A Sunday-morning resurrection fits the facts and the typology

The writer was an organizer of the Footsteps of the Messiah seminar each year near Wagoner, Okla. He lived with his wife, Anita, in East Texas, before his death on March 16. Mrs. Smith receives mail at 405 N. Main St., Lindale, Texas 75771, U.S.A., and Comments about this article may be sent to Mrs. Smith and her son, Gary, at one of the above addresses or to The Journal at

By Mitchell Smith

LINDALE, Texas--The proof Jesus gave to the scribes and Pharisees that He was the Messiah is that He would be three days and three nights in the "heart of the earth."

Many Church of God members have long recognized this: that Jesus, or Yeshua, lay in His grave for three full days and three full nights (Matthew 12:40).

But problems with the chronology in the Gospel accounts have led people of various religious persuasions, including the Church of God, to promote beliefs and theories that vary from a Wednesday-afternoon-to-Saturday-afternoon burial and resurrection to a Friday-Sunday burial and resurrection.

Each of these two scenarios has serious problems in reconciling with the biblical account. Each also has grave problems with typology: the symbolic significance of biblical events, especially those that surrounded the life and death of the Messiah.

But another chronology does, in fact, fit all the facts. It harmonizes the Gospel accounts and allows for a full three days and three nights in the tomb. It also beautifully fits the typology of the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah and His role as the wave-sheaf offering revealed in Leviticus 22:11-15.

The keys to unlocking the mysteries and seeming contradictions of the chronology of the three days and three nights are an understanding of:

  • The typology of the burial and resurrection.
  • The burial customs of first-century Jews.

They don't add up

Church of God members have long had a problem with Mark 16:9 and related verses: "Now when [the Messiah] rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons."

Since many Church of God students of the Bible recognize that Jesus died the afternoon of Wednesday at the precise moment of the slaying of the Passover lamb, they have believed they could not accept Mark 16:9 as plainly showing that the Messiah rose from the dead early in the morning on Sunday, the first day of the week.

Their reluctance to accept Mark 16:9 at face value has been the result of their attempt to reconcile a Sunday-morning resurrection with a Wednesday-afternoon death on the cross. From Wednesday afternoon to Sunday morning is three days and four nights; it is 84 hours rather than 72.

Another reason Church of God folks have been reluctant to accept a Sunday-morning resurrection is that some Protestants cite a Sunday-morning resurrection as justification for observing the "Lord's Day," which they think is Sunday, rather than keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, from Friday evening to Saturday evening.

Many Protestants, as well as Roman Catholics (and some Church of God members), believe Jesus died Friday and arose Sunday morning. Their arguments to support such a belief include reliance on "idioms" in Greek that allow parts of days to count as full days. Friday to Sunday includes parts of Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Thus, they say, the three-days-and-three-nights requirement is fulfilled in the Friday-Sunday scenario.

But both scenarios, both explanations, leave much to be desired. Both have serious problems reconciling passages in the Gospels and Acts that do not add up if either scenario is assumed to be the correct one.

12 extra hours

So what is the correct scenario? What do the Scriptures support? Which scenario answers the questions and reconciles the problem scriptures?

How can Jesus have lain in the tomb for three days and three nights, have arisen on Sunday (which a plain reading of Mark 16:9 supports) and have undergone the customary 12 hours the Jews spent preparing a body for burial?

With Passover 2001 fast approaching, let us examine once again the death, burial and resurrection of Yeshua HaMaschiach, Jesus the Christ.

Valid sacrifice

Exodus 12:1-11 reveals the death of Messiah as the death of the redemption lamb. To be a valid sacrifice, Messiah had to have been killed on the 14th day of Nisan "between the two evenings," which the New Covenant scriptures uphold by showing that His death was at 3 o'clock on the afternoon of Nisan 14.

(Three o'clock was the time of the main afternoon oblation in the temple in ancient Israel. It was almost precisely between the two "evenings." The first evening was from noon to 3, called "evening minor." The second was from 3 to sundown, called "evening major" or "evening proper." "Between the two evenings" meant 3 o'clock in the afternoon.)

Sound carries so well in the environs of Jerusalem that Messiah probably heard the chanted prayers of the temple priests from where He was hanging on the stake while He died.

From Exodus 16 we can conclude that the original Egyptian Passover was carried out on a Wednesday. Then came the Israelites' three days' journey to the Red Sea to escape the pursuing Egyptian army. This would have carried the children of Israel chronologically to the Sabbath.

That night, Saturday night, the descendants of Israel passed through the Red Sea, and in the morning watch (Exodus 14:24) they emerged on the other side, just as day was breaking on the first day of the week.

