LESSON 6:The Duration of Jesus Entombment Lessons

A. Jesus was resurrected late on the Weekly Sabbath.


All the Gospel writers testify of the triumphant, glorious resurrection of Jesus from the grave. However, none of them report the exact moment it occurred. Still, there is sufficient testimony given to determine the day on which Jesus’ resurrection occurred and about when it took place on that day. Matthew’s narrative of late Sabbath afternoon events provides both the day and approximate time of Jesus’ resurrection. “Now late on the Sabbath day, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was as lightning, and his raiment white as snow: and for fear of him the watchers did quake, and became as dead men, and the angel answered and said unto the women, ‘Fear not ye; for I know that ye seek Jesus, who hath been crucified. He is not here; for he is risen, even as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay”’ (Matthew 28:1-6, ASV, 1901). This text comes the closest to pinpointing the time of Jesus’ resurrection. Matthew states that when the two women arrived at the tomb “late on the Sabbath day, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week,” they discovered that Jesus was gone. He had risen from the dead! This is proof that Jesus’ resurrection occurred before the weekly Sabbath had ended. The first day of the week was about to begin, and the tomb was already empty when the women arrived there. Remember that, according to Jewish time, every day ended at sunset. The phrase “as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week” means that it was nearing sunset on the seventh day.
Many of our Christian friends who allege that Jesus rose from the grave on Easter Sunday morning try to make Matthew’s account of the resurrection coincide with the accounts of the women’s visit to the tomb, reported by Mark, Luke, and John. These three Gospel writers state that various women visited the empty tomb early on the first day of the week (Sunday morning). A comparison of the Gospel accounts reveals that the women made multiple visits to the tomb. A. Several visits were made to the tomb.
Mark l6:2 : “Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they [Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, v. l] were on their way to the tomb.”
Luke 24:1 : “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, ‘the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.” John 20:1 : “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark,
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.”
The visits made by the women described above are not the same as the one reported in Matthew 28:1. The visits described by Mark, Luke, and John occurred early on the morning of the first day of the week (Sunday). Matthew clearly and positively states that “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” visited the tomb in the late afternoon of the Sabbath, just before the day ended and just before the first day of the week had begun at sunset. Take notice that in each of these accounts there are different combinations of women making the early morning visits. Matthew records two women made the Sabbath visit. Mark notes that three women — Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome — visited the tomb. Luke says that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James came to the tomb (24:10). John reports that Mary Magdalene made the earliest visit alone, while it was still dark. In each of these visits the tomb was empty and angels told the women that Jesus had risen: He was alive!

