On what day did Jesus die?

First, I encourage you to read Matthew’s account in the Gospel of Matthew. It will be helpful to read since it’s the longest (Matt. 27:24-62).

In Matthew’s account we see that Jesus dies (v. 45-56) and then Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for permission to bury Jesus’ body (Matt. 27:57-61). Joseph did this on the Preparation Day, that is, on Friday, the day before Saturday which is the Sabbath.[1] It was very important that Jesus’ body not stay on the cross on the Sabbath because then the land would be defiled (Jn. 19:31).[2] So, Jesus died on Friday because He was taken off the cross before the Sabbath.

The next day, that is on Saturday,[3] “the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while He was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise’” (v. 62). And then they asked for guards and so Pilate granted their request and gave them guards.

So, when we look at the evidence, it seems clear that Friday is the day that Jesus was crucified and died on. The Bible says that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day (e.g. Hosea 6:2; Lk. 18:33; 24:7, 46; Matt. 27:63; Jn. 2:19; 1 Cor. 15:4). “The third day” does not, however, have to refer to three full (literal twenty-four hour) days. They certainly had a different way of thinking about time and days then we do. 

If we counted days like we count objects, then it wouldn’t be a problem. It would make sense to us. We count the first object. We don’t automatically skip to the second object. Perhaps people in that day counted Friday as the first day. If so, it would make sense that Jesus died on a Friday and rose from the dead on a Sunday. There are, however, other plausible explanations. For example, I appreciate this post that looks at the same question.[4] 

Jesus died around 3pm on Friday, that is, day one. And Saturday started at sundown according to the way that time was calculated in that day, that is, day two. And Sunday started at sundown, that is, day three. So, Jesus died on Friday and rose three days later (Friday was day one of the three that were counted) on Sunday. And so, it seems clear that Friday is the day that Jesus died. That’s why people refer to Good Friday.

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[1] Mark also says that Joseph buried Jesus on Preparation Day (Mk. 15:42). And Luke and John confirm this too. “…It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin” (Lk. 23:54). “It was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there” (Jn 19:42).

[2] “According to Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (cf. Josh. 8:29), to leave the dead body of an executed man hanging on a tree overnight desecrated the land. ‘The Jews’ wanted to have to have the bodies of Jesus and those crucified with him removed before sunset, which would usher in the Sabbath. Breaking the leg of those crucified hastened death by preventing the victims supporting themselves with their legs; the arms along cannot take the weight for long and the victims soon die of asphyxiation. The irony was that ‘the Jews’, rightly seeking to ensure no desecration of the land, were at the same time desecrating themselves by pursuing to death an innocent man, their true Messiah” (Colin G. Kruse, John, 365).

[3] It is important to understand here that days weren’t calculated the same way that we calculate them. A new day started at sundown and so when the chief priests and Pharisees spoke with Pilate it was likely would be for us Friday night.

[4] He looks at Matthew 12:40 that says, “just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish,   so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Jesus clearly fulfills His own prophecy. He was dead for three days. His fulfillment may have been approximate, not literally “three days and three nights,” or He may have been dead not only three days but actually “three days and three nights.”  The main point of what Jesus said was his connection with Jonah and His prediction, not whether or not it would be literarily “three days and three nights.” Jesus may have said “three days and three nights” as a poetic device, as another way of saying “three days.”   

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 9 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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