Jesus really die?
(This is a work in progress. If you find errors or ommisions, or have biblical or historical grounds of disagreement, please email us)
History, with out a doubt, records that Jesus was a real person, living in a real time and place, who was crucified in Israel during the early first century. Only the most self-deceived or intentionally deceptive (such as the DaVinci Code) would deny these facts. Josephus, writing only a few years after the events (himself an eyewitness to the prophesied destruction of the temple in A.D. 70), records this in his history...
Friends, family, and even enemies, were eyewitnesses to Jesus' crucifixion and subsequent death. Myths that somehow Jesus didn't really die (such as Muslims believe), or that Jesus somehow revived in the tomb following, are all without credibility. In answer to the Muslim allegation that perhaps someone else died in His place, Scriptures are clear that of the many eyewitnesses, it included those closest to Him (i.e. His mother, women that traveled with Him, John, etc), were present all throughout. Moreover the words and actions of the One crucified were in compete harmony with all those recorded of Jesus, and certainly not those of a lying imposter.
As to the completeness of Jesus' crucifixion, the Romans were masters at slow, cruel, killing. Historically it is known that some died from the flogging alone before even getting to the cross. Josephus' eyewitness account showed the callous cruelty and efficiency with which the Romans could (and did) carry out this form of punishment...
So that no one could doubt, the biblical record clearly show that Jesus was proven to be dead by the Roman executioners. This was done through having His side pierced, which would have caused a further severe blood loss if there was even a remote chance He was still alive. Since Jesus was in fact already dead, the discharge of blood and water medically demonstrated that his heart had ruptured. There was no way He survived the crucifixion. Remember that this biblical account was also the record of an eyewitness...
The name Easter comes from the worship of an Anglo-Saxon goddess whose primary festival was at the beginning of spring. Merely using the name does not make one a worshipper of this false god any more than observing Saturday makes one a worshipper of Saturn, after whom it was named. Hosts of names, including days, festivals, and places come to us from common usage, often tied to pagan beliefs of the past. For example, this is where each of our weekday names is derived1:
God is concern with what we do on all days and in all places more than He is with names. You won't find the apostle Paul appealing to the new believers in Athens to lobby for a name change because the city was named after the pagan goddess Athena. Throughout history, that hasn't stopped a few Christian groups and Christianized nations from changing, or trying to change, the names of some weekdays to minimize any connection to pagan gods. As can be seen from majority of world history, including that of nations with great Christian heritage, most have understood this to be unnecessary, focusing instead on how we live out our faith on each of these days. The same goes for month names. For the record, here is how we derived our twelve:
It's a good thing that names don't matter; six are named after pagan deities, two after idolatrous Caesars, and the remaining four have names that are now a lie.
Less than one hundred years after the death of the last apostle, a dispute arose in the church over when Jesus' death and resurrection should be celebrated. The churches of Asia Minor celebrated the death of the Lord on the day that would correspond to the 14th of Nisan. From scriptures it was well known to the whole church that this was certainly the day it happened. Since the lunar calendar of the Jews moved dates around respective to the non-Jewish calendar, this meant that a differing day of the week could be the commemorated date. Of course, calculating the resurrection from that day, the resurrection would also be celebrated on differing days of the week too.
The Western churches, on the other hand, were of opinion that the crucifixion should be annually commemorated on the particular day of the week on which it historically occurred. This would always place the resurrection celebration on Sunday, the first day of the week, as Scriptures are clear that it was a Sunday that year. They, of course, wanted this date to be close to the Passover and developed elaborate systems for determining this (albeit not always accurately).
Another sect arose also in the early church (Ebionitic) that sided with the churches of Asia Minor in regards to the day, but went even further claiming that it was mandatory for all believers to celebrate it, and the entire Passover, as a duty of Christian law. Both the eastern and western churches understood and stated this position to be heretical.
By the late second century the debate over the day(s) of celebration had gotten quite heated, with the west claiming their authority from Paul and Peter and the east from the apostle John (and later Philip). The ancient church historian Eusebius noted that around 196 A.D. the western bishop of Rome even declared his intent to excommunicate the Asian churches over this.9
Another church historian, Bede2, in his history of the English church, testifies with approval, that one of the greatest problems in his lifetime, and the century before, was that there were sects of the church not holding to a proper date for Easter.3
Hopefully, by now, you find this whole dispute ridiculous. Look at what had already happened so early in the life of the church.
#1. Actual knowledge of history and Jewish culture had been lost. The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (A.D. 70) functionally brought an end to the Jewishness of the church as well. The rapidly growing and spreading churches were now primarily in the Gentile world. They did not have historic memory, or especially documents to consult, that would explain the actual practice of the Jews in Jesus' day. Only what was recorded in Scriptures was available and, even then, a troubling trend to misinterpret or ignore stated things already had begun.
