A chronology of events surrounding Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection as reported by the four Gospels provides substantial evidence that Jesus was in the grave for three days and three nights. The Gospels describe with some clarity a sequence of the days and events that began with Jesus’ cruciﬁxion and ended with His resurrection. Jesus’ cruciﬁxion and interment are described as having taken place on “the day of Preparation of Passover” (John 19:14, 42). The resurrection of Jesus is described by the Gospel of Matthew as having taken place late in the afternoon of the weekly Sabbath day, just before sunset. Sunset, according to Hebrew time, marks the beginning of the a day (Matthew 28:1-6, KJV, American Standard (1901), Douay, and Moffatt versions, et al.).
A. Jesus was cruciﬁed and entombed on the Day of Preparation for the Passover. The Gospel of John gives this account of the cruciﬁxion of Jesus: “It was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he [Pilate] said to the Jews, ‘Behold your king!’ But they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him’ . . . Then he delivered Him [Jesus] to them to be cruciﬁed . . . And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull . . . where they cruciﬁed Him” (John 19:14-18, NKJV). The word preparation is used in six texts in the Gospels all referring to the day of Jesus’ cruciﬁxion. It is translated from the Greek word paraskene, which in general usage had become a reference to the sixth day of the week (Friday). This is surely the reason so many Christians assume that Jesus was cruciﬁed on Friday. The argument is that preparation (paraskene) is the technical designation for the sixth day of the week (Friday) as it related to the weekly Sabbath, the seventh day. Such arguments are mistaken in regard to John’s use of it in chapter 19:14! The term paraskeue was also used in reference to the day preceding any annual Sabbath of the Jews that occurred at times other than the weekly Sabbath.
Joseph Henry Thayer deﬁnes the word paraskeae as “preparation” and states, “. . . in the New Testament in a Jewish sense, the day of preparation, i.e., the day on which the Jews make the necessary preparations to celebrate a sabbath or a feast [annual sabbath].”The Interpreters Dictionary 0f the Bible, under the heading, “Preparation Day,” says, “In the gospels the Cruciﬁxion occurs on a Day of Preparation . . . and John 19:14 describes the Cruciﬁxion as on the ‘day of Preparation for the Passover.’ The day preceding Passover, known as Passover Eve, was indeed, a day of intense preparation.” James Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, under the heading, “Preparation,” says, “Preparation, Gr. paraskeue; a term applied by the Jews to the day preceding the Sabbath, or any of the sacred festivals, especially the Passover (Matthew 27:62; John l9:l4, 31, 42).“ The term preparation in the Gospels refers to the day of Jesus’ cruciﬁxion and
interment, which was the day before the annual Passover Sabbath - not the weekly Sabbath. The Gospel of John stated what Sabbath the “day of Preparation” referred to. It was not the weekly Sabbath but the Passover Sabbath. This is crucial in identifying the day of Jesus’ cruciﬁxion. John wrote, “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath” (19:3 l). John identiﬁed preparation as the preparation day of Passover, the term applied to the day when the Jews made preparations for celebration of any Sabbath, whether weekly or annual. All six verses in the Gospels referring to the day of Preparation for Passover — the day when Jesus was cruciﬁed — are shown in bold type in the chart below.
These Gospel narratives describe 1) Jesus’ appearance before Pilate, 2) His cruciﬁxion, 3) the Jews concern that the bodies of Jesus and the two thieves not remain on the cross over the Passover Sabbath, and 4) the haste of Joseph and Nicodemus to bury Jesus’ body before the Passover Sabbath began. The word preparation is used by three of the Gospel writers to identify the time of these events, for a total of ﬁve times: John 19: 14, 31, 42; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54. Matthew 27:62 uses this term in reference to the time when the Jewish leaders made a petition to Pilate to secure the tomb with a guard until three days had passed. The Jews appeared before Pilate to make their request on the Passover Sabbath, “the next day, the one after Preparation Day.” John identiﬁes the “day of Preparation” as belonging to the Passover Sabbath (John 19:14, 31). He does not identify it with the weekly Sabbath. None of the other Gospel writers who use the term preparation as a time reference to Jesus’ death or interment connect it with the weekly Sabbath.
