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The Christadelphian | August 2013

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Elders & Bishops
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning Becoming what we are | Alan Watkins
  • The Lord & the nations 02 – The Divided Earth | Andrew E. Walker
  • Three days & three nights | Paul Cresswell
  • Israel’s Geography 08 – Tales of 10 cities | Nathan Kitchen
  • For better, for worse … 08 – Jacob & Leah | Mark Vincent
  • Being different | Tony Bradshaw
  • Faith Alive! Dare to be a Daniel | Michael Movassaghi
  • The great Trinity debate | Dave Burke & Chris Kelly
  • 100 years ago
  • Signs of the times A further crisis in Egypt
  • Israel and their Land A harder line from the EU
  • Epilogue “God has come to test you” | David Caudery
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Three days & three nights

BIBLE study is fascinating. This is because it is necessary to work out the full story from clues often scattered through God’s word. A certain amount of detective work is necessary. Particularly is this so to determine the day on which Jesus was crucified, the events that occurred while he was in the tomb, and the timing of his resurrection.

In the first place, Jesus was crucified at passover time which is not Easter. Easter, as we are well aware, has its origin in the pagan festival for Ishtar, the goddess of the Babylonians. Easter and passover do not usually occur at the same time.

The real problems arise, however, when determining the day of the crucifixion. The church says Friday, some say Wednesday, some Thursday. If Jesus did die on the cross on Friday afternoon and rise early on Sunday morning as is commonly supposed, then he was in the tomb only two nights and one day. And though some have gone to extraordinary lengths to show that two nights and one day can be described as three days, such an idea does not fit the Bible record which says, “after three days” and “three days and three nights” (Matthew 27:63; 12:40; Mark 8:31 etc.).

Let us start our investigation by briefly filling in the events of the days of the Lord’s last week since the Gospels do give some fixed times we can work to. It is essential to do this if we are to get our timing of the crucifixion right.

Nearly one third of the Gospel record describes the events of the last week of the Lord’s life. The record is so full that if we find that we have days where there is no recorded activity, as with a Friday crucifixion, we’ve probably got something wrong.

The last week

John 12:1 says that Jesus came to Bethany six days before the passover. This would be on the afternoon of Friday 9th Abib before the sabbath began at sundown. The Lord must arrive in Bethany before that time so that the sabbath law was not broken. That evening Mary anointed Jesus with spikenard during their sabbath meal (verse 3). The next morning, Saturday 10th Abib when the passover lamb was selected, the Lord sent two of his disciples to take an ass with its colt upon which he rode into Jerusalem (Exodus 12:3; Matthew 21:1; Mark 11:1). He there inspected the temple, noted the state of that leprous house, and returned to Bethany (Mark 11:11; Luke 19:44; Leviticus 14:36-45). The next day, Sunday, Jesus Christ cursed the fig tree on his way to the temple where he cleansed the temple courts, and then returned to the house of Mary in Bethany towards evening (Mark 11:12-19; Jeremiah 7:11).

This brings us to Monday, 12th Abib, two days before the Passover which would follow on Wednesday, 14th Abib. On this day his disciples observed that the fig tree, like Israel itself, was dried up from the roots. In the temple courts the Lord answered questions, taught the people in parables and prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 20:1,37; Mark 13, 14:1,2; Matthew 25, 26:2).

The following day, Tuesday 13th Abib, Peter and John met a man carrying a pitcher of water who guided them to an upper room where they prepared the passover meal for the thirteen. This was the preparation day for the feast of unleavened bread when all leaven must be removed from their houses, for that evening at sundown, about 6.00 pm, the 14th day of Abib, the passover would begin. That evening, as arranged, Jesus ate the passover meal with his disciples (Exodus 12:15; Matthew 26:17-20; Luke 22:7,8; Mark 14:12-18).

Some have questioned whether Jesus did eat the passover with his disciples, but the record states unequivocally that the disciples did prepare the passover. The Lord himself says, “I will eat the passover,” “Where is the guest chamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?” and “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.”

The difficulty is this: how could it be possible for them to eat the passover with him and for him to become the true passover lamb on the same day? The answer is found in Exodus where the phrase, “the whole congregation shall kill it (the passover lamb) in the evening,” is in the Hebrew, “kill it between the evenings” (Exodus 12:6, see margin; Leviticus 23:5). In other words, Jesus partook of the feast with his disciples on the evening of the 14th day which was the earliest time allowed by the law. The Jews of Christ’s day partook the passover meal at the latest time allowed by the law, which is also the time when Jesus died. [1]

So we now come to Tuesday evening, which in Bible time reckoning is the beginning of Wednesday, 14th Abib.

The events of the last supper, partaken in the upper room are recorded in John chapters 12 to 14. After instituting the taking of bread and wine in memory of him, Jesus spoke of his betrayal and Judas left the room to do his evil work. After speaking about comfort to prepare his disciples for the sorrows that were to come, they sang a hymn and left for the Garden in Gethsemane. On the way, Jesus spoke to his disciples gently in “parables” as if to children to soften the blow as he spoke of his approaching death:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”

They were not yet ready to receive the full import of what he was saying about his impending crucifixion (John 14:31; 16:20,25).Just before entering the garden Jesus spoke a prayer which his disciples heard – a prayer for himself, for the disciples and for ourselves – to draw comfort from (John 17).

In the garden Jesus prayed in mental agony, shrinking from the ordeal to come. An angel appeared, strengthening him. Finally it was all over. The battle had been won. “Arise, let us be going.” He was ready for arrest, trial and the excruciating ordeal to follow.

