Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
We commonly refer to today as “Black Friday.” Though retailers have begun holding sales before the actual day, “Black Friday” retains its significance as the day when most businesses will finally make a profit for the year, moving from being “in the red” (a deficit) to “in the black” (a profit). It never fails to astound me that a nation can go from offering thanks to God for their gifts to enjoying a scuffle over a discounted television in a day. People’s whimsy, however, is hardly unprecedented. Wasn’t Jesus hailed as the Messiah the same week the mob demanded His crucifixion? Humans, admittedly, are inconsistent creatures.
Some people use the term “Black Friday” to refer to what is also known as “Good Friday,” or the day Jesus bore the world’s sins on the cross. This moniker is because, for a total of three hours, the world was in total darkness. An issue with trying to discern such specifics retroactively is that tradition can often take precedence over Scripture. To pinpoint the year of Jesus’ death in Jerusalem, some have even resorted to using computers and date-calculating software.
So that I do not fall into the same trap, let me quickly raise a couple of issues that may make a nice and tidy timeline for the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord problematic. In the first place, let me state one undeniable truth. Early on a Sunday morning, the women found the tomb empty (John 20.1). From this one point, we apply Jesus’ words to the evil and (spiritually) adulterous generation seeking a sign: “for just as Jonah was in the stomach of the sea monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (Matthew 12.40 NASB). So, Jesus would be in the grave for three days and three nights.
A Friday crucifixion would not permit three full days and nights. According to religious scholars, a fraction of a day counts as an entire day. How do we know this, though? It turns into a speculative game. As a result, some argue that the Romans crucified Jesus on Wednesday. This alternative is also a possibility. But first, consider another hint. Because they were preparing for a high Sabbath, they had to bury Jesus quickly (John 19.31). That suggests another vote for Friday. Is that correct? What was the last meal Jesus wished to share with His disciples before His crucifixion? It was Passover (Matthew 26.18). Matthew 26.17 states that Jesus sent His disciples ahead to secure a room to eat the Passover meal on the first day of Unleavened Bread.
A careful reading of the text reveals that everything from the institution of the Lord’s Supper to the death of Jesus occurred on Passover since it occurred between the span of one sunset to the next (e.g., Leviticus 23.32). This coincidence is apropos, given that Jesus was the Lamb of God (John 1.29). Moreover, according to Leviticus 23.5-6, Passover was immediately followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But note Leviticus 23.7. The first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was a holy convocation on which keepers of Moses’ Law were not supposed to work. In other words, it was a special Sabbath. Aha!
So, the high Sabbath that led to the quick burial of Jesus was not a typical Saturday Sabbath. This truth creates an intriguing scenario, and the Gospels do provide hints. A regular Sabbath may have fallen after a special Sabbath. Take note of what the Gospels say about women. They went to see where Joseph and Nicodemus buried Jesus before returning home to prepare spices and perfumes to anoint Him (Luke 23.55-56). These women, according to Luke, kept the Sabbath. But then Mark says something that skeptics say contradicts Luke. After observing the Sabbath, the women purchase spices for Jesus’ anointing (Mark 16.1). But instead of contradiction, it more likely indicates a two-Sabbath week. Whatever the reason, the women could not attend to Jesus’ body as they had hoped until Sunday morning. This day was when they discovered the empty tomb.
Our conclusion may not please those insisting on specifics, but I believe it allows our Lord’s words to be proven. He spent three days and three nights in the tomb, as He said because that was the sign. It was not an hour or two here and there, coupled with two full days. So, those of you better with math and willing to consult astronomical computer programs can give me a date based on those variables, but until then, we hear the words of Jesus to Thomas Didymus:
“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed (John 20.29 NASB).