Each reference has to be understood in terms of John’s identiﬁcation of the day of Preparation for Passover Sabbath. B. The Passover Sabbath was also referred to as a “special Sabbath,” “high day Sabbath,” or “great day.” In John 19:31 the writer identiﬁes the day following Jesus’ cruciﬁxion by another term: “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath” (v. 31. The NIV renders the two Greek words megale hemera as “special day.” The KJV renders megale hemera as “high day.” The Greek words megale hemera literally mean “great day” and refer exclusively to an annual Jewish festival Sabbath). John’s designation of this day as a “great day” is signiﬁcant because it identiﬁes it as the Passover Sabbath rather than the weekly Sabbath. It provides proof that John’s reference to the day of Jesus’ cruciﬁxion as “the day of Preparation” (John 19:14, 31) in this case was not to the sixth day of the week (Friday), but to a day preceding the Passover Sabbath. Passover Sabbaths may fall on any day of the week.
Many advocates of a Friday cruciﬁxion and Sunday resurrection argue that the Sabbath referred to by John was a “special” (NIV), “high” (KJV), or “great day” Sabbath because the Passover Sabbath and the weekly Sabbath coincided and were observed together in the year of Jesus’ cruciﬁxion. Thus, the reference to the coincidence of these two Sabbaths as “great day.” The problem with this theory is the lack of any scriptural evidence or example to support it. It is pure speculation! However, there is biblical evidence to support the argument that the reference to this Sabbath as a special, or high day, Sabbath in John 19:31 refers to an annual festival Sabbath. This Sabbath was the Passover Sabbath that fell on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nisan, the day following the Passover (Exodus 12:14-16; Leviticus 23:4-7). This Sabbath was the start of the week-long festival known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6). In John 19:14 it is referred to as Passover Week. The “special” or “high day Sabbath” in verse 31 refers speciﬁcally to the Passover Sabbath and has nothing to do with the weekly Sabbath.
On another occasion John refers to annual festival Sabbaths as “great day” Sabbaths. In John 7:37 he identiﬁes the eighth and last day of the annual Jewish Feast of Tabernacles as “the great day” of the feast, which also was an annual Sabbath (Leviticus 23:33-36). John’s double reference to an annual festival Sabbath as a “great day” (7:37; 19:31) is supported by the prophet Isaiah. In the Septua- gint (Greek) version of the Old Testament, Isaiah 1:13 uses the phrase “great day” to refer to Jewish festival Sabbaths in general. This verse says, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations — I cannot bear your evil assemblies.” The word assemblies is translated from arsarah in the Hebrew text, which means “solemn assembly.” In the Septuagint version of Isaiah 1:13 the word arsarah is translated into the Greek as hemeran megalen, meaning “great day.” Thus the Greek text of Isaiah 1:13 uses the same reference for an annual festival Sabbath as does John 7:37 and 19:31.
While the descriptive phrase “great day” is used in the Greek version of Isaiah 1:13 to describe annual festival Sabbaths in general, in John 7:37 and 19:31 the phrase refers to speciﬁc annual Sabbaths, such as the last Sabbath of the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Passover Sabbath. In John 19:31 this phrase does not identify the weekly Sabbath or the concurrence of the weekly Sabbath with any annual Sabbath, such as Passover. Two Sabbaths occurred while Jesus was in the tomb: the Passover Sabbath and the weekly seventh-day Sabbath. We have just established the fact that Jesus was cruciﬁed on the day of Preparation just before the high-day Passover Sabbath.
Now we will look at two lines of evidence leading to the conclusion that the Passover Sabbath and weekly Sabbath were not one and the same day in the week of Jesus’ death. Evidence in the Gospel narratives points to the fact that not just one but two Sabbaths elapsed while Jesus was in the grave. The theory that Jesus died and was buried late on Friday afternoon is based on the assumption that the weekly Sabbath and Passover Sabbath occurred on the same day following Jesus’ cruciﬁxion and entombment. This theory overlooks two important elements. First, it overlooks the report of daily activity that requires the passage of two Sabbaths during the three days and three nights He was in the grave. The following outline provides an overview of events recorded in the synoptic Gospels after Jesus’ burial:
Report of the Activities Which Occurred During the Period of Jesus’ Entombment Day of Jesus’ EntombmentJesus was entombed in haste on the day of Preparation for the Passover Sabbath:
John 19:14, 18 :identiﬁes the time of Jesus’ cruciﬁxion
John 19:31 :identiﬁes Jesus death as occurring on the day before the Passover Sabbath
Matthew 27:47, Luke 23:50-54, Mark 15:42; John 19:42 :shows Jesus being placed in the tomb in haste before Passover Sabbath began
Day One of Jesus’ Entombment
Matthew 27:62-64 : Jewish leaders appeared before Pilate on the Passover Sabbath to request a guard for the Tomb.
