(All Bible quotations, except otherwise stated, are from the American King James Version).
Christians the world over commemorate the death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, the day he was believed to have been crucified (according to church tradition), just as it’s universally accepted he resurrected on Easter Sunday. Following church tradition then, Christ couldn’t have been in the grave for up to two full days, since the Lord died around 3:00 PM, and was buried before 6:00 PM on the same day. If Jesus was buried on Friday evening, and resurrected very early on Sunday (most likely on Saturday night, for his grave to be discovered empty early on Sunday morning), then his stay in the grave would amount to just a little over 24 hours—he would have stayed in the grave, under this scenario, just for one day and two nights at most.
Yet, the Lord Jesus Christ emphatically told his disciples he would be buried in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights, the same length of time Jonah, who typified his burial and resurrection, was in the belly of the whale. Jesus equally told the Pharisees that if they destroyed the temple of his body, he’d raise it up in three days, further confirming the fact that he would spend three days in the grave before resurrecting. The apostles of the Lord, who were eye-witnesses of his death and resurrection, also testified that he rose from the dead after three days. But there are some contradictions between what Jesus and his apostles taught about the length of time he stayed in the grave, and what church tradition believes and practices on this subject. Since Jesus and his apostles, rather than church tradition, are to be believed on this issue, how then did the church get the day of Jesus’ death wrong, since he couldn’t have died on a Friday, if he truly spent three days and three nights in the grave, and had already risen very early on Sunday morning? We shall examine the Scriptures to answer this question, as well as to find the correct day of the week on which the Lord was crucified.
Jonah 1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Matthew 12:38 Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from you.
Matthew 12:39 But he answered and said to them, An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
Matthew 12:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
John 2:18 Then answered the Jews and said to him, What sign show you to us, seeing that you do these things?
John 2:19 Jesus answered and said to them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
John 2:20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and will you raise it up in three days?
John 2:21 But he spoke of the temple of his body.
John 2:22 When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this to them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.
Matthew 17:22 And while they stayed in Galilee, Jesus said to them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men:
Matthew 17:23 And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry.
Luke 24:1 Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the sepulcher, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.
Luke 24:2 And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulcher.
Luke 24:3 And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
Luke 24:4 And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:
Luke 24:5 And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said to them, Why seek you the living among the dead?
Luke 24:6 He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spoke to you when he was yet in Galilee,
Luke 24:7 Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.
Luke 24:8 And they remembered his words,
Luke 24:9 And returned from the sepulcher, and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest.
1 Corinthians 15:1 Moreover, brothers, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand;
1 Corinthians 15:2 By which also you are saved, if you keep in memory what I preached to you, unless you have believed in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
1 Corinthians 15:4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
Let’s start by reviewing the Jewish division of time in the Scriptures, as this is very important in understanding how days and nights were measured in biblical times. For the Jews in the Old Testament, the day was divided into 12 hours (from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM), and the night too was broken down into 12 hours (from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM), composed of four equal watches of three hours each. The Jewish day started from 6:00 AM and ended by 6:00 PM, while the night started by 6:00 PM and ended by 6:00 AM. Thus, the first hour of the day was 7:00 AM, while the 12th hour of the day was 6:00 PM. The 11th hour workers we read in Jesus’ parable were thus recruited around 5:00 PM, and worked for only one hour (the ancient Jews stopped all work by 6:00 PM—no one worked while it was night). Another thing to note also is that, the Jews in the Old Testament calculated each day from evening to evening. Thus, Friday started from 6:00 PM on Thursday and ended by 6:00 PM on Friday. Saturday, the regular weekly Sabbath day, traditionally started by 6:00 PM on Friday and ended by 6:00 PM on Saturday. So, for Christ to spend three days and three nights in the grave, to arise during the night of Saturday, means he must have died by Wednesday. That way, he would have spent three nights in the grave—Wednesday night, Thursday night and Friday night—, and he would have equally spent three days in the grave—thursday day, Friday day and Saturday day. He would then have risen by Saturday night (anytime from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM), so that by very early in the morning on Sunday (remember the day started by 6am), the grave was already empty, because he had already risen! That’s the only way the Lord could have spent three days and three nights in the grave before his resurrection, like he told his disciples, and like his disciples bore witness. His dying on Friday, as the church traditionally believes, would have made this impossible!
