The most common belief is that Jesus died on Good Friday and rose again on the following Sunday. But some people think that He died on Wednesday or Thursday instead of on Friday. What does the Bible say about this topic?
The Jews celebrated seven annual religious festivals. Four were in the spring (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, and Weeks or Pentecost) and three in the Fall (Autumn) (Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles). The Passover was a celebration of the exodus from Egypt. As Jesus died near the Passover celebration, it’s instructive to list when the spring festivals were held:
– Passover – 14 Aviv (1st month)
– Unleavened bread – 15-21 Aviv
– Firstfruits – 16 Aviv or the next Sunday (see Appendix)
– Pentecost – 6 Sivan (3rd month) or the next Sunday (see Appendix)
On the first and last days of the Festival of Unleavened Bread they weren’t to do “regular (or ordinary or daily) work” (Ex. 12:16; Lev. 23:7-8NIV; Num. 28:18-25). Occupational work was prohibited on these days.
On the seventh day of the week (Sabbath day), they weren’t to do any work at all (Lev. 23:3). Whereas only occupational work was banned on the first and last days of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This means that food could be prepared on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, but not on the seventh day of the week (Ex. 12:16; 16:5).
Sequence of events
The sequence of events associated with Christ’s death are as follows. It is noted that the Jewish day begins and ends at sunset (Gen. 1:5; Lev. 23:32). This means it is night-time followed by day-time.
Last Supper celebrated – During an evening (Mt. 26:20; Mk. 14:17). This was one night before the Passover meal (Jn. 18:28).
Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane – In the middle of the night as the disciples fell asleep (Mt. 26:40; Mk. 14:27; Lk. 22:46).
Jesus arrested – Immediately afterwards (Mt. 26:47; Mk. 14:43; Lk. 22:47).
Religious trial of Jesus – In the darkness of the early morning. The last stage was at daybreak (Mt. 27:1; Mk. 15:1; Lk. 22:66).
Civil trial of Jesus – Began immediately afterwards in the early in the morning (Jn. 18:28).
Jesus crucified – Sometime later in the morning, between 9am and noon (Mk. 15:25, Jn. 19:14).
Jesus died – About 3pm (Mt. 27:45-50; Mk. 15:33-37).
Jesus buried – Before evening (Mt. 27:57). It was the day before the Sabbath (Mk. 16:42; Lk. 23:54). John called it a “special Sabbath” (Jn. 19:31, 42). The tomb was sealed on the next day (Mt. 27:62-66).
Jesus risen – His absence from the tomb was noticed at dawn on the morning of the first day of the week (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:1-6; Lk. 24:1-6; Jn. 20:1-2). The resurrection occurred during the previous night, which was the night of the Jewish first day of the week (Mt. 28:13).
The simplest explanation of these events is that the Last Supper was on Thursday evening (the evening of the Passover) and the crucifixion on Friday (the day of the Passover). This means that Christ died on the day of the Passover (1 Cor. 5:7) and rose on the day of Firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20). And that the Sabbath in between these days was special because it was also the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread (when Jews weren’t to do occupational work).
However, what about:
– The day before the Last Supper seeming to be called “the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread” (Mt. 26:17; Mk. 14:12)? This is resolved if the conversation took place at sunset, which means it was the same day as the Last Supper. And it is a case where “Unleavened Bread” is interchanged with “Passover” (see below and Lk. 22:7-8).
– Jesus said, “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” (Mt 12:40)?
Which Sabbath day?
The Bible says that Jesus died about 3pm (Mt. 27:46, 50; Mk. 15:34, 37). But what day of the week was it?
The day Christ died was called the “Preparation Day (that is the day before the Sabbath)” (Mk. 15:42). And John called it “the day of Preparation of the Passover” (Jn. 19:14). This preparation is also mentioned elsewhere (Mt.27:62; Jn. 19:14, 31, 42; Lk, 23:54). And the next day was a “special Sabbath” (Jn. 19:31).
After Christ’s burial, the women “rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment” (Lk. 23:56). Which commandment? The Greek noun translated commandment entole (Strongs #1785) is also used by Luke to describe, the commands in the Pentateuch (Lk. 1:6), a father’s orders to his son (Lk. 15:29), and the ten commandments (Lk. 18:20). So in this case it probably means the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:8-11). This indicates that the crucifixion was on a Friday.
“The day of Preparation of the Passover” (Jn. 19:14) was the day on which the Jews prepared to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread (called the Passover here, see “Naming Jewish Festivals). They had to remove all leaven (yeast) from the house in order to be ready for the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:15). This meant that Friday was the annual Passover Day and Saturday was the first day of the annual Festival of Unleavened Bread. This made that Saturday a “special Sabbath” (being both a weekly Sabbath and the first day of the annual Festival of Unleavened Bread).
