Three Crosses, Two Sabbaths, One Empty Tomb

The Timeline Of Holy Week

There is no more significant time on the calendar for Christians than the week traditionally referred to as “Holy Week.”  It is a week of reflection and celebration, but should be a time of conviction and repentance as well.  It begins with the remembrance of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and concludes with the worship of the Resurrected King of Glory on Easter Sunday (which we might more properly refer to as Resurrection Day).

For centuries the church at large has celebrated a timeline that is based on a Western view of the calendar and timing.  The tendency of the Western church has been to ignore the very important significance of the Jewish feasts that were being celebrated at the time, along with their Old Testament instructions.  It is almost anathema to suggest that any day of the week other than Friday should be considered as the day on which Christ was crucified.  But there is a serious question about  Good Friday because of  Jesus’ statement in 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.”  (NKJV)

The timeline for most of the modern church for Holy Week is as follows:

Palm Sunday – Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Maundy Thursday – Jesus’ holds the Last Supper, is arrested, and His trials run through the night.  Many churches hold a Maundy Thursday service where the Lord’s Supper or a Mass of some sort is observed in honor of these events.

Good Friday – Jesus is before Pilate in the morning, crucified between 12 pm and 3 pm, and His body buried before 6 pm. Many churches hold Good Friday services in which the seven last words of Christ, His sayings from the Cross, are given special emphasis. Often these services are very somber in nature – with the apparent assumption by some that the cross was the greatest failure of all time, or at least should be consider a very sad occasion.

Easter Sunday – Celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, where often the emphasis is such that one would think a person is saved because of Christ’s resurrection.  (We might do well to remember that we are saved by the death of Christ, through His shed blood.)

This timeline is predicated on the choice of Friday as the day when Christ was crucified.  Friday is an assumption based on the fact that we are told it was the “Preparation Day,” or “the day before the Sabbath” (Mark 15:42).  The assumption is that the Sabbath is the weekly Sabbath which begins at sunset on Friday.  In John 19:12 we read, “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.”

Three Crosses

 Here’s what we know for certain.  Toward the end of Holy Week Jesus was crucified and died on the hill called Golgotha along with two criminals (John 19:17-42).  He was buried and then on the following Sunday morning it was discovered that the stone covering the tomb had been moved and that the body of Jesus was gone! (Cf. Luke 24:1-12).   Of course, we know He was resurrected.

There is no need to be dogmatic when attempting to discover the day on which Christ actually died.  That he died as the Perfect Lamb of God and paid our debt is certain (1 Cor. 5:6-8; 15:1-11).  That He was raised in victory over sin, death, and Satan himself, is a glorious truth that provides confirmation of our salvation and comfort for our souls (Heb. 2:14-18). But God’s Word is very precise. If we can determine the actual timeline of the events of Holy Week it can provide an immense source of encouragement and spiritual certainty about God’s perfect plan of redemption.

Two Sabbaths

A very important point in the timeline of Holy Week is the fact that there were two Sabbaths.  Understanding this will provide a tremendous help in determining the actual day of the week on which Christ was crucified.  I will propose another more plausible, and I believe more biblical, timeline for the week.  But first we need to get some preliminary and foundational issues explained.

  1. The Jewish Calendar. It is generally believed that Jesus died in the year AD 30, give or take a year or two. The Jewish calendar operates off a lunar month with special emphasis on the seasons of the year, in which the various feasts of the Old Testament were set.  In the modern world, especially the West, we operate off the Gregorian Calendar method, established by Pope Gregory the XIII in 1582.  Converting dates and days of the week back to the first century is a best guess sort of thing.
    • The Observation Method. God set the feasts and holy days of convocation in Israel to be observed in their seasons ( 23:4).  Since the calendar was lunar (29.5 days), the Jews had 12 months in their calendar, rotating 29 and 30 days. This totals 354 days.  Consequently, adjustments had to be made.  A leap year was observed seven out of every nineteen years wherein a “leap month” was added.  By observation we mean that a new month started when two credible witness were able to testify that they had seen the first sliver of the moon in the night sky.  The Shofar would be sounded and all would know that a new month had started.  A leap month would be added when the High Priest would go outside and realize that it wasn’t spring yet and therefore not time to observe Passover (Num. 9:2).
    • The Arithmetical Method. The Sanhedrin developed a mathematical formula to determine the calendar. Their secret was discovered and published in AD  358 and become the customary way of determining leap years. The problem in going backwards from AD 358 with conversions to Gregorian calendar dates is problematic and can only be done with best guesses.
  2. The Jewish Day. Another important preliminary issue is that of how the Jews reckoned their days.  The Jewish day starts at sunset (normally around 6 pm).  This is critical in determining when events occurred in the life of Jesus during Holy Week.

