Matthew 28.1



1.   Christianity is a fact based faith.  That is, Christianity is a faith that is rooted in real events that happened to real people in time and space.  This being true, a proper understanding of the implications and the ability to arrive at a correct interpretation of Christianity must be based upon an awareness of the real facts.

2.   For example:  In four days, most of the western world will celebrate Easter.  It will begin in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday with cardinal Roger Baloney, excuse me, Mahoney, blessing the animals.  Who knows what that has to do with Easter, but it is a tradition in the Roman Church.  By Sunday, every Christian denomination will have begun to express some type of their own Easter celebration.

3.   Many churches of various denominations will gather together for what they call a sunrise celebration of Easter, as though Jesus rose from the dead early in the morning.  But no one seems to pay any attention to the fact that these various denominations are not celebrating the same thing, though they are joining together in a common observance.

4.   You see, some of the denominations celebrating Easter believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day in a physical body that was glorified.  But others at those same festivities believe that Jesus did not rise on the third day physically, but with a body that remained dead while He rose up in spirit.  Still others deny that Jesus died on the cross at all, and that when He was buried was not really dead.  They advance the theory that Jesus was helped by His disciples to escape, and then died a normal physical death years later some place else.  Yet, despite the wide variation in what are believed to be the facts surrounding the cross of Christ, these different congregations will gather together to celebrate.  But what, pray tell, are they celebrating?

5.   So you see, integrity demands that we come to an understanding of what happened before any attempt is made to interpret those events.  Tonight I propose to examine the Scriptural evidence, which is the only reliable evidence available to us, to ascertain what day Jesus was crucified, then reviewing for you what event was brought about by His crucifixion.



My experience has taught me that the best way to investigate this issue is to fix the day and time that Jesus rose from the dead, and then to count back to the day He must have been crucified.

1B.    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.”

This verse is crucial to a right understanding of precisely when the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead, for in this verse is provided information that is found nowhere else in the Gospels.  There are a number of important considerations that are frequently overlooked when considering this verse:

1C.   First, it is important to know what is meant by Sabbath and when Sabbaths occurred.  In the Jewish calendar there were weekly Sabbaths and special Sabbaths.  The weekly Sabbath began every Friday at sundown and continued for 24 hours until Saturday at sundown.  Special Sabbaths occurred on whatever day certain holy days fell, no matter what day of the week it was.  That this is a Sabbath that preceded the first day of the week shows us that a typical weekly Sabbath is being referred to in this verse.

2C.   Second, what is meant by the phrase “in the end of the sabbath”?  There are forty verses in the Bible in which the phrase “in the end of” is used to demark between the end of one period of time and the beginning of another.  Sometimes it is years, sometimes months, sometimes days.  But as near as I can tell, that phrase is not used to denote the subsequent period of time.  Rather, it is always used to refer to the end of the preceding period of time.  Meaning?  Meaning “in the end of the sabbath” is at the end of, but still in the period of time referred to as, the Sabbath.

3C.   At this point some would argue that these two Jewish women would not be walking about on the Sabbath, since it was forbidden.  But it was not forbidden to walk on the Sabbath, so long as a person did not exceed what was called a Sabbath day’s journey in distance.  The site where Jesus had been buried lay well within a Sabbath day’s journey for the two Marys.[1]

4C.   Third, there is the phrase “as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week.  What does this mean?  You see, the approach of the end of the Sabbath, which was coming up on Saturday at sundown, was a full twelve hours (or half a day) from the approach of dawn.  What is meant here?  Admittedly, most commentators are of the opinion that this refers to the rising of the sun.  But there are a number of reasons why I think this phrase is referring, instead, to the setting of the sun and the beginning of the Sabbath.  One reason for thinking this?  The only other place in the Bible where the word epifwskw is used, Luke 23.54, it refers to the setting of the sun and the approach of the Sabbath that signaled the time the body of Jesus had to be buried:  “And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.”

2B.    Mark 16.1:  “And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.”

1C.   This is Mark’s account of the same event recorded in Matthew 28.1, though with somewhat more information concerning those walking to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea, and somewhat less information about the precise time of their short journey.

2C.   Thus, it seems that there were actually three women who started walking at the end of the Sabbath.  They intended to arrive after the Sabbath had passed so they might complete their work of preparing His body for burial, something they were forbidden to do on any Sabbath day.

3B.    Matthew 28.2-4:  2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: 4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.”

