On which day was Jesus crucified? Was it Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday? Most professing Christians observe the Crucifixion on Friday, but why? Today AMBrewster finishes a two part study into the biblical data concerning the crucifixion.
The Year Long Celebration of God is a family resource from Truth.Love.Parent., a ministry dedicated to rooting families in God and maturing families for God so they can harvest blessings from God.
Discover the following episodes by clicking the titles or navigating to the episode in your app:
“COG 46: The Confusion of the Crucifixion, Part 1”
“TLP 46: How to Be Jesus to Your Kids”
“TLP 248: Easter, Part 1: The Significance of the Resurrection”
“TLP 249: Easter, Part 2: The Significance of the Resurrection”
“TLP 252: Easter, Part 5: Make the Resurrection Important in Your Home”
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Welcome back to the second part of the The Confusion of the Crucifixion Easter series.
This study deals with something that has bothered me my whole life, and — as I researched — I was overcome with joy at finally being able to understand the beauty of what Christ did in a way that made biblical sense.
You don’t have to accept my conclusions concerning the crucifixion to be born again or be a good disciple. But this — as with every other episode I’ve done — has been part of my personal discipleship journey and has played a significant part in the discipleship of my family. So I welcome you to participate as you will.
My plan is to finish sharing my findings concerning the crucifixion and then make some application.
And don’t forget there are free episode notes and transcripts at CelebrationOfGod.com as well as a ton of other Easter resources.
Okay, so last time we discussed some observations that may help us see the value in celebrating Easter and celebrating it with gusto.
But then we turned our attention to what is commonly known as Good Friday — the day we observe Christ’s crucifixion on behalf of the world.
And I made arguments designed to help us see that Jesus didn’t have to have been killed on a Friday, and — technically — it makes more biblical sense to say that He was killed on Thursday.
We looked at the fact that the Jews frequently had more than one Sabbath a week. But the kicker for me — and it’s been a big deal since I was a little kid doing the math in my head on Easter Sunday — that Jesus Himself said that He would be buried for three days and nights.
So, today I’m going to add four more observations that continue to support the idea that Jesus was crucified on Thursday. Then I want to briefly discuss why a Wednesday and Friday crucifixion just don’t fit biblical and cultural expectations, and them make a couple applications.
So, with the previous three observations from the last episode, here’s . . .
4. Consider the wording the disciples on the road to Emmaus used.
In Luke 24:21 we hear the disciples say to the man (Whom they did not yet recognize as Jesus), “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.”
This discussion happened on Sunday, the day Christ resurrected. Again, the number of days fits with a Thursday crucifixion — Thursday day, Friday night, Friday day, Saturday night, Saturday day, Sunday night. Those represent three sets of days and nights that — to the disciples walking down the road to Emmaus — happened three days ago. If you’re still having a hard time picturing it, head over to CelebrationOfGod.com and download the helpful timeline I made for you.
5. Consider the women who went to anoint Jesus.
Matthew 28:1 tells us, “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.”
What were these women doing?
These women were not on their way to prepare the body. That had been done by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. We read that in John 19:39-40.
Mark 16:1 tells us these women were going to anoint the body.
Now, why did they wait until Sunday to do this important task? In their minds, they knew they were cutting it close. According to the events of Lazarus from John 11:39, even after embalming the body, decomposition was in full swing by the fourth day.
Of course, Acts 2:27 makes it clear that Jesus wouldn’t have to experience decomposition. But these women still were not convinced Christ would rise again.
Though they were running late, these women wouldn’t have attempted to anoint the body four days late, so they headed out before the sun was up to get in on the tale end of the third evening.
But why not just anoint Jesus on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday?
Well, a Thursday crucifixion would have put the body in the tomb right before sundown on the Passover. Friday was a High Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Saturday was the weekly Sabbath; the best these ladies could have done was to wait until Sunday. Otherwise, they would have been breaking God’s law.
6. Consider the Elements of the Passover.
Remember what we said last time — God is a God of symbol and ceremony. It’s so cool to see how Jesus’ Passion Week perfectly compliments the commemorations of Passover Week.
Okay, so John 12 tells us that six days prior to the Passover, Jesus visited Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Since the Passover was on the 14th of Nisan, then six days earlier would have been the 8th of Nisan.
