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The Crucifixion: Wednesday, Thursday or Friday? Or is it Ambiguous?


Most of the mainstream Christian world believes the Crucifixion of Jesus took place on a Friday, which is why the Friday before Easter is called “Good Friday.”

From my observation, it appears that most of the Messianic/Hebrew Roots world believes the Crucifixion took place on a Wednesday.

Mainstream Christians argue for a Friday Crucifixion by pointing out that the Jews wanted the bodies of Jesus and the two thieves removed from the crosses before the Sabbath started. The Jewish weekly Sabbath started on Friday at sunset. Therefore, the Christians say, the Crucifixion obviously took place on a Friday.

But Messianics point out that John 19:31 says “that sabbath was a high day,” meaning it was not the regular weekly Friday-sunset-to-Saturday-sunset Sabbath; rather, it was “a high day,” an annual sabbath, Nisan 15, the first day of Unleavened Bread, a sabbath which could start on a Friday evening, but also on any other day of the week.

Furthermore, the Messianics say, Yeshua said that the only sign that would be given to His generation to authenticate that He was the Messiah would be the sign of the prophet Jonah:

“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” (Matt. 12:40).

If Yeshua’s body was placed in the tomb on a Friday, late in the afternoon, and the empty tomb was discovered early Sunday morning “at the rising of the sun” (Mark 16:2), “when it was yet dark” (John 20:1), then there is absolutely no way to fit three days and three nights into that period of time between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning. Even if you count part of a day as “one day” and part of a night as “one night,” you cannot have Yeshua in the tomb for three days and three nights. The only “nights” between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning are Friday night and Saturday night – only two nights, not three.

For these reasons, most Messianics believe that the Crucifixion took place on a Wednesday and the Resurrection took place on Saturday evening, probably just as the sun was setting. This accounts for three literal nights in the tomb (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday) and three literal days in the tomb (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), with the Resurrection occurring 72 hours after the burial.

Some Messianics lean more toward a Thursday Crucifixion, counting the three days in the tomb as Thursday (by counting the final part of Thursday as “one day”), Friday, and Saturday, and counting the three nights as Thursday night, Friday night, and Saturday night.

I first became aware of the conflict between the notion of “Good Friday” and the Lord’s statement that He would be “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” by reading the Bible when I was a young Christian, even before I became Messianic. As I became more aware of the Feasts and the Biblical calendar, I came to the conclusion on my own that the Crucifixion must have taken place on a Wednesday, and that John’s mention of “a high day” must have been referring to the annual sabbath of Unleavened Bread, not the weekly Sabbath. I saw no other way for Jesus to be in the tomb for “three days and three nights.”

For over forty years I believed a Wednesday Crucifixion was the most likely explanation, but now I am not so sure. I still believe a Wednesday Crucifixion is very possible, but I am no longer absolutely convinced. I believe it is indeed possible to have a Friday Crucifixion and still have Yeshua “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

Before I explain, let me state a few disclaimers. First of all, it does not matter to me which day of the week the Crucifixion took place, and it does not matter to me which day others think it happened. The important thing is that it happened. The Lord paid the penalty for our sins and rose from the dead so we can have forgiveness and eternal life. Arguing in a mean-spirited way about the details of these historic events can cause us to lose sight of the importance of the events themselves. Yeshua died and rose from the dead so we can have forgiveness and eternal life, not so we can argue about which day of the week it happened.

“But Daniel, aren’t you getting ready to argue for a Friday Crucifixion here? Isn’t that sort of hypocritical in light of what you just said?”

First of all, I am not going to argue “for” a Friday Crucifixion. I only intend to set forth the reasons I see for the possibility of a Friday Crucifixion. I am by no means convinced of a Friday Crucifixion; I am only convinced it is possible.

Furthermore, the reason I want to present this as a possibility is not to persuade people it is true, but to demonstrate that the question of “which day of the week,” like many other Bible questions, cannot be proven with 100% absolute certainty. Many things in the Bible are unambiguous certainties, but some things are ambiguous and uncertain, and therefore debatable.

One important reason to accept ambiguity and uncertainty is because it keeps us humble. It reminds us that there are many things we do not know. A second important reason to accept ambiguity and uncertainty is because it helps us accept and love other believers who come to conclusions that are different from our conclusions.

Personally, I believe the Lord deliberately left some things in the Bible ambiguous just to give us the opportunity to get along with people who come to different conclusions about non-essential matters. Yes, some things are essential, but some things are not essential. As the saying goes, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Whether the Crucifixion took place on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday is non-essential.

“But Daniel, you said that the one and only sign to authenticate His Messiahship would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth! Without that, His Messiahship is not authenticated!”

Some Messianic people get so bent out of shape over this that they practically accuse you of denying Yeshua as the Messiah if you believe in a Friday Crucifixion. I recently heard a well-known Messianic teacher ridiculing mainstream Christians by saying, “They can’t even count to three!”

This teacher then added, “Yeshua said He would be in the grave three days and three nights!”

