A superficial reading of the gospel narratives concerning the death of Jesus will show that He was nailed to the cross at 9 o’clock in the morning, and was dead by 3 in the afternoon. His terrible ordeal, it would seem, was over in a mere six hours.
The agony in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before had been an ordeal in prayer before His Father that we can scarcely understand. The writer of Hebrews comments on this incident,
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered…” (Hebrews 5:7, 8)
Then, too, Jesus had been up the rest of the night without sleep enduring beating, cruel mockery and unspeakable brutality. The next morning, the Romans scourged Him. (Mark 15:15, John 19:1).
Jesus was already greatly weakened when he carried his cross, stumbling, to the place of crucifixion alongside the main public highway, probably just outside the Damascus Gate.
Several medical doctors and forensic experts have written books about the common Roman form of execution—death by crucifixion. Often the process took several days. The nailing of hands and feet forced the victim to push up against the weight of his own body to take a single breath. In the hot sun, terrible thirst ensued and death came in most cases from suffocation amidst great pain. The victim was also naked and humiliated—death on the cross was reserved for the most wretched of all criminals.
Wood was in short supply in Israel in Roman times. It is likely that small trees (such as these olive trees) were pressed into service to handle the thousands of executions. Crosses were stuck into the ground along major thoroughfares to offer maximum public viewing which included public ridicule and scorn. The terrible nature of this punishment helped enforce Rome’s control over the Jews whom they hated anyway. In the Law of Moses hanging a criminal on a tree or cross was reserved for the most serious crimes, “And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)
There is much more to the death of Jesus on the cross than the visible suffering, terrible pain and suffering, and the incredible ignominy of such a horrible death for One who was not only innocent but also the very Son of God.
The Cosmic Struggle on the Cross
After speaking of Jesus and his role in the creation of the universe Paul in his letter to the Colossians tells us about invisible events taking place outside of the physical realm, and outside of our ordinary space-time continuum during the dying of Jesus on the cross,
…in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him. (Col. 1:19-22)
The above passage reveals that not only did Jesus take upon Himself the sins of mankind when He died for us on the cross, but He also met fully the onslaught of demons, fallen angels, and all the power of evil forces in the heavens as well, disarming all of them completely.
Jesus’ victory over man’s greatest enemy, death, is boldly stated in the letter to the Hebrews:
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.” (Hebrews 2:14,15)
In speaking to the Apostle John from the heavens, Jesus sent these words to mankind:
“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18)
Jesus, on the cross, also won back any and all claims Satan had on man, or the earth, or as an authority of any kind in the heavens. If, for example, Satan claimed to hold the title deed of the earth (having gained it because of Adam’s fall) that deed now belongs to Jesus as one of the results of His work on the cross. (This is known as the “ransom” work of Christ on the cross—it’s a topic sometimes debated by theologians, but one that makes sense). Satan’s destruction, too, was accomplished on the cross, outside of time. For the final outworkings in history of Satan’s we now eagerly are all waiting. What is a completed work in the eternal time frame will come to pass in human history at God’s appointed time on our earthly calendars. His unseen and invisible victory over cosmic evil on the cross is yet another reason why Jesus alone is qualified to receive from the Father all honor and power and glory:
“And I (John) saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I wept much that no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the (twenty-four) elders said to me, ‘Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered (overcome), so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’ And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth; and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.” (Revelation 5:1-7)
Jesus: Great High Priest and Perfect Sacrifice
Two aspects of the death of Christ show something of the mystery of His death and the suffering He took onto Himself for our sake. The death of Jesus on the cross took but six hours as measured in dynamical time. Jesus was, for the first three hours on the cross, our Great High Priest. From noon till 3 P.M., during which time a strange and terrible darkness came over the earth, the High Priest became the Sacrifice.
If we now consider the nature of time and eternity (see Arthur C. Custance, Journey out of Time, Ref. 2) it must surely become clear that what was (for us) three hours’ suffering by Jesus in total estrangement from the Father—was for Jesus an event in eternity which never ends. The work of Jesus on the cross, as far as we are concerned, is completely finished. Jesus is not now hanging on a cross. He has been raised from the dead, and sits in heaven, fully in charge of the universe as a resurrected man. One man, one son of Adam, Jesus the Lord is now living in glory and He is in charge of the universe.
But in another sense, if we could step into eternity and view an eternal being such as the Son of God experiencing life—if we could see things from the vantage point of eternity—then we would perceive that a part of the eternal God must suffer forever, outside of time, because of human sin.
The Eternal Sufferings of God in Christ
The statement of Jesus to one of the thieves crucified alongside him was, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) This statement suggests that when He died, Jesus left our time frame and immediately entered eternity. Likewise, the spirit of his companion on an adjacent cross, the dying, redeemed thief also left time and entered eternity when he also died that same day.
