There are many Christians insisting that there is no significance in the duration between burial and resurrection of Jesus. But He claimed that to be as significant, as being the only sign proving that Jesus was the Messiah. As His only sign, to the skeptics, Jesus said He would be in the grave for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:38-40).
Christians celebrate Good Friday, considered as the day when Jesus was crucified. But Scriptures point to another day, other than Friday. When carefully analyzing details of the events, before and after His resurrection, the crucifixion could not have been on Friday.
All the four gospel books, clearly reveal that Jesus was handed over to the Roman soldiers during the night after He had celebrated the Passover, using the new symbols (see Matthew 26:20-47, Mark 14:17-43, Luke 22:7-47 John 13:1ff). It may not be possible to clearly understand, unless appreciative of what the Hebrew Passover was and how it was observed, in Jewish custom.
The Jewish Passover tradition was instituted after the tenth plague had been announced, devastating the Egyptians, leading to the release of the Israelites. God used the angel to strike the first born Egyptian males at night. These were slaughtered, as a process leading to the eventual release of the Israelites from captivity, by the stubborn Pharaoh.
To save the Israelites’ first-born males, the Israelites were specifically instructed to set aside year-old male lambs that would be slaughtered on the 14th day of the first Month. The rituals involved, among other things, smearing the blood of the lambs on door posts. The smeared blood would cause the angel doing the work of striking the Egyptians’ first born males, to then pass over the first born males of the Israelites.
The details of this exercise are outlined in the whole chapter of Exodus 12, ending with a festival declaration, to be observed throughout the Israelites’ generations, as follows:
“This day shall be for you a memorial day and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, On the first day you shall remove leaven of your houses for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days” (Exodus 12:14-16) (ESV).
The observance of such annual holidays was further clarified in the book of Leviticus:
“These are the appointed feasts of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the Lord’s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord, for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. But you shall present a food offering to the Lord for seven days. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work” (Leviticus 23:4-8) (ESV).
The term “holy convocation” is another term for a day of rest, meaning that, like the weekly Sabbath, no work was to be done. As stated earlier, Jesus observed the Passover on the fourteenth day, at twilight, according to the Jewish tradition. But Jesus replaced the Jewish traditions by instituting different symbols, instead of slaughtering the year-old male lambs.
Jesus’ body substituted the male lambs from then on. On that evening, Jesus declared that the bread and wine represented His body (bread) and His blood (wine). Accordingly, Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God that takes away the sins of humanity (John 1:29).
The fourteenth day of the first month started at twilight, coinciding with the time that the Passover would be observed. During that night, Jesus was to endure an ordeal, including Judas Iscariot’s betrayal. This was after the Passover (now commonly known as the Lord’s Supper). Everything that took place up to His crucifixion was on the fourteenth day.
But, verse 6 of Leviticus 23 clearly shows that the fifteenth day, being the first day of the seven-day duration, denoting Feast of Unleavened bread, followed the previous night’s Passover rituals. This first day of the seven-day Festival, was on 15th day, being an annual Sabbath or High Sabbath, according to Leviticus 23:7 and Exodus 12:16a.
Jesus could not observe the first Sabbath of the Festival of Unleavened bread, as He would be dead, then. He died at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon of the fourteenth day. Traditionally, the Jews would identify 3 o’clock as the 9th hour.
Having died, Jesus was to be buried before the 15th day. Also starting at twilight, being the High Sabbath, as John accurately described it (John 19:31).
The burial of Jesus, as shown in gospel books, took place before sunset, as after sunset the Sabbath would have started. As far as the Jews are concerned, a new day starts at sunset.
The behavior of two women, intending to carry out burial rituals on Jesus’ body, helps us understand the actual duration of Jesus in His grave.
“The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments” (Luke 23:55-56) (ESV).
The preparation was after the annual Sabbath, as Mark’s account confirms: “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him”(Mark 16:1) (ESV).
Luke also confirms that the preparation was done after the annual Sabbath, yet they still had to observe another Sabbath: “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (verse 56b (ESV).
Describing those women’s commitment to rest, according to the commandment, Luke is not referring to the Annual, but the weekly Sabbath.
Apparently, these women had to contend with observing two Sabbaths, before their eventual early morning vain trip to the tomb, on the first day of the week (Luke 24:1-9)
On communicating with them, the two angels reminded them of what Jesus had said, while in Galilee. Matthew’s account also concurs:
“But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay’” (Matthew 28:5-6) (ESV)
Careful observation shows that the angels did not confirm that Jesus was resurrecting at that time, but that He had risen, as He had said (Matthew 12:38-40).
How then do we figure out three days and three nights, conforming to what Jesus said? Obviously, the most logical way is to start counting from the time that Jesus was placed in His tomb. That specific time, starts the duration of seventy two hours; when considering the period that constitutes three days and three nights, according to Matthew 12:38-40.
Apparently, the women contended with two Sabbaths, before their eventual futile attempt to carry out their rituals on Jesus’ would-be decomposing body. This leads us to realize that the fourteenth day, being the Passover day, fell on a Wednesday. Thursday was the Annual Sabbath, followed by Friday, an ordinary day, before the weekly Sabbath.
The evening that started the 15th day (High Sabbath) was the first night, followed by the second night of Friday (16th day). The third night was followed by the weekly Sabbath (17th day). Obviously, three days comprise two Sabbaths, with an ordinary day, (Friday) between them. Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus took place on the 17th day, from the exact time of Jesus’ burial, according to what He said (Luke 24:6-7).
Without any doubt, Jesus rose towards the end of the weekly Sabbath, on the 17th day, but before twilight of the first day of the week. Whether by design or not, we now know that Jesus Christ’s resurrection was towards the end of the weekly Sabbath. This was obviously on a Saturday, when considering that the first day of the week is traditionally, Sunday.
Another interesting observation is that, the Jews had sealed the tomb-stone to ensure that no-one would access the body of Christ (Matthew 27:62-66). Matthew states that there was an earthquake, before the angel rolled back the stone, which proved that the grave was empty. The resurrection of Jesus had, obviously, been as silent as the guards could not witness the actual resurrection.
If the angel had not rolled back the stone, everyone would have still assumed that Jesus’ body was decomposing in that grave. Nevertheless, Jesus resumed His mission, immediately after His resurrection, before His eventual ascension to Heaven (Luke 24:12-50, Acts 1:1-11).
One of the reasons, making it necessary to maintain accuracy in narrating Jesus’ account is to defend the Christian faith. How does one defend the faith, when unable to answer skeptics, on how Jesus could be in the grave for three days and three nights, as He said (Matthew 12: 38-40)? Yet having been buried on Good Friday and rising early morning on Sunday?
Such discrepancies are some of the reasons why Christianity is unpopular; repelling skeptics, yet bearing all solutions to human survival.
(Acknowledgment: Original analysis sourced from a booklet by the late Herbert W. Armstrong, possibly now out of print, entitled: “Resurrection was not on Sunday”)
Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing reliefs to those having witnessed strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. In a simple conversational tone, most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long awaited providential oasis of hope.
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