It’s that time of year when people forget how to count to three. Others find creative ways to add pieces and parts of different things together in various ways to derive a very specialized way of counting to three. Those who remember that it’s simply 1 – 2 – 3 become really confused by the other two groups and why they just don’t get it. Count me in that last group, but I’m gonna try to reconcile it all so that no one has to be confused.
What I’m talking about is Good Friday and how Jesus being crucified on a Friday doesn’t sync with His own statement in Matthew 12:40 where He says, “For just 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.” (emphasis mine, from the English Standard Version as will any following quote) Do the math. Although Jesus died at sundown, if you count Friday as one of the days and although the grave was found empty Sunday morning, if count that as an entire day also, then you can kinda, sorta get three days out of it, BUT there’s NO WAY to get three nights out of just Friday night and Saturday night. You may have heard the “any part of a day counts as the whole day…” explanation that goes along with that attempt to reconcile the discrepancy. Still, you just don’t have parts of three nights to go along with the parts of three days; there are only two nights in there no matter how you look at it. I’m certain the problems that accompany a “Good Friday” thinking are on a list somewhere of atheists’ compilation of Biblical errors.
I had this same question for years. When I finally did some study on my own, the answer was quite simple, and everything else made a lot more sense when this piece was in place. The heavens even attest to the authenticity of this answer, but I’ll save that for the very end. Oh, another problem the “Good Friday” conundrum presents is the questions of when the chief priests and Pharisees went to ask Pilate for a guard at the tomb. The day after Friday is Saturday, the weekly Sabbath when no work could be done and even walking was limited to “a Sabbath day’s journey,” and the tomb was found empty Sunday morning.
Okay, I tell you what. Instead of starting with lots of detail about all the confusing stuff and all the problems of the “Good Friday” chronology, let’s just keep it simple. Jesus said “three days and three nights” so let’s just take Him at His word and see how that works, then you can know not to worry about all the problems and attempts at explanation by those holding onto “Good Friday” for whatever reason.
The tomb was found empty Sunday morning, so let’s count back three days: Sunday (0), Saturday (1), Friday (2), and Thursday (3), which means Jesus died on Wednesday, specifically at sundown Wednesday. Okay, let’s count the nights: Wednesday night (1), Thursday night (2), and Friday night (3). Oops! What about Saturday night? Didn’t Jesus rise on Sunday morning? That leaves you with four nights, so you’ve traded the problem of there being only two nights with “Good Friday” to there being four nights with your “Good Wednesday” alternative. Excellent observation, but does the Bible say Jesus rose on Sunday morning, or does it say the tomb was found empty Sunday morning. Jesus rose at sundown on Saturday after the weekly Sabbath was over. (Remember that the Hebrew day begins at sundown on what we would say is the day before. Their days are evening and morning, just like the days of creation back in Genesis 1.) The disciples found the empty tomb the next day that they were up and able to move freely about, that Sunday morning.
But I thought they had to remove the bodies from the crosses before sundown because they couldn’t do any work on the next day since it was the Sabbath? The Sabbath is Saturday, so this would have been Friday, the day before, right? That’s why it’s called “Good Friday,” ain’t it? Almost. Yeah, that’s likely how the “Good Friday” error got started, but there are too many questions left unanswered by that quick jump to the wrong conclusion. In particular, there’s one piece that God leaves in the Scriptures that should make us take a second look, that piece is the Preparation Day. Do you know definitively what Preparation Day refers to? I don’t mean a hastily derived conclusion like the one that leads to the “Good Friday” error, but exactly what that phrase means, exactly what it refers to. Okay, let’s go back to the Old Testament when Passover began and see. (Note: I’m not quoting as many Scriptures as I want to so this doesn’t get too long, but I do encourage you to read all the Scriptures in context [the whole chapter if necessary] and passages parallel to these that tell the same story. Every bit of it will fit and make sense in the “Good Wednesday” framework I’m showing you.)
Exodus 12 The Passover
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. 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.
“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you. And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever. In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.”
Okay, that is one (the first) of the Old Testament passages about Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Here is one set of verses from the New Testament about the crucifixion and resurrection. Please read the parallel passages as well. Also, the underlining and bolding below are mine to note specific words and phrases that tie into the simpler chronology I’m presenting.
Jesus Is Buried (Luke 23:50-56)
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 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.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.
Jesus’ Side Is Pierced (John 19:31-37)
Since it 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. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
Jesus Is Buried (John 19:38-42)
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
The Guard at the Tomb (Matthew 27:62-66)
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
Now, just a little more discussion will tie it all together. Passover is Abib 14th. Have you ever noticed how Passover is a different day each year? That’s a trick question. It isn’t different every year; it’s the 14th day of Abib every year. Abib starts with the first new moon after the vernal equinox, every year like clockwork. We have the vernal equinox every year around March 21st on our calendar, but the new moon after that establishes when Passover happens. More I could say, but this is getting long as is.