#2. They had (perhaps inadvertently) added tradition to Scriptures. Nowhere in Scriptures are we commanded to have a one (or few) day annual commemoration of Jesus' death and resurrection. As the early western church fell into its institutionalized form, the foundation of what would be later called Roman Catholicism, many newly instituted (or perhaps reinstituted) practices were drawn out of the Old Testament Law. These included a clergy class as a special priesthood, altars in churches, tithing, and a claim that the weeklong Passover celebration be adapted for Easter.4 As with the others, there is no command or example in the New Testament showing that such a practice was to be implemented for the church. In fact, the Bible specifies something quite differently, explicitly and implicitly.
Quite clearly, Jesus taught that the Lord's Supper was to be used to remember His death until He returned. This was meant to be a more continual remembrance all year round, not merely one day or season each year. Christ's resurrection was likewise commemorated weekly by the New Testament, as shown by the day on which they gathered.
By the time the book of Revelation was written, the church actually was referring to Sunday (the first day of the week) as "the Lord's Day." This was not to say that the other days of the week belong to Jesus any less, but rather to give special notice that the church used this day (from the earliest of times) to come together to worship. Why Sunday? Because this was the day the tomb was found to be empty - that Jesus had risen from the grave!
The example and teaching of Scripture was that Jesus' death and resurrection were not to become an annual, once a year, remembrance but rather a continual celebration.
#3. They had appealed to tradition to justify practice. Every time tradition is referenced positively in the New Testament (i.e. 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 3:6 KJV, NKJV, NASU) it is in regards to the clear authoritative teaching of the apostles. It does not refer to unwritten verbally transmitted stories which would surface generations later, but rather to that which can be established and tested by Scriptures. There is no question that the apostles spoke authoritatively in their verbal instructions to the church, but the clear intent of God in Scriptures is that all that is necessary for salvation and practice was written down (2 Timothy 3:16).
#4. They elevated tradition over Scriptures.
Common traditions, or uniform ways of doing things, arise in any group of people (including the church) and are not a bad thing unless...
(a) The traditions are held as equal to Scriptures, as such additions to God's word, where they functionally becoming new law or legalism.
(b) The traditions take away from Scriptures, nullifying (canceling) or explaining away any aspect of God's written word.
Unfortunately many traditions of our churches do this even today, built on the foundation that was already developing in the early church regarding such issues as when to celebrate Easter.
Jesus had warned of this very type of practice in regards to how the Jewish teachers and leaders had effectively changed Scriptures to suit their desires and practices.
Had churches merely adopted an extra time of celebration or commemoration, voluntarily allowing others to do so, or not, as they saw fit, this would not have been the problem that it became. History shows that differing sects of the church became increasingly legalistic over their adopted practices, with the stronger (especially Rome) effectively making Easter a new and universal law, as a modified form of the Old Testament Passover. Yet God, in His Word, expressly condemns ecclesiastical judgment over days of celebration...
The freedom we have in Christ does not bind us to a new legalism of mandatory special religious days or holidays, rather it frees us to worship and celebrate everyday and especially in our weekly fellowship with other believers!
While it may not matter when we celebrate the events of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection, other than it is done continually, it does matter when the historical events took place. Our brief examination will be beginning with the more general and ending on a specific.
The time frame for this pivotal event of history was established by prophecy and fulfilled at a real time and place. The historicity of this is established beyond doubt through the testimony of Scriptures and the subsequent witness of other historical records and the lives of those who were eyewitnesses. For example, it is recorded by historians that all the apostles (except perhaps one) died as martyrs for their faith in Jesus Christ. These are not the actions of those with misplaced or deceived faith. If the events of the resurrection were a deception, perpetuated or perpetrated by the disciples, consider how rare it would be that even one person would be willing to die for a known lie. The actions of the apostles were those of individuals who were witnesses to the truth. While some will counter with the argument that people regularly die for false teachers (cults) and false causes (religions), there is a substantial difference. A deception can more easily be taught and accepted by people who are not first hand witnesses and have no public witness or records to supporting events. The initial converts to Christianity were those who had seen and heard Jesus, witnesses to what He had done publicly.
The approximate date (year) is important. Jesus lived and died and rose again at a prophesied period of time. The timeframe is part of the evidence that He was (and is) the Messiah. The follow excerpt comes from an earlier article I wrote examining some of the prophecies of Jesus' life...
Approximately five centuries before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Daniel was given specific prophesies concerning the Anointed One.
This prophecy was given at a time when Israel was in the Babylonian captivity, the temple and Jerusalem were in ruins, and Messianic hopes all but lost. God then gives one of the most extraordinary prophecies in all of Scriptures, namely specific timing to events concerning the coming Messiah. It should be noted that the people of Israel didn't understand the prophecy, likely because they couldn't envision their Messiah being "cut off." It was only in its' fulfillment that we can clearly see that it was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.
Daniel's prophecy included the following steps...
