Chronology of the Passion Event
We come now to the chronology, taking into account the full three days and nights of Jesus entombment. Our starting point will be the Twelfth of Nisan. The Western Dates given are the Julian date equivalent to the Jewish dates.
These Julian dates are counted from sunset to sunset.
Twelfth of Nisan(Sun. April 2 - Mon. April 3): The Great Sanhedrin plots the death of Jesus. This is two days before the feast. Mt. 26:1-5; Mk. 14:1-2; Lk.22:1-2.
Fourteenth of Nisan(Tues, April 4 - Wed. April 5) [Passover Day]: According to Matthew 26:18; Mark 14:13-14; Luke 22:10-11, Jesus had obviously pre-arranged with someone in Jerusalem to conduct His last Passover in his home. Evening having arrived, Jesus and his disciples met together for the Passover meal, which has become known as the Last Supper. It is on this date that the events of the betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion takes place.
- After singing the Hallel, completing the Passover, Jesus and the disciples retire to the Mount of Olives. Mt. 26:30-35; Mk. 14:27-31; Lk. 22:14-38; Jn. 18:1-2
- Jesus spends three periods of prayer in the garden, while his friends are sleeping. Mt. 26:36-46; Mk. 14:32-42; Lk. 22:40-46
- Judas betrays Jesus. Mt. 26:47-56; Mk. 14:43-52; Lk. 22:47-53; Jn. 18:2-12
- Jesus taken before Annas. Jn. 18:13-14, 19-24
- Jesus before Caiaphas. Mt. 26:57-58; Mk. 14:53-65; Lk. 22:54-71; Jn. 18:24
Some comment is necessary here. What has been commonly understood as a trial or legal proceeding against Jesus by the Council, is more likely nothing more than an examination or interrogation of Jesus and his claims. This is probable for two reasons. First, due to Roman dominance, the Great Council did not have the authority to carry out the death penalty. Furthermore, almost every aspect of this scene, is in total opposition to commonly known Jewish jurisprudence. Edersheim addresses this,
For, alike Jewish and Christian evidence establish the fact, that Jesus was not formally tried and condemned by the Sanhedrin. It is admitted on all hands, that forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the Sanhedrin ceased to pronounce capital sentences. This alone would be sufficient. But besides, the trial and sentence of Jesus in the Palace of Caiaphas would (as already stated) have outraged every principle of Jewish criminal law and procedure.
( Edersheim, Life and Times, p. 858 )
The charge brought against Jesus before Pilate, did not have its root in Jewish law, but that he claimed to be king. This is a claim that Rome would take seriously. Such claims in the past had caused the people and the land much grief.
6. When morning had come, the Council leads Jesus to Pilate. It is here that the Jewish council refuses to enter the Praetorium, lest they be defiled and unable to eat the festive offering of the Chagigah. (Mt. 27:1-2; Mk. 15:1; Lk. 23:1; Jn. 18:28)
7. Jesus before Pilate. The Roman abuse of Jesus and his brief appearance before Herod. (Mt. 27:11-31; Mk. 15:2-20; Lk. 23:2-6, 12-25)
8. The Crucifixion. From the third hour to the ninth hour, which is about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. our time. (Mt. 27:33-51; Mk. 15:25-34; Lk. 23:26-44; Jn. 19:16-40)
9. Preparations for Burial. After receiving permission from Pilate, Joseph of Arimathea takes down the body of Jesus, and prepares him for burial. It is at this point that the annual Sabbath of the Fifteenth of Nisan is fast approaching. The burial team must prepare the body of Jesus and have it in the tomb before sunset. This all occurred during the time which John calls the preparation. That is, it was the preparation for the approaching Sabbath of the Fifteenth. (Mt. 27:57-58; Mk. 15:42; Lk. 23:50-54; Jn. 19:38-40)
10. The burial of Jesus' body. The burial team had maybe two hours to take the body down from the execution stake (allowing for the time it would have taken for Joseph to deal with the red-tape of Roman Bureaucracy, in requesting Jesus' body), prepare it for burial and place it in the tomb. The women who followed Jesus, accompanies the burial team.