1C.   So, as near as we can tell, three women are walking near dusk toward the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea.  As they are walking they, and everyone and everything else, are shaken by a large earthquake.  What do you think they did then?  Hang on to that question.

2C.   The earthquake was actually caused by an angel from the Lord descending from heaven and rolling back the huge stone that covered the opening of the tomb.  He then sat on the stone.  In appearance the angel was brilliant and glorious.  And the guards, who were posted to make sure no one would be able to move the stone and break the seal that had been placed on it, were scared witless and played possum.[2]

4B.    Mark 16.2-8; Matthew 28.5-8; Luke 24.1-8; John 20.1

Before we read these four passages, let me caution you.  I am convinced that you are about to read four accounts of a second approach to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea, which took place 10 or 12 hours after the first attempt to visit the tomb.

Mark 16.2-8:   2      And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.

3      And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?

4      And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.

5      And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.

6      And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.

7      But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee : there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.

8      And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.


Matthew 28.5-8:    5      And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

6      He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7      And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee ; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

8      And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.


Luke 24.1-8:    1      Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

2      And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

3      And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

4      And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

5      And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

6      He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee ,

7      Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

8      And they remembered his words


John 20.1:     1      The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.


I do not know why the Gospel of John names Mary Magdalene and does not refer to the other women, while the other three Gospel accounts refer to them as “they,” but there are several indications that these are four accounts of the same occurrence, and that these women are returning to the tomb some ten or twelve hours after their first try, that I think was interrupted by the earthquake before they got to the tomb.  My reasons for believing this?

1C.   First, this trip to the tomb takes place in the dark, before the sun comes up.  The first trip took place in the daylight, before the sun went down.

2C.   Second, though they did not know it until they arrived on the scene, the stone was rolled away before they arrived.  The first trip was made before the stone was rolled away.

3C.   Third, the angel who caused the earthquake and rolled the massive stone away had an appearance that was so stunning that the guards were terrified and feigned death.  Yet, when the women approached the tomb on this second trip, though they were frightened by the angels they saw, there is no indication that they had so glorious an appearance as the first angel, and they were not nearly are frightened as the guards had been.

4C.   And finally, where are the guards who were standing watch at the tomb?  Many hours have now passed, and they have gone to report the event to their superiors.[3]

5B.    Matthew 12.38-40:  38 Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. 39 But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

1C.   I have for many years been, as you know, one who held that the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ took place on a Wednesday.  I based my position on the fact that so many in Christendom were in error concerning when the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  Yet, even though I am still convinced that the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead very soon after sundown on Saturday night, only shortly after the Sabbath had ended and the first day of the week had begun (and not at the dawning of the morning sun as so many would have us believe), hours of study have led me to conclude that my previous opinion about the day of the crucifixion was inaccurate.

2C.   “The expression, ‘three days and three nights,’ is an idiom which covers any parts of three days and three nights.

In 1 Sam. xxx.11 (12), it is said that a certain Egyptian had not eaten bread and drunk water for ‘three days and three nights,’ and yet it was only three days since he fell sick (ver. 13), not four days.

In Est. iv.16, Esther says she and her maidens will fast ‘three days and three nights,’ and yet it was on ‘the third day’ that Esther went in to the king; not the fourth day, which it must have been if the expression were literally understood.

It may seem absurd to Gentiles and to Westerns to use words in such a manner, but that does not alter the fact.

Now the New Testament is for the most part Hebrew in idiom, but Greek in language. This is the simple explanation of the difference between it and classical Greek.  Moreover, there is reason to believe that the First Gospel, as we have it, is a translation from a Hebrew Original.  This is one of the idioms.  It is used in Jonah i.17 (ii.1), and by our Lord in Matt. xii.40.  And yet many Scriptures say that He should rise, and did actually rise on the third day.’  This could not have been if the expression were used in its literal sense.  It must have been the fourth day and not the ‘third.’

The fact is that the idiom covers any part of ‘three days and three nights.’  This method of Hebrew reckoning is as distinct from Gentile reckoning, as their commencing the day at sunset and our commencing it at midnight .  All these different modes of reckoning are peculiar to the respective peoples and languages and must be duly taken into account.

The Lord’s words in Matt. xii.40 do not disagree with the Scripture assertion that He should rise on ‘the third day.’

We have the expression ‘after three days’ once (Matt. xxvii.63), and ‘in three days’ once (John ii.19).  But the common expression is ‘on the third day,’ and it occurs ten times.  But if the expression be literal and not an idiom, all these passages should say the fourth day!  Paul preached the resurrection on ‘the third day’ according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. xv.4), and this is the great Scriptural fact which we cannot get away from.

