All Christians believe Christ died and rose from the grave. This belief is foundational to Christianity. God justifies only those with this faith (Romans 3:25). Without such faith one has no hope of pleasing God (Hebrews 11:6).
However, more than a few people believe Christ died and rose from the dead without knowing when and why He died. Knowledge about the details of Christ's death and resurrection immeasurably strengthen one's conviction and assurance that Christianity is not one of many possible valid religions, but is the body of truth once delivered by God to us. To put it in specific terms, knowing the details of Christ's death deepens one's faith in God and decreases one's fear of man.
Jesus Christ Died on a Thursday, not a Friday.
If this is the first time you've heard that Jesus died on a Thursday, it might sound strange to your ears, particularly when powerful songs, great messages, and vivid memories revolve around Good Friday. However, if you allow yourself to be influenced by Scripture only (sola Scriptura), you will find that the Thursday death of the Messiah becomes a powerful demonstration of God's infinite ability to orchestrate His Story as the centerpiece of history.
Jesus died at 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon, on Thursday, the 14th of Aviv, 30 A.D at the age of 33, at that very time God appointed for the Messiah to die. "I have come to fulfill the Law and the prophets" (Matthew 5:17), Jesus said. He did just as He said He would do--He fulfilled the Law. There is no other day, no other time, no other way Jesus could have died and there is no other day, no other time, no other way Jesus could have risen from the dead for the Law of God to be fulfilled.
For those reading this post who think that our sins are swept away by our promises to God or our performance for God, what I am about to write can help you see that trusting in any man-oriented religious performance keeps one from resting in Christ's work and performance which is the only thing that truly sets sinners free. The truth of what is written in this post will thoroughly erase any belief that God's mercy, love and grace is determined by our ability to adequately perform. Take a moment and determine to "Grow in grace and the knowledge of Christ" and read slowly and carefully through this post.
Jesus dying on Thursday and rising on the following Sunday is thoroughly supported by the Scriptures and is not a new proposition among evangelicals. Nearly one hundred and fifty years ago the scholarly Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 27 (1870), pp. 401–429 published an article entitled The Crucifixion on Thursday – Not Friday by J.K. Aldrich. Greek and New Testament scholar Professor Brooke Westcott of Great Britain, author of the classic work An Introduction to the Study of the Gospels (Cambridge: 1881), pp. 343–349, adamantly maintained that Christ's crucifixion was on Thursday, not Friday. In 1974 Christianity Today published The Day He Died, by Dr. Roger Rusk, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Tennessee. In this short article, Dr. Rusk shows through his computer enhanced lunar calculations that Jesus died on Thursday, the 14th of Abib, 30 A.D.
The Way the Jews Measured Time
There are three basic things you need to understand about the way the Jews kept time in Jesus day before you can know why Jesus died when He did. The Jewish months revolved around eyeballing the moon during its phases of brightness in the sky. When a 'new moon' occurred (see chart), the priests would blow their horns and declare that a new 'month' had begun. Aviv was the first month of the new year for the Jews (see Leviticus 23:5), occuring in the spring as God woke nature from her winter slumber. Aviv corresponds to March/April on our calendar. Jesus died on the 14th day of Aviv, 30 A.D. at 3:00 in the afternoon which would correspond to April 6, 30 A.D. on our western calendar.
Second, the Jews in Jesus day did not call the days of their week Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc... as we do. They called them "the first day of the week, the second day of the week, etc..." The seventh day of the week was a Sabbath and is known to us in the western world as Saturday. The 'first day of the week is what we call Sunday. Of course, Jesus rose on Sunday, the first day of the week (John 20:1).
Finally, a new day BEGAN for the Jews at 6:00 p.m. in the evening. In the western world we have six hours of night before 12:00 midnight and those hours are the last six hours of our day. Not so in Jesus' Jewish world. The hours from 6:00 p.m. to 12:00 midnight were the first six hours of a NEW DAY. So, Jesus died at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, the 14th of Aviv, just three hours before the sixth day of the week (Friday), the 15th of Aviv, began.
The Reason Jesus Died on Thursday (the 14th of Aviv)
After Moses led the Jews out of their Egyptian bondage fourteen hundred years before Christ was born, God "appointed" seven Holy Days (holidays) for the Jews to keep throughout the year. These Holy Days, called High Sabbaths, were national celebrations of God's faithfulness and mercy to His people. God was very specific in His Law (Leviticus 23) as to when and how these Holy Days were to be celebrated.
The first three Holy Days occurred in the spring, during the month of Aviv, all within one week of each other. The first holiday was Passover. According to Exodus 12:1, the Passover lamb was to be chosen on the 10th of Aviv and slain on the 14th of Aviv. After the Passover lamb had been chosen on the 10th of Aviv, the people would inspect the lamb to make sure there were no spots or blemishes. The lamb could not have any broken bones or be defective in any way. Four days after the lamb was chosen, the lamb was slain.