The fateful day, Wednesday 14th Abib dawned. His overnight trial was concluded; envy and hatred determined death by crucifixion for that very day. He was bound and led before Pilate (Mark 15:1; Luke 23:1).

Mark records, “And it was the third hour and they crucified him”. The third hour corresponds to our 9.00 am. “And when the sixth hour was come (midday), there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” (3.00 pm: Mark 15:25,33; Matthew 27:45). This darkness hid the divine presence of the Father who had come in anger. “Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth … He bowed the heavens also and came down: and darkness was under his feet … He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies” (Psalm 18:6-11).

The two sabbaths

“And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea … came, and went boldly in to Pilate and craved the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:42,43)

This day of preparation was the day before the beginning of the feast of unleavened bread which began on the 15th day of Abib. The day before the weekly sabbath was never called the day of preparation. Furthermore, the weekly sabbath is described as “an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein”. The first day of the feast is described in the same words, “an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein” (Leviticus 23:3,7). A practising Jew confirmed for me that the first day of the feast is indeed a sabbath even when it is not the last day of the week.

That it was not the weekly sabbath being referred to but the sabbath of the feast is confirmed by John who wrote by way of explanation,

“The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day (for that sabbath day was an high day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” (John 19:31,42)

The details of the burial and anointing of the body further confirms this view as we shall see.

To return to the sequence of events: by sundown (6.00pm), when the 15th day of Abib, Thursday, would begin, Jesus’ body had been laid in Joseph’s new tomb by Joseph, while Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses watched where and how he was laid.

But there was something missing! Three Gospels make it clear that the body was not anointed with spices but merely wrapped in a clean cloth sheet – Greek, sindon – then Joseph rolled a great stone to the door and departed (Matthew 27:59,60; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:53-55).

This absence of the anointing of the body was a serious matter and something must be done about it. The women left, determined to anoint the body at the earliest opportunity. To do this they had to wait until the sabbath was past before they could buy spices on Friday and prepare them. By that time the weekly sabbath was too close to complete the task, and in any case a guard had been set on the now sealed tomb. It would not be until Sunday morning, the 18th Abib, that they would be able to visit the tomb, but by that time, even though it was yet dark, they were too late: the Lord had risen.

The women, of course, were unaware of Joseph of Arimathaea’s moves. He had enlisted the help of Nicodemus in the anointing of Jesus for which he had spices available. The sabbath had prevented him doing this, but as soon as the sabbath of the feast was passed, he and Nicodemus hurried to the tomb early on Friday, rolled away the stone and anointed the body with “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pounds weight”: a royal burial indeed! Critically, they then replaced the sindon sheet with othonion, bandages (John 19:39,40). Scripture is quite specific about this. This evidence cannot be ignored. It must have been after this reburial that the tomb was sealed and a guard set; something very unlikely to have occurred on the sabbath of the feast. Arrangements would have to be made with Pilate after the high day had passed (Matthew 27:62-66). Only a Wednesday crucifixion can allow for this sequence of events.

On Saturday, 17th Abib, the normal sabbath day, every one rested. No more could be done.

The resurrection

With the exception of Matthew, no Gospel states the time when an angel awoke Jesus who then rose and left Joseph’s tomb. All make it clear that Jesus had risen before the dawn of Sunday morning. How long before they do not say. So let us turn to Matthew’s record of the resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10).

In the first place he says, “In the end of the sabbath”, that is, at close to 6.00 pm Saturday. Note too that the word ‘sabbath’ is plural in the original. Matthew is telling us that there were indeed two sabbaths in the final week.

Matthew says, “As it began to dawn toward the first day of the week.” Here the Greek word epiphosko has been misleadingly translated “dawn” instead of ‘to draw on’ as it is translated in Luke 23:54. The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament says, “as it was getting dusk toward the first day of the week”. It is clear that the first day of the week, Sunday, began at 6.00 pm Saturday.

As the two Marys approached the tomb there was a great earthquake, the angel rolled back the stone, the keepers became as dead men and the angel said to the women, “Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said.” As they went to tell his disciples, Jesus met them and they held him by the feet.

Thus scripture quite definitely states that Jesus rose just before sundown on Saturday 17th Abib. So as he said, Jesus was in the tomb precisely three days and three nights: Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.

Since, at that stage, no one believed the two Marys that the Lord had risen, the women stuck to their original plan and took spices to the tomb on Sunday morning. They arrived at the rising of the sun to find the tomb empty, met two men in shining garments, and left again wondering. Mary Magdalene ran to tell Peter and John that the tomb was indeed empty. The two disciples ran to the tomb, Mary following behind. Peter and John entered the tomb and observed the othonion bandages and the napkin (Greek, soudarion) that was about his head wrapped together in a place by itself. This is not the original single cloth in which Jesus had been laid to rest on Wednesday. John believed, Peter still doubted. They left at about the time that Mary Magdalene returned weeping and met her Lord (Mark 16:2-13; Luke 23:56-24:12; John 20:1-7).

How interesting that the women saw the Lord first. Why would that be? Because they loved much!

Does the timing of the crucifixion matter? Not as far as fellowship is concerned, of course. But we are all interested in seeing scripture aright. And what true knowledge does is help us to see how the Christian church have corrupted God’s truth so that we can avoid the false doctrine and false practice of Easter. [2]

Paul Cresswell

[1] See the article, “Did Jesus eat of the passover on the day of crucifixion?” by John Thomas, in The Christadelphian, 1878, page 103

[2] See, A Guide to the Gospels, W. Graham Scroggie, The Day of the Crucifixion, pp. 569-577; The Companion Bible, appendixes 165,166; Guide to the Gospels, H. P. Mansfield, pp. 81-86.


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