The next event in eternity for the human spirit of Jesus was His return to reenter His body in the tomb just before dawn on Easter Sunday morning. By means of the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, He then experienced the complete transformation of His body and His resurrection “out from among the dead.” In the time frame of earth, these events are separated by perhaps 40 hours, but in eternity they are an immediate sequence of events, one following another. The dying thief was not raised from the dead at the same earth time as Jesus was raised from the dead. However, in his own (the thief’s) consciousness, he stepped out of time to join the general resurrection of all the righteous dead which coincides in history with the Second Coming of Christ.
|Notice that phrase: “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” This statement confirms again that time is not a factor in eternity. The death of the Lamb actually took place in time, on earth, at a specific date on the calendar–yet it is reckoned here as an eternal event which has meaning for people who have lived ever since the beginning of time. That is why an Old Testament saint such as Abraham could be born again by grace through faith just like a New Testament saint–even though the tree which would be hewn into the cross of Christ had not even been planted as a seed in Abraham’s time! The death of Jesus Christ was an event that can be fixed at a particular set of coordinates in space and time-yet it is also the summit of God’s eternal program, utterly transcending both space and time. Thus the cross casts its shadow over all of creation. (Ray C. Stedman, God’s Final Word)|
In this sense, neither heaven nor hell are yet populated—all believers reach heaven at the same “time.” The dying thief, Stephen the first martyr, the Apostle John, and all the rest of us will arrive in heaven at precisely the same “instant,” experiencing neither soul sleep nor loss of consciousness nor time delay, whether the interval between our death and the Second Coming is a hundred years or one hour. The thief on the cross, in his own consciousness, will experience arriving in Paradise the very same day he died, as Jesus promised he would. (Of course if heaven is still empty, except for Jesus, from our vantage point in time, the prayer to Mary or St. Jude or any of the saints is pointless. These believers are each “time traveling” in their own split-second interval separating their individual death from the great resurrection of all of us believers. Thus, we all get to heaven at the same “time.”
In His sinless and perfect human body—prepared especially as a perfect blood sacrifice for the sins of the world—Jesus suffered terribly in body, soul, and spirit during the long night of His trial. That suffering began with the agony in the garden of Gethsemane and in all the humiliating events of His trial and cruel torture prior to His morning journey to Golgotha. The worst was yet to come. Death by crucifixion is an especially painful and terrible death. It was common in Roman times for crucified men in good health to hang dying on a cross sometimes for days, yet Scripture records that Jesus died within six hours’ clock time. Even if He only suffered normal human pain in this ordeal it would have been incredibly severe.
All this pain, however, was but the prelude to His real suffering, which involved being cut off from the Father’s love and presence and consigned to carry our sins out of the universe, to hell as it were, like the scapegoat sacrifice of Israel of which he, Christ, is the antitype.
The Scripture records three statements by Jesus during the first three hours on the cross when He served as the true Great High Priest before the Father and four further statements during the time of darkness from noon to 3 P.M. when the High Priest became the Sin-Offering. It was during the latter three hours, evidently, that the sins of all mankind were laid upon Jesus and the Father turned His face away from His beloved Son.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
When contemplating what really took place on the cross in the divine transaction between God the Father and God the Son, we must not think of the sufferings of Christ, terrible as they were (beyond our comprehension), as if they were constrained to a “mere” (endurable) three hours of absolute time. Human beings are basically spirits, and spirits are connected to the eternal dimension. Jesus was not like us in another sense: He had known no sin and suffered the additional revulsion and destruction of being changed from a perfect man into a loathsome, repulsive creature God could not look upon. He became sin by absorbing evil into his own person. The Messiah’s sufferings as foretold by David in Psalm 22 can only refer to Jesus on the cross, (see also Ref. 1 below):
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Why art thou so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
Yet thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In thee our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
To thee they cried, and were saved;
in thee they trusted, and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm, and no man;
scorned by men, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me,
they make mouths at me, they wag their heads;
“He committed his cause to the LORD; let him deliver him,
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
Yet thou art he who took me from my mother’s womb;
thou didst keep me safe upon my mother’s breasts.
Upon thee was I cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me thou hast been my God.
Be not far from me, for trouble is near and there is none to help.
Many bulls encompass me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
thou dost lay me in the dust of the earth.
Yea, dogs are round about me;
a company of evildoers encircle me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones–they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my raiment they cast lots.
But thou, O LORD, be not far off! O thou my help, hasten to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion,
my afflicted soul from the horns of the wild oxen!
I will tell of thy name to my brethren;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
all you sons of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
and he has not hid his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
From thee comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
May your hearts live for ever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.
Yea, to him shall all the proud of the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who do down to the dust,
and he who cannot keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
men shall tell of the LORD to the coming generation,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
that he has wrought it.
