Posted On April 2, 2021

Resolving Crucifixion Day: Which Day of the Week Was Jesus Crucified?

by | Apr 2, 2021 | Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

Problem:

When they see how many things take place in such a short amount of time, many people question whether or not a Friday crucifixion is plausible. Then, to complicate matters, people come to the Bible thinking in terms of what they are used to, like time-tables. For instance, in our way of thinking, we automatically think in terms of a 24-hour day instead of a Jewish framework that considers part of a day a whole day.

So let’s survey the main orthodox views and then work through the Scriptures by applying interpretive principles and arrive at a viable conclusion.

View 1:

Some place the crucifixion on Wednesday, and they suggest that Jesus rose exactly 72 hours later.[1] The primary text they rely on is Matthew 12:40, “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.” People like Scroggie suggest that their usage ceases to be an idiom when nights and days are mentioned together.

View 2:

Some hold to a Thursday crucifixion which helps account for the “silent Wednesday” with a Sunday resurrection. Such proponents would be B.F. Westcott, J. K, Aldrich, and Roger Rusk.[2]

View 3:

However, the traditional view is that he prophesied that He would die and be raised on the third day (Matt 16:21; Mk 8:31; Lk 9:22).  This view suggests that Jesus’ body was laid in the grave on the day of preparation (Friday), which was the day before the Sabbath (Matt 27:62; 28:1; Mk 15:42; Lk 23:54, 56; Jn 19:31, 42). This view has been upheld from the Church Fathers to the present day by the vast number of scholars.

After using proper Bible study principles, the favored view in this paper is the traditional one, view 3.

Figures of Speech:

Let’s first agree that one who takes the Bible literally does not have to be a “wooden literalist.” He can make room for idioms that are frequently utilized by the biblical authors. Matthew 12:40 seems to be the primary support for those who insist on three full days and nights. Yet, when Jesus quoted Jonah 1:17, He merely used it as an expression of prophetic significance. For instance, “forty days and forty nights” could be used to refer to a period of time longer than a month. Here, three days and nights would signify at least parts of three days and nights, as the next principal will explain. The significance of the “sign of Jonah” meant more than 72 hours of time. For the significance of this sign, see Eugene Merrill’s paper by the same title.[3]

Early church father Jerome stated, “This is to be explained by a figure of speech called synecdoche, by which a part is put for the whole; not that our Lord was three whole days and three nights in the grave, but part of Friday, part of Sunday, and the whole of Saturday were reckoned as three days.”[4]

Manners & Customs:

In Jewish thinking, part of a day was equivalent to a whole day. For example, in Genesis 42:17, Joseph placed his brothers in prison for three days, then he spoke to them on that third day and released them on that day (v.18). Also, Israel and Syria encamped the opposite of each other for seven days and battled each other on the seventh (2 Ki 20:29).  Then, Rehoboam told the Israelites to return to him after three days, yet they returned to him on the third day (2 Chron 10:5, 12). For other such instances, consult Esther 4:16 cf. 5:1 and 1 Samuel 30:12-13. “Thus, the Old Testament gives the picture that the expressions ‘three days,’ ‘the third day,’ and ‘three days and three nights’ are used to signify the same period of time.”[5]

A Rabbi living around A.D. 100, Eleazar ben Azariah, said, “A day and night are an Onah (a portion of time), and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it.”[6]

Jesus specifically stated that He would be raised up in three days, not four (Jn 2:19-22). The most frequent reference to the resurrection is that it would happen on the third day (Matt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:64; Lk 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor 15:4). Since the day of resurrection on Sunday, the first day of the week, is uncontested, that leaves Friday as the day of crucifixion.

Typology:

On Monday of Passion Week, Jesus presented Himself as the Paschal lamb as He made His triumphal entry. On Friday, He was sacrificed as the Paschal lamb (1 Cor 5:7). On Resurrection Sunday, He was a type of offering of First Fruits (1 Cor 15:23).

