On What Day did Jesus Die? – Matthew 27:50-53

audio version

Our subject for this evening involves what particular day of the week Jesus died. In the back of my mind, I picture myself teaching or preaching a message on this subject, but I couldn’t find that message or any record that I’ve ever taught it. Perhaps it was a part of a larger message, but if so, it would take a lot of work for me to find it again. So I’m left with the hope that at the very least our young people need this brief Bible study. But someone might question my use of the word “need” – do people need this lesson. Why?

Before I answer that question, let me repeat something I’ve shared with you before. Several years ago, the Oldfields and Palmers were visiting in Colorado, and we attended the evening service of the Baptist church that one of Judy’s cousins attends. I had preached that morning in the Victory Baptist Church in Loveland, and after lunch we heard a message by Brother Fulton. Later, when we got to the cousin’s church, I was disappointed to see that instead of a preaching service, there was going to be a patriotic music service performed on by the young people. The music and skits were well done, depicting the arrival of the Pilgrims in America in their search for religious liberty. Later that evening I mentioned to our host that the pilgrims hated Baptists and they had no desire for genuine religious freedom. The man was thoroughly dumbfounded; his mouth dropped open, but he didn’t say a word. That is exactly the response we get when we tell people that Jesus’ didn’t die on Friday.

Three days ago, I read a quote that Brother Curtis Pugh put in his book on Baptist History. It said, “No man can be more liberal than the Bible and be true to Christ.” We might take that a step farther and say, “no man can be more liberal than the Bible and be a true Baptist.” I can’t remember exactly what I said to Judy’s cousin that night. I might have said the Pilgrims hated THAT MAN’S Baptist church, but if those were my words I might have been wrong – they might have been delighted with his church because it may not really Baptist. There are now thousands of Protestant Baptist churches, making no claim to existence before the 16th century. And there are also thousands of Baptist churches which repeat Catholic and Protestant doctrine in saying such things as “Jesus died on Good Friday.” If they teach Catholic doctrine can they be genuine Baptists? Many take an allegorical view of the scriptures rather than reading what it literally says. And Matthew 12:40 is a part of their failure. Jesus clearly said, “for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” before His resurrection. That sound to me as if Jesus would be three full days and three full nights in the grave.

This lesson is important, not for the correction of days, but for emphasizing the importance of correct Bible interpretation. The salvation of a man’s soul has nothing to do with whether Jesus died on Friday, Thursday, Wednesday or even on Monday. But his service and eternal rewards and often his salvation may have a lot to do with the manner in which he interprets a many verses in the Word of God – allegorically, figuratively or literally.

So on what day was the crucifixion and Jesus’ death?

May I be so bold as to say, “If you are a true Baptist, you can’t say that it was on Friday.” Genuine Baptists are not Protestants or Catholics. Because you are a Baptist, you take the Bible literally, not figuratively or allegorically.

But let’s start out considering the heretic’s position. Let us pretend that Bible doesn’t have to always mean what it appears to say. Let’s say that Jesus came close to telling the truth, but that He liked to generalize His statements. In this case, let’s make any part of a night equal to a full night, and any part of a day be a full day. With this interpretation Christ said that he’d be buried two days and at least one hour, and two nights along with another hour our two. That would mean that the minimum time that Christ was in the grave would have been 50 hours.

Most people blindly say that Jesus arose at dawn Sunday morning. That is what I was raised to say – that is what I was taught the Protestant church of my youth. Assuming that point, let’s work back from 6 AM, using our liberal interpretation of three days and nights. We could start with Sunday as day #1 – Saturday night as night #1. Then Saturday was day #2 – Friday night was night #2. Friday would be day #3 – but then at least part of Thursday night would have to be included. 50 hours prior to Sunday at 6 am would have been 4am on Friday morning – basically Thursday night. Even if we used the shortest possible three days and three nights (which is silly), if Jesus arose on Sunday morning, Christ could not have died on Friday. It is impossible to squeeze three days and three nights between Sunday morning and Friday afternoon.

But in the light of Matthew 28:1 can we include any of Sunday in our reckoning? “And in the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week,” came the ladies to find the tomb empty. As we usually interpret the word “dawn” – on Sunday morning the body of the Lord was already gone. We shouldn’t even include Sunday as one of our part days. IN that case, Saturday would have been day #1; Friday would be day #2; and Thursday would be day #3. And going back from Saturday night, we’d have Friday night and Thursday night. That would mean that Jesus died on Thursday.

Now let’s switch from days to hours. Jesus said that he would be in the grave “three days and three nights” for a total of 72 hours. 72 hours before 6am Sunday would be 6am on Thursday. But Jesus was entombed before nightfall, so it had to have been before dusk the night before. Christ couldn’t have died even on Thursday.

Why do people insist that Jesus died on Friday? The simple answer is “tradition” – which by definition means “something repeated, and passed on, orally.” The Bible warns us of blindly ACCEPTING tradition and clearly condemns the WORSHIP of tradition. And when it comes to some traditions, like this one, “worship” IS the proper word. Colossians 2:8 – “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Paul told Titus, “Rebuke them sharply that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commands of men, that turn from the truth.” “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers.”

But is there some source for this tradition? It appears to come from people’s understanding of the sabbath. One of these days Brother James is going to share with us what he has been learning about the sabbath. There is a lot of confusion about this subject. For example, the word doesn’t mean “seven,” as in seventh day of the week, as many people think. The word “sabbath” comes from another word which means – “rest.” Genesis 2:2 describes the first sabbath “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.” It is not the word “seventh” which is translated from the Hebrew for “sabbath” it is the word “rested.” Yes, the Jews celebrated a weekly sabbath on the seventh day of the week, but the sin of the fourth commandment was not in dishonoring Saturday, but in dishonoring God’s day of rest and worship. John 19:31 calls the day following Jesus’ death as a sabbath, but it was “an high day” – a very special sabbath. Some Saturday Sabbaths could have been “high days”, but this particular one was not on Saturday. This was a special day of rest and worship because of the Passover. However, the sabbath referred to in Matthew 28:1 was indeed the common weekly sabbath which occurred three after that special high sabbath.

If Christ died on the day before the common Saturday sabbath and he arose at 6 am on Sunday – then he was in the grave no more than 36 hours, not the 72 which He clearly declared.

Let’s take the words “day” and “night” as Baptists are supposed to do – literally.

At what time of day did Jesus die? Matthew tells us “now form the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.” From noon on the day of Jesus’ death until mid-afternoon there was a miraculous darkness. Then Jesus began to speak – “Eli, Eli lama sabchthani.” Shortly after that there was “It is finished,” and “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Jesus died sometime shortly after 3 pm and then there was a rush to entomb Him.

Let’s arbitrarily say that Christ died between 3 and 6pm on Wednesday and then move forward. Wednesday night would have been night #1. Then we’d have Thursday and Thursday night #2. Friday would have been day #2 and Friday night #3. And then there would have been Saturday, which would have been day #3. Jesus arose from the grave as darkness fell on what we would describe was Saturday night, explaining why in the morning the ladies found the empty tomb. “Christ died for our sins (on Wednesday) according to the scriptures; and … he was buried, and … he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

Is this important? Let’s put it this way, if a church ignorantly teaches some blatant falsehood, can it be trusted to teach anything? If a church deliberately denies or twists Christ’s clear declaration, might that church not also deliberately deceive people in other areas? Sound Baptists do not teach that Jesus died on Friday. Similarly, nor to sound Baptists praise the Puritans for seeking religious liberty, because they had no intention of sharing religious liberty with anyone – especially the Baptists.