GOOD FRIDAY OR GOOD WEDNESDAY?
March 28, 2005
For centuries, Christians may have been observing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the wrong day. In fact, after examining all the scriptural passages addressing this issue, it does not seem possible that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, as has been traditionally taught.
It appears that for the past two millennia Christians should have been observing Good Wednesday, not Good Friday. Now, this revelation may not portend the fall of Western civilization or threaten anyone’s salvation, but since the Bible makes a point of mentioning several times the fact that Jesus was dead for three days before resurrecting, there might be some value in pointing out that you can’t get three days into the period between a Friday crucifixion and a Sunday morning resurrection.
So, if you are interested, bear with me while I attempt to unravel this mystery.
First, let’s state the problem upfront and in the plainest of terms. We know, based on dozens of scriptural references, that before Jesus was raised from the dead He was supposed to be dead for three days. We also know from clear scriptural references that He was resurrected sometime before daybreak on Sunday morning, when His followers found the tomb empty.
We also know that the body of Jesus was removed from the cross the same day He was crucified, because the next day was the Sabbath, and it was unlawful under Jewish law for a body to be left hanging on the Sabbath.
The problem that these three “facts” present, when taken together, is obvious. If Jesus died Friday afternoon, as most Christians have believed for centuries, He would have to have risen no sooner than Monday afternoon, in order for Him to have been dead for a full three days. You simply cannot cram three days into the time between “Good Friday” afternoon and resurrection sometime before dawn on Sunday morning.
It is reasonable to conclude then, that there must be a problem with one of these three “facts”. Either Jesus didn’t rise on the first day of the week and we celebrate Easter on the wrong day, or Jesus wasn’t really dead for three days as the Bible clearly teaches, or Jesus wasn’t crucified on Friday, as we have traditionally believed. All three cannot be true.
So, either the Bible is wrong, which I have never known to be the case, or one of these three “facts” is not really a fact. Let’s take a look at all three and see which will weaken under scrutiny.
A quick glance through an exhaustive concordance of the Bible reveals that Jesus said many times that He would rise from the dead after three days. He said it figuratively with references like, If you destroy this temple, I will rebuild it in three days. And He said it plainly, with statements like, “After three days, I will rise.”
In addition to numerous direct quotes in Jesus’ own words, there are dozens of New Testament references by others stating that Jesus was dead for three days. The apostles and others made several statements to that effect.
Even the Jewish religious leaders who orchestrated the crucifixion of Jesus knew what He had claimed. When they asked Pontius Pilate for a guard for His tomb to insure that his body wasn’t stolen by his followers, they said, “Sir, we remember while he was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’”
That Jesus was supposed to be dead for three days appears to be Biblically beyond dispute. The problem remains, therefore, how do we squeeze three days and nights between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning?
Some have tried explaining the problem away. Some have said, “Well, they counted days differently back then.” There is no meaningful basis for such a claim. In those days, a day was still one 24-hour period of light and darkness.
Some have tried to explain the problem away by saying, “If you count Friday, the day He was supposedly crucified, as one day, and Saturday as another day, then he rose on Sunday, you have three days involved.
Again, that just doesn’t fly. Why? Because Jesus made it clear that He was going to be dead for three days and three nights, not just parts of three days.
In Matthew 12, there is an account of the Pharisees coming to Jesus and asking Him for a sign. Jesus responded by telling them that the only sign He would give them was the sign of the prophet Jonah.
Then He said, “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.”
There it is, plain and simple. Three days and three nights; not three parts of day. Somehow, no matter when you start counting, you have to squeeze three days and three nights into the period that ends with the resurrection sometime before dawn on Sunday morning. Counting backwards, that leaves us with the inescapable conclusion that Jesus could not have been crucified on a Friday.
So, where does that leave us? The three days is clearly established in scripture and so is the fact that Jesus had already risen before dawn on Sunday morning. Several scriptures make that statement in unambiguous language. That leaves us with only one place to look to resolve the dilemma: Friday.
Does the Bible say that Jesus was crucified on Friday? In fact, it doesn’t. For centuries, many have just assumed that to be the case. But, if Jesus was not crucified on what we call “Good Friday”, how did so many, including many Bible scholars, come to believe that?
The mistake apparently stems from a misunderstanding of what is meant by a reference to the Sabbath in three of the four Gospels. Three of the Gospels say that the body of Jesus was taken off the cross sooner than normal, because the next day was the Sabbath.
If the next day was the Sabbath, then the crucifixion must have been on Friday, the day before the Saturday Sabbath. But is that necessarily so? Let’s take a closer look.
The body of Jesus and the bodies of the two thieves were removed from their crosses on what is referred to in the Gospels as “Preparation Day”. Taking the bodies down from their crosses was necessary under Jewish law, because they couldn’t be left hanging on crosses on a Sabbath Day. (Preparation Day was the day before a Sabbath, when work was done that couldn’t lawfully be done the next day.)
If Friday is indeed the day before “the Sabbath” and if Jesus had indeed already risen when the two Marys went to visit the tomb, “as the first day of the week began to dawn”, as the Gospel of Matthew puts it, then we seem to have an irreconcilable problem.
But what if the Preparation Day before the Sabbath was not a Friday? What if that particular Sabbath was not on a Saturday? Is that possible?
There is a hint to this in the Gospel of John, in which the Apostle describes this particular Sabbath as if it was not a normal Sabbath, when he says, “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” (Emphasis added.)
John tells us that this was not a normal Sabbath, which occurred every week of the year on Saturday. This was a special Sabbath; one John calls a “high day”. If this was a normal Sabbath, the words “for that Sabbath was a high day” would be meaningless. It was unlawful to leave the bodies hanging on crosses on a normal Saturday Sabbath.
