Ever since I found out that Christ couldn't have been born on the traditional Christmas holiday, because it would have been too cold for the shepherds to be out in the fields at that time of year, I lost interest in celebrating his birth that late in the year. I did some more research and found out that both Christmas and Easter were originally pagan holidays incorporated into the church by the Roman Emperor Constantine around the 4th century C.E. merely to draw the populace into the church. Also, the secular over-emphasis of both Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny has been a real turn-off for participation in either holiday other than on a spiritual level.
About six months ago I became involved in a mailing list on the internet that was peopled by both Christians and Jewish members and have since started learning Hebrew to facilitate my Bible studies. I recently became aware of the Feast of Passover and how it coincided with the time of Christ's crucifixion and started researching that festival with the intention of celebrating the resurrection at that time. This peaked my curiosity enough to spur me on to researching the day of the week that Christ was actually crucified. Although I am a Christian I don't have a personal preference for one day over the other--I just want to make sure I'm observing the right day.
Most of the reports I've seen concerning the crucifixion date believe Wednesday is the day Christ was crucified, a few believe it was Thursday, and some on Friday. I could see flaws in the reasoning of almost every document I read which I believe was due to a basic problem related to the Jewish terminology where it concerns the time of day compared to how the western world determines time. I don't claim to have all the answers but I believe I've figured out the only day that could work for the crucifixion and I would like to submit my ideas for consideration. First I'll start with what we know for sure:
Most of the confusion relating to the crucifixion can be traced to the way a Jewish person interprets time as compared to someone from the west. The Jewish "day" starts at Sunset (which changes slightly depending on the season). Therefore, their day is getting dark when it begins. During the time of Christ they adopted the Roman practice of counting 4 "watches" during the night. Each watch started approximately 9:30, 12:00 midnight, 2:30 (called the cockcrow watch), and 5 am. From sunrise they divided the day in sections into what they termed "hours". Thus when they said that something happened at the 6th hour it was about noon or 6 hours after sunrise, not 6 A.M like we would reckon time.
A Roman "day", however, started at midnight (as does most of the western world) so when their day began it would be dark and would soon be getting light--just the opposite of the Jewish day. Most scholars agree that John wrote the Gospel of John late in the first century. He often used Greek terms in his writing which indicates he was heavily influenced by Greek culture. Further evidence is seen in that he would often interpret the meaning of Hebrew words which would have been unnecessary if he had been writing for a Jewish audience. Also, Irenaeus stated that John published his Gospel during his residence at Ephesus--the capital of the Roman province of Asia. Therefore he was obviously writing to the Gentiles and would have used terminology related to the time of day that Gentiles would have understood.
An example of this confusion of different terminology's involves when Christ was nailed to the cross. According to Mark it was the third hour (third hour since sunrise or 9 am) (Mark 15:25). However John says it was "about the sixth hour" when he was still being sentenced by Pilate and before he was led to the cross (John 19:14). The difference lies in the fact that John is thinking Roman time which starts at midnight and thus it was about 6 am. It probably took a few more hours for Christ to make his way to the cross and not hard to imagine that it was accomplished by 9 AM.
Some of the confusion relates to terms used to describe the Passover Feast itself:
RULES FOR SELECTION OF PASSOVER LAMB
|"The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 'This month is to be for you the first month [Nisan], the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month [Nisan 10] each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. . . .The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at Twilight" (Exodus 12:1-6).|
Notice that this was the 10th day of Nisan--4 days before Preparation day of Passover which occurs just before the Feast of Passover. Actually the Feast occurs that evening, but according to Jewish time it is actually the next "day".
JESUS is OUR PASSOVER LAMB
|The day after being questioned about whether he was the Christ, John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus approaching: "look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John later said that the Holy Spirit told him who Christ was and that he is "the Son of God". (John 1:29-34).|
WHEN DID JESUS ARRIVE in BETHANY?
John's gospel says that Jesus arrived in Bethany 6 days before the Passover where he stayed at Lazarus' house and had dinner and it's logical to think that he would have spent the night and from there we know he arranged the triumphal entry which occurred on Nisan 10 which was 4 days before the day of Preparation. (I'll explain the missing day later.) The other Gospels didn't state when they arrived at Lazarus' house, only that they were approaching Bethany and Bethphage on the day of Triumphal Entry. It's also possible that Lazarus lived on the other side of Bethany and therefore Jesus had to pass through it to get to Jerusalem and it also seems logical that Jesus would have sent his disciples to Bethany for the colt being as it was up "ahead" instead of all the way to Jerusalem.
