Was Jesus Crucified On Thursday?

Jimmy DeYoung is quite a guy. He lives in Jerusalem and is a world renowned journalist, conference speaker, author, and expert on Bible prophecy. He is seen on the Day of Discovery television program, is heard on all kinds of radio stations and internet sites, and has his own website (prophecytoday.com).

Several years ago our local Baptist Association hosted DeYoung for a week-long series on Bible prophecy. One night he did a question-and-answer session before he preached. Since the auditorium was packed, and people had far more questions than he had time to answer, I didn’t even attempt to ask him my question. It didn’t have anything to do with prophecy anyway and, thus, might not have been appropriate for the setting.

And what was my question? Well, during that period of my life I was mulling over the information that I shared in my previous post (Was Jesus Crucified On Wednesday?) about a possible Wednesday crucifixion. So I wanted to get DeYoung’s thoughts on the matter. Fortunately for me, each night after he preached he stood at the door of the auditorium and shook hands as the people filed out of the building. That was my chance. As I shook his hand that night, I leaned in close to his ear and asked, “Was Jesus crucified on Wednesday or Friday?” A big smile came across his face as if he was pleased that someone had asked that question. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Thursday. Look it up.” Naturally, I went straight home and did just that.

I don’t know exactly what evidence DeYoung had in mind for me to find, but my studies have shown that there are two working theories that get used to support a Thursday crucifixion. The first one is that a Thursday crucifixion meets the requirement of Matthew 12:40 better than a Friday crucifixion. As you might recall from my previous post, Jesus says in Matthew 12:40, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

According to the theory, if Jesus was crucified on Thursday, His words from Matthew 12:40 would have been fulfilled as follows:

  • Day 1 and Night 1: Jesus goes into the tomb before sunset at the close of Thursday afternoon. That makes for a portion of a day and a full night. (We would call both this day and night Thursday, but the Jews would call the day Thursday and the night Friday because their new days began at sunset and ran from evening to evening.)
  • Day 2 and Night 2: Jesus remains in the tomb all day (our Friday and the Jewish Friday) and another night (our Friday night, the Jewish Saturday).
  • Day 3 and Night 3: Jesus remains in the tomb all day (our Saturday and the Jewish Saturday) and another night (our Saturday night, the Jewish Sunday).
  • Jesus then resurrects at dawn on Sunday morning.

As is the case for a Wednesday crucifixion, the case for a Thursday crucifixion seems to make sense in regards to fulfilling Christ’s words from Matthew 12:40 about three days and three nights. However, just like the case for a Wednesday crucifixion, there are some problems with a Thursday crucifixion. Here are a couple of them:

  1. The Jewish Sabbath didn’t begin at sunset on Thursday evening. It began at sunset on Friday evening. This means that in order for a rushed burial on Thursday afternoon to make sense in light of the beginning of the Sabbath, the Sabbath in question must not have been the weekly Sabbath but, instead, a Sabbath associated with the beginning of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. However, as I explained in the previous post, it’s a real stretch to make the term “the commandment” in Luke 23:56 refer to anything other than the 4th commandment about keeping the weekly Sabbath.
  2. If the whole point of rejecting a Friday crucifixion is tied up in an ultra literal take on Matthew 12:40 and the supposed necessity of Jesus being in the tomb no less than 72 hours, a Thursday crucifixion doesn’t even provide that. Assuming Christ’s body was placed in the tomb sometime around 5:00 p.m. Thursday afternoon, before the Sabbath began at sunset, His body would only have been in the tomb some 60 or 61 hours before His resurrection. You see, Friday and Saturday would have been two full 12-hour “days” (6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.), but Thursday would only have been a “day” in the sense of an hour or two late Thursday afternoon.

So that refutes one theory that attempts to support a Thursday crucifixion. Remember, though, that I said there were two such theories. And so what is the other one? It’s the theory that Jesus must have been crucified on Thursday rather than Friday because there simply wasn’t enough time after Christ’s death to get him buried before sunset the same day. If this theory is valid, it means that Jesus was crucified on Thursday, His dead body hung on the cross all night Thursday night, and then Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus buried Him Friday before the Sabbath began.