Paul wrote many years later of the “fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” and of “making up in his own body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, that is the church.” He spoke of “always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might be revealed in us…” He said these things long after Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven where He now rules, His work on the cross having been completed and finished.
Jesus is spoken of in the book of Revelation as the “Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” And Peter writes, “You know that your were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake.” (1 Peter 1:18-20)
Without in any way diminishing the work of Christ on the cross as finished, completed, and accomplished in space-time and in history, it is possible to say that a part of God suffers eternally for man’s sins. From Scripture we learn that a holy God must ultimately be just. He must remove evil from His presence. Those who have permanently rebelled against His gracious mercy do not cease to exist but remain eternally conscious in a place of everlasting, endless punishment. Since God is omnipresent, He, too, is to be found in hell, sustaining its fires and experiencing its pains. Bible scholar Ray C. Stedman once remarked, “Ultimately, God removes evil from the universe by absorbing it into Himself.” The so-called “penal view of the atonement” specifies that a Just God must punish sin and that if Christ suffered our punishment as a substitute He had to bear the full weight of the eternal separation from God that Divine Justice demands and we deserve. In his commentary on the Book of Revelation, Ray Stedman wrote,
“All through the Bible we see God’s love is manifest to men and women everywhere in urging them to escape this judgment. God in love pleads with people, ‘Do not go on to this end!’ But ultimately he must judge those who refuse his offer of grace. He says, in effect, ‘I love you and I can provide all you need. Therefore love me, and you will find the fulfillment your heart is looking for.’ But many men and women say, ‘No, I do not want that. I will take your gifts, I will take all the good things you provide, but I do not want you! Let me run my own life. Let me serve my own ends. Let me have my own kingdom.’ To such, God ultimately says, ‘All right, have it your way!’ God has three choices: first, he can let rebellion go on forever and never judge it. In that case the terrible things that are happening on earth, all these distressing injustices, the cruelty, the anger, the hate, the malice, the sorrow, the hurt, the pain, the death that now prevails, must go on forever. God does not want that, and neither does man. Second, God can force men to obey him and control them as robots. But he will never do that because that means they cannot truly love him. Love cannot be forced. Therefore, third, the only choice God really has is that he must withdraw ultimately from those who refuse his love. He must let them have their own way forever. That results in the terrible torment of godlessness. If God is necessary to us, then to take him out of our lives is to plunge us into the most terrible sense of loneliness and abandonment that mankind can know. We have all experienced it to some small degree when we get what we want and then discover we do not want what we got! For that sense of bored emptiness to go on forever, is unspeakable torment.”
God Suffers Far More than Any Man!
In reading all these passages it is easy to concentrate on what appears to be “unjust” punishment (from our self-righteous human viewpoint), or at least tragic human suffering. We would like to think it could somehow have been avoided! Most of us shrink from thinking too seriously about these passages knowing that but for the grace of God we would have, and should have, been sent to this terrible fate also.
According to Ray Stedman, a little reflection on the nature of God, for God is love, makes it clear that maintaining hell must be a terrible torment and pain to a God who is self-giving love. He is the Holy One who “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” and who “is not willing that any should perish.” God must be willing, therefore, to pay the price of His own eternal pain, suffering, and hell so that the few who are righteous, (by faith), might enjoy eternal bliss. Such is another aspect of the mystery of the suffering of Christ on the cross. Most of us are accustomed to thinking that we suffer more than God, and that He surely cannot fully identify with our minor pains and afflictions.
But a loving God who created us for good things surely suffers infinitely more than any human parent when a beloved child refuses the good and chooses the path leading to destruction. Surely it must be grievously painful for a God who is love to be denied the opportunity to give of Himself to the objects of His love. No man can suffer more than Christ has already suffered, nor can mortal man contemplate what is meant by the “longsuffering” of our God (who is outside of time) which will continue, we are assured, at least until the world is changed. “God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance,” Paul writes in Romans, Chapter 2. How great is that kindness!
Our God is a Consuming Fire
The letter to the Hebrews says,
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28, 29)
The same fires which heal, purify and warm the righteous are the consuming, everlasting burnings of Gehenna, (named after GeHinnom, the valley of Hinnom, a garbage dump outside Jerusalem)—where beings who refused to become the human persons they were designed to be must finally endure the “backside” of love, which is hell. They are discarded because they have not been willing to become (by their own life-long choices) what their Designer intended them to be. C.S. Lewis wrote,
“God is going to invade this earth in force. But what’s the good of saying you’re on his side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else, something it never entered your head to conceive comes crashing in. Something so beautiful to us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left. This time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love, or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down, when it’s become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realize it or not. Now, today, in this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever; we must take it or leave it.”
