Three Days and Three Nights: What Happened to the third Night?
Jesus promised that He would remain in the tomb for three days and three nights and rise up the third day. According to the New Testament, Christ had already risen by the time the women went to the tomb early on Sunday, the first day of the week, yet Western Christians observe Good Friday as the day Jesus Christ was crucified. Is there a discrepancy?
According to the Jewish custom, Jews can count part of a day as a full day (Matth. 20: 1ff; Dr. G. Peterson, The Passover – Easter Connection, American Remnant Mission, 2012); because Christ was buried before sundown when the evening and night of the new day (15th Nisan) begun, it could be counted as a full day. If we count the last hour, or so, of Friday before sundown as the first day Christ was in the tomb, it could provide three days, but that would still leave a missing third night. Should this Jewish custom of counting a full day suffice? Is this what Christ meant?
The missing third night has been a stumbling block to some who believe Jesus may be the Messiah, except for His claim that He would be in the grave for three days and three nights and rise up the third day (Matth. 12: 38 – 40), given Western Christians observe Good Friday as the day He was crucified. If the discrepancy is due to the differences in customs, this misunderstanding is a small matter that would be solved by western people gaining a better understanding of Jewish customs. On the other hand, could there be another reason to consider, for example, changes in how calendar days are configured, during and after Christ’s sojourning on earth?
Throughout the centuries, there have been different efforts at creating a standard calendar including the Hebraic, the Julian and the Gregorian calendars. Despite the varying number of days in a month, and the challenges of standardizing calendars globally, it appears there is a general consensus since Genesis (Genesis 2:1- 3), that a week contains 7 days and that this practice was in effect during Christ’s time on earth. If the 7-day week has not changed since B.C, and Christ’s claim as reported in Matth. 12: 38 – 40 is true, not merely how Jews calculate a full day, the question could be, “What day of the week was the Passover observed in the year that Jesus was crucified?” and not, “What happened to the missing third night, or more accurately, the first night, since Christ had already risen by the morning of the first day of the week?”
Retracing our steps over 2000 years, when there were no printers, let alone cameras to document events, is a monumental task, but with God’s grace, nothing is impossible. He saw this day, and He knew the challenges that the Believers of our day would face. We have His Word to guide us. The original Greek text in which the New Testament was written and the Hebrew Jewish Tanakh have sufficient information to help believers who are seeking the Truth, along with other pieces of literature of the day that throw light on the Hebrew culture.
Jesus came to fulfill the laws and the prophets, not abolish them (Matth. 5: 17 – 18). In so doing, He fulfilled all His mission, including His death and resurrection, as the prophets had predicted (Isaiah 50: 6ff; 53.3ff; Zechariah 11: 12; 12: 10).
If you are like some, you have probably scratched your head trying to understand the timing of the events that transpired during the Passion Week. Did Christ lie, or was He in the tomb for only two nights, or did He refer to the Jewish accounting of time?
Another point to consider, Jesus was a very deliberate man; He never wasted experiences. He did not respond to Martha and Mary’s message, until Lazarus had been dead for four days (John 11: 17). Why? He said it was to demonstrate the resurrection power of God (vs 25). By delaying, He demonstrated to the Israelites that God has power over time – it is not impossible for God to resurrect a person who had been in the grave even for four days. If Christ was crucified on another day, not on Friday as the Western Christians believe, and if Jews count part of a day as a full day, this is significant. [The Gospel of John is disputed by some scholars, but their argument does not hold water as Lee Strobel’s journalistic research unearthed (The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 49530, 1998. P.41, 132 – 134)].
Since this article was first written, the author was exposed to additional scholarly information that made it necessary to make a revision to the article, in particular, the rules of postponement.
