72 Hours of History

Dear Reader, we’ve been “sold a bill of goods” which we’ve “swallowed hook, line, and sinker.” Those are antiquated terms, but it’s true: we’ve been hoodwinked, bamboozled, and flim-flammed—the victims of a seemingly innocent, but serious, falsehood foisted upon hundreds of millions of believers in Jesus for almost 1,700 years!

What in the world am I talking about? How could so many followers of Jesus have been fooled for so many centuries? Believe me, it’s a l-o-n-n-g story, only a little of which I’ll address in this teaching. Personally, I myself was fooled for about the first two-thirds of my new life as a born again follower of Jesus before my eyes were opened to see how wrong I had been.

Bad Wednesday, Not Good Friday

Here’s what we’ve been fooled about—in plain English: we’ve been fooled into believing that Jesus died on a so-called “good” Friday and was brought back to life the following Sunday morning. Okay, if we’ve been fooled into believing that, what is the truth of the matter? I’m glad you asked . . . The truth is Jesus died at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon of so-called “Holy Week” and was raised from the dead by the power of God’s Spirit the following Saturday at 3 p.m., exactly 3 days and 3 nights (72 hours) later.

 Why is it important we know the truth of the matter? You will recall that Jesus said we would know the truth and knowing the truth would set us free (John 8: 32). He was not talking about mere intellectual truth. You see, all truth is embodified and personified in Jesus himself. He is the Truth. The more we come to know true truth (which is really coming to know Jesus more and more), the more we are set free from untruth and falsehood. Truth alone doesn’t set us free; it’s knowing the truth (knowing Jesus personally—having a personal relationship with Him) that sets us free.

God wants humans to be free because of their relationship with Jesus—free in all areas of our lives. Knowing the truth about Jesus’ death and resurrection helps to free us more and more to grow in our faith, to love Him more, to become more and more “alive” in Jesus. It also helps us to sort out the events of the last few days of Jesus’ life during the so-called “Holy Week,” celebrated by millions of followers of Jesus around the world and down through the centuries. Finally, it helps us to realize that the Bible can be trusted when it teaches about historical events.

Many, many Jesus-believers have been discouraged and have questioned what they thought were the Bible’s teachings about the events between “good” Friday and Easter morning due to very weak and fabricated, traditional explanations of those events.

Basically, it boils down to this: we need to walk (live) in truth and honesty; to the degree that we do, to that degree we have freedom in Jesus. (3 John 3: 3 and 4) For an interesting examination of the entire subject of “Truth,” I invite you to study our companion teaching on this website titled “Truth.”

Background Teaching

 Okay, let’s look at some background material before we examine in detail the matter of when Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred.

         First, let’s examine Matthew 12: 38 – 40. Some of the religious leaders of his day came to Jesus and asked Him to give them a “sign.” Jesus gave them a curious response. He said that no sign will be given them except the sign of the Prophet Jonah who spent 3 days and 3 nights (72 hours) inside a great fish. Jesus said that just as Jonah spent those 3 days and 3 nights in the fish, even so Jesus would spend 3 days and 3 nights (72 hours) in the heart of the earth [grave] when He was buried after his cruel death.

 The question that comes immediately to my mind is, “In Jesus’ times how long did they consider a day and a night to be?” Well, Jesus answered that question for us. In John 11: 9, Jesus said a day has 12 hours. We can safely assume, can’t we, that, conversely, a night would also be 12 hours in length? 12 hours of day + 12 hours of night = 24 hours in a full day.

 Thus, in Jesus’ times (just like today) 3, 12-hour days and 3, 12-hour nights would equal 72 hours (3, 12-hour days = 36 hours, 3, 12-hour nights = 36 hours; 36 + 36 = a total of 72 hours).

 Dear reader, there’s no way you can conceivably “squeeze” or compress 72 hours into a space from “good” Friday afternoon to Sunday morning! It just can’t be done . . . Up until about the year 300 A.D., most Jesus believers understood that Jesus died on a Wednesday and was resurrected 72 hours later on Saturday.

Pagan And “Worldly” Teachings

 It was only when pagan and “worldly” thinking began to enter the thought-life of the Church as a whole in approximately 300 A.D., that church leaders began to teach Jesus was killed on “Good Friday” and resurrected early the following Sunday morning—without any proof. Why did that teaching begin to prevail in the Church at that time? It was just an arbitrary decision to change the actual historical events. But . . . that’s a whole other story, not really within the scope of this teaching. Maybe, we’ll cover that matter another time.

