Resurrection Redux

Resurrection Redux

So here we find ourselves in the midst of another "Easter" season. It has a whole different meaning for me today than when I was a child. 

Then, it meant a Good Friday church service to remember Jesus’ death on that day of the week. There were your best clothes to get out and ready for the Sunday service ahead, maybe even a new suit for that special occasion. And of course lots of eggs to color, hide, and then hunt for at the appointed time. 

Sunday of course was the big day.
 It was church and, maybe even Dad or Grandpa would come on that occasion. After all isn’t it the most highly attended Sunday service of the whole year? And when that was over, it was off to Grandma’s house where the whole family would gather for the traditional Easter ham (something I realize now Jesus would have never eaten). Unfortunately for me then, and multitudes today, Easter Sunday never had any more meaning to it than that... But things are different


As I checked the internet for just the right things to say as introductory material I found, as you might guess, a raft of stuff. My goodness. There’s information on how we calculate the changing date of Easter Sunday. (It couldn’t be simple like Christmas.) There is stuff on how Christianity came to celebrate Easter as a formal holiday. Why, different parts of the world even have traditions unique only to them. There’s been lots of arguing over Easter. And as you might imagine the Jews take it on the chin a time or two. Why, don’t you know, we Gentiles always have it right ... right on down to our Easter eggs. Now that ought to prove something! Well, considering all that I said to myself, “Why not just skip all this and get right to something really interesting?” After all, anyone can check that other stuff out on the internet. So off we go.

When I was a kid and on into my adult years I always took it for granted that it was on a Sunday that Jesus rolled that huge stone away and walked out of the tomb, the tomb in which He had been laid the previous Friday. However, the facts I have since come across have radically assaulted that childhood view most of us have been taught. 

Traditional Christianity places Jesus' death on Friday and His subsequent resurrection on Sunday. But, doesn't that raise a question? We do understand that He was to be buried for three days and three nights. After all, had He not told His disciples in Matthew 12:39-40 that He would be buried for those three days and three nights just as Jonah had spent the same amount of time in the belly of the sea monster?
“An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
The particulars for arriving at the traditional Friday thru Sunday scenario are as follows: The crucifixion it is argued had to be on Friday. This is believed because John 19:31 says the Jews came to Pilate and asked that the bodies should not remain on the crosses. It was the day of preparation and the Sabbath was the next day. Since Saturday is always the Sabbath it had to be on Friday  (the day before / it was the day of preparation) that the crucifixion took place. According to Mark 15:25 it was the third hour or 9:00 AM that He was nailed to the cross.  At 3:00 PM or the ninth hour (Matthew 27:46-50) He died on this Friday before the Sabbath, and was placed in the tomb. But before we go further, a moment's digression on Jewish time keeping, if you please....

The reckoning of Jewish time is different from that which we are familiar with. Our whole day starts at12:00 AM and runs for 24 hours to 12:00 PM. Our “day” is generally thought of as running from 6:00 AM to 6:00PM and our “evening” from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM. 

Jewish time—or more correctly, biblical time—differs in that their whole day starts at sunset or roughly 6:00 PM and runs 24 hours to the next sunset or roughly 6:00 PM. The “evening” starts their calendar day at 6:00 PM and runs twelve hours to 6:00 AM. The remaining 12 hours is considered their “day” and runs generally from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Our day starts with the morning. Their day starts with the evening. (Genesis 1:13)

Their pattern of evening first, then day was established in Genesis One where God concluded each 24 hour period of creation by stating this formula,  “...and there was evening and there was morning...” then giving the day on which the particular acts of creation were done. This pattern is followed even today in Israel.Each calendar day starts at 6:00 PM with the evening. The latter half of the day concludes with the morning which runs from 6:00 AM. to 6:00 PM.

The traditional church, not in tune with this unique handling of the clock, reasoned that Jesus was placed in the tomb on that Friday day. By Jewish reckoning of time He would have remained there Friday day (3:00 PM to 6:00 PM), Saturday evening (6:00 PM Friday to 6:00 AM Saturday) and Saturday day (6:00 AM to 6:00 PM Saturday) and Sunday evening (6:00 PM Saturday to 6:00 AM Sunday). It is believed that the resurrection happened on Sunday because of Matthew 28:1-6. There we have the account of the two Marys coming to the grave on Sunday morning and finding the grave empty. 