In 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 Paul confirms that the crossing of the sea amounted to an immersion, a baptism, of the Israelites. The Israelites leaving Israel and passing through the sea were a type of Messiah and His death, burial and resurrection. They were the firstfruits back then. Messiah is the firstfruits of the resurrection to everlasting life.

Daniel 9:27 depicts the Messiah's being cut off in the midst of the week. It says He "shall confirm a covenant with many for one week," but the sacrifice and offering will end "in the middle of the week."

Sequence of events

From a computerized study undertaken by the Worldwide Church of God years ago concerning the timing in antiquity of the feast days, I conclude that the Passover in both A.D. 30 and 31 fell on a Wednesday.

Assuming Messiah died on Wednesday at the "ninth hour"--that is, 3 p.m.--let us consider the sequence of events that followed concerning His preparation for burial and His burial.

Jesus was numbered among the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12; Mark 15:28; Luke 22:37), and the Romans sentenced Him to death. They consigned His body to a common grave, an unmarked hole in the ground. His mother and brothers would have collected His body for burial had they been allowed to, but they were not.

But God had prepared Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council, or Sanhedrin, to intervene and ensure that Jesus would be buried in a cave carved from stone.

Notice the time of day of Joseph's first overtures to retrieve Jesus' body:

"Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed" (Matthew 27:57-60).

Evening, as used here by Matthew, and another Gospel writer in Mark 15:42, is opsios. Categorized as No. 3798 in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, it is used 15 times in the New Testament. In all but one instance it means "sundown" or "after dark."

Heavy mixture

When Joseph of Arimathea viewed Jesus' body on the stake, according to these two passages of Scripture, it was almost dark. But then Joseph had to ask for a meeting with Pilate, the governor. One didn't just walk in unannounced and say, "I want to talk to you, Pilate." This kind of meeting took a certain amount of time to set up; it did not happen instantaneously.

After Joseph met with Pilate, the governor summoned a centurion to testify to the fact of the Savior's death (Mark 15:44). This also took time.

Yet Church of God chroniclers claim Joseph and friends had time to prepare Jesus for burial before sundown, even though it was already growing dark by the time Joseph asked for custody of the body.

John 19:39-40 mentions the burial customs of the Jews, which included binding a body with strips of linen and applying spices. Verse 39 specifically mentions that Joseph's friend Nicodemus brought a "mixture of myrrh and aloes" that weighed "a hundred pounds."

Even though the "hundred pounds" spoken of here may not be the same as 100 modern pounds, it was still a heavy mixture that would take at least several hours to administer to the body.

Today's burial customs among Orthodox Jews are almost identical to those of the first century, with the exception that nowadays they do not wrap a corpse with linen strips. The burial-preparation procedures in those days meant applying the strips and a mixture of myrrh and aloes, which would quickly harden and form a sturdy cast around the body.

This explains why Peter immediately realized Jesus had been miraculously revivified when he reached the dimly lit tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week. He saw the cast, uncut and unbroken, of linen strips fused together with the solidifying agents. He also saw the face cloth folded and laid neatly to one side (Luke 24:12).

Peter instantly recognized that no one could pass out of that body cast and leave it intact. No physical body, dead or alive, could be removed from such a rigid burial dressing without destroying it. Yet there it lay neatly intact where minutes earlier Jesus' body had lain.

Not unlawful to bury

The Scriptures state that Jesus' friends prepared His body and then placed it in the tomb. The preparation would have taken approximately 12 hours. That was the normal time allotted by the Jews, and we have no good reason to believe the preparations in this case were other than the customary ones.

Some object and cite sources that say it was unlawful to bury someone on the Sabbath or on the Day of Atonement. This is true. A study of history and Jewish customs does reveal that it was unlawful to leave a body hanging on a stake of crucifixion an entire night, but it was not unlawful to bury him on the high days other than the Day of Atonement. (See Encyclopedia Judaica, "Burial.")

I think it is likely that Joseph, Nicodemus and others took Jesus' body to someone's house to prepare it. In accordance with the customs of the day, His mother and brothers may even have helped in the preparation. Surely the preparers didn't lay the body out in the open on the ground. The process is a solemn, dignified and unhurried ritual of mourning.

Most people apparently assume Joseph rushed Jesus' body off the cross and ran with it to the tomb. This simply could not be what happened.

The procedures

Jesus' friends and family cleansed and cooled His body with at least four and one-half gallons of water. This was the law of the day as evidenced in the Mishnah (the oral law). They no doubt laid it on a stiff board and continuously rinsed it with cool water until rigor mortis set in.

