THE PASSION OF OUR LORD:
DETAILING THE EVENTS OF OUR LORD’S SUFFERING AND DEATH
Session #25 (Most quotes are NIV)
EASTER MORNING, the “THIRD DAY,” APRIL 9, 30 A.D.
The first thing to remember when we read the Gospel accounts is that the Jewish day starts at roughly 6:00 p.m. (sunset). Thus our “Easter morning” begins for the Jews on Saturday evening. The Christian Church has acknowledged this with Easter Vesper Services which begin on Saturday evening after sunset.
Secondly, we avoid confusion if we understand that ANY part of a day counts as a day for the Jews. For Christians, we say that Jesus was “in the grave three days.” But if he died at 3:00 p.m. on Friday and he was out of the grave by the break of dawn on Sunday, that’s only 39 hours.
Many crack-pot sects of Christians will try to rearrange the Passover week to have Jesus dying on Wednesday or some other stand-on-your-head nonsense in order to get Jesus’ grave time to a full 72 hours. Totally unnecessary. Standard Jewish tradition was that the soul remained with the body three days, but Jewish tradition can also be stood on its head. For example, Kabbalah—a form of Jewish mysticism—claims the soul languishes for 12 months!
For the Jew of Jesus’ time, part of Friday, all of Saturday and part of Sunday equals three days! End of story! That was long enough to ensure death was real. Days are counted “inclusively.” Sunday is the third day!
The “fuzzy-wuzzies” will try to use Matthew 12:40 as proof that 72 hours is necessary: “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.” On this point Jeffrey Gibbs, Matthew, Volume 2 p. 647, points out “Neither the Hebrew (Jonah 2:1) nor the Greek should be pressed to conform to a modern expression that means precisely ’for seventy-two hours’ If we were to assume that the expression here refers exactly to three full days and nights, Jesus’ statement here about the duration of his stay in the heart of the earth would conflict with his own repeated assertion that he would rise ‘on the third day…” (and he gives three examples in Matthew alone).
Hosea 6:2 gives us an Old Testament prediction of Jesus in the grave: “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.” “On the third day” corresponds with what Jesus often predicted.
Yes, another earthquake. It might be argued that this is the earthquake which signaled the dead to rise from their graves, but it cannot be argued that this is the same earthquake as mentioned in Matthew 27:51. That first earthquake signaled the death of Jesus. This earthquake signals the open grave.
Matthew—former tax collector and apparently seismologist as well–once again gives us this detail: Matt. 28:2 “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.” Notice Matthew’s factual detail: came down, walked to the tomb, rolled the stone, and sat down on it!
When we have details like this in the Bible, ask yourself “Where did Matthew get all these tiny details? He wasn’t there!” It is true that we have no evidence that Matthew was there. But two Gospels, Matthew and Mark, tell us that specific women were walking to the tomb when this happened. Matthew got his information from these women who were eyewitnesses and scared half to death (more on that later).
The Greek of Matthew says σεισμὸς μέγας. (Oh, no, not Greek again!) Let me transliterate the phrase for you: seismos megas—a “mega” “seismic event” (a BIG earthquake). Everyone in the city must have felt it.
After Good Friday’s “earth’s-crust-splitter” was anyone in Jerusalem staying calm? This was a “sign” of something. People of Jesus’ day took such things as omens. Something big has happened!
Question: did the angel “cause” the earthquake? A reading of Matthew 28:2 might leave us guessing (“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven….”) In English, the conjunction “for” doesn’t emphasize the cause of something as strongly as the Greek. In other words, it would be better to translate “because an angel of the Lord came down…” This was not a “sonic boom” because the angel came down so fast—angels don’t have material bodies. This was an earthquake—a seismic event—to announce the Resurrection of our Lord, and, yes, it was created by the angel.
WHEN DID THE EARTHQUAKE HAPPEN?
Even working with a four-column volume which compares the Gospels (A.T. Robinson’s Harmony of the Gospels, or the Greek version, Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum), it can be difficult to construct a timeline of these events. It appears that the earthquake and the descent of the angel happened either before they came to the tomb or while they were headed that way.
John 20:1 says “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” That phrase “while it was still dark” is a translation of a word we have seen before to describe the quick legal trial of Jesus: πρωῒ, meaning “first glow of light before the dawn” (or “alpenglow”). Matt. 28 uses a different Greek word which might well be translated “as the dawn drew near.” Mark 16 uses the same word as John but adds an adverb, making it “very early in the alpenglow.” Luke 24, with a different vocabulary, says “while still very early.” We have four very different ways of describing the event, but all four are clear on one thing: if you’re planning to read something, you’ll have to wait a bit!
WHICH WOMEN COME TO THE TOMB?
- Matthew says Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary.”
- Mark says Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome
- Luke says Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, “the other women”
- John says Mary Magdalene
Why the differences? Partly this could reflect the sources of information for each of the Gospel writers. In the case of John, he is focusing on a particular part of the story involving Mary Magdalene and Peter.
Who is Joanna? Luke 8:1-3 tells us “The Twelve were with him,and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out;Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household.” She was the wife of the man who was head of the staff of Herod Antipas, Governor of Galilee. Apparently, she followed Jesus a great deal, and was part of the “burial detail.” I found this on Wikipedia: “…in the revised Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod she is commemorated as one of Myrrhbearers on August 3 together with Mary, the Mother of James the less and Jude and Salome.” (That’s a new one on me, but page xiii in the front of our Lutheran Service Book confirms this information! We have a Myrrhbearers Day!)
Who Is Salome? 2 possibilities come to mind: 1) the young girl in Mark 6 who did a nasty dance for a drunken King Herod in order to obtain the head of John the Baptist. The Bible doesn’t mention her name, but the Jewish history books do. I think we can rule this one out! 2) By inference, Salome was the name of the mother of James and John and the wife of Zebedee. She was the one who asked Jesus to put James and John next to him on the throne (Read Matt. 20). The problem is we must then assume that “Mary the mother of James” is also Jesus’ mom. We also have a tradition that Salome was Jesus’ Aunt, Mary’s sister. We just don’t know.