If you don’t look too close, the timing of the events of Holy Week seems straightforward: the Last Supper on Thursday, Jesus’ death on Friday, and His resurrection on Sunday. Yet a closer examination yields a real puzzle, as does the identification of what year these events happened. Granted, the answers are not crucial. Salvation was won by Jesus no matter the day or the year. Still, there are questions that pop up that deserve an attempt at an answer.
So what are some of the questions? Jesus said,
40 For 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.Matthew 12:40
If Jesus was executed on Friday and rose on Sunday, I can see how you could count Friday, Saturday, Sunday as three days (though not whole days), but how do you get three nights?
Jesus’ passion was during a week that include three Jewish festivals: Passover, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits. John 20:1 positions Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday because Sunday is the “first day of the week” for Jewish people. This also aligns Jesus as the first fruit of the resurrection of the dead with the holiday that nominally was about the first harvest of the year. Easter was on a Sunday.
It is important to know that the Jews followed a lunar calendar as opposed to a solar calendar like we use. It is for this reason that Easter bounces around with respect to date. Events like the festivals noted above will also move around the Julian (solar) calendar and are not fixed to day or date. Another difference to note here is that the Jews considered the beginning of a day to be at sundown versus midnight.
Was Jesus crucified on Friday? Our reason for thinking so is based on the statement that the next day was a Sabbath (normally Saturday). But notice what John says:
31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.John 19:31
What does “was a high day” mean? The directions for the Feast of Unleavened bread may give some insight.
4 “These are the appointed feasts of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. 5 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the Lord’s Passover. 6 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. 7 On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.Leviticus 23:4-7
Passover is on the 14th day of Nisan and on the 15th day the Feast of the Unleavened Bread began with a day of no ordinary work. Is this the Sabbath, high day that John speaks about? That could have been on a Friday rather than Saturday. If so, Jesus died on Thursday, and there would be three days and three nights.
There is also a discrepancy between when Jesus celebrates the Passover and when the Jewish leadership seems to celebrate the Passover. Jesus celebrates the night of his betrayal. The Jewish leaders don’t want to enter Pontius Pilate’s house because that would make them unclean and then they couldn’t celebrate the Passover that night. Why the difference? Perhaps it is in the interpretation of the Leviticus passage above. Is Passover on the twilight at the beginning of Nisan 14 or after Nisan 14 (which is Nisan 15 to the Jews)? Clearly Jesus and the Jewish leaders differ (again). The Jewish leaders considered Nisan 14 to be the day of preparation–the day the Passover lamb was to be killed as Jesus was.
I would propose this timeline. Jesus eats an actual Passover with His disciples on Wednesday night after sundown (Nisan 14). He is betrayed that night and crucified the next day, Thursday (Nisan 14). He is among the dead from late Thursday to early Sunday. Does this fit a particular year? Nisan 14 was on Thursday, April 2, 33AD.
Another way to identify the year is by the Blood Moon. The Blood Moon works its way into the calculation because of a section from the Prophet Joel who is quoted at the day of Pentecost as Peter tries to connect the dots for the people who have traveled to Jerusalem for the Spring festivals.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above, and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.Acts 2:19-20 or Joel 2:31-32
A Blood Moon is a lunar eclipse. According to NASA, and not other questionable sources, there was a Blood Moon on Friday, April 3. It was a partial eclipse. Since Blood Moons are not that rare, would this be considered a sign? Partial eclipses look more brown than red anyway. Could it be that the “vapor of smoke” or “billows of smoke” made the moon red the night before. Fires in the American West have done this. This could also possible account for the “sun stopped shining” from noon to three as Jesus was on the cross. This is not to dismiss either as coincidental natural occurrences. God often uses means to make a point. In a similar way the Bethlehem star was an intentionally timed natural occurrence.
I think the year is 33AD, it fits with other calculations based on the reign of Tiberius, and the ministry of John the Baptist as well. I think the day of Jesus’ crucifixion was actually Thursday, however. Should we change the date? Nah. What is important is that it actually happened in history and God called it out in prophecy. It is an event that changes our eternal destiny and we can be confident in it.