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The resurrection of Jesus Christ

When did it happen?

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On which days of the week did Jesus' death and resurrection 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 teach).

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 visit at 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 the Gospels:

bulletMatthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:19; Luke 9:22, 13:32, 24:46: "on the third day"
bulletJohn 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:

bulletThe few hours between the death and sundown on Friday would be counted as one day;
bulletSaturday was counted as the second day;
bulletThe 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:

bulletMatthew 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:

bulletMark 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 scenarios.

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.

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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 morning, 30-APR-9 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 spring solstice 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.

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  1. Joe Crews discusses the day of the week when Jesus' died and the interval between death and resurrection at: http://www.amazingfacts.org/items/

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Home page > Christianity > Christian history, etc > Beliefs > Resurrection > here

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Copyright © 1998 to 2003 incl. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Essay last updated: 2003-MAR-30
Written by. B.A. Robinson

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