(1) There would be a decree to rebuild Jerusalem
(2) Jerusalem would be rebuilt and (since it is referenced later, it presupposes that) the temple would be rebuilt too.
(3) The Anointed One (Messiah) would be "cut off" - which can mean being rejected or killed (the ultimate rejection).
(4) Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed again by those ruling over the land.
History records the fulfillment of all those steps in perfect order...
(1) In approximately 445 BC, the Persian king Artaxerxes Longimanus gave permission to the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem, which had been in ruins until that time following its' earlier destruction by the Babylonians. The Persians had this authority as they had previously conquered the Babylonian empire.
Artaxerxes came to power in 465 B.C., placing the date of this event twenty years later in 445 B.C. (The beginning of the month of Nisan would be about March 14th on our calendars. Others say specifically March 5). The 465 B.C. date seems pretty solid. The 445 B.C., calculated date, like most in Scriptures based on reigns of kings may be plus or minus a year, depending on when how partial years are accounted for.
(2) The Jews, under Nehemiah, rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple.
(3) Jesus entered Jerusalem as the Messiah, in fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophesies, yet He was rejected by His own and crucified.
(4) Approximately four decades after Jesus' crucifixion, the Romans, rulers over the land of Israel, destroyed the temple and the city of Jerusalem. There has been no additional temple to this day.
Do the math...
The '7s' referenced in the prophecy are weeks of years
7 '7s' + 62 '7s" = 7*7 + 62*7 = 49 + 434 = 483 years.
Even a quick calculation places the end no later than 39 A.D. (remember there is no 0 year between B.C. and A.D.). Because the Jewish year was in fact 360 days8 (based on a lunar calendar) some have converted the years to days. Adding those days to the start date brings you forward not quite as far (about 7 years less, based on subtracting 5.25 days per year for 483 years). This certainly places the date around the historic time of the death of Jesus Christ. In fact, if the date of Artaxerxes' decree was the earlier 446 B.C., calculations show A.D. 31 as the concluding year. (Others, who have spent far more time on this calculation, claim that it places the end exactly at the time of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem the week before his crucifixion - the prophesied event of Zechariah 9:9 as fulfilled in John 12:13-15. It is not improbable that the prophecy would be that specific!)
Historically it wasn't only Christians who understood what Daniel's prophecy professed to do, namely date the coming of the Messiah. One prominent Jewish source noted that the rabbis ("the wise") of his day didn't want the people trying to calculate it because it would show that the Messiah should have already come (and He has!).
(Modified excerpt from The Messiah: Prophecies of his birth, by Brent MacDonald)
reference to this chart, as you undertake the next section
of this article,
will help you to
visually understand when crucifixion events took place. Note that this "literal view" chart
is not laid out in a standard calendar format, as the first day of the week is at the end.
For contrast a "traditional view" chart is provided here (end note 11 provides some explanation to it).
Another aspect of the timing of these events is equally relevant and necessary to be even more specific. Jesus made clear prophecy regarding the timing of his death, burial, and resurrection.
At a later time, Jesus again referred to this prophecy (or sign) of Jonah.
In this second, more general reference to Jonah, Jesus was clearly referring back to his earlier words, itself a reference to actual account of Jonah. Notice the specific as written in the Hebrew book of Jonah...
Based on these words, it is very important the Jesus' words of prophecy be fulfilled exactly. Had they not been, Jesus would have been publicly shown to be a false prophet and one that the people were not to be listening to. As true prophet of God (and Jesus is shown to be Prophet, Priest, and King!) every prophecy he uttered had to be fulfilled in complete detail. This was a mandate of the proven Old Testament standard, as prescribed by God, the law that Jesus came to fulfill in every way.
The penalty for speaking any prophecy that wasn't fulfilled (and therefore shown to not be from God) was stated in the verse immediately before this, namely that they were to be put to death. If Jesus erred on even one prophecy, he deserved to die and would not be qualified to be the substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. But, as Scriptures says, Jesus was perfectly sinless.
This statement in Hebrews was written following Jesus resurrection. For this reason we know that Jesus' prophecy was known to have been fulfilled in perfect accuracy. A search of Scriptures finds more evidence for this specific fulfillment:
Since these events centering around the timing of the Passover feast, a brief examination of some Old Testament passages help to establish what took place and when.
1) The Passover is in the first month
2) The first months was originally called Abib, but by the time of the exile was called Nisan (as it still is on the Jewish calendar).
3) On the 10th day of Nisan a young male lamb (or goat) without blemish was to be set apart for the Passover.
4) The Passover begins at sundown on the 14th of Nisan
5) The next day, the 15th of Nisan, begins the Feast of Unleavened Bread
6) The Feast of Unleavened Bread begins (and ends seven days later) with a "sacred assembly" and a requirement to "do no regular work."
Additional passages fill in details, including who can eat and when they must be finished.