At 3:00 p.m. on the 14th of Aviv, the lamb would be killed in preparation for the Passover meal. The 14th of Aviv was therefore called "the day of Preparation for Passover" in Scripture (John 19:14) . The Jews would also use the day of Preparation (the 14th of Aviv) to sweep away any leaven in their houses in preparation for The Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Feast of Unleavened Bread began on the next day, the15th of Aviv, the same day the Passover Meal was eaten, and lasted for seven days. During this week long festival, the Jews were forbidden to consume bread with leaven. As the week of Unleavened Bread began during the early hours of the 15th of Aviv (from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at night), the Jewish Passover meal would be eaten. The lamb that had been killed three hours earlier (at 3:00 p.m. on the 14th of Aviv) was roasted and eaten at the Passover meal after sunset. The lamb would be eaten along with the unleavened bread that had been prepared during daylight of Aviv 14. Leaven in Scripture is a picture of sin or evil. After the Passover lamb died and had been taken into the Jewish houses, sin and evil disappeared.
The Passover lamb always died on Aviv 14, and leaven was always swept away from the homes on Aviv 14. Again, this day of Aviv 14 was called the day of Preparation for Passover. The actual Feast of Passover was eaten after sunset, in the early hours of Aviv 15, the first day of Unleavened Bread. Remember, the Jewish day BEGINS at 6:00 p.m. so though the Passover meal was eaten between 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. of what we in the western world would consider the SAME day (Aviv 14), but the Jews considered the NEXT DAY, Aviv 15.
The first day of Unleavened Bread was considered a High Sabbath for the Jews. This High Sabbath was not a regular Sabbath (Saturday), but a special annual Sabbath. That means Friday, Aviv 15 was a High Sabbath and Saturday, Aviv 16 was a regular Sabbath. The resurrection of Christ occurred on Sunday morning (Aviv 17) after two Sabbaths, back to back, had been observed by the Jews. This is precisely what the New Testament teaches. The gospel writer Matthew describes the time when the disciples came to the empty tomb of Christ on Sunday morning by writing, “After the Sabbath(s), at dawn on the first day of the week...” (Matthew 28:1a). The Greek word translated Sabbath in this text is “Shabbaton” (plural) not “Shabbat” (singular). Any English translation that does not use "Sabbaths" is mistranslating the Greek text. The crucifixion week had the High Sabbath on Friday plus the weekly Sabbath and Saturday.
Jesus died on the day of Passover Preparation Day, Thursday, Aviv 14. The next day, the First Day of Unleavened Bread (Friday) was Aviv 15 and a special High Sabbath for the Jews. The next day, Aviv 16 (Saturday) was the regular Sabbath for the Jews. It was not uncommon for the Jews to have TWO Sabbaths back to back, an event that occurred at least once a decade, and this is precisely what happened during crucifixion week as stated in Scripture.
In further fulfillment of Scripture, Jesus died at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, Aviv 14, at the very time the national Passover lamb was being sacrificed in the temple. When the Jews counted days, they measured any portion of a day or night and considered it an entire day or night. Jesus was in the grave for 3 days and 3 nights. He was placed in the tomb on Thursday (Aviv 14), remained in the tomb all night/day Friday (Aviv 15; notice the night time comes BEFORE the day time in a Jewish day), all night/day on Saturday (Aviv 16), and into the night time hours (6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. of Sunday, (Aviv 17). Jesus rose from the grave sometime between the sunset following Saturday (Aviv 16) and sunrise of the first day of the week (Mark 16:9), which was Sunday (Aviv 17) for the Scripture says it was still night. The time Jesus spent in the grave fulfills the prophecy Jesus said about His own death and resurrection: "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).
The Anti-Type Fulfills the Type
Follow Jesus as He enters Jerusalem in the spring of 30 A.D. He entered the city on Sunday, Aviv 10, the day we call Palm Sunday. The procession for the national Passover lamb of Israel had just taken place. The lamb had been led into the city from the east and was taken to the Temple to be the public sacrifice for the nation of Israel, and event that would occur four days later (Aviv 14). The lamb was met by crowds of people waving palm branches and joyously singing Psalm 118. Jesus made His final entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, following the national Passover lamb (Matthew 21:1-11). The Jews, many of whom had either known of Jesus or personally witnessed His great miracles, placed their palm branches in front of Him and shouted to Him passages from Psalm 118: "Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest!’”
