Three days and three nights?
Was Jesus Crucified on Friday?
Was Jesus Crucified on Friday? For centuries Christians have celebrated 'Good Friday' as the day Jesus died. No one disputed it; the early church agreed with it; the gospel stated it. Here is a statement from Justin Martyr about AD150.
"For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn; and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration." (First Apology, Chapter 67)
And here is the earliest gospel account:
"When evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus." (Mark 15:42-43)
So, it was the day of preparation before Saturday, ie. Friday, or was it?
"He said to them, I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." (Luke 22:15)
The problem arises when we find an expression of Jesus which doesn't seem to fit. He said, "Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:40) Now, if Jesus died on Friday afternoon and rose Sunday morning, it would seem more like he was in the grave one day and two nights. That is the way it appears to our thinking anyway.
However, the issue is not as problematic as it appears because in colloquial Jewish speech a 'day' could mean any portion of the day, as long as it was that day. The many references to Jesus rising on the third day meant exactly that - sometime during day three - even though 24 hours had not completed its course. Similarly, when we are told Jesus died at about 3pm Friday; that was day one even though the Hebrew day finished a mere three hours afterwards.
Another example of this can be found in the account of King Rehoboam who told a delegation of people, "Go away for three days, then come again to me." So they went away, but instead of returning after three days as we might expect, they came back on the third day itself. In other words, when Rehoboam gave his instruction it was the first day, and the second day they stayed away, and on the third they all came back. "So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said, Come to me again the third day." (1 Kings 12:5,12)
There are plenty more examples of inclusive counting in the Old Testament as well as in Rabbinic literature. The story of Esther is another case, but suffice it to say that the 'prophet Jonah' sign should be understood in the same way. It does not mean a strict 3x24=72 hours.
Passover 14th or 15th of Nisan?
One thing that is literal twenty-four hour timing though is how the moon progressed through the month of Nisan AD 30, reaching Passover on none other than Good Friday! Published lunar phases of the moon show how the new moon would have been sighted late Thursday, 23rd March, hence the first day of Nisan started sunset Thursday through to sunset Friday, 24th March, AD 30.
From new moon we may then go to the gospels and piece together a detailed chronology of the Passion Week. Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany early evening, the beginning of Sabbath. Jesus would have come at the end of his working week in order to rest and tradition tells us the next day was 'Palm Sunday.' The tradition is correct because if events were a day earlier his triumphal entry into Jerusalem would have violated Mosaic law, namely, working of animals and cutting of branches on Sabbath.
Furthermore, Sunday happened to be the tenth day of Nisan, the significance of which should not escape us. It was the day when lambs were taken and penned up until Passover. Messiah's triumphal entry on 'Palm Sunday' fulfils the Old Testament typology of the Paschal 'lamb' selected for sacrifice.
From Bethany the days can be tracked as follows:
9th Nisan Sabbath (6 days before Passover)
10th Nisan Sunday (5 days before Passover)
11th Nisan Monday (4 days before Passover)
12th Nisan Tuesday (3 days before Passover)
13th Nisan Wednesday (2 days before Passover)
14th Nisan Thursday (1 day before Passover)
15th Nisan Friday (Passover)
Now, this raises a matter that has been a frequent source of misunderstanding. Was Passover held on the fourteenth or was it the fifteenth of Nisan? Put briefly, it started just before the switch point. The Hebrew day began at sunset and the lambs were slain late on the fourteenth - the actual Passover meal being eaten later that evening, that is to say, early on the fifteenth day. Jewish historian Josephus said the sacrifices were done between 3pm and 5pm and the original Exodus description bears this out.
"And you shall keep (the lamb) until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. ... In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover." (Exodus 12:6-11)
An example of this is found in King Josiah's famous Passover which describes in detail the sacrifices continuing until nightfall. Leviticus is also clear. "The LORD's Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the LORD's Festival of Unleavened Bread begins." (Leviticus 23:4-6) However, other Bible references simply say "the fourteenth" without specifying the last portion of the day. That is why casual readers, not familiar with Hebrew practice, assume Passover to be the entire fourteenth day. Not so! It started in the final hours of the fourteenth then spanned the fifteenth day synonymous with (the same as) the first day of unleavened bread.
Accordingly, Jesus ate his last supper with the disciples in the evening early on Passover day and was crucified later on the same day. By western reckoning it was Thursday 6th / Friday 7th April but on Jewish reckoning it was the fifteenth of Nisan. It looked like this:
6 pm Day began.
9 pm Passover meal.
12 am Jesus arrested.
6 am Judgement passed.
9 am Jesus crucified.
12 noon Great darkness.
3 pm Jesus dies.
6 pm Day ended.
Two different Passover meals?
This raises yet another matter of misunderstanding. Was Jesus crucified at the same time as the Passover lambs were being slain? The confusion stems from an apparent contradiction between St. John's account and that of the synoptic gospels. He said:
"Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor's headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover." (John 18:28)
But hadn't they eaten it the night before? That is when Matthew, Mark and Luke said it took place. Some commentators choose to ignore John. Others make much of it, claiming the Paschal lambs were slain when Jesus died. Still others suggest there may have been several Jewish factions observing different timetables. Such explanations are unnecessary.
The writer John was referring loosely to the overall 'Passover week' which included the feast days following actual Passover day. On the morning of the first day (following the Paschal evening) was another meal called 'Chagigah.' This is the meal John was referencing and as one rabbinic expert noted, "the Chagigah might not be offered by any person who had contracted Levitical defilement." So, the 'contradiction' is really no contradiction at all; it was a special morning meal.
But what of the New Testament revelation, "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." (1 Corinthians 5:7)? Again, the answer is found in a fuller understanding of Passover. Throughout the day were a series of sacrifices, all of which prefigured Messiah's atoning work. First came the Paschal lamb which was eaten in the evening. Then at 6am the Tamid lamb was bought out and tied to the altar. Jesus was delivered by Pilate to crucify at 6am. At 9am the lamb was sacrificed. Jesus was nailed to the cross at 9am.
Then came the festive offerings:-
"On the fifteenth day of this month ... a burnt offering to the LORD: two young bulls, one ram, and seven lambs in their first year ... also one goat as a sin offering, to make atonement for you. You shall offer these besides the burnt offering of the morning." (Numbers 28:17-23)
At noon the second Tamid lamb was bought out and tied to the altar. This time the sky turned black. Then at 3pm then the second Tamid lamb was sacrificed. Jesus died at 3pm.
From this understanding of Passover AD 30, we may now confidently affirm the day of Messiahs death by tracing the fifteenth day of the month of Nisan. Yes, it equaled Friday, April 7th, AD 30. Yes, it was the day the traditions said it was. Friday is good!
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