Cavaet: The author is not an expert, but a student of the Jewish culture and norms during Christ’s time on earth, therefore references to rules of postponement in this article was not intended to enter the debate on the subject. As a believer in the inerrant Word of God, the author is interested in gaining a better understanding of the events that transpired during the Passover week in the year that Christ was crucified, as part of the Christian journey to grow deeper in the knowledge of the Truth. That Truth includes Jesus’ claim to fulfilling all the laws and prophets, and His prediction of spending three days and three nights in the tomb before He resurrected. Weight is given to those who argue that the rules were implemented later, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If additional reliable information becomes available, then this article will be revisited.
1. A better understanding of the evolution of the calendars from the ancient times and challenges that scholars face in coming up with equal number of days in a year. This may not ultimately impact the event of the Passover week that year, as long as the rabbis and the Jews observed the normal 7-day week during that week, as we do today.
2. The revelation that Pasach (Passover/public holidays) were most likely observed on any day of the week, including on Fridays in some years (similar to the 4th of July Independence Day), until about 359 A.D., and the rational of why this festival is no longer observed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, i.e, the impact of the postponement rules. Some scholars believe the rabbis, in particular Hillel II, eventually standardized calculating the new moon mathematically in 359 A.D., and could postpone Rosh Hashanah (New Year) by 1, or 2 days, to ensure that Rosh Hashanah is never observed on a Wednesday, or a Friday, and hence, Yom Kippur is never observed on a Friday, or Sunday, in effect eliminating the possibility of having two consecutive Sabbaths (public holidays) in the years that the Passover (15h Nisan) fell on a Friday (Dr. G. Petersen, Sermon notes, 1/05/18). Yet Passovers (Pasach) still fall on Sundays in some years today, creating the same problem, as when they fell on Fridays, given that Passover is also a public holiday (refer to Chart I).
3. A discovery that if the Postponement Rules were established in the 4th century A.D., or after, this would have been post death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, thus providing more support to the argument that during Christ’s time, the observance of the Passover could have fallen on Fridays in some years, resulting in two consecutive Sabbaths (public holidays): the Passover Day (15th Nisan) on Friday and the regular Sabbath day on Saturday = a long weekend, as we know today in the Western culture. According to the Mishna, if a Festival-day fell immediately before, or after the Sabbath, the Sages counted it as a single continuous public holiday (The Mishnah. Translated from Hebrew. Herbert Danby. Hendrickson Publishers. P. 125).
4. As a result, a more supportive evidence that Christ could have been crucified on another day, other than Friday.
5. A better understanding that the children of Israel celebrated the first Passover in Egypt on the 14th Nisan as the LORD commanded, and later begun celebrating on the 15th Nisan, thus leaving the 14th Nisan as the Day of Preparation (Exodus 12: 6ff; Numbers 9: 1ff; John 13: 1ff; 19: 13 – 14). Therefore Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Last Supper on the day of the original Passover, the day the children of Israel were freed from slavery, in time for Him to be sacrificed as the Passover Lamb on the day of Preparation, when the rest of the children of Israel slaughtered their Passover lambs.
What did not change:
1. The possibility that Christ was in the tomb for the actual three days and three nights–or rather, three nights and three days–and rose on the third day as He promised, based on the New Testament accounts, since the Jewish day is from sunset to sunset (Matth. 12: 38 – 40, 27: 63; Jonah 1:1ff).
2. Christ was and is the Passover Lamb, therefore, He could not have been crucified on the final Passover Day (15th of Nisan) which had been established as the new Passover Day – by then the Jews would have already celebrated the Passover Feast the night before:
3. Christ was crucified on the 14th Nisan in fulfillment of His role as the Lamb of God and rose sometime before the women visited the tomb on the first day of the week. [The Gospel of Mark refers to Preparation Day, but does not differentiate whether the Sabbath following was a regular Sabbath, or a special Sabbath (Mark 15:42)].
4. Before 359 A.D., it is possible that the definition of High Sabbaths could have included 2 consecutive public holidays, equivalent to a long weekend (for the Jews), not just 2 public holidays (e.g, the Passover and regular Sabbath) falling on the same day as some believe.