Jesus was the promised Messiah.  He was the Lamb of God who was our substitute, the Sacrifice which satisfied the wrath of God against sin (Rom. 5:8-10). As such, He fulfilled two very important feast days that had been set by God, Passover (1 Cor. 5:6-8;) and the Day of Atonement (Heb. 9).

By taking a look at biblical events from the Old Testament and God’s designed plan for the celebration of Passover we can discover a very likely timeline for the events of Holy Week. We should note that “Passover commemorated the deliverance of the children of Israel from the slavery and bondage of Egypt, which in turn, serves as a type of Christ’s deliverance from the bondage and slavery of sin.”[i]

Passover was celebrated on the 14th of Nissan, the first month of the Jewish religious calendar.  This was immediately followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread which ran for seven days, from the 15th to the 21st of Nissan.  The first and last day of Unleavened Bread were considered days of Holy Convocation, or Sabbaths.  “And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord for seven days. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.’” (Lev. 23:6-8).

Additionally, the Feast of First Fruits was celebrated on the day after the normal Sabbath of Passover week, always a Sunday.  The entire time of Passover plus Unleavened Bread was often referred to simply as Passover.  There were two Sabbaths during Holy Week, the first day of Unleavened Bread and the regular weekly Sabbath.

We should not overlook the significance of the feast days and their relation to prophecy and the finished work of Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.  The feasts also relate very specifically to His Second Coming.  God gave Moses a summary of the Feasts He required to be celebrated in Leviticus 23.

Jesus had mentioned on numerous occasions that He would come to Jerusalem, that He would be betrayed and killed, and that He would rise the third day.

“Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it. For He taught His disciples and said to them, ‘The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day’ But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him.” (Mark 9:30–32; Cf. Matthew 12:38-42; 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-29; 26:1-2; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 9:22; 9:43-45; 18:31-34)

There were times when His own disciples discouraged him from going to Jerusalem for fear that what Jesus had prophesied would come true (John 11:7-8).  But Jesus was steadfast in His commitment to fulfill the Father’s will regarding His death, burial, resurrection and ascension (Luke 9:51).  So, in obedience to the Father’s will, the Lord set His timetable for an arrival in Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of Passover which included the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of First Fruits.

We will follow the timeline of Jesus’ last week, his last seven days on earth prior to His death, burial and resurrection.  Then we will see the significance of the three days and three nights His body was in the tomb and its subsequent resurrection on that first Resurrection Day.

HOLY WEEK TIMELINE OF EVENTS

Holy week as we know it begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Resurrection Day (Easter).  It is appropriate that we celebrate the events of that week and rejoice in both our Savior’s death on the Cross, where our sins were forgiven through His shed blood, and in our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, verifying His victory over sin, death and hell.  It is also important for us to understand that the events of Passover and the corresponding Feasts of Unleavened Bread and First Fruits occurred during that week.

We will start with Jesus coming to Bethany just before the Passover week to prepare.  The first crucial event of Passover was to select the Passover lamb.  According to the instructions given to Moses, the Passover lamb was to be selected on the 10th of Nissan.  Therefore, Jesus had to arrive in the area prior to Nissan 10 in order to be presented to the nation of Israel as God’s perfect Passover Lamb.

Friday preceding Holy Week, Nissan 8 (began Thursday evening) – John tells us that Jesus was in Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem, six days before the Passover (John 12:1).  Passover is the 14th so that means He arrived on the 8th.  It is unlikely that He arrived on the Sabbath (Saturday) due to the travel restrictions.  It is possible that He could have arrived on Thursday, likely after dark, meaning He arrived on the 8th.  This would have given Him time for prayer and preparation for what was coming.