John 11:9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbles not, because he sees the light of this world.
John 11:10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbles, because there is no light in him.
Matthew 20:1 For the kingdom of heaven is like to a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard.
Matthew 20:2 And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
Matthew 20:3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
Matthew 20:4 And said to them; Go you also into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
Matthew 20:5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
Matthew 20:6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and said to them, Why stand you here all the day idle?
Matthew 20:7 They say to him, Because no man has hired us. He said to them, Go you also into the vineyard; and whatever is right, that shall you receive.
Matthew 20:8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard said to his steward, Call the laborers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last to the first.
Matthew 20:9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
Matthew 20:10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
Matthew 20:11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the manager of the house,
Matthew 20:12 Saying, These last have worked but one hour, and you have made them equal to us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
Matthew 20:13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do you no wrong: did not you agree with me for a penny?
Matthew 20:14 Take that your is, and go your way: I will give to this last, even as to you.
Matthew 20:15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own? Is your eye evil, because I am good?
Matthew 20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
So, if Jesus died on a Wednesday and not on a Friday, how did the church miss it and get mixed up with Good Friday? How could such an obvious fact have eluded Bible scholars and theologians over the centuries? The answer is simple—rather than walking back from the definitely known resurrection day to the unknown crucifixion day, scholars had relied on the relationship of the sabbath day to the crucifixion to determine the day of its occurrence. Instead of accepting the Lord’s words literally about the number of days he would be in the grave, and walking three days back from the day of the resurrection to set the day of the Lord’s death, people decided to work presumptuously with a scripture that put the next day after his death as a sabbath day, presuming every sabbath day to be Saturday. Based on this assumption of every sabbath day being a Saturday, and since the crucifixion occured before a high sabbath, the day Jesus died was thus erroneously fixed on a Friday. Meanwhile, little thought was given to the fact that from Friday evening to Saturday night could never amount to three days and three nights!
Mark 15:33 And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
Mark 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Mark 15:35 And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calls Elias.
Mark 15:36 And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down.
Mark 15:37 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.
Mark 15:38 And the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom.
Mark 15:39 And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.
Mark 15:40 There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;
Mark 15:41 (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him;) and many other women which came up with him to Jerusalem.
Mark 15:42 And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,
Mark 15:43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honorable counselor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly to Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.
Mark 15:44 And Pilate marveled if he were already dead: and calling to him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead.
Mark 15:45 And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.
Mark 15:46 And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulcher which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone to the door of the sepulcher.
Mark 15:47 And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.
John 19:28 After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said, I thirst.
John 19:29 Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it on hyssop, and put it to his mouth.
John 19:30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
John 19:31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) sought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
John 19:32 Then came the soldiers, and broke the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.
John 19:33 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they broke not his legs:
John 19:34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and immediately came there out blood and water.
John 19:35 And he that saw it bore record, and his record is true: and he knows that he said true, that you might believe.
John 19:36 For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.
John 19:37 And again another scripture said, They shall look on him whom they pierced.
John 19:38 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, sought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
John 19:39 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
John 19:40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
John 19:41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid.
John 19:42 There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulcher was near at hand.