To refute this second theory, it might be a good idea for me to list the generally accepted timeline for the events of Christ’s crucifixion. That timeline reads as follows:

  • Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane on what we would think of as late Thursday night. (Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-52, Luke 22:47-53, John 18:2-12)
  • He was taken to Annas — the former Jewish High Priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas, the sitting High Priest — for what might be considered a pretrial hearing. (John 18:13-24)
  • He was taken to the home of the High Priest Caiaphas, where the members of the Sanhedrin — the Jewish council of 70 that ruled over all Jewish matters — had assembled for an impromptu, late-night interview/trial. (Matthew 26:57-68, Mark 14:53-65, Luke 22:54)
  • At dawn, the Sanhedrin questioned Him one final time before pronouncing Him worthy of death. With the Jewish phase of the trial now completed, He was taken very early in the morning to be formally sentenced to death, upon the recommendation of the Sanhedrin, by the Roman ruler Pontius Pilate. (Matthew 27:1-2, Mark 15:1, Luke 22:66-71)
  • He was questioned by Pilate, who didn’t find Him worthy of the death penalty. (Matthew 27:11-14, Mark 15:2-5, Luke 23:1-5, John 18:28-38)
  • He was sent by Pilate to the Roman ruler Herod Antipas because Pilate was looking for a way to avoid getting involved in the whole mess. After briefly questioning Him and cruelly mocking Him, Herod Antipas sent Him back to Pilate. (Luke 23:6-12)
  • Pontius Pilate had Him scourged in the hopes that the whipping would satisfy the Jews who wanted Him put to death. But when the Jews continued their calls for crucifixion, Pilate relented and had Him crucified. The crucifixion began at “the third hour” (Mark 15:25), which would be our 9:00 a.m., Friday morning. (Matthew 27:15-37, Mark 15:6-25, Luke 23:13-38, John 18:39-19:1-24)
  • During the first three hours of the crucifixion, He uttered three statements. Statement #1: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Statement #2: “Assuredly, I say to you (one of the two thieves who were crucified on either side of Him), today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Statement #3: (to his mother Mary) “Woman, behold your son!”, and (to the apostle John) “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26-27).
  • From “the sixth hour” (noon, 12:00 p.m.) until “the ninth hour” (3:00 p.m.) an eerie, supernatural darkness hung over all the land. (Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33)
  • Sometime around “the ninth hour” (3:00 p.m.) He made his fourth statement by crying out with a loud voice, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:45-46, Mark 15:34).
  • Shortly afterward, He made His fifth statement: “I thirst!” (John 19:28).
  • Shortly afterward, He made His sixth statement: “It is finished!” (John 19:30).
  • Shortly afterward, He made His seventh statement: “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). At that moment, He died.
  • The Roman soldiers came to Him to hasten His death by breaking His legs. This was standard procedure when a death by crucifixion needed to be sped up. In Christ’s case, His death needed to be hastened because Jewish law (Deuteronomy 21:22-23) prohibited a body to hang dead overnight. This law was especially enforced whenever the Sabbath was involved. But when the soldiers found that Jesus had already expired, one of them merely pierced His side with a spear to make certain of the death. (John 19:31-37)

Okay, so here now is when the clock presumably started ticking on getting Christ’s body into the tomb before the beginning of the Sabbath at sunset. We’re talking about approximately three hours, the hours from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. According to the Thursday crucifixion view, those three hours weren’t enough time to get Christ’s body buried.

Shortly after hearing that Jesus was dead, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and asked for permission to claim Christ’s body (Matthew 27:57-58, Mark 15:42-43, Luke 23:50-52, John 19:38). Pilate was shocked that Jesus had died so quickly and immediately summoned for a centurion to verify the death (Mark 15:44). Upon receiving the verification, Pilate commanded that the body be given to Joseph (Matthew 27:58, Mark 15:45). Joseph and Nicodemus then took the body down from the cross, bound it in strips of linen, anointed it with burial spices, and placed it in Joseph’s recently built “cave” tomb (Matthew 27:57-60, Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53-54, John 19:39-42).

So, could all of that have happened in three hours? Yes. After all, just think about all the events that took place in the pre-dawn and post-dawn hours leading up to Christ’s crucifixion. That timeline proves that a whole lot of activity can be crammed into just a few hours. Also, all the events involved with Christ’s burial took place either in or just outside Jerusalem, which means that virtually no travel was involved. Furthermore, the tomb was already built and just waiting to be used.

The longest part of the process would have been the binding with those strips of linen and the anointing with those spices to stifle the smell of the decaying body. Actually, though, the gospels indicate that all of that was done in haste. Even though Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes that weighed approximately 100 pounds (John 19:39), it wasn’t enough to satisfy those women who went to the tomb early on Sunday morning after the Sabbath had passed. I say that because their reason for going to the tomb was to further anoint the body. For that matter, they actually started preparing the spices and fragrant oils late that Friday afternoon before the Sabbath even began (Luke 23:56).

