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. (John 19:31)
What is the “high-day Sabbath” mentioned in this verse? Is it the same as a weekly Sabbath? The answer is no. A high day is technically an annual holy day, or annual Sabbath, as commanded in Leviticus 23. Certainly, the weekly Sabbath is a day to keep holy, but these annual holy days take precedence if they occur on the seventh-day Sabbath.
The annual Sabbaths are seven: the first and seventh days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah in Hebrew), Atonement (Yom Kippur), the first day of Tabernacles (Succoth), and the Last Great Day. The first three occur in the spring, and the last four in the fall. Thus, the high day of which John was speaking was one of the three spring holy days, and since Jesus crucifixion took place on the day of Passover(Nisan 14 on the Hebrew calendar), the high day of which he speaks must be the first day of Unleavened Bread, which falls the day after the Passover (Nisan 15).
This verse also provides some very interesting and definitive proof of when Jesus died, and thus when He was resurrected. Jesus Himself said several times that His time in the tomb would be three days and three nights, just as the prophet Jonah had spent three days and nights in the fish’s belly (see Matthew 12:38-40; 27:63; Mark 8:31; John 2:18-22). This in itself rules out a Friday crucifixion-Sunday resurrection because there is no way to cram three days and three nights between sunset on Friday and sunrise on Sunday.
If Jesus rose exactly three days and three nights after His burial (just before sunset; see Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34), the only candidate for His resurrection is the very end of the Sabbath at sunset. Counting back three full days, then, Jesus must have died on the previous Wednesday, which would have been the day of the Passover (Jesus and His disciples had observed the Passover the evening before). The first day of Unleavened Bread began just minutes after Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus sealed His tomb.
The gospel account says that, after this, His disciples and the women kept the holy day on Thursday (Mark 16:1). On Friday, the preparation day for the weekly Sabbath, the women prepared spices for His embalming (this was a normal workday; see Luke 23:56), then kept the weekly Sabbath. When they came to the tomb early Sunday morning, He had already risen some time before. He rose exactly three days and three nights from His interment (a full 72 hours) at sunset as the weekly Sabbath ended. This shows that there were two Sabbaths—a high day and a weekly Sabbath—during the time of His burial, not one!
Did the resurrection fulfill the prophecy of Jonah?
by Dr. David Reagan
The most significant prophecy in the Bible concerning the resurrection of Jesus is known as “the prophecy of Jonah.” It is a symbolic prophecy represented by the three days and three nights that Jonah spent in the stomach of a great fish (Jonah 1:17).
Jesus explained the prophetic symbolism of this unique event on an occasion when He rebuked the Pharisees for seeking a “sign” from Him. By a “sign,” they meant a miracle that would validate Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah.
The Prophecy’s Meaning
Jesus took their word and played with it by telling them that the only “sign” they would be given would be “the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then proceeded to explain what He was talking about: “for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40)
Jesus clearly and distinctly prophesies here, using the example of Jonah, that He will spend three days and three nights in the tomb before His resurrection will occur.
This prophecy, like all Messianic prophecies, had to be fulfilled in the life of Jesus if He truly was the Messiah of God. Jesus emphasized this point Himself after His resurrection when He told His disciples, “All things which are written about Me in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44)
The Prophecy vs. Tradition
But was the prophecy of Jonah really fulfilled in the burial experience of Jesus? According to the traditionally accepted chronology of events, it was not!
The traditional chronology places the crucifixion on Friday morning and the burial on late Friday afternoon. It fixes the resurrection on Sunday morning. Thus, according to the traditional view, the body of Jesus was in the tomb only one full day (Saturday) and two full nights (Friday and Saturday). Jesus said His body would be in the tomb three days and three nights.
There have been many attempts to reconcile the problem that is raised here by the divergence between the prophecy and the traditional view of its fulfillment, but all the attempts I have read have always fallen short of producing a true fulfillment of the prophecy. Jesus said all Messianic prophecy had to be fulfilled in Him, and I believe He meant every detail of every Messianic prophecy. Otherwise, it could be argued that He was not the Messiah.
The Source of the Problem
Let’s consider the events in the last week of Jesus’ life to see if we can find some clues that will solve the problem. Perhaps the best place to begin is with the problem itself. It is rooted in Mark 15:42 where it says that the crucifixion took place on “the day of preparation before the Sabbath.”
