The timing and sequence of events in the last week of Jesus’ mortal life is very uncertain with nearly as many attempted chronologies as commentators. The one fixed time is the resurrection which occurred “on the first day of the week” before dawn (Lk 24:1; Mk 16:2-3); that is, early Sunday morning. But the day of Jesus’ death and the length of time he was in the tomb are the subjects of heated debates.

The traditional view is that he died on Friday although others argue that he died on Thursday and still others place the crucifixion on Wednesday. Several statements need to be considered in this context, some of which occur more than once:

“they will kill him and after three days he will rise” Mk 9:31
“he must be killed and on the third day raised to life” Lk 9:22
“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Mt 12:40
The disciples on the road to Emmaus said: “today is the third day since these things were done.” Lk 24:21

To the Western mind, the last two of these passages seem irreconcilable. However, it must be remembered that Jews reckoned time periods inclusively (cf. 1Kgs 22:1-2; 2Kgs 18:9-10). That is, any part of a day is counted as a ”day”. So the “three days” includes the crucifixion day. Similarly the ”three nights” must include the night during which he was raised. It should also be noted that Jews began their day at 6 pm. Using this information, it seems most likely that Jesus died on Thursday, as shown below. There seems no way to reconcile “three days and three nights” with the traditional Friday crucifixion or the idea of a Wednesday crucifixion.

Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Night Day Night Day Night Day Night Day
<— Three days and three nights —>

The phrase “after three days he will rise” also implies a Thursday crucifixion, again counting the crucifixion day. The statement of the disciples on the road to Emmaus specifically refers to days since the crucifixion. So Friday would be the “first” day and Sunday the “third day”. The phrase “on the third day raised” clearly refers to the same days. Thus, the four passages can only be understood harmoniously if Jesus died on Thursday afternoon and was raised in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Another important factor to consider is the number of sabbath days that occurred during that week. The day after the Passover lamb was killed was always a special sabbath (Num 28:16-17). So if the Passover fell on a Thursday, there was a special sabbath on Friday (Jn 19:31) followed by the usual Saturday sabbath.

Luke indicates (Lk 23:55 – 24:1) that the women accompanying Jesus were kept from properly preparing his body for burial because of the sabbath day following his death. Yet he clearly says that they went to the tomb with the spices “on the first day of the week”; that is, two days after his death. Thus, it seems that they were kept from going to the tomb until the first non-sabbath day, Sunday. Then as soon as the sabbaths were over, on Saturday evening, they bought spices and prepared them during the evening. Then, rising before dawn on Sunday morning, they went to the tomb only to find it empty.

It should be noted that this passage wouldn’t make sense if Jesus died on Wednesday. In that case, Thursday would have been a sabbath and Friday an ordinary day. Yet the women did not go to the tomb until Sunday. The usual explanation is that they spent Friday “buying and preparing spices” (Mk 16:1). Then they rested again on the Saturday sabbath before they finally went to the tomb on Sunday, four days after the crucifixion. This seems incongruous given the haste in which they went to the tomb on Sunday morning. If they were in such a hurry to go to the tomb, why didn’t they go on Friday? It wouldn’t take all day to prepare spices.


This answer is taken from my book The Times, chapter 9.

Tagged with →  
Share →
  • http://www.inyourbible.com George Greene

    Hello,
    Last year I completed a study on this issue. I’ll summarize it briefly for you:
    1. Jesus was laid in the tomb on 13th Nisan.
    2. Passover is a special Sabbath on 14th Nisan
    3. The first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is also a special Sabbath on 15th Nisan.
    4. Next followed the regular weekly Sabbath.

    Those are the 3 days that Jesus was in the tomb and he rose from the grave after sundown which is the start of another Jewish day on 17th Nisan. That is why the women could purchase the spices before they went to the tomb.

    The synoptic gospels have statements about Passion week that are totally impossible to reference on a Jewish calendar therefore making their dating suspect. These gospels appear to have Jesus enjoying the Passover meal but he couldn’t have based on dating elsewhere in all 4 gospels.

    I prepared a 3 part video presentation complete with charts that is available to view online for free at http://www.inyourbible.com. The lesson numbers are 133 – 135. The first 15 or so minutes might bore you. The meat is in the balance.

    Please consider,

    George

    • Rob J Hyndman

      Your proposal (that Jesus died on the Wednesday and that there were two special sabbaths) is contradicted by the disciples on the road to Emmaus who said that Sunday was “the third day since these things were done” and by Luke who says Jesus was raised “on the third day”. Also, writing off the synoptics as having “suspect” dating because they don’t fit your proposal is not very satisfactory.

      You are correct that the synoptic writers appear to make the Last Supper the Passover meal, while John’s gospel shows that it can’t have been (John 18:28). But to say they are therefore in error is not necessary. It seems that Jesus called the Last Supper a “Passover” to emphasise the fact that this was the New Passover and he was the new Passover lamb. No longer would they celebrate deliverance from Egypt through Moses, but deliverance from sin through Jesus.

  • George Greene

    Lev 23 backs up what I have said about two special Sabbaths
    in a row. Lev. 23:1 (NIV)    The LORD said to Moses, 2
    “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed
    feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to proclaim
    as sacred assemblies. 3    “ ‘There are six days when you
    may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred
    assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a
    Sabbath to the LORD. 4    “ ‘These are the LORD’S
    appointed feasts, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at
    their appointed times: 5 The LORD’S Passover begins at twilight on
    the fourteenth day of the first month. 6 On the fifteenth day of
    that month the LORD’S Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven
    days you must eat bread made without yeast. 7 On the first day hold
    a sacred assembly and do no regular work. 8 For seven days present
    an offering made to the LORD by fire. And on the seventh day hold a
    sacred assembly and do no regular work.’” In this passage, a
    ‘Sacred Assembly’ is equated to a Sabbath. The sacred Assembly of
    Passover is always celebrated on 14 Nisan. Jesus was in the tomb
    before sundown on 13 Nisan. The day after Passover is always a
    special sabbath too on 15 Nisan. The next day was the regular
    weekly Sabbath. Jesus rose from the grave just as he planned after
    sundown (while it was still dark) on 17 Nisan. Good Friday is an
    erroneous tradition and does not have Jesus in the grave for 3 full
    days and nights. The Jewish day does not start at 6PM. It starts
    instead at sundown which we all know changes daily. So we actually
    have two “fixed times” as you say. The first is that Jesus was in
    the grave prior to Passover which is always and immediately
    followed by the first day of the Feast of Unleavened bread which is
    also a special sabbath or ‘Sacred Assembly’ and we know he came out
    of the grave AFTER the regular weekly Sabbath thus making 3 days
    and 3 nights. I suggest that these dates should be the starting
    points for study.