What about Matthew 12:40?
The following verses have been used to claim that Jesus must have been in the grave for three whole days (72 hours). Jesus said, “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” (Mt 12:40)? “Three days and three nights” was a Jewish expression (Jon. 1:17). He also said, “Destroy this temple (His body), and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19). Also, He rose back to life “after three days” (Mt. 27:63; Mk. 8:31).
The Bible says that Jesus was resurrected on “the third day” after His death and burial (Mt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mk. 9:31; 10:34; Lk. 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Jn. 2:19; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4). The third day means the day after tomorrow (Lk. 13-31-33). Apparently the Jews counted parts of days as whole days. An example of this is saying “after eight days” when they mean from one Sunday to the next (i.e. “a week later”), which is 6 full days and 2 part days (Jn. 20:26).
This inclusive reckoning of time is also in the Old Testament (Gen. 40: 13, 20; 42:17-18; 1 Sam. 30:12-13; 1 Ki. 12:5, 12; 20:29; 2 Chr. 10:5, 12; Est. 4:16 – 5:1; Hos. 6:2). Two of these examples mention days and nights. “Three days and three nights” are equivalent to “three days ago” (1 Sam. 30:12-13) and “three days, night and day” are equivalent to “the third day” (Est. 4:16 – 5:1).
If it was three 24-hour periods (72 hours), then according to Jewish timing Jesus would have risen on the fourth day, instead of the third day. So Matthew 12:40 doesn’t mean that Jesus was in the grave for 72 hours. Note that the events of the three days seem to include the arrest and trial of Jesus as well (Mk. 9:31; Lk. 24:18 – 21). So, according to Jewish timing, the three days were part Friday (up to 18 hours), all Saturday and part Sunday (up to 12 hours).
Naming Jewish Festivals
The language in the gospels can be confusing because the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were so closely connected that they were often considered to be one festival. The celebrations were so close together that at times the names of both were used interchangeably. Sometimes the 8-day festival was called the Passover and on other times it’s called the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Mk. 14:12; Lk. 22:1). Also, the Passover meal was eaten on the evening of the first day of the festival of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:8).
What about Wednesday?
Some say that there were two separate Sabbath days. In this case they say that Christ was crucified on Wednesday (the Passover), so that Thursday was the First day of the festival of Unleaveedn Bread (a special Sabbath). According to John 19:31 the day after Christ died was a “special Sabbath” (or a high day or a special day). Although this may satisfy a literal interpretation of Matthew 12:40, it doesn’t satisfy the following:
– It would mean that Christ was resurrected on the fourth (Roman time) or fifth (Jewish timing) day after His death and burial and not “the third day”.
– It would mean that Christ rose on Saturday afternoon, and not on the first day of the week.
Some say there is a contradiction between Mark 16:1 and Luke 23:56. But what it says is that the women prepared spices and perfumes before the Sabbath day and then more were purchased after the Sabbath day. There is no need to postulate two Sabbaths. Instead the spices were prepared before the Sabbath commenced at sunset on Friday, and because more were needed these were purchased after sunset on Saturday when the Sabbath had finished.
What about Thursday?
Some say that Christ was crucified on Thursday (the Passover), and Friday was the First day of the festival of Unleavened Bread (a special Sabbath). However, this doesn’t satisfy the following:
– According to Jewish timing, it would mean that Christ was resurrected on the fourth day after His death and burial and not “the third day”.
The Bible seems to say that Jesus ate the Passover meal on the (Thursday) evening of the Passover. He was arrested later in the night and trialled throughout the night and early morning and crucified between 9am and noon on Friday. He died about 3pm on Friday (matching the Jewish Passover), was buried before sunset and rose again between sunset on Saturday and sunrise on Sunday (matching the Jewish Firstfruits). The day between these was Saturday (both the Jewish Sabbath and the first day of the Jewish Unleavened Bread).
The Bible says Jesus rose from the grave “on the third day” after He was arrested. According to Jewish timing, these three days were part Friday (up to 18 hours), all Saturday and part Sunday (up to 12 hours).
The offering of the Firstfruits was on “the day after the Sabbath” during the festival of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:11, 15). There are two possible interpretations of this date: that it was a Sunday (after a regular Sabbath) or that it was 16 Aviv (assuming that the 15 Aviv was called a special Sabbath because they didn’t do occupational work on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread). The NIV Zondervan Study Bible assumes the first interpretation and the NIV Study Bible the second one.
