When the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign that He was the Messiah, Christ responded, “For as Jonas [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” (Matthew 12:40).
Christ discusses two important aspects of this sign here. First, He mentions the Old Testament account of Jonah. Second, He indicates a definite time frame: three days and three nights. Because this was the only sign Christ gave that He was our Savior, and because the whole world is deceived (Revelation 12:9), it should come as no surprise that Satan has deceived the scholars of this world into doubting the validity of Jonah’s story, as well as disbelieving the time frame involved in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.
Traditional Christianity has long believed that Christ was buried on the afternoon of Good Friday and resurrected early Sunday morning—one day and two nights later—even though this is in obvious disagreement with Christ’s own words. Most commentaries even admit this fact. Concerning the three-day period, one scholar writes, “A round number according to the popular mode of Hebrew reckoning … although Christ lay only one day and two nights in the grave.” Another writes, “Of course we know that Jesus was actually in the tomb only half as long as He thought He would be”!
As we shall see, the Good Friday-Easter Sunday observance is not based on God’s Word, but on the traditions of men. Christ even prophesied of those who would make the Word of God of none effect through their own tradition (Mark 7:13). God tells us to “prove all things” from the Bible (1 Thessalonians 5:21). This article will prove, from the Bible, that Christ was in fact in the grave for three days and three nights, as He said, and that His resurrection actually occurred before most have assumed.
Christ—a Type of Jonah
Jonah was in the belly of a great fish for three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17). This story is crucial, because as Christ said, Jonah was a sign. Herbert W. Armstrong wrote, “As Jonah was in the ‘grave’ (see marginal reference, Jonah 2:2) 72 hours, after which he was supernaturally resurrected by God, by being vomited up, to become a savior to the people of Nineveh upon proclaiming the warning to them, so should Jesus be 72 hours in His grave, thereupon being resurrected by God to become the Savior of the world” (The Resurrection Was Not on Sunday).
Since most doubt the 72-hour time frame surrounding the events of Christ’s resurrection, it follows that many doubt whether Jonah was really in the belly of a fish that long. Let us turn to the Bible to see how God counts time.
In Genesis 1:4, God divided the light from the darkness. He called the light day, and the darkness night. It is these two elements—light and darkness—that make up one complete day. The end of verse 5 says, “And the evening [darkness] and the morning [light] were the first day.” Continue reading the rest of chapter 1. You will see that each day is made up of a darkness portion and a daylight portion. Together, that’s 24 hours. Men have their traditions of how to count time. But here in Genesis 1 we find the only reliable definition for calculating time—an evening and a morning for one day.
In the New Testament, the way of calculating time did not change. Jesus said, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world” (John 11:9). Here Christ is referring to the daylight portion of each day. He makes that clear in the next verse: “But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him” (verse 10). Twelve hours for the light portion and 12 hours for the dark portion equals 24 hours in one full day.
If man says Christ was in the grave one day and two nights, according to tradition, and God’s Word says He was in the grave three days and three nights, then we must accept God’s revelation and reject the traditions of men.
Christ Our Passover
It is important to note that although the Bible nowhere mentions “Good Friday” or “Easter” (Acts 12:4 is a mistranslation), it often refers to the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. Jesus Christ and the New Testament apostles observed the biblical holy days as outlined in Leviticus 23—not the popular holidays and customs observed by a deceived world. Scripture proves this.
Anciently, the Israelites observed the Passover by killing lambs and applying the blood over their doorposts (read the entire account in Exodus 12). God would then pass over each house where the blood was applied, thereby sparing that household from death. Every year, this event is observed on the 14th day of the first month of God’s sacred calendar. God’s calendar, unlike the modern Roman calendar most use today, begins in the spring and is based on 19-year cycles. The first day of Unleavened Bread was on the 15th day of the first month—the day after Passover (Numbers 28:16-17). It is also important to note that God begins each day at sunset—not at midnight. God calculates days from even unto even (Leviticus 23:32).
The events recorded in Exodus 12 concerning the first Passover are merely a type of something much greater. The Passover lamb was a type of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7). It is His shed blood that spares our lives from the death penalty brought about by sin. Furthermore, Christ, like the lambs anciently, was also sacrificed on the Passover (Matthew 26:2). These details are beginning to give us the overview. So far, we know this much: 1) Christ our Passover was crucified (1 Corinthians 5:7); 2) the crucifixion occurred on Passover, the 14th day of the first month on God’s sacred calendar (Numbers 28:16; Matthew 26:2); and 3) He was then buried and remained in the grave for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40).