 Suffice it to say, there’s just no way you can squeeze 72 hours into a span of time from Friday afternoon to early, full daylight the following Sunday morning; it just can’t be done by any stretch of the imagination or by any “twisting” of the Bible’s clear teaching. 1 Peter 3: 16 speaks of untaught and unstable people who twist the Bible’s teachings to their own undoing.

Okay, now let’s begin to examine what the Bible teaches about Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection from death. To do so, we’re going to examine in detail the last few chapters of each of the 4 Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But before we do that we have to go back quite a few centuries and examine the roots of some teaching about the Passover found in the Old Testament.

Annual Passover Celebration

We have to examine the historical roots of The Passover celebration that was occurring in Jerusalem when Jesus died and was resurrected from the dead. When Jesus died and was raised from the dead three days later, there were millions of Jewish pilgrims in the city of Jerusalem to celebrate their ancient festival called The Passover. What is the Passover?

I hope you will recall some of the Old Testament’s history and teachings. The Israelites, God’s people, had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God was getting ready to use Moses to lead them out of their slavery to the Egyptians. On the night before they were to leave Egypt, God told all the Israelites to kill a lamb, cook it and eat it, place some of its blood over the doorposts of their homes, and get ready to leave Egypt early the next morning. When the “angel of death” came through the land of Egypt that night, he would not kill anyone upon whose doorposts the blood of the Lamb had been smeared. The death angel would “pass over” those particular homes. Hence, the term Passover.

 Later, God told Moses that He wanted the Israelites to celebrate the Passover as an annual festival throughout all their generations—which they have done. The Israelites (Jews) have faithfully celebrated the annual Passover festival for thousands of years, right up to this very day. In Jesus’ times, they celebrated the annual Passover in the city of Jerusalem. For example, the Bible mentions on one occasion that Jesus went with his mother and step-father to celebrate the Passover when Jesus was 12 years old. Years later, Jesus was killed and raised from the dead during the annual Passover celebration. Jesus was very familiar with Passover and its historical roots.

You can read (which I hope you will do!) all about the first Passover in Exodus 1: 1 – 51. You can also read additional Old Testament instructions about Passover in chapters 12 and 34 of Exodus; in the 9th, 28th, and 33rd chapters of Numbers; in Deuteronomy 16; and in Leviticus 23. In the New Testament, we read about the Passover celebration in Jesus’ times in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 11 – 19.

The one-day Passover event itself was followed immediately by a week-long celebration called “The Feast of Unleavened Bread.” The Jews were celebrating this week-long event when Jesus was killed and later raised from the dead. Generally, the first and the last days of the 7-day celebration were observed as special holy days, or “Annual Sabbath” days. The actual days of celebration and festivities were the days in between the 1st and 7th days known as “High Holy Days” or the “Annual Sabbath Days.”

So . . . during Jesus’ last few days of life, there were first a few days of preparation for the Passover feast—during which they chose a sacrificial lamb, then there was the Passover Meal itself in the evening, then the next day was a day of preparation for the High Holy Day or Annual Sabbath Day initiating the 7-day “Feast of Unleavened Bread,” ending 7 days later with another High Holy Day or “Annual Sabbath Day.” Usually, a regular Saturday Sabbath Day came toward the end of the Festival. It was predetermined each year by Jewish historians and scholars that the Annual Sabbath Day could fall on any day of the year except on a regular Saturday Sabbath Day.

The dates to begin the Passover Feast and Festival of Unleavened Bread were pre-determined each year by the phases of the moon in the spring of the years, usually (but not always) some time in April each year. You can go to any Jewish calendar (or to Wikipedia on the internet) and see the dates for each year for the past 3,500 years and for the future years of celebration.

Two Key Factors

I’m not “feeding you a line,” so to speak. You can look any of this material up for yourself, talk to a Jewish Rabbi, look it up on the internet. It’s all there in plain view. There are two key facts we must consider as we continue to examine this matter.

The first key fact is to understand that during Jesus’ last days of life, there were two Sabbaths that week: the regular Saturday Sabbath and the High Holy Day Annual Sabbath. If you understand that simple fact, you will readily grasp the remainder of this teaching.