The first interpretation is based on the following reasoning. The Bible doesn’t specifically use the term “Sabbath” for the first and last days of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The day of Pentecost (Festival of Weeks) is dated as follows “From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord” (Lev. 23:15-16). So it occurs on the same day of the week as the offering of Firstfruits. Note that it is “the day after the seventh Sabbath”, which must be a regular Sabbath (there being seven regular Sabbaths in that seven-week period). Note, that there were no special annual Sabbaths (prohibitions of regular work) during this time period of the year. So both Pentecost and the offering of Firstfruits were on a Sunday. This is consistent with these being the only Jewish festivals that are not given specific dates in Scripture.
The second interpretation is based on the following reasoning. Occupational work was prohibited on the Festival of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the first and eighth days of the Festival of Tabernacles (Lev, 16:31; 23:24, 32, 39). These are all called “a day of Sabbath rest”. They are special Sabbaths which can occur on any day of the week. As occupational work was also prohibited on the first and last days of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, it is assumed that these were also called special Sabbaths and “the Sabbath” in Leviticus 23:11, 15 is one of these days. However, if the day before the Day of Pentecost can occur on any day of the week, why is it called “the seventh Sabbath” (Lev. 23:16)?
Written, April 2016
What did Jesus mean when He said He would not eat the Passover again until it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Lk. 22:16)?
This statement is included in a description of how Jesus celebrated the Jewish Passover festival with His disciples just before He was executed.
When the hour came, Jesus and His apostles reclined at the table. And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God”. After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Lk. 22:14-18NIV).
The Lord looked forward to this occasion because it was the last Passover that He would share with His disciples and the last Passover of His first advent on earth. He also looked ahead to the kingdom of God. The previous mention of the “kingdom of God” in the book of Luke is associated with a description of Christ’s second advent (Lk. 21:25-31). This means that the next time He would be on earth to celebrate such a Jewish festival would be during His millennial kingdom, after His second advent on earth (Rev. 20:1-6). Jesus would eat no more Passover meals until this time.
Link to outline of events associated with the second advent.
As He is talking about a physical meal (v.15-16) and a physical drink (v.17-18), the Lord is addressing a future physical kingdom and not a spiritual one. At this time, the temple will be rebuilt, the Jewish priesthood restored and the Israelites will occupy their promised land (Ezek. Ch. 40-48). They will also resume Jewish festivals like the Passover (Ezek. 45:21). So, the future Passover is also physical like it was in the Old Testament (OT) times.
In the New Testament Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and “our Passover lamb” who “has been sacrificed” (Jn. 1:29, 1 Cor. 5:7). Through His sacrificial death on the cross He paid the penalty for our sin. In this way, Jesus was like the Passover lamb, which died as a substitute (Ex. 12:21-30). Furthermore, He was crucified on Passover day. But the fact that Christ has delivered sinners from hell and been victorious over Satan and the forces of evil will not be evident until He returns in great power to establish His kingdom on earth.
How is the Passover “fulfilled in the kingdom of God”? As the Israelites escape from slavery wasn’t realised until the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, so Christ’s victory over Satan will not be complete until Satan’s forces are defeated at the triumphant second advent (Rev. 19:11-21). The purpose of the Passover was so the Israelites could settle in Canaan as God’s people, living according to His commands. But because they disobeyed and rebelled against God over many years, God allowed them to be invaded and scattered to foreign countries. After this God predicted the Gentile kingdoms that would rule over the Jews, culminating with a promise to establish His eternal kingdom on earth (Dan. 2:44). So the victory that began with the first Passover in Egypt and was remembered whenever the Jewish Passover festival was celebrated will be ultimately finalised when Christ’s millennial kingdom is established on earth.
Soon after this passage in Luke, Jesus referred to the “kingdom of God” once again when He promised that the disciples would reign over the earth in the coming kingdom (Lk. 22:29-30; Rev. 5:9-10). So at this Passover, Christ looked ahead to the fulfilment of God’s purposes. Likewise, at the Lord’s Supper believers today look back to the Lord’s death and ahead to His coming again (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
At the Passover the OT Jews remembered their rescue from slavery in Egypt, whereas in the coming kingdom Jewish believers will remember that through the death of Christ, they have been rescued from the penalty of their sin.
In summary, Jesus hasn’t eaten the Passover since He ascended into heaven. Only after He returns to the earth as king to establish the kingdom of God on earth will He be able to celebrate the Passover again. The rescue mission that began with the Passover, which was a foretaste of Christ’s death, will be completed and evident to the universe at the second advent of Christ and in His subsequent kingdom.
Written, February 2013
Also see: An outline of future events