God’s eternal plan is perfect, and it is unveiled in history according to His perfect timing, as Jesus’ crucifixion demonstrates.
Jesus has now died—not because His life was taken, but because He willingly gave it up to fulfill God’s plan of redemption for humanity. His body hangs lifeless on a cross just outside the city of Jerusalem.
There are many details in the Gospel accounts that reveal the physical, spiritual, and even symbolic beauty of the Lord’s sacrifice for us. But I believe some of the symbolic beauty of the timing of the Lord’s crucifixion has been lost because of the traditional view that the Lord was crucified on Friday. I believe the evidence points to a crucifixion on Thursday.
Now I am not bringing this up to try to be sensational or unique. Frankly, Bible scholars have struggled over the chronology of these weekend events. In fact, I know of four different timetables related to the Lord’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection crafted by people I admire.
And beloved, none of these views are heresy—they are not heaven-or-hell doctrines. I am bringing this up, not because I want a lot of hate mail, but because I believe some of the symbolic beauty is lost here, as I will show you in this Wisdom Journey.
The major problem with a Friday crucifixion is that it does not allow enough time to fulfill the Lord’s connection of his burial and resurrection with the prophet Jonah. Listen to what the Lord says here in Matthew 12:40:
“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Now I realize that the Jewish reckoning would claim that a portion of a day or a portion of a night would be considered a whole day or night. Jesus was certainly buried for a portion of a day on Friday, Saturday, and on Sunday morning, when He arose.
The problem here is that Jesus says He will be in the tomb, not only three days, but also three nights. If Jesus was crucified on Friday afternoon, then you have Friday night and Saturday night, but there’s not even a sliver of a third night, no matter how you slice it!
Now we are actually given some clues in the Gospel accounts that make this mystery something we can solve together.
There are three key passages, and the first one is in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 15. By the way, this is the primary passage used by the traditional view to establish a Friday crucifixion. Look at verses 42-43:
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.”
Now we are going to look at Joseph in detail next time, but for now, the traditional view seems to be true because Joseph asks Pilate for Jesus’ body on the day before the Sabbath. And that would be Friday.
But here is the point that is often overlooked. During the Passover festival, there was an additional day set aside as a memorial-day Sabbath. This special memorial day was actually called by the nation of Israel, a High Sabbath.
According to Leviticus 23, this special memorial Sabbath day, this High Sabbath, was to be treated just like any other Saturday Sabbath. No work was to be done by the Jewish people, just contemplation and worship as they remembered their miraculous redemption from Egypt on that first Passover. Now is it possible that this High Sabbath landed on Friday of this particular year so you effectively had two Sabbaths in a row?
Well, we can thank John here, because he is the only Gospel writer who lets us in on this incredible fact. Note what he writes in chapter 19:
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. Since [this] was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would 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. (verses 30-31)
In other words, since the next day was the Sabbath, Jewish leaders did not want these Jewish criminals hanging on their crosses. They wanted them dead and buried.
And John tells us that the next day was not a normal Saturday Sabbath, but a High Sabbath. What do you know? This year, these two Sabbaths were back-to-back, Friday and Saturday.
There is another verse that hints at this chronology. Matthew 28:1 says Mary Magdalene and another woman—and there were others (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10)—arrived at the tomb early Sunday morning following the Sabbath. The Greek New Testament uses a plural noun, not a singular noun, so that it should be translated, “Now after the Sabbaths,” these women arrived on Sunday. This is a plural noun, because the memorial Sabbath and the Saturday Sabbath were back-to-back on this year.
Now here is where the beauty of the symbolism comes into play, as we understand that Thursday was the crucifixion and Friday was a memorial Sabbath day of Passover rest.
If you travel back to that original Passover in the land of Egypt, you will remember that the Lord had announced that the last of the ten plagues was coming. Everyone who wanted their firstborn son to live through the night had to select a lamb, kill it, and put its blood on the doorposts of their home. They were to eat the lamb together as families. And the homes with the lamb’s blood applied would be passed over and spared from death—thus the word Passover.
God told Moses to instruct the nation to choose their Passover lamb on the tenth day of Nisan, which is our March/April timetable. They were to keep the lamb for four days. Then on the fourteenth day, they were to kill the lamb and eat it that evening.
Through the centuries, the Jewish people continued to follow Moses’ guidelines for that very first Passover. Now travel all the way to Jesus’ day, when the tenth of Nisan this year fell on a Sunday, and people began arriving in Jerusalem with their Passover lambs.
Josephus was a first-century Jewish historian, who lived in Israel. He wrote about a Passover festival in Jerusalem when two million people arrived, bringing a total of 250,000 lambs to be sacrificed and eaten to remember their redemption from Egypt.
Now let me coordinate the Passover events with the Lord’s activity here. On Sunday the tenth, all the Passover lambs are brought to Jerusalem on the day we now call Palm Sunday. On this same Sunday, Jesus comes riding on a donkey into the city of Jerusalem. Imagine, Jesus is arriving, effectively surrounded by thousands of Passover lambs. And just as these lambs are destined to be sacrificed, so Jesus is destined to be sacrificed for the redemption of all who believe.
Then on the fourteenth, four days later on Thursday, the lambs are killed and eaten as the nation celebrates their rescue by the blood of the Passover lambs. So also, on that day Jesus is crucified, and His blood is shed for the rescue of all who trust in Him.
Then on Friday the High Sabbath day takes place, and the nation rests and remembers their salvation from God’s judgment. And Jesus lies in a tomb—the one who promised rest for all who would believe in Him and safety from God’s eternal judgment.
What beautiful symbolism! What divinely orchestrated timing—down to the last detail. Let me tell you, God’s plan of salvation is a beautiful story of redemption.