John 19:31, “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should 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.”
Anytime you study the Gospel records concerning Jesus’ Week of Passion there is one thing very hard to avoid — the timeline for events! In fact, if your study leads to a harmonizing of the accounts, this particular issue grows all the more convoluted and controversial.
The truth is most Bible commentators sidestep any type of lengthy exposé into these matters often stating “it’s complicated” when details become difficult to reconcile. For example, in his commentary, David Guzik will acknowledge controversy, but fail to give definitive answers.
Concerning the precise chronological order of events commentator F.F. Bruce (who’s known for his attention to details) makes a worthy observation, “The discussions are irksome, and their results uncertain; and they are apt to take the attention off far more important matters.”
Honestly, I agree with Bruce’s sentiment and even Guzik’s approach. As I’ve prepped the last several studies and worked through the text the struggle as to whether or not I should commit any time in our travels in John to deal with the timeline of this week has been real.
There is no question the significance of what happens during this week was not only far-reaching, but world-altering. To divert attention from these important events by getting into the theological minutia over something not all that important would be inappropriate.
And yet, while I have steered clear of the weeds of such things so as to keep our eyes perched high upon that cross on Mount Calvary, I don’t believe it’s beneficial for a pastor to stay away from these issues altogether. In fact, I know several people who point to the perceived discrepancies in the timeline as a challenge to the inerrancy of Scripture itself.
Avoidance isn’t a wise or appropriate approach to exposition. My job as your pastor is to be faithful to the text and address issues of controversy — even if it becomes a bit academic.
Though we will finish chapter 19 this morning by discussing this interesting man “Joseph of Arimathea” and thereby set the stage for the resurrection next Sunday, I want to take ample time to unpack this larger question as to the Biblical timeline for Jesus’ Week of Passion! To do this let’s begin with what we know with certainty before we reach any conclusions.
First, according to John 20:1, Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, and Luke 24:1, we know with complete certainty the resurrection of Jesus took place early Sunday morning — “On the first day of the week!” Note: The gathering of the church on Sunday further validates this.
Second, we also know Jesus was dead for three days. Aside from the instances recorded in Mark 8:31 and Luke 9:22 as well as the moment Jesus spoke figuratively of raising up His temple three days after its destruction — something He’ll be mocked for while hanging on the cross, the Gospel of Matthew provides for us the clearest examples of this reality.
In Matthew 16:21, 17:23, and 20:19 Jesus tells His disciples that “He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things from the elders and chief priests, be killed, and raised on the third day.”
Beyond these clear examples another component is found recorded in Matthew 12:38-40. In this passage we read, “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But Jesus answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For 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.”
The question (and in many ways a contributing factor to the controversy) ultimately centers upon whether or not Jesus predicted He’d rise “on the third day” following His death or whether the resurrection occurred after “three days and three nights” in the tomb. For example, if “three days and three nights” were required, Jesus couldn’t have died on Friday.
While the plain reading of Jesus’ comparison with Jonah implies a literal interpretation, this may not be the case and it is unwise to be dogmatic. Generally speaking, we have more references to His resurrection “on the third day” as opposed to after three complete days.
Secondly, there is no question Jesus’ reference to being “in the heart of the earth” was intentionally figurative and not to be taken literally. Beyond this, according to one Jewish expert, this phrase “three days and three nights” also shouldn’t be seen as a reference to a literal 72-hour period. He wrote, “A day and a night make a whole day, and a portion of a whole day is reckoned as a whole day.” Admittedly, this is even further complicated by the fact the Jews defined a day as beginning and ending at sunset (“evening and morning”).
There is no question your reading of this passage has implications. If Jesus died at 3pm on Friday He’d been in the tomb a portion of three days (Friday for an hour, all day Saturday, and then a few hours on Sunday). However, this would only include two nights not three.
I should also point out another problem with the strict 72-hour interpretation… According to Mark 16:2 and Luke 24:1 the women come to the tomb on Sunday “very early in the morning” only to find Jesus had already risen from the dead. In fact, the rolling away of the stone that happened upon their arrival by the earthquake and the angel (Matthew 28) intended to let humanity into the tomb and not Jesus out. We don’t know when Jesus rose.
