This year, our church has decided to have a Good Wednesday service instead of a Good Friday service. It is interesting the number of different responses that I have received as a result of this decision. Some are excited about the change, others are intrigued by the change, and some are concerned that the change is violating the biblical time-line of the Crucifixion of Christ. As a result I would like to take a little time to explain the reasons for the change.
First, I would like to examine the time-line of Christ’s resurrection. This is essential, as it gives us a definite starting point which is beyond dispute. We know that Christ was out of the grave by “very early in the morning” on the first day of the week. According to the Jewish method of counting the days of the week, the first day of the week started at 6 o’clock on the evening of the seventh day. Thus to clarify, the day is counted as night and then day. So, “Sunday” actually began on “Saturday” evening.
Second, the Seventh day was the Sabbath day which started at 6 the previous evening (Friday night). As a result of the Sabbath, Christ was in the grave, but with the Sabbath ending at 6 pm He could have risen at any moment. For this reason, Mary and several other women came to the grave very early in the morning. The meaning in the Greek is that it was deeply dark upon the morning of the first day. Thus they came before the dawn. In Matthew it says that they came when it was toward the dawn. In other words, it was dark, but most of the night was past. Thus anytime after midnight would suffice to fulfill the language. It should be noted that the grave was already empty, He was gone before the women ever came to visit the grave.
Third, the prophecy of Christ requires specific counting, which does not align with a Friday crucifixion. In Matthew 12:40 Christ stated that just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so also would the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Many point out that the Jewish way for counting days allows for the counting of part of a day as a whole day, and this is true. However, there is a dramatic problem in this situation. The Jewish method also requires the institution of full days when the phrase uses both day and night. This is similar to Genesis 1 stating that the evening and the morning were the first day, and so on. Every time the two parts of the day are referenced in the Bible they are always declaring a full day, not a partial one. In addition, the phrase “just as Jonah” requires a strict following of Jonah’s time in the fish. Three days and three nights in one must equal three days and three nights in the other. To say that Christ was crucified on Friday, would then be to say that Christ was unable to accurately prophecy. To say that Christ was wrong concerning this fact, would then be to say that He was a false Christ.
Fourth, the Jews begged Pilot to end the crucifixion early because it was a special Sabbath. This was referred to as an High Sabbath, which essentially means that it was an extra Sabbath which was being instituted for the purpose of the Passover, and was thus an additional day. The Jews were not permitted to touch a dead body until after the conclusion of the regular or standard Sabbath, thus the reason that the women had to wait three days to come to the grave. The Passover was a general name given to a combination of feasts which included both the Passover and the Unleavened Bread. The first day of Unleavened Bread was an “Holy Convocation” which was an “High Sabbath” as it was not a regular sabbath but an additional one to begin this feast. As a result of this misunderstanding, the sabbath mentioned is often assumed to be the standard sabbath, but it wasn’t.
Finally, lets look at the time-line. He rose on the first day, which began on the evening at the end of the seventh day. Counting backward then: The Seventh day (Saturday) is one day, its evening (Friday night) one night. The sixth day (Friday) is day two with its evening (Thursday night) being night two. The fifth day (Thursday) would be the third day, and its evening (Wednesday night) would be the third night. The end result is that it is very probable that Christ was crucified on Wednesday. The events of the day would have been like this: on the cross by 9 AM, He died roughly at noon, Joseph of Arimathea sought permission to remove the body probably around 1 PM, the body was removed from the cross and prepared for burial by Joseph between 2-4 PM, and finally placed in the grave just prior to the initiation of the High Sabbath which began at 6 PM.