By the way, it’s likely that Nicodemus was acquiring his spices even as Joseph was asking Pilate for permission to claim the body. That would have saved time. The two men probably then met back at the cross to take down the body and begin the burial process.

And, you see, the mere fact that Joseph and Nicodemus were pressed for time because of the Sabbath proves that Jesus wasn’t crucified on Thursday. If He had been, Joseph and Nicodemus wouldn’t have had to do such a rush job in getting Him buried. Instead, they would have had all day Friday, up until sunset, to do the burying. Are we really supposed to believe that Jesus was crucified on Thursday and Joseph and Nicodemus just barely got Him in the tomb before sunset on Friday afternoon? That makes no sense. The only way the hasty burial makes sense is if the crucifixion took place on Friday and the death occurred just a few hours before the beginning of the Sabbath at sunset.

Truth be told, if someone asked for my opinion as to the strongest evidence for a Thursday crucifixion, I wouldn’t name either one of these two theories that I’ve mentioned. The evidence I would mention is Mark 15:42-43. According to various translations of that verse, it was already evening when Joseph of Arimathea went to Pontius Pilate and asked for Christ’s body. Such translations seem to imply that the new day had already begun at sunset, a day which couldn’t have been a Sabbath or else Joseph and Nicodemus wouldn’t have been trying to do the work of getting Jesus buried. And if the new day wasn’t a Sabbath, it must have been Friday, which would mean that Jesus had died on Thursday.  Here are some different translations of Mark 15:42-43:

  • “And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea…went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.” (K.J.V.)
  • “Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea…went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” (N.K.J.V.)
  • “And when evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea came…and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.” (N.A.S.V.)
  • “When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea…went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” (N.R.S.V.)
  • “When it was already evening, because it was preparation day (that is, the day before the Sabbath), Joseph of Arimathea…boldly went in to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.” (Holman Christian Standard)

So, how do we explain this? We do it by interpreting Mark 15:42-43 through all the other passages that teach that Joseph and Nicodemus got Jesus buried before sunset that afternoon. This means that we should take Mark 15:42-43 generally and take it to mean that even though evening was close at hand when Joseph went to Pilate, the Sabbath hadn’t officially begun yet. This is the approach the translators of the N.I.V. took as in the N.I.V. Mark 15:42-43 reads:

“It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea…went boldly and asked for Jesus’ body.”

Continuing on now with the problems associated with the theory that Jesus was crucified on Thursday because there wasn’t enough time to get Him buried the same day, let me also mention John 19:42. I think this verse offers very strong evidence to refute the theory. The verse says:

“So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.” (N.K.J.V.)

You see, this verse clearly teaches that Joseph and Nicodemus needed a tomb that was nearby. Why did they need a nearby tomb? It was because they were on a tight schedule due to the fact that the Jews’ Preparation Day (the day preceding the Sabbath) was quickly coming to an end. If Jesus was crucified on Thursday, Joseph and Nicodemus wouldn’t necessarily have had to use a tomb that was so close nearby because they would have had a whole day (Friday) to get him buried.

And so, despite my profound respect for Jimmy DeYoung and his ministry, I just can’t agree with him on a Thursday crucifixion. For one thing, even if we say that Matthew 12:40 mandates Christ’s body being in the tomb a full 72 hours, a Thursday crucifixion doesn’t actually meet that requirement. For another, even though getting Christ’s body prepared for burial and buried in a three-hour period of time would have made for some fast work, such work is exactly what the gospels describe.

Really, though, if we get right down to it, if Joseph and Nicodemus had been expecting Jesus to resurrect, they wouldn’t have even bothered to anoint His body. Even Jesus Himself, while He was still very much alive, had classified the anointing of Mary (the sister of Martha and Lazarus) via her alabaster flask of costly oil as all the anointing He would need for burial (Matthew 26:6-13). Therefore, there was no real need to fixate on all the details of getting Christ’s body buried because there was a resurrection right around the corner. But none of Christ’s followers — not Joseph, not Nicodemus, not those women, and not the apostles — truly believed that Jesus was going to arise from the dead. Their unbelief was to their shame because He had told them that He was going to arise. I doubt, though, that you or I would have believed it either if we had been in their sandals.

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