The question then is: Why was this Sabbath a special Sabbath? The answer may be because it occurred on a weekday during the Feast of the Passover and not on a Saturday.
The week of Passover was an annual feast in Israel and its duration was more than one day. True, the Passover lamb was eaten on one day of the feast, but the feast itself was observed for a week, and in that week there were “high days”, as part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The answer to our dilemma may be this simple: The Sabbath that the Jews were preparing to observe, when the body of Jesus was taken off the cross, was a “high day” within the Feast of the Passover and not a Saturday Sabbath. There is a basis for this conclusion, if one looks way back in the original instructions regarding the Feast of the Passover, as set forth in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Exodus, while the Israelites were still slaves in Egypt.
According to God’s instructions to Moses for that first Passover feast, Israelites were to observe the Passover in a specific manner and in that same manner from that time forward. Here is how it worked: On the tenth day of the first month of the Jewish year, every man was to pick out a lamb that was a male in its first year and without blemish. The lamb was to be set aside and observed for four days. Then, four days later (on the fourteenth day of the month) at twilight the lamb was to be killed and eaten that same night.
For seven days, beginning on the fourteenth day of the month, the Israelites were to eat unleavened bread, and no work was to be done during those seven days, except for the preparation of food (verses 16-18).
No work was to be done for seven days during the Feast of the Passover. It is easy to see why the day following the crucifixion of Jesus, which of necessity occurred during the Feast of the Passover, would have been referred to by the writers of the Gospels as a Sabbath day and a high day, because it occurred during the solemn Feast of the Passover and during a time when work was expressly forbidden.
It is worth noting at this point that nowhere does the New Testament say that Jesus was crucified on Friday. We have only assumed that.
There is another passage that may help shed some additional light on this subject. It is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians, where the Apostle makes it clear that Christians are not required to observe the Jewish Sabbath or the Old Testament food laws.
Here are Paul’s words: “So let no one judge you in food or drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”
Notice Paul’s use of the word “Sabbaths”, which is in the plural, as if there was more than one Sabbath. The Sabbath is usually (but not always) referred to as “the Sabbath”, in the singular. Here, however, the Apostle Paul clearly uses the word “Sabbaths” in the plural, even though festivals and new moons, which also were observed by Jews several times every year, are both stated in the singular. Was their more than one Sabbath? It seems there must have been. In fact, during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, there was an entire week of them.
In summary, if Jesus was indeed dead for a full three days before He was resurrected before dawn on Sunday morning; and if He indeed was taken off the cross the day before the Sabbath, then for all the various passages regarding the death of Jesus and His resurrection to be simultaneously true, the Sabbath following the crucifixion of Jesus must have been a special Sabbath, a high day, and not the regular Saturday Sabbath.
The only “crucifixion day” that works, therefore, and allows a full three days and three nights to pass before the two Marys found the open tomb at dawn on Sunday morning is Wednesday. So, it is good Wednesday that we should be observing, not Good Friday.
You might ask: Why is this issue worth raising? Does it really matter? Here is why I believe this is at least an issue worth raising. The fact that Jesus spent three days and three nights in the belly of the earth before being resurrected is the only sign He offers to the world that His claim to be the only begotten Son of God is true. It is the sign of the prophet Jonah, and it evidences the single most important event in the history of the world, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead
You see, the Lord Jesus Christ really is the Son of God and two thousand years ago, He proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Some, however, do not know that He proved it. Today, many are asking the same basic question that the unbelieving Pharisees of Gospel times asked of Jesus, i.e., “What sign will you offer to back up your claim that you are who you say you are?”
Jesus' answer today is the same as it was 2,000 years ago, and the only sign He offers is this: As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so Jesus was three days and three nights in the bowels of the earth. Then after three days, He was powerfully and gloriously resurrected from the dead. That’s the sign, the only sign.
In essence, this is what Jesus said to the world: Here is the only sign you are going to get. Kill me openly and publicly and three days later I will rise from the dead.
Then He did it. He accomplished the impossible. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, four days before the Passover lamb was to be slain. For four days He was questioned and observed by the people of Jerusalem, their religious leaders, and even by Pontius Pilate, and found faultless. Then, four days after He entered the city, He was killed, as the Lamb of God, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Then three days after that, He rose from the dead, proving that His claims were true.
Christians disagree on a lot of doctrines, but there are two fundamental things that one must believe to be counted as a believer. A Christian must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that God raised Him from the dead. That is the crux of the matter. Whether He was crucified on Wednesday or on Friday, to be a Christian one must believe that God raised His Son from the dead.
Sure, Christmas is fun and like most believers I enjoy celebrating the birth of Jesus, when God became a man and walked among us. But Jesus joined the human race for two primary reasons: First, to show the world what God was like by living a perfectly sinless life; a life in which Jesus perfectly expressed both God’s anger toward sin and God’s mercy toward those who recognize their sin and acknowledge their need; and second, after living a perfect and sinless life, He came to die for the sins of the world as the spotless Passover Lamb, the one Lamb to which all those other Passover lambs only pointed.
The resurrection of Jesus is the very heart of Christianity. It is the one sign that tells us with perfect certainty that the sacrifice of Jesus was acceptable to God and that a way had been made for our sins to be forgiven, if we but believe His message.
After being dead for three days, Jesus arose, triumphant over death and hell. That’s powerful news; life changing news. And it makes me cry like Job of old, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” I hope you can say that, too.
© 2004 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
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Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.
Christians disagree on a lot of doctrines, but there are two fundamental things that one must believe to be counted as a believer. A Christian must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God