Point to ponder: did the Day of Preparation refer to the eve of the regular Sabbath only, or did it also refer to the eve of a religious Festival (public holiday), such as the Passover?
The Rules of Postponement
Chart 1: The Frequency of when the Passover Day was celebrated and the impact of the Postponement Rules
Based on fifty years’ trend from 1967 to 2016, the Passover Holiday was celebrated on a Tuesday 32% of the time; on a Thursday 30% of the time, on a Saturday = regular Sabbath day 24% of the time and on a Sunday = 1st day of the week 14% of the time. Please refer to Chart 1 below.
As Chart I shows, the Passover (15th of Nisan) no longer falls on a Wednesday, or a Friday, due to the postponement rules, otherwise, the observance would span the gamut of the week, similar to the 4th of July, United States’ Independence Day (Chart II). The rabbis recalculate the new moon mathematically to avoid observing certain festivals on 2 consecutive public holidays, for example, Rosh Hashanah (Dr. Petersen, 1/09/18). This strategy eliminates observance of Passover on Friday, but consecutive Sabbaths still occurs in years that the Passover falls on Sundays as the chart shows. Chart II: The Frequency of July 4th, Gregorian Calendar
By focusing on a 7-day week, instead of the irregularity of the days in a year, is it possible to answer the question of in the year that Christ was crucified, what probable day of the week was the Passover observed?
Jesus lived and ministered in the Hebrew culture of His time. To understand the Passion Week, it is necessary to understand the cultural context in which Christ spent His life on earth, in particular, the Sabbath, or Jewish’s holy day of rest.
The Hebrew culture has two types of Sabbaths, or sacred occasions: 1. the regular Sabbath and 2. the Sabbath for the Jewish religious holidays = High Sabbaths, or public holidays (some scholars indicate that High Sabbath only pertains to when the regular Sabbath and the Passover falls on the same day). The regular Sabbath, or weekly public holiday, always falls on a Saturday of the week; but the other appointed festivals fall on a designated day of the Hebrew Bible calendar, which, until the rules of postponement in about 359 A.D, could have fallen on any day of the week, similar to public holidays in the Gregorian calendar (Leviticus 23: 1 – 4). They are religious public holidays, holy days of rest.
According to the Tanakh (Torah, Writings and the Prophets, aka the Old Testament), the LORD established the seventh day as a Sabbath day, or the weekly public holiday, after He had finished creating the universe (Genesis 2:1ff; Exodus 20: 8). All holidays declared subsequently, were to be observed with the same respect (Leviticus 23: 2). For the religious holidays that required special offerings, the Jewish people were required to prepare all their offerings and meals before the start of that public holiday. In the year that the public holiday was immediately before, or after the regular Saturday Sabbath, they were required to prepare all their offerings and meals for the two days before the beginning of the first public holiday of that week (The Mishna).
Of the six appointed festivals that are listed in Leviticus, three Jewish public holidays required pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Table 1: The three Festivals that require pilgrimage to Jerusalem
The Passion Week covers the events that transpired during Christ’s last week on earth in His physical body. Jesus said, as Jonah was in the belly of the whale, so would He remain in the tomb before rising up (Matth. 12: 38 – 40; Jonah 1: 1 – 2: 10).
For many years, Christians in the western hemisphere have celebrated Good Friday as the day that Jesus Christ was crucified, most likely based on the assumption that the Passover fell on Saturday, the Jewish regular Sabbath, or weekly public holiday. Complicating the matter are two issues: 1. the Resurrection Sunday is celebrated separate from the Passover celebration, except in years when the Passover observance coincides with the Resurrection Weekend and 2. The standardization of the postpone rule in about 359 A.D. Since Jesus is the Passover Lamb that came to purchase our freedom, celebrating the Resurrection separately can be awkward. The Passover holiday commemorates the day the children of Israel were liberated from slavery to the Egyptians, and lasts for 7 days, so it is prudent to understand how this holiday was observed.