This verse has led most people to assume that the crucifixion took place on a Friday since the Jewish Sabbath is Saturday. And that assumption has in turn led to the conclusion that the crucifixion had to take place in either 30 or 33 AD because those are the only two years in the general time period of Jesus’ death when the day of preparation (14 Nisan on the Jewish calendar) fell on a Friday.
Peculiarities of the Jewish Calendar
A careful study of Jewish calendar practices will show that the assumption that the day of preparation in the year of Jesus’ death had to fall on a Friday is invalid! Such an assumption is based upon Gentile ignorance about Jewish feast days.
What the Gentile church has failed to recognize over the centuries is that the first day after Passover (15 Nisan) is a feast day, or “high day” because it is the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is therefore considered to be a Sabbath, regardless of which day of the week on which it falls. Read Numbers 28:16-18. Verse 18 clearly indicates that the first day after Passover, Nisan 15, is to be observed as a Sabbath – and so it has been throughout Jewish history to this day.
Now, the Gospel of John makes it clear that the Sabbath after the crucifixion was not a regular Sabbath. Rather, it was a feast day Sabbath, marking the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Consider the words of John 19:31 – “The Jews, therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.”
Solving the Problem
Again, the point of all this is that Jesus did not have to be killed on a Friday in order for His crucifixion to precede the Sabbath because there could have been two Sabbaths during the week of His crucifixion, depending on what day of the week the high feast day fell on. If it fell on Saturday, then there was only one Sabbath. But if it fell on another day of the week, as it usually does, there would be two Sabbaths.
Take the year 31 AD for example. In that year the 14th of Nisan, the Passover day on which Jesus would have been crucified, fell on Wednesday, April 25th. The next day, Thursday, would have been the high feast day, and therefore it would have been a Sabbath.
Thus, if Jesus was crucified in the year 31, He would have been crucified on Wednesday and buried that evening before the high feast day Sabbath began. His body would have remained in the tomb for three days (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) and three nights (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday), just as He predicted. That means His resurrection would have taken place on Saturday evening, April 28th. To the Jew, that would place the Lord’s resurrection on Sunday, the first day of the week, because the Jewish day begins at sundown.
The Crucial Clue
There is a clue in the Scriptures that the crucifixion week had two Sabbaths. In Mark 15:47 we are told that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James remained at the tomb after Jesus had been buried.
In Mark 16:1 it says that the two of them bought spices to anoint the body of Jesus after the Sabbath was over. But in Luke 23:56 it says they bought the spices before the Sabbath and then rested on the Sabbath before proceeding to the tomb on Sunday morning.
There seems to be only one explanation of the apparent contradiction in these verses. After resting on the high day Sabbath on Thursday, the ladies bought the spices on Friday and then rested again on the regular weekly Sabbath on Saturday before proceeding to the tomb on Sunday morning. This explains how they could have bought the spices both before and after the Sabbath. They bought them after the high Sabbath on Thursday but before the regular Sabbath on Saturday.
An Amazing Corroboration
A fascinating fact that also indicates that the resurrection occurred in 31 AD is to be found in the writings of Josephus, the first century Jewish historian. He says the last Jubilee that was celebrated in the land (before the Roman conquest in 70 AD) began in the fall of 27 AD.
That date most likely marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, for His ministry was a symbolic fulfillment of the Jubilee promises. This is indicated by the scripture that Jesus read in the synagogue in Nazareth when He launched His public ministry (Luke 4:16-24 & Isaiah 61:1-2):
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are downtrodden, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.
It is commonly agreed that the ministry of Jesus lasted 3 1/2 years. A launching date in the fall of 27 AD to coincide with the beginning of the Jubilee would place His death in the spring of 31 AD – the year in which the Passover week had two Sabbaths.
A Final Problem
Another point of controversy about the resurrection week concerns the nature of the Lord’s last supper with His disciples. The church has traditionally taught that this was the Passover meal. But the scriptures clearly indicate that the meal was eaten the evening before Passover.
Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation for the Passover. In fact, He died at three o’clock in the afternoon at the precise moment that the Passover lambs were beings slaughtered for the Passover meal that evening (Matthew 27:45-46). Jesus and His disciples had eaten their last meal together the evening before Passover. Yet, Jesus referred to His last meal with His disciples as “keeping the Passover” (Matthew 26:18). So, it must have been a Passover meal that was celebrated one evening early.
