— • —Good Thursday
By James McKeever
I would like to share something with you that doesn’t have any major theological consequences, yet it is something that has bothered me all of my Christian life. I was told that Christ was crucified on Friday (Good Friday), and rose again on Sunday, the first day of the week. And yet, Jesus Himself said that He was going to be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth:
39 But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet;That verse bothered me. You could possibly get a day and parts of two other days out of that scenario, but there is no way you could get three nights out of it.
40 for just as Jonah was three days and three night in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
~ Matthew 12
Wiser men than I, I am sure, have studied this situation and have come up with various answers. I would like to share with you what the Lord has shown me about it.
Evening (Night) Precedes the Day
In the western world of calculating days, a day starts at midnight: so we have about six hours of night, then we have our daytime of about 12 hours, and then 6 more hours of night.
The Hebrews — and God, even before Abraham — calculated things a different way. They started counting a new day at sundown. Thus, they had 12 hours of night followed by 12 hours of day. Let’s round things off to make it easy. Let’s say the new day began at 6:00 p.m., which started the night portion of the new day; then at 6:00 a.m. the daylight portion of the new day began. Then the following 6:00 p.m. ended that day. This can be seen in Figure 1, where even today in Jerusalem, the Sabbath (Saturday) begins at 6:00 p.m. Friday evening, at which time many gather at the Wailing Wall. The nighttime of that Saturday runs until 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning. The daytime portion then runs until 6:00 p.m. Saturday evening, at which time the Sabbath is over.
If you align these together, you would have the days as shown in Figure 2. The times across the top would be our times and the times across the bottom would be the Hebrew days.
This is the way God has looked at days from the beginning, as we find recorded back in Genesis:
5 And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. . . .You see here that God always started with evening and ended with day. We see additional evidence of this in that, if the Hebrews were to fast an entire day, they could eat something at 5:00 p.m. the night before and then have nothing to eat until 6:01 the following evening. Basically, all they did was go without breakfast and lunch during that 24-hour period. We find this recorded in a number of places:
8 And God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. . . .
13 And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.
~ Genesis 1
23 And the sons of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and inquired of the Lord, saying, "Shall we again draw near for battle against the sons of my brother Benjamin?" And the Lord said, "Go up against him." . . .These are just a few of the places where the Bible talks about the people seeking the Lord or fasting "until evening"; once the sun had set, a new day began.
26 Then all the sons of Israel and all the people went up and came to Bethel and wept; thus they remained there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening. And they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. . . .
~ Judges 20
12 And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and his son Jonathan and for the people of the Lord and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
~ 2 Samuel 1
2 So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God until evening, and lifted up their voices and wept bitterly.
~ Judges 21
Was Christ Buried on Friday?
Using this model of the Jewish day, if we then consider Christ being buried on Friday and resurrected on Sunday, there is absolutely no way that He could have been in the ground three nights. In fact looking at total duration, He was barely in the ground a sum total of two days! Something just doesn’t work out. This has never been a major problem for me, but it has been an irritant ever since I became a Christian back in 1952.
There Are More Sabbaths Than Just Saturday
When someone speaks of "the Sabbath," most Christians automatically think of Saturday. Saturday is indeed the Sabbath. Of course, we know it begins at 6:00 p.m. (or sunset) on Friday. However, most Christians do not realize that there are many Sabbaths other than just Saturday.
To review, we remember that there were three major feasts which were described in the Old Testament. These were:
- The Feast of Passover
- The Feast of Pentacost
- The Feast of Tabernacles
The following passage from Deuteronomy talks about these three feasts. The Feast of Pentacost is called the "Feast of Weeks" and the Feast of Tabernacles is called the "Feast of Booths." Here is what the Bible has to say about these three feasts:
1 "Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night.I realize that the above passage is a little long, but I would encourage you to read it carefully, so that you will begin to have an understanding of these feast days. You might want to pause now to go back an reread that passage.
2 "And you shall sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the Lord chooses to establish His name.
3 "You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), in order that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.
4 "For seven days no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory, and none of the flesh which you sacrifice on the evening of the first day shall remain overnight until morning.
5 "You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the Lord your God is giving you;
6 but at the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt.
7 "And you shall cook and eat it in the place which the Lord your God chooses. In the morning you are to return to your tents.
8 "Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord your God; you shall do no work on it.
9 "You shall count seven weeks for yourself; you shall begin to count seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain.
