New Testament Chronology

New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990)

Kenneth Frank Doig
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Exact Dating of the Birth and Crucifixion of Jesus

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Chapter 22
IT IS THE THIRD DAY

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor. 15:3-4) Paul fully realized the importance to himself and humanity that Jesus Christ had been sacrificed for the sins of the world. His resurrection is God's pledge of eternal life for those reconciled to Him. Paul is here looking back at that turning point in human history. This chapter will look back the three days from Jesus' resurrection to His crucifixion. His later appearances in His resurrected body will then be discussed.

Jesus died in the middle of the afternoon at 3:00 PM. The day was most likely a Friday. Using the usual inclusive Jewish reckoning, the third day and the resurrection fell on Sunday. By sunrise reckoning, Jesus must have risen shortly after sunrise. By sunset reckoning, Jesus may have risen either before sunrise or after. The details of the timing of His resurrection will sort this out.

I. The Resurrection

When Mary Magdalene and the other women were on the way to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus there was a severe earthquake.1 At the same time an angel rolled away the stone from the entrance of the tomb (Matt. 28:1-4; Mark 16:1). When they arrived at the tomb the angel told the women, "He is not here, for He has risen." (Matt. 28:6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6) The tomb was empty.2 Jesus was resurrected before the women arrived at the tomb. Whether this was very shortly before, at the time of the earthquake or hours before is not specified. The removal of the stone from the entrance to the tomb was only necessary so that His followers might know that He had risen. It was not necessary to remove the stone so that Jesus might leave. Jesus had already left by the time the women arrived at the tomb.

When did the women arrive at the tomb? John reported, "Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb." (John 20:1) Later that same Sunday John wrote, "When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, `Peace be with you.'" (John 20:19) John reports it being the first day of the week both at about sunrise and again after sunset. He must have reckoned either by the sunrise-to-sunrise method or according to the Roman day beginning at midnight. He cannot have here used sunset-to-sunset reckoning.

One passage gives a further clue to suggest that John did use Roman reckoning. When John reported Jesus before Pilate at the judgment seat he wrote, "Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he (Pilate) said to the Jews, `Behold your King!'" (John 19:14) Since Jesus was later crucified at the third hour (Mark 15:25), about 9:00 AM, it seems that John may have here referred to the "sixth hour" as 6:00 AM Roman time, rather than noon Jewish time. John may have indeed used Roman reckoning in referring to an appearance before the Roman prefect. It has been argued that Mark's "third hour" and John's "sixth hour" are approximations, both meaning that quarter of the day from 9:00 AM till noon.3 If John was using Jewish sunrise reckoning, then the women visited the tomb after sunrise. If John used Roman reckoning then their first visit may have been before or after sunrise. This leaves the possibility that the resurrection of Jesus was before sunrise, as suggested by Mary Magdalene arriving at the open tomb "while it was still dark."

The other three Gospels indicate that the women arrived at the tomb shortly after sunrise. Matthew said, "Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave." (Matt. 28:1)4 The Sabbath rest was reckoned sunset to sunset,5 but on the sunrise calendar day it began in the middle of the sixth day and ended in the middle of the seventh day. The Sabbath rest ended the prior sunset, but the reference may here be to the calendar day. The wording implies that the seventh calendar day would not be over until the first day began at dawn, here indicating a sunrise calendar.

With a similar statement Mark followed with, "And very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen." (Mark 16:2) Luke said that on "the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb." (Luke 24:1) Although Matthew's wording implies sunrise reckoning, this is not clear from the words of Mark or Luke. All describe the arrival at the tomb very shortly after sunrise, which at that time of year would have occurred close to 6:00 AM.

Since John reported Mary Magdalene arriving while it was still dark, what might reconcile this to Matthew, Mark and Luke's report that the arrival was shortly after sunrise? John may only be saying that the women left for the tomb while it was dark, but their actual arrival was shortly after sunrise. Or the women arrived after sunrise, but the tomb was still in the darkness of early morning shadows. Although the women arrived after sunrise, when they arrived Jesus had already risen. This prior event might have theoretically occurred either before or after sunrise. However, in 30 CE Jesus observed the Passover according to the sunrise calendar. By that calendar His resurrection must have occurred when the third day began at sunrise, shortly before the women arrived at the tomb.

