Early Christianity became divided over the Passover/Easter Sunday controversy. What are the Biblical proofs? Which should Christians observe?
Source: Roger Nettles
Recently, I was asked why I believe Jesus was crucified on Wednesday and rose on the Sabbath before sunset.
This is what the gentleman said: "You say that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday. This can't be. We know from Luke 23:53-54 that he was taken down and laid in the sepulcher the same day that he was killed. That means that Wednesday night (would have been) the first night He was 'in the belly of the whale.' Thursday, the first day. Thursday night, the second night. Friday, the second day. Friday night, the third night. Saturday, the third day. We know that He rose again the first day of the week: Sunday morning. If true, that means that He would have been 'in the belly of the whale' on Saturday night, making it 4 nights, not three (see Matthew12:38-40). This cannot be. Now, if he was crucified on a Thursday, this would work, but not on a Wednesday. See my point?"
And further, from Luke 23:54-56, he said, "We can see that Pilate took down the body, wrapped it in linen and laid it is the sepulcher and that these things happened right after Jesus died; (and) that day was the prep day, so it had to have been a Friday. (And in) Verse 55, they (the women) followed after them that took the body on Friday evening to lay it in the sepulcher, again, on Friday evening. Verse 56, they left the site and came back on Friday evening with their ointments and spices because they knew they would not do so the next day, the Sabbath day of rest. This is evident as we read in the last half of verse 56. He must have been crucified on a Friday. Your thoughts?"
These are good questions. How would you answer those who observe Good Friday as the day of Christ's crucifixion, and Easter Sunday as the time of His resurrection? And how can you prove if Jesus was crucified on Wednesday afternoon and resurrected on the Sabbath before sunset?
How do we solve this dilemma? How can we prove which is right from the Bible?
This person was correct in saying that the Bible says Jesus was crucified and laid in the sepulcher (tomb) on the Day of Preparation, and that Friday is a prep day for the weekly Sabbath. But he assumed that THIS Preparation Day had to be a Friday, and THAT Sabbath was the weekly Sabbath.
Let's consider what John wrote in John 19:31: "…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)…" And in verse 14 he explained that THIS Preparation Day was "the Preparation Day of the Passover," not the weekly Sabbath. According to Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, "high day" from the Greek "megas" meaning great, is here virtually equivalent to holy.
There are seven annual high holy day feasts in the Old Testament, called "The feasts ("moed" meaning appointed times or appointments, seasons) of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations." They are called holy days (meaning sanctified or set apart for God's purpose) and Sabbaths (meaning a time of rest to cease from one's labor) (Exodus 35:2; Leviticus 23:1-4,24,32,37-39; Nehemiah 8:2,9-11). Traditional Christianity does not understand or proclaim them because they have substituted and keep pagan "holidays" instead of God's true holy days (see " God's Holy Day Plan—Hope For All Mankind " and " Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Keep? ")
The Passover is an observance which always occurs on the evening of the 14th day of the first month of the biblical year (Abib or Nisan: Exodus 12:1). It is not a Sabbath holy day or high day, but it is a preparation day. The following day of the 15 th is the first holy day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is the 15th of Nisan (a high day Sabbath: Leviticus 23:5-8).
Was Jesus resurrected on Sunday?
Another assumption this person made is that, "We know that He (Jesus) rose again on the first day of the week: Sunday morning." Is that what the Scriptures really say? [Note: Sunday came to be called the "Lord's Day" to justify changing from keeping the "Jewish" Sabbath, based on the assumption that Jesus rose from the grave on Sunday, the first day of the week. But Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath," not Sunday (Mark 2:27-28; Luke 6:5).
God's Sabbath has always been the seventh day, which the Lord God sanctified after creating man (Genesis 2:1-4).
Matthew 28:1-6 says: "Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb." An angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said" (see also Mark 16:2-6 and Luke 24:1-7).
Notice that it does NOT say when He rose, but rather that He had already risen, even as He said He would. He said He would rise after being dead and in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights—72 hours (Matthew 12:40). As the angel also said, "Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and the third day rise again’" (Luke 24:6-7).
If we believe the Scriptures, then we must believe that Jesus rose as He said, after being dead and in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. That is from Wednesday evening to Saturday (the weekly Sabbath) evening, not Friday evening to Sunday morning. Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees who wanted to see a sign proving He was the Messiah,
"An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights (72 hours) 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).
When did the three days and three nights begin and end?
So when did the three days and three nights begin and end according to the Scriptures?
We know that Jesus had already risen BEFORE very early Sunday morning, "as the first day of the week began to dawn" (Matthew 28:1). Also, we know that He was laid in the tomb in the evening, just before the high holy day Sabbath (Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:53-54; John 19:14, 31, 38-42). If He was laid in the tomb in the evening and was there three days and three nights (72 hours), as He said He would be (Matthew 12:40), then He rose in the evening BEFORE Sunday morning, which would have been on the weekly Sabbath just before sunset—NOT Sunday morning!
We can therefore count back three days and three nights to determine what day Jesus was laid in the tomb. Counting back three days and three nights from Saturday (Sabbath) evening takes us to Wednesday evening.
Jesus was, therefore, crucified and died on Wednesday afternoon, and laid in the tomb just before sunset. He rose again three days and three nights later on the evening of the weekly Sabbath just at sunset. All four gospel accounts agree on the events of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection.
Which should Christians keep, Passover or Easter?
Should Christians keep Easter Sunday or the Passover—and when is the Passover to be kept? The scriptures are clear that Christians (disciples of Jesus Christ) should follow the example of Jesus. Jesus and His apostles kept God's holy days and the Passover. He said, concerning the Passover,
"For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:15, 17).
Peter wrote concerning Christ's example,
"For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:" (1 Peter 2:21).
For more information on the Sabbath and God’s holy days, request the free booklets: Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest and Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Keep?