Professing Christians the world over celebrate Easter as a day of worship, though the Bible contains no command of God on the matter. If one were to ask them, "Why is Easter celebrated on Sunday?" they would likely say that Jesus instituted a new day of worship when He rose from the grave on the first Easter Sunday morning. This, they believe, allows them to violate God's command to keep the seventh-day Sabbath (Exodus 20:8; Deuteronomy 5:12).
To buttress their view, traditional Christianity teaches:
» The Passover is a Sabbath, and all Sabbaths occur on the seventh day.
» The preparation day can only fall on the sixth day of the week (Friday).
» When the women arrived at the tomb on the first day of the week (Sunday), Jesus had just risen at dawn.
» Jesus, then, could not have spent 72 hours in the grave.
None of these statements is true! A careful study of God's Word exposes the deception of these commonly held beliefs and torpedoes the validity of an Easter Sunday resurrection.
Proof in the Holy Days
To see the truth on this matter, we must start with God's instruction on the Passover in Exodus 12:
Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, . . . "Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth day of this month [Abib, later called Nisan] every man shall take for himself a lamb according to the house of his fathers, a lamb for a household. . . . Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. . . . It is the LORD's Passover. . . . So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance. (verses 1, 3, 6, 11, 14)
Notice that God never declares the Passover a Sabbath, though He does call it a feast. Then God establishes the Feast of Unleavened Bread with its two associated Sabbaths:
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. . . . On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you: No manner of work shall be done on them, but that which everyone must eat—that only may be prepared by you. So shall you observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread. . . . In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening [the end of the fourteenth day], you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. (verses 15-18)
God has ordained a particular numbered day for these holy convocations, the fifteenth and twenty-first days of Abib/Nisan. It is impossible for both of these holy convocations to fall on the seventh-day Sabbath. Even if the fifteenth fell on a Saturday, the twenty-first would occur on the following Friday. By itself, this disproves the notion that all Sabbaths must fall on the seventh day. In addition, Pentecost never falls on a Sabbath but always on a Sunday. Even a casual glance at a Hebrew calendar shows that the holy days fall throughout the week, seemingly haphazardly.
Following the Exodus from Egypt, God guides Moses and the children of Israel into the wilderness and eventually to Mount Sinai. En route, the Israelites complain about not having food to eat. God's solution appears in Exodus 16:
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not. And it shall be on the sixth day that they shall prepare what they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily." (verses 4-5)
Clearly, God allows the people to gather manna on the first through sixth days of the week. However, on the sixth day He tells them to gather twice as much, as well as to prepare what they would eat on the seventh day. Historically, then, the day before a Sabbath (Friday) was a preparation day.
But is the preparation day only for weekly Sabbaths? No! From what we have seen about the holy days, a preparation day can fall on any day except Saturday! The Passover itself occurs the day before the first day of Unleavened Bread, a Sabbath, making it a preparation day. By the end of this day all leavening must be out of our houses.
In summary, the Passover is a feast but not a Sabbath. The Feast of Unleavened Bread is a feast and a Sabbath. These festivals fall on different days of the week, including the Sabbath. Finally, the preparation day is the day before any Sabbath, whether a weekly or an annual Sabbath.
The Sign of Jonah
We can derive more proof Jesus did not rise on a Sunday by looking in the gospel of Matthew:
Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. . . . "A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah." And He left them and departed. (Matthew 16:1, 4)
He had had this conversation before in Matthew 12:40, where He defines His terms: "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."
What does Jesus actually say? If we were listening to Him speak, would we think He meant 72 hours or a period ranging from 36 to 72 hours? Worldly Christianity confuses the issue by arguing from the Jewish tradition supposedly extant during Jesus' day. They claim that if a thing is done at any time during a Jewish day, that day is counted as a whole day. For example, had the fish swallowed Jonah just before sunset, this event of just a few seconds would be counted as occurring over one whole day or 24 hours. Since a day and a night have been counted, only two days and nights remain. By the time Jonah exited the fish, he would have spent only 48 hours there, but the time would be counted as three days and three nights.
Was Jonah in the fish's belly for 72 hours or some time other then 72 hours? The problem with their argument is that they ignore the Timekeeper, God! Notice Jesus' understanding of a day's length in John 11:9: "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" From this we can safely assume that night is also twelve hours long, and day and night together equal 24 hours. It is no stretch of intellect to figure that three days and three nights total 72 hours.
Jesus said He would be in the grave for the same amount of time Jonah was in the fish's belly, a total of 72 hours. In John 2:19, He makes a similar statement in response to the Jews requesting a sign of His messiahship: "Destroy this temple [His body, verse 21], and in three days I will raise it up."