Derived Facts (Continued)
7) A ceremonially unclean person was still able, and required, to eat the Passover on the same time; unless it was for touching a dead body. This allowed a person to mourn uninterrupted and treated as equivalent to being away on a journey. For these exceptions alone, the individual could celebrate the next month.
8) No bones are to be broken on the sacrifice. (See also Exodus 12:46)
9) The meat from the sacrifice must be consumed before the next morning. It cannot be kept for the next day.
Moving to the New Testament, a number of passages establish the timing of the events surrounding Jesus' death. This will enable us to compare them to the known (and decreed) timing of the law, plus fill in sequential details of the actual event. Take note that, as with any good eyewitnesses, the gospel writers recorded what had become common practice even though this practice sometimes modified the law through adoption of later traditions or terminology.
For example: Passages in Exodus and Leviticus establish that the true first day of the Feast of Unleavened didn't begin until the day AFTER the Passover. Yet, by the time of Jesus, casual usage had people calling the first day of the entire combined Passover and Feast celebration "the Feast of the Unleavened Bread".
The word "day" was actually supplied by the translators, which subtly detracts from the fact that Matthew was referring generally to the beginning of this entire celebration period, commonly called the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. Mark and Luke even spell out that the first day was the customary day for sacrificing the Passover Lamb
The disciple found the place where Jesus planned for them to eat the Passover on the day of Nisan 13. At sundown, the beginning of Nisan 14, Jesus ate the Passover with his disciples.
Later that evening (still quite early in Nisan 14), Jesus and the disciples (minus Judas) went to Gethsemane located at the base of the Mount of Olives (facing toward the temple mount across the Kidron Valley).
Following Jesus' prayer in the garden and the disciples falling asleep, Judas led soldiers to have Jesus arrested. It is now likely quite late in the evening, certainly well after dark. Jesus is then bound and taken to Mt. Zion, the location of Caiaphas' palace.
Many hours pass during this illegal trail of Jesus, held secretly in the night, by the Jewish leaders. It would have been during this time that the guards beat and abused Jesus.
It was at daybreak, almost halfway through Nisan 14, that the council pronounced its' judgment and ordered Jesus taken to Pilate. Pilate, as the Roman ruler, was the only one that could legitimately pronounce and implement a death sentence in Judea.
John's account raises a few very interesting points. The Pharisees and religious rulers had so distorted the law that their tradition made being in the home of a Gentile an equal offense to have touched a dead body. As already noted in our examination of Numbers 9:10, most ceremonial uncleanness was not a valid reason to not eat the Passover at the specified time. John also recorded almost indirectly, but without commentary, a practice that had become common in Jesus' day. It's uncertain when this first arose, but there was a difference in when Galilean Jews ate the Passover and when Judean (and specifically Jerusalem) Jews did so. Both ate on Nisan 14 as this was the designated day in the law, as was the location: Jerusalem. Where they differed was on what was meant by twilight (Leviticus 23:5). The Galileans took it to mean at the beginning of Nisan 14 (as the day began with sundown), while the rulers in Jerusalem understood it to be at the conclusion of Nisan 14, immediate prior to the beginning of Nisan 15 and the first day of the feast of unleavened bread. With hundreds of thousands of lambs needing to be ritually slaughtered at the temple, this divergence of practice was tolerated as it also provided more time to accomplish the task. As we have already noted, Jesus ate the Passover with his disciples (mostly Galilean as He was) following the Galilean timing. Yet, as we will soon see, Jesus died as our Passover sacrifice following the timing of Jerusalem, the place where He was crucified.
Pilate, seeking to pass-the-buck, sent Jesus to Herod (who was ruler over Galilee, yet in Jerusalem for the feast), who also mocked and abused Him. Herod then sent Jesus back to Pilate. All this would have consumed, at most, a few early morning hours, since Herod was residing nearby.
It was approximately mid-morning of Nisan 14 that Jesus, with Pilate's assent, was led in procession to His public crucifixion outside the city gate. Mark records this taking place at approximately 9 a.m. Remember that people didn't have watches and most reckoning of time was imprecise and often in rounded numbers. By this time huge crowds were about the city due to the Passover and subsequent Feast beginning the next day.
The apostle John clearly prefaces his time reference with the word "about" showing how generally he was referring to the time of these events.
saying "about the sixth hour" is not the problem some have
thought it to be. If referencing time in the same manner as Luke and
Mark, the Jewish way of keeping time, he likely was referring to the
general time frame (typically in 3 hour divisions) that ended at the
sixth hour (i.e. from the 3rd to the 6th hour, or 9 am until noon).