Table 2: The Passover Preparation and the Feast of Unleavened Bread
Christ was the Passover Lamb. The Passover lambs were prepared on the 14th day at twilight, is it possible to gauge what day of the week the Passover night may have been commemorated that year?
Points to Ponder
1. The Jewish day starts with the night and ends with the day. The day starts in the evening after sundown, unlike the international standard time which starts a new day after midnight, therefore it is improbable that Jesus was arrested the Passover night (15th Nisan), this would have broken the law of the Sabbath, considered a sacred day to the LORD (Exodus 20: 8ff; 2 Chronicles 2: 4; Nehemiah 13: 17ff; Luke 6: 1ff; Acts 1:12). Many godly Jews still observe this holiday.
2. The Passover meal is eaten at night. The mob that arrested Christ would have been obligated to miss the actual celebration that night, unless they ignored their own rules. All Jews were required to observe the Passover, unless they were defiled (Exodus 12: 43ff; Numbers 9: 1 – 14; Matth. 26: 47ff; John 18: 28).
3. It is also most improbable that the Sanhedrin held court on the Sabbath day, or appointed Festivals. Had Christ eaten the final Passover meal (15th Nisan), as some believe, He would have been arrested on the Passover night after supper and tried and crucified on the Passover Day, causing the Sanhedrin to break the law (Mark 2: 24 and the rest of the Gospels).
4. It was the governor’s custom to release one prisoner at Passover celebration. Knowing that Jesus was innocent, Pilate could have had Him released, but, the Jewish leaders and the crowds asked for Barabbas instead (Matth. 27: 25ff). Matthew asserts that the Jewish leaders did not enter the Governor’s palace because they did not want to defile themselves, if the Passover was already over, why would they be concerned about defiling themselves? Therefore it is correct to assume that Barabbas was released before the actual Passover celebration. This corroborates Dr. Petersen’s observance that Jesus ate the Last Supper on the original Passover day, the 14th of Nisan.
5. Where did the idea of Christ’s arrest on the Passover day (15th Nisan) come from? The Gospel of Matthew, indicates the Disciples prepared the Passover on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread and Jesus ate it (Matth. 26: 17ff). Both Luke and Mark report, “the Festival of Unleavened Bread . . . when the Passover lambs were sacrificed” (Luke 22: 7ff). According to the Gospel of John, Jesus realized that His time had come, before the Passover celebration (John 13:1 ff), at the last supper (beginning of the 14th Nisan). He washed the disciples’ feet and gave them last minute instructions, then He prayed with them and went to an olive grove He often frequented, where Judas led the Roman soldiers and the crowd (John 18: 1ff).
6. At the first Passover, each Jewish household roasted their lamb and ate it in haste (Exodus 12:1ff). Jesus and His disciple ate the last supper sitting down. John reports that after Jesus had finished washing the disciples’ feet, He put on His robe and sat down (John 13: 12). (The children of Israel were required to eat the first Passover in haste the night they were delivered because they were in a hurry to leave Egypt – the Passover Seder has evolved into a long meal, with several readings. The Last Supper may have been a seder, before the Passover day).
7. John places Jesus before Pilate, “about noon of the day of the preparation for the Passover” (John 19: 14; Luke 23: 44). According to the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, (aka the OT), the initial Passover, was on the 14th day of the first month, this was later renamed the preparation day and the 15th Nisan became the final Passover day (John 19: 42). So based on John and Mark, especially, and to some extent Luke, Jesus ate His last meal at the beginning of the observance of the Passover festival, on the 14th Nisan, not on the 15th, the final Passover day.