The second key we must realize is that the High Holy Day or Annual Sabbath the last week of Jesus’ life on earth was on a Thursday that week. We know that fact from astronomy determining the phases of the moon that year and from the Jewish calendar.

Schedule Of Events

Here are the order of events during Jesus’ last days of life:

  • Sunday: “Palm Sunday,” Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
  • Monday and Tuesday: days of preparation for Passover, including selection of the sacrificial lamb to be eaten during the Passover meal.
  • Tuesday evening: Annual Passover Day. Jesus ate the Passover Meal that evening with his 12 disciples. (It is possible there were others of his followers there too.)
  • Wednesday: Jesus was crucified at 9 a.m. and died at 3 p.m. Preparation day for the High Holy Day or Annual Sabbath Day (not the regular Saturday Sabbath).
  • Thursday: The High Holy Day Annual Sabbath, the first day of the celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, commencing with the Annual Sabbath or High Holy Day.
  • Friday: Day of preparation for the regular weekly Sabbath.
  • Saturday: Regular weekly Sabbath day of rest. Jesus was raised from the dead at 3 p.m, exactly 72 hours after He died.
  • Sunday: First day of the week. 

The following Tuesday: Final High Holy Day or Annual Sabbath Day, that concluded the annual Festival. (sometimes the Festival lasted 8 days instead of 7. There is some question about that particular matter, but it is not germaine to this teaching whether or not it lasted 7 or 8 days).

        There you have the order of events during Jesus’ last few days of life.

Now let’s examine the New Testament Scriptures to validate the order of events noted above. Let’s begin with Matthew’s account and bring in the accounts of Mark, Luke, and John as appropriate. Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12 give the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Almost all biblical scholars, both Jewish and Christian, agree this took place on Sunday—Palm Sunday. You need to look up and study all the references I cite in this teaching. Don’t take my word for any of this; check me out; look things up for yourself.

On Monday, Jesus cleansed the Temple, driving out all the money changers and the commerce being conducted in the Temple. This is also found in Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12. Again, most biblical scholars agree to these events on Monday.

Beginning with the events of Tuesday, scholars now begin to disagree—primarily because of the traditional view of trying to squeeze 72 hours into a span of time between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning, and because some of them do not understand there were two Sabbaths that year, the High Holy Day Annual Sabbath on Thursday and the regular Saturday Sabbath.

We believe the events recorded in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 13 are about Tuesday, not about Thursday, because Thursday that year was the Annual Sabbath Day.

We realize this is controversial, and we are willing to be found wrong if sufficient evidence is presented to us. Meanwhile, we will proceed with outlining the events we feel happened on Tuesday. That day, the disciples prepared for the Passover meal which they then ate with Jesus that evening. Also, that evening we read of Jesus’ amazing last speech to his disciples and his powerful intercessory prayer for all his followers (John 14 – 17).

“Bad” Wednesday

This takes us into Wednesday, the day of preparation for the High Holy Day, the Annual Sabbath on Thursday. Wednesday is a long, brutal, tortuous, and deadly day for Jesus, beginning with his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane in the early morning hours, his trials throughout the early to mid- morning hours, his being nailed to the cross at 9 a.m., and his death that afternoon at 3 p.m. Let’s take a look now at John 19:30 and 31, a key reference in this matter. Jesus has been suffering on the cross for 6 hours since 9 a.m. He says He is thirsty. One of the Roman soldiers offers Him some sour wine soaked on a rag at the end of a long stick. When He received the sour wine, He exclaimed, “It is finished!” And He bowed his head, released his spirit to return to God, and died at 3 p.m.

Verse 31 says “since it was the Day of Preparation for the Annual Sabbath, the Jews requested Pilate to have Jesus’ legs broken and the bodies [of the three men on the crosses] taken away.” Yes, Wednesday, the day Jesus died (not Friday!) was the Day of Preparation for the Annual Sabbath Day on Thursday, which was also the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After his death at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Jesus was hastily buried, and his tomb sealed with a huge rock rolled in front of the tomb’s entrance, because by Jewish custom his burial had to take place before the Annual Sabbath Day began that evening at 6 p.m. By custom, burials could not take place on a Sabbath day.