In spite of our outward circumstances and the downward spiral of moral, economic, political, and social conditions over the face of the earth, the Good News of the Bible is that evil has already been dethroned and its power over mankind and nature broken. The new creation is as inevitable as springtime’s greening and blossoming. The loving heart of God our Father longs for us to accept his mercy, his forgiveness and mercy. He has gone to infinite lengths to make provision for us in the cosmic sacrifice of the Son of His love.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” (John 3:16-21)
Background: Crosses in Romans times were usually made from old trees and old branches since lumber was scarce. as noted at the beginning of this article. Hundreds of people were regularly killed slowly and painfully by the Romans in this way–while being exhibited in public . Our modern nicely finished and varnished wooden crosses are far from the horrifically terrible and ugly reality of real crucifixions. When someone violated t he Law of Moses in a serious way and was put to death, his body was publicly displayed by hanging the body on a tree. This was an ultimate disgrace, especially for the Jews. Notice how this reference to hanging on a tree is applied to the death of Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus, the innocent, sinless Lamb of God was MADE to be sin for us, and punished for our sins, thus He became cursed on our behalf–suffering the ultimate shame, humiliation and disgrace of being hung on a “tree”. (See Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:29, 1 Peter 2:24, Galatians 3:13).
1. One of the most wonderful passages on this subject is Isaiah’s foreview of the Messiah:
“Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. As many were astonished at him—his appearance was so marred beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men—so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand.
“Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter; and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgments he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
“And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the Righteous One, My Servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities.
“Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)
2. An important paper by Dr. Arthur Custance on time and eternity is very be helpful, The Complexities of Time. The aspects of time and eternity as they enter into the sufferings of Christ on the cross are discussed in detail in Journey out of Time. See especially Chapter Five, When Time became an Eternity. Custance concludes with the following quote from John Gill (1697-1771), “When He was made sin and a curse…it was tantamount to an eternal death, or the suffering of the wicked in hell. For though the two kinds of suffering differ as to circumstances of time and place, the persons being different, the One finite and the Other infinite, yet as to the essence of these sufferings, they were the same. Eternal death consists in two things: Punishment in the form of deprivation, and punishment in the form of actual affliction. The former lies in an eternal separation from God, or a deprivation of his presence for ever: and the latter lies in an everlasting affliction in the everlasting fire of God’s everlasting fire of God’s wrath. Now Christ endured what was answerable to both of these. Eternity is not the essence of punishment but it is consequent of the fact that the sufferer cannot all at once bear the whole – being finite as sinful man is finite. And as it cannot be borne all at once it is continued ad infinitum. But Christ being an infinite Person, was able to bear the whole at once and the infinity of his Person abundantly compensates for the eternity of the punishment.” An excellent discussion about pain and hell is presented by C.S. Lewis in his book, The Problem of Pain (Macmillan Publishing; New York, 1962
“…But at noon, something dramatic happens. The sky goes dark and Jesus cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?!” The Son is separated from the Father for the first time in eternity…this continues for only three hours…and at 3.00 pm Jesus wills himself to death. He cries ‘it is finished’ (the Greek phrase actually has a technical meaning in those days of ‘paid in full’–it was so used when people were released from debtors prison and their unpaid bill was stamped ‘paid in full’–same phrase).
And then he decides to die and gives up his spirit. So those three HOURS are the only slice of time in all of eternity that the Son experiences brokenness in his relationship with his Father.
When I then try to understand 3 hrs vs. eternity issues, I quickly run across the problem of how God ‘experiences’ time…The old crusty Scholastics sometimes argued that God experienced time all at once, much as a entire landscape is visually experience simultaneously, even though it is quite distributed. If, as they suggest, universe-time is like a mural on a wall that God experiences ALL AT ONCE, and experiences it ETERNALLY (not the old ” I’m through with that day, I’ll move on to experience the next day”), then the Father is still “experiencing” that grief now…it’s a bit heavy, and we tread on shaky ground here (logically speaking), but this experience is slightly mirrored in humans (made in the image of God) when we recall a past experience and ‘re-feel’ the pain or joy therein…
As to the 3 hours themselves, the theology tells us that during those Jesus ‘paid for the sins of the whole world’ (John the Baptist made this clear when he called him the Lamb, which takes away the sins of the whole world). What did this entail? The concise statement is that God the Father, who had loved/enjoyed/delighted/ fellowshipped with the Son at the most intimate of levels (they actually shared the same essence–the trinity doctrine) for all eternity, suddenly turned his back on His Son, and for three hours poured His awesome wrath out on His Son (instead of on us, incredibly!). So one component was the abandoning His Son (to save the world), and the other was the very active outpouring of judicial punishment upon Him to generate the ‘paid in full’ comment.”
