An Easter Enigma

Christmas doesn’t confuse Christians. At least not that I know of. It’s no secret that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. In fact, He might not even have been born in winter. But we aren’t apt to knock ourselves out trying to figure out the actual date.

Easter is an interesting enigma, however. Christians typically view Jesus’s death and burial as occurring on a Friday because the Bible says the next day was the Sabbath. And the Bible says the women found the tomb empty early on Sunday morning. Hmm. That adds up to two nights, one whole day, and part of two others.

What? Jesus said He would be in the grave three full days and nights. This seeming discrepancy has bugged me–and probably a number of other Christians–for years.

It’s amazing what a search of the Internet can reveal. I found two somewhat partially conflicting articles which both explain how Jesus actually remained in the grave three full days and nights.  If you want to read the details, check out “The Two Sabbaths of Passover” and “Good Friday or Good Wednesday.” 

Jesus and His disciples ate their last meal together in the evening of what was actually the beginning of Passover day. (Remember: Jewish days ran from sundown to sundown.) Later that evening He was arrested, tried, and condemned to death. The entirety of His crucifixion and burial took place on what was still Passover day, the “Day of Preparation.”

Jesus couldn’t be left on the cross after His death because the Sabbath would be starting shortly at sundown. There wasn’t even time for the women to anoint the body properly; He was simply wrapped in a linen shroud.

How thankful we should be that Jesus’s disciple John said something in His Gospel that the other Gospel writers apparently took for granted and consequently didn’t bother to mention. He referred to that Sabbath as a “high day,” meaning it was not the regular Friday-sundown-to-Saturday-sundown Sabbath. And that makes sense. The day after Passover day itself was to be a special Sabbath. So the Old Testament taught .

So that week had two Sabbaths, and Jesus had to be buried before the beginning of the first one–the special one.

Accepting the fact that Jesus arose on Sunday, “the first day of the week,” as the Bible says, let’s count backward.

  • The first day of the week began at sundown on Saturday
  • The normal Sabbath ran from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown
  • The special Sabbath ran from Thursday sundown to Friday sundown
  • Passover day ran from Wednesday sundown to Thursday sundown

Are you still with me?

That’s assuming the special Sabbath occurred the day before the regular Sabbath. Since it began at sundown on Thursday, was Jesus  crucified on what was left of the day that ran from Wednesday sundown to that Thursday sundown?

Although Jesus would’ve been dead on our Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights–thank goodness Jewish days can’t change nighttime–do the days work out right? Those days would’ve had to run from just before sundown to just before sundown. And three full days by the Jewish calendar would last until just before sundown on the “first day of the week.”

But that doesn’t work. Jesus had already arisen before the women came to the tomb that morning and found it empty.

One of those articles insists that the two Sabbaths must have had an extra day in between. Jesus died late on our Wednesday, he said.  As “Lord of the Sabbath,” Jesus would have risen on the Sabbath itself but not be found alive again until the first day of the week. That would explain three full days in the tomb while eliminating a fourth night .

I have no idea what the accurate answer is, but I have no problem thinking of Jesus dying late on Wednesday rather than Friday.

The important thing is, Christ arose. I hope your Easter was a blessed one.

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Best regards,
Roger

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