As discussed in the previous blog posts 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. Previous blog posts addressed:
This post will address the day of the week on which Jesus died.
III. DAY OF THE WEEK OF JESUS’ DEATH
It has been traditionally accepted that the Passover on which Jesus was crucified fell on Friday because He died before the Sabbath, and the Sabbath falls on Saturday. The Passover began on a Friday in the years 30 A.D. and 33 A.D.; between those two years, most scholars accept 30 A.D. (Akin, 2013a). (Note: As you’ll see in a later blog post, a Hebrew Calendar Converter came up with different dates–that is, that Passover was not on a Friday in 30 A.D. I’ve contacted the calendar converter administrators and one writer who quoted the Friday Passover dates listed above to see where the error lies, but have yet to hear back.) However, the assumption that He died on a Friday is erroneous. By referring back to the facts in Part I of this series, I’ll demonstrate why. For specific details on each of the facts referenced, please refer back to Part I.
- Day of Travel.
In Fact 9, we learned that Jesus came to Bethany 6 days before the Passover and to Jerusalem the following day. A long journey—such as that to Bethany—cannot take place on a Sabbath (Exodus 16:29), but a journey to a nearby Temple would be permitted. That is, His journey to Bethany could not occur on a Sabbath, but His journey from Bethany to Jerusalem could take place on the Sabbath—that is, six days before His death was not a Sabbath. If He died on Friday, that means He traveled on the Sabbath, which was prohibited, so we know He did not die on a Friday. If the latest day in the week that Jesus arrived in Bethany was Friday and He died six days afterward, the latest He could have died was Thursday. In other words, from a purely intellectual standpoint, we automatically have to abandon the idea that Jesus died on Friday. (See Footnote 1 about Jesus observing Jewish law.)
- Day of Resurrection.
The women found the tomb already empty before sunrise on Sunday morning (Fact 14), and so Jesus had to have resurrected no later than the night of Saturday-Sunday. From this fact alone, we know He could have resurrected as late as approximately 5:30 am on Sunday (that is approximately when sunrise occurs in Jerusalem in the spring), but it doesn’t tell us the earliest He could have resurrected.
- Length of Burial.
In Fact 7, we learned that Jesus very unequivocally prophesied that He would be buried three days and three nights before His resurrection. If He died on Friday and resurrected on Sunday morning, as is traditionally believed, He would have spent Friday night, Saturday day, and Saturday night in the tomb—one day and two nights, not three days and three nights. In other words, if He died and was buried on Friday and resurrected on Sunday morning, He made a false prophecy and therefore was not God. In other words, from a theological standpoint, we again must reject the idea that He died on Friday.
As discussed above, based on His travel data, the earliest He could have died is Thursday. If He died and was buried on Thursday afternoon, He would have resurrected Sunday afternoon, which is many hours after the women visited the tomb. However, if He died and was buried on Wednesday just before sunset, He would have resurrected Saturday just before sunset, which the women wouldn’t have known because the Bible makes it clear that they did not visit the tomb until after the Sabbath (see Fact 16). (United Church of God, N.d.)
- Which Sabbath?
Just from these few items, it seems quite clear that Jesus died and was buried Wednesday afternoon just before sunset and that He resurrected at around sunset on Saturday. However, the Bible talks about Jesus dying before the Sabbath (see Fact 10) and, as we all know, the Sabbath occurs on a Saturday. It seems like a fault in the Biblical account. However, that’s only because we’re assuming the Sabbath in question was the weekly Saturday Sabbath.
As discussed in Facts 11 and 12, Jesus celebrated the Passover the night before He died, and the Passover starts at sunset on Nisan 14 every year (see Footnote 2), and that He died before the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which starts at sunset on Nisan 15 every year. Because both the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are tied to a specific month/day date, they may fall on any day of the week and, in fact, usually do not fall on the weekly Sabbath (this is a simple matter of numbers—only 1 of 7 days of the week is Saturday, so it’s far more likely that a particular date will fall on a weekday rather than on a Saturday). As discussed in Fact 12, the first and last days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread are known as miqra in Hebrew or as “high days” or “high Sabbaths” in English. High Sabbaths or miqra are annual holidays wherein Jews are required to follow all the Sabbath laws, and so they may be referred to simply as Sabbaths. Because the Feast of Unleavened Bread follows the Passover (see Fact 12 for all the confusing details of why that is), the day after the Passover is a Sabbath, regardless of what day of the week it occurs. Therefore, by itself, the fact that Jesus died before the Sabbath tells us nothing about the day of the week on which He died. However, it can be used in combination with other facts to help us figure out the day of the week. (United Church of God, N.d.)
- Two Sabbaths.