II. The Road to Emmaus

Later that resurrection Sunday Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognize Him and were surprised that He did not seem to know of recent events in Jerusalem. They told Him, "Our rulers delivered Him up to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since all these things happened." (Luke 24:20-21) During the daylight hours of Sunday these disciples said it was still the third day, and Jesus must have been crucified on Friday.6 If these disciples used sunrise reckoning then Jesus must have been resurrected after sunrise on Sunday. If they were using sunset reckoning then Jesus may have been resurrected before or after sunrise.7 The question is seemingly resolved by, "Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene." (Luke 6:19)8 Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, Sunday morning, not early the prior evening after sunset, or just before sunrise. Jesus arose after sunrise. The daylight hours of Sunday were the third day, not after three days, and by any calendar reckoning the crucifixion of Jesus must here have been on Friday.

III. The Resurrection Appearances

According to the previous conclusions, Jesus was resurrected on Sunday, April 9, 30 CE. On that day He appeared to the women, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and, that evening, to His disciples in a closed room. Then, "after eight days" (John 20:26) He appeared to all the disciples, and Thomas recognized Him as God. The day was Sunday, April 16. Jesus appeared to the disciples the third time while they were fishing at the Sea of Tiberius (John 21:1-25). Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brethren (1 Cor. 15:6; Matt 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18).

His final recorded appearance was to James and the apostles, having appeared "over a period of forty days." (Acts 1:3) The forty days are measured from Sunday evening when Jesus first appeared to the apostles. This is by Luke's Syro-Macedonian reckoning from sunset, and the fortieth day was Friday, May 19. After giving the great commission to take His Gospel to all the world, Jesus was lifted up to heaven. Then, the apostles "returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away." (Acts 1:12) The apostles must have returned shortly after sunset on the Sabbath, with an accusation that they had broken the Law. Luke's final note was to dispel any such rumor, and here confirms the day of the week and Luke's sunset reckoning.

Jesus' later appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. This will be discussed with the growth of the early Church.

IV. Conclusion

Jesus was resurrected shortly after sunrise on Sunday morning, April 9, 30 CE. [Revision: It appears equally likely that Jesus was resurrected before sunrise, and that John recokened by the Julian calendar.] The note that "it is the third day," together with other Scriptures confirms the Friday crucifixion and eliminates the possibility of a Wednesday or Thursday crucifixion. Jesus appeared to many during the following forty days, and His ascension to heaven was on Friday, May 19, 30 CE.



Notes:

1. There was also an earthquake when Jesus died. N. H. El-Isa, "Earthquake Studies of Some Archaeological Sites in Jordan,"  A. Hadidi, ed., Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan (Amman: Dept. of Antiquities, 1985), 229-235, reported an earthquake calculated at magnitude 7.0 on the Richter Scale, and centered at Jericho, to have occurred in 30 CE.

2. The tomb would have been empty, except for, perhaps, Jesus' burial shroud. That shroud was not the "Shroud of Turin."  E. T. Hall, "The Turin Shroud: An Editorial Postscript," Archaeometry 31, 1 (1989), 92-95, notes that shroud was radiocarbon dated by accelerator mass spectrometer to be not earlier than the mid-thirteenth century CE.

3. J. V. Miller, "The Time of the Crucifixion," JETS 26 (1983).

4. T. Longstaff, "The Women at the Tomb: Matthew 28:1 Re-examined," NTS 27 (1981) uses BT Semahot 8:1 to establish that the watch or visit of the tomb on the third day was to ensure that premature burial had not taken place.

5. S. Bacchiocchi, The Time of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection (Berrien Springs, MI: Biblical Perspectives, 1985), 115-116, concludes that the Fourth Commandment does not specify the time of observance of the Sabbath, and this might be adjusted to local conditions and calendar.

6. H. W. Armstrong, The Resurrection was Not on Sunday (Pasadena: Worldwide Church of God, 1972), 10, who supported a Wednesday crucifixion, argued that the three days are counted from Thursday, the day following when the tomb was sealed and guarded. However, the two disciples were speaking of Jesus' death and the end of their expectation that he would be king, not later events of which they may or may not have been aware. However, three days from Thursday was Saturday, not Sunday (Luke 24:1) when it was "the third day."

7. If before sunrise, the Thursday crucifixion is still not possible, since by sunset reckoning this would be the fourth day; the Thursday crucifixion was three days only by the sunrise calendar.

8. The verses of Luke 16:9-20 are not contained in the two earliest manuscripts, the Sinaiticaus and Vaticanus. This passage is first recorded in manuscripts of Irenaius and Hippolytus in the second and third centuries.

 

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