Neither can we alter the fact that He rose on ‘the first day of the week.’

Neither can we alter the history which records His death and burial as taking place the day before the Sabbath.  ‘The sabbath drew on’ (Luke xxiii.54. Matt. xxvii.62) ; ‘the day before the sabbath’ (Mark xv.42); and yet the two disciples going to Emmaus on the first day of the week say, ‘This is the third day (not the fourth) since these things were done’ (Luke xxiv.21).

From all this it is perfectly clear that nothing is to be gained by forcing the one passage (Matt. xii.40) to have a literal meaning, in the face of all these other passages which distinctly state that the Lord died and was buried the day before the Sabbath and rose the day after it, viz., on the first day of the week.  These many statements are literal and are history: but the one passage is an idiom which means any part of ‘three days and three nights.’  The one complete day and night (24 hours) and the parts of two nights . . . fully satisfy both the idiom and the history.

It may be added that we have a similar usage in English.  When a person is sentenced to ‘three days’ imprisonment,’ it may be late in the evening of the first day when he arrives at the prison, but when the doors open on the morning of the third day (not the fourth) he walks out a free man.  In other words, if a person is commited to prison for three days—and he reaches it on Monday night—he leaves it the first thing on Wednesday morning.”[4]

6B.    Thus, unless it can be shown that the special Sabbath of Passover that required His hasty burial began on some day other than Friday night, I must conclude that the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday.



In our day, it is extremely important to establish beyond any doubt that Jesus died, because Muslims deny that Jesus died on the cross.  Let me read a portion I wrote from the book I coauthored:  “In Sura 19:33, Jesus is quoted as saying ‘So Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again).  So, it seems that the Koran acknowledges that the Lord Jesus Christ died.  But the Koran is not internally consistent.  Mohammed was so opposed to Jesus being crucified that he actually stated that Jesus did not die on a cross.  Sura 4:15 reads ‘They slew him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them.’  Muslims believe that the Jews got so confused in their effort to crucify Jesus that they accidentally crucified someone else, thinking it was Him.  The Koran leads Muslims to disregard anything related to the crucifixion of Christ, because their inadequate view of sin requires no atoning sacrifice.  Thus, they are convinced that there was no death for Christ, no burial, and of course, no resurrection.  They are convinced that Allah took Jesus directly to Heaven, and that He will someday return to earth, marry, father children, and play a role in the final judgment.  Underlying all of these errors concerning the saving work of Jesus Christ is the notion that for Jesus to be arrested, tried, beaten, tortured, unjustly convicted, and then executed by means of crucifixion, would have been a terrible defeat for Jesus and for God.”[5]

The Muslims are wrong.  The Koran is wrong.  Mohammed is wrong.  Jesus did die on the cross, and it was not a defeat for God or for Jesus.  It was a stupendous victory!  Five ways in which we can be assured that Jesus really did die on the cross of Calvary :

1B.    First, He said He would:  “. . . the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many,” Mark 10.45.

2B.    Second, the prophets said He would:  “He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken,” Isaiah 53.8.

3B.    Third, the Romans said He had:  “But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water,” John 19.33-34.

4B.    Fourth, you can be sure the leaders of the Jews who conspired to have Him crucified would have made sure that He was dead before allowing His body to be taken and buried.

5B.    And finally, there is no evidence that anyone, at any time in history, has ever credibly denied that Jesus died on the cross of Calvary before His body was taken down and buried.



1.   Christianity is a fact-based faith.  It is the only fact-based faith in existence anywhere in the world.  And one of the fundamental facts of our faith is the death on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2.   What meaning is to be assigned to that fact?  The Bible is rich with explanations concerning what meanings are to be associated with this and other facts.

3.   But this one truth is sufficient for us to now conclude with this evening.  If your situation is so desperate that the Son of God must needs suffer and bleed and die on a cruel Roman cross for you, then you really are in trouble.  It would be foolhardy not to seek a remedy for what ails you.  Amen?

[1] See footnote for Matthew 28.1 in A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels, (New York: Harper & Row, 1950), page 239.

[2] Matthew 27.66

[3] Matthew 28.11-15

[4] E. W. Bullinger, Figures Of Speech Used In The Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1968), pages 845-847.

[5] R. L. Hymers, Jr. and John S. Waldrip, Demons in the Smoke of the World Trade Center, ( Oklahoma City , OK : Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., 2002), page 134.

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