Now, if we can determine the year Christ died, then we not only have scriptural proof of when Christ was crucified and resurrected, we will also have historical proof.
The Year Christ Died
Bible history and prophecy, as well as secular history, irrefutably prove that the death of Christ occurred in the year a.d. 31. The Passover that year fell on Wednesday, April 25 (not Friday). Some theologians mistakenly place Christ’s death a year earlier (a.d. 30). But even then, the Passover was not on a Friday. In fact, the closest year to Christ’s crucifixion where the Passover actually fell on a Friday was a.d. 33. But as we shall see, Christ could not have been crucified in a.d. 33, thereby eliminating the possibility of a “Good Friday” crucifixion.
A multitude of references show in what year Christ was born, when He was baptized, and when He died. First it is necessary to remember that there is no year zero. There are 30 years from 4 b.c. to a.d. 27, not 31. If Christ was born in 4 b.c., He would have been 30 years old in a.d. 27.
Let us consider several historical facts solidifying a.d. 31 as the year of Christ’s death.
First, there is a prophecy in Daniel 9:25 that says, “from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks …” (see Ezra 7 for the recorded events). In plain language, there were to be 69 prophetic weeks (483 days) from the decree of Artaxerxes to rebuild the temple until the Messiah would come. For this prophecy, each day is equal to one year (Ezekiel 4:6). That means 483 years after the decree of Artaxerxes, the Messiah began His ministry.
Ezra establishes that the decree was made during the seventh year of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:7-13). This was in 457 b.c. Other reliable historical sources place the decree of Artaxerxes at the autumn of 457 b.c. According to Dr. Herman Hoeh, 457 b.c. “is absolutely fixed by the most accurate records of history written at that very time” (The Crucifixion Was Not on Friday). From 457 b.c., if you count forward 483 years, you arrive at autumn, a.d. 27. That is when Christ began His ministry.
Now read Luke 3:22-23. Jesus was “about thirty years of age” when He was baptized and began His ministry as the Messiah. The Crucifixion Was Not on Friday, published by the Worldwide Church of God under the direction of Mr. Armstrong, stated it this way: “Luke did not say, ‘about 29,’ or ‘about 31.’ He records that Jesus ‘began to be about thirty’—and he meant it, for he was an inspired historian. Either this record is true or you might as well discard the Bible.”
Thirty years prior to a.d. 27 would place Christ’s birth sometime in the autumn of 4 b.c. Luke 2:8 also suggests the birth of Christ was sometime in autumn, not in the middle of winter. At Christ’s birth, Luke reveals the shepherds were still abiding in the field “keeping watch over their flock by night.” Anciently, the Jews sent their sheep out into the deserts in early spring and brought them back home at the time of the first rain—usually sometime in October. No flocks were in the field anywhere near December 25. The fact that the shepherds were still in the fields with their flocks at the birth of Christ does not pinpoint the precise day of His birth—but it definitely proves it was not December 25. This fact is confirmed by several commentaries.
We also know from the Bible that the birth of Jesus corresponded with a decree from Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-7). This decree caused Christ to be born in Bethlehem. The chronicle of John Malalas, translated by Matthew Spinka in 1940, states, “In the 39th year and the 10th month of his [Caesar Augustus] reign he commanded the taking of a census of all his lands.” It would have been in the year 5 b.c. and the month of July when he issued his decree. The actual census was taken the next year in 4 b.c. as many historians verify, including Suidas.
While Christ was born after the decree of Augustus, He was born before the death of Herod. Historians, including Josephus, consider the last year of Herod’s reign to be from April 4 b.c., to April 3 b.c. Josephus records an eclipse of the moon before the death of Herod (Antiquities of the Jews, XVII, vi, 4). A footnote in the works of Josephus points to the importance of the eclipse: “This eclipse of the moon (which is the only eclipse mentioned in Josephus) is of the greatest consequence for the determination of the time for the death of Herod and Antipater, and for the birth and entire chronology of Jesus Christ. It happened March 13th, in the year of the Julian period 4710, and the 4th year before the Christian era.”