8. Jesus, the Passover Lamb, said He did not come to abolish the laws and the prophets, but to fulfill them (Matth 5: 17 – 18; I Corin 5: 7 – 8; Heb 5: 5ff). We know that the Jewish day starts in the evening before the new day, not after midnight as in the international standard time. So the final Passover day (15th Nisan) started at sundown, approximately six o’clock at the end of the 14th of the first month of the Biblical year. This is significant because by law, the Jewish people had to finish preparing their Passover feast in order to eat the Passover meal. The Passover Lamb was roasted at twilight, then the feast was celebrated into the night. By noon of the 14th day, Jesus was already falsely convicted and turned over for crucifixion. By evening of the same day, before the final Passover celebration began, He was already buried (John 19: 41 – 42), because His followers too had to obey the Passover law. Had they delayed and violated the approaching day, they would have been required to go through a cleansing period of one month before they could celebrate the Passover (Numbers 9: 1 – 14).
9. Jesus raised up Lazarus after Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days (John 11: 17ff). He deliberately did not respond to Mary and Martha’s message until the fourth day, to demonstrate that God could raise anybody from the dead even after four days, if He pleased (John 11: 1ff). If by Jewish counting of a day, Christ remained in the grave a bit longer, God, His Father, could handle it as He had demonstrated. The LORD God is that powerful!
10. The two witnesses who will prophesy for three-and-a-half years during the time of the Gentiles in Jerusalem and get killed once their work is finished. They will be raised back to life after three-and-a-half days in broad sight of the entire global community and called back to heaven––the most powerful evidence to the world that Jesus was and is the Messiah. Note that God will raise the two witnesses back to life after three-and-a-half days. In the Jewish culture, two witnesses are required to testify. In this case, there will be three witnesses that Jesus did fulfill His mission and rise from the grave on the third day––Christ Himself, the first fruit from the dead and the two witnesses. Their resurrection will also confirm to the world that God has eternal power over life and death. (Revelations 11: 11,12).
Below is a perspective on the three days and three nights (or three nights and three days) Jesus Christ, Yeshua Meshia was in the tomb.
Table 3: Common Beliefs vs Biblical Account
According to Exodus, the Passover lamb was to be selected on the 10th day of the first month and prepared on the 14th day of the first month (Exodus 12:1ff). John states that Jesus knew He would not eat the Passover when He sat down to eat the last supper (on the 14th Nisan, the original day of the first Passover, later changed to the Day of Preparation). This eve of the Passover would have started on the 13th day after about six o’clock, when the new day, the 14th day, or the Day of the Preparation, began (John 13:1ff). John also states that Jesus was buried on the day of the preparation of the Passover (John 19:42).
If the discrepancy is not due to a misunderstanding in the cultural acceptance of time, a possible error in assuming that Christ was crucified on Good Friday would be due to the assumption that there was only one Sabbath day in the week that Christ was crucified. Based on the instructions given to the Jewish people, the Passover day, which is a religious public holiday, falls on a fixed day of the first month of the Biblical calendar, which could have fallen on any day of the week (Leviticus 23: 5ff), before 359 A.D., creating a long public holiday weekend. When Christ was born, a star (constellation of stars) appeared in the East announcing His birth, would it have been too difficult for the Father to have accomplished another miraculous feat by giving His followers and the other Jews who were in shock and petrified, two consecutive Sabbaths at His death and resurrection (Matth. 2: 1ff; 9: 14 – 15; Mark 2: 18 – 21; Luke 24: 13ff *vs17 – 18; John 20: 19f)?
While the rules of postponement made it more convenient for the Jews, it made it more complex for the western Christians to gain a better understanding of events of the Passion Week and the possibility that Christ could have been crucified on another day, other than Friday. Western Christians, especially, focus on the phrase, “the next day was a High Sabbath”, and assume that it referred to Saturday, not a High Sabbath, as in a public holiday, connected to a religious festival.
Options for the Passover day in the year Christ was crucified
1. The possibility that the Passover was observed on Wednesday
Had the Passover been observed on Wednesday, Jesus would have been crucified on Tuesday. By deductive argument, in the year that Christ was crucified, the Passover could not have fallen on a Wednesday, because Christ would have stayed in the tomb for five days before the first day of the week, when Mary Magdalene and the other women witnessed the empty tomb. Also, wouldn’t the women have gone to the grave earlier?