If they had formed the linen cast around Messiah's warm body too soon and too hastily, it would eventually have swollen and popped the wrappings wide open.

After washing and cooling Jesus' body, which would have taken several hours, they would have anointed Him with oil, then methodically wrapped Him in the coated cloth strips. His head would have been the only part of His body not wrapped. The preparers would have placed a removable linen cloth over His face so mourners could view it (John 20:7).

The next step would have been to place Him in the tomb. When would this have happened; that is, what day and what time of day?

Pertinent circumstances

First let's review some more facts and circumstances of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection.

Death on the stake took place specifically as a result of suffocation. In the case of Jesus' execution, the Jews had requested of Pilate that the legs of Jesus and the two others who were crucified alongside Him be broken to hasten their demise by suffocation so they would not remain on their stakes on the "high day," the annual Sabbath.

But the soldier found Jesus had already died and so did not break his legs. If a bone was broken or if Messiah had suffocated, he would not have been a valid sacrifice, because the sacrificial lamb could not have a broken bone.

This Sabbath was the first day of the annual Feast of Unleavened Bread (John 19:31). This particular high day began Wednesday evening and lasted 24 hours until Thursday evening.

Luke 23:54 states that the day was "the preparation, and the sabbath drew on" (King James Version). The phrase drew on, here, is a mistake in the KJV. It is translated from epiphosko in the Greek, which Strong's classifies as No. 2020.

In Wigram's Englishman's Greek Concordance, on page 289, we find that the word is used only twice in the Bible. The other instance is in Matthew 28:1: "In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre."

Here the same word is translated "dawn," which is the correct meaning.

Also, the Interlinear Greek Bible (J.P. Green Sr.) translates Luke 23:54: "And it was preparation day, and a sabbath was dawning."

I've often wondered why in Luke 23:54 the Greek word is translated "drew on" when it should be "dawn" or "dawned." I believe we can trace the error to the translators of the King James Version, who believed, as professing Christians, that Messiah was executed on Friday and resurrected Sunday morning at daybreak.

If the translators had said that "it was beginning to dawn on the [annual] Sabbath" (that is, early Thursday morning), this would have removed any ambiguity concerning the time Luke was referring to.

In other words, if dawn were breaking when Jesus was buried, He could not have been buried Wednesday evening (or Friday evening, for those who believe in a Friday-Sunday scenario). That would not have fit with the King James translators' preconceived notion that Jesus lay in the tomb from Friday evening to Sunday morning.

But it also confuses the chronology for Church of God people who study the subject. Reading that the "sabbath drew on" means to them that Jesus was buried late Wednesday.

The correct translation, however, that "dawn" was approaching on that Sabbath indicates that His body didn't arrive at the tomb until the next morning about dawn.

The sign of Jonah

But what about the sign Jesus cited: that He would be in His grave three days and three nights? (Matthew 12:38-40).

He meant His prophecy of His entombment quite literally. He knew He would be in the grave three days and three nights, even though the time between His death and His resurrection would be three and one-half days, or approximately 84 hours. He lay in the tomb exactly three days and three nights: 72 hours.

We can find the phrase "three days and three nights" other places in the Scriptures. It always means literally three daylight periods attached to three nighttime periods (see 1 Samuel 30:12; Jonah 1:17; and Matthew 12:40).

Jesus' friends and family committed His body to the tomb just as the sun was coming up on Thursday morning. He lay in the tomb through Thursday daylight, Thursday night, Friday daylight, Friday night, Saturday daylight and Saturday night. Then He came back to life on the first day of the week just before the sun rose.

What about typology? What about the symbolism of events surrounding Jesus' death, burial and resurrection? Does the Wednesday-Sunday death-and-resurrection scenario fit the biblical and prophetic symbolism?

The typology fits

Let's look at a few instances of types that fit like hand in glove.

Paul says the crossing of the Red Sea was the equivalent of the baptism of every man, woman and child who came out of the land of Egypt in the Exodus.

The ancient Israelites entered the sea while it was still dark, but it was right at daylight--at the "morning watch" (Exodus 14:24)--when they emerged on the other side.

Another important type involves the wave sheaf. In Israel in the time of the Messiah, three priests would walk to a certain field just outside of Jerusalem, where it was customary to dump ashes from the temple altar. They would have already prepared a wave sheaf to be cut in the field.

The waving of the sheaf was a big event each Passover season in Israel, with thousands of people watching the priestly ritual.

The three Levites would begin by crying out to the crowd: "Has the sun set?"

They asked this question because it was not lawful to cut the grain on the Sabbath. The crowd, at first, would respond that, no, the sun had not set.