Bethany was 2 miles from Jerusalem (1), however, the Mt. of Olives was only a Sabbath day's walk from Jerusalem (see below) that means the Mt. of Olives, where Jesus retired the night he was arrested, was closer to Jerusalem than Bethany and Bethany would not have been within the distance of a Sabbath days walk from Jerusalem. Therefore when we hear that Jesus retired to Bethany for the night we know it was not on a Sabbath. If you will read Mark's account of the few days before the crucifixion you will see that Jesus traveled to Bethany sometime before the 10th, went to Jerusalem on the 10th, and returned to Bethany the next two nights and then back to Jerusalem at least as late as the 12th. Luke tells us, on what must have been the 13th, that Jesus taught in the temple each day and returned to Bethany each night. (luke 21:37) Therefore, being as we know the day of preparation couldn't have been a weekly Sabbath (because of the work involved) and Passover did not occur on a Sabbath either (see below) it was impossible for a Sabbath to occur from Nisan 10 through Nisan 16.
TIME of EVENING SACRIFICE
|" . . . on the 10th day of this month [Nisan/March or April] each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. . . . The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight" (Exodus 12:3-6). Other versions say "between the evenings."|
The daylight part of the Jewish day was divided into two parts: from sunrise to noon and was considered "the morning" part of the day. From noon to sunset was the "evening" part of the day and therefore when scripture indicates the lamb was to be crucified "between the evenings" it meant half-way between noon and sunset, i.e., about 3 PM.
According to Gesenius' Hebrew Lexicon of O.T. the word used in Ex. 12:6, # 6153 called 'ereb means:
|"evening . . . in the phrase "between the two evenings" Ex 16:12; 30:8; used as marking the space of time during which the Paschal lamb was slain, Ex 12:6; Lev 23:5; Num 9:3; and the evening sacrifice was offered, Ex 29:39, 41; Num 28:4; i.e., according to the opinion of the Karaites and Samaritans (which is favoured by the words of Deut. 16:6), the time between sunset and deep twilight. The Pharisees, however, and the Rabbinists considered the time when the sun began to descend [similar to an Arabian word which means 'little evening' for when it begins to draw towards evening] to be called the first evening and the second evening to be the real sunset." Therefore the time between when the sun began to descend [early afternoon] and sunset, i.e., the 9th hour according to Jewish time or 3 PM Roman time.|
This is corroborated by the Mishnah in Tractate Pesahim by Danby, p. 144, where it says the Passover lamb was to be killed "Bain ehrev" . . . between the evening in its appointed time." And The Chumash by ArtScroll, p 351, Exodus 12:6 says, "the entire congregation of the assembly of Israel shall slaughter it in the afternoon". Josephus further corroborates the time of day of the sacrifices during a Passover feast in his "Wars of the Jews", Ch. IX: "So these high priests, upon the coming of their feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour to the eleventh [3-5 PM],. . ."
This is the same time of day that Yeshua died on the cross according to Matt. 27:45-50, on the 9th hour, or about 3 PM.
PRESENTATION OF PASSOVER LAMB
According to Jewish tradition the lambs were to be presented for inspection to the priests in preparation of Passover. After the Lamb was selected they were to take it into their home for those 4 days and keep an eye on it and examine it for flaws. Being as Jesus is our Passover Lamb it seems logical that he would comply with this detail also.
As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of the disciples ahead to get a donkey:
|"The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while other cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. [Crowd shouted Hosanna to the Son of David!] . . . Jesus entered the temple area . . .And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night" (Matt 21:1-11 with a quote from Zech. 9:9)|
The same day that the Jews were presenting their lambs to be inspected for the Passover we see our own Passover lamb presenting himself to the people of Jerusalem for inspection as their long awaited King. The people accepted him but their leaders did not. He himself was then examined for 4 days by the chief priests, teachers of the law, elders, Pharisees, Sadducees, and even Herodians, but they could not find fault with him and had to rely on false witnesses in order to get him convicted.