See How God Saves Us
In a sense, the Christian is baptized “into Christ” before Christ went to the cross, instead of after Christ’s resurrection. On the cross, our sins were transferred to the Lord who was our sin-bearer. But at the same time we were also crucified with Christ. This was necessary so that our old Adamic nature could be put to death once and for all. (These specifics are discussed in Romans). Of course there is deep mystery as to the connection between our present-time and eternity and the transfer of our sins back into the past 2000 years to Christ’s finished work on the cross. How are we identified with Christ on the cross when long before we were born?
The Three Days and Three Nights
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40)
If Matthew 12:40 literally means three days and three nights then the crucifixion cannot be on Friday. Some say rather than a literal three days it is an old idiom referring to the two days prior to the day being spoken of. We have found nothing to substantiate this view. The Friday crucifixion is the most widely held view due to the traditional celebration of Easter. Did the crucifixion actually take place on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday?
In order to make the most informed estimate, we need to examine the Sabbath. The original Hebrew word “Shabbat” is defined as: an intermission, the day of rest, the holy seventh day; a week (Leviticus 23:15 [cf. Deuteronomy 16:9; Matthew 28:1]), the sacred seventh year, a sabbatical year.
Leviticus 23:1-4 lets us know about the “weekly sabbath,” that day set aside each week to honor the Lord. Verse three defines how a sabbath is to be observed, i.e., “… but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.”
However, these are NOT the only sabbaths. Besides the weekly sabbaths there are the High Sabbaths related to the Hebrew Feasts (or Festivals), described in Leviticus 23:4-44.
These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons. In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread. In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein. But ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD seven days: in the seventh day is an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work. (Leviticus 23:4-8)
For example, the verses above speak of two feasts, Passover and Unleavened Bread. Passover starts on the 14th day of Nisan (Hebrew month) and lasts one day. The Feast of Unleavened Bread starts the next day (i.e., the 15th of Nisan) and lasts for seven days.
Please note, the Passover is not a high sabbath day, this important fact is often overlooked. You can tell because the usual command for a sabbath of “an holy convocation and no servile work is to be done,” is not given for Passover. So while Passover is a feast day, it is not a sabbath day. “Why is that important?” you ask. It was on this day Jesus did the work of redemption. Servile work would have been unlawful on a Sabbath day, so God ordained for this day to be a festival, remembering the lamb’s blood that caused the angel to “Passover” the Israelites in Egypt and pointing to the Lamb who would shed His blood for all mankind.
One other important feast day is not a high sabbath day, the Feast of First Fruits. Interestingly enough, this is the day of Jesus’ resurrection.
The Lord set forth two sabbath days each for the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Tabernacles. Leviticus 23:7-8 tells us that both the first and seventh (last) day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is an holy convocation and to do no servile work therein. Leviticus 23:35-36 states the same for the Feast of Tabernacles. As you go through the remaining feasts you will see the same instruction.
Next we need to examine what Jesus said regarding His death.
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 12:40 NKJV)
(Just a side note: for those who say the story of Jonah is untrue and just a legend – it appears that Jesus doesn’t agree with them!)
Jesus said three days and three nights. There is absolutely no way to get three days and three nights from Friday to Sunday. The chart below shows this, remember a Jewish day starts at sunset rather than midnight.
Day 1 = Friday before Sunset
night 1 = Friday sunset – Saturday sunrise
Day 2 = Saturday sunrise – Saturday sunset
Night 2 = Saturday sunset – Sunday sunrise
Day 3 = Sunday sunrise – resurrection
Assuming Jesus rose from the dead AFTER sunrise on Sunday, which is not stated as such in
the scriptures (the scriptures merely state that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb right after sunrise), there still are only two nights. There is no way to get three nights in this scenario. To dogmatically choose this position of crucifixion on Friday and Resurrection on Sunday is to choose a position contrary to Jesus’ own prophecy.
Another scripture to consider is John 12:1, “Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany…” Jesus was traveling from Jericho. If the crucifixion took place on Friday (which had to also be Passover), then this journey took place on the sabbath. Traveling that distance on the sabbath was legally out of the question for a devout Jew.
What if the crucifixion took place on Thursday? This would certainly add the additional night we need to fulfill Jesus’ prophecy, but it raises a problem with the days because you have to count partial days for either the crucifixion or resurrection, but not for both. The partial days problem can be argued successfully but not conclusively because, as stated earlier, all we are told about the resurrection is that Jesus arose on the day after the weekly sabbath. This could be anytime from Saturday just after sunset to the point where Mary Magdalene saw Him, after sunrise.
Proponents of a Thursday crucifixion might argue counting a partial day for Thursday (the crucifixion), a day for Friday, a day for Saturday(day) and that Jesus arose just after sunset at the beginning of the fourth day which would not be counted. In addition, there would be three full nights in between as well. So Thursday can be argued from the Scriptures.
