The resurrection of Jesus Christ
When did it happen?
The Gospel of Mark and Luke are ambiguous about the day of the week when Jesus died.
They referred to it being a preparation day. This could be the day before the weekly
Sabbath i.e. Friday. Or it could be the day before a high or
yearly Sabbath. The latter can occur on any day of the week. The Gospel of John also
mentions that Jesus died on a preparation day. But various versions of the Bible translate
John 19:31 in different ways; some can be interpreted as pointing to a weekly
Sabbath; others to a ceremonial Sabbath; others to a ceremonial Sabbath that happened also
to be a weekly Sabbath. So, a case could be made for Jesus' death having happened on any
day of the week.
One custom from the 1st century CE might shed some light on the probable day. This was a
pre-scientific era when medical knowledge was quite primitive. Many people who were
unconscious or in a coma were assumed to be dead. So their family would check on the
corpse a few days later, to confirm that the loved one was indeed dead. A Sunday morning
visitation would be consistent with a death on Wednesday afternoon (as some Biblical
scholars believe) or a Thursday afternoon or a Friday afternoon (as most Christian faith groups
Although essentially all Christian faith groups believe that Jesus was resurrected on
Sunday morning, the Gospels are somewhat vague when identifying the day of the week and
the time. His resurrection occurred sometime before the woman/women visited the
tomb on Sunday morning. The writer of the Gospel of John says that Mary Magdelene visited
the tomb before sunrise on Sunday; the authors of Mark and Matthew say that the
about dawn; Luke is vague. So the resurrection could have happened on Sunday morning, in
the daytime just after sunrise. Alternatively, it could have happened during the night before Sunday
sunrise, or even on Saturday. Mark 16:9 states specifically that Jesus rose early on
Sunday morning; however verses 9 to 20 are generally regarded as a
later forgery, added onto Marks' writing at a later date.
The interval between death and resurrection is given as three days in many places in
||Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:19; Luke 9:22, 13:32, 24:46: "on the third
||John 2:19 "in three days"
These passages would be consistent with a Friday afternoon death and Sunday morning
resurrection, because of the Jewish "inclusive" method of reckoning time. During the
first century CE, they counted a part of a day as if it were a complete 24 hour day. Also
a day started at sundown, and continued through the nighttime, ended at sundown on the
next day. So:
||The few hours between the death and sundown on Friday would be counted as one
||Saturday was counted as the second day;
||The part day between Saturday sundown and the
time of the resurrection would be counted as the third day.
In modern times, we tend to
think of three days as exactly 72 hours. We would describe the interval from Friday
afternoon to Sunday morning as one and a half days. In early Christian times, three days
could be anywhere from a little over 24 hours to as many as 72 hours. This is illustrated
by Luke 13:32: "...I will drive out demons and heal people today and
tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal." By Jesus' reckoning, this
would be three days; by our computation it is one full day (tomorrow) and two part days
(today and the day after tomorrow). 11
But the Gospel passages cited above are in conflict with:
||Matthew 12:40 in which Jesus said that he would be "three days and three
nights in the heart of the earth" (KJV).
Knowing that Jesus died in the hours before a sunset, one possible explanation is that
he died on Thursday afternoon, was dead for part of that afternoon (one day), all day
Friday and Saturday (two nights and two days) and was resurrected sometime between sundown
on Saturday and sunrise on Sunday (one night). That would total 3 days and three nights,
and would allow for the empty tomb being discovered some hours later, before or near
sunrise on Sunday.
Another explanation is that the woman/women visited the tomb just before sundown on the
Sabbath. Matthew 28:1 could be interpreted that way. 72 hours prior to that time would be
Wednesday afternoon. This suggestion has been put forward by some Biblical scholars, but
suffers from a major weakness: If Jesus died on Wednesday afternoon and was resurrected
before Saturday sundown, then he would have been dead for 2 full days and 2 part days -
considered 4 full days, not three, by the writers of the gospels.
A final gospel verse which might shed light on the days of the week when Jesus died and
was resurrected is:
||Mark 8:31: "...and after three days rise again."
This would seem to imply that the resurrection would occur after three days had
passed. 4,5, or 6 days between death and resurrection would generate a multitude of
Depending on which passage(s) that one accepts as authoritative, a variety of possible
days of the week can be selected for Jesus' death and resurrection. If one ignores Mark
8:31 and Matthew 12:40, then the remaining verses are consistent with a Friday afternoon
crucifixion and a Sunday morning resurrection. And this alternative is what most Christian
faith groups take.
During what year did Jesus' execution happen?
One common guess for the year of Jesus' death is 30 CE. That would mean his crucifixion
happened on the afternoon of Friday, 30-APR-7 CE and his resurrection on Sunday
CE. Some theologians believe that a likely date was 33-APR-3 CE.
The day of Jesus' death is not a critical factor. Christians do not attempt to observe the precise anniversary of Jesus' resurrection.
The timing of Easter Sunday is based on the
and phases of the moon, echoing back to earlier Pagan sun and moon worship. The name
"Easter" itself comes from the ancient Pagan Saxon Goddess of the springtime: Eostre.
Joe Crews discusses the day of the week when Jesus' died and the interval
between death and resurrection at:
Copyright © 1998 to 2003 incl. by Ontario Consultants on
Essay last updated: 2003-MAR-30
Written by. B.A. Robinson