If this had been the course of events, then by Jewish timekeeping Jesus would not have been in the tomb three days and three nights. Let’s look at it one more time. 

     Friday 3:00 PM to Friday 6:00 PM is one partial day, not a full day.
     Friday 6:00 PM to Saturday 6:00 AM is one full night.
     Saturday 6:00 AM to Saturday 6:00 PM is one full day
     Saturday 6:00 PM to Sunday 6:00 AM is is one full night
     Sunday 6:00 AM to the empty tomb discovery is one partial day, not a full day

Even if a partial day was to be considered as a full day as some suggest, we have at the most, Jesus in the grave three days and two nights, not the three nights Jesus said He would be. You’ll recall that Jesus had said in Matthew 12:39-40 that He would be in the grave as Jonah was in the belly of the sea monster, three days and three nights.  

So before you consider me too much of a contrarian let's consider another possible scenario. 

We know that in the Jewish culture every Saturday (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) is the Sabbath. Its foundation is found as far back as creation when God rested on the seventh day. Historical precedence for its ongoing practice is most strongly suggested in Exodus 16:23 where the Sabbath was kept prior to the Ten Commandments being given. God seals the deal on Mt. Sinai when in the fourth of ten commandments He instructs His people to keep the Sabbath holy. Most of the Jewish people kept this day sacred right up to the time of Jesus, and were practicing it religiously at the time of His death. 
The question to be raised is, was there only one Sabbath day the week Jesus went to the cross? Because if there were two such days the question of three full days and three full nights would be easily resolved.

Matthew 28:1 says, “Now after the Sabbath (singular in the English), as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.” 

A number of English Bibles translate “Sabbath” from the original language as a singular (only one Sabbath day that week). Our NASB does this. However, some translations such as Young’s Literal Translation translate Sabbath in the plural. This would mean that in the week Jesus died there were two or more Sabbaths

This word is rendered in the plural in Alfred Marshall's Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Green's Literal Translation, and Ferrar Fenton's Translation. Indeed, even my trusty Nestle Greek Text renders Sabbath in the plural form. We must therefore conclude that there were at least two Sabbathsnot just the one on Saturday following the traditionally believed Friday crucifixion. 

What might the second Sabbath be?

The Hebrew Bible delineates TWO DIFFERENT TYPES of SABBATHS:
  • One is the seventh day of the week, the day God “rested” in the creation account. It always ran and still does from sunset (the beginning of the Jewish day) on Friday night to sunset (the end of the Jewish day) on Saturday night. Remember, the evening time after sunset was and is the beginning of the next Jewish day.
  • The only other type of Sabbath was called a “high day.” These seven Sabbaths are listed in Leviticus 23. They are to be treated as the regular weekly Sabbaths were, but each celebrates a particular event different from the regular weekly Sabbath. The presence of this type of Sabbath, “a high day,” is confirmed in John 19:31. It reads, “Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” Only two possibilities exist as to the timing of these two different Sabbaths. Either they both fell on the same day, Saturday—as the Friday thru Sunday entombment folks hold—or they fell on separate days in the crucifixion week. 

Mark 14 sheds light on this point. The Passover was at hand. During this last week Jesus and His disciples were in Jerusalem and going to partake of the Last Supper. In verses 12 through 16 we have the account of the preparation of that meal. How fitting that the final sacrifice for sin, the death of the Messiah, was to be offered just a day later. 

This is where the first of the two Sabbaths or the “high Sabbath” would have come in. This particular high Sabbath is spoken of in Leviticus 23:4-8, discussing the Passover celebration. There were two “high Sabbaths” to celebrate here. Verses 7-8 say,  “On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work. But for seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work. 

