The Passion of the Gospels
originally posted -4/2015 reposted -3/2016

By: Joe Palcsak


It might surprise you to learn that the Gospels do not support a Friday Crucifixion. Nor do they support a Sunday dawn Resurrection.

Two thousand years of Christian tradition is simply wrong on these points.  There is no ‘interpretation” or conjecture involved in reaching this conclusion.  Here, we examine a single verse from each of the four Gospels to reach the irrefutable conclusion that Jesus was crucified during the day on Wednesday, died, and was buried at twilight, to be resurrected at twilight on Saturday.  Furthermore, we will consider the importance of this truth.  We begin in Matthew’s Gospel:

Matthew 12:40, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”

The Jews had demanded a sign from Jesus to authenticate His Messianic claim.  He promised one and only one sign:  that He would be in the earth for three days and three nights.  Perhaps it has occurred to you in reading Matthew 12:40 that there is simply no way that a Friday twilight burial followed by a Sunday dawn resurrection comes to three days and three nights.  Even if we allow the most generous time frame; one in which Jesus was technically buried just before the sun set on Friday and was resurrected just after it rose on Sunday, the best possible scenario has Jesus “spending” three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) and two nights (Friday and Saturday) in the earth.  Even so, it would be only the narrowest of technicalities that would allow us this much of a stretch.  Jesus would have hardly been in the earth for the day of Friday or the day of Sunday for more than a few minutes.  Moreover, the Gospels inform us that the women went to the tomb to discover it empty before the sun rose (recall that for them, the day had actually begun at Sunset Saturday), so we are on shaky ground to assume that Jesus was in the tomb at all during the day on Sunday. The bottom line here is that if we are willing to believe in a Friday crucifixion and a Sunday resurrection, then we must accept either an error in the Gospels (which would legitimately cast doubt upon the veracity of the Gospels in general), or an incorrect prophecy by Jesus when He offered the only sign that He is the true Messiah (thus effectively negating His Messiahship). This Scripture alone should invalidate the all-important Christian tradition.  But the case gets much stronger.  We now turn to Luke’s gospel.  The relevant Scripture here is 23:56, but here we begin in verse 54:

“That day was the preparation and the Sabbath drew near.  And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid.  Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment”

In isolation, this Scripture poses no major problem for Christian tradition.  After all, the Sabbath occurred every Saturday.  Luke 23:56 seems to fit the tradition on the surface.  If we look a little deeper, we find one problem within this verse: when, exactly, did the women prepare the spices?  Did they have time to return and prepare the spices before sunset when the Sabbath began?  Other Scriptures inform us that Joseph of Aramathia hurried to get the body in the tomb before sunset.  Did they prepare the spices on the Sabbath?  Or did they prepare the spices before the Sabbath when they rested?  Luke 23:56 seems to indicate the latter.  But it is only when we consider the remaining two Scriptures under examination, that we find clarity.  Mark 16:1 is up next:

“Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they may come and anoint Him”

On the surface, Mark 16:1 directly contradicts Luke 23:56. Luke tells us that the women had the spices prepared in time to rest on the Sabbath, but Mark says that the women did not even buy the spices until after the Sabbath.  How can this be?  John comes to the rescue….

John 19:31 “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a High day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away”

That Sabbath was a High day! This begs a question: what is a “high day” Sabbath?  In this case, the High Day was a spring feast – a high Sabbath that the Jews were commanded to celebrate.  In addition to the regular weekly Sabbaths, certain days were set apart by God for the Jews to observe; Sabbaths that simply fell on whichever day of the week they happened to fall.  The spring feasts began with the Passover, which, on the Jewish calendar fell on the 14th day of the month called Nissan.  John drives this point home earlier in chapter 19. Verse 14 reads in part, “Now it was the preparation day of the Passover…”

Now at last we have a complete picture and one that is crystal clear:  According to Matthew, the only sign that Jesus was willing to give the Jews that He was the Messiah was that He would spend three days and three nights in the earth.  John leaves us no doubt that Jesus was crucified on the Preparation day of the Passover and that by night (the beginning of the day as reckoned by the Jews), He had been buried.  Now you might be thinking to yourself, “Well then, if a High Sabbath falls on the day it happens to fall, there is as good a chance that it happened to be Friday as any other day of the week.”  While this is true, Mark and Luke conspire to put the lie to this hypothesis.  As Mark informs us, the women bought the spices after the Sabbath.  Luke adds that having prepared the spices; they rested on the Sabbath before going to the tomb early in the morning on Sunday.

We have always known that there was a regular Saturday Sabbath involved.  We know that the women went to the tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week (Sunday), after the Sabbath had passed, with the spices they had prepared.  By allowing Scripture to inform us, we have learned that there are two Sabbaths in view here and that the chronology of events renders it impossible that both Sabbaths occurred on the same day.  When we consider all four Gospel passages, the timeline unfolds seamlessly:  Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday and was buried at twilight that same day.  The next day (beginning at sunset, just after Jesus had been placed in the tomb) was the High Sabbath.  As we reckon days, this would be Thursday. A second preparation day then followed: the preparation day for the weekly Sabbath; Friday.  Note that this day is the only day it would have been possible for the women to buy the spices, post burial.  Just as Mark tells us, they bought the spices after the Sabbath.  And just as Luke tells us, they then rested on the Sabbath; Saturday.  Thus, the prophecy given by Jesus in Matthew is exactly correct:  Jesus spent three whole days – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – and three whole nights – Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday – in the heart of the earth.

What is the significance of all this?  It lies in the beauty of God’s plan coming to pass.  In all, there are seven days that God commanded His people to set apart. There are three spring feats, which always come very close together.  They are the Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits.  There is one summer feast:  the feast of Weeks, which we know as Pentecost.  And there are three fall feasts:  Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles, which are also lumped closely together.  It is not the purpose of this article to detail these feasts, but it is necessary to point out that Jesus literally fulfilled each of the spring feats in succession and on the very day of each feast.  On the preparation day of the Passover, the Lamb of God was slaughtered, His blood giving us life.  On the first day of unleavened bread, He had removed all of our sins (in the Bible, leaven always pictures sin) taking them with Him to the grave.  He was resurrected to become, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:23, the firstfruits offering on the very day of Firstfruits.  To me, this is the completion of a very glorious picture.  Only it is not yet complete!  Jesus has ascended to the Father with the promise that He will return.  Four feast days remain.  Note the structure and the spacing on the calendar of the feast days:  three in the spring, one in the summer, and three in the fall.  Before His ascension, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit.  That promise was fulfilled on the very day of Pentecost that very year.  He has been gone (physically) a while, but He will return.  The three fall feast days await fulfillment!

I would urge you to consider leaving the world of bunnies and eggs and investigate God’s wonderful plan.  When we choose the Christian tradition of Easter in favor of God’s appointed times, we miss many rich and glorious truths concerning God’s plan for us. We also, of necessity, err immediately concerning the clear timeline of Christ’s passion and triumph. I leave you with two more Scriptures:

“These people draw near Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.  And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandment of men”
Matthew 15:9.

We ought to obey God rather than men”
Acts 5:29


Joe Palcsak



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