Alternately, within the Roman world others kept track of time even as
we do, beginning from midnight. It is possible that John is giving
the timing in that format. This would have Pilate's judgment
happening sometime in the period of time following the sixth hour
(i.e. from the 6th to the 9th hour, or 6 am and 9 am). Certainly
either option places the events close to the timeframe of Mark and,
most of all, it's important to remember that John clearly stated
"about" meaning that his timeframe was never meant to be
precise. Also his time reference is not specific as to whether it was
when the cited events began or ended (i.e. the events before the
statement or those following).5
During the crucifixion we are given specific timing concerning one major event. The sudden darkness that fell over the land began right when the sun should be the brightest, namely high noon, and then lasted for three hours.
The remaining events of the crucifixion took place on and after the ninth hour (3 p.m.) of this Passover day (also called Preparation day).
It was the end of Preparation Day, the day all Judeans would have taken their lamb to the temple for ritual slaughter. The day Jesus died as the Lamb of God.
This, of course, meant that a new day was about to begin. Remembering that the new day began at sundown, for argument's sake we'll use 6 pm as the time (likely within 10 or 15 minutes of actual for that date in Jerusalem). This gave a narrow three hour window for all of events in the list just given. Those participating in the burial were considered ceremonially unclean for the next week (Numbers 19:11-12) and legitimately unable to celebrate the Passover meal which would begin just after sundown in Jerusalem practice. The main reason for their haste was that no work was supposed to be done on any Sabbath.
This passage from the Law, clarifies that there were weekly Sabbaths and "sacred assemblies" later called special Sabbaths, on which the same rules applied: no regular work was to be done. One of these special Sabbaths was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15). It didn't matter what day of the week this date fell on, it was celebrated as a Sabbath. This is the Sabbath that was being referred to as the one that was about to begin (Luke 23:54). The apostle John went out of his way to note that it was a "special Sabbath."
While it is possible on some years for this special Sabbath and the weekly Sabbath to land on the same day, the Biblical account makes it clear that this did not happen the year of Jesus' death.
If the two Sabbaths had been on the same day, these two passages from Luke and Mark would be in contradiction to each other. As already seen, the Mary's and Salome had been at the tomb until sundown, the beginning of the special Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.6 They would have gone home that evening and refrained from all work until this special Sabbath was over. They could not have gone home and prepared spices and perfumes because they had no opportunity to purchase them yet. Only when the special Sabbath was over could they purchase these items. In fact, when the special Sabbath ended, it was evening, and the markets would not be open (remember, this is before street lights and evening shopping), so they would have waited to the morning of the day following (Nisan 16). Having purchased the spices and perfumes they then spent the remainder of the day preparing them, running into the evening when the regular weekly Sabbath began.6 Luke is clear that they rested on the (weekly) Sabbath having finished their preparation. This left the next available possibility for going to the tomb being the morning of the first day of the week (as no one would go to a tomb at night immediately following the end of the weekly Sabbath). And this is exactly what happened, very early as it began to dawn on the morning of the first day of the week (Sunday, Nisan 18), the woman headed to the tomb. But Jesus was already (past tense) gone. He had risen sometime in the night following the end of three literal nights and days in the grave (Mathew 12:40).
Some, trying to defend the merger of the two Sabbaths and the traditional Friday crucifixion, have made the claim that any part of a day could count as a full day by Jewish reckoning. This is true and can be shown in Biblical usage. If Jesus' prophecy only was that He would be three days in the grave, we could concede this point. BUT, and this is a big "but", using Scriptures to interpret Scriptures, there is never an occurrence in the totality of the Bible when a referenced night and day was not a reference to a complete day. Those trying to retain a traditional Friday crucifixion are left appealing to extra-biblical sources to try and establish doctrine.10 And if it is necessary to have extra-biblical sources to establish something as important as this, which would prove or disprove Jesus as a prophet11, it would be a clear blow against the sufficiency of Scripture (Sola Scriptura). Obviously God made it clear in His word as the Bible is sufficient!
While the next section will explain how we ended up with the Friday tradition, the greater question, especially for Protestants, is why are so many unwilling to consider that Scriptures has a better explanation? When the church clings to traditions without Bible proof, or in opposition to it, it makes itself no better than Roman Catholicism which elevated tradition to being equal to Scriptures (and often, in practice, above it). Stopping this was a goal of the Reformation, something that appears to have been forgotten in the last few centuries.
The early church within a century of the last apostles was already divided over the celebration of Easter. One of their big questions was over whether or not to follow the moving day of Nisan 14 (which moves because it is based on a lunar calendar) or to force the celebration to always end on a Sunday. Scripture is completely clear that, on the year of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, the tomb was empty on the first day of the week (Sunday). Some of the church wanted to keep that in focus (especially the western church), others felt that the tie to the moving date of Passover was a greater issue. Both, unfortunately, had already succumbed to another unbiblical tradition which led to this problem in the first place.