The priests would ask again, several times. The crowd would answer each time that the sun had not yet set.

Then, when the sun had slipped below the horizon, the crowd would shout that the Sabbath was over. Then the priests would cut the sheaf.

The wave sheaf consisted of enough grain to prepare two huge loaves of unleavened bread. The three priests would take the grain from the sheaf--and I believe the sheaf represented the Messiah--into the temple compound and thresh the grain out with canes, being careful not to damage it.

From antiquity the sheaf had been waved annually on the morning that is properly called the Feast of Firstfruits.

The Church of God has said that the Feast of Firstfruits is a synonym for the Feast of Pentecost, but Scripture does not support this terminology. The Feast of Firstfruits is the Sunday after the Sabbath that falls within the Days of Unleavened Bread. The wave-sheaf Sunday may lie outside the Days of Unleavened Bread.

The sheaf is a direct type of the Messiah, and it was always waved on the first day of the week.

This is another reason that Jesus' resurrection on the first day of the week perfectly fits the typology: The priests always waved the sheaf early on the first day of the week as the sun was coming up.

Just as 50 days later the Feast of Pentecost would fall on the first day of the week and mark the beginning of the New Covenant church, so Jesus' resurrection marked a new beginning in the events of God's plan.

Just as God's creation of the heavens and the earth began on the first day of the week (Genesis 1:1-5), so Jesus' resurrection marked a new phase of God's plan of salvation for mankind.

No biblical typology fits with the concept of Messiah's resurrection being on a Sabbath.

The clincher

Here is what I consider to be the clincher to my argument that Jesus was buried early Thursday morning rather than Wednesday afternoon or evening (and rather than Friday afternoon).

Note Matthew 28:11. Here we read about Jesus walking with some of His disciples after His resurrection and counseling them. "Do not be afraid," He encouraged them. "Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me."

So the disciples began the journey to Galilee. When they were well on their way, some Romans soldiers reported to the chief priests in Jerusalem news of the events concerning Jesus, His disciples and the empty tomb.

Notice verses 12-15: "When they [the chief priests] had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, 'Tell them, "His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept." And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will appease him and make you secure.' So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day."

If these events--the soldiers taking a bribe to lie about the resurrection and say that the disciples stole Messiah's body--occurred the way the Churches of God say, then a troop of Roman soldiers was paid to fabricate a story that nobody would have believed.

Why would no one have believed it? Because the notion of soldiers falling asleep during broad daylight on Saturday just before a Saturday-twilight resurrection would have been simply unthinkable. That's what would have been required if Jesus were buried Wednesday just before sundown. He would have risen Saturday just before sundown; therefore the soldiers would have fallen asleep in broad daylight on Saturday shortly before sundown.

Jewish and Roman leaders and the common people were milling around Jerusalem at that time of day and week, including the environs of Jesus' tomb. The soldiers could not have fallen asleep at that time of day, especially considering that everyone knew that nodding off on the job meant a soldier would face the death penalty.

The story would have been much more believable if the soldiers were supposed to have fallen asleep early in the morning, in the darkest hour before the dawn, on Sunday after having guarded the tomb all night.

In any case the story was a blatant lie, but the chief priests were clever enough to tell a lie that people would believe. This is a strong indication that the resurrection occurred early on a morning rather than just before sundown the previous day.

Answer to another objection

Another objection to a Sabbath (high-day) burial has it that Yeshua's friends would have had to place Him in the tomb before dark so they would not be considered ceremonially defiled for the Passover.

The problem with that argument is that anyone who touched a dead human body was considered unclean for seven days. So, if this argument is valid, they would not have been able to keep the Passover anyway. (See Numbers 19.)

Joseph of Arimathea, as a member of the Sanhedrin, helped to make the laws of the day. Laws of burial were strict and strictly adhered to. If a person died in the morning, he was prepared and buried in the late afternoon. If a person died in the afternoon, he was prepared and buried the next morning. An annual Sabbath was no exception to this rule.

Jesus died about 3 o'clock Wednesday afternoon. So, following the customs of the day, He would have been buried early Thursday morning after a customary and extensive preparation, and He would have arisen from the grave early on a Sunday morning.

(A Sunday-morning resurrection, by the way, does not give authority to professing Christians to change the seventh-day Sabbath to Sunday. No authority for this change is given anywhere in the Bible.)

One of many

This is but one example of how a study of the mind-set and customs of first-century Jews can help in a study of Scripture. Israelites wrote the New Testament as well as the Old. If we can determine what the writers meant when they chose the words they wrote--as we can do by studying their history, beliefs and customs--we can gain an immeasurably greater understanding of Scripture.

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