Easter, Good Friday, and Other Things!

Since the "Christian" world has just celebrated another Easter holiday, I wanted to share a couple of thoughts.  I’m not going to get into the whole pagan, fertility thing or explain the history of the holiday in institutional religion.  Neither do I want to minimize the importance of the resurrection of Christ in any way.  But I do have issues with the traditional, religious view of Good Friday.

Let’s get right to it.  Many, if not most, of the traditional Christian denominations and groups hold that Friday is the day Jesus Christ was crucified – hence, Good Friday.  But according to the Scripture record, that could not be true.  We’ll start in Matthew 12:38-40.

"Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you (that would prove you are who you say you are).  But He replied to them, Only an evil and adulterous generation would ask for a sign.  But no sign will be given, except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

Of course these religious Jews had no idea what Jesus was talking about.  It’s obvious from the way Jesus clashed with them that their traditional religion was void of any spiritual reality.  There is a reason why, when you read the Scriptures, you see phrases like "the Lord’s Passover" and "feasts of the Lord" in the Old Testament; but, then, when you read the New Testament you see "the Jew’s Passover" and "feasts of the Jews".  It is as Jesus says in Matthew 15:1-9, that the commandments of God had been nullified by the traditions of men.  These guys were so blinded by their own religion that when Jesus gave a prediction of His own resurrection, they missed it (even though Job, Isaiah, Daniel and David all spoke clearly of it).

And from what Jesus says here, Jonah clearly illustrated it.  If you can get the cartoon images from the children’s books of Jonah sitting dejectedly in the belly of a whale out of your mind, and read the Book of Jonah; then you’ll see that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish, died, his body stayed in the belly of the fish for three days, his soul went to Sheol where he prayed to the Lord and repented of his rebellion and disobedience, the Lord then brought Jonah back to life and spoke to the fish, who then vomited out Jonah on dry land and Jonah hit the ground running to do what God had told him to do in the first place.  Jonah was dead for three days and three nights; then God brought him back to life.  Jesus, when you read on in Matthew from chapter 12, tells His disciples repeatedly that He would be crucified, buried and in three days would be raised from death (see Matthew 16:2117:22-2320:18-19).

But, all that aside, what I really wanted to emphasize from Matthew 12:38-40 was that Jesus clearly says He would be in the grave for three days and three nights or three, full, twenty-four hour days!  Now, anyone should be able to do the math.  If Jesus was resurrected by Sunday morning as the record says (Matthew 28:1Luke 24:1 and John 20:1), He could not have been crucified on Friday (otherwise his resurrection could not have taken place until Tuesday).  To establish the day He really was crucified we can simply start with the resurrection and count back three days and three nights.  This pushes the crucifixion back to Wednesday.

Now, there are a couple of things to look at here.  The first is the fact that both Luke 23:54 and John 19:31 state the day following the crucifixion was a Sabbath day.  If you read the verse above from John’s account, you’ll see the Jews asking Pilate to make sure Jesus and the two thieves were dead and dispose of the bodies so they wouldn’t hang there on the Sabbath.  If Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, then Thursday was a Sabbath.  I suppose religion assumes He had to be crucified on Friday, because the next day, Saturday, was the Sabbath.  But, that year (33AD) Passover was on Wednesday and the Feast of Unleavened Bread was on Thursday.  So, Thursday was a Sabbath, in fact, an important high holy day to the Jews.

Another thing to consider if you’re going to fully understand the timing of certain events in Scripture is the two 12 hour periods of the Jewish day (the night watch from 6 PM to 6 AM and the day hours from 6 AM to 6 PM).  By their reckoning the Jewish day started at 6 PM.  In the New Testament there were four night watches of three hours each from 6 PM to 6 AM (see Matthew 14:25Luke 12:38).  Starting at 6 AM the day hours were counted individually.  For instance in John 4:6 Jesus was traveling through Samaria and when He came to Sychar it says He was tired and sat down by Jacob’s well and it was "about the sixth hour".  That would be 12 noon on our clock. Or, when you read Matthew 27:45, it says while Jesus was on the cross "there was darkness over all the land from the sixth hour until the ninth hour", which would have been from noon to three o’clock in the afternoon.

This solves the problems of timing for this important week.  Jesus and His disciples observed that last Passover sometime after 6 PM on Tuesday (which would have been Wednesday Jewish time).  Jesus was arrested Tuesday night and His trials (six of them) took place over night into late Wednesday morning.  He was crucified Wednesday afternoon and His body was put in the tomb on Wednesday night.  Three full days later He was resurrected.  By Jewish time that would have been anytime after 6 PM on Saturday night, when their Sunday or first day of the week would have begun.  I hope that’s not too confusing: but according to the record, that should be the correct timeline.  Good Friday is not Good Friday at all; it should be Good Wednesday.

And while we’re here, I can’t resist looking at a few points of interest regarding events after the resurrection.  In John 20:1 we see: "Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance of the tomb."  Although there is no reference to exact time here, Mary went to the tomb before it was light and as this and other previously mentioned references (Matthew 28:1 and Luke 24:1) indicate, the resurrection had already taken place.  So, it fits in the timeline given.