While the temple was still standing and the Passover was still being celebrated, it was easy for believers in that specific region to understand the timing of events including the Passover, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread and its' associated annual Sabbaths, plus the Jewish way of accounting for days and the observances of the weekly Sabbath. Following the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, the church took on a distinctly Gentile appearance. Even the Jewish believers were dispersed throughout the Gentile world, and within a generation or two were largely assimilated into the Gentile character of the predominate churches.
Annual festivals were a big thing in Jewish culture (as instituted by God) and in the Gentile pagan world. The Christian church was different, as God mandated no such annual observances for it. With everyone else having theirs, it should be no surprise that Christians started wanting their own annual Christian festival. And what better event than the focal point of church history; namely the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ? As such, doing so was not wrong, so long as it wasn't imposed as a religious requirement, in effect, as new law. Yet, that's exactly what happened within a relatively brief period of time. Branches of the church actually fought over their observance. What got lost in all of this was that Scriptures did show how believers were to be remembering the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord. Through command and example, the Bible established the weekly celebration of the resurrection as meeting together on the first day of the week and remembering Jesus' death through the ordinance of the Lord's Supper. If the church was doing this every week, there would be no need for a special annual festival. (Once one was accepted, other traditional annual festivals followed, such as Jesus' birth, days of saints, etc.).
The problem, as so often shows up in traditions passed on by human means (versus God-breathed Scriptures), is that memory is fallible and tends to be skewed by current events, practices, and understanding. This is exactly what happened in the Gentile churches of that day and intertwined with their new practice of Easter. Days were now accounted for in the Gentile (Roman) way of midnight to midnight (even as we do today). Scripture's reference to Jesus needing to be taken off the cross, before the Sabbath, automatically was interpreted as a reference to a weekly Sabbath. Why? Because they no longer knew, by practice, of any annual Sabbaths since even the Jewish communities had largely abandoned them with the passing of temple worship. And, for that matter, visible Jewish communities were few and far between in the areas of these churches following the Jewish revolt. This made it easy to place the crucifixion on Friday, with a weekly Sabbath in between, and Sunday morning being the resurrection day. Unfortunately it was also wrong and obscured the witness of Old Testament Scriptures and even the gospel writers. Some might have found the contradiction through Scriptures, but a disturbing trend to minimize the Jewishness of Christianity (in some places appearing as outright anti Semitism) led many to focus studies primarily on New Testament Scriptures - which, part from their Old Testament roots, loose much of their meaning.
In following centuries, so-called "Sacred Tradition" grew in influence until it was functionally considered to be equal with written Scriptures. This prevented anyone from calling into question what had become common practice of the church. The influence of the stronger (western) Roman church took preeminence; under pain of excommunication (and being eternally condemned) no dissent was allowed. By the time of the Protestant reformation, this Easter tradition was so ingrained in the church, virtually no one questioned it. Because it was at least based on a Biblical festival (the Passover) and a pivotal historic event, it was overlooked as many did question observance of Christmas and other annual celebrations of the Saints. To uncover the erroneous detail of a Friday crucifixion also would have required a greater understanding of Jewish practice in the first century, something that was still lacking. Of course, the reformers were focusing on much bigger issues, namely Sola Scriptura (sufficiency of Scriptures alone) and Sola Fides (salvation by Faith alone), that lesser things like Easter were not in view.
It is this very doctrine of the reformation, Sola Scriptura, that causes (or should cause) the reformation to continue. The goal of the church must be to focus on what Scriptures alone says regardless, or in spite, of traditions. It's worth saying again: if the church has to appeal to traditions, or extra biblical writings, to prove that Jesus was not a false prophet, the church is testifying that Scriptures are not sufficient for everything we need to know about faith and practice.7 This is not true! God clearly established what would happen, what did happen and when, all clearly proving that Jesus is the sinless perfect Prophet foretold by Moses.
In an earlier section we saw that the approximate year was important, because it is part of the testimony from Scriptures that Jesus was the One who was prophesied to come by Daniel. I have seen articles and books by people who have been obsessed with trying to get more specific, to be able to say with assurance that they know the exact year. Let me state clearly that while this may be a fascinating exercise it is not something to be dogmatic over. It is sufficient to point to the general time and historic place.
On a timeline of Bible history that I developed, I show A.D. 31 as the year of crucifixion. How did I arrive at that date? This was the process...
1. Try and determine the year of Jesus' birth
2. Determine the approximate length of Jesus' ministry
3. Ascertain if a year close to this had a special Sabbath on Nisan 15 and a weekly Sabbath on Nisan 17
4. Look for other early witness to this date
The greatest problems of this quest are that calendar keeping has changed over time, ancient records are not precise, and Scriptures are not exact on how many years of ministry Jesus had. This being said, it does get you close.
1. Jesus was likely born in 5 B.C. or late 6 B.C. The monk (6th century A.D.) whose work was the foundation of our calendar, based on his calculation of when Jesus was born, was also a victim of some of the same problems in his determinations. He got close, but was likely off at least five years. (Other calendar changes don't help us either. For example: The Julian calendar was ended on Thursday, October 4, 1582 and the Gregorian calendar began the next day, Friday, October 15, 1582.)