But that is not what Yeshua said. Look at it again. He said He would be “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Nothing against this Messianic teacher, but he was misquoting the Master because he assumes, as I did for forty-plus years, that “the heart of the earth” means the grave.

“But Daniel, wasn’t Yeshua referring to the grave when He said ‘the heart of the earth’?”

Maybe. And if that is indeed what He meant, then the notion of a Friday Crucifixion is not sustainable. However, I believe it is very possible that Yeshua meant something other than the grave when He said “the heart of the earth.”

Yeshua used figurative language quite frequently. If you doubt this, read chapter 10 in my book Hermeneutics. Or just read through John’s Gospel and see how often Yeshua spoke figuratively rather than literally, and pay special attention to John 16:25, where He said, “These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs.” The NASB says “in figurative language.” The NIV says “I have been speaking figuratively.”

I believe the “three days and three nights” are literal, but I believe it is possible that “the heart of the earth” might be figurative language for something other than the grave. Regardless of what it means, it is definitely figurative language, because the earth does not have a literal “heart.” Therefore “the heart of the earth” is a figurative phrase. It is presumptuous to dogmatically insist that this figurative phrase means “the grave” if we do not have some proof that “the heart of the earth” means the grave and nothing but the grave.

The thing that got me to thinking along these lines was remembering that the rabbis have long referred to Jerusalem as “the navel of the earth.” This is obviously a figurative phrase, because the earth does not have a literal “navel.” This got me to wondering if “the heart of the earth,” like “the navel of the earth,” might be some sort of reference to Jerusalem – or, more specifically, a reference to the corrupt religious-political alliance between the Jews and the Romans in the court system in Jerusalem at the time of Yeshua.

In English we use the phrase “in the belly of the beast” when we speak of someone in the headquarters or control center of the enemy. If “the heart of the earth” has a meaning similar to “the belly of the beast,” then Yeshua’s three days and three nights in the “heart of the earth” could have started not at His burial but at His betrayal. On the night when Judas received his betrayal payment, this act officially sealed the deal and effectively placed Yeshua in the belly of the beast, in the beastly world system that consisted of corrupt, anti-God religious leaders and evil, anti-God political leaders conspiring together against the LORD and against His Anointed, in fulfillment of Psalm chapter two.

If the “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” started at Yeshua’s betrayal rather than at His burial, then you end up with a Friday Crucifixion, as follows:

On Wednesday evening you have Yeshua at the supper in Bethany, where He is anointed with precious ointment by Mary. Judas asks, “Why this waste?” Yeshua rebukes Judas for this remark, and then Judas goes to the chief priests and agrees to betray Yeshua. The payment is made that night, sealing the deal and effectively putting Yeshua in the belly of the beast, just as Jonah was put in the belly of the whale. (See Mark 26:15f.)

The “next day” (John 12:12), Thursday, is the Triumphal Entry. Yeshua spends that day at the Temple teaching. Thursday evening is the Last Supper, followed by Yeshua’s arrest that same night. The trial takes place late Thursday night and early Friday morning, and the Crucifixion takes place Friday. Then sometime Saturday night, the Resurrection occurs and the empty tomb is discovered early Sunday morning while it is yet dark.

The above scenario, if accurate, would account for “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth,” if “the heart of the earth” indeed refers to the corrupt religious-political alliance in Jerusalem, the “belly of the beast.” This scenario would also harmonize with the statements in the Bible that Yeshua rose “on the third day” (Luke 24:21; 1 Cor. 15:4), whereas one can argue that a Wednesday Crucifixion places the Resurrection on the fourth day rather than on the third day. It also harmonizes with the resurrection pattern in Hosea 6:2, which says, “After two days He will revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight.”

Let me repeat: I am not arguing “for” a Friday Crucifixion. I am only arguing for the possibility of a Friday Crucifixion. And I am arguing for this possibility only to demonstrate that some things in the Bible are ambiguous and uncertain and debatable, and when that is the case, we should extend liberty and charity to brothers and sisters who come to different conclusions on non-essential matters.

So don’t tell people, “Hey, Daniel Botkin now preaches a Good Friday Crucifixion! Next thing we know, he will be using Easter eggs and bunny rabbits to celebrate the Resurrection!”

If someone asks, tell them that Daniel Botkin is undecided and that it is unimportant to him which day it happened, because he does not want to lose sight of the real meaning and real importance of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

As stated earlier, I really do not care which day of the week the Crucifixion took place, and I do not care what others believe about it. So please do not send me articles, books, DVDs, or emails to “straighten me out.” I’m convinced that the question of “which day” is debatable and ambiguous. If it was important for us to know with absolute certainty, the Bible would reveal it with absolute certainty. If you think you know with absolute certainty which day it was, I’ll give you the liberty to be dogmatic, but I expect you to give me the liberty to be undecided. Peace and love!


| DB

 

Image: Psalm 22 by Daniel Botkin in his Psurrealistic Psalms Pseries. Visit DanielBotkin.com to see all of Daniel’s art work.

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