This event is one of the keys to figuring out the day of the week for the crucifixion. Notice all the work that is going on. If this would have been a Saturday they would have broken just about every rule regarding the Sabbath rest (see below).
WHEN WAS PASSOVER?
|"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 Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work." (Lev. 23:5-7)|
All three Gospels state that "while they were eating" Jesus gave them instructions about the Lords Supper or communion. Therefore they were already eating their Passover meal when he performed the famous Last Supper rites and they are not one and the same as so many have supposed. Scripture doesn't say this but apparently Christ arranged for them to eat his last Passover meal 24 hours earlier than everyone else so he could spend the last day with them in a special ceremony where they would learn to commemorate that day in his memory.
Although I haven't been able to verify this it is claimed that there was a law in effect in the days of the crucifixion that allowed people to eat the Passover lamb early because of the enormous crowds of people that came to Jerusalem for the feast. This would also have allowed Rabbi's to arrange a meal for the purpose of rehearsing the details of the festival with one's closest disciples the evening before a major festival such as the Passover Feast. This would explain why there "appeared" to be two separate Passover meals being eaten.
I heard another explanation saying that they all had to be with their own families for the Passover Feast as the actual Passover meal was a family affair and not to be celebrated individually. However, I believe that it is closer to the truth that when they decided to follow Christ they gave up such family obligations which enabled them to fulfill the OT scriptures that speak about the Shepherd being struck and the sheep being scattered (Zech 13:7). If they had merely gone to eat dinner with their families they wouldn't have been considered "scattered".
Therefore, Christ must have celebrated the Passover with his disciples on the eve of Preparation Day--the evening before the day on which he was crucified. Keep in mind that sunset is the start of a new day therefore this would have taken place after sunset shortly after Nisan 13 changed over to Nisan 14.
PREPARATION DAY vs. PASSOVER DAY
|"On the fourteenth day of the first month [Nisan] the Lord's Passover is to be held. On the fifteenth day of this month there is to be a festival; for seven days eat bread made without yeast (Festival of Unleavened Bread). On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work" (Num 28:16-18).|
|"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 Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do not regular work. For seven days present an offering made to the Lord by fire. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work" (Lev 23:5-8).|
Apparently the word "Passover" can mean anything from Nisan 10 through the week following the first day of Unleavened Bread up to Nisan 21--much like our word for Christmas can mean the whole two weeks from Christmas Eve to the New Years holiday. This is one reason there are so many differences of opinion regarding the timing of the crucifixion. The best way to differentiate between the two days is what is occurring, i.e., are they preparing "for" the Passover or participating "in" the Feast of the Passover.
TWO DAYS BEFORE PASSOVER
|"Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. 'But not during the Feast,' they said, 'or the people may riot'" (Mark 14:1-2).|
The Passover (Feast) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are two holidays that start on the same day, the 15th of Nisan, which was a High Holy day --a Holy Sabbath day of rest. There were only two days left by this time so they had to accomplish their plan quickly. (Keep in mind that the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread were eaten right after sundown on the 14th which would actually be the 15th according to Jewish time but actually the same day according to Roman time.)
RULES FOR SABBATH REST
|"Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your god. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your man- servant and maidservant may rest, as you do." (Deut 5:12-14).|
Please notice that not even donkeys were supposed to work on the Sabbath.
|"Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to
The distance between Jerusalem and the Mt. of Olives was considered a Sabbath days walk therefore this distance was about 1,200 yards. (Acts 1:12) (2)
TWO SABBATHS DURING CRUCIFIXION WEEK
A lot of the confusion concerning the date of crucifixion arises from the fact that many don't understand that there were two Sabbath's during crucifixion week--one of them being a Passover which is also called a High Holy Sabbath. Both Sabbaths coincided near the time of Christ's death.
Matt. 28:1 says "After the Sabbath at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb." However, J.P. Green's Interlinear New Testament indicates the word for Sabbath in this instance, #4521, is in the plural form, i.e., there were two Sabbath's that week. This phrase is translated as "after the Sabbath's" in some versions (4).
