Why We Know Jesus Died on Thursday

It may seem like splitting hairs, and perhaps no one cares or needs to care, but picky scholars want everything to fit together like parts in a machine.  We are told that Jesus was in the tomb 3 full days and 3 full nights to fulfill the prophecy of Jonah.

Jonah 1:17 Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

If Jesus died on Friday He spent only 2 ½ days in the grave. We need to account for the additional one-half day.

Jesus Himself made a point of citing the Jonah relevance in this passage. Think of this line s being in red letters in your Bible.

 Matthew 12:40 for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

If Jesus was crucified on Thursday and died at 3 p.m. on that day we can account for a complete 72 hours.

First, modern readers must realize that the official day for Jews did not begin at midnight but at sunset.  This came from Genesis where God said the day began at evening and ended at 6 p.m.  The entire world clock system is based on day first and then night so one must adjust this thinking.

Genesis 1:5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Second, Roman Law specifically said that Jewish citizens could not be prosecuted on their high holy days or on the “day of preparation” which is always a Friday. This preparation day was an opportunity for the Jew to cleanse his home and person so that individuals were clean enough to celebrate Passover.

Jewish law also stated that one would not be clean enough to celebrate a Sabbath (Saturday worship) or the Passover if an individual had been near a dead body. Nor could someone go near a tomb without becoming unclean.

If Jesus was tried by both Jewish and Roman law, crucified and died on Friday this would have been a violation of the law of Caesar Augustus as well.  Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews Book 16, Chapter 6 gives the passage of the Roman law which applies here.

“{Jews} be not obliged to go before any judge on the sabbath day, (Saturday) nor on the day of the preparation (Friday) to it, after the ninth hour.”

If local Jewish believers had been required to conduct the crucifixion and move Jesus to his grave on Friday that would have given the workers only a few minutes to prepare for the Sabbath, not a full day of preparation.

Meanwhile Roman soldiers were an army of occupation. Soldiers would not be charged with handling any dead bodies; they would delegate that to local citizens.  And after all there were three bodies to dispose of not just Jesus.

Romans were able to conquer and dominate many nations because they did not change local custom or break local religious rules.  They were not popular conquerors but they were tolerated because they were sensitive to indigenous people’s way of daily life and custom. In addition the Romans thought the whole Jewish religious thing was nonsense so they were not anticipating anything to come of either the Jewish laws or the prophecies of Jesus.

Because the Hebrew laws were so specific, Roman managers knew that the Jews would do things by the book so they did not need to post a guard at the tomb until Sunday morning.  If, as was predicted, Jesus’ disciples would move his body, they would not do it until the holy days were past.

The Bible says he was raised on the 3rd day. He went about His Father’s business, first to preach to the dead in Hades, (1 Peter 3:19) and finally the women show up at the tomb when it was still a little dark, so dark she thought Jesus was the gardener.  The last time they saw Him His body was so bloody and disfigured this man could not have been Jesus.  He said He had yet to see the Father.  Preaching in hell then counts as part of the crucifixion story and activity.  By going to heaven at this point He can say His work is officially done.

Modern church dramas often show the tomb guarded for the entire three days but this is not correct.  If that were so then when the Mary came to the tomb and found the stone rolled away the guards would have stopped her.

The body of Jesus was cremated. Old Testament Law demanded that the sacrifice was a “whole burnt offering” and  none of it should remain until morning. If any remained, indicating God had not consumed it from the altar, that would mean His sacrifice for the whole human race was not accepted by God.

One of the major proofs that Jesus was raised from the dead is the fact that for over 2,000 years no one has been able to produce a body of Jesus.  That Sunday morning an entire cohort of Roman soldiers could find only two badly damaged corpses in all of Jerusalem.

Inconsistencies in our celebration of Easter may cause some doubters to reject the whole gospel message.  It probably makes no difference otherwise in our lives; yes, it would be nice to have a 4 day weekend not 3, but as usual we find the Biblical record is right.  It makes no real difference when we celebrate Good Friday, only that indeed we do celebrate it and all that He did for us on that day.

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