So, Jesus would have arrived during the daytime hours on Friday which would have been the 8th. Friday evening would have ushered in the weekly Sabbath (the 9th of Nissan). However, the meal Martha served and the anointing of Jesus performed by Mary would have been very wrong had they been done on the Sabbath.
Therefore, I’m going to suggest that the meal and anointing described in John 12 happened on Saturday evening, the 9th of Nisan which was no longer the Sabbath. Later in the day, the daytime hours of Sunday, Jesus entered into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday.
But Palm Sunday had more significance to the Jews than many of us realize. The lambs that were sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan were selected on the 10th of Nisan. We learn that in Exodus 12:3.
After they were selected, they were presented for inspection that same day. Jesus did just that in presenting Himself when He rode into Jerusalem.
The lambs selected for the sacrifice were then taken home and inspected over the next four days to be certain they were pure and spotless. It’s interesting to note that the next few day Jesus was also questioned and tested by the Jewish leaders.
This tradition of taking the lamb home was also done so that the family would feel the impact of sacrificing this adorable lamb that had lived in their house as a member of the family for the better part of a week.
Then on the 14th of Nisan, the Passover lambs were killed and their blood was spilled. The blood was then placed over the doorposts in remembrance of the first Passover and of God’s deliverance of His people from Egyptian bondage. With the 10th of Nisan on a Sunday, the day of crucifixion — four days later — would have been Thursday, the 14th of Nisan.
But just like the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem had multiple levels of significance, the day of Jesus’ death was no coincidence either.
Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Passover as early in the Jewish day as the possibly could (Wednesday night on the 14th of Nisan). Jesus did this for two reasons: First, because He knew what was going to happen later that day, and second, many of the Jews celebrated the Passover at home earlier in the day while the chief priest and pharisees and others like them celebrated it later in the day at the Temple. This too was a detour from the original prescription in the Old Testament.
Anyway, so Jesus and the disciples go out to Gethsemane, and the rest is history. Jesus is slaughtered on the same day that Passover lambs were slain and sacrificed. That still would have been the 14th of Nisan, but it would have been Thursday during the day.
So, Jesus is buried before Thursday evening which would have been the 15th of Nisan and the High Sabbath Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Now, normally, the Feast of First Fruits would have been the very next day after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but the waiving of the sheafs was not allowed to take place on a Sabbath. Since the High Sabbath of Unleavened Bread happened right before the regular weekly Sabbath, the Feast of First Fruits had to wait until Sunday. The 17th of Nisan obviously would have started on Saturday evening, but during the day time hours on Sunday morning, the priests would wave a sheaf of grain before the Lord as an act of recognizing the provision of the Lord in the barley harvest.
My friends, Jesus had to raise on this day. Just as Jesus fulfilled the sacrifice of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, He also fulfilled the Feast of First Fruits when He rose from the grave and ascended to His Father. His ascension was a type of wave offering, and just as the first fruits of the harvest were waved as an offering to the Lord, Jesus ascended to the Father as the first fruits of the resurrection.
Do you remember I Corinthians 15:20? “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Now, check this out, Leviticus 23:12-13 gives more understanding of the Feast of First Fruits. It reads, “And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the Lord. 13 And the grain offering with it shall be two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering to the Lord with a pleasing aroma, and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, a fourth of a hin.”
Jesus was the lamb of the meat offering, and His blood was the wine of the drink offering. With His Resurrection before the Father on Sunday morning, the Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled the Feast of First Fruits.
So, with the selection of the lamb on the 10th day of Nisan (the day Jesus entered Jerusalem) and the wave, meat, and drink offerings of the Feast of First Fruits, Jesus was the fulfillment of the entire Passover.
If we didn’t have a lot more to say, we could even talk about Pentecost and how God miraculously inserted Himself into that feast day as well, but we’ll save that for our Pentecost preparation.
But, here’s the last thing I want to say about the 17th of Nisan.
Check this out. All of the following events took place on the 17th of Nisan:
God miraculously used Nisan 17 to be a day of new beginnings. What more perfect day could there have been for Christ to rise?
Now, there are similarities between the work Jesus finished on the cross and each of the momentous occasions I just listed. Most of them involve God saving His people against all odds. But let me detail just one of them.
When the ark came to rest on the 17th of Nisan, it was after God’s judgment on the wicked people of Noah’s time. It was a picture of salvation for all those who trusted in God and went through the door onto the ark and were preserved through the flood.