It is of great interest to note, that according to Jewish practice, when a person died, they were first placed in a temporary burial spot, until the body had decayed and only the bones remained. In the case of a condemned criminal, this burial spot was provided for by the Sanhedrin. As stated earlier, although Jesus' appearance before the Council was likely nothing more than an interrogation, Joseph and Nicodemus may have felt otherwise. These men, being disciples or at least sympathizers of Jesus, as members of the Council, provided this temporary burial chamber for Jesus. Although, they didn't realize how temporary it would be. (Mt. 27:59-61; Mk. 15:46-47; Lk. 23:55-56; Jn. 19:42)
A. While they were preparing the body, "a Sabbath was commencing." They likely had just placed the body in the tomb, as the sun was setting, beginning the Sabbath of the Fifteenth of Nisan. Lk. 23:54
B. After placing the body in the tomb, and putting the stone in place, the burial team departed, except for the women. They remained at the tomb, while this Sabbath had already began. This is very important in the scheme of things. Mt. 27:60-61
Fifteenth of Nisan(Wed. April 5 - Thurs. April 6): The First day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the first of the seven annual holy convocations, or Sabbaths. Lev. 23. This would also be the day when members of the council went to Pilate to request that he set a guard at the tomb, in order to prevent the disciples from stealing the body, pretending a resurrection (Matt. 27:62-66).
Sixteenth of Nisan(Thurs. April 6 - Fri. April 7): This would be the day on which the women would go into the city, and purchase spices for the anointing of the body of Jesus. Here is why we say this.
1. We have already stated that the women remained at the tomb, after the Sabbath of the Fifteenth had begun. The Sabbath had begun while they were still at the tomb, making it impossible for them to go into the city and purchase the needed spices at that time.(Matt. 27:60-61)
2. Luke 23: 54-56 is key to the chronology. Luke reports that after they had laid the body in the tomb, the women returned to the city, prepared the spices, and then rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. Mark 16:1 has them purchasing the spices after the Sabbath of the burial had passed.
Also, in the ancient document, The Gospel of the Holy Twelve,1 we have a passage that states this scenario quite clearly. In the Lection LXXXIII, it says,
6. And the women also, who came with him from Galilee, followed after, bearing lamps in their hands and beheld the sepulchre and how his body was laid, and they made lamentation over him.7. And they returned and rested the next day, being a high day, and on the day following they bought and prepared spices and ointments and waited for the end of the Sabbath.
If you read this passage carefully, you can see the three full days illustrated.
- They laid his body in the tomb, made lamentation. This was done just as the annual Sabbath of the 15th was beginning, and the 14th, Passover, was ending.
- Then they returned and rested the next day, because it was a "high day". This is pointing to the Annual Sabbath of the 15th of Nisan. It was a high day because it was the first of the Annual Sabbaths in the Feast Cycle.
- The day after this 'high day', they bought and prepared the spices for the anointing of Jesus' body. This would be the 16th of Nisan.
- Then they waited for the end of the Sabbath, the weekly Sabbath.
All this is in perfect harmony with the record of the Biblical witness of the Gospel Writers.
Sunset, The Close of the Weekly Sabbath.
The weekly Sabbath passed with its usual activity, until late afternoon. According to Matthew, the women came for a visit to the tomb, 'to see ' it. This coming to see the tomb, was not for anointing the body, it seems to be more in line with just coming to pay respects and remembering their Master.
Edersheim makes note of this practice of visiting the burial site, when he says, "It was the practice to visit the graves (John xi. 31) partly to mourn and partly to pray." 2
A closer look at Matt. 28:1ff is necessary.
In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first of the week, came Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat upon it. And his countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead.
If Matthew's account was all we had, we would have to assume that all of these events occurred while the women were at the tomb. However, this is not likely, and improbable. More on this momentarily.
