Acronym S.I.N Stand For What Code Is It Related To Christ’s Crucifixion: The Passover Lamb

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Christ’s Crucifixion: The Passover Lamb

It has long been held within the Christian 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.)

I will not cite the descriptions of the Day of Atonement and the feast of Tabernacles, but by reading the remainder of the 23rd chapter of Leviticus, one can easily confirm that these days were also Sabbaths in the very strictest sense of the word. So we see that when the term “sabbath” is used in the gospels, as well as elsewhere, it can refer to a weekly seventh day sabbath or to any of the seven high feast days which the Lord instructed the Israelites to observe throughout the year.

Returning now to the gospel of John, we read in 19:31 the passage referring to the same point of time that was the subject of the passage cited above from Mark 15: “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.” Only John tells us this important detail: the following day was not an ordinary 7th-day sabbath, but rather “a special sabbath (or in the King James version, a “high day”).” “A special sabbath” means that the approaching day was a sabbath because it was a feast day — one of the seven high feast days ordained by God — and not because it was the seventh day of the week. It could also have been a Saturday, because the Passover (14 Nisan) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (15 Nisan) could fall on any two sequential days of the week – they were scheduled according to the day of the month, not the day of the week. But by exploring further we will see how we can be certain that in this year the “special sabbath,” the sabbath of the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, did not fall on a Saturday, and that the approaching sabbath day mentioned here must actually have been the sixth day of the week, which we now call Friday — meaning that the previous day, on which Jesus must have been crucified, was a Thursday.

Actually, careful readers of the Bible may have already wondered whether the Lord’s crucifixion was on Thursday because of a statement He made: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). Note carefully the specificity, both of the passage in Jonah, “… and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17), and of Jesus’ quotation of this passage, “… so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). The passage in Jonah could have said “three days,” or even “three full days,” and so Jesus probably would have quoted it. The Israelites reckoned days from sunset to sunset, so it was clear to them as well as to us that the term “day” can mean either the period of sunlight or the 24-hour period that includes both sunlight and darkness. But the specificity of the passage in Jonah, and of the Lord’s quotation of that passage, shows clearly that God intended us to understand this not as some vague period of approximately 3 days, but as three periods of daylight and three periods of nighttime: “three days and three nights.”

Note also how clearly Jonah’s experience was intended by God as a vivid picture or type of Jesus’ death, His time in the grave and his pending resurrection — though it was written hundreds of years in advance: “… In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry” (Jonah 2:2); “I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple…” (2:4); “… To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.

But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit” (v. 6).

We know from clear statements in all four gospels that the Lord arose from the grave just before dawn on the first day of the week, which we now call Sunday. (See Matthew 28:1-6, Mark 16:1-9, Luke 24:1-6, and John 20:1-8.) If we count backward three days and three nights from early Sunday morning, we can arrive at a crucifixion only on the fifth day of the week, our Thursday. The “three nights” can only be Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights; the “three days” can only be the portion of Thursday afternoon between the Lord’s death and sunset, plus Friday and Saturday.

Confusion has been created on this point by a number of well-meaning scholars who have tried to reconcile the traditional Friday crucifixion with the required three days and three nights in the grave, but the arguments will not stand up to close scrutiny.

First there is the argument that the three days included a portion of Friday, all day Saturday, and a portion of Sunday. Careful reading of the passages cited above from all four gospels will show that Jesus arose and departed from the tomb before sunrise on Sunday, so He could not have intended that day to have been one of the three periods of daylight that He would spend in the grave. It is also impossible to reconcile “three nights” with a Friday crucifixion, because only two nights, Friday and Saturday, would have fallen between the crucifixion and the resurrection. Some have tried to overcome this obstacle by counting the three hours of darkness (see Matthew 27:45) as a “night.” There are, of course, two problems with this argument, even if one were to accept that Jesus meant this period of darkness as a night. First, there still would be only two periods of daylight — Friday afternoon and Saturday — and second, Jesus was not in the grave during this period of darkness, but died following it.

