Jesus died on the 14th of Nisan, the day of preparation for Passover and became our ultimate Passover Lamb, fulfilling Old Testament prophecy and establishing a new kingdom. There is much debate about how this last week lines up with our days of the week as the Jewish calendar and our modern calendar differ. The reason for this ambiguity is that the Jewish calendar numbers days using “the first day,” “the second day,” using the lunar cycle, whereas our modern calendar refers to the days as Sunday, Monday, and so on and uses the solar cycle. The Jewish day also begins in the evening at sunset, instead of our calendar that switches days at midnight. Consequently, some say Jesus died on Wednesday, some Thursday, while others accept the more traditional Friday belief, yet all can pretty much agree that he rose on Sunday, the first day of the week. By ascertaining which day Jesus died, the occurrences of the rest of the days of the week will fall in line, as it all seems to hinge on the day that Jesus was crucified. Several clues we will look at are mentioned by the writers of the gospels that leans towards a Thursday crucifixion.
Jesus’ Arrival and Entry into Jerusalem
According to the gospel of John, Jesus arrived at Bethany six days before the Passover.1 He was traveling to Bethany from a city called Ephraim. Today, the location of Ephraim is unknown, but the tribe of Ephraim’s borders were approximately 10 miles from the city of Jerusalem. To make this walk on the Sabbath would not have been possible, as the furthest distance a Jew could walk on this day was only about 1/2 a mile.2, 3 Only at sunset, after the Sabbath had ended could Jesus make the journey to Bethany, which in A.D. 30 occurred at around 6 pm.4 We are told that that same evening he then ate supper with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The following day was his triumphal entry into Jerusalem upon a donkey.
With this chronology in mind, the days would be counted as follows:
Saturday evening/Sunday: 10th (Came to Jerusalem after the Sabbath/Triumphal entry next morning)
Sunday evening/Monday: 11th
Monday evening/Tuesday: 12th
Tuesday evening/Wednesday: 13th
Wednesday evening/Thursday: 14th (Crucifixion)
Thursday evening/Friday: 15th (Passover)
After the Sabbath had ended, Jesus and his disciples walked to Bethany and ate supper. In Jewish thinking, any part of a day was considered to be a day. If we consider a Wednesday crucifixion, he would be traveling Friday night, during the actual Sabbath. This would have been a violation of Jewish law. A Friday crucifixion, would have allowed for a Monday triumphal entry into Jerusalem. If we use the chronology above for a Thursday crucifixion, counting from Saturday evening, there were six days until Thursday evening, which we are supposing to be Passover.
The Prophecy of Jonah
Early on in Jesus’ ministry, he is speaking to his disciples of his coming death. He states, “for just as Jonas was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”5
Those who hold the Wednesday crucifixion day, begin counting days and nights from Wednesday night. However, their theory falls short as they state Jesus rose Saturday, before sunset. This was NOT the first day of the week. Unfortunately for the theory, the math for this scenario does not compute.
A similar situation occurs for a Friday scenario, except that it is one night short. In order for the Friday theory to be accepted, the idea is that the parallel to Jonah is not literal, but a Hebraism. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah from the first century wrote that, “a day and a night are an Onah and the portion of an Onah is as the whole part of it.”6 It is true that the Jews considered any part of a day to be counted as one day, and this theory does hold merit if viewed in this light.
The Thursday crucifixion scenario does not account for 24 hour days either and also accepts part of a day as being considered a full day. A Thursday crucifixion chronology would be as follows:
Thursday day = 1st day
Thursday night = 1st night
Friday day = 2nd day
Friday night = 2nd night
Saturday day = 3rd day
Saturday night = 3rd night
At this point, we see that Wednesday is not a viable option, leaving either a Thursday or Friday crucifixion possible.
The High Sabbath Day
The term High Sabbath is one which lends itself to dispute as it is only used is John’s gospel and does not appear anywhere else in the Jewish literature of the day. “Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.”7
However, when we look at the gospel of Matthew and Luke the answer becomes clear. These gospel writers reference a double Sabbath that has been lost in translation. Matthew 28:1 states that Mary and Mary Magdalene came back after the Sabbaths to look at the grave where Jesus was laid.
The Greek in this passage can be literally translated as:
After the sabbaths, at the dawning into one of the sabbaths…
The word “sabbaton” here in this passage is plural.8 This also happens in Luke’s gospel at an earlier time in Jesus’ ministry and is often overlooked in its meaning. Luke states, “Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first…” This implies then that there were two Sabbaths in one week. How would this be possible? If we look back at the Old Testament, the first day and the seventh day of the feast, the Jews were to have a holy assembly, with no work at all to be done on them, except what must be eaten by every person.9
As the Old Testament attests to, these were special Sabbath days that were in connection with the feasts and the day they fell on varied with the year. As a side note, in A.D. 30, the Passover and Day of Unleavened Bread did not fall on Saturday, so the theory of Saturday being labeled a High Sabbath because it was a double Sabbath does not hold credence.10
This idea of two Sabbaths in one week is also referenced in Luke. It is translated as, “Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first…”
Adam Clarke’s commentary corrects a mistranslation of this verse:
“The Vulgar Latin renders δευτεροπρωτον [deuteroprōtos, Strong’s G1207], secundoprimum, which is literal and right. We translate it, the second Sabbath after the first, which is directly wrong; for it should have been the first Sabbath after the second day of the Passover On the 14th of Nisan, the Passover was killed; the next day (the 15th) was the first day of the feast of unleavened bread; the day following (the 16th) the wave sheaf was offered, pursuant to the law, on the morrow after the Sabbath: Lev 18:11. sic [Lev 23:11] The Sabbath, here, is not the seventh day of the week, but the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, let it fall on what day of the week it would. That and the seventh day of that feast were holy convocations, and therefore are here called Sabbaths.”11
Luke is stating that whatever day of the week this “first Sabbath” day occurred, it was not necessarily on the weekly Saturday Sabbath day. This day varied within the week according to the Passover feast occurrence that was dependent on the Jewish lunar calendar.
