I have personally wrestled with the question of both the year and specifically the day of the crucifixion for many years. When I initially published my new book, Witnessing the End, I held the view that it must have been a Thursday, rather than Friday when Jesus was crucified. People like the late Chuck Missler have even made strong cases for a Wednesday crucifixion. However, thanks to the thoughtful criticism of a pastor who recently reviewed my book I was forced to rethink that position. And while the day of the crucifixion was not a central point in my book (it is only dependent on the year), it still bore re-examination. I am now happy to say that with his help and some additional research of my own on the topic, I can finally say that I feel there is a completely satisfactory answer in every regard that preserves the Friday tradition, and I have now revised the book manuscript to reflect this change of view.
I didn’t have enough space in the book to exhaustively cover this topic, though, so I’m including a much deeper explanation of the day and year of the crucifixion here in this blog post. Of course, the explanation below will still not satisfy some, but I think it may indeed satisfy most everyone else.
Perhaps the best way to begin this discussion is with the facts as they are presented in the Gospels. To begin with, Christ was undoubtedly raised on the first day of the week, Sunday, just before dawn (John 20:1, Mark 16:2-4, Luke 24:1-2 & Matthew 28:1).
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.John 20:1 (NIV)
2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.Mark 16:2-4 (NIV)
1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb…Luke 24:1-2 (NIV)
1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.Matthew 28:1 (NIV)
In the above accounts we read that Mary Magdalene and the other women set out “very early in the morning,” even “while it was still dark,” and arrived “at dawn,” “just after sunrise.” Some might see contradictions here, but clearly all of these statements are easily harmonized into one overall picture of the events. Also, when they arrived the stone was clearly already rolled away and the soldiers were gone. This means that Christ’s resurrection happened before the dawn of Sunday morning.
Next, Luke 9:22 says that Jesus would be raised “on the third day,” which would agree with a Friday crucifixion before his Sunday resurrection. It also agrees with a messianic interpretation of Hosea 6:2.
22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”Luke 9:22 (NIV)
2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.Hosea 6:2 (NIV)
However, Matthew 12:40 says that Christ would be buried for three days and three nights, but there were only two nights from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. And some might also argue that because Christ rose before dawn, there were really only two days and two nights.
40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.Matthew 12:40 (NIV)
Many (including myself) have argued that the best answer to that dilemma is to consider that the crucifixion may not have taken place on a Friday. Furthermore, the events of the Passover and crucifixion have to be analyzed in a Jewish context and with a Jewish calendar. Therefore, these events had to take place on the 14th of Nisan, the day designated by God, through Moses, for the Passover sacrifice. Hence, if Nisan 14 fell on a Friday, then the beginning of that day was actually at sunset on the previous day, in this case Thursday. This is because during the week of creation, God announced that “there was evening and there was morning” for the completion of each day of Creation (Genesis 1). Consequently, the Jews recognized the start of each new day at evening, after sunset, instead of at midnight (like most of the rest of the world does now).
Therefore, if Jesus was crucified on the eve of the 14th, then Jesus would have actually been crucified on Thursday. A Thursday crucifixion easily provides three days and three nights. One can count a day and a night for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and assume that Christ arose before the start of Sunday, or count only the night for Thursday (he was buried near sunset) and count Sunday day, even though the sun hadn’t quite risen yet. Either way, it is possible to account for three days and three nights in this way. This was the view I held when I initially published my book, Witnessing the End.
However, there are still some problems with that explanation. First, how can one account for both a resurrection “on the third day” and “after three days and three nights”? It would seem that after three days and three nights must be the fourth day. Or we must assume that Jesus rose on the third day (i.e., the end of Saturday night) and that it was only the visit of the women and the disciples that happened on Sunday. Hence, one might then conclude that we should be celebrating Easter Saturday–but that just doesn’t sound right. However you slice it, it seems like something doesn’t fit perfectly. Second, there is a mystery regarding how Jesus was able to legitimately observe the Passover with his disciples on the night BEFORE he was crucified. There have been some proposals to explain this, but they are all based on presumptions that cannot really be proven. For instance, it could be assumed that the Galileans had started the month of Nisan one day earlier based on a difference in the timing of the sighting of the new moon between Jerusalem and the Galilee. Or that the Sadducees and Pharisees followed different calendars, but again, there is very little to support those kinds of presumptions. Some have even suggested that Jesus didn’t really celebrate a Passover dinner with his disciples because the account doesn’t say anything about them eating lamb at the Last Supper!