2. The possibility that the Passover was observed on Thursday
Had the Passover been observed on Thursday, Jesus would have been crucified on Wednesday. If Christ was crucified on a Wednesday as some scholars argue, Christ would have been at Lazarus’ house on Friday, the 10th Nisan would have fallen on the Sabbath day (Saturday), and by reason then, the Passover (15th Nisan) would have been observed on a Thursday. This would have extended His days in the tomb to four days, depending on what time He rose up, unless He rose up on the regular Sabbath day. Jesus told Martha before He raised Lazarus back to life after four days, that He is the Resurrection (John 11: 25). Christ also said He is Lord of the Sabbath (Matth. 12: 1 – 12; Mark 2: 23ff; Luke 6: 1 – 11; John 9: 1ff). What did He mean? In context, Christ said that He and the Father have power over time and life.
It was fitting that Christ was confirmed on the 10th Nisan, when the lambs were selected, as the Passover Lamb that took away the sin of the world (Isaiah 53: 7ff; John 1: 29ff, 1 Corinth 5: 7 – 8; Hebrews 9: 11ff; I Peter 1: 17 – 20). Therefore, if the 10th Nisan fell on a Saturday that year, this raises three questions:
1. Would the Jews have selected their lambs for the Passover celebrations on the Sabbath day, or postponed it to the next day, i.e, Sunday? The Mishna lists strict guidance on how the Sabbath and religious Festivals, were to be observed.
2. Would Christ have ridden a donkey, considered a beast of burden, on the Sabbath day? If that is true, then the people came out to cheer Him on the Sabbath day, which could have both been a violation of the Sabbath (The Mishna).
3. If the Passover was observed on Thursday, why didn’t the women go to the tomb on Friday, given it would have been a regular day of the week and the more logical day to rush to the tomb to embalm the body? What event prevented them from going?
3. The possibility that the Passover was observed on Saturday
Had the Passover been observed on Saturday, Jesus would have been crucified and buried on Friday, as many scholars in the western world teach and one, or two, Bible translations report. As a result, Jesus would have been in the tomb for 2 nights. This would fit the Jewish custom of counting part of a day as a full day and if this is the only option, western believers should accept it and move on. But, would Friday be the only plausible explanation, given the possibility that the Jews celebrated the Passover on any of the 7 days of the week in the earlier years before about 359A.D? Christ himself prophesied that He would be in the tomb for three nights and three days (Matth. 12: 38 – 40; 17: 22f). Did Christ mean the Jewish way of counting days?
Given that the religious leaders were strict with their interpretation of the laws, would it be illogical to assume that they postponed the selection of the lambs to Sunday that year, instead of permitting the Jews to desecrate their regular Sabbath day?
4. The possibility that the Passover was observed on Friday
Had the Passover been observed on Friday, Jesus would have been crucified and buried on Thursday. Assuming this was the case, Jesus would have been a guest at Lazarus’ house on the Sabbath day, then He rode into Jerusalem on the first day of the week (Sunday). The 14th Nisan, the day of Preparation of the Passover, would have fallen on Thursday, which by Jewish time would have started on Wednesday evening (Western time). If so, then Jesus was arrested on Wednesday night, and would have been in the tomb starting from Thursday night, Western time (= the beginning of Friday, Jewish time) through to the regular Sabbath (Saturday) until the hour of His bodily resurrection from the grave, which could have happened any time after that. Meaning the Jewish people would have had two religious public holidays that Passover week, starting from Thursday evening, and ending before dusk on Saturday. This could be one plausible explanation of why the women were obligated to wait until the end of the regular Sabbath. (Matth. 27: 62ff; John 20: 19ff; Mark 16:1).
