Mankind’s need for a Savior
The Bible discusses sin and our need for forgiveness and reconciliation to God (the theme of the biblically commanded Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread) far more often than the subject of the resurrection. Within the King James Version of the Bible, the word sin is used 447 times compared with the word resurrection being used only 41 times. Don’t forget that sin was the cause of Christ’s death. Only by repenting of our sins and being reconciled to God by the death of Christ can we be assured of being resurrected
a crucial step in the salvation process (1 Corinthians 15). After being reconciled to God the Father by the death of His Son, ultimately we are saved by Christ’s life as He pleads for us in the role of our High Priest and lives in us through the Holy Spirit, helping us to overcome sin
(Romans 5:10; Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 2:1; Galatians 2:20). The process of our coming out of sin is pictured in the biblical feast immediately following Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, during which Christ’s resurrection occurred. Again, though, the Bible nowhere instructs Christians to keep a special celebration of Christ’s resurrection, nor is there a biblical record of early Christians doing so. But it is clear that both Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul expected Christ’s followers to commemorate His sacrificial death on our behalf in a special ceremony (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 11:23-28). Nonetheless, the celebration of Easter prevailed. Those who remained faithful to Christ’s example of keeping the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread decreased in number and were persecuted by those favoring Easter. Although how God views humanly devised changes in the worship He commands will be considered in a later chapter, let’s now examine how the traditions of this holiday fail to match the biblical record.
Sunday morning resurrection?
The choice of a Sunday date for Easter is based on the assumption that Christ rose from the grave early on a Sunday morning. The popular belief is that Christ was crucified on a Friday and rose on a Sunday. But neither
of these suppositions is supported by the biblical record. Matthew 12:38 shows some of the scribes and Pharisees asking Jesus for a sign to prove He was the Messiah. Jesus told them that the only sign He
would give was that of the prophet Jonah: “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” (verse 40).
But how can we fit “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” between a Friday-afternoon crucifixion and a Sunday-morning resurrection? The traditional view of the crucifixion and resurrection allows for Jesus to have been entombed for only a day and a half. Some try to reconcile Christ’s words with their belief in a Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection by rationalizing that Christ’s “three days and three nights” statement does not require a literal span of 72 hours. They reason that a part of a day can be reckoned as a whole day. Hence, since Jesus died in the afternoon—around “the ninth hour” after daybreak, or about 3p.m. (Matthew 27:46-50)—they think the remainder of Friday constituted the first day, Saturday the second and part of Sunday the third. However, they fail to take into consideration that only two nights—Friday night and Saturday night—are accounted for in this explanation. After all, the Bible is clear that Jesus had already risen before the daylight portion of Sunday (John 20:1). Something is obviously incorrect in this common conclusion regarding when Christ was in the tomb. Jonah 1:17, to which Christ referred, states specifically that “Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” We have no reason to think these days and nights were fractional. Nor is there any basis for thinking that Jesus meant only two nights and one day, plus parts of two days, when He foretold the length of time He would be in the grave. Such rationalization undermines the integrity of Jesus’ words.
Was Christ’s sign fulfilled?
If Jesus were in the tomb only from late Friday afternoon to sometime early Sunday morning, then the sign He gave that He was the prophesied Messiah was not fulfilled. The claim of His Messiahship rests on the fulfillment of His words; it’s that serious a matter. Let us carefully examine the details of those fateful days. Each of the Gospel writers gives an account of the events, but each presents different aspects that need to be correctly synchronized and harmonized to produce a clear sequence and understanding of what happened. We will see that, when each account is considered, the chronological details mesh perfectly. For instance,
John 19:31 preserves a crucial point that provides insight into the other narratives. The preparation day on which Jesus was crucified is described as the day before the Sabbath. But John clarifies it by stating that this approaching Sabbath “was a high day.” This does not refer to the weekly Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) but to the first day of Unleavened Bread, which is one of God’s annual high, or Sabbath, days
Some believe that this high day fell that year on the seventh day of the week, making it coincide with the weekly Sabbath, with the preparation day being on Friday. But Luke’s account shows that this was not the case. Notice the sequence of events outlined in Luke 23. Jesus’ moment of death, as well
Two Sabbaths mentioned
Many have assumed that it is the weekly Sabbath mentioned here. But that’s incorrect. Instead, it was a Sabbath that occurred on a Thursday, since verse 56 shows that the women, after seeing Christ’s body being laid in the tomb, “returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils” for the final preparation of the body. Such work would not have been done on a Sabbath day since it would have been considered a Sabbath violation. This is verified by Mark’s account, which states, “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices [which they would not have purchased on the high-day Sabbath], that they might come and anoint Him” (Mark 16:1). The women had to wait until this Sabbath was over before they could buy and prepare the spices to be used for anointing Jesus’ body. Then, as Luke 23:56 says, it was after purchasing and preparing the spices and oils on Friday that “they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.” This second Sabbath mentioned in the Gospel accounts is the regular weekly Sabbath, observed from Friday sunset through Saturday sunset. By comparing details in both Gospels—where Mark tells us the women bought spices after the Sabbath and Luke relates that they prepared the spices and then rested on the Sabbath—we can clearly see that two different Sabbaths are mentioned. The first was a “high day” (John 19:31)—the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread—which in that year, A.D. 31,
fell on a Thursday. The second was the weekly seventh-day Sabbath. (See “The Chronology of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection” below.)