Fortunately, there are answers for these questions, which marvelously resolve all of these enigmas. First, it is crucial to understand that according to Jewish reckoning, a part of a day is counted as a whole day (Mishnah Eduyot 7:5). This is also explained and reiterated numerous times in the Talmud. Thus, Friday to Sunday, in a Jewish way of thinking, could be counted as three full days. Additionally, even in a general sense Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are clearly three days in number.
Next, three “nights” can be counted literally if we include the solar eclipse that occurred during Christ’s crucifixion as a third “night”—when darkness fell on the land for three hours (Mark 15:33) at the end of which Jesus breathed his last (Mark 15:37). Now, this was probably not a normal eclipse of the sun but was instead something entirely supernatural; however, we do have extra-biblical confirmation that there was an eclipse in the testimony of the Greek historian Phlegon, who reported that there was an eclipse of the sun in AD 33 (the 202nd Olympiad), and he also said that the “stars even appeared in the heavens.” [Found in a fragment from Olympiades he Chronika 13, ed. Otto Keller, Rerum Naturali-um Scriptores Graeci Minores, 1 (Leipzig Teurber, 1877): 101.]
33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.Mark 15:33-37 (NIV)
Some might wonder how this could truly be counted as one night, but again the answer comes from understanding Jewish thought. They say that night begins after the twilight of sunset when the first three stars become visible (Mishnah Torah, Sabbath 5:4). Hence, the darkness during Christ’s crucifixion–when even the stars were seen and which ended with his death–could honestly be counted as the first of three nights.
There is also a prophetic allusion to night falling while Jesus was hanging on the cross found in Psalm 22:1-2. The first verse of this Psalm is one of the seven things Christ uttered while on the Cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). But in the very next verse, the psalmist says, “My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.”
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.Psalm 22:1-2 (NIV – emphasis added)
[For more on the connection with Psalm 22 see: Pastor Derek Walker–Oxford Bible Church–he does a great job of connecting this Psalm with a third night in this video: https://youtu.be/g0UDn-6O_48] Taken together, there is strong support for counting the eclipse as the first night.
Next, in Exodus 12:6 it says that the Passover sacrifice was to be made “beyin ha’arbayim,” which means literally, “between the evenings” of Nisan 14. The NIV translates the phrase as “at twilight” but again the literal words are in-between the evenings (plural). The tradition of the Jews, as recorded in the Talmud, however, was to wait until the next afternoon to offer the lambs.
6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight (beyin ha’arbayim).Exodus 12:6 (NIV)
The Passover sacrifice must be slaughtered in the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, whether Sabbath or weekday.Jerusalem Talmud Horayot 1:1:3 note 15
Don’t miss the significance of such a simple phrase (beyin ha’arbayim), though. God providentially provided for a 24-hour period to offer the passover sacrifice. It wasn’t according to normal tradition, but it was allowed according to the law. You see, the ambiguity that God left in his instructions to the Jewish people regarding the precise timing of offering of the Passover sacrifice can be easily seen, in this context, to have been intentional. This explains how Jesus could have legitimately begun to celebrate the Passover dinner with his disciples on Thursday night when evening came at the start of Nisan 14 (Mark 14:17).
16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. 17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve.Mark 14:16-17 (NIV)
Then later, but still on Nisan 14, Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night, tried, crucified in the morning, and finally he died when the Passover lambs were traditionally being sacrificed in the afternoon of the 14th. He was then placed in a tomb before sunset and the start of the regular Sabbath, which was the 15th of Nisan. Thus, the intentional lack of clarity in God’s instructions to Moses created a wide window of time that nearly 1,500 years later was needed in order to give Jesus the time to both celebrate Passover and to become the Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7b).
For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.1 Corinthians 5:7b (NIV)
When we consider all of the above, we are left with solid support for the enduring tradition of the church that Christ was crucified on a Friday–Good Friday. This should be reassuring to Christians that these traditions, just like the true Gospel, have been faithfully handed down to us. Now clearly, not every modern tradition in the church has been faithfully handed down from the Apostles, but I think we have some excellent support for this one.
Now that we have confirmed that Christ was truly crucified on a Friday Passover, there are really only two viable years for the event that had Passovers that began on Thursday’s continuing into Friday’s, and they fell in AD 30 and AD 33. [See: Colin J. Humphreys and W.G. Waddington. THE JEWISH CALENDAR, A LUNAR ECLIPSE AND THE DATE OF CHRIST’S CRUCIFIXION, Tyndale Bulletin 43.2 (1992): 331-351.]