So March 13, 4 b.c., is definitely before Herod’s death. Josephus also records that his death was around the time of Passover. Since he died several months after the eclipse (March of 4 b.c.) yet during the time of Passover, he undoubtedly died the following year in the spring of 3 b.c. As Dr. Hoeh wrote, this is “the only date that agrees with all the known facts of history” (ibid).
Here is the important point: Christ was born between the decree of Augustus in 5 b.c. and the death of Herod in 3 b.c. The only overlap is 4 b.c.
There are other chronological verses concerning the reign of Tiberius and the building of the temple that give us the time frame of Christ’s life (see Luke 3:1-2; John 2:20). Concerning these two scriptural references, Dr. Hoeh wrote, “As Pilate did not begin his governorship till about the commencement of a.d. 27 and as Tiberius’s 15th year ended about April of that year, John the Baptist must have begun his ministry in the first few months of a.d. 27.
“Jesus, therefore, could not have begun His ministry earlier than the autumn of a.d. 27. Neither could His ministry have begun after the Passover in the spring of a.d. 28 because the temple was already 46 years in building.
“Therefore Jesus must have begun to preach in the autumn of a.d. 27. There is no other date that would be consistent with all the provable facts” (ibid).
If Christ was born in 4 b.c., and began His ministry 30 years later in a.d. 27, all that is left to determine is the length of His ministry. That was foretold by the Prophet Daniel. It is within the context of the 70 weeks prophecy in Daniel 9. As we have already seen, there were 69 prophetic weeks from the decree of Artaxerxes to the coming of the Messiah. That means one week remained—seven days—or seven years, prophetically. “And he [Christ] shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease …” (Daniel 9:27). Christ caused the sacrifices to cease when He died, because He became that sacrifice (Hebrews 10:4, 12). That occurred in the midst of this prophetic seven-day week—or after 3½ years.
The fact that Christ died on Passover (Matthew 26:2) and that Daniel prophesied His ministry to be 3½ years long is yet another proof of when Christ was born. Since Passover is always in the spring in the Northern Hemisphere, 3½ years prior to Passover falls in the autumn every time!
The length of Christ’s ministry is also confirmed in the Gospel accounts. There are three separate Passovers mentioned during His ministry. On the fourth Passover—when Christ was 33½—He was crucified. For the Bible and the historic records to be true, Jesus had to be born in 4 b.c., baptized in a.d. 27, and killed in a.d. 31. Nothing else fits!
Here is why determining the years of Christ’s ministry and death is so important. Of all four Passovers during His ministry (a.d. 28-31), not one of them fell on a Friday according to God’s sacred Hebrew calendar. Not one! The closest Friday Passover occurred two years after Christ died. The argument for a Friday Passover and Sunday morning resurrection is not only unlikely, it is impossible! And that is only after looking at historical accounts. Let us now examine scriptural passages that not only prove the true days of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, they irrefutably disprove any theory revolving around a Good Friday-Easter Sunday chronology.
By just looking at history and the Hebrew calendar, we can see that Christ died on Passover in a.d. 31, which was a Wednesday. But let us not base our beliefs on the writings of men. Historical writings can only be used to supplement God’s inspired Word. Now the Bible does not say emphatically that Christ’s final Passover was in a.d. 31. But we can determine the precise day on which He was crucified, and, when combined with the Hebrew calendar and historical proof, the facts become obvious to those with an open mind.
Jesus was crucified on the Passover (Matthew 26:2). God’s days begin and end at even—when the sun sets (Leviticus 23:32). The day before Passover, the 13th day of the first month, the disciples came and asked Jesus where they should prepare the Passover (Matthew 26:17). (Notice, it was not a question of if they should observe the Passover, but where they should observe it. The disciples observed it, just as Christ did, throughout His ministry.) Christ told them where to prepare it; and that night, when the 14th began, Christ observed His final Passover with the disciples—the night on which He changed the symbols, showing that He was now that Passover sacrifice (verses 26-28).
After that Passover service, they went out into the Mount of Olives (verse 30). Christ spent most of the night praying while His disciples slept (verses 36-45). Early that morning (approaching the daylight portion of the 14th), Judas came with the multitude to apprehend Christ (verses 47-50). The crucifixion occurred that day, still on the 14th.