Sign of the Messiah
After the women rested on the regular weekly Sabbath, they went to Jesus’ tomb early on the first day of the week (Sunday), “while it was still dark” (John 20:1), and found that He had already been resurrected
(Matthew 28:1-6; Mark 16:2-6; Luke 24:1-3). When we allow the Scriptures to interpret themselves, all four Gospel accounts accurately harmonize and attest to the validity of Jesus’ promise that He would be in the grave three days and three nights—not just part of that time. Several Bible translations recognize that more than one Sabbath is discussed in these events. In Matthew 28:1 some Bible versions, including Alfred Marshall’s Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, Ferrar Fenton’s Translation and Green’s Literal Translation, properly translate this phrase as “after the sabbaths.” Young’s Literal Translation and The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (1992, p. 1270) similarly acknowledge that multiple Sabbaths are intended here. The wording of Mark 16:1-2 is confusing to some because it seems to suggest that the spices were purchased after the weekly Sabbath rather than before it, on Friday. However, this is explained by Luke 23:56, which clearly shows that the women bought the spices before, and not after, the weekly Sabbath, “and they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.” Mark did not mention this weekly Sabbath rest in his account, but Luke, who wrote his account of these events later, did. Some also stumble over Mark 16:9, not taking into account that there is no punctuation indicated in the original Greek. Therefore, to be in harmony with the material presented in the other Gospels, a better translation would be: “Now having risen, early the first day of the week He appeared first to Mary Magdalene … ” These verses are not saying that Jesus rose early on Sunday morning, but that He appeared early on Sunday morning to Mary Magdalene, having already risen some time earlier. When we consider the details in all four Gospel accounts, the picture is
clear. Jesus was crucified and entombed late on Wednesday afternoon, just before a Sabbath began at sunset. However, that was a high-day Sabbath, falling that year on the fifth day of the week, sunset Wednesday to sunset Thursday, rather than the weekly Sabbath from Friday sunset through Saturday sunset. He remained entombed from Wednesday at sunset until Saturday at sunset, having risen from the dead. Thus, when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb on Sunday morning before sunrise, “while it was still dark,” she found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. We can be assured that the duration of Christ’s entombment before His resurrection, which He foretold as proof of His Messiahship, was precisely as long as He said it would be equaling the “three days and three nights [Jonah was] in the belly of the great fish” (Matthew 12:40). Thus, Jesus rose late Saturday afternoon around sunset—not Sunday at sunrise—which was exactly three days and three nights after He was placed in the tomb just before sunset on Wednesday. Christ’s prophecy of the time He would be in the tomb was fulfilled precisely. Because most people do not understand the biblical high days kept by Jesus Christ and His followers, they fail to understand the chronological details so accurately preserved for us in the Gospels.
The Chronology of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection
Jesus Christ ate an evening Passover meal with His disciples and instituted the New
Covenant symbols (Matthew 26:26-28). Jesus was then betrayed by Judas, arrested
and during the night brought before the high priest.
Jesus died around 3 p.m. (Matthew 27:46-50). This was the preparation day for the annual,
Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb just before sunset (Matthew 27:57-60).
Wednesday sunset to Thursday sunset was the high-day Sabbath,
It is described as the day after the “Day of Preparation” (Matthew 27:62).
The high-day Sabbath now past, the women bought and prepared spices for anointing Jesus’ body
The women rested on the weekly Sabbath, according to the Fourth Commandment
burial, fulfilling the sign of Jonah and authenticating the sign He gave of His messiahship.
The women brought the spices early in the morning while it was still dark