Question: I understand that you believe that Jesus died on the cross on Thursday, not Good Friday. Why do you say that, and does it matter?
Response: Scripture reveals the answer. Through the writings of Jeremiah, Daniel learned that the Babylonian captivity would last 70 years (Dn 9:2). God had commanded that each seven years the Hebrew slaves should be set free, debtors forgiven, and the land given a one-year sabbath of rest (Ex 21:2; Lv 25:2-4; Dt 15:1,2,12). For 490 years Israel had disobeyed this precept. In judgment, the Jews became slaves of Babylon while their land rested for 70 years of sabbaths.
Daniel confessed this sin, pondering and praying, and was given the revelation that another period of 490 years (70 weeks of years) lay ahead for his people and for Jerusalem (9:24). Then all of Israel’s sins would be purged, all prophecy fulfilled and ended, and the Messiah would reign on David’s throne in Jerusalem. These 70 weeks of years were to be counted “from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem” (v. 25). That crucial date is given to us in Scripture.
Nehemiah tells us: “in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king” (2:1), he received the authorization to rebuild Jerusalem. When the day of the month was not given, the first day was intended. There were several Artaxerxes, but only one, Longimanus, who ruled more than 20 years—from 465-425 BC. Thus we have the key date from which this incredible prophecy was to be calculated: Nisan 1, 445 BC.
At the end of 69 of these “weeks” (7x69 = 483 years) “Messiah the Prince” would be made known to Israel (Dn 9:25) and then “be cut off [slain]” (v. 26). Counting 483 years of 360 days each (the Hebrew and Babylonian calendar), a total of 173,880 days from Nisan 1, 445 bc brings us to Sunday, April 6, ad 32. On that very day, now celebrated as Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey and was hailed as Messiah the Prince! (See also Zec:9:9)
There is, however, an even deeper meaning to the phrase, “In the fulness of time”: April 6, ad 32, on the Hebrew calendar was the tenth of Nisan. On that day, the Passover lamb was taken from the flock and placed under observation for four days to make certain that it was “without blemish.” During the same four days, Christ, whom John the Baptist had hailed as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn:1:29), was likewise on display before Israel. On the fourteenth of Nisan, “the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it [the passover lamb] in the evening [between 3:00 and 6:00 pm]” (Ex 12:6). It was during that precise time period that Jesus died on the cross!
In fact, the rabbis had determined not to arrest Jesus during Passover, “lest there be an uproar of the people” (Mk 14:2). Yet that was when He had to die. Judas was not only Satan’s pawn but God’s. Even the “thirty pieces of silver” for which he so shrewdly bargained fulfilled prophecy (Zec:11:12-13). Peter would declare in his Pentecost sermon, “Him...delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts:2:23). Paul wrote, “Christ our passover [lamb] is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor:5:7).
The fourteenth of Nisan began at sunset Wednesday evening. That night, Jesus and His disciples had the “last supper” in the upper room where they were preparing to eat the Passover the following night. At this meal “before the feast of the passover” (Jn:13:1), Jesus told His disciples, “One of you shall betray me” (Jn:13:21). Earlier He said, significantly, “I tell you before...that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he” (Jn:13:19). The word “he” is in italics and does not appear in the original. Jesus was declaring once again to His disciples that He was Yahweh, the I AM of Israel, who tells beforehand what will happen and makes certain that it comes to pass (Is 46:9-10).
Arrested by the Judas-led troop in the Garden later that night, Christ was taken secretly to the palace of Caiaphas, the high priest. A sham trial with hastily called false witnesses convened sometime after midnight and condemned Christ to death as dawn broke. Pilate, the Roman governor, was notified of the emergency. Hurriedly taken down side streets, the prisoner was received into the citadel at “the third hour” (Mk 15:25), (about 9:00 am), Nisan 14. All over Israel preparations were underway to kill the Passover lamb, which was to be eaten that night.
Pilate let his citizens decide the prisoner’s fate. The bloodthirsty rabble turned against the One who had miraculously healed and fed so many of them. “Crucify him, crucify him” (Lk 23:21). “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Mt 27:25).
Shortly before noon, Jesus, scourged and beaten, was led out of the city to “the place of the skull.” By noon, the One whom Jerusalem, in fulfillment of prophecy, had hailed as its long-awaited Messiah, was hanging naked on the center cross between two thieves. Man had crucified his Creator!
The next three hours of that Thursday afternoon the earth was darkened mysteriously (Mt 27:45) as God “laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:6). Thursday? Not “Good Friday”? Indeed not. Jesus himself had said, “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 [i.e., “Abraham’s bosom”]” (Mt 12:40; Lk 16:22). The gospel includes the declaration that Christ “rose again the third day” (1 Cor:15:4).
Had Christ been crucified on Friday, He couldn’t possibly have spent three days and three nights in the grave by Sunday morning. We are distinctly told that the angel rolled away the stone “as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week” (Mt 28:1). The tomb was already empty, so Christ must have risen from the dead sometime prior to dawn.
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday—does it really matter? Yes! The day of our Lord’s crucifixion is of the utmost importance. If Christ was not three days and three nights in the grave, then He lied. His death, to fulfill prophecy, had to occur at the very time the Passover lambs were being slain throughout Israel. It is an astronomical fact that Nisan 14, AD 32, fell on Thursday.
“And it was the preparation of the passover....The Jews therefore...that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day...besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away” (Jn:19:14,31). Wait! Not a bone of the Passover lamb (Ex 12:46) or of the Messiah (Ps:34:20) could be broken. Not knowing why he did it, “one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side” (Jn:19:34), fulfilling yet another scripture: “they shall look upon me whom they pierced” (Zec:12:10).
John explains that the “Sabbath,” which began at sunset the Thursday Christ was crucified, “was an high day.” It was, in fact, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, of which the first and last days were special sabbaths. It ended Friday at sunset, immediately followed by the weekly sabbath that ended at sunset on Saturday. Thus two sabbaths followed Christ’s death, preventing the women from coming to the grave until the third day, Sunday morning.
The rabbis thought that having Jesus crucified proved He wasn’t the Messiah. In fact, it was one more proof that He was! The soldiers took His clothes for a souvenir and gambled for His robe (Ps:22:18; 69:21); He was given vinegar mixed with gall to drink, nails were driven into His hands and feet, and a spear pierced His side, drawing forth the blood of our redemption—all in fulfillment of prophecy! [Adapted from “The Cradle and the Cross,” Dave Hunt, 1992]