By Henry A. Griesemer
It is almost the
universal belief of the Christian church that Christ was crucified on Friday. In
the spring of each year a whole week is given to commemorate our Saviour’s
passing and resurrection. It is spoken of as Holy or Passion Week. All of the
ritualistic churches, and not a few of the evangelistic churches observe the
week with great solemnity. Friday of this week is called "Good Friday" and
amid tears and sorrows and worship it is commemorated as "Crucifixion Day."
Yet, strange to say, there is not a verse, or a line, or a word anywhere
in the New Testament that so much as intimates that Christ was crucified on
Friday; indeed, there is the strongest evidence to show that He was not
crucified on Friday at all, but earlier in the week.
Whence then has come the almost universal belief that Christ was
crucified on Friday? From the same source that many other errors has come,
namely, the Church of Rome, which is never to be regarded as a sure authority in
translating or interpreting the Bible.
Let us turn to the evidence.
Look at the words of Jesus: "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" (Matt. 12:40).
Note two things about this Scripture.
First: That every Greek text I have been able to consult (ten in number)
gives every one of the above words.
Second: That every English translation I have examined (about ten in all)
use the identical phraseology which we have here in Matthew in relation to the
element of time.
This shows that the most critical and accurate translators of the passage
are perfectly satisfied that these were the words of Jesus. If this be so and
you give a literal meaning to our Saviour’s words that He was in the heart of
the earth three days and three nights, then He must have been in the grave
seventy-two hours, one night and one day, the second night and the second day,
the third night and the third day, so that He must have been crucified on
Wednesday and not on Friday.
This I shall now seek to prove.
I know that I have to contend against tradition, the teaching and
practice of centuries and the prejudices of the churchmen, but tradition, human
teaching and practice and ecclesiastical prejudices count for little when they
are out of harmony with the words and teachings of Jesus.
The almost universal interpretation of these words of Jesus is that He
lay in the grave a part of three days; that He died on Friday afternoon at 3
o’clock, that He was in the grave all Friday night, all day Saturday and rose
early on Sunday morning; that He was in the grave about thirty-six hours, and
that this is in perfect accord with Jewish reckoning which accounted a part of a
year as a whole year and a part of a day as a whole day in the statement of
Every commentary that I have consulted, and I will mention some of
them—Meyer, Godet, Stier, Ellicott, Plumtree, Matthew Henry, Butler, Lange,
Lyman Abbott and others—all of these accept this as the interpretation of
Christ’s words and give the same reason for it in almost identical language,
showing that they have copied one from the other from time immemorial and have
been satisfied with it as the most plausible interpretation of Christ’s words
in keeping with the teaching and practice of the Church for ages.
Alford says: "If it be necessary to make good the three days and three
nights during which our Lord was in the heart of the earth. It must be done by
having recourse to the Jewish method of computing time."
Now against this interpretation I place first of all our Saviour’s
words: "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." I believe that Christ meant what He said: that He was in the
grave three days and three nights, and that His day and night was twenty-four
hours in duration. This means that He was in the grave seventy-two hours.
Secondly: It is impossible to put seventy-two hours, or three days and
three nights into thirty-six hours, or from Friday at
in the afternoon to early on Sunday morning when they saw He arose from the
grave to crowd seventy-two hours. Accepting the current theory Christ was in the
grave whole day and two whole nights, while two whole days and a third night are
not accounted for at all.
Thirdly: That however inaccurate the Jews may have been in their
statements relating to time, counting a part of a year as a whole year and a
part of a day as a whole day, I am not willing to admit that Christ was given to
making loose statements. I have always looked upon Him as the incomparable
teacher, the man who spake as never man spake, our perfect exampler. Neither am
I willing to believe that the Holy Spirit would have allowed Matthew to
misrepresent our Saviour’s teaching when He inspired him to record these words
of the Christ.
If Christ were crucified on Friday then there is a discrepancy between
Mark’s and Luke’s gospels, which is inexplicable. Indeed Mark flatly and
positively contradicts Luke. Let me read Mark 16:1.
"And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother
of James, and Salome had bought sweet spices that they might come and anoint
Him." Notice carefully the language here. "When the Sabbath was past
they bought sweet spices, etc." Now read Luke 23:56.
"And they returned and prepared spices and ointments and rested on
the Sabbath Day according to the Commandment."
