The Easter Weekend. Like everyone else born in the UK and grew up in a Christian environment, we all believe that Jesus Christ was Crucified on a Friday and then rose physically from the dead early Sunday Morning. Thus we say that he was in the tomb for three days.
This has been our tradition for some 1,700 years. It was formalised by the Roman Catholic Church early in its history and it passed unchallenged into the Reformed churches who continued to worship on Good Friday. Even today, I was at Ascot Baptist, my home church, worshipping on Good Friday.
So far so good.
Except that ever since I began to read the Bible from 1973, I felt uneasy about a Friday Crucifixion. Especially when the Lord Jesus was speaking openly and was making predictions about himself. And this appears at just one verse in the whole Bible, Matthew 12:40, which reads:
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
With a statement like this, a Friday Crucifixion doesn't seem to make sense. And again, why couldn't have Jesus simply said "Three days" and left it there? Rather, was he deliberately trying to tell us something?
A Friday crucifixion may have found its place if three days and two nights were on his mind - Friday afternoon, all day Saturday and Sunday morning before daybreak. Even on the Hebrew clock, when the new day begins at sundown, the same would still apply. Friday would end at sundown, and Saturday would have ended at sundown the next evening, making all of the second night as part of Sunday itself. It would still be two nights, not three - small hours Saturday and small hours Sunday.
Again, as with the previous two articles, I will try and keep this one as simple as I can.
In the old Testament, soon after the children of Israel were lead out of Egypt and settled near the foot of Mt. Sinai, the Ten Commandments were given. This was followed by many laws and regulations for daily living. Among these laws, the Passover was instituted. In fact the Passover was instituted while the Israelites were still in Egypt. It was to mark the anniversary of the deaths of the firstborn of their Egyptian taskmasters, allowing Israel to escape in haste. What the children of Israel had to do was to kill a lamb, sprinkle its blood on their doorposts, roast it and then eat it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. That night, when the Angel of Death visited Egypt, he passed over every house which had blood on its doorposts, resulting with all in the house spared from death.
Then the anniversary of this event was to be celebrate every year at the specific day, week and month.
The exact details being this, at the Spring month of Nisan:
10th Nisan - Lamb selected.
14th Nisan - In the afternoon, lamb killed, roasted.
15th Nisan - early at night, Passover lamb eaten, first day of unleavened bread, which is to last a full week.
If this is compared to the Passion of Jesus Christ, the events would unfold like this:
Sunday 10th Nisan - Jesus Christ enters Jerusalem on a donkey and reveals himself as the Jewish Messiah (i.e. Christ) to the crowd waving palm leaves.
Thursday 14th Nisan - after sundown - Last Supper with his disciples, in the Garden of Gethsemane, betrayed by Judas Iscariot, arrested, brought to the Jewish hall of judgement, at daybreak, brought to Pilate. All leaven removed from every Jewish household, hence "the day of Preparation."
Thursday 14th Nisan - Midday, Christ Crucified. At 3.pm, Jesus Christ dies, Passover lambs slaughtered in every Jewish household. The body of Jesus taken down from the cross and buried.
Friday 15th Nisan - First day of Unleavened Bread, or a "high day" after sundown the freshly roasted Passover lamb is eaten.
Saturday 16th Nisan - Normal weekly Sabbath.
Sunday 17th Nisan - before daybreak, Jesus is resurrected, stone covering the tomb's mouth is rolled away, Mary and her companions bring spices to further anoint the body, resurrection revealed and disciples told.
So to make it simpler:
Sunday 10th - Triumphal Entry.
Thursday 14th - Crucifixion, death, burial.
Friday 15th - A "high day".
Saturday 16th - Normal Jewish Sabbath.
Sunday 17th - before daybreak, Resurrection.
Thus the three days were:
Thursday late afternoon, about three hours of daylight left.
All day Friday.
All day Saturday.
The three nights - as we understand them:
As the Jews understood them:
Therefore is the idea of a Thursday crucifixion the correct one?
That's how it looks to me.
The idea of a Friday crucifixion, I think, stemmed from the reading of the Gospels when the writers insist that the death of Jesus took place "on the day of preparation for the Sabbath." But that Sabbath was not the weekly Saturday Sabbath, but "a high day" (John 19:14 AV.) In other words, the first day of Unleavened Bread, or Passover Week, which fell on a Friday.
In John 18:28, the Jewish accusers refused to enter Pilate's hall, for fear of defilement, "because they have yet to eat the Passover". (So the Passover wasn't eaten yet.)
But what about Matthew's account of Jesus eating the Passover with his disciples?
Jesus sent two of his men to be lead to a large room to prepare it for that evening. It was still Wednesday Nisan 13th when the room was located and prepared. The meal they ate that night was the Last Supper, not the Passover, and when they all sat at table, it was after sundown and as such, it was already Thursday the 14th, the same day as the crucifixion and the death of Jesus Christ timed to coincide exactly with the killing of the Passover lambs across Israel.
A Thursday crucifixion? I would guess that most if not all Christians reading this would dismiss it as fantasy from an over-emotional manual worker lacking education.
But I would recommend reading How Close Are We? by Dave Hunt, who gives a thoroughly in-depth investigation of the passion week and presents it in easy to understand yet accurate scholarship.
A Thursday Crucifixion satisfies any doubts I might have had on the most crucial point of the Christian faith. If something does not add up, it would be much more difficult to stay firm in the faith during difficult or testing times. To know how thoroughly accurate the Bible is, and always have been, is the sharp sword that would make old Mr Doubt run away without looking back!