Yesterday was Good Friday. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. This marks the culmination of Holy Week, the most important days on the Christian calendar. Ask most believers about the significance of those days, and they’ll tell you that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday, and resurrected from the dead the following Sunday. Churches all across America will make a metaphor of this chronology with sermons entitled “It May Be Friday Now…But Sunday’s Coming!”
This chronology of crucifixion and resurrection has been fervently believed by hundreds of millions of people around the world. It’s also flat wrong. One of the hardest tasks anyone can face is convincing someone that a cherished belief is in error, and helping them understand why it matters. Ministers face this task regularly. So do financial planners. In each case, the errors typically arise from simple misperceptions. Consider this about the resurrection:
In John chapter 12, a group of scribes and Pharisees were questioning the authority by which Jesus said and did the things he did. They wanted a miracle as proof of the divine authority Jesus claimed to have. So they said, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” Jesus responded by saying, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
By so saying, Jesus staked His claim to Lordship on one and only one proof: that He would be buried and spend three days and three nights in the grave. A quick count on your fingers demonstrates that you can’t squeeze three days and three nights between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning. Now either things happened the way Jesus said, or He is not who He claimed to be. So getting the chronology right is not about nitpicking or technicalities; everything rides on the accuracy of the one and only proof the Lord said He would give. The legitimacy of the Christian faith stands entirely on the truth of the resurrection (1st Corinthians 15:14-17). So how could so many believers embrace an error about the central tenet of their faith?
Most people are just reciting a tradition they’ve always heard and never examined. Others try novel ways of counting to make three days and nights magically fit between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning. But it never really works; it can’t. Still others maintain that the chronology doesn’t matter, because the fact of the resurrection is enough. But Jesus made the timing part of the proof, by declaring before the fact exactly how long He would be in the grave.
The root of the error comes in placing the crucifixion on a Friday based on statements in the gospels that Jesus was placed in the tomb just before the Sabbath began (Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54). People know that the weekly Sabbath begins around sunset on Friday, so a Friday crucifixion seems self-evident. What people often don’t realize is that there were two Sabbaths that week. Jesus was crucified during Passover week. That week includes the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is always a High Sabbath, regardless of the day on which it falls. (Leviticus 23:4-7) That high Sabbath preceded the weekly Sabbath by two days in the year Jesus was crucified. This is spelled out in the gospel narrative.
Unlike in Western society, where a new day starts in the morning, in the ancient Jewish world, a new calendar day started in the evening (Genesis 1:5). The Sabbath was ushered in at sunset, not sunrise. The 24-hour day ran from 6:00p.m., not from 12:00 a.m. With that in mind, here is a brief summary of the events as recorded in scripture:
- Tuesday: Jesus eats the Passover meal with His disciples. (Matthew 26:26-28).
- Wednesday: He is crucified and dies around 3:00 p.m. (Matthew 27:46-50) This is identified as the preparation day for the annual high Sabbath which began that evening (Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:31). Christ’s body is placed in the tomb before the Sabbath begins (sunset). Wednesday is night one in the grave.
- Thursday: The next day is called the day after Preparation Day (Matthew 27:62). It’s the High Sabbath. This is day one in the grave, and Thursday night is night two.
- Friday: the High Sabbath is now past, and the women prepared spices with which to anoint the Lord’s body later. They then rested on the weekly Sabbath that began as usual at sunset Friday. (Mark 16:1, Luke 23:56) Friday is day two, and Friday night is night three in the grave. It’s also how we figure out the other days of the week in this sequence. Since the weekly Sabbath is always Friday evening and Saturday day, we derive the entire chronology by counting backwards from the known day.
- Saturday: Day three in the grave. Jesus would have risen sometime Saturday evening around sunset. A resurrection delayed until Sunday morning would mean a fourth night in the grave, which cannot be. He fulfilled the prophecy literally, accurately, and completely — three days and three nights. Seventy-two hours.
- Sunday: The women come to the tomb in the wee hours of Sunday morning while it is still dark (Luke 24:1, John 20:1). The tomb is already empty, because Jesus rose the evening before. Sunday morning is not Resurrection Day. It’s Discovery Day. It’s when the fact of the Resurrection became known. (Matthew 28:1-6, Mark 16:2-6, Luke 24:2-3)
Saturday resurrection fulfilled the promised sign exactly. “It May Be Wednesday Now, but Saturday’s Coming” will never have the same ring to it as the messages based on the erroneous chronology. But it is faithful to what the Bible says, and demonstrates the accuracy of the biblical prophecy and Christ’s claim to Lordship. God never deals in “kinda/sorta.” You don’t have turn the pages of scripture sidewise and squint at them to make things line up. He says exactly what He means. And that’s great to know!
I see several parallels between my work as a minister and my work as a financial planner. In both roles, I am required to know the details of things that most people don’t know. And in both roles I see a need to liberate people from things they think they know, because the truth will make them free.
Many people sincerely believe that now is not a good time to invest. They truly believe they can time the market. And they sincerely think that a planner’s value lies in choosing investments that will outperform some index, or some mutual fund, or their brother-in-law. All of these beliefs are erroneous. But it’s a rare person who can hold his most cherished beliefs up for scrutiny.
Are you open-minded enough to reconsider your basic assumptions and deep-seated beliefs in the light of unimpeachable evidence? If you are, then I think your future is a bright one indeed. We should definitely talk.