Passover is Abib 14 (which starts in the evening prior to that day). Abib 15 is the Preparation Day. Why is it called Preparation? It was the day used to prepare for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As the Scripture above points out, every single speck of leaven (yeast) was removed from Hebrew households, and they ate unleavened bread from Abib 15 thru Abib 21. Abib 15 and Abib 21 are special Sabbaths (or “high days” as John calls them in the verses above from his gospel). Jesus observed the Passover with His apostles on the evening (night before, think Eve like Christmas Eve) of Abib 14, and during the day portion of Abib 14 He became our Passover lamb. The next day was a special Sabbath / high day where no work could be done, and that’s why His body had to be removed from the cross and buried before sundown when the special Sabbath started and no work could be done.
Okay, there are plenty of cross references I could quote that corroborates what I just said, but this is enough to establish the timeline. It occurs to me that speaking of it in Hebrew terms could possibly simplify matters so I’m gonna start there. Then I’m gonna go back and tie it to our calendar. It all makes really good sense. I’m tempted to quote the individual Scriptures again to emphasize again that I’m using a Biblical timeline and Biblical words and phrases to let the Bible make itself clear, but I don’t want to jumble up my paragraph. Please note that I could do just that, and everything I’m saying in the recounting of the timeline comes directly from Scripture like the verses quoted above.
Abib 14 (the evening before is specifically when it begins) — Jesus has His final meal with his apostles, an observance of Passover.
Abib 14 (later that evening after the Passover meal) — Jesus betrayed, goes before Pilate, before the Sanhedrin
Abib 14 (the day portion) — Jesus before Pilate again, the crowd wants Barabbas released and Jesus crucified, Jesus dies around 6pm and is buried before the special Sabbath / high day of Abib 15 begins that evening
Abib 15 (evening and morning) — nothing happens because it is a special Sabbath / rest day where no work is allowed
Abib 16 — during the day portion, the chief priests and Pharisees go to Pilate and ask for a tomb guard
Abib 17 — the regular, weekly Sabbath
Abib 18 — the “first day of the week” (Sunday) when the tomb was found empty (Note: Jesus rose Saturday after sundown when the Sabbath was over, even the “work” of the resurrection happened in a way such that the Sabbath was kept holy.
Okay, that’s walking forward with Hebrew days, but let’s walk backwards and attach the typical days of the week.
Sunday morning, the women go the garden and find the tomb empty
Saturday — the weekly Sabbath, no work was done, nothing happened
Friday — the “day after Preparation Day” when the chief priests and Pharisees asked for a tomb guard
Thursday — the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, according to the original instructions in Egypt it was to be a special Sabbath / high day when no work would be done
Wednesday — the day Jesus died, his body was taken down from the cross and buried close by in a brand new tomb sometime around 6pm before evening began (because carrying a body and burying it would be work that would not be allowed on the special Sabbath / high day that began at sundown)
So it’s Good Wednesday, not Good Friday. And the most important part of this correct chronology is that it keeps from making Jesus into a liar. The pieces and parts of days that is such a feeble attempt to reconcile the wording of the text might work if Jesus had said a generic “in the tomb three days” but he didn’t say that. His wording was very specific “three days AND three nights,” and that statement means we should dismiss anything that tries to propagate the “Good Friday” mistake. Good Friday only has two nights in there Friday night and Saturday night; there is no piece or part of a third night to make it work.
Good Wednesday works perfectly. The three days are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The three nights are Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Jesus rose at sundown Saturday, after the Sabbath was over. The women went to the tomb on Sunday morning and found it empty.
OH! I almost forgot to bring in the witness from the heavens (i.e., stars) I promised to mention at the very end. You can go verify this via the US Naval Observatory. In the year AD 31 the vernal equinox occurred at 5:00am on Friday, March 23rd. (These times are local to Jerusalem, just to be clear.) The first new moon after that was Tuesday, April 10th at 2:00pm. That’s still daylight, the first sliver of a crescent new moon would be visible Wednesday evening, April 11th, so that evening would be the evening of Abib 1 and the day of Abib 1 would be what we would Thursday, April 12. Passover is the 14th day or Abib, which would be the evening of Tuesday, April 24th and day of Wednesday, April 25th. And what did I say at the start? Count back three days from the tomb being empty on Sunday and you reach the simple conclusion that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday. And what do you know? There just happens to be a Tuesday evening / Wednesday day Passover right in there where it should be.