Just as the Jews began to cleanse their homes of leaven in preparation for Passover, so Jesus went to His Father's house and cleansed the Temple of evil (Matthew 21:12-13). From Aviv 10 to Aviv 14 the national Passover lamb was in full public view at the Temple so the Jews could ensure the lamb was perfect and without defect. During those same four days, Jesus was inspected and interrogated by the chief priests, elders, Pharisees, and Sadducees. He left them bumfuzzled because "they could find no fault with His character (see Matthew 21:23-27). Even the Roman governor of Jerusalem (Pilate) and Herod, the governor of Galilee could "find no fault with Him."
Jesus ate the Passover meal the night BEFORE He was crucified (early hours of Aviv 14, between 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.). The Jews would NOT eat their Passover until 24 hours later, but Jesus instituted a New Covenant - with no lamb eaten - giving bread and wine and saying, "This is my body, and this is my blood, which is shed for you." He was the Lamb of God. It was His death that mattered. The Law of God in the Old Covenant was about to be fulfilled by the Lamb of God. Within a few hours, the Anti-Type (the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world) would fulfill the type (the Passover lamb of Israel). The agreement between God and man changed at Calvary with the institution of the New Covenant. God had Himself a new people (from every tribe, race and nation), a new Temple (the lives of believers in His Son), a new priesthood (men and women, slave and free, Gentile and Jew), and a New Command ("love one another as I have loved you"). The Law pictured that "the just live by faith," but the Lamb made that picture a reality. Faith in Christ's performance for sinners is the only thing that makes a sinner right with God.
Jesus was placed on the cross at "the third hour" (9:00 a.m.) on Aviv 14 (Mark 15:25), less than twelve hours after He shared the New Covenant meal in the Upper Room with His disciples. So it was that the national Passover lamb was bound to the Temple's altar at very same hour. As Jesus hung on the cross, darkness came over the land (Luke 23:44-46) from about "the sixth to the ninth hour" (from noon to 3:00 p.m.). At 3:00 p.m. on Aviv 14, 30 A.D., Jesus died. At that very same time, the national Passover lamb in the Temple was slain by the High Priest. The Passover lamb was sacrificed in the Temple on Aviv 14 "between the evenings" (3:00 p.m.), just as Jesus, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed for the world "between the evenings." As the High Priest brought the knife down on the national Passover lamb, he cried “It is finished!” Just outside the city gate, at that very hour, Jesus cried on the cross, "It Is Finished!" and He died.
Remember, it was forbidden by the Law of God for any of the bones of the Passover lamb to be broken (see Exodus 12:46). At the crucifixion, soldiers came by to break the legs of the two criminals crucified along with Jesus, but they discovered Jesus was already dead. The reason for breaking the criminals legs was to ensure that they would die before sunset and the Passover meal and the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Aviv 15). It took Jesus only six hours to die. I am reminded that He said, "No one takes my life. I lay it down of my own accord" (John 10:18).
Jesus rose three days later, early on "the first day of the week" (Sunday). His Resurrection Day was the same day that the Jews "waved the sheaf of first fruits" in the Temple during the Feast God appointed in the Law, a Feast called "The Feast of the Waving of the Sheaf of First Fruits." Jesus rose on this day, and the fulfillment of the Law in rising as our "first fruits" of resurrection is quite instructive (listen to this past Sunday's Easter message).
Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law. Everything in the Old Testament was about Him. When He walked with the two men on the road to Emmaus, He "began with Moses and all the prophets and explained to them all those things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27)
God appointed the seven Holy Days for Israel (Leviticus 23) nearly a millennium and a half before Jesus ever walked the streets of Jerusalem! What are the odds that Jesus enters Jerusalem on the 10th of Aviv, dies on the 14th of Aviv, is in the tomb during the days of Unleavened Bread, and rises on the "morrow after the Sabbath" (Sunday, the 17th of Aviv) on the very day the Jews celebrated the Feast of the Sheaf of Firstfruits? I could go on and explain to you the Anti-type fulfillment of the last four Jewish feasts (Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Feast Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles), but that is another post. I think you see the beauty of Christ in the Passover.
Next time somebody mocks Christianity and tells you it is a religion of myths and fairy tales, why don't you take a little time to show them that His Story is history itself. Jesus was born on Tabernacles, died at Passover, rose from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits, came to indwell us on Pentecost and will come again at the Feast of Trumpets? It would be wise for all people to see the Holy One in the Holy Days of the Old Testament and how Jesus Christ is the utter fulfillment of the Law.
Finally, when somebody asks you how your sins are swept away, refuse to point that person to any promise of man, any commitment promised by man, or any pledge of religious fidelity by man! Point the questioner to the Man who accomplished for us what we cannot accomplish for ourselves.
This is the faith once delivered to the saints, and it is worth believing. It sets you free from trusting in your performance and leads you to one hundred percent trust in the performance and work of Christ for you.