The error in setting the day of the crucifixion of Christ arose from the assumption that every Sabbath day was a Saturday! Of course, we know that the normal weekly Sabbath day in the Old Testament was Saturday, the seventh day, the day consecrated in the law for rest from secular work and for the worship of God. However, what is easily missed when reading the Old Testament is that, apart from the weekly Sabbath which was observed invariably on Saturdays, there were other days of the week on which fixed festivals of the Jews randomly fell, and that the beginning of those festivals were to be declared special or high sabbaths, and were to be observed as days of rest, the same way as the regular weekly Sabbaths. For instance, the Passover was to be celebrated on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nissan or Habib, the first month of the Jewish calendar, which traditionally falls between March and April in our Roman calendar. This date can fall on any day of the week, depending on the year in which it occurs. Whatever the day of the week the 14th day of Nissan fell on, it was to be declared a special sabbath and to be observed as a day of rest as the regular Saturday Sabbath, the same way the 25th of December can fall on any day of the week, and whatever day it falls upon is to be declared a public holiday. This special or high sabbath is not just for the Passover feast, but for all other sacred feasts of the Jews that had fixed dates. The first and last days of such feasts were usually observed as special or high sabbaths.
Leviticus 23:1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Leviticus 23:2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts.
Leviticus 23:3 Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
Leviticus 23:4 These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their seasons.
Leviticus 23:5 In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’s passover.
Leviticus 23:6 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to the LORD: seven days you must eat unleavened bread.
Leviticus 23:7 In the first day you shall have an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein.
Leviticus 23:8 But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD seven days: in the seventh day is an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein.
Leviticus 23:9 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Leviticus 23:10 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When you be come into the land which I give to you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest:
Leviticus 23:11 And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.
Leviticus 23:12 And you shall offer that day when you wave the sheaf an he lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering to the LORD.
Leviticus 23:13 And the meat offering thereof shall be two tenth deals of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire to the LORD for a sweet smell: and the drink offering thereof shall be of wine, the fourth part of an hin.
Leviticus 23:14 And you shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that you have brought an offering to your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
Leviticus 23:15 And you shall count to you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete:
Leviticus 23:16 Even to the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall you number fifty days; and you shall offer a new meat offering to the LORD.
Leviticus 23:17 You shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven; they are the first fruits to the LORD.
Leviticus 23:18 And you shall offer with the bread seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be for a burnt offering to the LORD, with their meat offering, and their drink offerings, even an offering made by fire, of sweet smell to the LORD.
Leviticus 23:19 Then you shall sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offerings.
Leviticus 23:20 And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to the LORD for the priest.
Leviticus 23:21 And you shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation to you: you shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.
Leviticus 23:22 And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not make clean riddance of the corners of your field when you reap, neither shall you gather any gleaning of your harvest: you shall leave them to the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God.
Leviticus 23:23 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Leviticus 23:24 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall you have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation.
Leviticus 23:25 You shall do no servile work therein: but you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.
Leviticus 23:26 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Leviticus 23:27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation to you; and you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.
Leviticus 23:28 And you shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God.
Leviticus 23:29 For whatever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people.
Leviticus 23:30 And whatever soul it be that does any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people.
Leviticus 23:31 You shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
Leviticus 23:32 It shall be to you a sabbath of rest, and you shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even to even, shall you celebrate your sabbath.
Leviticus 23:33 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Leviticus 23:34 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days to the LORD.
Leviticus 23:35 On the first day shall be an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein.
Leviticus 23:36 Seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD: on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation to you; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD: it is a solemn assembly; and you shall do no servile work therein.
Leviticus 23:37 These are the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to the LORD, a burnt offering, and a meat offering, a sacrifice, and drink offerings, every thing on his day:
Leviticus 23:38 Beside the sabbaths of the LORD, and beside your gifts, and beside all your vows, and beside all your freewill offerings, which you give to the LORD.
Leviticus 23:39 Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep a feast to the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.
Leviticus 23:40 And you shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.
Leviticus 23:41 And you shall keep it a feast to the LORD seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: you shall celebrate it in the seventh month.
Leviticus 23:42 You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths:
Leviticus 23:43 That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
Leviticus 23:44 And Moses declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the LORD.