You see, regardless of the day, since Jesus was laid in the tomb just before sunset, a ridged 72-hour timeline would require He rise in the evening of the third day and not the morning.
The third thing we can say with certainty — and the other Gospel narratives agree with John’s account — is that the crucifixion itself and then Jesus’ burial end up being expedited because the Sabbath would begin at sundown. Note: While every Saturday was a weekly Sabbath day of rest (beginning Friday at 6pm), because this was the week of Passover and Day of Unleavened Bread this detail is not as cut and dry as you may think.
In Leviticus 23:4-8 and then also repeated in Numbers 28:16-18 we read the following, “These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. ‘On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD’s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation (Sabbath); you shall do no customary work on it.”
Here’s where this gets complicated… If Passover fell on a Friday as is traditionally believed, then the day of rest associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread would fall on the weekly Sabbath — Saturday. In fairness to the argument this is entirely possible.
However, if the Passover landed this particular year on let’s say a Thursday (as others have argued) then Friday would be a special Sabbath (“a holy convocation”) followed then by the weekly Sabbath occurring on Saturday. You’d have in effect two Sabbaths in a row.
The fact is when John adds “for that Sabbath was a high day” he could be referring to either scenario. Either this “Sabbath” was a second day of rest or it was the typical weekly Sabbath possessing a deeper meaning as it was connected to the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
In order to avoid a problem that tends to arise when figuring in the Feast of Unleavened Bread into the timeline, Exodus 12:17-18 adds an important detail… “So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.”
In putting together the Biblical mosaic on these things it would appear while the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread of which the first day (the 15th day of the month) was to be a special Sabbath lasting till the 21st day (seven days: 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21) — The Scriptures appear to present the actual Day of Unleavened Bread occurring the evening of the fourteenth day of the month in conjuncture with Passover.
Keep in mind, originally the killing of the passover lamb and the baking of unleavened bread happened on the same day in preparation for the Jewish Exodus from Egypt.
Not only is this consistent with what we find recorded in Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12, and Luke 22:7 (“Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed”), but it’s likely these two events end up being described in the Gospels as this “Preparation Day” — a reference not only included here in John 19, but also found in Mark 15:42.
Just to recap… The Biblical record of Jesus being raised on Sunday specifically “three days” following His crucifixion does nothing to definitively challenge the traditional understanding that Jesus died on what we call Good Friday. And yet, the fourth point will prove problematic!
You see the fourth thing we can say with certainty, because of the rich and clear Old Testament symbolism and the fact Jesus is repeatedly referred to by John as the “Lamb of God” offered to take away the sins of the world, is that Jesus was crucified on Passover.
To this point let me read for you the original instituting of the very first Passover in Exodus 12:1-7, “Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, ‘This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household …
Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year … Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it.’”
A few verses later God says… Exodus 12:11-13, “‘And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”
Because we’ve already examined over the last few weeks how Jesus was the ultimate Passover Lamb and thereby the Passover itself foreshadowed the work He’d come to accomplish, I don’t want to be repetitive — other than to say how inconceivable it would be if Jesus didn’t actually die on Passover! While admittedly this complicates the timeline for the entire week, the larger typology is simply too strong for any other conclusion.
In fact, the linchpen to establishing the timeline for Jesus’ Week of Passion really boils down to the symbolism associated with the procedures concerning the Passover.
According to Exodus 12 every family was to select a lamb on the 10th day of the first month and then live with that lamb for four days — no doubt developing an important relational connection before ultimately offering it on the 14th day. At this point the priest would throughly inspect the lamb itself, declare it clean, and sacrifice it to atone for sin.
Here’s the problem with our traditional placement of the crucifixion… If Jesus’ arrival on Palm Sunday occurred on the 10th of the month in order to maintain the procedural symbolism concerning the lamb and Jesus was crucified on the 14th (Passover), then His death would have taken place on Thursday NOT Good Friday!