It is possible to argue for a Wednesday crucifixion if don’t count partial days (i.e. knowing that Jesus died at 3:00 p.m., you don’t count the three hours of Wednesday as a full 12 hour day). The scenario would be as follows:
Day 0 = Wednesday 3:00pm – sunset
Night 1 = Wednesday sunset – Thursday sunrise
Day 1 = Thursday sunrise – Thursday sunset
Night 2 = Thursday sunset – Friday sunrise
Day 2 = Friday sunrise – Friday sunset
Night 3 = Friday sunset – Saturday sunrise
Day 3 = Saturday sunrise – Saturday sunset
In this view, Jesus is resurrected sometime between sunset on Saturday and sunrise on Sunday, which would be a partial night and therefore not counted.
Now why did the early church decide it was Friday? Read the following verse:
Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 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 NKJV)
They assumed since it was the day before the sabbath, it meant Friday. Here is where our background on the sabbath sheds some light. We know that since the crucifixion was on the Passover, it was automatically the day before a sabbath, no matter what day it was on, because the high sabbath day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was the next day (Again, no matter what day Passover was on, the next day was automatically a sabbath).
Holding to a Friday crucifixion really is at odds with Scripture. Scripture does say that it was the Feast of First Fruits when He arose, so we know that the resurrection was Sunday (i.e., sunset Saturday – Sunday sunrise).Therefore, using Jesus’ own words we conclude it was a Wednesday or Thursday crucifixion
If we factor in two more important points there is a stronger case for a Thursday crucifixion:
1. When the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Bible (66 books, written by 40 authors over 2000 years), He wove various clues into the text in order for us to verify the authenticity of the Bible. As we see prophecy come to pass we gain more respect for the Word because only the God who knows the end from the beginning could predict with 100% accuracy. God’s plan for redemption is the message of the Scriptures, it is the gospel, or “good news.” There are proclamations or subtle clues on literally every page.
The Feasts were not only historic (i.e., to be celebrated once they left Egypt and settled into the Promised Land of Israel), but also prophetic, pointing to the Savior (read Hebrews 8:1-10:39). It is no coincidence that Jesus was crucified on Passover, the same day God saved the Hebrews from the death in Egypt by placing blood of a lamb on the door posts and door jambs (making a cross). It is no coincidence that Jesus arose from the dead on the feast of First Fruits. It is no coincidence that the Church was officially given the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel on the Feast of Pentecost.
There are many other accounts in the scripture that point specifically to Christ’s redemption of mankind. Let’s go back to Genesis and visit Noah. It is generally held that the ark is a “type” of Jesus. The ark saved Noah and his family from the wrath of God’s judgment upon the evil world. Jesus offers salvation to all those who trust in Him, sparing them from judgment for their sins.
The ark rested, or finished the work of saving Noah’s family on a significant day.
Then the ark rested in the seventh month, the seventeenth day of the month, on the mountains of Ararat. (Genesis 8:4 NKJV)
God instituted a calendar change explained in Exodus, and the seventh month became the first month. It turns out that the same day the ark rested is the 17th day of Nisan, which just happens to be three days and three nights after the 14th of Nisan (the future Passover feast). So that would mean that in prophetic illustration, God caused the ark to rest from the flood (His wrath on an evil world) on the same day that Jesus would rise from the dead to save mankind from the future wrath upon a Christ rejecting world. Coincidence? Highly unlikely.
Note that for this to be a true prophetic model, the only day of the week that works for a Sunday resurrection on the 17th of Nisan, is a Thursday crucifixion on the 14th day of Nisan.
2. The last argument for a Thursday crucifixion comes from the actions of Mary Magdalene. Why did Mary wait until Sunday to go to the tomb with the ministering oils and herbs? If the crucifixion took place on Wednesday, then Thursday would have been the high sabbath, making it impossible for her to go to the tomb on that day, but Friday would have been a normal day, with no restrictions. If on the other hand Thursday was the day of the crucifixion, then Friday would have been the high sabbath, and Saturday would have been the weekly sabbath (making it impossible for her to go on Friday or Saturday), leaving Sunday as the first “legal” day she could have made the trip.
With all of that said, it must be noted that the day of the week is not something we know from scripture. If God wanted us to know whether it was Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, it would have been clearly stated.
What we do know is that it occurred on Passover as a model of the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb, and that He rose again on the Feast of First Fruits, since He is the first fruit of the resurrection. It is fine to hold a personal view but unwise to become dogmatic about it. We should celebrate the cross and the resurrection every day of our earthly visit.
10. From Koinonia House:
Friday or Wednesday?The Day of Debt
by Chuck Missler
The observances of Good Friday and Easter Sunday have perpetuated the traditional chronology that the crucifixion took place on a Friday, and that the Lord’s body was buried on that day at about 6:00 p.m., and that he rose from the dead early on the following Sunday morning.