Crucifixion on Wednesday has also been argued, but this would clearly require four periods of daylight and four periods of darkness prior to a Sunday morning resurrection.

The “three days” therefore must have been 1.) the portion of Thursday afternoon between Christ’s death and sunset; 2.) all day Friday; and 3.) all day Saturday. He arose before sunrise on Sunday. And the “three nights” must have been 1.) Thursday night; 2.) Friday night; and 3.) Saturday night.

So here is the proper timing of the Lord’s crucifixion (using our modern English names for the days): He was nailed to the cross on Thursday morning. He died on Thursday afternoon. When Joseph of Arimathaea and the other Jews discussed the removal of His body from the cross with Pilate, their sense of urgency was that His body (and those of the two thieves crucified with Him) be taken down before sundown, which would mark the beginning of the High Sabbath (see John 19:31) which was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Note carefully then that the approaching sabbath which created the urgency for removing the bodies from the crosses and the sabbath following which the women went to the tomb were not the same sabbath: the first was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, “a special sabbath,” which in this particular year occurred on a Friday and was therefore followed immediately by the usual 7th-day sabbath on Saturday.

As mentioned previously, however, the importance of establishing this timing lies not so much in which days of the week the events occurred, but rather in the significance of that one and only day on which God’s plan absolutely required the Lord’s crucifixion must take place. We will now examine this aspect carefully.

There is an apparent conflict between the synoptic gospels and the gospel of John with regard to the timing of the Lord’s last supper with the disciples. As an example typical of the synoptic gospels, Matthew reports, “On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.'” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve” (Matthew 26:17-20).

It is important to understand that the Jews generally treated the first three feasts of the religious year – Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Firstfruits — as one extended feast, which they referred to collectively as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Therefore, this passage is intended to convey that the disciples made the upper room ready on “the first day of the feast of unleavened bread,” which would be Passover day — therefore the preparation to “eat the passover.”

Between this account and the parallel accounts in Mark and Luke, it is widely believed and taught that Jesus and His disciples ate the passover meal on the day of the Passover feast, and that Jesus was crucified on the following day, which would have been the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Once again, however, the gospel of John shows us that this is not a correct understanding of the timing of these events.

Let us examine John’s account of this last supper which the Lord celebrated with His disciples. “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded” (John 13:1-5 KJV).

Note the language very carefully: even though the supper had already been eaten (“And supper being ended…” (v.2)), the Passover feast had not yet arrived (“Now before the feast of the Passover…” (v.1)). John here shows us that Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples the evening before the actual Passover feast day. As we saw above, John 19:14 also shows that this last supper was actually eaten on the day before Passover: when Jesus appeared before Pilate on the following day, it was “the preparation of the Passover” — “preparation” was the killing of the lamb before sunset, so that the Passover meal could be eaten after sunset. This is also clear from John 18:28, where we see that the Jewish leaders would not enter into Pilate’s judgment hall: “… they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover” — which would take place that evening.

Why would Jesus eat the Passover meal with His disciples on the day before the feast was scheduled to be observed? His decision to do this arises directly from one of the most central and critical doctrines of the Bible, the most important aspect of the work that Christ accomplished on behalf of fallen man. In order to understand this doctrine and its importance in the timing of Jesus’ crucifixion, we need to review some very important history.

When God sent Moses to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, He found it necessary to inflict a series of plagues upon the Egyptians before Pharaoh would agree to release the Israelites from slavery. The last and decisive of these plagues was the visit of the death angel to every Egyptian household. God decreed that all the firstborn of Egypt would die, both man and beast.

When the first nine plagues were visited upon the Egyptians, the Israelites were automatically exempted. But with this tenth and final plague only, God required the Israelites to take a positive action in order to prevent the death of their own children. He instructed them to select a perfect lamb for each household, to slay it and apply its blood to the doorposts and lintels of their houses. When the death angel saw the blood on the door, he would “pass over” that house and not bring death to the firstborn.