Before the tomb was sealed, however, Nicodemus and some other followers of Jesus did have just enough time to hastily wrap Jesus’ body with some scented linen cloth and to anoint it with a mixture of approximately one hundred pounds of myrrh and aloe. Myrrh was a scented, gum-like substance and aloe was the juice from the aloe vera plant. After 3 days that mixture of myrrh, aloe, and the scented linen cloth became a very hardened, cocoon-like substance. You can read about that in John 19.

On Thursday all the Jews rested on the High Holy Day, the Annual Sabbath, commencing their celebration of the Festival of Unleavened Bread.

On Friday the Jewish people engaged in their usual preparation to celebrate and rest on the following day, the Saturday Sabbath.

After the regular Saturday Sabbath, some of Jesus’ female followers went to the tomb early Sunday morning to see if they could roll away the stone in front of the tomb and anoint Jesus body with some spices for burial—a typical burial custom which they hadn’t had opportunity to do late Wednesday afternoon because Jesus’ body had been hastily placed in the tomb.

By the time the women arrived at the tomb early Sunday morning, Jesus had already been raised from death by the power of the Spirit of God. When had He been raised? At exactly 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon—exactly 72 hours after his death at 3 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, exactly 3 days and 3 nights later as Jesus had predicted!

Okay, let’s look at just a few of these momentous events—just to get a feel why some of these dates and times are important.

Why The Dates And Times Are Important

First, why the events of Monday and Tuesday when Jesus’ disciples prepared for the Passover and had to find a “clean” (perfect) sacrificial lamb to be eaten? Because it was important that all the Old Testament Scriptures be fulfilled in the life, death, and burial of Jesus. For example, the disciples sought a sacrificial lamb. God sought—and found—his Sacrificial Lamb before the very creation of the universe—the Lamb which would be killed to take away the sin of the world–of all humanity! (John 1: 29). Also, please read the awesome paean of praise to the Lamb of God in Revelation 5!

Why was it important that Jesus be resurrected on a Sabbath Day? The Jews had made an “idol” of the Sabbath day, elevating “keeping the Sabbath” above their personal worship of God. Earlier, Jesus had claimed He was God over the Sabbath (Matthew 12: 8). His resurrection on the Sabbath day forever validated his claim to be God over the Sabbath, forever putting the Sabbath “in its place,” so to speak. Unfortunately, there are still many people who still elevate keeping the Sabbath (or Sunday) above their personal relationship with God through Jesus. That borders on idolatry about which God has some very harsh things to say.

Why the Passover Supper with the disciples on Tuesday evening? It was necessary for Jesus to fulfill all the Old Testament teaching, symbolism, and foreshadowing about the Passover—right down to the tiniest detail. It had to be conducted on the exact evening predicted in the Old Testament. In some mysterious way that only God can fathom, Jesus actually became our Passover for us. (1 Corinthians 5: 7). In some inexplicable way, the Passover changed from an event to a Person, Jesus!

Additionally, it was important that the Passover events that year took place before the High Holy Day Annual Sabbath so that the “New Covenant” in Jesus’ blood would take precedence over the Old Covenant which began to pass away that night before the High Holy Day began. From that very moment when Jesus proclaimed Tuesday evening “This is the New Covenant in my blood,” all the events of the Old Covenant—including keeping the so-called Ten Commandments, Sabbath-keeping, animal sacrifices, and other rituals and traditions—ended forever!

Jesus needed to make the disciples understand from that very instant in time all things would begin to be made new! From that moment on, He became the true Passover and ushered in a New Covenant.

Those, then, are just a few of the reasons why God orchestrated the awesome events of the last few days in the life of Jesus. Many more reasons could be cited, but they are beyond the scope of this teaching.

I hope you can now read afresh and anew the so-called “Holy Week” passages in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with increased clarity, understanding, illumination, and enlightenment. May God bless you richly as you read, study, and “inwardly digest” them!

When all is said and done—regardless of the actual days and hours the events occurred—the very core and essence of the “Holy Week” events is that Jesus did die to take away the sin of all humankind, and He was raised from the dead by the power of God to fully justify all humanity. The very heart of the Gospel (the Good News!) about Jesus is that He died and that He rose from the dead! (See 1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 8). If this teaching has helped you understand those two basic events just a little better, then we have succeeded in what we set out to do.

Bill Boylan
Life Enrichment Services, Inc.
Revised and Updated December 2022

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