Mark says the Sabbath was past when they bought the spices;
Luke says they prepared the spices and ointments and rested on the Sabbath Day,
referring of course to the Sixth Commandment: "Remember the Sabbath Day to
keep it holy."
The one says the Sabbath was gone, the other says it was yet to come.
You can never harmonize these statements of Mark and Luke if you hold to
the common belief that Christ was crucified on Friday.
If, however, you accept our Saviour’s words as true, then there is an
easy, natural and satisfying interpretation. The contradiction fades away and
there is concord and harmony between the two evangelists.
The fact is that Mark refers to one Sabbath and Luke to another. There
were two Sabbaths between the Crucifixion Day and the Resurrection, and a
preparation day in between them, so that the spices were bought after the first
Sabbath and prepared before the second on weekly Sabbath.
In the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus we find that the children of
There were to be days of rest and holy convocations in which the people
were to do no servile work, but offer an offering unto the Lord.
The Passover had its Sabbath and that Sabbath had its preparation day
just the same as the weekly Sabbath. On the preparation day everything was
gotten ready, the lamb was slain, the unleavened bread was baked, the bitter
herbs were made ready. This was the fourteenth day of the month.
Jesus was crucified on the fourteenth day of the month, the fifteenth was
a Sabbath and the first day of the great feast. In proof of this listen to what
John says in the nineteenth chapter of his gospel and the fourteenth verse: "And
it was the preparation of the Passover and about the sixth hour." There is
no mistaking the meaning of these words. Christ was crucified on the preparation
day for the Passover Sabbath, and not on the preparation day for the weekly
Matthew Henry says: "It was the preparation of the Passover, that is,
for the Passover Sabbath, and the solemnities of that and the rest of the days
of the feast of unleavened bread." The day of preparation was peculiar to the
In further proof of this let me read to you from John 19:31: "The
Jews therefore, because it was the preparation day, that the body should not
remain upon the cross on the Sabbath Day (for that day was an high day) besought
Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away."
Notice that this Sabbath was to be a high day,
differentiating it from the weekly Sabbath.
Yes, the Passover was a high day with the Jews. "Every Sabbath is a
holy day and a good day, but this was a high day—‘megale amera’—a great
day." That day which God had commanded them to keep forever in remembrance of
that night when the avenging angel passed over them in
Now let us hear how the foregoing harmonizes with the facts in Christ’s
There is a perfect correspondence of time, dates, circumstances and facts
between the Passover and the Crucifixion. In the Passover you have the outline
of the picture. In the Crucifixion you have the picture completed and filled out
by the Master hand. In the Passover you have the seed of which the Crucifixion
is the full-blown flower. The Crucifixion is the consummation of the if the
Passover, and for that reason we are not merely to look for similarity but
perfect likeness between them. Let us look at the perfect and beautiful
In John’s gospel, twelfth chapter, first to the fifteenth verses, we
have an account of Christ’s return to
Let me read you the first line of the first verse: "Then Jesus, six
days before the Passover, came to
I accept the first part of his statement that Christ did arrive at
God said unto Moses: "Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel,
saying, in the tenth day of this month they shall take unto them very man a
lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house. And ye shall
keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month and the whole assembly of the
This is a picture of which Christ is the true. Having been chosen as the
paschal Lamb, they kept Him four days until the fourteenth day of the month,
just like the paschal lamb of
This, according to Biblical chronology, not Roman or English reckoning,
would be Wednesday, the fourteenth day of the month, which was a preparation day
for the Passover Sabbath. The Passover Sabbath would answer to our Thursday.
Christ was nailed to the cross at
, this being the third hour; at
the darkness of night shrouded the earth, and at
He yielded up His spirit.
Between the hours of 3 and 6, Joseph and Nicodemus went to Pilate and
secured permission to take the body from the cross and give it burial. They took
the body and laid it in Joseph’s tomb just about sunset, which was the
dividing line between the Jewish days.
Christ was put into the grave just as Wednesday was closing and Thursday
So that taking the words of Christ as literally true that He would be in
the heart of the earth three days and three nights, I believe that He was in the
grave seventy-two hours, three days of twenty-four hours each, or all day of
Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and that He did arise as the Scriptures say on
the first day of the week.
But I think I hear some one say: "If your interpretation is correct,
then Christ was in the grave not only three days and three nights, but also a
fourth night, for He arose from the grave on the first day of the week."