10 "Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give just as the Lord your God blesses you;
11 and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite who is in your town, and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your midst, in the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name.
12 "And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.
13 "You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat;
14 and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns.
15 "Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you shall be altogether joyful.
16 "Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.
17 "Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you. . . ."
~ Deuetronomy 16
In Deuteronomy, we saw the three feasts spelled out, but we did not see the exact time frame for the Feast of Passover:
1 Now the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt,In this passage, we find a couple of interesting things. During the first month of the year, they were to celebrate the Feast of the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month (verse 6). Verse 16 says that this should be a holy assembly and no work should be done, which is the definition of a Sabbath.
2 "This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.
3 "Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, 'On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers' households, a lamb for each household.
4 'Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb.
5 'Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.
6 'And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight.
7 'Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.
8 'And they shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
9 'Do not eat any of it raw or boiled at all with water, but rather roasted with fire, both its head and its legs along with its entrails.
10 'And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire.
11 'Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste — it is the Lord's Passover.
12 'For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments — I am the Lord.
13 'And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14 'Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.
15 'Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.
16 'And on the first day you shall have a holy assembly, and another holy assembly on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them, except what must be eaten by every person, that alone may be prepared by you.
~ Exodus 12
Since the Jewish calendar has 12 months of 30 days, or 360 days per year, the fourteenth day of the first month could fall on any day of the week. If it fell on Friday, you would have two Sabbaths in a row — the Passover Sabbath on Friday and the regular Sabbath on Saturday.
Later, in giving commands about the day of trumpets, the Lord said this to the children of Israel:
24 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation.As you can see in the preceding verses, the first day of the seventh month was a Sabbath. Of course, it could fall on any day of the week. If it fell on Friday, here again there would be two Sabbaths occurring on consecutive days.
25 Ye shall do no servile work therein: but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD.
~ Leviticus 23, KJV
And then concerning the Day of Atonement, the Lord had this to say:
26 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,In this last passage, we see that there was a Day of Atonement, which was a Sabbath that fell on the tenth day of the seventh month. This Sabbath also could have fallen on any day of the week. Verse 39 of that same passage tells us that they were to have two Sabbaths in a row:
27 "On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD.
28 "You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God.
29 "If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people.
30 "As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people.
31 "You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.
32 "It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath."
~ Leviticus 23
39 On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day.In another place, the Day of Atonement is equated to a Sabbath:
~ Leviticus 23
29 "This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you;Here again, the Sabbath could fall on any day of the week.
30 for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the LORD.
31 "It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute.
32 "So the priest who is anointed and ordained to serve as priest in his father's place shall make atonement: he shall thus put on the linen garments, the holy garments,
33 and make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar. He shall also make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.
~ Leviticus 16
I hope you see that if the Day of Atonement or the Day of Passover or one of the other special feast-day Sabbaths (high-day Sabbaths) fell on a Friday, you would have two Sabbaths in a row.
Let's suppose that the Passover feast fell on a Friday around the time Jesus was crucified. We would then have the situation shown in Figure 4, where Saturday was the regular Sabbath, Friday was the Passover (a high-day Sabbath) and Thursday was the day of preparation for the Passover.
From the Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia we have the following definition of Sabbath, from page 1493:
Sabbath. Its meaning. From the Heb. shabbat, which means 'to cease' or 'to desist.' The Gr. word is sabbaton, but the plural sabbata is sometimes used to designate a single sabbath (Arndt, p.746). The word is applied to several festivals in the OT, but prinicpally and usually it refers to the seventh day of the week, the Jewish day of rest and worship. . . .So here we see this outstanding conservative group defining the Sabbath as both the seventh day of the week and also the festivals in the Old Testament.
The other books of the Pentateuch contain legislation for sabbath observance. The Day of Atonement was designated a sabbath of complete rest (Lev. 16:31; 23:32), and the first, fifteenth, and twenty-third days of the seventh month (Feast of Trumpets, Feast of Tabernacles) were to be observed with a sabbath rest (Heb. shabbaton; Lev. 23:34, 39).
John Speaks to Us About This
The apostle John give the most detailed explanation of Christ's last week here on earth. If we read his gospel carefully, I believe many questions will be resolved. Before we proceed, the best judgement that I am able to come up with concerning the numbering of the hours is that the Jews numbered the hours of the night (starting at 6:00 p.m.) from 1 through 12. Then when daylight came, at say 6:00 a.m., they numbered the hours of the day from 1 through 12. We still do this today with our clocks, except we are about six hours off. Thus, the sixth hour of their daytime would be our noon.