Luke's account of the burial (Luke 23:44-56) gives us a progression of events that indicate there had to be two Sabbath's involved:
1. Jesus died at 3 PM.
If Jesus had been crucified on Friday there would only have been one day in-between when Christ died and the first day of the week and it would have been a Sabbath. So where and when did they buy the spices?
If Thursday is Crucifixion day the next day is the High Passover Sabbath and the next day is the weekly Sabbath. Because of the back-to-back Sabbath's the women would not have had a chance to buy the spices until right after the weekly Sabbath in the evening (the beginning of Sunday at sundown). They would have had time to prepare them that night and took them to the grave the next morning (Sunday morning).
If Christ was crucified on a Wednesday then there is an intervening weekday between the two Sabbath's but then Christ wouldn't have risen until "after" the 3 day period because He had to rise on Sunday to fulfill the First Fruits and Wave Sheaf offering after the Sabbaths (see below) and the women wouldn't have gone to the grave to anoint his body if he arose on Saturday anyway because it was a Sabbath.
3 DAYS and 3 NIGHTS
|"Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, 'Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.' He answered, 'A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 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" (Matt. 12:38-40).|
Mark 16:1 says the women arrived at the tomb just after sunrise which indicates that Christ arose from the dead either shortly before they arrived or sometime during the night after sundown the previous evening. Matthew 28:2 states that there was a violent earthquake when an angel rolled the stone away from the tomb. I believe the earthquake could be a possible indicator of when Christ arose from the grave--i.e., just before sunrise because there will be another great earthquake when he returns the 2nd time (Zech 14:4).
If Jesus was crucified and buried late on a Thursday (Jewish time) and rose again on Sunday sometime between Saturday sundown and sunrise early Sunday morning (Jewish time) that gives us two whole days and parts of 2 other days. Being as Jews consider part of a day a whole day it is very reasonable to assume that the 3 days and 3 nights in a tomb were fulfilled.
However, this isn't necessarily as precise a statement as we've been led to believe.
The expression "three days and three nights" is a figure of speech that was used during the biblical period and does not necessarily mean the same thing that it would mean to us today. When the disciples boldly claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead on the third day (Acts 10.40), no one disputed it. Therefore the phrase "three days and three nights" was obviously a colloquialism of that time and not to be taken literally.
"When the Sabbath was over . . . Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb . . . But when they looked up they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away." And they were told, "He has risen" (Mark 16:1-6). Matthew 38:1 says "After the Sabbaths" as I pointed out before, and also mentions a violent earthquake.
Therefore, Christ rose after both Sabbaths on the first day of the week Sunday. This occurred 3 days after Nisan 14 on Preparation day so it was Nisan 17.
This is the same day the Israelites were delivered from the Egyptians. God instructed them to anoint their doorposts with the blood of the lamb on the twilight of Nisan 14 and he would Passover them on the 15th (after sundown on the 14th) when he would strike down all the firstborn of Egypt. They were instructed to be ready to leave at daybreak on the 15th (morning of the 15th). (Ex 12:1-13) They then traveled day and night for the next few days first to Etham and then to Pi Hahiroth where they encamped by the sea. (Ex 13:20-14:2) After the Egyptians appeared the Lord parted the Red Sea all that night (Ex 14:21) from which the Israelites emerged on the other side as the day was dawning and at which time the sea covered the Egyptians. (Ex 14:27) This event is a shadow of the fulfillment of the day of First Fruits. (see below)
Therefore the people of Israel were "saved" by coming through the Red Sea on the same day of the year and same time of day that Jesus rose from the dead as the "savior" of all who will turn to him--Nisan 17, before dawn.
If you want to do some research on this I believe you will also find that the day the Ark rested on the mountians of Ararat also falls on Nisan 17.
FIRST FRUITS / WAVE SHEAF OFFERING
Right after God gave Moses the instructions for Passover he told them about the First fruits/Wave Sheaf offering:
|"When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the Lord so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath." (Lev 23:10-11).|
This day is very important because the Israelites were to start counting on this day:
|"for 7 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. . . . The priest is to wave the two lambs before the Lord as a wave offering, together with the bread of the firstfruits. They are a sacred offering to the Lord for the priest. On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for all generations to come, wherever you live."|
This day is called Pentecost which means fifty days. (Lev. 23:15-21) Compare what happened to the Israelites 50 days after they were "saved" from the Egyptians in Ex. 19:16-19 with Acts 2:1-8 50 days after Christ had risen.
|"But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the first fruits; then when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come . . . " (1 Cor 15:20-24).|
Therefore, Jesus fulfilled the offering of the first of the harvest as he was the "First Fruits" and he also fulfilled the day of Pentecost by giving the Holy Spirit to all believers. Jesus' fulfillment of this day proves that this holiday was not to be celebrated the day after the Passover Sabbath but on the weekly Sabbath following Passover, i.e., after both Sabbaths.