The greatest point of reference for determining the date of Jesus' birth is in regards to Herod the Great.
Jesus was born at least one year before the Magi came to Herod. It is unlikely that it was close to two years as Herod would have likely expanded his age range to have killed, to make sure that an almost two year old wouldn't pass as a slightly older child.
Mary, Joseph and Jesus went into Egypt and stayed there until Herod was dead. This did not have to be a long period of time. In fact, Joseph's fear that Herod's son, Archelaus, would still be trying to carry out his father's murderous legacy virtually presupposes that the original event was still relatively close at hand.
Other known dates...
Each of these people interacted with Jesus, so His life and death must be within their known dates. Other references provide clues that must be factored in as well.
Herod's rebuilding project started in 20 B.C., though Herod was dead work had continued until their day (in fact, it continued until A.D. 64, a few years before its final destruction).
This would make it 28 A.D. when this statement was made to Jesus, at his first Passover in Jerusalem, following the beginning of His ministry. (It is possible that it could reference 27 A.D. if the speaker counted the portion of the year they were in).
Jesus' ministry encompassed at least three Passovers (John 2:13; 6:4; 12:1), including His final one, which would make his ministry period only two and a half to just under three years long. In reality it was likely at least a year longer, with the unnamed major festival of John 5:1 representing yet another. (The crowds in John 5:13 also imply it to be one of the major festivals normally to be celebrated in Jerusalem. Lack of ministry details between this and the next distinctly mentioned Passover do not detract from this view as John was decidedly sparse at times). This gives a three and half to just under a four year period of ministry. Utilizing this longer timeframe, it places Jesus' crucifixion at 31 A.D. (28 A.D. plus three more Passovers).
Supporting evidence to the 31 A.D. date can be found in the early church Fathers. Jerome, an early church linguistic, translator, and Bible researcher during the fifth century A.D., identified the year of Jesus' death in this manner...
Nero began to rule in 54 A.D., making the second year of his reign to be 56 A.D. Subtract the twenty five years that Jerome knew had passed since Jesus' crucifxion to that time (56-25=31) and we arrive at 31 A.D. which matches our earlier calculations.
Another piece of evidence that also lines up comes from Jewish records. They record that the Romans removed their ability to put anyone to death 40 years before the destruction of the temple.12 This would have been in 30 A.D., making the words of the Pharisees (as recorded by John) something highly relevant.
If only a few months had passed since the Romans had revoked this right, the Jews would only be reminding Pilate of something that they had recently lost. Certainly this confirms that Jesus' death could be no earlier than A.D. 30 and it is also still consistent with an A.D. 31 crucifixion.
1. This simple chart shows the direct correlation to modern usage, omitting how the names got contracted or corrupted through Old and Middle English usage. It should be noted that some of the ancient god's names are even more clearly through usage of day names in other languages, including Latin.
3. Bede (see previous footnote) noted another major church controversy as being the style of haircut worn by priests. As with Easter, tradition had become professed fact, with claims being made that the Roman Catholic Church knew with certainty how Peter and Paul wore their hair and even Simon Magus. Formal letters were sent by bishops and popes censuring churches and individuals over all of these issues.
4. One dispute in the first millennium of the church, over the weeklong celebration of Easter, included whether it was to be seven days or eight days (as was the ancient Passover) and whether the clock started at sundown (as was Jewish practice) or at midnight (as we do nowadays). Determining the first day on which such a festival was to start was the greatest dispute. Our current, at best, long weekend for Easter is a pale imitation of what the Roman Catholic church once attempted to impose.
5. The normal procedure for trying to determine which timekeeping system John was using would be to first ascertain what system he utilized in other references in his gospel (i.e. scriptures interprets scriptures). While not necessarily conclusive, if all additional were one way or the other, it would be logical that the final would follow suit. Apart from John 19:14 there are only three other references: John 1:39; John 4:6 and John 4:52.
The reference in John 1:39, "the tenth hour" was in regards to asking Jesus where he was staying. The asker was then invited to "come and see" with the text clearly saying that he "spent that day with him." Scripture commentators have been spilt on whether 10 a.m. (Roman) or 4 p.m. (Jewish) would better suit this account. In my opinion, it is more probable that the text would say that he spent the night (which began around 6 p.m.) if it was the Jewish timeframe, not to mention it is improbable with Jewish hospitality that someone would come for a couple hours and be dismissed prior to the evening meal. This evidence lends this account to utilizing Roman timing placing the events in the morning.
John 4:6, in reference to the sixth hour, has Jesus being tired from the journey, something that would be improbable if at 6 a.m., yet likely if half a day was past at noon. Here it is quite certain that John was using a Jewish timeframe.
