The Timing of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

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This is an article by David Soakell of Christian Friends of Israel.

img_2609When was Jesus Christ (Yeshua the Messiah) crucified and resurrected? Did He really die on Good Friday and come back to life on Easter Sunday?

These are questions I’ve pondered on for many years. Now before we go any further, I need to stress that for the majority of Christians, Easter Sunday (or Resurrection Sunday) is the day Christians celebrate, for genuine reasons, the resurrection of Jesus the Christ (Yeshua the Messiah) from the dead. The majority of Christians also spend time on the Good Friday time to ponder on and contemplate, often in silence, what the sacrifice of Jesus means to them. This, along with Easter Sunday, is a Holy Day for most Christians, and therefore it is not my desire or purpose to dishonour any Believer in the Lord Jesus who use Good Friday to reflect on the death of Jesus, and Easter Sunday to celebrate the resurrection.

I also need to add; irrespective of when Jesus was crucified and when He rose again to life; the death and resurrection of Jesus (Yeshua) is the most important fact of this historic event. The early church saw His resurrection as the central witness to this act by God of providing reconciliation between man and God, and marking this faith in the church was the focal point for Christian worship, observed on the first day of each week since the first century (Acts 20:7). However, understanding the Hebraic background to the early church is, I believe, helpful and enriching to understand exactly how these things took place. And a good place to start is with the Scripture I use above – Acts 20:7.

Many believe Acts 20:7 shows the early church met together on a Sunday morning to break bread and have fellowship together. If this was the case, then the sermon that Paul preached, whereby one of the congregation fell asleep and fell out of the window to his death (and was then brought back to life through the laying on of hands) was a very, very, very long sermon, for as it states in Acts 20: 7 – Paul (Saul) kept on talking until midnight. However, what we often forget is that this was a predominantly Jewish congregation, and the early church was Jewish, with Gentiles slowly joining as the Word was preached. We also should realise that the ‘Church’ didn’t officially proclaim the day of Christian worship to a Sunday until AD 321 – when the church appeared to lose its Hebraic roots. So in Acts chapter 20, we should realise that the early church was still very much part of the normal Jewish life for those who accepted Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah, meaning the early church would have continued to live their Jewish lives as they always did, except now they also believed Yeshua (Jesus) was the long awaited Messiah (Christ).

If we read the NIV translation (and indeed most standard translations of the Bible), it read in Acts 20:7, ‘On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight…’ However, in the Hebraic translations, including David Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible, we read in the same verse of Acts 20:7 ‘On Motza’ei-Shabbat, when we were gathered to break bread, Sha’ul [Paul] addressed them. Since he was going to leave the next day, he kept talking until midnight.’ Now you might be pondering what ‘Motza’ei-Shabbat’ is. Well, Motza’ei Shabbat in Judaism refers to the time in the EVENING which immediately follows Shabbat. So this is Saturday night, but it is also the start of a new week. Remember, the Jewish day starts as the sun goes down until the next evening (Genesis 1:5 ‘God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day). So this makes so much more sense… Paul might have started at 7 or 8 pm to preach, and was still speaking at midnight. It’s still a long preach, but this makes complete sense regarding the chap who fell asleep. Therefore, the church met on a Saturday evening, not a Sunday morning.

Easter, as an annual celebration of the Resurrection, lies at the centre of a liturgical year and has been observed since at least the fourth century. Even in churches that traditionally do not observe the other historic seasons of the church year, Easter has occupied a central place as the high point of Christian worship. So the following is not to trivialize what Believers in Christ sincerely do or believe in, after all, I too share in this faith. However, I hope this little study brings some revelation to your spirit, and blesses you in the knowledge that the God we serve is faithful and true, and can be trusted in all things.

When we take into account the church uses a pagan festival – namely ‘Easter’ – to celebrate this occasion, instead of using the Biblical Passover (although both fall at the same time this year), could the church have got the timing of the events wrong too. I believe they have. And the reason being is due to a lack of understanding of the Hebraic roots to the Christian faith.

In Matthew 12:38, some of the scribes and Pharisees asked Yeshua (Jesus) for a sign to prove He was the Messiah. But Yeshua told them that the only sign He would give was that of the prophet Jonah: “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” (Matthew 12:40). The meaning here is that the Messiah would be in the tomb three days and three nights, but how can we fit “three days and three nights” between a Friday-afternoon crucifixion and a Sunday-morning resurrection? This traditional view allows for Yeshua to have been entombed for only a day and a half.
I’ve been amazed at how many Believers (Christians) have argued with me regarding this issue, after all, how could the church fathers have got it wrong? I’ve heard many say and believe that Christ’s “three days and three nights” statement does not require a literal span of 72 hours. They believe that a part of a day can be reckoned as a whole day. Thus, since Yeshua died in the afternoon, they think the remainder of Friday constituted the first day, Saturday the second and part of Sunday the third. However, only two nights – Friday night and Saturday night – are accounted for in this explanation. So surely, there has to be something obviously wrong with the traditional view regarding when Yeshua was in the tomb.

