It has long been held within the the mystical christ Church that Christ was crucified on the sixth day of the week, the day that we now call Friday – hence the term “Good Friday.”
This is a misunderstanding: Christ was in fact crucified on the fifth day of the week, the day that we now call Thursday. Proof of this assertion will follow below, but that proof is not the critical point of this essay: no one will be admitted into the kingdom of heaven, nor will anyone be denied admittance because of his or her belief or teaching on this point. What is essential to understand is that there was only one day on God’s calendar on which Christ could have been crucified. We will deal first with the misconception regarding the day of the week on which the Lord was crucified, and will then go on to the greater significance of the overall timing of His crucifixion.
How was it decided by the early Church fathers that Jesus must have been crucified on a Friday? This misunderstanding arises from the following passages (and related passages from the other gospels): when Jesus was brought before Pilate, the gospel of Mark reports: “It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.” (Mark 15:42, 43 NIV).
What is “the sabbath” but the seventh day of the week, and what then would be “the day before the sabbath” but Friday? It is therefore easy to conclude that Jesus was crucified on Friday. This is an incorrect conclusion, however — but only the gospel account of John provides the information necessary to reach the correct conclusion. But before we study the clarifying passage in John, we must first have a better understanding of the term “sabbath.” For this we turn to the 23rd chapter of the book of Leviticus.
In Leviticus 23:3 we read, “There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the LORD.” This, of course, is the meaning that is usually intended and understood by the term “sabbath” — the seventh day of the week, the day which the Lord commanded the Israelites to observe each week as a day of holy rest. But the term means more. Let’s read further in this chapter.
In Leviticus 23:5-8 we read, “The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the LORD’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. For seven days present a food offering to the LORD. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.” Compare the language from verse three (regarding the weekly seventh day sabbath) with the language of verse 7 (regarding the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread). Both are “a sacred assembly”; on both the Israelites are commanded to “do no (servile) work therein.” We see then that the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread fits the definition of the word “sabbath,” although there is no specific definition of this day as a “sabbath.” Now let’s continue explore further in the chapter.
Regarding the Feast of Weeks, today commonly called Pentecost, we read, “From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:15, 16). Skipping over verses 17-20, which describe the offerings to be made on this feast day, we read in verse 21, “On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.” Note again that this day is defined as “a sacred assembly,” and the Israelites are commanded to “do no servile work therein” – again the definition of a “sabbath.” But we still haven’t seen the actual word “sabbath” used in connection with any day other than the seventh day of each week, so there could remain a little doubt. We will now remove that doubt by examining the instructions for the Feast of Trumpets.
In verses 24 and 25 we read, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present a food offering to the LORD.” Here we have a clear connection beyond any doubt: the Lord is instructing the Israelites to observe each of these feast days as a “sabbath” – a word which He here defines Himself as “a sacred assembly,” a day in which the Israelites are to “do no (servile) work.” (I put the word “servile” in parentheses because it appears in some of these passages but not in others.)