The Old Testament contains two kinds of prophecy. First is verbally predictive prophecy, specific, like Jesus being born of a virgin (Isa 7:14). The second kind of Messianic prophecy is that of typology in which people or events foreshadow Him, like Jonah. Typology is not specific but picturesque. “It was predictive prophecy in picture rather than in specific word. Just as Jonah was buried in the depths of the sea, Jesus was buried in the depths of the earth; and just as Jonah came out of the great fish after three days, Jesus came out of the grave after three days.”[7]

Context:

Friday is exclusively pointed to when Mark 15:42 says that it was the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath. John also attests to it being the Preparation Day that Jesus was crucified and buried (19:31, 42).

Word Study:

All four Gospels tell us that Jesus was crucified on Preparation Day (Matt 27:62; Mk 15:42; Lk 23:54; Jn 19:31, 42). The term used prosabaton “the day before the Sabbath” is our Friday and is used to clarify this Day of Preparation.[8] So the previous term paraskeun, “the preparation,” is a technical term for the day before Sabbath/Passover. The term means “Friday.”[9]

Oneness/Singleness of Meaning:

It has already been stated that the primary verse which, on the surface, opposed the Friday view is Matthew 12:40 because people assume Jonah was in the belly of the fish for 72 hours. However, timing is not the thrust of this verse. The Pharisees had observed the miracles and signs that Jesus performed. They had witnessed the healings, the casting out of demons, and all the other spectacular signs. They were, however, antagonistic, not simply indifferent. John Calvin reminds us that the Lord had been gracious with Gideon asking a sign (Judges 6:17), yet He was not provoked to anger. God even gave signs without being asked for one, as in the case with Hezekiah (Isa 38:7-8). The Lord even scolds Ahaz for not asking for a sign as instructed by the prophet (Isa 7:11).[10]

So the issue was not indifference but blatant rejection. Jesus had just finished railing on them for committing the unpardonable sin. Rather than accept Jesus’ indictment on their self-righteous sin, the Pharisees claimed His power for casting out demons was given by the ruler of demons (12:24). Their wicked hearts led them to plot against Jesus as to how to destroy Him (12:14). They had already rejected the fullest revelation as exhibited in Christ’s miracles that He did through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, they would only get one more sign, the sign of Jonah. As Jonah was brought up from the bottom of the sea and preached to the Ninevites, so they will hear the voice of a prophet that has risen from the dead. Calvin again helps point out that though Jonah and Christ are not identical at every point, “I think that Christ intends to mark out that single point if resemblance which I have already hinted, that he will be their prophet after that, he is risen from the dead.”[11] Thus, His resurrection would speak against them as Jonah spoke against Nineveh for their wickedness. Therefore, the emphasis in Jesus’ reference to Jonah is on his spectacular “resurrection” from the sea, not the timing involved thereof.

Though today was a somber day and dark when sin was placed on our Savior, it culminates just ‘3 days later in the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ! Have a “Good Friday!”

[1]W. Graham Scroggie, A Guide to the Gospels, 569-77.

[2] B.F. Westcott, An Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, 343-49. J. K, Aldrich “The Crucifixion on Thursday-Not Friday,” Bibliotheca Sacra, XXVII July, 1870, 401-29. Roger Rusk “The Day He Died,” Christianity Today, March 29, 1974, 4-6.

[3] Eugene Merrill, “The Sign of Jonah”, JETS 23:1 March 1980, 23-30.

[4] John Peter Lange, The Gospel According to Matthew, 226.

[5] Harold W. Hoehner, “Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 248.

[6] Jerusalem Talmud: Shabbath ix, 3.

[7] John MacArthur, Matthew 8-15, MTNC (Chicago: Moody Press), 329.

[8] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 711.

[9] Josephus, Antiquities xvi.6.2; Martyrdom of Polycarp vii; Ignatius, Epistle to the Trallians ix; Justin Martyr, First Apology lxvii; Didache, viii; Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels iii.24.66; cf. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, 776, n. 97.

[10] John Calvin, Harmony of the Evangelists, 94.

[11] Calvin, Harmony of the Evangelists, 94-95.

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