Western English Bible Versions
The Prophet Habakkuk says that in the latter days, the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2: 14, pp). Never has a generation produced so many translation versions of the Bible. For the most part, this is good. The more contemporary the language of the Bible, the easier it is for the current generation to understand it. Generally, many of the translations are very similar. The challenge is, when there are marked differences of opinions in translations, whose version should the reader use? A trend in the twentieth century and which may be influencing western thinking, are English Bible translations that mention actual day of the week by name (e.g. Friday), in attempt to westernize and modernize the Bible for English readers. If the translation oversimplifies the intent of the original Greek, or Hebrew, this could cause the reader to make false assumptions. For example:
Mark 15: 42: “This all happened on Friday, the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath, . . .”
Compare this to the other versions:
King James Version:
Mark 15: 42: “And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, . . ”
New International Version:
Mark 15: 42: “It was Preparation Day (that is the day before the Sabbath)”
English Standard Version:
Mark 15: 42: “And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, day before the Sabbath.”
By translating the “Preparation Day” as “Friday”, The Book implies that there was only one Sabbath (public holiday) during the Passover week that year, which may, or may not, be true. If the Passover public holiday was observed on another day, other than Saturday, then the Preparation day would refer to the eve of that day, not the eve of the Saturday Sabbath day. The Gospel of John 19: 14 reports that the trial and the crucifixion happened on the day when the Passover lambs were prepared:
King James Version
John 19: 14 : “And it was the Preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!”
American Standard Version
John 19: 14 : “Now it was the Preparation of the Passover: it was about the sixth hour. And he saith unto the Jews, Behold, your King!”
In many countries, Saturday and Sunday are considered weekly public holidays, therefore offices remain closed until Monday morning. July the 4th is the United States’ Independence Day. If an American gives an account of an event that occurred on the eve of the 4th of July in a certain year, and adds, “We were scrambling to prepare for the public holiday because it was the eve of the 4th of July.” Should the audience assume the 4th of July occurred on Saturday? Wouldn’t it be more logical to ask the speaker to explain what day of the week was the 4th of July celebrated in that year? For the believers the task of searching for the Passover day in the year that Christ was crucified over 2000 years ago, is daunting, but, with God’s grace and lots of prayers, this hurdle may not be insurmountable.
The late Dr. Paul V. Wierwille, a former pastor in Ohio was among teachers of the Bible who researched this issue through the years. Though considered controversial by some in his later years, he may have been one of the first to complete a detailed exegesis on the three days and three nights. He was one of the strong advocates for believers to study the Word of God in context and a proponent of Wednesday as the day that Jesus was crucified. But the postponement rule proffers another option that before 359A.D., if Jews observed two Sabbaths in the years that the 15th Nisan fell on a Friday, Jesus may have been crucified on Thursday, thus fulfilling His prophecy of spending three nights and three days in the tomb, whether by Jewish, or Western’s counting of time. It would also lend more credence as to why the women did not witness the empty tomb until early the first day of the week.
What time did Jesus rise from the dead?
The discovered and known Biblical manuscripts, do not pinpoint the actual hour that Jesus resurrected; they report that when the women arrived at the tomb early on the first day of the week, the angelic messengers showed them the empty tomb and told them that Christ had already risen.
Matthew 28:1 reports that the women went to see the tomb after the Sabbath, as the first day began to dawn. There was a great earthquake, because an angel rolled away the stone. It does not mention that they were carrying spices. But Matthew also continues to say that the women went in and witnessed the empty tomb, as the angel told them.
Mark 16:1 reports that the women purchased spices at the end of the Sabbath but does not report that they went to the tomb that evening. Instead, Mark reports that the women went to the tomb early on the first day of the week, wondering who would roll the stone away for them.
To summarize, it appears the women purchased the spices Saturday evening and at some point went to the tomb that same evening, but the stone was still on the tomb. For those who advocate that Christ rose on the Sabbath, if there was no one to roll the stone away, how could the women know that the tomb was empty? Early the next morning when the women arrived at the tomb, they were able to witness that the tomb was empty. The Gospels do not say what time Christ resurrected.
