How the Scriptures Indicate Jesus Did Not Die on Good Friday
The church has traditionally celebrated Holy Week in the spring, lasting from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday. In-between is Good Friday, a dark and sorrowful remembrance of the day Jesus died.
But what if church tradition was wrong? What if I told you Jesus did not die on Friday but on Thursday?
More importantly, what if Scripture told you Jesus died on Thursday? For that is the critical issue: What does Scripture tell us?
Not Pastor Jason.
Not church tradition.
Not emotion and nostalgia from how we may have celebrated Good Friday.
But Scripture — what does it tell us, and why is it even important?
Let’s take a quick look at the Scriptures, for it’s truly amazing what unfolds that first Holy Week.
Holy Week = Holiday Week
The Holy Week was established by God to look back at the commemoration of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and to look forward to the ultimate fulfillment of salvation in the Messiah.
Palm Sunday occurred on the 10th day of the first month (Abib), the day God had commanded families to select a lamb for their household for the very first Passover.
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household…and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
As the passage says, on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, the Lamb was to be killed. A family’s Passover lamb would be slaughtered, its blood painted with a hyssop branch over the home’s door frame and its roasted meat eaten inside. Outside, the death angel would look upon the blood and pass over, sparing the firstborn within the family from the plague brought upon Egypt.
During the original Holy Week of Jesus, the 14th day of the month would have been Thursday, not Friday. The day Jesus died as the sacrificial Lamb of God — the Messiah, the Suffering Servant — would have been Thursday the 14th, not Friday the 15th, according to the days God foretold through the original Passover event and its subsequent yearly observance.
Wait, you say, how do you know Palm Sunday would have been the 10th? Why couldn’t Monday have been the 10th, therefore, placing Jesus’ death on Friday.
We find this by working backwards from what the Bible says concerning the latter part of the Holy Week.
From Creation, the seventh day, Saturday, was set aside as a day of rest, that is, a day of Sabbath. No work was to be done. God reaffirmed keeping the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Exodus 20:9-11 ESV
However, there was another category of Sabbath days commanded in the Scriptures. These were special holy days set aside for holidays. These special Sabbaths are known as High Sabbaths.
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the 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; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.
Leviticus 23:5-7 ESV
Friday the 15th was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and therefore a High Sabbath. It was set apart and no work was to be done. John 19:31 indicates this was the case:
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 says the day following Jesus’ death, which would have begun at sundown, was the High Sabbath — the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the 15th day of the month.
Additionally, we know there were two Sabbaths that week from Matthew 28:1:
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
Wait, you say, Matthew says there was only one Sabbath, not two. It’s singular.
You are right, according to the English translations. However, in the Greek text the word is plural: Sabbaton. There was a High Sabbath on Friday, a regular weekly Sabbath on Saturday, and a resurrection on Sunday, the first day of the next week.
Just as Jesus Said
One final piece of evidence for Jesus dying on Thursday are the words of Jesus Himself. When asked by the Pharisees and scribes to give a sign, Jesus said He would only give them the sign of Jonah:
“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 ESV
Just a hunch, but I think the Son of God was pretty good at math. Friday does not fit into a three-day-three-night timeline, even if you count Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the three days. There is still one night missing.
Placed on Thursday, Jesus’ death fulfills not only the sign of Jonah, but everything else He had prophetically ordained through the timing of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Why Is This Even Important?
Honestly, I don’t care if folks commemorate Jesus’ death on Thursday or Friday. If I get upset about that, I’d also have to crusade against Christmas being placed on December 25th.
However, the importance comes by seeing God’s plan, perfectly detailed in its foretelling and execution (no pun intended — seriously). It is another moment in the Scriptures where we get to see God giving a profound revelation of all He’s done to orchestrate the greatest and only jailbreak of humanity from the bondage of sin and death in order to deliver us to Himself.
It is similar to the precision with which He rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery in the first place:
The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night of watching by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.
Exodus 12:40-42 ESV
It was all perfect, and it has been precisely recorded in His Word.
Thanks be to God for giving Jesus, the Passover Lamb, in our place and raising Him from the dead! Let us then celebrate not only on Thursdays and Fridays.
Let us celebrate everyday!