Know Your Bible: The Resurrection Was Not on Sunday
How do you know if Jesus Christ was the Messiah?

In Jesus’s day, the Pharisees asked Him for proof that He really was the Messiah, and this was His response: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas 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 12:39-40).

That was it—Jesus Christ only offered one sign: that, like Jonah (see Jonah 1:17), He would remain in the grave for three days and three nights.

Ever since, mankind has struggled with second-grade math, trying to squeeze three days and three nights into a barely 36-hour period between Friday evening and Sunday morning.

There were no eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection, and there is only one historical record: the Holy Bible. Jesus Christ’s proof of His messiahship was singular: not some spectacular miracle He would perform, or proofs that only the disciples were privy to, or even the fact of His resurrection. The only proof was the length of time He would be in the ground.

On this point, there can be no contention—they are the words of Christ Himself. Why, then, would anyone believe He died on Good Friday in the evening and rose on Sunday morning? Do other portions of the Bible reveal exactly when He died and was resurrected? And what does the truth about Christ’s resurrection mean for the observance of Easter?

Seventy-Two Hours

1. Did Christ clearly know how many hours were in a day? John 11:9-10.

There is no real dispute as to the meaning of Christ’s words in Matthew 12 when he said he would be in the grave three days and three nights. John 11:9-10 shows He knew how long a day was and how long a night was—12 hours each. Hebrew scholars also agree that the expression “three days and three nights” in Jonah 1:17 refers to a 72-hour period.

2. During creation week, how did God identify the day and night? Genesis 1:5, 13.

The Scripture is clear that a single day consists of two periods—evening and morning—and that they are identified by light and darkness. Thus, the Bible spells out how long three days and nights would take: three periods of light and three periods of darkness.

Four other scriptures confirm the period of time Christ was in the grave: Read Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, Matthew 27:63 and John 2:19-21. All confirm the duration. If we reject that singular proof, we reject the sign that Christ Himself gave of His being the Messiah.

When Did Christ Die?

Realizing that the common belief has no connection to the scriptural record, can we ascertain which day Christ died—and which day He was resurrected? Absolutely yes!

1. Was Christ killed on a “preparation day”? Luke 23:46, 54.

One reason so many believe Christ died on Friday is actually quite sensible. The Bible explicitly says the day of the crucifixion was called “the preparation.” This means the next day was a sabbath. Everyone knows the Jews keep a Saturday Sabbath, so they naturally—but incorrectly—assume this “preparation” day was a Friday.

2. Was this a preparation day for the weekly Sabbath or an annual Sabbath? John 19:31.

The Apostle John clarifies what type of Sabbath this was. That expression “high day” does not denote the weekly Sabbath; rather, it was one of the annual holy days listed in Leviticus 23—specifically, the first day of Unleavened Bread. The Scriptures show that Jesus Christ was already dead when the soldiers arrived, intending to break his legs (John 19:36).

3. Why did God ensure that Christ had already died before the soldiers arrived to break His legs? Psalm 34:20.

Because the Old Testament prophesied that none of Christ’s bones would be broken, God couldn’t allow the soldiers to carry out their plans. God prophecies always come to pass!

4. What day did Christ die? Matthew 26:1-2.

Throughout biblical history, a lamb was killed on Passover. Jesus Christ also died on Passover, which was the day before, and therefore the preparation day for, the first annual holy day.

These annual holy days can fall on any day of the week, not necessarily on Saturday. In 2020 and 2023, for example, the Passover was on Wednesday—just as it was in 31 a.d., the year of Christ’s death (as the Hebrew calendar shows). The first annual holy day was on Thursday. Rather than dying on “Good Friday,” Christ died on Wednesday, the Passover, just as the Jewish people had typified with the slaughter of a lamb for thousands of years before.

So when was He resurrected?

Knowing that this was exactly a 72-hour period, we should immediately realize that Christ’s resurrection took place at the same time of day or night as His burial.

5. At what time of day did Jesus die? Matthew 27:46, 50.

The preparation day would end at sunset (a day ends at sunset according to the Bible; see Leviticus 23:32), and law required that the dead be buried prior to the Sabbath. Christ “cried with a loud voice” at “about the ninth hour”—an expression referring to the ninth hour after dawn—or around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. We know then, from the scriptural record, that Christ died in the late afternoon on Wednesday, was buried before sunset, and was resurrected on the Sabbath—Saturday—at the same time. That is the fulfillment of the only sign Christ gave: the sign of the Prophet Jonah.

6. Who confirmed that Christ fulfilled the Scriptures—specifically the sign of Jonah? 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

Clearly, Paul and the other New Testament writers all agree that Christ rose after three whole days—72 hours.

Misunderstood Scripture

A few other, related scriptures have been commonly misunderstood that we need to understand.

1. Does Mark 16:9 indicate that Christ was resurrected on the “first day of the week”—Sunday? Mark 16:9.

Notice carefully: this verse does not say He “did rise” or “rose on the first day.” It says He was risen. He had already been resurrected,– as the Scriptures clearly show, on late Saturday afternoon.

Jesus had risen before Mary arrived at his tomb. That expression in verse 9—was risen—is the sole basis for the idea that Christ was resurrected on Sunday morning—yet it says nothing of the sort! Instead, it simply confirms that Christ had already been resurrected and emerged from the tomb by the time Mary arrived. She found that the stone enclosing Christ’s tomb had already been rolled away (Mark 16:4).

So you have a choice: You can believe the common tradition, the minister down the street and most of your neighbors—or you can believe the only sign Jesus gave, the historical record found in your Bible, and an elementary mathematical calculation.

As for Easter and its traditional Sunday “sunrise service,” there is no biblical basis for its observance. The Catholic Encyclopedia frankly admits that “the apostolic fathers do not mention it” (article “Easter”).

That’s right: The word Easter is never even mentioned in the Bible. Although “Easter” is found once in the King James translation, scholars agree that the Greek word translated “Easter” (pascha) in Acts 12:4 should be translated “Passover.” In his commentary, Adam Clarke says about this word, “Perhaps there never was a more unhappy, not to say absurd, translation than that in our text.”

The pagan origins of Easter and how it became entrenched in our culture are facts of history, easily uncovered. For more information, request our reprint article “What’s So Sacred About Easter?” Then, to gain an understanding of God’s holy days—the same days that Jesus Christ observed and that true Christians observe today—request Herbert W. Armstrong’s classic booklet Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which?