Let me present for you what I believe to be the most consistent timeline for the events we’ve been studying over the last several weeks and the one that make the most sense… On the 10th of the month (Sunday) which began Saturday at 6pm and constituted Day 1 of the Feast of Passover and the first day of inspection, Jesus makes His triumphal entry into the city.
On the 11th of the month (Monday) which began Sunday at 6pm and constituted Day 2 of the Feast of Passover we have the second day in which the lamb was inspected. The 12th and 13th (Tuesday and Wednesday) then constituted Days 3 and 4 of the inspection.
On the 14th of the month (Day 5) which would have began Wednesday at 6pm we have Jesus sharing Seder dinner with His disciples, the start of the Day of Unleavened Bread and Passover, with Pontius Pilate declaring Jesus to be innocent after a thorough examination, and His crucifixion death as the Lamb of God being offered to atone for the sins of the world.
Because the 15th of the month (Day 6) began on Thursday at 6pm and initiated these seven holy days encompassing the Feast of Unleavened Bread we have a special Sabbath. As a result Jesus’ body is quickly removed and laid in the Garden Tomb before this day began.
Following His first complete day in the tomb (Thursday to Friday evening), Jesus will also rest for a second full day on the 16th of the month which was the official weekly Sabbath which began Friday at 6pm and ended Saturday at sunset (Day 7).
Jesus will eventually rise from the dead the morning of the 17th of the month — Day 8 or Sunday which began Saturday at 6pm and officially marked the start of a new week.
Jesus death on Thursday not only places His resurrection on the “third day”, but it also fulfills the concept of “three days and three nights.” — Thursday evening (1), Friday (1), Friday evening (2), Saturday (2), Saturday evening (3), Sunday morning (3) — “On the third day!”
Aside from this timeline being consistent with the Passover festivities, it also works within the timeframe presented by John. In chapter 12:1 he wrote, “Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany” where Mary anoints Jesus with oil in a beautiful act of worship.
Then in verses 12-13 of the same chapter John continues writing, “The next day (5 days before Passover: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, placing Passover on Thursday) a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! The King of Israel!’”
While traditionally most Christians place Passover as beginning on Thursday of this week at sunset and therefore ending Friday at dusk before the start of the weekly Sabbath, meaning Jesus was crucified on Good Friday — I believe it makes way more sense and you avoid many of these needless controversies if you simply move the entire timeline up one day.
Jesus arrived on Sunday (10th), died on Thursday (14th), Friday was a special Sabbath, followed by the normal weekly Sabbath, before the resurrection starting a brand new week.
To be fair, the only way Good Friday works is if you move Jesus’ Triumphal Entry from Palm Sunday up to Monday — which in theory you can do since we’re not specifically told this happened on the first day of the week. Palm Sunday and Good Friday traditions didn’t emerge until the 8th century. That said, Thursday more supports the three day position.
In summary — You can trust that the Biblical timeline works, the Scriptural narrative can be trusted, and most of the confusion we have can be attributed to the Roman Catholic Church!
Let’s get back to the text… John 19:31-34, “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should 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. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.”
Since this special Sabbath would begin at sunset, “the Jews” receive special permission from Pilate to speed up the crucifixion deaths of these three men. To accomplish this task the legs of each man would be broken eliminating their ability push up to breathe. Death was swift.
John records that “when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead” there was no longer a reason to “break His legs.” That said… In order to insure Jesus was actually deceased and to avoid making a careless mistake, the legionnaire drives His spear through the fifth interspace between Jesus’ ribs, upward through the pericardium and into His heart.
Writing as an eyewitness to these events John documents that from this wound “blood and water immediately came out.” The post-mortem autopsy reveals that Jesus died, not in the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure — cardiac arrest.
John 19:35-37, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. (John is not only reminding his audience that he was an eyewitness of these things confirming that Jesus was indeed dead before being removed from the cross, but he also adds a little bit of Biblical commentary as to why these things actually happened.) For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, ‘Not one of His bones shall be broken.’ (To be an acceptable sacrifice a Passover lamb could not have any broken bones.) And again another Scripture says (Zechariah 12:10), ‘They shall look on Him whom they pierced.’”