Let's assume for a moment that the Passover Sabbath was on a Friday, and see if things work out. Let us begin at a place where there can be absolutely no argument as to when this event occurred:
11 Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin."This final confrontation with Pilate, when he delivered Jesus to be crucified, happened on "the day of preparation for the Passover" (verse 14). In our model, this would have been Thursday. Verse 14 says further that it happened at about "the sixth hour" of the day, which would have been noontime. So at noon, or shortly thereafter, on the day before the Passover was the time when Jesus was crucified, and that appears to have been a Thursday.
12 As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, "If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar."
13 Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.
14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour And he said to the Jews, "Behold, your King!"
15 So they cried out, "Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar."
16 So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified.
~ John 19
Now let's look forward to the time when the body was taken down from the cross:
31 Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.Here we see that it was still the day of preparation (it was not yet the Passover) and they did not want the bodies to remain on the cross during the Sabbath. However, this Sabbath was not a regular Sabbath. It was a "high-day" Sabbath, such as you would find on the Passover. So evidently the body of Jesus was taken down about 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, so that it would not be on the cross during the high Sabbath of the Passover, Friday.
~ John 19
These two events are outlined in Figure 5. We have also shown in that diagram Jesus' time in the ground, which would have put him in the ground three days and three nights, just as He said He would be. John 20:1 tells us of events that occurred on the first day of the week:
1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.
~ John 20
In order to fulfill all of the Scripture, Jesus had to be crucified on a Thursday, the day of preparation for the Passover. We know the Passover was the next day after His crucifixion, we know that it was a Sabbath, and we know that He was in the ground three nights. Thus, we really should be celebrating "Good Thursday" as the day of our Lord's crucifixion and burial rather than Good Friday.
Jesus Ate the Passover Dinner Early
According to the rigid instructions from the Old Testament, you were to eat the Passover at the beginning of the Passover day. In our model, this would be about 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. on Thursday night, which was the beginning of the Jewish Friday. However, Jesus ate the Passover approximately two days early. John also tells us about this:
1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.This is a fairly long passage, but if you look at verse 1, you see that this event described was before the Feast of the Passover. In fact, it must have been very early on the day of preparation for Passover, about 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. After the meal, perhaps 9:00 p.m. on the day of preparation for the Passover, Jesus went into the garden and was arrested there. His trials then took place during our Wednesday evening (the Hebrews night that started Thursday). During that evening, they had the trial before Caiaphas and they had to wait until dawn on Thursday to take Him to Pilate. They took Him to Pilate very early:
2 During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him,
3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God,
4 got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.
5 Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
6 So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, "Lord, do You wash my feet?"
7 Jesus answered and said to him, "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter."
8 Peter said to Him, "Never shall You wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."
9 Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head."
10 Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you."
11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, "Not all of you are clean."
12 So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?
13 "You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.
14 "If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.
15 "For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.
16 "Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.
~ John 13
28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.Obviously this was still on the day of preparation for the Passover, since the Hebrews had not yet eaten the Passover.
~ John 18
Figure 6 is essentially a summary of what the Lord showed me concerning Christ being in the earth three days and three nights:
I am sure that wiser men than I have studied this and spent more time on it than I have. I simply wanted to pass along to you what I believe the Lord showed me in answer to prayer about how all these things fit together. My task is not to convince or to change anyone; only the Holy Spirit can do that. My only task is to share with you the truth as God reveals it to me.
I will leave it in your hands to judge, but if it is the truth of God and you do want to celebrate these activities on the days that they occurred, then I believe you would have your communion service on Wednesday evening (the beginning of the Hebrew Thursday), and you would celebrate "Good Thursday" as the day that Jesus was crucified.
Come Join With Us for a Feast
What Jeani and I and some others are going to do is to have a supper on Wednesday evening, March 30 (the hebrew Thursday), when Jesus had His last supper. Then we will fast until Sunday morning at breakfast, where we will have a real feast, one of rejoicing over the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
I encourage you to pray about joining us in this fast, from Wednesday after dinner until Sunday morning, with real jubilation at Sunday breakfast for the victory and the power of our Savior and His resurrection. What a day of rejoicing that will be!
On Thursday, as we thank the Lord for His torturous death on the cross and His burial, we will concentrate especially on the fact that He took our sins upon Himself and that by His stripes we are healed. We hope to concentrate that entire day on what our Savior did for us.