John 4:52, in reference to the seventh hour, again could be either; 7 a.m. (Roman) or 1 p.m. (Jewish). The time is given to mark when the royal official asked Jesus for healing for his son in Cana, and the time when it took place in far away Capernaum. Given that the official was traveling back when met by his servants coming to find him, who likely would have delayed leaving for a while to make sure that the boy was truly recovering, I hold that it is more probably a Roman reference to time. Though we're not certain who this "royal" official was, the Herodian royals were directly aligned with the Romans also making it likely that his servants would be using Roman timekeeping.
The result of this brief examination shows that we cannot be 100% certain of most of John's time references, something that in no way detracts from the historicity and certainty of the events referenced. In regards to the crucifixion events, God providentially provided additional eyewitness accounts to fill in additional specifics.
6. In fact, the Pharisees only went to Pilate after Jesus' burial was complete; obviously having seen themselves where it took place. It was evening, the beginning of the new day, the special Sabbath following preparation day, that they asked Pilate to post a guard and seal a dead man's tomb!
Though some think so, there was no way the Pharisees were going to wait until the next morning to ask for this; especially if they truly believed that the disciples would steal away the body. It was likely well known in Jerusalem that a guard had been posted until after the third day. This would also be a reason for why the woman waited until Sunday to go to the tomb with their spices, rather than rushing to buy, prepare, and go to the tomb on the Friday between the Sabbaths.
7. There is no dispute that understanding historical practices and regional history can be, and is, beneficial in understanding Scriptures. The issue centers on the sufficiency of what was recorded in Scriptures for us. If a central doctrine - pertaining to God, Christ, or salvation - depends on outside sources, then the Bible would be insufficient apart from some other source or tradition. A person holding this to be true could legitimately claim that you would need more than the Bible to find or understand salvation.
8. Calendar months. The first month of the year according to the earliest Old Testament passages is the month of Abib (see Exodus 13:4, 23:15; Deuteronomy 16:1), the month that the Passover was to be celebrated in. This name was the true Canaanite name for that month - showing that Israel had kept their own usage during their time in Egypt. By the time of the Babylonian captivity, the name of the first month is Nisan (see Nehemiah 2:1; Esther 3:7). Here the Israelites had adopted the Babylonian names. All subsequent calendars in Israel, including at the time of Jesus and present day, utilize these Babylonian names. (There is evidence that some sects, such as those at Qumran, utilized a solar calendar, but this did not appear to have widespread acceptance). Because this Jewish calendar is lunar, the month of Abib or Nisan moves relative to ours; depending on the year it falls, more or less, within March or April. Because the lunar year was less than a solar year, later a leap month (or intercalation system) was added to the calendar. All reference to this adaptation is post-biblical, but it is possible that earlier practice mirrored the Babylonian system of correction (adding seven lunar months in a 19 year cycle), especially since they had adopted Babylonian month names.
9. In an ancient document entitled "The Ecclesiastical Canons of the Same Holy Apostles", which, as the name implies, some attribute to the Apostles (trying to give it authority), it lists rules for the church. In reality it was written quite a bit later, most scholars holding it to be from the late third or perhaps early fourth century. By this time the debate of the timing of Easter had already become strong enough to remove any leadership from office for holding to a differing opinion.
10. The extra-biblical sources cited by proponents of the partial day theory (especially in regards to ignoring the referenced days and nights) are, to my knowledge, all from well after the first century events. For these claims to be legitimately considered, some evidence that the practice was common in the first century would have to be available.
11. Even using the "partial day equals a full day" theory, it doesn't provide enough time! Jesus, according to Scriptures, was placed in the grave as a new day was beginning (i.e. sundown on Friday, which would be the beginning of Saturday). Many traditional charts (see chart below) actually try and use the time of Jesus' death rather than the time of his burial to give some extra time. This goes against the wording "in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40). Using his burial time, it would take a stretch beyond the realm of credulity to claim that perhaps a couple remaining minutes of Friday would count as a full day. In fact, since time keeping of that era was imprecise, normal usage would be to take the entire period around sundown and apply it to the beginning of a new day. The fear, especially in regards to any sabbath, was to error on the side of caution so as to not be found working when the law prohibited it. With this in mind, the day count for the time Jesus was in the grave clearly began with Saturday (.i.e. Friday sundown by the way we keep time. See the literal chart again). Sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday (the beginning of Sunday by Jewish time keeping) equals one day. Assuming that Jesus stayed in the grave until sometime later on Sunday morning, and that this partial day could be referred to as a full day, only gives a second day. Again, this would have Jesus failing the test and shown to be a false prophet as his words would not have been fulfilled. The only way the "partial day equals a full day" theory works is when people think of Friday in terms of the way we keep time, from midnight to midnight, buying them an extra day.
(c) 2007-2010, 2012 Brent MacDonald/LTM. Non-profit duplication is permitted as long as the source is cited.