However, only AD 33 has the testimony of the early church fathers, like Hippolytus, who reported that Christ was crucified in AD 33 [Coxe. Ante-Nicene Fathers, “Hippolytus: Fragments from Commentaries,” v.5, 179.]. There are also good historical arguments from the reign of Pilate to support this date. [Harold Hoehner. Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (1977): 105-14; Darrell Bock. Studying the Historical Jesus (2002): 76-77.] Moreover, there are multiple ancient sources that confirm that Christ was crucified in AD 33, including reports that there was a great earthquake and an eclipse of the sun at that time. The earliest account is by Phlegon (c. AD 137), who reported that all those things occurred in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (AD 33). Plus, the only reports of an earthquake in Israel during Christ’s ministry are in AD 33 (this can be confirmed on the NOAA website: https://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/hazel/view/hazards/earthquake/event-more-info/8178).
[For more information on the sources to support that there was an earthquake and three hours of darkness during the crucifixion see: www.christianevidence.net/ 2017/12/historical-evidence-darkness-earthquake.html]
There is yet another reason to recognize AD 33 as the year of the crucifixion and it comes from Daniel’s prophecy of seventy sevens (Daniel 9:24-27). While many people count the final week of Daniel as of yet unfulfilled, there is good reason to recognize that the period of time from Artaxerses’ decree to restore Jerusalem in 458 BC to AD 33 was exactly 490 years. Now this doesn’t mean that Daniel’s prophecy is complete. As I explain in my new book, Witnessing the End: Daniel’s Seventy Sevens and the Final Decree Everyone Missed, there are two periods of seventy sevens.
Consequently, we can confidently affirm that crucifixion took place on Friday, April 3, AD 33, which really does give us the best explanation of everything that the Scriptures testify about this blessed event.
One interesting side note that emerges from recognizing the above is that this tells us that Jesus’ ministry was nearly seven years in length. [It was a little less than seven years, but in Jewish reckoning a part of a year is counted as a whole year (Siftei Chakhamim, Genesis 17:26:1).] Admittedly, a seven-year ministry is not a traditional viewpoint, but the Scriptures do not specify exactly how long Jesus’ ministry lasted, nor his age at his crucifixion. We also know that Jesus did many more things than what were recorded in the Gospels, both before and during his ministry (John 21:25). So, there is no conflict with Scripture if Jesus had a seven-year ministry.
The length of Jesus’ ministry was a subject widely debated by the early church fathers. Suggestions ranged from just one year all the way up to over ten years. The theory that his ministry lasted at least ten years is based on the comment of the Jews to Jesus that he was “not yet fifty years old” in John 8:57. Hence, Irenaeus, circa AD 180, argued that Jesus must have been over forty! This makes it clear that no one in the early church knew for sure how long Jesus’ ministry lasted. Later, Eusebius (fourth century) claimed that his ministry lasted for less than four years because of Josephus’ account of the length of the terms of the high priests that served during that time. There are problems with Eusebius’ assumptions about the high priests, though, so it’s not an airtight argument by any means; but from that point on, it
became the traditional view in the church. It is almost universally accepted that since there are only three, or maybe four, unique Passovers recorded in Scripture, then Jesus’ ministry couldn’t have been longer than three years, but there is no scriptural basis for presuming that every Passover of Jesus’ ministry was recorded by the Apostles (John 21:25). Considered altogether, there is no concrete reason to deny that Jesus’ ministry could have been much longer than the traditionally supposed three and half years. Looking at all the corroborative sources for both an early start (AD 27) and a later crucifixion (AD 33), it seems wiser to accept a longer length of ministry than to preserve the presumption of a three-year ministry.
I hope you found this lengthy explanation to be of help. It has sure been a blessing to me personally to have wrestled with this issue for such a long time and to finally feel like the puzzle is now complete, with no missing pieces…
Thank you for sending this. I will have to study it again, but always thought the crucifixion must have been on Wednesday or Thursday and that the resurrection occurred around sunset on the Saturday.
Thanks for your comments. I too, was definitely swayed to consider a date other than Friday, but I think if you really look closely at this post, you’ll see why the traditional date actually does make the most sense. Blessings, Christian
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I actually believe Christ raised
on Saturday at dusk which is really Sunday morning the first day of the week. If not then he would have spent a fourth night in the grave, which the body would become corrupt.
I agree that there were clearly only three nights, but too many nights is not a problem for a Friday crucifixion, it’s only a problem for those that contend that Christ was crucified on a Wednesday. As for the timing of the resurrection, we can infer from the doctored report of the guards that Jesus was resurrected some time during Saturday night, probably in the early hours of Sunday morning when the night is still very dark (See Matthew 28:13).