Whether Christ was buried on a Wednesday, or a Thursday, He was free to rise from the dead at the appointed time that His Father had determined. When He healed the sick on the Sabbath day, and the religious leaders were offended, He told them that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Regardless of what time Christ rose from the dead, we, His followers, believe that He was in the tomb for three nights and three days and rose on the third day as He promised. We know that He was already buried by the end of the Preparation Day for the Passover, and by the time the eye witnesses arrived at the tomb on the first day of the week He had already risen. Christ was and is and shall forever be Lord. He rose and He rested, until the final battle when He shall conquer the Enemy forever (Revelation 19: 11ff).
Followers of Jesus Christ, aka Christians, are called to have faith and live by grace, but the issue of the day Christ was crucified is a pivotal point for believers. Despite the challenges surrounding the understanding of the calendars and the culture in which Christ lived and served, this should not discourage us from accepting Christ’s mission and His significance and impact on our world and on us as individuals who seek for hope now and in eternity. The ultimate authority is Christ Himself. Christ said He did not come to abolish the Law of Moses, or the writings of the prophets, but to fulfill them. In order for Christ to be the Savior of the world, He had to have fulfilled the mission His Father sent Him to earth to accomplish. Nothing is more critical to the Christian faith than in knowing and having the confidence that He did fulfill His mission. Two new pieces of information emerged since the first issue of this article:
- The Jewish traditional counting of time in which one hour could be counted as a whole day.
- The standardization of the rules of postponement in about 359 A.D.
If the issue of the missing night rests heavily on accepting the Jewish counting time, then it is a non-issue, and we in the west must be reconciled to it. But, if the postponement rule became official in 359A.D., which was after Christ had already ascended back to heaven, then understanding how certain Jewish holidays were calculated during Christ’s time would carry the greater weight. Given this additional information, it may not be far-fetched to conclude that before the 4th century A.D., the Passover could have occurred on any day of the week, similar to observances of Gregorian public holidays and in that year, the Passover could have been observed on a Friday.
By resisting the temptation to lock in the days according to our western understanding, we can release ourselves and permit the events that unfolded to pinpoint the hours and the days leading to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The missing third night has not been the issue, but our Western understanding of the day that the final Passover day, the First Day of Unleavened Bread, was observed in the final year on earth of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His physical form, before He was glorified.
Below is the chart of events of the Passion Week, which assumes the 14th Nisan, the Preparation Day and the crucifixion day, fell on a Thursday in the year that Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected from the dead.
1. The Christian Bible Versions: KJV; NKJV; NIV; ASV; ESV; The Book
2. Hebrew for Christians. www.hebrew4christians.com
3. Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 18 West 18th Street, New York, 10011. 1951. Paper Edition 2005.
4. Lee, Strobel. The Case for Christ. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 49530, 1998.
5. The Mishna (Herbert Danby, translator). Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, P. O. Box 3473, Peabody, Massachusetts, 01961-3473. 4th edition 2016
6. Mowczko, Marg. The Passover Meal, The Seder, and the Eucharist. Margmowczko.com. Jun 29, 2013
7. Nelte, Frank W. www.franknelte.net
8. Parallel Greek New Testament. www.greeknewtestament.com
9. Peterson, Dr. Galen, The Passover – Easter Connection, Brit Hadasha Fellowship, American Remnant Mission. 2018. email@example.com
10. _____ Living According to God’s Calendar. How the commemorative cycle of the Biblical feasts was ordained by God in Creation. American Remnant Mission. 2018.
11. Rosen , Moishe; Rosen, Ceil. Christ in the Passover. www.store.jewsforjesus.org
12. Wierwille, Dr. Victor P. The Word’s Way. American Christian Press. 1971.
13. The Works of Josephus complete and unabridged. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MS, 0191-3473.
14. Wylen, Stephen M. The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction. Paulist Press, 997 Macarthur Boulevard, Mahwah, NJ 07430. 1996.
©iok, February 27, 2016. Updated February 21, 2019. Points to Ponder #10, updated on July 20, 2020, April 07, 2023. Do not use without permission