One question that has been a source of controversy for many years has to do with the actual day of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. A plethora of opinions can easily be found just by entering the question “When was Good Friday first observed?” on the internet. Answers will vary from Wednesday, Thursday, or, as most accept, Good Friday being the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. 

Some historical records tell us that much of the early Church observed the crucifixion and resurrection week’s events on one single day for a number of years. Others observed it in other ways. “Good Friday” was not officially observed as such until at least the third century AD, although some say it wasn’t until the Middle Ages. Regardless of the exact date, it was centuries after the early Church had been established.

In this article, I would like to propose an answer to the question which I believe makes a lot of sense, and is possibly the scriptural answer many are seeking. My intent is not to discourage anyone from celebrating Resurrection weekend by observing Good Friday for what the day represents. While doing some of my research, I found a number of interesting comments concerning this question. I have included one of these below: 

“The only value of this type of discussion, although interesting to some, is that it further proves the amazing accuracy of the Scriptures….Those who refer to “tradition” should look at Mark 7:13: ‘making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.’”

He went on to say: 

“As far as I am concerned, tradition NEVER has precedence over God’s word, but if your church teaches otherwise, you are entitled to your opinion…”

I agree with the comments made by the contributor above. Tradition has often been accepted as fact and often the accuracy of Scripture has had to suffer. In the case of the crucifixion of Jesus and subsequent resurrection, there is a very careful pattern laid out in the Old Testament that shows the intricate detail God instituted in the observances of the ancient Israelites that painted a very clear and detailed picture of the process God had set in motion thousands of years before the actual birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Messiah. He was, and is the Perfect Lamb of God. In this writing, I want to give credit to the late Jack Kelley and the excellent work he has done on the subject. Much credit must be given to the late Sir Robert Anderson as well and his book “The Coming Prince.” 

In order to lay some groundwork, it is important to recognize the continuous battle that went on between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day. The Pharisees knew that a Messiah had been promised, and they were quite well versed in the Old Testament prophecies, but when faced with Jesus possibly being that very Messiah, they balked. He didn’t fit the mold of what they expected the Messiah to be. For one thing, Jesus did not challenge the Roman Empire, as they had expected Him to. They were looking for a warrior Messiah, and Jesus seemed to have no interest in dismantling the power of the Roman Empire. That was not the Kingdom of God He spoke of as He taught the people. Not only that, Jesus blatantly pointed out the religious hypocrisy of the Scribes and the Pharisees, while repeatedly using examples of the hated Samaritans as more spiritually responsive and humble than them. 

One crucial question pertaining to our subject that they asked Him is found in Matthew 12. Notice the question by the Pharisees and Jesus’ answer to them.

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39 But He 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. 40 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.  Matthew 12:38-40 

In His answer to the Pharisees, Jesus was insinuating that these men were so blinded by their own religious arrogance that His resurrection from the dead might be the only “sign” they will believe, because it will be unmistakable. Nevertheless, we know from history that even His resurrection from the dead did not convince them. His response to their question, however, has become the source of a 2,000 year old controversy.

This controversy is, however, resolvable, and it is through a careful understanding of the Jewish Sabbath. Taking a good look at John 19:31 is a good first step.

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. 

It is important at this point that we understand that the Israelites had a series of Feasts during their calendar year that they were instructed to observe. Some of these feasts included a Special Sabbath, or High Day. So, the question must be answered, was the Sabbath mentioned by the Apostle John a regular Sabbath, or was it a Special Sabbath, or High Day? If it is a regular weekly Sabbath — which is always on a Saturday, then Jesus was crucified on a Friday. How can you fit “the sign of Jonah (three days and three nights) in between Friday afternoon and the Sunday morning resurrection? It is impossible to fit into the timeslot between those two times. However, the passage in John 19:31 made it quite clear. But, let’s go on…

We should define “Sabbath.” The word is a Hebrew word that, as defined, means “rest” and refers to holy days in which it was God’s command not to work. Work was absolutely forbidden. All Saturdays were a Sabbath to an Israelite, but there were also several Special Sabbaths throughout the year that did not necessarily happen on a literal calendar Saturday. These Special Sabbaths were ‘dated’ Sabbaths. An example that most people, at least in the Western World, will be familiar with is Christmas. Christmas is on December 25th, no matter what day of the week it falls on. It is the same with the Special Sabbaths. They were on the same calendar date, no matter what day of the week they happen to fall on. 

In the above John 19:31 reference, the Apostle is referring to the Feast of Unleavened Bread. On the Gregorian calendar that falls somewhere in March – April. This Special Sabbath did not have to fall on a Saturday. 