There are some, however, that feel this tradition is at variance with the Scriptural record. The traditional view seems to conflict with certain prophetic and legal facts.
One of the problems is reckoning “three days” between Friday evening and Sunday morning. I was once co-hosting a national TV show which had the famed apologist John Warwick Montgomery as a guest. This issue came up, and John rendered the traditional rationalization, pointing out that the Jews reckoned a partial day as a whole day.
I turned to my co-host and explained, “You must remember that John is an attorney, and that’s the way they bill!”
(John almost fell out of his chair laughing – he hadn’t realized that I was well aware of his distinguished legal background.)
But the difficulty remains. Our Lord’s definitive statement is one of the problems:
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. –Matthew 12:40
The mention of nights, as well as the number of days, makes it hard to render this as simply an idiomatic rhetorical device rather than a statement of fact.
Further, when Paul declares the resurrection of Christ to be “according to the Scriptures” in 1 Corinthians 15:4, if this isn’t an allusion to Jonah 1:17, then where else? (Perhaps, in Genesis 22, the three days between the “death” of Isaac – when the commandment came – and his “return” to Abraham may have been the macrocode, or typological allusion, that Paul might have had in mind.) (1)
Intensifying this controversy was the “three days” issue at the trial of Jesus.
Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came,[yet] found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, And said, This [fellow] said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. -Matthew 26:59-61
What did Jesus really say?
Destroy this temple, [of His body] and in three days I will raise it up. -John 2:19
The same phrase reoccurs in the gospels a dozen times. (2) It also seems to frequently reoccur in prophetic patterns. (3)
Nowhere in the Gospels does it assert that Christ was crucified on a Friday. In Mark 15:42, it refers to “…the day before the sabbath.” This may be the root of the misunderstanding.
The Jews had other sabbaths in addition to the weekly shabbat (Saturday). In addition to the weekly sabbaths, there were seven “high sabbaths” each year, and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the 15th of Nisan, was one of them. (4)
Further, Matthew 28:1 should read, “At the end of the sabbaths ,” (5) (which is plural in the Greek), implying there was a plurality of sabbaths that week.
If Passover, the 14th of Nisan, fell earlier in the week, the 15th could have been any day prior to Saturday, the weekly sabbath. “When the sabbaths were past” would, of course, be Sunday (actually, Saturday after sundown), in accordance to the Feast of First Fruits. (Some hold to a Thursday crucifixion on a similar basis.)
The 17th of Nisan
Jesus had declared that He would be in the grave three days, and yet was to be resurrected “on the morrow after the sabbath,” on the day of the Feast of First Fruits. (6)
It is interesting that the authorities, anxious to get the body off the cross before sundown, unknowingly were fulfilling God’s predetermined plan, “according to the Scriptures.” (7)
Noah’s flood ended on the 17th day of the 7th month. (8) This month becomes the 1st month at the institution of the Passover.9 Our new beginning in Christ was on the anniversary of the Earth’s “new beginning” under Noah!
Israel’s new beginning, the crossing of the Red Sea, is believed to have been on the 17th of Nisan. Also, in their flight after Passover, Israel retrieved the body of Joseph from his tomb. After Passover, Jesus was retrieved from another Joseph’s tomb on this date.
The Jericho Journey
Another problem with a Friday crucifixion is John 12:1: “Then Jesus six days before the Passover came to Bethany…” (from Jericho). If the Friday view can be accepted, then six days earlier was the weekly shabbat , and on this day such a journey was legally out of the question for a devout Jew.
As for the Friday or Wednesday issue, there are many good scholars on each side of this controversy. I personally have become rather cynical toward any tradition that is not supported by Scripture.
Good Friday is the “traditional” view. The Wednesday crucifixion is known as the “reconstructed view.” This article is intended to stimulate study and constructive conversation during this precious season. One attempt to reconcile the chronology of the entire week is shown in the table below inset boxes [Friday-Tuesday] and [Wednesday-Sunday].
Jesus’ Final Week (from Chuck Missler)
Friday – At Bethany Six Days before the Passover, John 12:1 Wednesday – Crucifixion,John 19:14, 31, 42; Mark 15:42; 54.
