On What Day Was Jesus Crucified?

Increasingly, Christians are debating whether the traditional belief is incorrect that Jesus was crucified on Friday. Some have embraced Wednesday, often resorting to what they have heard from others concerning the Jewish name of the day of the week. Others embrace Thursday in an attempt to reconcile the sole reference to “three days and three nights” in Matthew 12:40, where Jesus states, “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.”

If we follow only the Bible, and begin with clear statements within the text, we can determine the necessary answer correctly and without resorting to speculative ideas about what may have been expected from Jewish traditions.

Firstly, the Jews counted a day consistently with the original Genesis record: evening comes first, then morning. One “evening-morning” is one day. (Gen 1:5, etc)

Secondly, Jesus was stated in every gospel to have risen very early on the first day of the week.[i] The Jews’ first weekday corresponds to our Saturday/Sunday, following their Sabbath which corresponds to our Friday/Saturday.

Thirdly, Jesus clearly and repeatedly said that He would rise “on the third day”.[ii] Since Jesus rose early on “Sunday” morning, therefore Sunday morning is necessarily the third day, Saturday evening being the third night, remembering that the Jewish day began at evening, with morning following night.

To determine when Jesus was crucified, we must count backwards from this known absolute, counting three days and three nights in our count. Using our day-names,[iii] the days from Jesus “last supper” to His resurrection, counting backwards are:

Saturday evening/Sunday day – night/day # 3

Friday evening/Saturday day – night/day #2

Thursday evening/Friday day – night/day #1 (The Passover)

While many impose meaning on His single statement that He would be three days and nights “in the heart of the earth”, believing that “heart of the earth” must mean the tomb, most who get hung on this forget that He repeated what prophecy also stated, that He would “rise on the third day”. Because He rose on the “first day of the week”, requiring that His rising was our Sunday, the chronology requires the inclusion of Thursday “evening” in the count of 3 nights. Because Jesus was not buried until Friday before sundown, our understanding of “in the heart of the earth” needs to be re-evaluated.

Jesus was betrayed before the Passover meal, similarly to the Passover lamb being removed from the flock before the original Passover meal, and ate “this Passover” with His disciples. He was arrested at night after that meal, therefore Thursday night was that Passover and the first night that Jesus was in the hands of sinners. This article would suggest that His arrest constituted His being “in the heart of the earth”; he was in the hands of sinful men, condemned to death before His mock trial, and was therefore, in effect, already “gone”. A critical statement to His disciples is overlooked by many:

“NOW is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. ” John 13:31 Before His arrest.” AND NOW, I AM NO LONGER IN THE WORLD … John 17:11

Jesus said this BEFORE His arrest, during His evening prayer for His disciples and all who would believe on Him because of them. He said this Thursday night, after the Passover supper and before His arrest. This is critical. He was arrested Thursday night, and crucified during the day Friday. Yet, He said that He was “no longer in the world” while He stood praying among His disciples.

He was off the cross before sundown on the Passover, which was also the Preparation Day for the Sabbath, which began around 6 pm “Friday” and ended around 6 pm “Saturday”. While some have invoked a special “Sabbath” pertaining to the Passover itself, claiming that crucifixion occurred on the Preparation for the Sabbath of Passover, this contradicts the gospel accounts that Jesus celebrated the Passover in the upper room with His disciples, claiming Himself to be their Passover forever,[iv] and conflicts with His resurrection early Sunday morning. John’s words contribute to the confusion:

Joh 18:28  Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.

Joh 18:39  But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?

Joh 19:14  And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!

Joh 19:31  The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

Joh 19:42  There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

Neither verse in chapter 19 poses a conflict to the above chronology, nor does 18:39 since Passover lasted until Friday at sundown, so we have no need to discuss them in this context. But what can we say about 19:14, “… it was the preparation of the Passover…”, and 18:28, “…they …. went not into the judgement hall, lest they be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.”

In 18:28, the Greek reads that it was “still morning”: ην δε πρωια – en de proia – which means “in yet morning”. For some reason, the religious leaders had not yet eaten the Passover by morning, which was to have been killed at the previous sundown and eaten that same night, as God had commanded Israel on the night that He freed them from Pharaoh. Why would these religious leaders not have eaten their Passover meal before the time that they delivered Jesus to Pontius Pilate? What had they been doing when they should have been home eating with their families? Scripture tells us.

During the night, they were busy working their scheme to have Jesus arrested and crucified. According to John, chapter 18, verse 3, they had supplied Judas with “a band” and officers to arrest Jesus. This is supported by Matthew 26:47, Mark 14:43, and Luke 22: 47 – 53, the latter of which states that Jesus spoke to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and elders of the people among the crowd that came to arrest Him. They had spent the earlier time plotting and getting set up, and now they had come to seize Him. Thereafter, they took Him to the high priest and began their inquisition and abuse of the Lord.[v] Despite God’s command that they observe the Passover exactly when and how He instructed, they were far too busy destroying an innocent Man to stop and obey God. they had not yet eaten the Passover because they were unavailable, instead preparing to kill the eternal Passover once for all.[vi]

John’s other comment that causes confusion is verse 14 of chapter 19: “And it was the preparation of the Passover …” Most assume that John was saying that the day was the preparation for Passover, and therefore Passover was yet to happen on the following day. This is incorrect, and would have Jesus dying after the Passover in contradiction to the declaration that He is our Passover.

The Passover is the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, falling on the 14th day of the first month of the year. The word “Passover” is commonly used to refer to the entire feast. Because Hebrew months were 30 days long, the named day of the week would differ for the numbered day of the month with each passing year, as with our own calendar. Evidently, Passover had fallen on the day before the weekly Sabbath, making Passover a Sabbath preparation day like any other. The most consistent understanding of John’s choice of words in chapter 14, verse 19, is that the day on which Pilate called to the crowds to “Behold your King!” was the preparation day within the Passover week, as the clearer passages confirm.

When we allow the Bible to speak for itself, we can usually avoid controversy and misunderstanding. While some portions are difficult to understand, or we may not have the knowledge needed to solve some new mystery, generally a diligent study of the text will provide the facts we need in order to know what God has revealed. In this case, Jesus rose “on the third day”, being Sunday morning early, and was crucified on the Passover in the daytime, being Friday, day 1. Thursday was the first night, fitting into the sequence as explained above. No conflict exists in this understanding.


[i] Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Lk 24:1, John 20:1

[ii] Matt 16:21; 17:23, 20:19, cf 27:64; Mrk 9:31, 10:34; Luke 9:22, 13:32; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor 15:4.
Multiple prophetic and typological Old Testament references also reinforce that salvation was accomplished “on the third day”. eg: Ex 19:11; Lev 7:18; Num 19:12; 2 Kings 20:5; Ester 5:1; Hos 6:2

[iii] For the balance of this article, our modern day names will be used to maintain clarity of the explanation.

[iv] Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:14,16; Luke 22:8,11,13,15; John 18:39; cf 1 Cor 5:17; John 1:29,36

[v] Lk 22:54; Mark 14:53-15:11; Matthew 26:57-68, 27:10-20; Lk 22:63-23:23; John 18:12-14, 19-35.

[vi] John 11:50