John tells us that they made a supper for Jesus, where we are told that Mary anointed Him (John 12:2-8).  Judas was not pleased, suggesting that the fragrant oil could have been sold and the money given to the poor.  In retrospect, John points out that Judas was a thief and would have taken the money for himself rather than giving it to the poor. As Jesus was preparing for His death, He accepted this act of worship and reminded Judas that we would always have the poor.

Surely Jesus had in mind, “For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land” (Dt. 15:11).  His point was that we would always have the poor to help, but that they would only have the Lord for a few more days.  This means for the Christian that we must recognize that worshiping Jesus takes priority over service to the poor.  Both are essential, but proper worship leads to proper behavior.

Saturday preceding Holy Week, Nissan 9 (began Friday evening) – Of this day we have no recorded information about Jesus’ activities.  We can easily imagine that Jesus was resting at Bethany in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  We can also expect that during the day Jesus went to the synagogue as was His custom on each Sabbath day (Luke 4:16).

First Sunday of Holy Week, Nissan 10 (began Saturday evening) – This was an important day in preparation for the Passover.  This is the day that Christ made His entry into Jerusalem, the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday (Luke 19:28-46; John 12:12-18).  According to Luke, Jesus drew near to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives.  (Jesus, had arrived in the area already.)  That was close enough to Jerusalem for Him to move back and forth each day.

Jesus had just come through Jericho where he had healed blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52).  Matthew actually indicates that two blind men were healed (Matt. 20:29-34).  Luke indicates that this is also when Jesus went to the home of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).  From the synoptic accounts you might get the idea that Jesus came into Jerusalem directly from Jericho, but John clarifies that there was the stopover in Bethany.  The previous days in Jericho had been busy with teaching, healing and saving souls.  The journey from Jericho up to Jerusalem was difficult. The rest stop was needed.

In addition, Jesus had specific dates on a calendar to fulfill.  Nissan the 10th was a significant day.  On this day the Paschal lamb was to be chosen, a one-year old unblemished male, giving time for inspection of the lamb prior to the Passover on the 14th (Ex. 12:1-8).  That this day would fall on Sunday was significant.  Jesus would be crucified on Passover, Nissan 14, and then resurrected on Nissan 17.  When we back up from those dates it leaves us with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Sunday, Nissan 10.

The purpose in choosing the lamb four days prior to the Passover was so that it could be inspected.  It was to be “perfect.”  If any flaws were found it had to be replaced.  While the instruction for inspection is not specific it is clearly implied.  “On the tenth of this month [Nissan] every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. …  Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight” (Ex. 12:2-6, emphasis mine).

That the inspection was implied is established in the process that was undertaken over the years.  As the pilgrims would come to Jerusalem to present animals for sacrifice, they were often rejected by the priests as not being kosher, or acceptable.  The High Priest had allowed a market system to be set up in the Court of the Gentiles where animals and birds were sold, often at a much higher price than they could be purchased elsewhere.  The money changers, required because the Temple Tax had to be paid in the nearest thing to the Old Hebrew Shekel, also charged exorbitant fees.  This was unacceptable to Jesus, and likely a key reason behind his cleansing of the Temple.

Our point at this juncture is to say that the lamb was chosen on Nissan 10 and there were four days over which it could be inspected.  Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, being presented as the perfect Lamb of God who will die for our sin. J. Vernon McGee suggests that His arrival was hardly a “triumph.”  He was coming to die for our sins and He was chosen and presented by God as the final Passover Lamb.  McGee says, “That our Lord entered Jerusalem on three consecutive days and in three consecutive roles – as Priest, as King, as Prophet.  And He returned each day to Bethany. Apparently, He did not spend the night in the city until He was arrested.”[ii]

McGee gives further clarification:

Remember that the so-called triumphal entry ended at the cross. But He will come the second time in triumph.  The writer to the Hebrews put this together in a wonderful way: “so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28).  We are told in Zechariah 14:4 that when He comes the next time to this earth, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives – that’s where He will touch down.  Then when He enters the city of Jerusalem, that will be a triumphal entry![iii]

According to Matthew, after Jesus entered the city and was hailed as the suffering Messiah who would die for our sin, He cleansed the temple (Matt. 21:1-17).  He left and went back to Bethany for the night.  Mark places the temple cleansing on the next day (Mark 11:11-19).  Some would question the accuracy of Scripture but this confirms it in my mind.  Mark got his information from Peter.  That Matthew and Peter remember the occasion accurately is critical.  That they placed the event 12 or so hours apart on the time line is not a significant matter.