Traditional Christians also argue that for these scriptures to be fulfilled, Jesus' timing would have to be perfect. If He were in the grave one second beyond 72 hours, the fourth day would have begun, and a second less would not be three full days and nights. The apostle Paul gives us the simple answer: ". . . in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, . . . and we shall be changed" (I Corinthians 15:52).An eye blink occurs in about 1/300th of a second, and resurrection from the dead takes only that long. It was no problem for Jesus to rise from the grave at the very end of 72 hours and on the third day in fulfillment of Scripture. He was not a moment too soon or a blink of the eye too late.
An additional disagreement is based on the "watches" that a sentry stood during Jesus' time. These three-hour segments were a standard measure of timekeeping. This argument also uses the rabbinical tradition that part of a day constitutes a whole day. But it ignores one vital question: Who raised Jesus from the grave? Jesus could not raise Himself because "the dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5). The answer is quite clear in the Scripture:
» For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them. . . . (John 5:21)
» . . . God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory. . . . (I Peter 1:21)
» . . . God the Father who raised Him from the dead. . . . (Galatians 1:1)
Since God the Father resurrected Christ, He was clearly the Timekeeper as well. His timing is perfect, and in no way is He limited by rabbinical traditions or the watches of a Roman sentry.
Another traditional Christian holy day is Palm Sunday, celebrating Jesus' triumphal entrance into Jerusalem as prophesied in Zechariah 9:9: "Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion! Shout O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey." Did this event occur on a Sunday?
The Bible's chronology presents a problem for the traditional argument. John 12:1 says, "Then six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom he had raised from the dead." After Mary anoints Jesus' feet, the next time marker appears:
The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. The King of Israel!" (verses 12-13).
If one is not paying attention, Palm Sunday seems plausible, but closer inspection proves otherwise! When Jesus comes to Bethany, it is six days to the Passover or the ninth of Abib/Nisan. The next day, the tenth, Jesus enters Jerusalem, five days before the Passover (counting inclusively). The tenth of Abib/Nisan is special because it is the day that the Israelites were to take the Passover lamb into their homes and keep it until the fourteenth day (Exodus 12:3-6). Therefore the people of Jerusalem symbolically select Him as their Passover lamb.
If His triumphal entry occurs on Sunday, five days before Passover, the Passover must occur on Thursday, the fifteenth of Abib/Nisan—not Friday! This alone destroys the Friday crucifixion-Sunday resurrection argument. The truth is that Christ enters Jerusalem on a Sabbath, is crucified on Wednesday, the fourteenth of Abib/Nisan, and rises from the dead 72 hours later as the Sabbath ends.
Sequence of Events
Scripture says that Jesus hung on the cross from the sixth to the ninth hour, Roman time, or from noon until 3 PM. Notice what happens next:
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. And 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. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:57-61)
By the time Joseph lays Jesus' body in the tomb, it is very close to sunset. Luke writes, "That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near" (Luke 23:54). John 19:42 adds, "So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews' Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby." Each of the gospels notes how rushed Joseph is to bury Jesus before sunset.
Traditional Christianity claims Jesus died on Friday primarily because of their misreading of John 12:1 combined with their insistence that only Friday can be a preparation day for the Sabbath. Because Jesus kept God's commands, He and His disciples celebrated the Passover on the correct day, Abib/Nisan 14. That year it fell on a Wednesday. Remember, the Passover is always the preparation day for the first day of Unleavened Bread, except when Passover itself falls on a Sabbath.
What happens after Joseph lays Jesus in the tomb?
» On the next day, Abib/Nisan 15, Thursday, the first day of Unleavened Bread, Pilate allows the Jews to secure the tomb and set a guard (Matthew 27:62-66).
» On Friday, after the holy day is over, "the women who had come with Him from Galilee . . . returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath [Saturday] according to the commandment" (Luke 23:55-56). This proves beyond doubt that two preparation days occurred that week: one for the holy day and one for the weekly Sabbath!
» "Now on the first day of the week [Sunday], very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb, bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb" (Luke 24:1-2; see Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; John 20:1).
» "But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is [has] risen, as He said'" (Matthew 28:5-6). What He had said was that He would arise after three days and three nights in the tomb!
Mary Magdalene arrives at the grave early on the first day of the week while it was still dark (John 20:1)—and Jesus has already been resurrected! So much for Easter sunrise services! Even if one thought Christ rose at dawn on Sunday, counting back 72 hours brings one to dawn on Thursday, and God's Word explicitly says that Christ was buried at sunset!
Yes, Jesus rose from the grave, but not on Sunday, the day traditional Christians call "the Lord's day." If He did, He could not be our Savior because He would have failed to fulfill the one sign of His Messiahship: three days and three nights in the tomb. Jesus rose on the day of which He says He is Lord: the true seventh-day Sabbath (Mark 2:28).