Professor Harold Hoehner of Dallas Theological Seminary has proposed a solution to this problem. He says there is evidence that the Galilean Jews reckoned time differently from the Judean Jews. Whereas the Judean Jews counted a day from sunset to sunset, the Galilean Jews, according to Hoehner, counted a day from sunrise to sunrise. If this is true, then Jesus and His disciples, being Galileans, would have celebrated Passover one evening earlier than their Jewish brethren in the Jerusalem area. (See “Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ” by Harold W. Hoehner.)
A Summary of the Order of Events
Regarding the Death, Burial and Resurrection
of Jesus in 31 AD
1) Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover meal on a Tuesday evening (April 24th) in the Upper Room on Mount Zion.
2) After the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples departed the Upper Room and walked to the Garden of Gethsemane in the Kidron Valley between the Old City and the Mount of Olives.
3) Jesus was betrayed and arrested early Tuesday evening. His various trials lasted throughout Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
4) Jesus was crucified at about 9:00 am on Wednesday morning (April 25th). At noon, darkness filled the land. At about 3:00 pm Jesus died.
5) Jesus was buried on Wednesday about sunset.
6) The two Marys waited until after the high Sabbath on Thursday (April 26th) to purchase the spices for the anointing of Jesus’ body. They bought the spices on Friday (April 27th) and then rested again during the regular Sabbath on Saturday (April 28th) before returning to the tomb on Sunday morning (April 29th).
7) The resurrection of Jesus occurred on Saturday evening (Sunday by Judean reckoning of time). The resurrection was discovered on Sunday morning when the women returned to the tomb.
What Difference Does It Make?
Lest you be tempted to write all this off as much ado about nothing, let me explain why I think it is important. Prophecy and its fulfillment validate Jesus as who He said He was – namely, God in the flesh. Prophecy and its fulfillment also validate the Bible as the inspired Word of God. Prophecy must be fulfilled precisely, not approximately.
The precise fulfillment of prophecy regarding the First Coming of Jesus is our assurance that all the prophecies regarding His Second Coming will also be fulfilled completely to the last detail. God will not forget or overlook anything. He is true to His Word. He keeps His promises.
23 The Lord said to Moses: 2 Speak to the Israelites and say to them: These are my appointed times, the Lord’s appointed times, which you will declare to be holy occasions: 3 Work can be done for six days, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of special rest, a holy occasion. You must not do any work on it; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to theLord.4 These are theLord’s appointed times, holy occasions, which you will celebrate at their appointed times:
5 The Lord’s Passover is on the fourteenth day of the first month[a]at twilight. 6 TheLord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread is on the fifteenth day of the same month. You must eat unleavened bread for seven days.7 On the first day you will hold a holy occasion and must not do any job-related work. 8 You will offer food gifts to the Lord for seven days. The seventh day will be a holy occasion; you must not do any job-related work.
9 The Lord said to Moses: 10 Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you and harvest its produce, you must bring the first bundle of your harvest to the priest. 11 The priest will lift up the bundle before the Lord so that it will be acceptable on your behalf. The priest will do this on the day after the Sabbath.12 On the day the bundle is lifted up for you, you must offer a flawless one-year-old lamb as an entirely burned offering to theLord.13 The accompanying grain offering must be two-tenths of an ephah[b]of choice flour mixed with oil, as a food gift for theLord, a soothing smell. The accompanying drink offering must be a quarter of a hin of wine. 14 You must not eat any bread, roasted grain, or fresh grain until the exact day when you bring your God’s offering. This is a permanent rule throughout your future generations, wherever you live.
15 You must count off seven weeks starting with the day after the Sabbath, the day you bring the bundle for the uplifted offering; these must be complete.16 You will count off fifty days until the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you must present a new grain offering to the Lord. 17 From wherever you live, you will bring two loaves of bread as an uplifted offering. These must be made of two-tenths of an ephah of choice flour, baked with leaven, as early produce[c] to the Lord. 18 Along with the bread you must present seven flawless one-year-old lambs, one bull from the herd, and two rams. These will be an entirely burned offering to the Lord, along with their grain offerings and drink offerings, as a food gift of soothing smell to the Lord. 19 You must also offer one male goat as a purification offering and two one-year-old lambs as a communal sacrifice of well-being. 20 The priest will lift up the two sheep, along with the bread of the early produce, as an uplifted offering before the Lord. These will be holy to the Lord and will belong to the priest.21 On that very same day you must make a proclamation; it will be a holy occasion for you. You must not do any job-related work. This is a permanent rule wherever you live throughout your future generations.22 When you harvest your land’s produce, you must not harvest all the way to the edge of your field; and don’t gather every remaining bit of your harvest. Leave these items for the poor and the immigrant; I am the Lord your God.