Here are two Sabbaths, one at the beginning of the seven day period of celebration and one at the end.This would mean that a Sabbath rest would take place on one of the weekdays of the crucifixion week. Then the regular weekly Sabbath would take place on the upcoming Friday evening. And following that, the second high Sabbath for the week of celebration would take place.

Having seen the difficulty of the Friday crucifixion theory not fulfilling the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:39-40 and now seeing that two Sabbaths did occur in the crucifixion week lets consider another format for the events of the week. 

Remember what Jesus had said in Matthew 12:39-40, “But he [Jesus] answered and said unto them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seek 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 belly of the sea monster; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’” (Emphasis added)

I believe Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday afternoon, and resurrected on Saturday afternoon—three days and three nights later—exactly as our Messiah said. 

The week’s events would look like this:
  • Tuesday evening: Jesus and the disciples eat the Passover meal together and He is arrested during the night.
  • Wednesday: This is the preparation day spoken of in John 19:31, the day before the  “high day” Sabbath, which comes as a result of Passover. Jesus is crucified, dies at the ninth hour and is placed in the tomb.
  • Thursday: This is the high Sabbath day, the first day of Unleavened Bread, Matthew 27:62.
  • Friday: Spices are purchased by Jesus‘ female followers.
  • Saturday: This was the regular weekly Sabbath, not associated with the two belonging to the Passover celebration. Everyone rested as was prescribed. Jesus is resurrected in the afternoon after the ninth hour, but before sunset—the start of the next day.  
  • Sunday: The women go to the tomb and find it empty. 

Does this make the full three days and full three nights in the grave? 
Yes, and only this way:
       Wednesday 3:00 PM to Thursday 3:00 PM 
            (one night / one day)
       Thursday 3:00 PM to Friday 3:00 PM 
            (one night / one day)
       Friday 3:00 PM to Saturday 3:00 PM
            (one night / one day)

According to an article in the Good News Magazine, “Several computer software programs exist that enable us to calculate when the Passover and God's other festivals fall in any given year. Those programs show that in A.D. 31, the year of these events, the Passover meal was eaten on Tuesday night and Wednesday sundown marked the beginning of the 'high day,’ the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.” “Jesus wasn't crucified on Friday—or Resurrected on Sunday!” The Good News magazine, United Church of God, 2006-MAR-APR, Pages 13 to 15 

Obviously more stock can be placed in the Biblical evidence than the above quote. It is interesting, however, to note that many theologians believe that Jesus was crucified  between 29 and 32 CE.

It would be a “hard sell” to get the Christian world to give up Resurrection Sunday, even if they did buy into the above scenario.  After all who wants to give up a good tradition? Don’t we still celebrate Christmas in December even though most know that was not when our Savior was born? But there ARE a couple of things worth pulling out of this study. 

One is that perhaps we should have much more respect for the biblical Sabbath. The roots of the Sabbath date back to creation. And while its tradition is imbedded in a God-given Law, we can also now see it should lay claim to the title of “Resurrection Sabbath.” “Resurrection Sunday,” just doesn’t seem to hold much water  anymore. (Uh-oh, there goes one of those of those sacred cows ... up in smoke on the altar....)

And how about the itch some traditionalists have over churches now having Saturday and even Friday services? They argue, “Haven’t we always had Sunday services because that is the day of the week He rose from the grave? No, Sunday is the day He was first discovered gone from the grave, having risen from the grave, the previous day, I believe. 
“Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.(Matthew 28:1-6)

By the time the women, the first of His followers to see the empty tomb, got to the tomb, Jesus had already risen, on Saturday. (And I wonder if those guards were shaking as much from the continuing presence of the angel, or from the sight of the risen Christ coming out of the tomb?) 

The book of Acts probably debunks best the Sunday only worship mantra. Acts 2:46 says, “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.” Looks like any day really is a good day to worship.

Another is that the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, paves the way for the free gift of eternal life to any who claim it. And this is regardless of what view one may take on particular days and events.

How simple and yet how true are the words:
“...whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
For God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world,
but that the world might be saved through Him.
He who believes in Him is not judged;
he who does not believe has been judged already,
because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

(John 3:15-18)   
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