Preparation Day for Feast of Unleavened Bread, associated with Passover
Saturday – Triumphal Entry (from Bethany a sabbath’s day’s journey)Matthew 21:5, 12:7; Mark 11:7; Luke 19:28 Thursday – Beginning of Feast of Unleavened Bread, (Leviticus 23:4-8, lasts 7 days; 1st and last days are high sabbaths)Matthew 27:62; Leviticus 23:6,7 (Jewish year includes seven high sabbaths, in addition to the Saturday sabbaths. Sunday – The Fig Tree Cursed,Matthew 21:18; Mark 11:12; Friday – Women prepare spices Monday – Conspirators’ Counsel,Matthew 26:2; Mark 11:20, 14:1; Luke 22:1 Saturday – “And Rested…”Luke 23:56, “after the sabbaths…” (This is plural in the Greek); i.e., after 6:00 PM Tuesday – Last Supper (after 6:00 PM)Passover (“between the evenings”), Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:7; 12; Luke 22:7 Sunday – He is Risen!Our New Beginning. Matthew 28:11, Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1
The important thing is that the tomb was empty . The authorities made sure that this was indisputable. Indeed, He is risen!
The Lamb Slain from the foundation of the World
Revelation 13:8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast — all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. (NIV)
Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who died for the sins of the world (John 1:29). Jesus mission became clear to mankind only after He had been crucified on the cross. Yet the scriptures reveals in Revelations 13:8 that “the Lamb was slain from the creation of the world”
Peter repeats this truth in even more detail when he wrote about the precious blood of Christ.
1 Peter 1:18-20 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. (NIV)
The reality is this. The blood of Jesus was shed for us before the creation of the world, but was only revealed to us when Jesus was crucified on the cross, died and rose again. Not even satan knew about the shed blood until then. This truth, once understood, should have great implications for our faith and victorious living over satan, sin and sickness.
Firstly Peter makes it clear (in verses 18 and 19 above) that we are “redeemed from the empty way of life by the blood of Christ” and that this was accomplished “before the creation of the world” In other words, the fall of mankind did not destroy God’s purpose in creating mankind. God is omniscient (all knowing) and nothing takes Him unaware nor is He unprepared for any event. God does not go running after Satan trying to sort out the mess he (satan) creates. Rather, the blood of Jesus has already taken care of it.
There is nothing satan, sin or sickness can bring that the blood has not already made provision for. Our redemption is in the blood. The blood is God’s answer to everything that satan throws at us. You can be sure that God has made certain that the blood of Jesus has enough authority and power to meet all mankind’s needs. And you know what? Not even satan understood the redemptive power in the blood until after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
1 Corinthians 2:7-10 No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” — 10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
The next time you go to the presence of God with a need, don’t encourage unbelief by trying to work out in your mind how God will provide the answer. Take comfort in the fact that the blood of Jesus is the answer. The blood is our omnipotent God’s provision for all our needs. If Jesus’ blood had not been shed from the creation of the world, then we might have had a good reason to worry. God would have overlooked a vital fact. But glory is to God. In His all-knowing wisdom He has slain the lamb before the “creation of the world”. The blood has provided for our redemption, every need and provision.
It is as if to say, God had taken out an insurance policy before creating mankind. It is a fully comprehensive insurance that pays for all damages no matter what, and even promises to ?restore back as new?. That insurance is the blood of Jesus. The main strength of the insurance (just like any normal insurance policy) is that it was taken out before the incident. That is why it covers every thing. Jesus’ death on the cross was not an after thought by God, rushed through after the event (of mankind falling into sin). No. It had been settled before.
Revealing the blood
The third chapter of Genesis records the fall of mankind. The twenty first verse records God’s response to their nakedness, a result of the fall
Genesis 3:21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them
The garments of skin are a clear indication of the shedding of blood of an animal (or two). Earlier on in verse seven, Adam and Eve had used leaves to cover themselves. God no doubt found this inadequate. The skin of an animal (or animals) was used instead. The need of sacrifice was gradually being revealed. An animal was killed to pay for the sin of mankind. Needless to say that it was the shed blood, which was of more importance. The blood was covering their sins, physically and spiritually. The first time we witness the blood shed in the Old Testament has to do with the payment of sins. God made this even clearer in Leviticus
Leviticus 17:11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.
The twelfth chapter of Exodus again records God requesting the slaying of an animal for each family to observe the Passover. The significance of the Passover lamb is rooted in the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world”. An animal was sacrificed in order to protect the family.
Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth day of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household.Exodus 12:3 NKJV
In Exodus chapter thirty and Leviticus 16: 3-34, God instructs Moses to have an animal shed for the nation of Israel. Do you get the trend now?
1. Genesis chapter three – An animal is sacrificed and its blood is shed for a person.
2. Exodus chapter twelve – An animal is sacrificed and its blood is shed for a family.
3. Exodus chapter thirty and Leviticus 16: 3-34 – An animal is sacrificed and its blood is shed for a nation.
4. John 1:29 – Jesus, the Lamb of God, is sacrificed, and His blood is shed for the world.
God has all along been revealing the “lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world”. However this is just the beginning of the revelation. And you know what! The knowledge of this alone, when received into our hearts can cause us to walk in the abundance of riches that Christ’s death made available to us.