Monday of Holy Week, Nissan 11 (began Sunday evening) – Jesus rests through the night in Bethany and reenters the city of Jerusalem on Monday morning.  On His way back into the city Matthew reports that He found a fig tree with no fruit.  He cursed the tree and it withered. He used this as an opportunity for a lesson on faith (Matt. 21:18-22).

Jesus began teaching in the temple.  Luke says that Jesus taught each day in the temple (Luke 19:47).  Since the entry on Sunday would have likely taken a good part of the day it would have been later in the day when Jesus cleansed the temple.  He used that as an occasion for teaching (Matt. 21:12-17).  That also served as the beginning of His inspection by chief priests and scribes.   Returning on Monday He began teaching in the Temple area (cf. Matt. 21:28 – 25:46).

During the day Jesus is questioned by chief priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees, and their disciples.  Of course, they are trying to back Jesus into a theological conundrum.  They want Him to say something that will give them reason to find fault with Him.  Surely there must have been some sin in His life, or better yet some form of teaching that contradicted Moses.  They were unable to find a crack in His life or His teaching (Matt. 26:59-68).

Tuesday of Holy Week, Nissan 12 (began Monday evening) – a long day of teaching and confronting the religious leaders on Monday ends with Jesus returning to and spending the night in Bethany.  He returns to Jerusalem the next morning and as they enter the city Peter notes that the fig tree is further withered, from the roots up.  Jesus reminds them of the power of faith again.

Jesus teaches and once again the chief priests, scribes and elders come and question His authority.  He handles them easily by asking questions of them that they are unwilling to answer.  On these two days Jesus delivers what we know as the Olivet discourse along with many other parables and life lessons.  Our Lord knows that His time to teach on earth is coming to an end.  His words take on immense importance. The questioning of the religious leaders is crucial as we will see.

Because of the activities that took place on Nissan 8, 10, 11 and 12, we know that none of those days could have been a Sabbath.

Wednesday of Holy Week, Nissan 13 (began Tuesday evening) – In the evening Jesus returns to Bethany and is invited to dine at Simon the leper’s house (Matt. 26:1-13; Mark 14:1-9).  Earlier, while still during the day on Nissan 12 (Tuesday) Jesus had pointed out that it was “two days” until the Passover.  The chief priests, scribes and elders were plotting to murder Jesus but they didn’t want to do it during the feast.  Unfortunately for them they would play right into the hands of God and Jesus would be killed on Passover.

The meal at Simon’s appears to be a different event from the supper made at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ home.  Most chronological records indicate that the anointing that took place was one event, but the differences in the accounts indicate two separate events. Note the differences in the table below:

  • John 12:1-11
  • -Mary and Martha’s Home
  • -Six days before Passover
  • -Anointed by Mary
  • -Feet anointed and wiped by Mary’s hair
  • -Judas protests, John points out Judas was a thief
  • Matthew 26:1-13; Mark 14:1-9
  • -Simon’s house
  • -Two days before Passover
  • -Anointed by an unnamed woman
  • -Oil poured over Jesus’ head
  • -Disciples, others protest, no mention of Judas being a thief

Following the meal and anointing of Jesus at Simon’s, Jesus most likely spends the rest of the night at the home of Mary and Martha.  In the morning, on Wednesday, He will return to Jerusalem, likely teaching again at the Temple.  He instructs His disciples to go and prepare for the Last Supper (Mark 14:12-31; Matt. 26:17-30)

Thursday of Holy Week, Nissan 14 (began Wednesday evening) – It is the Passover. Jesus will not return to Bethany.  He will not sleep again on earth.  After the supper the events of the night are chronicled by John (John 18:12-19:37), as follows:

  • The Last Supper. Jesus and the Disciples go to the upper room, prepared for them just as the Lord had promised. Jesus indicates that one of the men will betray Him, institutes the Lord’s Supper, informs Peter that he will deny Him, and provides for the disciples  the most important teaching of His ministry on earth (John 13- 17).
    • Jesus observes Passover as instructed in the books of Exodus and Leviticus, doing it on the evening of Passover, which is when the death angel passed over the Israelite homes where the blood of the lamb had been placed on the doorposts (12:1-14). It had become more customary for the Jews to observe the Passover meal on the first day of Unleavened Bread, killing the Passover Lamb at 3 pm on Passover (Nissan 14) and observing the meal that evening (Nissan 15).
  • The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prays and the disciples fail to keep watch with Him. During His prayer we are aware that Jesus prayed, “My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from me unless I drink it, Your will be done” (26:39).  I contend that Jesus’ reference to the “cup” at this point was related to the Devil’s apparent attempt to kill Him right there in the garden.  Luke records that he was in “agony” and “His sweat became like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:39-46).  The weight of the sin of the world was already bearing down on Him.  There are a couple of very specific reasons that Jesus’ comments about the cup in His prayers to the Father cannot be references to avoiding the cross.  First, the assumption made by many that this is somehow Jesus’ human side peeking out at the end, reacting with fear and loathing to the stated and determined mission of the Savior.  This requires a kind of schizophrenic dichotomy between the human Person of Jesus and the God Person of Jesus which is neither seen nor taught anywhere else in Scripture. It violates every principle we know of the Hypostatic Union, biblically, and leaves Jesus denying His own oft-stated purpose of redemption.  It makes Jesus out to be not the God-Man, but God superimposed over man. Second, Jesus prayed to the Father that the cup would pass from Him, if it were the Father’s will. Never before or after did the Father and the Son have opposing wills–such a concept would obliterate the perfect harmony of the Godhead.  Jesus plainly stated, “Whatever you ask the Father in My Name, He will give you.”  Are we to believe that now, in His most distressing hour, the Father would reject a request from the Son? In John 11:41-42 Jesus said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me…”  If we interpret the cup to reference the cross, then the Father has rejected the Son–before the cross. If we, instead, interpret the cup to mean Satan’s attempt on His life in the Garden, then the Father’s response to the Son is a resounding, “YES!” and the harmony of the Father and Son remains intact.
  • The Betrayal by Judas, which was no surprise to Jesus. When Judas arrived with his band of armed men and religious leaders, it is interesting that Jesus, “knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward …” (John 18:4).
  • The Arrest takes place with no resistance from Jesus. Peter’s actions are noble but not timely (John 18:1-11).  Jesus reaffirms His commitment to fulfill the Father’s will and “drink the cup.”  It would appear that the “cup” refers to the separation Jesus will experience from Father because of His bearing the weight of our sin.
  • The Trial before the High Priest (John 18:19-24). This is the place of Peter’s denial of the Lord and where Jesus was first beaten and mocked by the soldiers.
  • The Initial Trial before Pilate (Luke 23:1-5). It must have been late at night when Jesus was finally dragged before Pilate.  The best accusation they could come up with to try to get an audience before the Roman Governor was that Jesus was “forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar.”  This was a blatant lie; Jesus had plainly told them to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Luke 20:20-26). Pilate could see the issue was nothing of a serious concern to Rome and plainly stated, “I find no fault in this man.”  When Pilate discovered that Jesus was a “Galilean” he decided to send Jesus to Herod.
  • The Trial before Herod (Luke 23:6-12). Jesus refused to answer questions from Herod. He is treated contemptuously, mocked, and adorned with a robe and sent back to Pilate. Herod finds Jesus somewhat entertaining but fears no threat from Him or concern for His political aspirations (of which there were none). He knew that Jesus was not guilty of any crime against Rome.
  • The Second Trial before Pilate, Jesus is Scourged (Luke 23:13-25; John 19:1-4). It is likely nearing sunrise on Thursday morning.  Once again Pilate, having heard the trumped-up charges, having personally examined Jesus, concludes that Jesus is not guilty and not deserving of death.  He notes that Herod came to the same conclusion.  Recall the Lamb was to be inspected, it had to be perfect.  Jesus is being examined and found without fault!  Pilate correctly assesses, “I have found no fault in this man concerning those things of which you accuse him.”  Pilate tries to appease the Jews by offering to “chastise” Jesus, meaning he would have Him beaten and released.  This seems disingenuous since Pilate had concluded Jesus had done nothing wrong. Nonetheless, he has Jesus scourged.  This severe beating took some time and the soldiers added the crown of thorns with the purple robe.  He was struck in the face, spat upon and beaten with a reed in the head.  (Of note, many prisoners condemned to death by crucifixion did not live through the scourging.)