Within the Jewish month of Nisan, there were not only regular weekly Sabbaths, but there were also additional Special Sabbaths. Of the multiple Sabbaths in the month of Nisan, there were actually four of these Special Sabbaths. The first one was Passover and it was always observed on the 14th day of the month. Next was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which began on the 15th and ended on the 22nd — both of which were Special Sabbaths. The last Special Sabbath was the Feast of Firstfruits, which was on the Sunday morning following Passover. We find all these details in Leviticus 23:4-14. Only two of these Special Sabbaths — the one opening and the one closing the Feast of Unleavened Bread, outlawed work as regular Sabbaths do, although all of them had a historical and of course, also a prophetic purpose. They also all began at sundown. This was, incidentally, a pattern set down in Genesis 1, when God proclaimed the first evening and morning the first day, and all days thereafter in the same way. 

Each day of the Passover week was very significant. That’s the reason for this writing. The events, and the days in which they were to be fulfilled prior to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were instituted in Exodus 12:1-13, including the sequence of events. God instructed the Israelites to select a lamb on the 10th day of the month and carefully inspect it for any defects until the 14th — meaning, through the end of the 13th day. It was then, at twilight, that they were to slaughter it and roast it. They were then to eat it that very same evening as the 14th was beginning. The Israelites were also to take some of the blood and use it to stain both sides of their doorward as well as over the door header. This was God’s provision for their protection as the great plague came through the land of Egypt at midnight. 

What may seem a tedious ritual to a western mind, was a process God had instructed them to complete, and the details were of a significance the ancient Israelites did not fully comprehend. It was a prophetic picture of the future perfect Lamb of God — Jesus, who would sacrifice Himself so that all who recognize Him for Who He really is and accepts His free gift of Salvation through His blood, would be spared the fate of fallen mankind. 

Going on, the only day in which Jesus allowed the people to call Him King, was on the day we now celebrate as Palm Sunday. “Palm Sunday” was on the 10th of the month. This was to fulfill what was ritualistically done in Exodus 12. Jesus went through the exact same selection process as each lamb was on the Israelites first Passover. When the people shouted and sang, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel,” the religious officials told the disciples to rebuke the people up in order to shut them up. Jesus then said something rather odd:

But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”  Luke 19:40

Although the officials of the Sanhedrin refused to recognize the Son of Man / Son of God in front of them, Jesus told them that His creation, as Creator would! Everything within eyeshot of everyone there was the work of His hands. The first chapter of John confirms this, as well as many other passages of Scripture. The statement Jesus made reminds me of a passage in the Apostle Paul’s writings where he said this:

19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.  Romans 8:19-23

 Creation was affected immediately in the Garden of Eden when the first human couple disobeyed God and partook of what He had instructed them not to. This brought sin and death, not only to all of Adam and Eve’s descendants, but also to nature itself. God’s creation on planet Earth has been in the state of groaning ever since, and in our generation it is becoming a fever pitch — not because man is destroying the planet as we are being told by global elitists, but rather by the death-fall that creation experienced. The only hope of mankind is the God-Man, Jesus who was the subject of the shouts of this crowd on the first Palm Sunday. 

This day was ordained by God. It had to happen! It was this day that Jesus officially announced Himself as Israel’s Messiah and the perfect Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. This was exactly what John the Baptist saw 3 ½ years earlier.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  John 1:29

This day was exactly 483 years to the day from the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, as the prophet Daniel had foretold. It was not long after the religious officials had told Jesus to rebuke the crowd that He condemned Jerusalem to utter destruction because they did not recognize the Day of His visitation. 

25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks (of years); the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself…  Daniel 9:25-26a (emphasis mine)

41 Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, 44 and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another; because you did not know the time of your visitation.  Luke 19:41-44

It is important for us to see how specific God was in fulfilling Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah. The next three days after the 10th were filled with the most aggressive debates and conflicts with the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees of His entire 3 ½ years of ministry. He, His lifestyle, and His teachings were thoroughly inspected for any spot or blemish that could disqualify Him as the “perfect” Lamb of God, but none was found and His challengers were left dumbfounded and helpless. Every attack had been methodically destroyed. They could not continue the fight — without going to the drastic measures they were prepared to follow through on in the next couple days.  

A fact of history that we should be aware of: Sometime before the birth of Jesus, the Passover observance had been altered. A brief meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs was to begin on the 14th, followed by a much more leisurely festive meal on the 15th — at the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This meal is today known as the Passover Seder

It was the 14th that became known as “Preparation Day” because of all the tasks needing to be completed by the time of the great feast at sundown. No work was allowed after sundown. Three of the writers of the Gospels confirm that “Preparation Day” was the day of Jesus’ crucifixion and death — which is the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan, which is Passover. 

42 Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 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.  Mark 15:42-43

54 That day of the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near, 55 and the women who had come within Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid.  Luke 23:54-55

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

As the evening became the next day, Jesus ate the ritual meal with His disciples in the Upper Room, and then was subsequently arrested, tried, convicted, and put to death; all on Passover. As we ponder all these facts and events, we can see that, just as God had commanded the Israelites in Exodus 12, our Passover Lamb was chosen on the 10th, inspected on the 11th, 12th, and 13th, and executed on the 14th of the month of Nisan. 

