A few weeks ago I got into an interesting discussion with a friend about the timing of when Jesus died and what it actually meant to spend three days and three nights in the tomb. I am very strongly of the belief that Jesus died on Wednesday afternoon, while my friend was absolutely certain it was Friday.
Just doing a bit of background reading on it in the lead up to Easter this weekend I came across two good articles on the subject (both backing a Wednesday death – you can find plenty of stuff supporting a Friday death too).
The Friday view is based on the wording of Mark 15:42, which says that Christ’s crucifixion occurred on the day of preparation, “the day before the Sabbath”. Since the Hebrew Sabbath is on Saturday, the Church traditionally held that Jesus was crucified on Friday. However, Jesus prophesied that he would be dead for three days and three nights before his resurrection: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40). There are obviously not three days and three nights between Friday evening and Sunday morning.
The problem appears easily resolved by a clarification of what Mark meant by “sabbath”. Along with the weekly Sabbath day, the Jews had other “sabbaths” throughout the year, marking high holy days. In Matthew 28:1, the Greek should be translated, “at the end of the sabbaths” – a plural word – noting that there had been more than one sabbath the previous week. The first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was also considered a “sabbath” (Lev. 23:6,7). This Feast is celebrated on Nisan 15, the day after the Passover (Lev. 23:5-6). Jesus was crucified on the Passover and Mark 15:42-43 notes that Joseph of Arimathea desired to take Christ’s body down from the cross before the high sabbath began.
One of the most common questions asked by new Christians is, “How could Jesus have been in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights if He died on a Friday afternoon and rose before sunrise on a Sunday?” Most Christians duck the question, since at most they can only come up with one day and two nights (Friday nighttime, Saturday daytime, and Saturday nighttime in our measure of days). If they add in the Friday daytime they get two periods of daytime, even though Jesus would have died in the late afternoon on a Friday. This late afternoon death is consistent with the Passover lamb being killed between the two evenings of Jewish teaching. The lamb was killed between 3 and 6 PM on the afternoon of the 14th of Abib/Nisan and prepared, because the 15th was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was an annual Sabbath observance (the first and last days of Unleavened Bread were annual Sabbaths in addition to the normal weekly Sabbaths). This search of the scriptures is important, not because it affects salvation, but because it answers the questions posed on whether Jesus kept His Word, and whether the Bible is true in this matter. A legitimate concern and question for all Christians!
Finally to really be provocative how about throwing Easter out the window and bring back the Passover celebration and in particular highlight how Jesus is revealed through the passover service.
Christian symbolism in the Passover occurs early in the Seder (the Passover dinner). Three matzahs are put together (representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The middle matzah is broken, wrapped in a white cloth, and hidden, representing the death and burial of Jesus. The matzah itself is designed to represent Jesus, since it is striped and pierced, which was prophesized by Isaiah, David, and Zechariah. Following the Seder meal, the “buried” matzah is “resurrected,” which was foretold in the prophecies of David.