At the “ninth hour” of the 14th, Jesus cried out (Matthew 27:46-50; Mark 15:34-37; Luke 23:44-46). The ninth hour, according to the daylight portion of a Jewish day, is 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
Now remember, the Passover was followed by the first day of Unleavened Bread (Numbers 28:16-17). The weekly Sabbath, as most people know, is on Saturday. But the first day of Unleavened Bread was the first of seven annual holy days, or annual sabbaths, instituted by God. Since most people do not observe God’s holy days today, they do not know that these days are also referred to as sabbaths in Scripture (see Leviticus 16:31; 23:24, 26-32, 39). In a.d. 31, this annual holy day, or sabbath, fell on a Thursday.
Christ’s enemies did not want to take Him on this feast day because they knew there would be an uproar among the people (Mark 14:1-2). So they apprehended Him the night of the 14th and hastily began the crucifixion during the daylight portion of the 14th.
Now follow this course of events closely. In John 19:30, Jesus bowed His head and said, “It is finished.” Notice the very next verse: “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” (verse 31). Here is where so many scholars are misled. They assume that because the day Christ died is referred to as “the preparation” prior to “the sabbath” (Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54) that it must have been a Friday before the weekly Sabbath. But as John points out, the preparation day was actually before a sabbath that was a high day, or annual holy day.
Verses 32-42 of John 19 then explain the course of events from Christ’s death to His eventual burial. Notice especially verse 42: “There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.” They buried Him late that afternoon, before sunset, because, according to Jewish customs, all dead bodies had to be buried before the Sabbath, whether weekly or annual. So Christ died on the afternoon of the 14th at 3 p.m. He was buried later that afternoon before sunset. From that point, all we have to do is count three days and three nights to know when He was resurrected.
But first, let us go back to the Gospel account in Matthew to continue following the course of events.
“Now the next day [after the Passover], that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, after three days I will rise again” (Matthew 27:62-63). Even these deceived Jews knew what Christ said! AFTER three days and three nights—not one day and two nights—“I will rise again”!
So Pilate set a watch on the sepulchre for three days and nights. The story continues in the first verse of the next chapter. “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre” (Matthew 28:1). Here again is where so many misunderstand—mainly because of a poor translation. The King James, along with just about every other Bible version, translates the first part of this verse, “In the end of the sabbath” or “After the sabbath.” But if you study the Greek text, you will find that the Greek word for sabbath is actually plural! Fenton is the only translation that is correct, at least with the first part of the verse: “After the sabbaths” is the proper translation. A closer look at each Greek word in Matthew 28:1 and their definitions according to Strong’s Concordance and Thayer’s Lexicon is located in the following box. The numbers above the Greek words are tied to Strong’s Concordance. Please study them further for yourself. The correct English translation has been inserted below each Greek word:
First of all, notice that Matthew actually used the plural word for Sabbaths (4521) twice in this verse. The second usage has been left out of all translations! Yet the fact that Matthew repeats it makes the sequence of events all the more clear—especially when you consider the meaning of the Greek word mia (3391) preceding it, which can be translated as one. This word, according to Strong’s, is derived from 1520, the Greek word heis. According to Thayer’s, heis means “to denote one, whichever it may be … or, that one is required to be singled out from a certain number.”
Now let us consider the significance of the correct translation of Matthew 28:1. Remember, God’s annual holy days are also referred to as sabbaths in the Bible. Jesus was crucified on Passover day, Wednesday, April 25, a.d. 31. He was buried late that afternoon just before sunset. The next day, Thursday, was the annual sabbath known as the first day of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6-7). The following day was Friday—preparation day for the regular weekly Sabbath, Saturday. The reason Matthew refers to sabbaths, plural, is that there were two sabbaths that week! When Matthew says Mary came early Sunday morning, before dawn, after ONE OF the sabbaths, he is referring to the weekly Sabbath.
There is one more sequence of events that proves this chronology to be absolutely correct. Mark 16:1 says Mary Magdalene and her companions bought spices “when the Sabbath was past.” They were planning to prepare these ointments and spices so that they might anoint the body of Jesus. Yet Luke 23:56 says they prepared these spices and then rested on the weekly Sabbath day. Compare these two texts carefully.
