What day of the week did Jesus die?

Personal Questions | VBVM Staff | Aug-13-2014

Q. My church teaches that Jesus died on a Friday and rose on Sunday and He was in the grave for three days. As I count the days, there are only two days between His death and resurrection...am I wrong?

A. The traditional teaching within the church is that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, and churches commonly observe the Friday before Easter Sunday as the day of Jesus' death, but this observance is a matter of church tradition and not a Biblically accurate portrayal of Jesus' death. 

Scripture says clearly that Jesus would spend three days and three nights in the grave:

Matt. 12:40 for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Interestingly, Scripture never names the specific day of the week on which Jesus dies, however we do know the day Jesus raised from the dead. Scripture says Jesus was raised before sunrise on the first day of the week:

Luke 24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.
Luke 24:2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
Luke 24:3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

The first day of the week in the Jewish calendar is Sunday, as it is in our culture today. So if Jesus was in the grave three days and three nights and rose before dawn on Sunday, then there is simply not enough time available for Jesus to have died on a Friday and raised on a Sunday. In reality, Jesus was not crucified on a Friday, but rather He was crucified on a Thursday. 

This conclusion is supported by Jesus's own comments in Matthew 12:40.

Furthermore, a Thursday death is confirmed by the Jewish festival calendar in the year Jesus died. In that year, the day of Passover began Wednesday night and ended Thursday at sundown. Therefore, the seven-day feast of Unleavened Bread began the next day on a Friday. The first day of this feast is always a Sabbath day according to scripture (Lev 26:6-8).

Therefore, Jesus was buried on a Thursday, which was a preparation day prior to the start of a Friday Sabbath to celebrate the start of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Following the Friday Sabbath came the normal, weekly Sabbath observance on Saturday. So in the week Jesus died, two back-to-back Sabbath days were observed (i.e., Friday and Saturday).  

The weekly Sabbath day ended at sundown on Saturday night. Then before sunrise on Sunday morning, the women came to an empty tomb, which is why Scripture says Jesus resurrected before sunbreak on the first day of the week. So if we count from Thursday daytime to Saturday night, we find three days and three nights, just as scripture requires.

For an in-depth explanation of the timing of the events during the week of Jesus' death, please listen to Lesson 22A of our Luke study. 


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