Essay: The Chronology of Jesus' Crucifixion

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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Just when was Jesus crucified? To answer this question we need to inquire: (1) What day of the week, (2) What day of the month of Nisan, and (3) What year? These subjects are controversial, but I'll try to simply lay out the issues, and explain what I believe is the most probably. Fortunately, the exact day or date of the crucifixion is not an article of faith. :-)

1. Day of the Week

Several times the Gospels mention that Jesus was crucified on the day before the Sabbath, the Jewish Day of Preparation (Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14, 31, 42), that is, on Friday.

Some object on the basis of Matthew 12:40: "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." They argue that this requires three 24-hour days. Some argue that since he was raised on a Sunday, he must have been crucified on a Thursday.

However, the NT repeatedly refers to Jesus' resurrection as occurring on the third day, not the fourth day (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; Luke 9:22; 18:33; Acts 10:40; 1 Corinthians 15:4). And the Jews reckoned a part of day as a whole day. So there is no problem with the death of Jesus on Friday, being in the tomb on Saturday, and being raised on Sunday constituting three days in Jewish reckoning.[1]

Here is a brief chronology of Holy Week:

Saturday

Arrived at Bethany

John 12:1

Sunday

Crowd came to see Jesus

John 12:9-11

Monday

Triumphal Entry

Matthew 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-44

Tuesday

Cursed Fig Tree

Matthew 21:18-19; Mark 11:12-14

Cleansed Temple

Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46

Wednesday

Fig Tree Withered

Matthew 21:20-22; Mark 11:20-26

Temple Controversy

Matthew 21:23-23:39; Mark 11:27-12:44; Luke 20:1-21:4

Olivet Discourse

Matthew 24:1-25:46; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36

Thursday

Last Supper

Matthew 26:20-30; Mark 14:17-26; Luke 22:14-30

Betrayed and Arrested

Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:2-12

Tried by Annas and Caiaphas

Matthew 26:57-75; Mark 14:53-72; Luke 22:54-65: John 18:13-27

Friday

Tried by Sanhedrin

Matthew 27:1; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66

Tried by Pilate, Herod

Matthew 27:2-30; Mark 15:2-19; Luke 23:1-25; John 18:28-19:16

Crucified and Buried

Matthew 27:31-60; Mark 15:20-46; Luke 23:26-54; John 19:16-42

Saturday

Dead in Tomb

 

Sunday

Resurrected

Matthew 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-35

According to Harold W. Hoehner, "Chronology," Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (InterVarsity Press, 1992, pp. 120.

2. Day of the Month of Nisan

The next question is: Did Jesus die on the Day of Passover (Nisan 14) or the day after Passover (i.e. on Nisan 15). It's pretty clear from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) that Jesus ate the actual Passover meal (Matthew 26:2, 17-19; Mark 14:1, 12, 14, 16; Luke 22:1, 7-8, 13, 15) with his disciples on Thursday night. But John's Gospel seems to indicate that Jesus was crucified right before the Jews would partake of Passover (John 13:28; 19:14).

There have been several attempts to harmonize the accounts. One theory is that two calendars are being used at the same time during the period. The Synoptic Gospels use the method of the Galileans and the Pharisees to reckon the day from sunrise to sunrise, while John's gospels uses the Judean method of reckoning the day from sunset to sunset.[2] However, I'm inclined to adopt the Synoptic chronology. We won't know for sure in this life.

3. Year of Jesus' Crucifixion

Finally, some have attempted to determine the likely year in which Jesus was crucified. We can date the reign of three officials involved in Jesus' trial: Caiaphas, the High Priest (AD 18 to 37), Pilate, prefect of Judea (AD 26 to 36), and Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (4 BC to AD 39). Thus Jesus trial must have occurred between AD 26 and AD 36.[3]

If Jesus was crucified on Friday, Nisan 14 or 15, sometime between AD 26 and AD 36, astronomic evidence limits the possibilities to AD 27,30, 33, and 36. AD 27 is the least likely. The most likely dates are (1) Friday, Nisan 14 (April 3), AD 33 or Friday, Nisan 14 (April 7), AD 30.[4] John's chronology "removes many of the historical difficulties associated with the trial and crucifixion of Jesus," says I. Howard Marshall.[5] In addition, a date of AD 33 seems to fit a ministry of three years, using the fifteenth year of Tiberius (AD 29) as a starting point for John the Baptist's ministry (Luke 3:1-3).


References

  1. Harold W. Hoehner, "Chronology," DJG, pp. 120-121.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Hoehner, DJG, pp. 120-121; G. Ogg, "Chronology of the New Testament," New Bible Dictionary (Second Edition; Tyndale House, 1962), p. 202. W.P. Armstrong and J. Finegan, "Chronology of the NT," ISBE 1:688-689. FF Bruce, NT History, p. 201, note 20, sees AD 30 as the most likely date. I Howard Marshall, Last Supper and Lord's Supper (Eerdmans, 1980), discusses the chonology in some detail, pp.67-75 and Table 4, and concludes "Jesus held a Passover meal earlier than the offical Jewish date, and that he was able to do so as the result of calendar differences among the Jews."
  5. Marshall, p. 790.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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