The High Sabbath of Passover Week

Question:  

John 19:14 says, “It was the Day of Preparation for Passover Week, about the sixth hour. ‘Here is your King’, Pilate said to the Jews.”  Per other Gospels, on that day and that hour, Jesus was having His Last Supper with his disciples. Could you please shed some light and insight about this time ‘contradiction?’ 

Thank you for your question. It entails several things that most believers are not aware of.

Few Christians know that the Jewish Passover is currently a seven-day period in Israel and eight days for the Jews who live outside of Israel. At the time of Christ, the Jews had two names for the same festival; it was called the Feast of the Passover or the Feast of the Unleavened Bread.

The first month in the Jewish calendar is Nissan (also spelled “Nisan”), and it occurs during the months of March thru April in the Roman calendar. Nissan is the month in which the Passover is observed.

The 13th day (Tuesday) of Nissan is called the preparation day for the Passover. The Passover meal is eaten after 6:00 PM, which means that it is really eaten on the 14th day of Nissan. From the New Testament we know that Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover meal on a Tuesday night (Matt.26:17-19; Luke 22:13-20).

The 14th day (Wednesday) of Nissan was called the first day of the Passover and people still worked on this day. This was the day that Jesus was brought to Pilate at 6:00 AM,  (Matt.27:1-2) and was crucified the sixth hour (12:00 PM).

The 15th day (Thursday) of Nissan was the Feast of the Unleavened Bread and also known as the high Sabbath.

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

This is not to be confused with the regular Sabbath. The high Sabbath was a holy day for the Jews and no work could be done on this day. All roads and bridges leading to Jerusalem had been cleaned the day before from garbage and the corpses of dead animals were removed. Furthermore, all graves had been whitewashed so that the pilgrims coming to Jerusalem would not be defiled. This was the reason the Jewish leadership did not want to have anyone hanging on a cross on the high Sabbath.

The 16th day (Friday) of Nissan was called “The Morrow After” the Sabbath and this was the day of the cutting of barley sheaves.

The 17th day (Saturday) of Nissan in the year Jesus was crucified was the regular Sabbath. Jesus rose from the dead sometime between 6:00 PM Saturday night and 6:00 AM on the first day of the week (Sunday morning). This timeline is consistent with Jesus’ words that he would be dead for three days and three nights:

“Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 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.” (Matthew 12:38-40)

Jesus was dead and in the grave at the beginning of the 15th day (Thursday) of Nissan. Using the timeline Jesus provided of three full days and nights, Thursday night was the first complete day, Friday night was the second complete day and Saturday night was the third complete day. If we correctly interpret the timeline provided by the four gospels, it is not possible for Jesus to have been crucified on Friday as commonly thought, but He was crucified and buried on Wednesday. Please refer to the Scripture citations of the Passover week timeline for the specifics of that week.

The period from the 17th day to the 20th day of Nissan was called The Lesser Festival.

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