Was Jesus Crucified On a Thursday?

Published by DonDavidson on

In my last blog entry I pointed out that if Jesus was crucified on a Friday, as tradition says, then we run into a problem with Matthew 12:39-40, where Jesus predicts that he will be “in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” Friday afternoon to Sunday morning does not appear to satisfy this prediction.

But what about Mark 15:42-43 and Luke 23:54, which say Jesus was crucified on “the day before the Sabbath”? Since the weekly Jewish Sabbath was on Saturday, doesn’t this mean Jesus must have been crucified on a Friday? Actually, no. The word “Sabbath” simply means “rest,” and the Jews had more than one type of “Sabbath.”

For example, Leviticus 16:29-31 and Leviticus 23:26-32 say that the Day of Atonement was to be “a Sabbath of solemn rest for you.” Similarly, Leviticus 23:39 says that the first and eighth days of the week-long Feast of Booths (also known as the Feast of Tabernacles) were both to be a day of rest—that is, a Sabbath.

We know that Jesus was crucified near the time of Passover,[1] which was always on the 14th day of the 1st month of the Jewish calendar. (See, for example, Leviticus 23:5, Numbers 9:1-5, and Numbers 28:16.) The Feast of Unleavened Bread began the next day, on the 15th day of the 1st month. The first and last days of that week-long Feast were days of Sabbath rest, per scriptures such as Exodus 12:16, Leviticus 23:5-8, and Numbers 28:17-18 and 28:25. 

A Thursday crucifixion requires that Friday and Saturday were both Sabbath days, but of different types—Friday was a Feast Sabbath and Saturday was the weekly Sabbath. This finds support in John 19:31, which says this about the Sabbath that followed the day of the crucifixion: “that Sabbath was a high day”—meaning a Sabbath other than the weekly Sabbath.

Since we are told that Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples on the night he was betrayed and arrested, he must have been crucified on Passover.[2] The next day would have been the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which, as noted above, was a day of Sabbath rest. 

By this reckoning, Jesus was crucified on Thursday and spent the nights of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in the grave—for a total of three nights. If we count either Thursday or Sunday as the third “day,” we easily satisfy the “three days and three nights” of Matthew 12:39-40.

This view also finds support in Luke 24:21, where two disciples on the road to Emmaus are telling a stranger (who is Jesus) about the crucifixion, and they say: “it is now the third day since these things happened.” This conversation occurred on Sunday, for Luke 24:13 makes clear that it happened “on that very day” that the empty tomb had been discovered. If Sunday was the third day since the crucifixion, then counting backwards leads us to a Thursday crucifixion.

So it seems that the proponents of a Thursday crucifixion have a pretty convincing argument. But wait—there is one problem with Thursday as the day of the crucifixion. And we’ll explore that in my next blog entry.

[1]. See, for example, Matthew 26:2 and 26:17-19, Matthew 27:15, Mark 14:1, Mark 14:12-16, and Mark 15:6.

[2]. Strangely enough, the Old Testament does not identify Passover as a Sabbath day of rest.


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