23 The Lord said to Moses: 24 Say to the Israelites: On the first day of the seventh month,[d]you will have a special rest, a holy occasion marked by a trumpet signal.25 You must not do any job-related work, and you must offer a food gift to the Lord.
26 The Lord said to Moses: 27 Note that the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Reconciliation. It will be a holy occasion for you. You must deny yourselves and offer a food gift to theLord.28 You must not do any work that day because it is a Day of Reconciliation to make reconciliation for you before theLordyour God. 29 Anyone who does not deny themselves on that day will be cut off from their people.30 Moreover, I will destroy from their people anyone who does any work on that day. 31 You must not do any work! This is a permanent rule throughout your future generations wherever you live. 32 This is a Sabbath of special rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. You will observe your Sabbath on the ninth day of the month from evening to the following evening.
33 The Lord said to Moses: 34 Say to the Israelites: The Festival of Booths to the Lord will start on the fifteenth day of the seventh month and will last for seven days. 35 The first day is a holy occasion. You must not do any job-related work. 36 For seven days you will offer food gifts to the Lord. On the eighth day you will have a holy occasion and must offer a food gift to the Lord. It is a holiday: you must not do any job-related work.
37 These are the Lord’s appointed times that you will proclaim as holy occasions, offering food gifts to the Lord: entirely burned offerings, grain offerings, communal sacrifices, and drink offerings—each on its proper day. 38 This is in addition to the Lord’s sabbaths and in addition to your presents, all the payments for solemn promises, and all the spontaneous gifts that you give to the Lord.
39 Note that on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered the land’s crops, you will celebrate the Lord’s festival for seven days. The first day and the eighth day are days of special rest. 40 On the first day you must take fruit from majestic trees,[e] palm branches, branches of leafy trees,[f] and willows of the streams, and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. 41 You will celebrate this festival to theLord for seven days each year; this is a permanent rule throughout your future generations. You will celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 For seven days you must live in huts. Every citizen of Israel must live in huts43 so that your future generations will know that I made the Israelites live in huts when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am the Lordyour God.
44 So Moses announced the Lord’s appointed times to the Israelites.
31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
John 19:31Common English Bible (CEB)
Witness at the cross
31 It was the Preparation Day and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath, especially since that Sabbath was an important day. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of those crucified broken and the bodies taken down.
John 19:31Amplified Bible (AMP)
Care of the Body of Jesus
31 Since it was the day of Preparation [for the Sabbath], in order to prevent the bodies from hanging on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high holy day) the Jews asked Pilate to have their legs[a]broken [to hasten death] and the bodies taken away.
John 19:31After the legs were broken with a heavy blow, the condemned prisoner could no longer push upwards to assist his own breathing and would soon suffocate due to the awkward position that was forced on him by crucifixion. At the same time, breaking the legs was more painful than a quicker end with the point of a spear.
John 19:31Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
31 It was Preparation Day, and the Judeans did not want the bodies to remain on the stake on Shabbat, since it was an especially important Shabbat. So they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies removed.
John 19:311599 Geneva Bible (GNV)
31 [a]The Jews then (because it was the Preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day: for that Sabbath was an high day) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken down.
John 19:31-34The Message (MSG)
31-34 Then the Jews, since it was the day of Sabbath preparation, and so the bodies wouldn’t stay on the crosses over the Sabbath (it was a high holy day that year), petitioned Pilate that their legs be broken to speed death, and the bodies taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man crucified with Jesus, and then the other. When they got to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. One of the soldiers stabbed him in the side with his spear. Blood and water gushed out.
John 19:31-36J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
The body of Jesus is removed
31-36 As it was the day of preparation for the Passover, the Jews wanted to avoid the bodies being left on the crosses over the Sabbath (for that was a particularly important Sabbath), and they requested Pilate to have the men’s legs broken and the bodies removed. So the soldiers went and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Jesus. But when they came to him, they saw that he was already dead and they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there was an outrush of blood and water. And the man who saw this is our witness: his evidence is true. (He is certain that he is speaking the truth, so that you may believe as well.) For this happened to fulfil the scripture, ‘Not one of his bones shall be broken.’