As discussed in the previous blog post on this topic, I decided to write an article on when Jesus died so I can shorten my other blog posts on Christian traditions by simply referring back to the article every time the topic comes up. However, there was so much information to go over that I was forced to divide it into several blog posts.
When considering the time of day, day of the week, year, and month and day of Jesus’ death, we find that these interplay deeply with each other and affect how we determine each. However, the time of day is the simplest and requires the least amount of extrapolation, so I chose to start with that. In the previous blog post, I listed the facts we know from the Bible. This post will discuss the time of His death, and future posts will discuss the day of the week, the year, and the month/day of His death in light of the aforementioned facts from the Bible.
II. TIME OF JESUS’ DEATH
I’ll answer the question of what time of day Jesus died by referring back to the facts from the Bible in Part I of this series. For specific details on each of the facts referenced, please refer back to Part I.
As we learned in Facts 13-15: Pilate handed Jesus over to the Jews in early morning at the sixth hour (John 19:14); Jesus was crucified mid-morning at about the third hour (Mark 15:25); and Jesus died in the afternoon at about the ninth hour (Matthew 27:45-50; Mark 15:34-37; Luke 23:44-46).
For the three above facts, three deeply intertwining data points have to be considered—namely, the times of these events. If we assume the authors were all using the same method of determining time, it appears as though Jesus was crucified three hours before His trial with Pilate. This means we have to first know what method each author used to determine time.
The Roman method of determining time is the one we still use today, wherein the hours of the day start at midnight and end the following midnight. As discussed above, Jewish days started at sunset and ended at the following sunset, so the first hour of the day would begin at one sunset and end at the following sunset. Sunset (and therefore the first hour of the Jewish day) at the beginning of spring (note that the Passover, when Jesus died, is always in the spring) in Jerusalem occurs at approximately 6 pm by the Roman method. Like us, both Jews and Romans divided their 24-hour period into two 12-hour periods. So the twelfth hour by the Jewish method would be the sixth hour (6 am) by the Roman method and noon (12 pm), or the first hour of the second 12-hour period, by the Roman method would be the sixth hour (that is, the sixth hour of the second 12-hour period) by the Jewish method. (Major, 1999)
As discussed in Fact 13, John and Mark both say that Jesus had His second audience with Pilate in the early morning (John 18:28; Mark 15:1). John 19:14 says Pilate presented Jesus to the Jews for crucifixion at about the sixth hour. By the Roman method, this would be 6 am or 6 pm; and by the Jewish method in Jerusalem in the spring, this would be about midnight or noon. Since it happened in the early morning, it’s likely that John was using the Roman method and that Pilate therefore handed Jesus over to the Jews for crucifixion at 6 am.
As discussed in Fact 14, we know Jesus probably wasn’t crucified immediately after being handed over to the Jews because some preparation had to take place for both Him and the two criminals with whom He was crucified, and they had to make the slow journey through Jerusalem and up the hill to Calvary/Golgotha. Mark 15:25 tells us that Jesus was crucified at the third hour. By the Roman method, this would be 3 am or 3 pm; and by the Jewish method, this would be 9 am or 9 pm. Because His crucifixion apparently occurred within a few hours after He was handed over to the Jews, because He was not crucified before sunrise (as discussed above, He was handed over to the Jews in early morning) or after sunset (as discussed in Fact 10, He died before the Sabbath, which starts at sunset), He probably was crucified at either 9 am (Jewish method) or 3 pm (Roman method). Because of Fact 15, which I’ll discuss below, He was probably crucified at 9 am, which means Mark was using the Jewish method.
As discussed in Fact 15, the Jews rushed to get Jesus and the criminals dead and buried before the Sabbath, which starts at sunset. This means Jesus had to have died in the afternoon at the latest. Three of the Gospels record the time of Jesus’ death at about the ninth hour (Matthew 27:45-50; Mark 15:34-37; Luke 23:44-46). By the Roman method, this would be 9 am or 9 pm; and by the Jewish method, this would be 3 am or 3 pm. To figure out which one, there are several factors to consider.
- Obviously, He couldn’t have died before His trial. As discussed above, His trial concluded at around sunrise, ruling out 3 am.
- He couldn’t have died after sunset because, as discussed in Fact 10, sunset marks the beginning of Sabbath and we know He died before the Sabbath. This rules out 9 pm.
- He couldn’t have died at night. Jewish law prohibits leaving out overnight the dead body of someone who was hung (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). The Jews obviously cared about following the Sabbath law, so it makes sense that they would care about this law as well. This also rules out 3 am and 9 pm.
- Obviously, He couldn’t have died before or at the exact moment of His crucifixion. As discussed above, His crucifixion occurred at either 9 am or 3 pm.
Since He had to first be crucified and then die, and since His crucifixion was at either 9 am or 3 pm, and since His death was at either 9 am or 3 pm (recall that 3 am and 9 pm were ruled out using the factors above), it makes most sense that He was crucified at 9 am and died at 3 pm. This means Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all using the Jewish method of timing. This also means that Mark was using the Jewish method for both the time of His crucifixion and the time of His death, rather than switching between Jewish and Roman methods, so it fits well within the context. John appears to be the only one using the Roman method.
In this post, I presented the facts known about the times of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and death, and how they interplay with each other to help us determine the approximate time of each. Using the four Gospel accounts, we can see that Jesus’ second trial with Pilate ended and Pilate handed Him over to the Jews at about 6 am; that Jesus was crucified at about 9 am; and that Jesus died at about 3 pm.
The following posts will address:
- Part III: Day of the Week of Jesus’ Death
- Part IV: Year of Jesus’ Death: Chapter 1: Year of Jesus’ Birth
- Part IV: Year of Jesus’ Death: Chapter 2: Year of Jesus’ Ministry
- Part V: Full Date of Jesus’ Death
Major, T. (1999). “Did Jesus Die at the Third or the Sixth Hour?” Apologetics Press. Retrieved from <http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=584>. From Geisler, N., & Thomas, H. (1992). When Critics Ask. (Wheaton, IL: Victor).
I will periodically edit this post to add links to the following posts in this series as they are published.