Tradition, of course, states that it was on “Good Friday”
But before accepting this on faith, we would do well to consider the statement of Matthew 12:40:
“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.” - Matthew 12:40 (NAS)
Accepting this statement at face value, we would expect a specific period of time to pass between Jesus’ burial and resurrection; namely three days and three nights. In other words, we’d expect Him to be in the borrowed tomb for six periods of roughly twelve hours each, or about 72 hours.
But if Jesus died Friday afternoon, as per tradition, it is very difficult to account for anything close to a 72 hour passage of time, or for “three days and three nights”, either one. Friday night and Saturday night are two nights. Add in the daylight hours from Saturday and you have one and a half complete days. “Three-days-plus-three-nights” simply cannot be worked in between Friday afternoon and the early morning of hours of “…the first day of the week, while it was still dark…” (John 20:1).
Had Jesus predicted that he would be “three days in the heart of the earth” we might more easily account for this difficulty. In that case we might suppose that Jesus meant that He’d be in the heart of the earth for all of one day (Saturday) and some fragment of two others. But Jesus specifically said He’d be “three nights” in the heart of the earth. We can account for Him being in the borrowed tomb Friday and Saturday nights – two nights - but if He died on Friday there is no possibility of His being in the tomb for a third night.
The only way to account for Jesus being in the tomb a third night is to assume Jesus was crucified Thursday. I am aware that this raises some questions as well, and beg the readers’ patience as they continue reading. Questions arising from the proposition that Jesus died on Thursday will, I believe, be answered in the final section of this entry.
Friday? Or Thursday?
Before going any further, we might ask, “Why is this question important?”
The quick answer is that unbelievers are convinced that the Bible is “full of contradictions” and that the “Good Friday” tradition for Christ’s crucifixion presents the appearance of contradiction.
Jesus, in scripture, said He’d be in the tomb three days & three nights. Meanwhile, all Christendom remembers His death on “Good Friday”. 24 hours passed between Friday and Saturday afternoons and by the time the sun had risen the following morning (not more than 12 hours) Jesus has already arisen.
This has every appearance of a contradiction and for good reason. And we’d be very naïve to suppose that atheists, zealous for their cause, have not noticed and published materials on it.
Fortunately the “contradiction” is between man’s traditions and the Bible rather than being in the Bible itself. Let’s begin working to resolve this “contradiction” by looking at…
The Thursday Timetable
Placing the Crucifixion on Thursday resolves any 3 days / 3 nights questions that might arise:
=> Thursday PM (1st night), Friday PM (2nd night) and Saturday PM (3rd night)
=> Friday AM (1st morning), Saturday AM (2nd morning) and Sunday AM (3rd morning)
As can be seen, three days and three nights fits well if we assume our Lord was crucified Thursday. And as it turns out, proposing Thursday as the day of the crucifixion fits into the overall framework of Jesus final week, as well.
Events of the Crucifixion week:
Confusion: What about Wednesday?
No one is actually sure what became of Wednesday during Jesus’ final week. There seems to be a prevailing desire among Bible scholars to go along with the idea of Jesus dying on Friday but this leaves Wednesday of the crucifixion week more or less in limbo. You can confirm this for yourself checking the standard references that come easily to hand. For example:
=> The Dickson New Analytical Bible states, concerning Wednesday, "No record of this Day".
=> The Thompson Chain Reference Bible avoids questions of "what happened to Wednesday" by combining the "Tuesday and Wednesday" events under one heading.
=> The Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament reference by H. Wayne House lists a single event for Wednesday, the “Plot to Kill Jesus” but attaches a question mark (?) to the entry.
=> Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts jumps from Tuesday straight to Thursday, indicating that Wednesday was simply passed by in the scripture record.
The Bible, of course, apart from identifying the 1st day of the week (Sunday), never says which day is which. But it does point to events occurring on five separate days, beginning from the day of Christ’s Triumphal entry and ending the day of the crucifixion.
During this final week, Jesus spent His days in Jerusalem, His evenings at Bethany.
If Jesus was crucified Friday, we would expect to see activities recorded in Jerusalem during six days (Sunday-Friday, inclusive). We would also expect five trips into and out of the city prior to Christ’s arrest. But we have scriptural indicators for just four such trips:
=> 1st Day – all are agreed this was Sunday: This was the “Triumphal Entry” - The 1st Return to Bethany is recorded at Mark 11:11.
=> 2nd Day – Monday: 2nd entry to Jerusalem - Mark 11:15. The 2nd Return to Bethany is recorded at Mark 11:19.
=> 3rd Day – Tuesday: 3rd entry to Jerusalem - Mark 11:20, 27. The 3rd Return to Bethany is recorded at Matthew 26:1-6
=> 4th Day – Wednesday: 4th return to the city - Matthew 26:17; Luke 22:7-10a. The 4th withdrawal is followed by the Garden of Gethsemane account and Jesus' arrest – Matthew. 26:36ff; Mark 14:32ff; Luke 22:39ff.
=> 5th Day – Thursday: According to this chronology – a scriptural chronology - Jesus seems to have been arrested Wednesday night and would have been crucified Thursday.
Objections to Thursday as the day of crucifixion
The only significant objection is that the Jews did not want Jesus’ body left on the cross because of the Sabbath.
Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away - John 19:31 (NAS).
This verse shows plainly that the day after the crucifixion was the Sabbath (a high day). Since the weekly Sabbath fell on Saturday, many have pointed to this verse as proof positive that Jesus died on Friday. But let’s look at the verse more carefully.
John 19:21 supplies two important facts in addition stating the next day was the Sabbath. 1st it states that this particular “Sabbath was a high day” (NAS), a “special Sabbath” (NIV). 2nd, It states that it was the “day of preparation” on which Jesus had died.
We should therefore be asking two questions. What was the “day of preparation”? And what kind of “special Sabbath” or “high day” was the next day going to be? The answers are as follows:
1. Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation for the Passover. He was crucified on the same day that the Passover Lambs were being prepared for the holy celebration of Passover. This was a most appropriate time for our Savior also to be slaughtered, considering that He was the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
2. The following day was Passover itself, always celebrated according to the Law on the 14th of Nissan, regardless of what day of the week it fell on. Ordinary Sabbaths were Saturdays, occurring each week. But there were also “Special Sabbaths” – Holy Days that were set apart for the special worship of God. And the Passover was one of them.
Computer modeling has now demonstrated that during the year 33 AD, the year Jesus died, the 14th of Nissan fell on a Friday. See Roger Rusk, "The Day He Died" (Christianity Today, Vol. 18, No. 19), p. 4 (722).
Jesus died as our Passover Lamb on the day of preparation for that special Sabbath, that most special of all Passovers, 33 AD. Jesus died on Thursday.
I am by God’s Grace,
Rich In Christ