So let us examine what the actual Scriptures state. The verse in Jonah 1:17, to which Yeshua referred to, states specifically that “Jonah was in the belly of the fish THREE DAYS and THREE NIGHTS.” We have no basis for thinking that Yeshua meant only two nights and one day, plus parts of two days. If Yeshua was in the tomb only from late Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning, then the sign He gave that He was the prophesied Messiah was not fulfilled. Ohhhh…. that’s a huge statement! But before you start throwing stones at me for blasphemy, or start calling me someone sowing seeds of heresy, let us carefully examine the details from the Gospels. When we study this carefully, we uncover the reason why the words of Yeshua were fulfilled precisely as He stated.

First of all, the large mistake the early church didn’t realise is that whenever there is a Holy Day for a Festival (like Pesach – Passover), there was and still is today two Shabbats (Sabbaths) in the same week, and there was two Sabbaths mentioned in this week of the death of Yeshua. If we look carefully at the events outlined in the gospel of Luke chapter 23, we read that at the moment of Yeshua’s death, along with His hasty burial, because of the upcoming Sabbath, that day “was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near.” Let’s read it in context. So from Luke 23:46-56 we read, (verse 46) ‘And when Yeshua (Jesus) had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit: and having said thus, He gave up His spirit. 47 Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, certainly this was a righteous man (some translations state, surely this was the Son of God). 48 And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned. 49 And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things. 50 And, behold, there was a man named Yosef (Joseph), a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: 51 (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Yeshua. 53 And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn in stone, wherein no man before was laid. 54 And that day was the preparation, and the Sabbath drew near. 55 And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the tomb, and how His body was laid. 56 And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment.’

Many have assumed that it is the weekly Sabbath mentioned here, and that Yeshua was therefore crucified on a Friday. But in the gospel of John 19:31 it shows that this approaching Sabbath “was a high day”, or a Holy day as in a festival. So this was NOT the weekly Sabbath (by the way, the Jewish Shabbat [Sabbath] is always a Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) but in fact it was the first day of Unleavened Bread, which is one of God’s annual high, or Sabbath, days (Exodus 12:16-17; Leviticus 23:6-7). These annual Holy Days could—and usually did—fall on days of the week other than the regular weekly Sabbath day.

So, could this high-day Sabbath have fallen on a Wednesday night to Thursday night, since Luke 23:56 shows that the women, after seeing Christ’s body being laid in the tomb just before sunset, “returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils” for the final preparation of the body. Such work would not have been done on a Sabbath day since it would have been considered a violation of the Sabbath. This is verified by Mark’s account, which states, “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices [which they would not have purchased on the high-day Sabbath], that they might come and anoint Him” (Gospel of Mark 16:1).

The women had to wait until this annual “high day” Sabbath was over before they could buy and prepare the spices to be used for anointing Yeshua’s body. Then, after purchasing and preparing the spices and oils on Friday, “they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56). This second Sabbath mentioned in the Gospel accounts is the regular weekly Shabbat (Sabbath), observed from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.

By comparing details in both Gospels—where Mark tells us the women bought spices AFTER the Sabbath and Luke relates that they prepared the spices BEFORE resting on the Sabbath—we can clearly see that two different Sabbaths are mentioned. The first, as John 19:31 tells us, was a “high day”—the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (which, according to those who have meticulously worked it out, in A.D. 31, fell on a Thursday). The second was the weekly seventh-day Shabbat.

Now many believe that Yeshua was raised from the dead on the Sunday. But was He? Is this really what the Gospels tell us? Note, after the women rested on the regular weekly Sabbath, they went to Jesus’ tomb early on the first day of the week (Sunday), “while it was still dark” (John 20:1), and found that He had ALREADY been resurrected (Matthew 28:1-6; Mark 16:2-6; Luke 24:1-3). So when was He resurrected? Could it have been on the Saturday night – after the Shabbat had finished – on the first day of the new week (remember, the Jewish 24 hour ‘day’ starts at evening, as it states in Genesis 1:5 ‘God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day).

When we consider the details in all four Gospel accounts, the picture is clear. Yeshua was crucified and entombed late on Wednesday afternoon, just before a Sabbath began at sunset. However, that was a high-day Sabbath, lasting from Wednesday sunset to Thursday sunset that week, rather than the regular weekly Sabbath, lasting from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. He remained in the tomb from Wednesday at sunset until Saturday at sunset, when He rose from the dead. While no one witnessed His resurrection (which took place inside a sealed tomb), it had to have happened near sunset on Saturday, three days and three nights after His body was entombed. It could not have happened on Sunday morning, because when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb that morning before sunrise, “while it was still dark,” she found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.
We can be assured that the length of His entombment that Yeshua gave as proof He was the Messiah was exactly as long as He foretold. Yeshua (Jesus) rose precisely three days and three nights after He was placed in the tomb. Remember… Yeshua was a Jew. The early church was Jewish. Because most people do not understand the Biblical high days that Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) and His followers kept, they fail to understand the chronological details so accurately preserved for us in the Gospels.

Now I know, at the end of the day, many might ask, “Does it matter?” After all, the most important fact is that Yeshua died for the sins of all mankind and rose again so that we can have everlasting salvation. This is of course the most important thing… however, I feel we also need to look at the fullness of the Scriptures, and understand the Hebraic background so that we be enriched and know the full truth!

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