When Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?
By Chuck Bartlett
Recently, someone pointed out to me that Jesus must have resurrected from the death on the Sabbath because of Matthew 28:1. It states in that text that the women came to the tomb late on the Sabbath. If the tomb was empty because Christ had already risen, does this mean He resurrected on the Sabbath? Let’s take a closer look.
To make this simple, we will see that the more accurate translations of Matthew 28:1 read like this: “after the Sabbath day, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week…” We must first establish when Christ died. In Mark 15:42, we read that Jesus died the day before the Sabbath. This day was also called the preparation day (Luke 23:54, Matt. 27:62). Without a doubt, Christ was crucified on the sixth day of the week.
Now let’s turn our attention to the statements made concerning the length of time the Lord would spend in the grave. Jesus clearly said that He would be killed and be raised the third day (Matt. 16:21). The same thing was stated in Mark 8:31. On another occasion, the Lord said He would be three days and three nights in the grave (Matt. 12:40).
It is vital to understand how the Jews reckoned time. The Jews told Pilate that the body should not be on the cross on the Sabbath (John 19:31). This is why they wanted His legs broken on the cross – to ensure He died before the Sabbath. Since the text stated “for the Sabbath was a high day”, it meant that the Sabbath was near. It started at 6 pm that evening and lasted until 6 pm the next day.
Knowing all of this, let us revisit the accounts of the women coming to the tomb. The descriptions in Luke and John both state that the women came on the first day of the week (Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). In Mark’s account, he said they came when the Sabbath was past and on the first day of the week (Mark 16:1-2). Based on this, we can understand that when some versions of the Bible say that the women came at the end of the Sabbath, they are not also saying that Jesus resurrected on the Sabbath. Consider Matthew 28:1 again. It says that the women came “as the first day of the week began to dawn.” Since the Sabbath ended 6 pm the night before, the first day of the week was close to being half over by the time dawn arrived.
Now let’s focus on some serious problems people have by insisting that Jesus resurrected on the Sabbath. If Jesus was taken down from the cross just before the Sabbath day began, He would not have spent three days in the grave. This would conflict with Jesus’ many statements about spending three days in the grave. We would also have to question whether Paul was truly inspired by Jesus Christ as he preached this point too (Gal. 1:12; I Cor. 15:4).
We should also question why some people are so adamant that Jesus resurrected on the Sabbath. In some cases, it is because they want to give the Sabbath even more significance. Christians came together on the first day of the week to remember the sacrifice of Christ (Acts 20:7). Christians were never obligated to keep the Sabbath because Jesus nailed the Old Law to the cross (Col. 2:14). If Jesus did not resurrect on the first day of the week, then those who insist He rose on the Sabbath will struggle to harmonize several areas of scripture.
Jesus’ enemies put guards at the tomb because they knew He said He would rise in three days (Matt. 27:64). It would have been easy for them to discredit Jesus if He did not rise as He said He would. But Jesus did rise, so all His enemies could do was to bribe the soldiers to lie (Matt. 28:11-13). We can see clearly that Jesus spent three days in the grave and arose on the first day of the week.
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