Jesus’ death on the cross was also a flood-like outpouring of God’s judgment. It was God’s wrath poured out in judgment of the wickedness of man. This time it was not poured out on wicked people, but on Jesus Christ the only truly innocent man.
Jesus’ death was God’s judgment of man’s sin, and His resurrection and ascension is a picture of our salvation and rest in Him. Jesus often referred to Himself as the Door, and salvation is offered to anyone who walks through It (John 10:9).
Just as the ark saved Noah and his family from God’s judgment, Jesus saved us. And just as the ark came to rest on the 17th of Nisan, we find our rest in Jesus who rose from the dead and opened the way to eternal life in Him.
Okay, so I believe that Jesus’ own words, the words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the women’s timing for the anointing of Jesus, and the elements of the Passover Week all perfectly substantiate a Thursday crucifixion.
But there’s one more super important consideration that I will share after I give some of the reasons that a Wednesday or Friday crucifixion don’t work.
First, Jesus’ words don’t work with a Wednesday crucifixion. Had Jesus been buried during the daytime hours of Wednesday, He would have been in the tomb four days and four nights.
And they don’t work with a Friday crucifixion either. Had Jesus been buried during the daytime hours on Friday, at best He would’ve been in the heart of the earth for two days and two nights. This is the issue I’ve had my whole life. There just aren’t three days and three nights in the heart of the earth if He was buried on Friday afternoon.
This also wouldn’t have work with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Second, when it comes to the women at the tomb, with a Wednesday crucifixion, the Feast of Unleavened Bread would have begun at sundown, Wednesday the 15th of Nisan. The High Sabbath Day would have ended at sundown Thursday afternoon, which would then be the nighttime hours of Nisan 16. When the sun rose following the nighttime hours, the women could have gone to the tomb during the daytime hours of Friday the 16th of Nisan to anoint the Lord’s body. The weekly Sabbath would not have started until the next sundown, which would be Saturday the 17th of Nisan. This raises the question, why didn’t the women go to the tomb during the daylight hours of Friday the 16th of Nisan?
If there had been a Wednesday crucifixion, this anointing would have needed to take place during the daylight hours of Friday, not Sunday. Had they waited until Sunday, the body would have already begun to decompose.
Granted, a Friday crucifixion is not a problem with the reasoning about the timing of anointing. The main problem that rules out Friday is the literal understanding of Jesus’ words.
But there’s another problem with Wednesday and Friday when it comes to Jesus’ visit with Lazarus. Placing the 14th of Nisan on a Wednesday and counting back six days puts Jesus’ journey to Bethany on Thursday Nisan the 8th. This places the 10th of Nisan, the day for presenting the Lamb, on the weekly Sabbath. If this had taken place on a Sabbath there would have been violations of the Sabbath laws including cutting and waving palm branches, making a donkey carry a burden, and the activities in the Temple on that day.
Also, consider that Jesus stayed at Lazarus’ house until after the Sabbath and traveled to Jerusalem during the morning hours of Sunday. As we know, that would place His Triumphal Entry on Sunday. The problem becomes the date of Jesus presenting Himself as the Lamb would now be the 11th of Nisan, not the 10th. When you then add the required four days, the crucifixion is placed on the 15th of Nisan, the Feast day, which was a High Sabbath day of rest. None of that works at all.
With a Friday crucifixion, Jesus would have traveled to Bethany six days prior — making his journey on the weekly Sabbath, the 8th of Nisan. Traveling that distance would have broken Sabbath laws of rest and the meal that Mary and Martha prepared and served would also have broken Sabbath laws.
But there’s yet another issue. If Jesus had been at Lazarus’ house on Saturday the 8th, He could have traveled back in the early morning hours of Sunday and presented Himself, however, it would have been the 9th of Nisan, not the 10th — the day for selecting the Passover lambs. Jesus could have waited until Monday the 10th to enter Jerusalem, but then we don’t have a Palm Sunday.
If I haven’t done it yet, one of these days I’m going to make an image showing why Wednesday and Friday do not work.
Okay, so the time has come to share my last thought. And this one is a big one.
I’ve just taken years worth of study and boiled it down into two episodes so you and your fellow disciples can appreciate the crucifixion and resurrection so much more.
But, I want to tell you about a snag I hit in my study.