Thus, not every sabbath in the celebration of a Jewish festival was necessarily a Saturday. The beginning and last days of every Jewish festival, irrespective of the day of the week it fell on, was a sabbath, not just the regular weekly sabbath that falls on Saturday. Sabbath is not synonymous with Saturday. Sabbath simply means ‘rest‘. Any day a rest was declared for the Jews to celebrate a religious festival was called a sabbath, whatever the day of the week it fell on. Such sabbaths that fell on days other than Saturday were called special sabbaths or high sabbaths. The high sabbath in the Gospel that followed the day our Lord was crucified was therefore not the regular weekly sabbath that was observed on Saturday! It was a special or high sabbath, to mark the beginning of the feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread. Therefore, to assume the high sabbath following the crucifixion was Saturday, and then conclude the crucifixion took place on Friday, the day that normally preceded a regular sabbath, was a gross error! It was this wrong assumption that led to the adoption of Friday as the day of the crucifixion, which makes it impossible for Christ to be in the grave for three days and three nights and still resurrect on Saturday night (between 6:00 PM and 6:00 AM)! The wise thing to do, in determining the day of the crucifixion, would have been to walk back three days and three nights from Saturday night, which would give us Wednesday as the day of the Lord’s death. It’s only by dying on Wednesday by 3:00 PM, and getting buried before 6:00 PM on that day, that the Lord could spend three days (Thursday day, Friday day and Saturday day) and three nights (Wednesday night, Thursday night and Friday night) in the grave and rise up Saturday night (6:00 PM to 6:00 AM), for the tomb to be empty very early on Sunday morning! To fix the crucifixion on any other day would distort Scripture and present a glaring contradiction between what was prophesied and what happened. It’s no wonder then that critics of the Bible had latched onto the church’s erroneous interpretation of the crucifixion day to poke holes in the infallibility of Scripture and its divine origin. If we can’t convince sceptics and critics that Christ actually stayed for three days and three nights in the grave like he said, how can we convince them of the literal fulfilment of other things the Lord prophesied about? That’s why it’s important to get the day of the Lord’s crucifixion right, because the Scriptures cannot be broken! There are no contradictions in the Bible if rightly divided, for Scripture does not fight Scripture, though scholars may fight one another in their interpretations of Scripture.
In conclusion, the day traditionally accepted as the day of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus poses a lot of problems with respect to the number of days the Lord spent in the grave before his resurrection. If we follow the tradition of Good Friday as the day of the crucifixion, and if we agree with the Scripture that Christ had already risen early on Sunday morning, then it would mean he spent less than two full days in the grave, contradicting myriads of Scriptures, including Jesus’ own prophecies about his death, as well as eye-witness accounts of the apostles concerning his death and resurrection. Friday was erroneously assumed to be the day of the crucifixion because the day after it was a sabbath day, and it was assumed every sabbath day was a Saturday. However, what was not taken into consideration in arriving at that conclusion was that the beginning of the feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread was to be declared as a special sabbath called a high sabbath, whatever the day it fell on. Thus, not all sabbaths in the Bible fell on Saturdays, as the first and last days of most holy feasts in Israel were to be declared mandatory sabbath days of rest, whatever the days they fell on. Thus, the high sabbath that followed the crucifixion was not the regular weekly sabbath of the seventh day (Saturday), but occurred on a Thursday. The crucifixion therefore took place a day before this high sabbath (on Wednesday). Thus, Jesus died around 3:00 PM on Wednesday, and was buried before 6:00 PM on that day. He thus was able to spend three days and three nights in the grave, and rose up Saturday night, as the grave was already empty very early on Sunday morning. Therefore, we should be talking of Good Wednesday, not Good Friday! This knowledge may seem irrelevant to some people, but it goes a long way to prove there’s no discrepancy in the Bible and no contradictions in the Scriptures, once they are rightly divided. Critics who have used such apparent contradictions to attack the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible would thus be disarmed, on learning that truly, the Lord spent three days and three nights in the grave before resurrecting, as prophesied and as foreshadowed in the Old Testament. Truly, the Word of God must be accomplished exactly as spoken, for the Word of God cannot fail. Blessed be the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
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