Therefore, we can ascertain that in addition to the weekly Sabbath which happened every Saturday, there was also the Passover Sabbath that happened on the first day of the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread. This Passover Sabbath was the High Sabbath that John refers to.
Continuing with Luke’s gospel, the women (referred to as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary in Matthew’s account) began preparing the spices in the few hours left in the day before sunset on the day he died, but had to come back after the Sabbaths to finish embalming the body. The text states that they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. Matthew’s gospel picks up with the women returning after the Sabbaths, as we saw above, to finish. Early in the morning Sunday, on the first day of the week, is when Jesus rose from the grave. Had the crucifixion occurred on Wednesday, as some believe, the Passover Sabbath would have been on Thursday and the women could have returned on Friday to finish. They wouldn’t have needed to return on Sunday as the texts state, but it is Sunday that we see them returning to complete their work. We see then that the crucifixion would had to have occurred on Thursday, followed by the Friday Passover Sabbath, Saturday weekly Sabbath, and a very early Sunday resurrection when the women came to the tomb, “while it was still dark.”12
Due to the occurrence of two Sabbaths in one week, a Friday crucifixion is no longer a possible scenario as there would have only been one Sabbath occurring the same day as the weekly Sabbath. This leaves Thursday as the only possibility for the crucifixion of Jesus.
The Reign of Tiberius
Connecting the reign of Tiberius with the gospel of Luke gives several reference points for which we can date the first year of Jesus’ ministry. Luke says, “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests,”13 Of these, the reign of Tiberius is one that we can accurately date from history. We are also told that at this same time that he began his ministry, Jesus was “about thirty years of age.”14
We have accounts in the gospel of John of Jesus attending three separate Passover feasts during his ministry, the last being the one where he was crucified.15
It has been well documented that Tiberius succeeded his step-father, Augustus Caesar, in 14 A.D. Augustus Caesar died August 19, 14 A.D. and the Senate convened on September 18th that year to inaugurate Tiberius as emperor. The 15th year of Tiberius’ reign then would be equivalent to late 28 A.D. or the early months of 29 A.D. So how do we reconcile the 15th year of Tiberius with 28 A.D.? If Luke used the Syrian method of calculating, then his reign would have been September-October 27 A.D. to 28 A.D.16
Luke would have been familiar with the Syrian chronology as he was born in Syria, where Tiberius’ first year “would be from August 19, A.D. 14 to Tishri I (September/October) and therefore the fifteenth year would be Tishri I, A.D. 27 to Tishri I, 28.”17 This would have made Tiberius’ first official year only about a month long, since he was only a month from the new year. Counting years in this method accurately describes Tiberius’ reign in Syrian chronology Luke was familiar with. Luke was not aligning his system of counting with the secular standard, but the functional reign of Tiberius.
We also know that Pontius Pilate arrived in Caesarea around the same time, in the fall of 27 A.D.18
Using this system then, Jesus would have attended three Passovers during his time of ministry, the ones in 28 A.D., 29 A.D. and finally 30 A.D. being his last. Tiberius’ and Pilate’s reigns are not the only evidence we have for dating the crucifixion. We also have astronomical evidence.
The Jews followed the lunar cycle, so the 1st of the month was a new moon, and the 14th of the month was always a full moon. With the harmonizing of the reign of Tiberius in the section above, A.D. 30 is the most likely year that the death of Jesus occurred. In the year A.D. 30, the night the full moon occurred on a the 14th of Nisan that year was on a Thursday – specifically April 6th.
So what we have is the harmonization of these evidences that point towards the day of the crucifixion as Thursday, April 6, 30 A.D.
1 John 21:1
2 Acts 1:12
3 Blue Letter Bible, After Three Days and Three Nights, http://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/crux.cfm
4 NOAA Sunrise/Sunset Calculator, http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/grad/solcalc/sunrise.html
5 11 Matthew 12:40
6 Jerusalem Talmud: Shabbath 9:3
7 John 19:31
8 Gascoigne, Mike, The Resurrection of Yeshua and the Festivals of Firstfruits,
Part II – Jewish Literature and the Greek New Testament, http://www.annomundi.com/bible/firstfruits2.htm
9 Exodus 12:16
10 Harmonization of the Passion Week Gospel Accounts, http://star.wind.mystarband.net/bib/passion_week.html
12 John 20:1
13 Luke 3:1-2
14 Luke 3:23
15 John 2:13, John 6:4, John 12:1
16 Agape Bible Study, Dating the Birth of Jesus of Nazareth, http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/documents/dating%20the%20birth%20of%20jesus%20of%20nazareth.htm
17 Wallace, Ron, Bible Fragrances, An Island of Bible Truth In A Sea of Confusion, Tiberius – Year 15, http://www.biblefragrances.com/studies/tiberius.html
18 Doig, Kenneth F., Doig’s Biblical Chronology, Exact Dating of the Exodus and Birth and Crucifixion of Jesus, http://doig.net/NTC12.htm