B. Was Jesus resurrected late on the Sabbath or after the Sabbath?

In interpreting Matthew’s account of the visit by the two women to the tomb, many Christians mistakenly try to identify it with the accounts of Mark, Luke, and John. Many suggest that the King James Version and the American Standard Version (1901) of Matthew’s narrative contradict the accounts of the other three Gospel writers. Therefore, they try to place the resurrection at the rising of the sun on Sunday morning, rather than accepting that it occurred twelve hours earlier at the going down of the sun. Mark, Luke, and John all describe the beginning of the twelve-hour period of daylight. But Matthew describes the near ending of one 24-hour period — the weekly Sabbath — and the beginning of another 24-hour period ~ the first day of the week (Sunday). Sabbath would end at sunset, and Sunday was about to begin. The Jews did not begin their days at midnight nor at sunrise as we commonly do in modern times. The Jewish day began in the evening and ended the following evening at sunset, 24 hours later. This was particularly true of their Sabbaths, observed from evening to evening (Leviticus 23:32). Many modern translations try to make Matthew 28:1 harmonize with the other Gospels. Here is a sampling of some of them:
NIV “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week.
” GNB “ After the Sabbath, as Sunday morning was dawning.”
NAS, late editions “Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week”
RSV, 1952 “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week.” Other translations besides the Authorized Version (KJV) place the two women’s visit to the tomb of Matthew 28:1 at the end of the Sab- bath, not on the first day of the week. Here are a few: KJV . “In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week . . .”
NAS, early editions “Now late on the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week . . .” ASV, 1901 “Now late on the Sabbath day, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week . . . ”
Douay Version “And in the end of the Sabbath, when it began to dawn toward the first day of the week. . .”
James Moffatt “At the close of the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning . Why do some versions of Matthew 28:1 place the women’s visit on Sunday morning and others place it late on Sabbath afternoon? Because of the difference in how the Greek word opse is translated. Opse is an adverb of time that has acquired a dual meaning. It may be translated as “latein” or “after.” Some translators have rightly translated opse in the English text of Matthew 28:1 as “late in”; others have chosen to render it as “after.”
Opse is used only three times in the New Testament: twice in Mark and once in Matthew. In order to learn how it might best be rendered in Matthew 28:1, we should observe how it has been translated in Mark 11:19, where it is rendered “evening”: “When evening [opse] came, they went out of the city.”
The context of Mark’s use of opse here is the daily activities of Jesus and His disciples. Mark 11:1-11 tells of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and how at the end of the day, Jesus and His disciples retired to Bethany. The next day as Jesus was leaving Bethany, He cursed the fig tree and cleared the temple of those engaged in business (w. 12- 17). “When evening [opse] came, they went out of the city” (v. 19). “In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots” (v. 20).
It appears that Mark distinguishes between Jesus’ evening and morning activities. In verse 19 opse refers to an evening event, an event identified with the day on which Jesus cursed the fig tree and cleared the temple. In this text opse is used in the sense of “late in the day” and not in the sense of “after the day had passed.” The word could not have referred to the morning of the following day. This is obvious because in verse 20 Mark described what happened the next morning: “In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.” In Mark 13:35 the meaning of opse is definite. Here Mark uses opse (evening) in reference to the four watches of the night. “Keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back —-— Whether in the evening [opse], or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.” Jesus named the four watches of the night begin- ning with the evening (opse) watch. In both cases where Mark uses opse he is clearly saying that the day Was ending but that the next day had not yet come. He uses opse to identify the ending of a day before the beginning of the next day. In neither case is he saying that these events occurred after the day had passed. The events Mark reports provide approximate time references that suggest they occurred at or near sunset. A parallel rendering of opse in Mat- thew 28:1 would be “Sabbath evening,” or “late on Sabbath afternoon.”
In Matthew 28:1 the phrase “late on the Sabbath” is translated from opse sabbaton. Here the word opse is an adverb used with sabbaton, a noun in the genitive case. In this grammatical construction, opse means “late in.” The confusion over whether it ought to be translated as “late in” or “after” is due to the fact that Greek writers of a later period used opse as a preposition followed by a genitive, which took the meaning of “after.” This accounts for the attempt to translate opse as “after” in some Bible translations of Matthew 28:1.
Joseph Henry Thayer, lexicographer of the Greek New Testament, points out that the rendering of “after the Sabbath” for opse sabbaton will not stand. Thayer says, . . opse followed by a genitive seems al- ways to be partitive, denoting ‘late in’ the period specified by the geni- tive (and consequently still belonging to it). Hence in Matthew 28:1, ‘late on the sabbath.”’ We believe that the many Bible scholars who have chosen to trans- late opse sabbaton as “late on the sabbath” in Matthew 28:1 have both ample authority and precedent for doing so. We accept the translation of opse sabbaton as “late on the Sabbath,” “in the end of the Sabbath,” or “evening of the Sabbath,” as correct and valid renderings of the Greek phrase opse sabbaton. The translation of opse as “late in” has never been invalidated. Therefore, we accept Matthew’s concise report that when the women arrived at the tomb late on Sabbath afternoon, Jesus had already risen and the tomb was empty (Matthew 28:1, 6)!
This makes MattheW’s narrative of the Resurrection the closest to the actual event. Jesus arose from the dead late on Sabbath afternoon, not long before the women arrived at the tomb.

C. “Began to dawn toward the first day of the week” refers to the same time of day as “late on the Sabbath.”


Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ resurrection is expressed by two time references for the same time of day. He reports first “late on the Sab- bath” and second “as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week” (2811). This second reference to time has caused many to believe that Matthew was reporting Jesus’ resurrection to have occurred early on the first day of the week (Sunday). Matthew’s use of these two time references indicate that the Sabbath was about to end and the first day of the week was about to begin. Both references clearly indicate that the events reported by Matthew took place near the end of Sabbath, but not after it had passed. The word dawn is translated from the Greek word epiphosko, a verb that literally means “to grow light” or “to dawn.” It is used only twice in the New Testament:
1. In the context of Jesus’ hasty burial, Luke 23:54 translates epiph- osko as “was about to begin.” (“It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.”)
2. In reporting the resurrection of Jesus, Matthew 28:l translates epiphosko “as it began to dawn toward” (KJ V).
Explaining the meaning of epiphosko in Luke 23:54, A. T. Robert- son said, “. . . it was sundown, not sunrise when the Jewish Sabbath (twenty-four hour day) began. The confusion is to us, not to the Jews or the readers of the Greek New Testament. Luke is not speaking of the twelve-hour day which began with sunrise, but the twenty-four hour day which began at sunset.”
Thayer says that in Matthew 28:1, where epiphosko is used with the preposition eis, the translation “into,” “to,” “toward” should be under- stood as “drawing into [toward] the first day of the week.”“ This har- monizes completely with the way epiphosko is used in Luke 23:54. The events reported in both texts happened as one day was ending and draw- ing near the beginning of the next day.
A. T. Robertson makes the following observation about the use of epiphosko in Matthew 28: 1: “Both Matthew here and Luke (23:54) use dawn (epiphosko) for the dawning of the twenty-four hour day at sun- set, not of the dawning of the twelve-hour day at sunrise.”12 We conclude that the women’s visit to the tomb of Jesus near the end of the Sabbath, as reported in Matthew 28:1, was three days and three nights after Jesus had been placed in the tomb near the end of the day of Preparation for the Passover Sabbath. When they arrived, the angel announced that Jesus had risen from the grave. This places Jesus’ resurrection from the dead before the Sabbath ended. Jesus arose from the grave in the late afternoon of the weekly Sabbath.
This explains why the tomb was found empty when the anxious women returned to it early on the first day of the week, as reported by Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; and John 20:l.