We all want to connect with the historical Jesus a bit more. Concerning the resurrection of Jesus, several questions come to mind:
What day did Jesus rise?
Did Jesus rise on the Sabbath?
If it was on the Sabbath, what significance does it bear?
What if I told you it depends?
Jesus ultimately rose on Sunday. But depending on your definition of when the Sabbath is, either Saturday or Sunday, answers the question of whether he rose on the Sabbath. For most Christians who practice Sabbath on Sunday, yes. For most of Judeo history where Sabbath starts on Friday evening to Saturday evening, no, he didn’t.
Let’s dive deeper to understand.
The Passages Which Describe Jesus’ Resurrection Timing
To fully understand the timing of the resurrection, we have to understand 3 pieces of data: 1) when Jesus died 2) When Jesus said he would rise and 3) When Jesus actually rose again
When Jesus Died
Wikipedia is right in saying that
All four Gospels agree to within about a day that the crucifixion was at the time of Passover, and all four Gospels agree that Jesus died a few hours before the commencement of the Jewish Sabbath, i.e. he died before nightfall on a Friday.
Here are the passages that demonstrate this:
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath,
It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away
As you can see here that there is harmony between all four gospels that Jesus rose on Friday.
When Jesus said he would rise again
The piece of information to understand is when Jesus said he would rise. It was common theme that Jesus suggested that it would be three days before he would rise.
This is an allusion to Jonah who was in the belly of the fish for 3 days and 3 nights.
Here is Jesus explaining to his disciples the timing of his resurrection:
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.
So by simple math we count 3 days from when Jesus died. The only question is, is it 3 chronological days or is 3 literally days.
When I say 3 chronological days, I mean 72 hours. That would put Jesus’ resurrection happening on Monday.
When I say 3 literally days, that would include the counting of days, which would be Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
Thankfully, the writers of the gospel make it clear by describing in exact terms of when Jesus rose.
When Jesus actually rose
Let’s look at the harmonic passages which describe Jesus’ resurrection as to relate to weekly timing:
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
As you can see here all of them have harmony in regards to the timing of Jesus’ resurrection. They all say the first day of the week and secondarily, to add clarity, Mark and Matthew add that it was after the Sabbath.
This is a big clue as to when Jesus was resurrected. The only question is… when is the Sabbath?
But…when is the Sabbath?
For most Christians, because our worship service is on Sunday, we tend to associate Sundays as the Sabbath.
However, for most of Judeo history, Sabbath was actually from Friday afternoon until Saturday afternoon.
Hear what Jewish writer Abraham Heschel writer has to about Sabbath.
There are really two kinds of Shabbat experiences: those of the fall and winter months, when the Sabbath begins around four o‘clock on Friday afternoons and ends around five o’clock on Saturday, and those of the spring and summer, when the Sabbath starts at eight or eight-thirty and ends at nine o’clock or even later. In the winter months, our Friday nights continued long after dinner as my parents sat at the table, drinking tea and reading. During the spring months, the long Shabbat afternoons became the peaceful and quiet focus of the day.
Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath (FSG Classics) (p. 6). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.
Heschel wrote an amazing reflection piece on Sabbath that I would recommend (Link on Amazon) for greater reflection on Sabbath from a Jewish perspective.
If this is true, then Sabbath ends on Saturday evening.
Read about When is the Sabbath and Does it Matter?
If that is true, then according to the language in Mark and Matthew, after the Sabbath, would imply that the timing here is Sunday morning.
This is most likely why Christians have fixated their day of worship on Sunday morning.
Did Jesus Rise on the Sabbath?
Jesus died on Friday.
He promised that he would rise in 3 days. We determined that it would be 3 counting days, not chronological days.
Then Jesus rose on a Sunday. The gospel writers are all harmonious in their explanation of when Jesus rose.
That means that Jesus did not rise on the Sabbath in the traditional Jewish understanding of Sabbath.
But if we’re understanding this as Christians, then, yes, Jesus rose on the Sabbath. But since his resurrection did not happen on the Jewish Sabbath, we cannot impart theological connection between Sabbath and Jesus’ resurrection.
Phil’s Encouragement: Remember the resurrection
Regardless of whether Jesus was resurrected on the Sabbath, I pray that you would remember the resurrection.
Eph 1:19-20 says something amazing:
19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.
What he’s saying is that the power that raised Jesus from the grave is the same power that lives in us.
My hope is that you won’t get bogged down in the details of Jesus’ resurrection as much as enjoy its power in your life. It’s a power that raises dead things to life.
His presence in our lives is utterly amazing!
My joy and the aim of this site is to help readers go deeper in their Christian faith.
In case you didn’t know, I am writing a book on the Sabbath as I believe it is one of the most critical practices a Christian can practice in order to grow in their walk with God.
Let me know if you have questions about Jesus’ resurrection or Sabbath in the comments below!