The Passover feast was ordained by God as an annual commemoration of this milestone event. Unfortunately, the Israelites may never have fully understood the full significance of this ceremony. But the New Testament Scriptures have revealed to us that all of the passover lambs that were sacrificed through the hundreds of years of this celebration were types or images of the One True Passover Lamb Who would be sacrificed on the cross for the sins of all mankind. This shedding of Christ’s blood and the atonement covering it provides for sinful man is the central fact of the Bible, foretold in the Old Testament and recorded in the New. The Holy Spirit revealed through Paul that “… Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” (I Corinthians 5:7).

Now, if Christ is our Passover, and if the Passover feast was instituted by God to point forward to this central fact in His covenant relationship with man, on what other day than Passover could Christ possibly have been sacrificed for the sins of man? Christ could have chosen any time of the year to push the antagonism of the Jewish leaders over the brink and force the decision to put Him to death. But He chose this exact time because it was critical that He establish Himself in this final act, as He had done in all His actions to this point, as The Passover Lamb.

So now we can return to Jesus’ decision to celebrate the Passover feast with His disciples one day early. It was impossible for Him to observe the feast on the actual feast day of Passover, because on that day, He could not eat the Passover lamb: He would be the sacrificial Passover Lamb. On Passover He would be on the cross until just before sundown, and then in the grave. The Jews killed the one true Passover Lamb as was required, they shed His blood as was required on this day, but they did not receive the promised atonement because they did not recognize Him for Who He was: they did not apply His shed blood to the doorposts and lintels of their own hearts. Jesus said, “… Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life…” On that one Passover to which all their history had pointed, the Jews ate the flesh of the wrong lamb, and therefore did not receive eternal life.

There remains one interesting point to examine, and that is the timing of Jesus’ resurrection — again, not with regard to the day of the week, but with regard to God’s calendar for Christ’s work in redeeming fallen man.

Recall that Jesus was crucified on Thursday, which was Passover. The following day was a High Sabbath, because it was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was then followed by a weekly sabbath on Saturday. The next feast the Israelites were instructed to observe was the Feast of Firstfruits. This feast was to be celebrated on “… the morrow after the sabbath.” (Leviticus 23:11).

The importance of the timing of Christ’s resurrection is parallel to the importance of the timing of His crucifixion on Passover. All of the Israelite observances of the Passover feast were types pointing toward the one true Passover Lamb Who would be sacrificed on the one true Passover that would end the need for further observations of this feast. Just so, all of the Israelite observances of the Feast of the Firstfruits were types pointing toward the one true Firstfruits from the dead Whose resurrection would end the need for further observations of this feast as well. Just as “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us,” (I Corinthians 5:7), so also “now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept,” (I Corinthians 15:20); “… in Christ shall all be made alive… Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming (I Corinthians 14:22, 23).

Just as it was crucial to God’s revelation of His plan of redemption that the true Passover Lamb be sacrificed on Passover, it was also crucial that the Firstfruits be born the first of the kingdom of heaven on the Feast of Firstfruits.

So in summary, here is the correct timing for the events of the Passion Week, the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection:

  • Wednesday: Christ observes the Passover feast one day early with His disciples in the upper room.
  • Thursday (Passover): Christ the Passover Lamb is condemned and crucified, dying shortly before sunset.
  • Friday (First day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread — a High Sabbath because it is one of the seven ordained feast days): Christ is in the grave.
  • Saturday(a second consecutive sabbath, this one an ordinary weekly sabbath day): The Lord is still in the tomb. It is “in the end” (Matthew 28:1) of this sabbath “as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week” that the women come to the Lord’s tomb and find it empty.
  • Sunday (Feast of Firstfruits): Christ the Firstfruits arises from the dead to become the firstborn of many whose eternal lives will spring directly from Him, the Seed.

Next Easter, whether you think of Thursday or Friday as the day of our Lord’s crucifixion, remember that on the Passover feast day He was the Passover Lamb, Whose blood was shed for the remission of sins. And remember that on the Feast of Firstfruits, He was the Firstfruits from the dead, our Forerunner into heaven.

Copyright 2010. Daniel E. Wafford

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