As discussed in Facts 16 and 17, the women watched Jesus get buried immediately prior to the Sabbath, apparently in such a rush that the people burying Him did not have the time to properly prepare the body with spices. Apparently, all Joseph of Arimathea had time to do was quickly wrap the body and lay it in the tomb (Luke 23:53). The women then went home to prepare the spices for Jesus’ body, though the Bible specifically states that they rested on the Sabbath (Luke 23:55-56). The Bible also tells us that they bought the spices (Mark 16:1). So they had to both buy the spices and prepare the spices. Obviously, they couldn’t buy the spices on the Sabbath, but they also couldn’t prepare the spices on the Sabbath. As discussed in Fact 16, they had to have purchased and prepared the spices on Friday morning, after which they and all the shopkeepers would have spent the afternoon preparing for the Sabbath (therefore, shops were closed on Friday afternoon). However, they were present to watch Jesus being buried right before sunset, so they couldn’t have quickly run into town to buy some spices before the Sabbath, which means Jesus couldn’t have died on Friday (again, with that Friday thing!). (United Church of God, N.d.)
EDIT (27 March 2015): I was just made aware of the fact that the original Greek text for Matthew 28:1 reads “after the Sabbaths” (plural), changing the verse from “Now after the Sabbath…” to “Now after the Sabbaths, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.”
So here’s the thing… we know that Jesus died on the Passover before the high Sabbath that is the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. We also know that He rose by sunrise on Sunday at the latest, which means He was in the tomb through Saturday, another Sabbath. Although it’s technically possible that the high Sabbath also coincidentally fell on the weekly Sabbath, we also know, as described above, that Jesus died and was buried no later than Wednesday afternoon, or else He made a false prophecy when He said He would remain buried for three days and three nights. So the high Sabbath had to have occurred on Thursday, and the women would have purchased and prepared the spices on Friday, and then the weekly Sabbath occurred on Saturday, and the women finally came to anoint His body with the spices Sunday morning before sunrise.
Therefore, Jesus died on Wednesday afternoon and was buried right before sunset, remained in the tomb Thursday through Saturday, and arose at about sunset on Saturday.
In this post, using the facts from the four Gospel accounts regarding the important feasts, weekly events, and days of the week surrounding Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, I demonstrated that Jesus died on Wednesday and resurrected on Saturday.
The following posts will address:
- 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
Footnote 1: Jesus Observed Jewish Law. I have to address what many might argue, that Jesus may not have followed the Jewish law’s prohibition against traveling on the Sabbath. I think it’s especially important to address this argument because when people have issues fitting the day of the week Jesus died into the Biblical narrative based on their own preconceived ideas, they often argue that Jesus, being King of the Universe and God Himself, could very well have chosen to disobey a law He Himself had written thousands of years before from heaven. Briefly, I’ll just state that such an idea is actually quite foolish. All four Gospels, many other New Testament books, some Old Testament prophecies, and even extra-Biblical historical evidence all very clearly state or else very strongly point to Jesus having obeyed all of the rules set down in the Mosaic Law. Any time the priests or Pharisees complained that He was breaking a law, it was always one of the non-Mosaic, extra-Biblical manmade traditions that the Jews had added to the Mosaic Law over the next couple thousand years after it was first written. In fact, Jesus specifically called them out on their ridiculous, unscriptural additions to the law, as in Mark 7:9-13. So Jesus did not obey extra-Biblical manmade traditions, but He did obey the whole of the Mosaic Law—and the example given above of Jesus not traveling on the Sabbath comes from the Mosaic Law. See this article (Wellman, 2014) for more details.
Footnote 2: Jesus Died on Passover. The evidence that Jesus died on the Passover is overwhelming, as discussed in Facts 11 and 12. However, some (ex: Akin, 2013a) who want to believe Jesus died on Friday point out that the high priests had apparently not yet eaten the Passover meal, as evidenced by John 18:28, which says, “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.” That is, they couldn’t go into the Gentile structure, because doing so would defile them and make them unable to eat the Passover meal. As a result, Pontius Pilate had to come out to them (John 18:29). This could mean that the Passover was actually going to start the following day, which is what these people believe it means, but that doesn’t fit with the rest of the Gospel narrative. Alternatively, it could also mean that they were working so hard to arrest and try Him that they hadn’t yet eaten the Passover, and this fits better with the Gospel narrative.
Akin, J. (10 April 2013a). “7 clues tell us *precisely* when Jesus died (the year, month, day, and hour revealed).” National Catholic Register. Retrieved from <http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/when-precisely-did-jesus-die-the-year-month-day-and-hour-revealed/>.
Wellman, J. (2014). “Was Jesus a Jew? Did Jesus Follow Jewish Rituals?” Christian Crier. Retrieved from < http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/06/13/was-jesus-a-jew-did-jesus-follow-jewish-rituals/>.
United Church of God (N.d.). “When Was Jesus Christ Crucified and Resurrected?” In Jesus Christ: The Real Story. Retrieved from <http://www.ucg.org/booklet/jesus-christ-real-story/did-jesus-really-die-and-live-again/when-was-jesus-christ-crucified-/>.
I will periodically edit this post to add links to following posts in this series as they are published.