John 19:38-42, “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus (as a condemned man the body of Jesus would have been discarded by the soldiers without any type of formal burial proceeding); and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.
Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.”
In Mark 15:42-45 we are given a few extra details, “Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted (to give as a present) the body to Joseph.”
Beyond the accounts given in John and Mark, in Matthew 27 we also learn that Joseph was a “rich man.” In Luke 23 we’re told that aside from being “a council member” Joseph was “a good and just man” who “had not consented to their decision and deed.” It’s amazing that Joseph of Arimathea is one of only a few men that is mentioned in all four Gospels.
Every account describes Joseph as being “a prominent council member.” Not only was he a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, but this word “prominent” means he was honorable and respected among his peers. In spite of his company, Joseph was “a good and just man.”
While a man of personal character, Joseph was also loaded! The word Matthew uses for “rich” indicates he had considerable wealth and as a result had power and influence. Case in point you’d need a measure of clout to summon a personal audience with Pontius Pilate!
Mark tells us aside from all of these things Joseph “was waiting for the kingdom of God.” This means like many within the religious community he was eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of the promises concerning the Messiah. This likely explains, while from the town of “Arimathea,” Joseph had purchased a new tomb in Jerusalem so he could be one of the first resurrected when the Messiah finally came to establish His earthly kingdom.
According to John, Joseph was “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews.” This likely explains that while a sitting member of the Sanhedrin Joseph “had not consented to their decision and deed.” Though the council had sentenced Jesus to death, the decision had been far from unanimous with at least Joseph and Nicodemus dissenting with the majority.
Though Joseph had requested permission to provide Jesus a proper Jewish burial, he had help retrieving the body. John says, “Nicodemus, who at first had come to Jesus by night (John 3), also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes.” Like Joseph, Nicodemus was a wealthy, influential member of the Sanhedrin in his own right. History tells us Nicodemus was the third wealthiest man in Jerusalem and one of the greatest religious scholars of his day.
While these two men believed in Jesus, according to John they’d remained silent fearing the repercussions of being identified with Him. Because each man was well connected, they knew the current political climate. They feared being a known disciple of Jesus might cost them their social position, political power, friends, reputation, status, even livelihood.
The brutal and honest truth is that neither Joseph nor Nicodemus were actually disciples of Jesus at all. They thought they were disciples, but they were tragically deceived. The simple reality is you can’t genuinely follow Jesus without being willing to publicly identify yourself with Him — even if doing so happens to come with a great personal risk. A willingness to “count the cost” is the first essential component to following after Jesus.
Though neither Joseph nor Nicodemus had been willing to publicly take a stand for Jesus before this particular moment, clearly something had changed. Though we’re not given the reason, I think it’s safe to say seeing the crucified Christ in contrast to the blatant immorality and viciousness of the so called religious leaders of Israel stirred both men to action! You might say the cross changed everything for Joseph and Nicodemus!
I am convinced, as the brightest religious minds in all of Israel, Joseph and Nicodemus realized what Jesus was doing on the cross. I believe as soon as the veil was torn, they both were struck by the significance of the moment. They recognized that on the cross Jesus had taken upon Himself the righteous wrath of God as the perfect, permanent, Passover sacrifice for sins so that they could now boldly approach the throne of grace.
In light of Jesus’ public death for them, Joseph and Nicodemus were now willing to publicly stand for Him! These secret followers were now willing to be identified as public disciples! John says that while “fear” had kept them on the sidelines Mark is clear Joseph courageously petitioned Pilate for His body! This phrase Mark uses “taking courage” means Joseph shunned fear and was filled with boldness. These men decide it was now time to go on the record. They were finally willing to count the cost and get off the sidelines.
Friend, an understanding of the cross really does change everything! You see if you fully understand that God’s grace bestowed towards you cost Jesus everything, it becomes much easier for you to count the personal cost of following Him! In light of the fact Jesus gave everything for you, why wouldn’t you give it all for Him?
No Additional Links.