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What Day Was the Crucifixion?

Originally posted April 13, 2006.

On which day was Jesus crucified? It seems like an odd question, doesn’t it? The gospels give a clear record of a Friday crucifixion, so why even ask? Well, that is what I said, too, but there are some who claim that Jesus must have been crucified on Wednesday or Thursday, and they are not entirely without justification. A Friday night burial and Sunday morning resurrection allows only one full day and two nights in the tomb, when Jesus clearly said that he would be in the grave for “three days and three nights.” Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, under divine inspiration, clearly chronicled a Friday evening burial and Sunday morning resurrection. So, who is wrong? Consider the Gospel accounts:

Day 1, Friday: Death and burial


37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. . . . 42 When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. 45 And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.

—Mark 15

46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last. . . . 50 And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man . . . 52 this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain. 54 It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

—Luke 23

30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. 31 Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. . . . 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. . . . 38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. . . . 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

—John 19

Day 2, Saturday: Guards posted


62 Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’ 64 Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” 66 And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.

—Matthew 27

Day 3, Sunday: Resurrection


Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. . . . The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.”

—Matthew 28

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. . . . Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.”

—Mark 16

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

—Luke 24

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. . . . 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.

—John 20

These are obviously three consecutive days. Jesus was crucified and buried on the first day (the day of preparation for the Sabbath), guards were placed at the tomb on the second (the Sabbath), and Jesus rose from the tomb on the third (the day following the Sabbath, the first day of the week). Friday, Saturday, Sunday. If it is so obvious, why even bring it up? Because eventually, you may be faced with this question, and it is good to be able to answer with more than, “I don’t know, I never thought of that, that’s a good question,” like I did when I was first asked. This is not just a crackpot theory that you will hear from the eccentric oddball who talks too much in your adult Sunday school class. I heard it first from Charles Swindoll. It is also a choice argument for those who like to point out that “the Bible is full of contradictions.” Those who question the Gospel accounts will do so based on Matthew, who refers to Jonah.
imagefor just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

—Matthew 24:12

And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.

—Jonah 1:17

The gospels all agree that Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday, and rose early Sunday morning. It is easily understood that “three days in the belly of the fish/heart of the earth” does not have to mean a full seventy-two hours. He was buried on Friday, and rose on Sunday; three days. But it is only two nights. What about that third night? According to C.F. Keil,

The three days and three nights are not to be regarded as fully three times twenty hours, but are to be interpreted according to Hebrew usage, as signifying that Jonah was vomited up again on the third day after he had been swallowed.

—C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament (Hendrickson, 1996), 10:269.

John MacArthur writes,

The matter of three days and three nights is often used either to prove Jesus was mistaken about the time he would actually spend in the tomb or that he could not have been crucified on Friday afternoon and raised early on Sunday, the first day of the week. But as in modern usage, the phrase “day and night” can mean not only a full 24-hour day but any representative part of a day. . . . the Jewish Talmud held that “any part of a day is as the whole.” Jesus was simply using a common, well-understood generalization.

—John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 8–15 (Moody, 1987), 329.

Those who insist on interpreting Matthew 12:40 according to modern idiom must explain away the details contained in the gospel accounts. They also create for themselves a no-win situation. Jesus was buried in the evening, and rose in the morning. Therefore, if he was in the grave for three nights, then he was in the grave for only two days, if you only count full days, and he was in the grave for five days if you count partial days. It cannot be exactly three full days and three full nights. No matter how you figure it, it does not add up.

This is a good example of why correct biblical interpretation requires that we understand what the text meant to its original audience. Whatever it meant to them is what it means to us.

Related: Dr. Walter Kaiser agrees, as does Pastor Phillip Way.

Posted 2011·04·22 by David Kjos
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Posted in: C F Keil · Christology · John MacArthur · Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament · Lent/Passion Week/Easter · MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew
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#1 || 11·10·29··15:14 || Gene Rooks

On the question of the three days and three nights, and the Jewish practice of considering part of a day as the whole, I would like to direct your attention to this: Talmud - Mas. Pesachim 55a - Rabina says: "We do say once that part of the day is as the whole of it, but we do not say twice that part of the day is as the whole of it." In other words, you may count Friday as a whole day, but not Sunday too. This is one of several reasons I have for maintaining Jesus was crucified on Thursday, Nisan 14th, before the eve of Nisan 15th which was celebrated as a Sabbath on the first day of Unleavened Bread, and also included a feast, not the Passover which was on the eve of the 14th. Not a weekly Sabbath which then began Nisan 16th, with the Resurrection Nisan 17th. Comments?

#2 || 11·10·29··16:11 || David Kjos

I think, like all the other theories, it's an answer looking for a question. I don't think there has ever been a reason to doubt the Friday burial/Sunday resurrection.

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