    • The crowd was not pacified with this and demanded that Jesus be crucified. Pilate attempts to use a feast day release tradition, letting a convicted prisoner (likely on normal occasions of some political nature) go free as a good will offer to the nation of Israel.  The crowd, having been worked up into an emotional frenzy, demands the release of a notorious criminal, Barabbas.  Jesus is delivered to the will of the chief priests and people for crucifixion.
    • It is fitting to note that Jesus took the place of Barabbas. It should have been Barabbas on that cross.  But it was Jesus instead, as his substitute.  The reality is it should have been you and me on that cross.  He was our substitute as well! (Cf. 2 Cor. 5:21).
  • The Via Dolorosa ( 27:32-33). This is a term meaning “The Way of Suffering” and denotes the assumed route that Jesus carried His cross to Golgotha. Whether the current route is entirely correct or not, there is no question that Jesus was forced to carry His cross to the place of crucifixion.  Likely what He carried was the cross beam, a very heavy piece of wood to which His hands would soon be nailed.  This piece would be dropped in place on a vertical post that was already in the ground.  Simon of Cyrene is pressed into service to carry our Lord’s cross.
  • The Crucifixion, from 12 noon to 3 pm on Passover. Placing the prisoner on the vertical beam would be a jolt that would separate the shoulders.  As a consequence, the prisoner could not use his arms to pull himself up to get a breath.  The prisoner would have to use his legs to push up on his nailed feet in order to be able to breathe.  Crucifixion is likely the most painful and agonizing form of capital punishment ever devised by evil men (John 19:17-37).  The words Jesus spoke from the cross, seven statements in all, form an excellent study but are not our concern in this article.  But the last two things our Lord said are critical.
  • Jesus declares, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The plan of redemption was completed, the perfect Lamb of God had satisfied the wrath of God against sin, overcome the power of Satan and won the victory.  Jesus completed the plan of salvation on the cross. He dies at 3 pm on Passover, Nissan 14.
  • The Burial of Jesus’ body. Sunset will commence a Holy Convocation, a Sabbath, being the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  This is why Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus must get Jesus buried quickly, before 6 pm (Mark 15:42-47; John 19:38-42).  The Romans gave consideration to the religious rites of the Jews as much as was possible and normally agreed to remove the bodies from the crosses before a Sabbath began.  Because crucifixion was designed to be long and painful death, often prisoners would linger for several days.  To hasten death, the soldiers would break the legs of the prisoner so that he could no longer push up to breathe.  When they came to Jesus, he was already dead so the prophecy stating that none of His bones would be broken was fulfilled. Joseph and Nicodemus bury Jesus in a nearby new tomb that had not previously been used.  They do as much burial preparation as they can but are unable to fully satisfy the customary burial rites.
  • Jesus’ last words, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:44-49). We know that Jesus’ body was buried.  But where did His spirit go?  In essence, where did Jesus go?  There are many theories but the Bible is clear on where Jesus went.  He went to Heaven, to the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle not made with hands, that is the one in Heaven, as clearly spelled out in Hebrews chapters nine and ten.  Specifically, the text says, “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:24; emphasis mine; cf. 8:1-6; 9:11-15; 10:11-14).
    • What about Ephesians 4:7-10? Jesus was able to lead “captivity captive” in that once His blood was placed on the Mercy Seat in heaven then the Old Testament Saints were able to enter into the presence of God (Cf. Luke 16:19-31). When Paul speaks of Jesus “descending into the lower parts of the earth” he is not talking about hell.  He is referring to the fact that Jesus left the glory of Heaven to come to earth to save us from our sin, which included His burial in a grave (the “lower parts”).  There was no need for Jesus to go into hell or to battle with Satan.  He defeated Satan, sin and death on the cross!  Jesus holds the keys to Hell, it is not ruled by Satan (1:18).
    • What about First Peter 3:18-22? This passage confirms that Jesus went to Heaven!  The preaching of Jesus is compared to that of Noah.  Noah preached on earth while building the Ark.  Jesus had preached on earth to people who needed to be saved.  If Jesus did any preaching to “spirits in prison” it was to lead the Old Testament saints from Paradise to Heaven and/or to announce the victory won to the wicked dead suffering in Hades. It certainly wasn’t to give anyone a second chance.  Peter understands clearly that the significance of Christ’s victory over death is that it is far superior to the Old Testament sacrifices.  The reason is that Christ’s death settles the issue of a “good conscience toward God.”

