The Bible plainly teaches us that Christ was crucified the day before the Sabbath (Mark 15:42-45; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:30-42). This leads us to conclude that Christ was crucified on a Friday, since the Jewish Sabbath is on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This also explains our world's annual observance of Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday, as the day when Christ was crucified.
The Bible also teaches us that our Lord rose from the dead on Sunday, the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-6; Luke 24:1-9; John 20:1-9, 19- 20). This explains why the early church met to worship on Sunday and why Sunday eventually became known as the “Lord’s Day” (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10).
In Matthew 12:38-40, we read about the Pharisees demanding a sign from Christ to prove His claims about Himself. Jesus responds to their demand by saying, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah: For as Jonah 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.” Here, our Lord is promising that His claims will be incontrovertibly proven by His resurrection from the dead. As the Apostle Paul would later write of the risen Christ, “And [He is] declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by [His] resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
If Christ was crucified on Friday, as is traditionally believed, and rose from the dead on Sunday, as the Scripture clearly teaches, then, how was He, as He Himself predicted, in the tomb “three days and three nights” prior to His resurrection?
Unlike our understanding of a day, which begins at midnight and ends the following midnight, the Jewish day begins at sundown and ends on the following sundown. Therefore, you could say that Christ was in the tomb three days before His resurrection. He was presumably crucified on Friday before sunset, which is one day, the day that began at sunset on Thursday. His body was entombed on the Sabbath, a second day, which began at sunset on Friday and ended at sunset on Saturday. And He arose from the dead on Sunday, the third day, which began at sunset on Saturday. Still, there is no way to get three nights from this explanation, only three days.
Some attempt to explain this discrepancy away by asserting that Christ’s words in Matthew 12:40 are to be understood figuratively, not literally. According to them, the Jewish understanding of a day included both the day and the night. Thus, Christ’s prediction would have been understood by the Jews to have included the night before His Friday crucifixion. This, of course, accounts for the missing third night, at least in the minds of our Lord’s Jewish contemporaries.
Although the above explanation might suffice to explain away this seeming scriptural contradiction in the minds of most Christians, I believe a careful study of the Scripture will offer a more satisfactory explanation. Let’s begin with the fact that the Jewish people observed other Sabbath days besides the weekly Sabbath. For instance, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was considered a special Sabbath day. It began with the night of the Passover, when the Jews ate the Passover meal. It was a “high day” annually observed by the Jews. The day before this special Jewish Sabbath or “high day” was known as “the preparation.” It was on this day that the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed and prepared for the Passover’s observance that evening. Now, with this understanding, read carefully the following passages of Scripture.
- And now when the evening was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. (Mark 15:42-43)
- And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on [was about to begin]. (Luke 23:50-54)
- When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. (John 19:13-15)
- 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. (John 19:31)
Notice, according to these passages, Jesus was crucified on the day of “the preparation of the Passover.” Furthermore, the Jews insisted that His body be taken down from the cross before sundown, which marked the beginning of a “sabbath day” distinguished from the weekly Sabbath as a special Jewish “high day.”
Once every seven years the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread came on Friday, the day before the weekly Sabbath. In this same year, the day of “the preparation” for the Passover would be a Thursday. It appears from what the Scripture says that Christ was crucified in such a year. He was crucified on Thursday, which was “the preparation,” the day when the Passover lambs were sacrificed. Afterward, He was taken down from the cross and buried in the tomb before sundown, which marked the beginning of the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a special Sabbath and Jewish “high day.”
According to John 18:28, when the religious leaders of Israel took Christ to Pilate to be condemned they refused to enter “the judgment hall.” If they had done so, they would have “defiled” themselves by entering the home of a Gentile and consequently rendered themselves unable to “eat the Passover.” This proves that they had not yet observed the Passover and serves as additional evidence that our Lord’s condemnation and crucifixion took place on “the preparation,” the day prior to the night of the Passover.
During the Last Supper, our Lord said to Judas, His betrayer, “That thou doest, do quickly” (John 13:27). The other disciples, according to John, misunderstood what was going on and “thought that because Judas had the bag that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast” (John 13:28-29). Obviously, this indicates that the night of our Lord’s Last Supper with His disciples was not the night of the Passover, since no one would have thought, as the Scripture says the disciples did, that Jesus was sending Judas out to buy things to prepare for the Passover on the very night and at the very time that they were observing it.
Apparently, our Lord’s Last Supper with His disciples took place on Wednesday evening, which marked the beginning of the day of “preparation for the Passover.” Was it not most fitting that Christ would spend this Wednesday evening, the beginning of the Day of Preparation, preparing His disciples for His upcoming sacrifice on the cross of Calvary for the sins of the world? And was it not most fitting that before the hours of this particular “preparation” were concluded, Christ, “our Passover lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7), would be crucified on the very day Israel’s Passover lambs were sacrificed?
In John 12:1, we read about Jesus and His disciples traveling to Bethany “six days before the Passover.” Since Bethany was more than a Sabbath day’s journey, it is highly unlikely that Jesus and His disciples made this trip on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Instead, they probably traveled to Bethany on Friday. Counting “six days” from Friday takes us to Thursday, the evening when the Passover was observed and the first night the corpse of Christ lay silently in the tomb.
The Mosaic Law instructed the Israelites to “take [the Passover] lambs out of their flocks” on the 10th day of Nissan, the first month of the Jewish year (Exodus 12). Then, four days later, on the 14th day of Nissan, they were instructed to sacrifice their lambs for the Passover.
Prior to His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, John tells us that Jesus “would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him” (John 7:1). Christ had gone into hiding. There was a price on His head, which explains why Judas was paid “thirty pieces of silver” to betray Christ into the hands of the Jews (Matthew 26:15). However, on Palm Sunday, Jesus, our Passover Lamb, as well as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), comes forth from hiding in His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Thereafter, He is under public observation every day at the temple, as the Passover lambs were supposed to be, until He, like them, is sacrificed four days later on Thursday afternoon, just prior to Passover night and the beginning of the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The following timeline shows how there is no contradiction in Scripture and how Jesus, just as He Himself predicted, was in the grave “three days and three nights” prior to His resurrection, which incontrovertibly proved Him to “be the Son of God with power!”
Sunday, 10th of Nissan — PALM SUNDAY, CHRIST’S TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM
Monday through Wednesday — CHRIST DAILY IN THE TEMPLE
Wednesday Evening — THE LAST SUPPER, JUDAS’ BETRAYAL, CHRIST’S AGONY AND ARREST IN THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
Thursday, 14th of Nissan and Day of Preparation — JESUS’ TRIAL BEFORE THE SANHEDRIM (before daybreak), TAKEN TO PILATE (at dawn), CRUCIFIED (9:00 A.M.), DIES (3:00 P.M.), TAKEN DOWN FROM THE CROSS AND BURIED IN JOSEPH’S TOMB (Before sundown)
Thursday Evening — JESUS IN THE TOMB ON THE NIGHT OF THE PASSOVER
Friday — JESUS IN THE TOMB ON THE FIRST DAY OF UNLEAVENED BREAD, A SPECIAL SABBATH AND JEWISH HIGH DAY
Saturday — JESUS IN THE TOMB ON THE WEEKLY SABBATH
Sunday Morning — JESUS RISES FROM THE DEAD, HALLELUJAH!
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