Christ inspired four different gospel accounts to be written so that all the important details of His life might be understood. Mark said they bought the spices after the sabbath was past. Luke said they prepared the spices before the Sabbath arrived. Those who hold to the Good Friday-Easter belief must conclude that these verses are a glaring contradiction. They are not! They complement each other perfectly, if you understand that there were two sabbaths that week. They bought the spices on Friday, after the annual sabbath on Thursday. They prepared the spices that Friday before the weekly Sabbath and then rested on the Sabbath according to God’s command. After that Sabbath was over, early on the first day of the week, Sunday, they headed to the sepulchre, only to find that Christ was already gone.
The Truth Becomes Plain
We have already briefly covered the 70-weeks prophecy in Daniel 9. Jesus was in fact cut off “in the midst of the week”—3½ years into His ministry. Yet, it is also significant, after all the proof has been gathered, to find that Christ was actually cut off right in the middle of a literal week as well—on Wednesday. He died at 3 p.m. that afternoon and was buried before sunset.
As Mr. Armstrong wrote, “Jesus staked His claim to being your Savior and mine upon remaining exactly three days and three nights in the tomb” (op. cit.). So if He was put in the tomb just before sunset on Wednesday, three days and three nights brings us to the exact same time on Saturday, just before sunset.
When Mary entered the tomb early Sunday morning, before sunrise, she exclaimed, “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:6). It happened just as Christ said it would. Yet even still, so many carelessly assume that He died Friday afternoon and was resurrected early Sunday morning.
We have already proven how it could not have been a Friday afternoon crucifixion. And if you take Christ at His word, it could not have been an early Sunday resurrection either. Christ rose on the third day “according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). In Matthew 27:63, Christ is quoted as having said, “After three days I will rise again.”
There were no eyewitnesses to the resurrection. We must take Christ at His word. He is reliable. When the women arrived at the tomb before sunrise Sunday morning, it was already open and Christ was already gone! (see Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6; Matthew 28:5-6). That’s just it! He had already risen—the day before, just prior to sunset. None of these verses say He was resurrected on Sunday.
Some point to Mark 16:9 to support a Sunday resurrection: “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene ….” The comma after week has been added by translators and makes it read slightly different. Again, study the text carefully. Look up the entire passage in an interlinear translation. One version translates it, “Having risen and early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary the Magdalene.” It does not say He “was rising” or “did rise” on Sunday. The King James says He was risen. Other translations say “having risen.” The subject being discussed in Mark 16:9 is not when He rose, but rather when He appeared before Mary. It was on the first day that He appeared before her.
For those who have been observing Good Friday and Easter for many years, this may be a hard truth to accept. But ask yourself, “Why do I believe the things I do? Why do I believe Christ was resurrected on Sunday morning?” Have you ever really stopped to prove these things?
Good Friday is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. To hold to the belief in a Friday crucifixion, you must reject historical fact along with biblical revelation. If you believe Christ was only in the tomb for a day and a half, then you must reject the plain words of Christ, thereby labeling Him a liar! Easter observance is nowhere sanctioned in Scripture. These traditions and teachings did not surface in the Church until after the death of Christ and all of the original apostles.
Jesus and the original apostles observed the Passover, commemorating the death of our Lord and Savior. They also observed the seven annual holy days found in Leviticus 23 as well as the weekly Sabbath day.
This world has been deceived (Revelation 12:9). Traditional Christianity observes Good Friday, even though Christ was not crucified on Friday. It observes Easter Sunday, which originated in paganism long before Christ ever walked this Earth, because it believes that is when Christ was resurrected. The world goes to church services on Sunday, again, not because Scripture sanctions it, but because of Christ’s supposed Sunday resurrection. Furthermore, the world celebrates the “birth” of Christ in the middle of dead winter, even though the Bible nowhere sanctions such an observance, and Christ was not even born during that season.
It’s time we stand up and reject the traditions and doctrines of men in order to obey God. What about you? If I were to ask every reader of this article if they believed in God, surely the overwhelming majority would respond with a resounding yes! That is well and good. But even Satan and the demons believe in God (James 2:19). Whether you believe IN God is not the question that matters. What matters is how you respond to this question: Do you believe God?
From the Archives: Royal Vision, March-April 2004