But notice John 20:6-7.  "Then Simon Peter came, following him (John), and went into the tomb.  Then he saw the sheets of linen cloth lying there, and the burial kerchief that had been around Jesus’ head was still wrapped up undisturbed in its place."  I’ve always been fascinated by this verse.  The resurrection body of Jesus went up through the cloth that was wrapped around His body and head, so they were still lying there, as they were when He was wrapped in them for burial.  The stone was not moved back from the entrance of the tomb to let Jesus out.  It was moved to let people in, so they could see that it was empty!  Later that same day, Jesus graphically demonstrated this unique feature of His resurrected spirit body (for more on the spirit body see the article titled "The Shape of God") when He appeared to His disciples for the first time.  In John 20:19 it says, "Then that same day, when it was evening, even though the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jews, Jesus came and stood there with them and said, Peace to you."  Jesus didn’t have to knock on the door and wait for someone to open it for Him.  He simply passed through the wall into the house where the disciples were, just like He passed through the burial clothes and the walls of the tomb at His resurrection.  I guess Jesus enjoyed sneaking up on them like that, He did it again a week later in John 20:26.

Another interesting point in this passage is found in John 20:16-17.  When Mary went to the tomb that morning and found it empty, she ran back and told Peter and John, who then went to see for themselves.  In their confusion and disappointment Peter and John went back home, but Mary stayed.  When you follow the narrative, she saw the two angels and then Jesus appeared, which brings us to the above reference that says: "Jesus said to her, Mary!  And turning, she said to Him in Hebrew, Rabboni! – which means, Master.  Then Jesus said to her, Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.  But go to My brethren and tell them I am ascending now to my Father and your Father, and to My God and your God."

The traditional view seems to be that Jesus didn’t want anyone to touch Him before He ascended to the Father (the KJV says "touch me not"); but that could not be true, since He allowed women to touch Him both here and according to Matthew’s account (Matthew 28:9).  He purposely asked Thomas to touch Him and physically examine His wounds (John 20:27).  The misunderstanding is in the unfortunate translation of the verb haptomai, the present imperative of hapto.  When a present imperative is negative and prohibits an action, it gives the implication that an action that has been taking place should stop.  Jesus is not telling Mary not to touch Him; He’s telling her to stop holding on to Him or stop clinging to Him, as some versions correctly state.

The rest of the verse tells us why.  He tells Mary to go tell the disciples "I am ascending now to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God." Here the verb "ascend" is anabaino, a present indicative, used to represent contemporary or punctiliar action.  In other words, Jesus is telling Mary to let go of Him and go tell the others that He’s ascending immediately to His Father.  Again, the assumption is probably that Jesus ascended only once, as witnessed by His disciples and recorded in Mark 16:19Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9.  But that is only an assumption, and a wrong one at that.

Luke tells us in Acts 1:3 that Jesus showed Himself alive by "a series of unquestionable signs" or demonstrations (en pollois tekmeriois is a legal term used to describe something that could not be disproved), for a period of forty days after his resurrection.  And it is interesting that early historians surrounded by contemporary evidence, both Christian and non-Christian, did not try to refute it.  Only much later in time was this attempted.  Yet, there are only 12 recorded instances in the Gospel accounts and the Book of Acts of Him appearing and interacting with people.  On the other hand, there’s no reason to think that all of His appearances during these forty days would be recorded.  My point is, what was Jesus doing during this time when He wasn’t appearing and showing that He was alive?  Was He hiding out somewhere?  Why would He?  Was He staying with someone who kept it secret?  Again, why?  Or, was He simply ascending and descending from the presence of the Father between those times.  With the limitless abilities of His resurrection, spirit body why wouldn’t that be the case?

Just a couple more things and I’ll be finished.  I like to reflect on the importance of Jesus’ resurrection every year and renew my appreciation of it. Let me offer these few simple points.  The first is that His resurrection is proof of His power over death.  Most of the statements Jesus made predicting His resurrection came after He had already demonstrated that power when he raised the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:35-43) and Lazarus (John 11:17-45).  Jesus makes it clear in John 10:18 that He had the permission of the Father to give up His life at the point in time of His choosing (the Jews didn’t kill Him, neither did our sin – no one can kill God) and permission to take it back again.  Jesus lived, died and lived again according to His own will and timing.  Death had no power over Him.

The second point is that His resurrection is a sign of the Father’s acceptance of Jesus’ atonement.  The reconciliation between God and man was completed as indicated by Peter’s statements in Acts 2:33-36, Paul in Ephesians 1:19-20Hebrews 1:13, 8:1, 12:2 and Peter again in I Peter 3:22. Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, where He will remain until His plan for the ages is completed and all things are reconciled back to Himself (Colossians 1:20).

And finally, the designation of Christ as the first fruits of all those who will come after Him is the promise of our own resurrection (I Corinthians 15:20-23). And when you put these all together (Jesus’ power over death, the Father’s acceptance and the promise of our own resurrection), this is the verse that makes my spirit soar:

"For both He that makes men holy and those who are made holy are all equal in the sight of God; and so He (Christ) is not ashamed to call them family."(Hebrews 2:11)