SUMMARY: WEDNESDAY, THURSDAY or FRIDAY?
If Preparation Day occurred on a Wednesday then we have a whole day on Friday when they did not anoint the body which seems very strange because the next day would have been the regular Sabbath when they would have had to rest again. It was impossible for Christ to have risen on Saturday because that would mean that the women broke the Sabbath by going to anoint his body that morning and Nisan 10 would also have been a Sabbath and hundreds or thousands of people would have broken the Sabbath on that day by cutting palm branches. Christ also would have broken the Sabbath by making the donkey carry a burden. Therefore Christ couldn't have risen until the next day which would have been Sunday which would have entailed 4 days that Christ's body had lain in the tomb instead of 3. What Martha said to Jesus when he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead comes to mind: "But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days" (John 11:38). Therefore the day of Preparation for Passover/Christ's crucifixion could not have occurred on a Wednesday.
Another reason this date is not acceptable is because it would have eliminated Christ rising on the day of First Fruits/Wave Sheaf which was the first day after the two Sabbath's, (see First Fruits above) i.e., this day obviously has to occur on a Sunday.
If Christ had been crucified on a Friday then he and all his disciples would have broken the Sabbath by traveling to Lazarus' house on the Sabbath--see John 12:1. However if he died on a Thursday then the day after Christ arrived at Lazarus'' house would have been a Saturday and this would account for his stay there an extra day.
Therefore, the only scenario that I can reconcile is that Preparation day was on Thursday because that makes both Nisan 10 (triumphal entry) and Nisan 17 (first fruits/Wave sheaf/resurrection day) and they both land on a day which was not a day of rest according to all the work that was involved on both those days and this also accounts for the two Sabbath's in between the time Christ was crucified and his resurrection.
Exodus 12:14 and Leviticus 23:21 tells us that these feast days are festivals that God's people are to commemorate "for all generations" wherever they live. I therefore would ask any Christians reading this to prayerfully consider whether they should do so.
The following timeline basically follows Mark's Gospel which has the most detailed itinerary of Christ's last week. Each day starts at sundown-- according to Jewish time.
- - - - - Friday Nisan 8 - - - -
- - - - - Saturday Nisan 9 - - - -Sabbath
- - - - -Sunday Nisan 10 - - - -Triumphal Entry
- - - - -Monday Nisan 11 - - - -
- - - - -Tuesday, Nisan 12 - - - - -
- - - - Wednesday Nisan 13
- - - - -Thursday Nisan 14--Preparation day
- - - - - -Friday Nisan 15 - - - - -Passover day
- - - - - Saturday Nisan 16 - - - - Sabbath
- - - - - -Sunday Nisan 17 - - - -Resurrection Day
After I wrote this article I was informed of a book entitled Prelude to Glory by Wayne D. Leeper that had been written a few years previous to my article. We agree almost 100% on the scenario surrounding the day of Christ's death and I would highly recommend it for a more in depth study of this topic. His book is being distributed by the following ministry and all proceeds go to the same:
Does God ExistAn updated version of this document can be found: Here
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Questions, and comments are welcome.
Lori Eldridge graduated with a BA in English/Creative Writing 1995, EWU, WA.
Proofreader and occasional author for PropheZine and Compass magazines on the Internet.
3 years experience discussing doctrinal issues.
This paper is ©1997 by Lori Eldridge (All Rights Reserved)
1. Wuest's Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Vol. I, p 289,
2. Baker Encyclopedia, Baker Book House, 1988, Vol. II, p. 1879
3. The Jewish background of the Christian Liturgy, by W.O.E. Oesterly, 1925, pp 256-193.
4. Alfred Marshall's Parallel New Testament in Greek and English; and Ferrar Fenton's Translation
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