Yesterday we considered what it means when we say Jesus was in the grave for “three days.”
We made the point yesterday that “a part of a day could represent a whole day.” That’s a Jewish concept that we don’t use today, but which we have to keep in mind when we study the Gospel accounts.
It was also mentioned that there are those who teach that Jesus was crucified on Thursday evening, and some of them use the “part of a day” argument just as those who teach He was killed on Friday do.
Thursday-crucifixion advocates will point to a few verses in the Gospel account which seem, at first glance to confirm that Jesus was killed on Thursday, the day before Passover (which fell on Friday that year). But do those verses actually teach that? Let’s notice one, for an example…
And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!
John tells us day Pilate ordered Jesus to be crucified: It was the “preparation of the Passover.”
Aha! a “Thursday crucifixion” advocate might say: The preparation day was the day before Passover, which fell on Friday that year. Thus, Jesus was crucified on Thursday, the day of preparation.
Well no, actually, that’s not necessarily the case.
The question we’re considering is, if the preparation day is happening here in John 19 as John says, and if that day is Friday, then why did Jesus observe the preparation the day before (Thursday), when He ate the (last) supper with His disciples? Or, to put it another way, if Jesus was killed on Passover (Friday), then why does John write that He was crucified on the “Day of Preparation” (which came the day before Passover)?
The explanation is found in the fact that the Sadducees observed the feast days of the Jews in slightly different ways. The Passover this year fell on a Friday, thus Jesus was right to eat the lamb with His disciples on Thursday night (the true “preparation” day). But if today is Friday, why does John call it the day of “preparation” instead of the “day of Passover”?
Most Jews, led by the Pharisees, were strict to observe the feast according to the calendar, but the Sadducees (the Levites and priests of the day) were more liberal and would move the feast around if it happened to fall on the Sabbath (which begins on Friday evening). Jesus followed the strict model and ate his meal on Thursday evening. The Sadducees were more liberal and moved their meal to Friday evening. It has also been suggested that the Jews annually observed Passover over a two-day span, since one of the key moments in the holiday is the sacrifice (and consumption) of the lamb. There were too many lambs, the argument goes, for the priests to oversee all of their deaths in one day. That actually doesn’t have to be a problem since it was not demanded that each family take their lamb to the priest; they could have killed the lamb themselves in their own backyard (just as their ancestors in Egypt did).
When Pilate presented Jesus to the unruly chief priests, the day was Friday, and since the Sadducees (the Levites and chief priests, led by the high priest Caiaphas) were the primary ones to bring Jesus to Pilate, John tells us that it’s the day of “preparation” because that’s how the Sadducees saw it. This information is given to us here by John because it explains why the Jews (i.e. the Sadducees, who are the primary instigators of Jesus’ crucifixion) later will insist that the crucified people be killed and not left dying on the cross; “because it was the preparation” (v31) to the Sadducees and they were observing Passover a day later than their more strict, legalistic brethren.
There’s more that could be said, and I didn’t go very deep into all of the arguments that a Thursday-crucifixion advocate might make (some of it ties in with the differences in the way Matthew-Luke describe the Last Supper and the way John describes it), but this serves as a summary of at least my position on it.
If you’re curious, here’s the timeline for Jesus’ death as I understand it:
Thursday (6pm-11:30pm): Jesus eats the Passover meal with His disciples, Judas leaves to betray Him and the Lord talks to the remaining eleven about love, unity and sacrifice. He closes with a prayer and leads the eleven to the Garden.
Thursday (11:30pm) – Friday (1:00am): Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Friday (1:00am-1:30am): Jesus is confronted in the Garden and arrested.
Friday (1:30am-2:00am): Jesus’ first trial takes place, under the direction of Annas, former Jewish High Priest.
Friday (2:00am-5:00am): Jesus’ second trial takes place, under the direction of Caiaphas, the current Jewish High Priest (along with the Sanhedrin Court). They decide to petition the Roman government to kill Jesus.
Friday (6:00am-7:00am): Jesus’ third trial is a hearing before Roman governor Pilate.
Friday (7:00-7:30am): Jesus is sent to Herod Antipas who had (Roman-appointed) jurisdiction over Galilee. He mocks Jesus, who tells him nothing.
Friday (7:30am-8:30am): Jesus returns to Pilate, who repeatedly attempts to release Him while the Jewish leaders continue to rebuff. Pilate orders Jesus to be scourged to satisfy the Jewish leaders, however the Jews demand that Jesus be crucified. Pilate resists but eventually gives the order to execute Jesus.
Friday (8:30am-9:00am): Pilate’s Roman soldiers take Jesus into the Praetorium and enjoy mockery and abuse against Him, including driving a thorny crown into His skull.
Friday (9:00am-12:00pm): Jesus is forced to carry His own cross up the Golgotha hill and then His crucifixion begins. Jesus cries out three of his seven “final sayings” from the cross.
Friday (12:00pm- 3:00pm): Darkness covers the earth. Jesus’ final four sayings are uttered.
Friday (3:00pm): Jesus dies, the veil in the Temple which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place is torn from top to bottom. An earthquake reverberates through the holy city and the dead rise from their graves, appearing unto many.
Friday (3:30pm): Roman soldiers break the legs of the victims (to speed-up their asphyxiation and kill them faster) but find Jesus is already dead (which is unusual, considering the “short” time He was on the cross). Instead of breaking His legs, they pierce His side, through to His heart.
Friday (4:00pm-5:00 pm): Jesus is buried and laid in the tomb of the disciple Joseph, for part of the first day (day one).
Saturday (all day): Jesus’ body rests in the tomb, while His spirit is in paradise with God (day two). Meanwhile, the Jewish leaders petition Pilate to station guards at the tomb in case the Apostles get the idea to steal the body and say He was risen. Pilate agrees, stations guards (perhaps a quaternion) and “seals” the tomb (by placing an official Roman insignia that threatened death with any who removed it).
Sunday (sometime after midnight but before sunrise): Jesus’ spirit returns to His body and He is resurrected. An angel rolls the stone away and sits on it (like a boss). The Roman soldiers shake in their boots and do nothing. Jesus saunters out of the tomb, alive and well. Later the soldiers tell the Jewish leaders what happened and the leaders bribe the soldiers, telling them “if someone asks, say the Apostles stole the body.” But that raises the question…if you have to bribe someone to say the body was stolen…what really happened to the body? Hmm…
Others may offer their own interpretation of the how the above events were carried out across several days, but such debates are merely academic. The fact of the events is undeniable. These things happened; if you want to argue they happened from Wednesday to Sunday or from Thursday to Sunday, etc, I’m not going to unfriend you on Facebook. Figuring out the exact day of the week is not as important as simply understanding that these things happened.
The Lord suffered, died and rose again!