– by Joe Palcsak

Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was crucified on Friday and resurrected on Sunday morning. But is it possible that this long held Christian tradition could be wrong?  Here’s a better question: Does Christian tradition line up with the inspired Word of the Gospels or do the Gospels tell us something different?  This essay will explore that question, taking the position that the Holy Scriptures are true and that anything that contradicts or fails to conform to the Scriptures (including long held Christian tradition) is necessarily not true. Examining the whole council of God, we intend to show beyond all doubt that in this case, Christian tradition is at odds with the plain revelation of the Scriptures.  Each point will be firmly established before the next one is introduced, and no personal interpretation (with one exception which will be clearly indicated) will be permitted.  The only assumptions will be those that are universally embraced; specifically, that Jesus was crucified on the day of Passover, His body being hastily removed so that it could be placed in the tomb before the High Sabbath of Unleavened Bread.  His tomb was discovered empty early in the morning on the first day of the week.

It is an important point that Jesus died on the eve of the High Sabbath, which began the week of Unleavened Bread.  In his Gospel, John makes this point clear:  “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.”  John 19:31). To be clear, the weekly Sabbath is always observed from sundown Friday to Sundown Saturday.  But the High Sabbath of Unleavened Bread does not fall on a specific day of the week, but on a specific calendar day.  Just as Christmas always falls on December 25, the first day of Unleavened Bread always falls on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, and thus can occur on any day of the week.  This remains true today.  The important point here is that we have not just the weekly Sabbath in view on the passion week; we have the regular weekly Sabbath and the High Sabbath of Unleavened Bread.  Two sabbaths are in view here, one of which can occur on any day of the week.  All four Gospels testify that Jesus was crucified on the Passover in advance of the High Sabbath (the first day of Unleavened Bread).  None of the Gospels identify this Sabbath as the weekly Sabbath.  Therefore, because Jesus was taken down from the cross moments before the onset of the High Sabbath, we need to ask, on which day of the week was the High Sabbath?  Christian tradition assumes that the High Sabbath fell on the same day of the week as the weekly Sabbath and for this reason, places the year of the crucifixion at A.D. 33 – a year in which the High Sabbath fell on the same day of the week as the weekly Sabbath.  But the truth is we do not know the year of the crucifixion.  So, while Christian tradition works backward from a conclusion it assumes to be true, we will ask the Word of God to inform us toward the correct conclusion. Therefore, we will ask, can the Scriptures inform us as to which day of the week Jesus was crucified, and for that matter, resurrected?

For our first clue, we turn to the Gospel of Matthew.  Jesus offered one sign that would authenticate His Messiahship, which is recorded in three of the Gospels, but is made clear in Matthew 12:40 (“for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, the Son of man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”).  Three days and three nights.  This is the one and only sign offered by Jesus.  Christian tradition allows for one full day with at most a sliver of two other days, and only two nights!  Moreover, according to the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb while it was still dark on the first day of the week(John 20:1), so at best Jesus was in the tomb for two days and two nights!  Christian tradition appeals to the first century Jewish idiom that allows for the word “day” to refer to any part – even a sliver – of a day, thus Jesus was entombed for a part of Friday, all of Saturday, and a part of Sunday:  three days.  But what if Jesus really meant three days and three nights when He said, “Three days and three nights”?

Let us review the facts we have examined to this point:

*Jesus was crucified on the Passover (John 18:28)

*His tomb was discovered empty on the first day of the week (Luke 24:1-3).

*There are two Sabbaths in view here; one of which can fall on any day of the week (John 19:31).

*The one sign Jesus offered to authenticate His Messiahship was that he would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40).

The question remains, do the Scriptures tell us on which day Jesus was crucified?  As it turns out, they do!  As Jesus’s body is being placed in the tomb, Luke records, “That day was the preparation day 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” (Luke 23:54-56).  Let us add this point then to the four above but first,  let us turn now to Mark’s account, where we learn,   “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices that they may come and anoint Him” (Mark 16:1).  We now have two more points to add:

*After Jesus was buried, the women returned to prepare spices and oils to anoint His body, and then rested on the Sabbath.

*After the Sabbath, the women bought spices to anoint His body.

Have we exposed a blatant contradiction in the Gospels?  One Gospel claims that the women prepared the spices before the Sabbath, but another tells us that they did not buy those spices until after the Sabbath!  If Christian tradition is correct, that the High Sabbath fell on the same day of the week as the weekly Sabbath, Luke and Mark directly contradict one another!  How can the women prepare the spices and oils before they buy them?!  There are more problems here.  Jesus was buried as the High Sabbath was dawning (Luke 23:54, amplified).  There would have been no merchant open for business at that time for the women to buy the spices and oils from, nor would the women have dared to be about the business of buying them!  Furthermore, if the High Sabbath occurred on the same day as the weekly Sabbath, for the women to rest on the Sabbath after preparing the spices, would have meant that they prepared the spices on the Sabbath, in direct violation of the commandment.