There are always going to be those who will question how we can really know this all to be factual. One very convincing argument was put forth about a century ago from a committed believer in and follower of Jesus named, Sir Robert Anderson. Robert Anderson was head of Scotland Yard’s investigative division. The controversy of the three days and three nights bothered him greatly, to the point that he solicited the help of the London Observatory to look into the issue. Astronomers have been able to pinpoint the exact position of the planets and stars on any named date in history for quite some time now. Since it’s an established fact that Passover is always on the 14th of Nisan, and since the Jewish calendar is lunar rather than solar oriented, it so happens there is always a full moon on Passover. This is a partial fulfillment of Genesis 1:14:

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years.

By plotting the Sun and Moon they documented the day and date of every full moon. The Royal Observatory discovered that the first Palm Sunday was the 10th of Nisan, the day when Exodus 12 says the lamb is to be selected. This means that Passover, the 14th, was on a Thursday. The Feast of Unleavened Bread began on Friday the 15th, Saturday the 16th was the normal weekly Sabbath, and Resurrection morning, which was Sunday, was the 17th — when the Feast of Firstfruits was celebrated. From Thursday to Sunday, there are three days and three nights. To our western way of thinking, that is a bit confusing because the Hebrew day changes at sunset, which means that night precedes day (as in Genesis 1, referred to earlier). Examine it carefully, and it becomes apparent that it all makes sense and is mathematically and prophetically correct. 

Jesus had to die on Passover to accurately fulfill prophecy. The Jewish religious leadership had gotten permission to crucify Jesus early Thursday morning (Matthew 27:1-26). His fate was sealed and even though He was shuffled from Annas to Caiaphus to Pilate, to King Herod, and back again to Pilate, and then scourged, He was on the cross sometime midmorning between 9:00 am and 10:00 or so. (Note: The reason for an allowance of time is because in those days, no one wore a watch and it was impossible to carry a sundial around. When it was said “about the 3rd hour of the day” or “the 6th hour of the day”, that was approximate according to how one estimated the position of the sun in the sky). By about 3:00 PM Jesus was dead. It was a short time later that HIs body was removed from the cross and placed in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. The Jewish religious leaders wanted Jesus and the two criminals crucified with Him off the crosses before sundown, which brought on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, after which no one could work. By then, Jesus had already been in Sheol for a few hours. Thursday was day one. 

Due to Jewish reckoning of the day, the night preceding the day, Thursday, the 14th, was day one, and at sundown Thursday, it became Friday, the 15th — night one, and the Special Sabbath the Apostle John mentioned in John 19:31 began. At sunrise Friday morning, day two began. Sundown Friday evening brought on the Jews regular weekly Sabbath, and night two. Saturday morning, the 16th — the regular Sabbath, brought the beginning of day three. At sundown on Saturday evening, it became the Jewish Sunday, the 17th, night three, and sometime before sunrise Sunday morning, Jesus rose from the dead — after three days and three nights. When the women arrived Sunday morning, He had already been resurrected!

The fact is, there were two Sabbaths during the week of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. One was a Special Sabbath, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, decreed by God in the Old Testament, and the day after, the regular weekly Sabbath — work not being allowed on either day. This is why Jesus’ body couldn’t be properly prepared on either Friday or Saturday. The women showed up very early on the 17th. Luke 24:1 tells us they were going to anoint His body for burial. 

Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.  Luke 24:1

It was now the Sunday after Passover, when the Feast of Firstfruits was celebrated at the Temple. At the tomb, Jesus — the embodiment of the First Fruits, had just risen!

The story of Jesus meeting with the two men incognito as they were walking on the Emmaus Road, provides us further proof. The story is found in Luke 24:13-35. Jesus joined the conversation between the men as they were discussing the tragic events of the past days. When He asked them what tragic events they were referring to, they thought He must be a visitor from out of the area. Everyone seemed to know what had happened except this “visitor.” They told Him about the great Prophet from Nazareth, mighty in word and deed, whom they had hoped would redeem Israel, but was rather delivered to be condemned and crucified instead. In verse 21 of Luke 24 we find the men specifically stating: “today is the third day since these things happened.” This was now Sunday, confirming that Jesus had been crucified on Thursday, Passover. 

Most of us consider the morning as the beginning of the day, when actually our day begins at 12:01 am. The Jewish people just back the start time of the day a few more hours.

Below, I have provided a chart originally drawn up some years ago by the late Jack Kelley. It should help us to understand how the prophetic three days and three nights fulfilled.

Forever in HIs Service,

Jake Geier


2 thoughts on “Tackling the Crucifixion — ‘Jonah Sign’ Controversy

  1. God bless you Jake for this concise article. For a long time I have pondered about this and it is so clear and in fulfilment of
    God’s Word. Hallelu Yah!

    1. Praise God. I wrote it — not to prove any others wrong, but rather to show that the Word of God is accurate and exact. Our God is amazing, Luke!

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