Friday of Holy Week, Nissan 15 (began Thursday evening)This day was a Sabbath, a day of Holy Convocation, due to being the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:4-8).  For this reason, the women who wanted to complete the burial preparations for Jesus’ body are unable to do so (Luke 23:56).  They will have to wait until Sunday morning as on this week there are back-to-back Sabbaths, with Saturday being a regular weekly Sabbath.

On this day Jesus’s body will lie in the tomb.  Jesus Himself is in Heaven.  Jesus was to be in the grave three days and three nights (Matt. 12:40; cf. Matt. 16:21; 17:9; 20:17-19).  There is no way to get three days and three nights if Jesus was  crucified on Friday.  If He was crucified on Wednesday you end up with four days and nights. The timeline works for Thursday as follows:

  • Day One, Thursday, Nissan 14 (Passover), Jesus dies around 3 pm and is buried before 6 pm or sunset.
  • Night One, Thursday, Nissan 15 (First Day of Unleavened Bread), Jesus’ body is in the tomb and remains there …
  • Day Two, Friday, Nissan 15.
  • Night Two, Friday, Nissan 16.
  • Day Three, Saturday, Nissan 16.
  • Night Three, Saturday, Nissan 17.
  • Sunday Morning, Nissan 17, Jesus is resurrected before Sunrise (John 20:1-9).

Saturday of Holy Week, Nissan 16 (began Friday evening) – This is the regular weekly Sabbath and Jesus’ body remains in the tomb.

Second Sunday of Holy Week, Nissan 17 (began Saturday evening) – Praise God, Sunday’s coming!  While the victory over sin, Satan, and death was indeed won on the Cross on Thursday, Sunday brings proof of the power of salvation in Christ Jesus; His victory is verified in His Resurrection from the Dead.  The women come to the tomb early in the morning, before sunrise (John 20:1-9).  Since the Sabbath had ended on Saturday at sunset their first opportunity to complete their burial details would be at first light on Sunday morning.

This means that Jesus retrieved His body at some point during the night, completing the requirement of three days and three nights in the grave.  We should remember that stone was rolled away by the angels not so Jesus could get out, but so that the disciples and His followers could see that He was not there (Luke 24:1-12).

There can hardly be a question regarding the fact that Jesus was raised on Nissan 17, which must have fallen on the second Sunday of Holy Week.  God does all things well and all things are done on His terms and on His time table.  Consider for a moment the other significant events that took place on Nissan 17 (note that Nissan was originally known as the month of Abib).

  • Noah’s Ark “rested … on the mountains of Ararat” (Gen. 8:4; the seventh month is listed because this was before the Jewish ceremonial calendar was established).
  • Moses leads the children of Israel through the Red Sea (Ex. 12:14; Num. 33:3-8). They had the Passover, departed on Nissan 15 on a three-day journey, crossed the Red Sea, being delivered from Egyptian bondage, on Nissan 17.
  • The people of Israel come into the promised land and on Nissan 17 they eat of the fruit of the land for the first time, the last of the Manna was provided on Nissan 16 (Josh. 5:10-12).
  • The Resurrection of Christ.

The Resurrection also fulfilled the feast of First Fruits, which occurred on the first day after the weekly Sabbath of Passover.  That means First Fruits was always on a Sunday (John 12:24; 1 Cor. 15:20-23).

The three days and three nights requirement drives much of the Holy Week timeline.  Jesus used the example of Jonah.  We should note that Jonah was essentially dead for three days and nights and then “resurrected.”  He preached the Gospel in Nineveh for 40 days.  Jesus was on earth, in His resurrection body, preaching the Gospel, for 40 days. Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah.  The call of the Gospel is that men should repent and trust Christ alone, He is the only hope of salvation.  You can find the plan of salvation here.

Taken from:  Joel H. Horne, When God Sets the Table (Clovis, NM: CTM Publishers, 2001), 12

[i] Joel H. Horne, When God Sets the Table (Clovis, NM: CTM Publishing, 2001), 19

[ii] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, Vol. IV (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 1983), 111-112.

[iii] Ibid, 112.

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