Day Two of Jesus’ Entombment:
The day between Passover Sabbath and the weekly Sabbath:
Mark 16: 1 : When Passover Sabbath had passed, the women purchased spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body.
Luke 23:56a : The women prepared the spices they had purchased.
Day Three of Jesus’ Entombment
Luke 23:56b : The women who prepared the spices rested on the weekly Sabbath according to the command- ment (Exodus 20:8-11).
Matthew 28:1 (Kl V) : Late on the afternoon of the weekly Sabbath, two women went out to see Jesus’ tomb. Matthew 28:2-6 : An earthquake occurred and the angel declared to the women, “He is not here, he has risen!”
Though sketchy, the Gospel narrative of Jesus’ cruciﬁxion, internment, and resurrection, when examined as a whole, provides a daily sequence of events from the time of His burial until His resurrection. It accounts for activity on each of the three days of Jesus’ entombment. The evidence is strong and cannot be dismissed without discounting portions of the Gospel narratives. Hence, we observe that two Sabbaths passed while Jesus was in the tomb. The ﬁrst, the Passover Sabbath, followed the day He was cruciﬁed and entombed. The second Sabbath, separated by one day from the Passover Sabbath, was the weekly Sabbath.
Review of the Three-Day Activity: l. On the ﬁrst day Jesus was in the grave, a Passover Sabbath, the Jewish leaders went to Pilate to request a guard for the tomb -— an activity they would not likely have done on the weekly Sabbath (Matthew 27:62-64). Also, the women let this “great day” pass before they purchased spices, since Jesus was placed in the grave too late on the Preparation Day for the women to have made the purchase before the Sabbath began (Mark l5:42; Luke 23:53, 54).
2. On the second day of Jesus’ entombment, the day after Passover Sabbath, the women purchased spices and prepared them (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56a) in anticipation of anointing Jesus’ body. 3. On Jesus’ third day in the tomb, the weekly seventh-day Sabbath, Luke 23:56b relates that the women “rested according to the commandment” (Exodus 2O:8-ll). Matthew 28:1 (KJV and ASV) relates that, late that afternoon, just before the ﬁrst day of the week arrived at sunset, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see Jesus’ tomb. An earth- quake occurred as they walked, the tomb was empty when they arrived, and the angel proclaimed, “He has risen” (Matthew 28:2-6).
These references account for all three days of Jesus’ entombment. Two of them, the ﬁrst and the last, were the Passover Sabbath and the weekly Sabbath, respectively. The second element overlooked by a Friday cruciﬁxion is that the Gospels of Luke and Matthew distinguish between the Passover Sabbath and the weekly Sabbath in their narratives of Jesus’ burial. For example, Luke 23:54 and 56 refer to “Sabbath.” In our English text of these two verses, it may not seem apparent that Luke is referring to two different days. However, in the Greek text, the difference is easily discerned.
In verse 56, where Luke refers to the weekly Sabbath, he uses the deﬁnite article — the Sabbath. In verse 54, Luke omits the article before the word Sabbath. Verse 54 should properly read, “It was Preparation Day, and a Sabbath was about to begin.” Verse 56 is correctly translated, “they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” Luke appears to be referring to two different Sabbaths: “a Sabbath” (v. 54) and “the Sabbath” (v. 56). The ﬁrst was Passover Sabbath, the second was the Weekly Sabbath. In New Testament Greek, there are no indeﬁnite articles. A noun like sabbaton (“Sabbath,” v. 54) without a deﬁnite article is simply “a Sabbath.” This means that it merely has the qualities or characteristics of a Sabbath day. However, in verse 56 to sabbaton (“the Sabbath”) has the deﬁnite article to, which points out a deﬁnite reference. That is, this Sabbath was the weekly Sabbath by which all the festival Sabbaths were to be modeled. In Leviticus 23 the Weekly Sabbath is premier, and it deﬁnes the annual Sabbaths. While infrequently observed, they were to be kept in the same manner as the more frequent weekly Sabbath. Matthew distinguished between the Passover Sabbath and the weekly Sabbath in his narrative. In Matthew 27:62, he refers to the Passover Sabbath as “the next day, the one after Preparation-Day.” However, when discussing the women’s visit to the tomb on the weekly Sabbath in Matthew 28:1, he clearly identiﬁes this as the Sabbath that fell before the ﬁrst day of the week. There can be no mistake. Matthew’s manner of identifying the Passover Sabbath in 27:62, and the weekly Sabbath in 28:1, rules out the possibility that they fell on the same day.