It is the popular and almost universal belief that Christ rose from the
grave some time after
on Saturday. Such a belief is not at all in accord with the Scriptures, and yet
it very naturally arises from the way in which we divide our days. Our days end
and begin with
, but the Jewish day ended and began with sunset. Christ did indeed rise on the
first day of the week, but it was at the very beginning of it and not after the
day was several hours old. Christ is our model for punctuality as well as
He arose immediately after the sun had set and not just before the
sunrise of Sunday morning. Now in order to confirm this, I will read Matthew
28:1: "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 sepulcher."
Note the words "at the end of the Sabbath," just
as the Sabbath was over they came to see the sepulcher. In the revised version
it is translated in this way: "but late in the Sabbath Day they came." So
that the moment the sun had set and they could move without breaking the
Sabbatic law, they were on the way to the sepulcher.
But some one is saying: "Yes, but how about the remaining part of the
verse which says as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week?" Your
Greek testament and dictionary will afford a very easy and satisfactory answer.
The word "dawn" is very misleading. We speak of the dawn as the
opening of the day, the light that comes with the rising of the sun. We always
associate the dawn with the sunlight.
But the Greek word here is "Epi-phoske," which means the shining of
the sun or the moon. You will observe that the Passover feast always occurred at
the time of the full moon. Just as the sun was setting, the moon would be
rising. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the sepulcher after the sun
had set and the moon was beginning to shed its silvery sheen over the earth. The
full-orbed splendor of the paschal moon had already introduced the first day of
the week when they arrived and the grave to their astonishment was empty. But
some one says: "What are you going to do with these words of Mark 16:2, ‘And
very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came unto the
sepulcher at the rising of the sun.’"
This verse gives no trouble. I do not hesitate to say that this was
another coming. Otherwise Mark flatly contradicts Matthew and the story is
discordant and inexplicable. Accept this interpretation and you have an easy,
natural, intelligent and satisfactory explanation that unifies and harmonizes
the whole story of the Resurrection.
Moreover, this interpretation furnishes us with a beautiful parable of
the Gentile and Jewish churches. Mary of Magdala went to the sepulcher when the
Jewish Sabbath was past and found the Christ had risen. With great joy she went
and found her companions, and together with the Jewish Marys and others returned
at the rising of the sun only to find an empty tomb.
Mary Magdalene beautifully represents the Gentile church in this age of
gospel light, life and love. She discovered an empty grave and resurrection joy
at the beginning of the first Lord’s day of the Christian era, while the
Jewish Marys representing the Jewish church, came to the sepulcher when the hour
was late and learned the same joyous news. Filled with wonder and delight by
what they had seen and heard the Jewish women hastened away to spread the
glorious intelligence that Christ has arisen.
But Mary Magdalene, lingering about the sacred spot, as honored to be the
first one to gaze upon her risen Lord. The Jews rejected the Christ and He
turned to the Gentiles. The Gentiles accepted Christ early and have spread the
principles of His kingdom very nearly in all parts of the world.
But prophecy declares and the story of the resurrection promises what
history is beginning to confirm, that God’s ancient people will come, even
though it be late, to accept Jesus Christ as their Messiah. When that blessed
day comes there will be no more Jew or Gentile, but we will all be one in Christ
And now, finally, it may be that the views promulgated in this paper are
not all in accord with your views or teachings. If so, all I ask is that you
search the Scriptures to see if these things are so. And if after diligent and
prayerful study, you find the Scriptures testifying of these things, stand by
the Bible, even though you have to throw away the teaching of a lifetime and the
traditions of the ages.
As for myself, this is the only interpretation that will bring all the
Scriptures on this subject into one beautiful unity and harmony. Let me close by
reading a few verses that are made luminous by the foregoing teaching.
John 2:19: "Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple
and in three days I will raise it up."
Matt. 27:62-63: "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."
: "For He taught His disciples and said unto them, the Son of Man is
delivered up into the hands of men and they shall kill Him, and when He is
killed after three days He shall rise again."
(R. V.): "And they shall mock Him and shall spit upon Him, and shall
scourge Him, and shall kill Him: and after three days He shall rise again."
All of these Scriptures, as well as others to be found in
Matthew, Luke, John, Acts and the First Corinthians which allude to the time
element in our Saviour’s death and burial can only be fully understood and
harmonized by accepting Christ’s words as literally true when He says:
"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
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