The phrase, 'in the end of the Sabbath,' is the Greek, opse de sabbaton. This means in the evening of or late on the Sabbath. In his Word Pictures of the New Testament, A.T. Robertson clearly states,
"This careful chronological statement according to Jewish days clearly means that before the Sabbath was over, that is, before six p.m., this visit by the women was made to see the sepulchre." (p. 240)
He also points out, that the phrase, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, points not to the sunrising on the first day of the week, but signifies the dawning of the twenty-four hour day, beginning at sunset. It is the same word used in Luke 23:54 to denote the beginning of a Sabbath, as the burial was taking place. It is a phrase used to denote the beginning of the Jewish day, at sunset.
Also Samuel Lachs, in his New Testament commentary, notes that the Greek phrase, opse de sabbaton, is parallel to the Semitic, be'echad be'shabbat. A better translation perhaps for Matt. 28:1, would be, "Late on the Sabbath, as the first of the week was commencing."
Matthew has a tendency in his resurrection report, to compress events and time together, so that the real distinctions are clouded. Edersheim makes note of this tendency, when he says, "Not only St. Matthew, but also St. Luke, so compresses the narrative that 'the distinction of points of time' is almost effaced."3
Matt. 27:50-53 is a good example of this. Matthew reports at the expiration of Jesus upon the cross, that several things happened.
- The veil of the Temple was split.
- The earth quaked and rocks ripped open.
- Many of the saints which slept, were raised from the dead.
But then he adds that the saints rising from the dead (#3 and perhaps #2) did not happen until after Jesus' resurrection. Here in this one passage, he jumps from the cross to after the resurrection, a period of three days. What can you say, the guy gets excited!
Matthew has the women coming to the tomb, late on the Sabbath, to see it. However, they left before all the commotion began. Evidently they had no knowledge of the stone being rolled away, etc. If they had, then why are the same women coming to the tomb, early the next morning, debating who was going to roll the stone away for them? It would be totally inconsistent to be debating about something to which you had prior knowledge of.
The Time of the Resurrection.
It is during this period, at the close of the Sabbath, as the first of the week was starting, that Jesus rose from the dead. Let's look at Mark 16:9. Here lies the key to the time of Jesus' resurrection. [I realize that we have dealt with this verse earlier, but in case you missed it, and because of its importance, here it is again.]
Now when Jesus was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
We first want to deal with the phrase, "first of the week". In this passage, it is a different construction than found anywhere else in the New Covenant writings. It is the Greek, prwth sabbaton. The word, 'prote', is a hebraism for the Hebrew, 'rosh'. Rosh and prote are very similar in their uses. The meaning of rosh, when used with a time-frame, means 'the head or beginning.' Prote, denotes the same thing. So what we have here, is a phrase defining the head or beginning of the week. This would be at sunset, as the Sabbath is ending. The word 'early,' would designate the earliest portion of the beginning of the week. The time alluded to at Matt. 28:1 and Mark 16:9, are referring to the same timeframe.
A more accurate translation of Mark 16:9 would be, 'and having already risen early at the head of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils'.
The amazing thing about this verse, is that the emphasis is not the time of the resurrection, but the fact that Jesus had appeared first to Mary. This appearance not occurring until the morning hours of the first of the week. Mark mentions the time of his resurrection in passing, as though it was common knowledge.
So here we have shown that, Jesus was not raised from the dead on Sunday morning, but at the close of the Sabbath, as the beginning of the week was just starting, i.e., at sunset. Jesus was placed in the tomb at sunset, between the Fourteenth and the Fifteenth.
- Sunset, beginning the Fifteenth, to sunset beginning the Sixteenth: Day One
- Sunset, beginning the Sixteenth to the beginning of the Seventeenth: Day Two
- Sunset, beginning the Seventeenth to the beginning of the Eighteenth: Day Three
". . .three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" is fulfilled, exactly as He said.
1 The Gospel of the Holy Twelve is an ancient document that dates from at least the fourth century and possibly earlier. It was originally written in Aramaic and translated by an Irish clergyman, Rev. G. J. Ouseley. It was rejected from the canon of accepted books by the Council of Nicea, for various reasons. The least of its problems was that it does not lend support to the Friday - Sunday theory of the Western/Roman Church.
2 Edersheim, Alfred. Sketches of Jewish Social Life, in the days of Christ (Grand Rapids:WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 169.
3 Edersheim, Life and Times, 901