So, I finally found an explanation that perfectly matches up with all the biblical data, and that lead me to wonder . . . well, if we know that Jesus died on a Thursday that also happened to be the 14th of Nisan, we should able to figure out with a huge amount of certainty which year He died and — consequently — which day on the Gregorian calendar he died.
So, I searched . . . for a long time . . . in many places, and I was completely unable to find a Thursday that fell on Nisan 14 anywhere from AD 27 through AD 35. In fact, some sources told me that it’s impossible to the 14th of Nisan to ever fall on a Thursday because of the way it’s calculated with the moon cycles and so on. However, it frequently falls on a Friday.
As you know, the Hebrew calendar is very complicated because it has to align the solar year (365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds) with the lunar year (12 months of 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds). This means that it must make allowance for the fact that 12 lunar months are about 12 days shorter than the solar year. This isn’t easy. And if you get it wrong, even by a little bit, over time the two would slowly drift apart, and you’d have your spring holidays in the fall.
And that adds some significant calculation issues as you work backward.
Let’s just say, I was discouraged.
I knew Jesus was crucified on Passover and rose on the first of the week. Those points cannot be argued. And because I couldn’t find a Passover that landed on Thursday, I started to understand why so many people were willing to overlook or explain away the whole three days and three nights thing in order to nail down a Friday date.
But then I learned that there are some significant issues with applying current calculation models to past Jewish years. Nearly all the Hebrew year calculators on the internet have no problem extrapolating out dates moving forward, but they can’t perfectly determine dates moving backward.
There are a number of factors I won’t go into right now, but one observation I will make is that the priests determined the calendar after the spring new moon when at least two witnesses independently verified that they had seen the first waxing crescent moon.
Needless to say, there were definite possibilities for human error due to overcast nights and the like.
And then I found it!
Okay, stick with me.
The U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department calculated that in AD 34 the Vernal Equinox fell on Monday, March 22 and the astronomical new moon conjunction was Wednesday, April 7th (http://intercontinentalcog.org/Appendix/Passover_dates_26-34_AD.php)
Now, that may mean nothing to you, and I don’t have time to explain it, so allow that to encourage your own study, but this is what that means.
Based on all of this, the first evening the waxing crescent after the new moon would have been visible was on Thursday, April 8th. That corresponds to the first day of Nisan. On the Gregorian Calendar, that would have been from Thursday evening on the 8th through Friday afternoon on the 9th.
All of this means that means that in AD 34, the 14th day of Nisan would have landed on a Thursday. And — on the Gregorian calendar — that Thursday would have been April 22nd.
My friends, I believe it’s safe to say that — according to our American calendar, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died at 3:00 pm on Thursday, April 22nd in AD 34.
And for those of you who are concerned that might have made Jesus too old, just keep in mind that the date of Jesus’ birth was not December 25th, AD 1. Scholars have debated that one for quite some time and yet all agree that Christ likely was not born then.
Anyway, that excited me to no end.
So, what’s the application for us?
I want to encourage you and your disciplees to consider again how Jesus’ death and resurrection beautifully fulfilled the memorials from hundreds of years earlier.
It was always God’s plan to make a way for everyone you know to be born again. Christ’s death perfectly appeased the wrath of God and did so in such a way that it even submitted itself to the ceremonial requirements Yahweh had set forth after the children of Israel left Egypt.
There is purpose to your life. God is at work. He is communicating. He’s trying to get your attention. He’s trying to get the attention of everyone in your church, your school, your community, and your family.
And this study may be a part of that.
We should be so enamored with what Jesus did for us on the cross and from the tomb that it changes the way we live life.
We may not know on exactly what day Jesus died (though I’m confident we do), but we know for certain that He is amazing, and that He loves us, and that the power of the Resurrection is what enables us to glorify God in this life.
It’s what you and your disciplees need to become everything God created you to be.
If that doesn’t amaze you and make you want to celebrate the immensity of Easter, then I don’t know what will.
Please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets and join us next time as we discuss how to prepare for your first Celebration of God this Easter!
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a dynamic, holistic resource that utilizes the Bible, our holiday calendars, and even the most average moments of the most normal days to equip Christians to worship God all year long
and disciple others to do the same.
AMBrewster is the creator and host of the Celebration of God. He originally designed the COG to be a discipleship tool for Christian parents to train their children to know and love God, but he quickly realized how valuable it is for all Christians. Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
Aaron is the President of Truth.Love.Parent. and host of its podcast.