When we honestly consider these six points from the Scriptures, we see that not only does Christian tradition suffer from the need to badly rationalize against the sign Jesus offered to authenticate His Messiahship, it is also caught in an inescapable conundrum; the impossibility of reconciling Mark 16:1 with Luke 23:56!  But if we are willing to abandon the impossible task of trying to fit God’s words into man’s traditions, and embrace instead the paradigm that we can discover the truth of things in God’s Word, everything falls into place perfectly:

Jesus is crucified on Passover Wednesday.  The women observe where He is laid. All then rest on the High Sabbath of Unleavened Bread (Wednesday night/ Thursday day) while Jesus spends one night and one day in the tomb.  The second night in the tomb is Thursday night and the second day is Friday day.  Friday day is also known as the day of preparation for the weekly Sabbath (Wednesday day was the preparation day for the High Sabbath); a day when business could be conducted as usual, and the only day that the women could have possibly purchased the spices and oils, as well as the only day on which they could have prepared them.  And so they did.  Jesus’s final night in the tomb then, would have been Friday night and His third day would have been Saturday; the weekly Sabbath.  The women, having bought and prepared the spices and oils according to the Scriptures on the day of preparation (Friday) in perfect harmony with both the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke,  then rested on the weekly Sabbath (Saturday) according to the commandment.  Then, early in the morning on the first day of the week (Sunday), the women brought the spices to anoint His body, finding the tomb to be empty.

Notice how perfectly all the Scriptures align to reveal the precise timeline of the passion week when we put aside Christian tradition and allow ourselves the freedom to explore the perfect revelation of God’s Word!

Perhaps you are still having difficulty accepting the Biblically accurate timeline:  If this is indeed the correct timeline, then it must be true that Jesus was resurrected at dusk Saturday.  And so it is!  Please understand that the Sunday morning resurrection is nothing more than lore as part and parcel of Christian tradition.  We have ample eyewitness records of the resurrected Christ, but there is absolutely no eyewitness record of the resurrection itself!  Thus, we have every reason to embrace a dusk Saturday resurrection according to Jesus’s own words that He would be in the tomb for three days and three nights.

I want to make one last point on the timeline, and this is the point on which I will allow myself some liberty of interpretation.  I want to present Matthew 27:62a to you the way it was originally written:

On the day which followed the day of preparation the chief priests and Pharisees gathered to Pilate…”

Note that this phrase is free of punctuation, though it seems to need a comma.  This is because punctuation was a third century invention!  The entire Bible was written without punctuation.  Punctuation was added later!  Our modern translations, in harmony with Christian tradition, place a comma after the word “preparation,” so that the verse reads, “On the day which followed the day of preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered to Pilate…”  There are at least two big problems here.  First, the day which follows the day of preparation is the Sabbath day!  If Matthew is talking about the Sabbath day, why does he refer to it as the day following the day of preparation?  Why does he not simply refer to it as the Sabbath?  I know of no instance in Scriptures where the Sabbath day is referred to as the day following the preparation day.  Second, would the Pharisees dare to conduct business with a pagan government official (Pilate) on the Sabbath?  Does it not make more sense to also put a  comma after the word “followed,” so that the verse reads, “On the day which followed, the day of preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered to Pilate…”?  Now we are talking about a different day.  Instead of the Sabbath, we are now talking about the day of preparation!  Does this not make much more sense from both a literary and content standpoint?  It would be perfectly normal for the Pharisees to conduct business as usual on the preparation day.  And again, this punctuation lines up perfectly with the revelation of Scriptures.

The apostle Paul praised the Berean virtue of searching the Scriptures daily to see if things they were being told were so (Acts 17:11).  When it comes to the Passion week timeline, as it should be with all things, let us be like the Bereans.  Our standard should always be the Word of God.


WEDNESDAY:  The Passover.  Jesus is crucified and entombed as dusk is falling (all 4 Gospels).  The women observe where He is laid (Luke 23:54).    
THURSDAY  (Wednesday night/Thursday day):  The High Sabbath – the first day of Unleavened Bread.  No work is done. 1  
FRIDAY (Thursday night/Friday day):  The day of preparation for the weekly Sabbath.  The women are free to buy spices now that the High Sabbath is past (Mark 16:1), as well as prepare them in advance of resting on the weekly Sabbath (Luke 23:56).  Likewise, the chief priests and Pharisees are free to conduct business with Pilate (Matthew 27:62a). 2 Jesus spends three days and three nights in the tomb (Matthew 12:40).
SATURDAY (Friday night/Saturday day): the weekly Sabbath.  No work is done.  The women rest after having prepared the spices (Luke 23:56) 3  
SATURDAY DUSK:  Having spent 3 days and 3 nights in the earth, Jesus is resurrected.    
EARLY SUNDAY MORNING:  The women arrive at the tomb to find it empty because Jesus had already been resurrected.    


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