursday crucifixion, we don't have to argue anything about the 3 days and 3 nights. Jesus would have been crucified Thursday afternoon (Matthew 27:45-50), placing Him in the grave almost exactly 3 days (part of Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and part of Sunday), and 3 nights (Thursday night, Friday night, and Saturday night). A Friday crucifixion would give us less than 3 literal days and nights. So, how do people reconcile it?

First we have to look at the uses of occurrences of the phrase.
For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.Matthew 12:40 KJV

From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.Matthew 16:21 KJV

And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry.Matthew 17:23 KJV

And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.Matthew 20:19 KJV

63Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. 64Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.Matthew 27:63-64 KJV

1Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. 3And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.Luke 24:1-3 KJV

Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.Luke 24:7 KJV

20And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. 21But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done. 22Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre; 23And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive.Luke 24:20-23 KJV

And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:Luke 24:46 KJV

The Bible actually uses the term "third day" more frequently than the oft quoted "three days and three nights." The third day gives the impression that it doesn't have to be a full three days, which means a Friday crucifixion is entirely plausible (Friday is day one, Saturday day two, and Sunday day three). If we go back to Esther, we'll see that three days and three nights isn't necessarily a full 72 hours.[3]

Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.Esther 4:16 KJV

Esther 5:1 (KJV) Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the king's house, over against the king's house: and the king sat upon his royal throne in the royal house, over against the gate of the house.

Does it Matter?

Generally speaking, we don't need to know the exact day He was crucified because the people of the time understood the prophecy to have come true. In Matthew 27:62-64, the Pharisees clearly understood the prophecy to mean He would return in three days. What's important is that He was in fact crucified and He did in fact rise in the time the Jews understood to be 3 days and 3 nights. He is risen!!

References

  1. "Calculating the Easter Date". Time and Date; visited April 2018
  2. John Oaks. "John says Jesus was crucified on the eve of the Passover, while the other gospels say it was on the Passover. Thoughts?". Evidence for Christianity. January 15, 2012
  3. "Were the three days and three nights that Jesus was in the grave a full 72 hours?". Bible.org. January 1, 2001
  4. "3 Days And 3 Nights". Bible Research; visited April 2018
  5. Ree Hughes. "Posts about Easter". PSALMS to God; 2014-2016

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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