Most people, when contemplating the events of Easter, assume Jesus was crucified on Friday because numerous references in the gospels mention that the next day was the Sabbath.
Mark 15:42 “When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath”
Luke 23:54 “It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.”
John 18:31 “Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.”
But if my former pastor, Chuck Swindoll, is right and “Sabbath” refers to the Special Sabbath connected with the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, what John calls “a high day,” then there are several days of silence following Jesus’s death.
I need to back up. There’s much more we could discuss about the events surrounding Jesus’s death: Judas’s betrayal, for instance, and his subsequent suicide; Peter’s adamant statements that he didn’t know Jesus, hours after his failed attempt to prevent His arrest; the passerby named Simon who was commandeered to carry Christ’s cross; the seven recorded statements Jesus made from the cross; the soldiers gamboling for His clothes; the thief making a statement of faith as he hung dying, and Christ’s response to him.
Each event is significant and has much to teach. I haven’t ignored them because I think they are peripheral. Rather, they seem unaltered whether we look at the crucifixion events in the traditional way or in the expanded view.
There’s also a common understanding of what took place after Christ’s death, from three in the afternoon until six. When the Romans realized that Jesus was already dead, they pierced His side “to make sure.” The blood and the water that poured from his pierced heart convinced them He had died.
One of his disciples, a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea, went to Pilate and claimed the body. He gave up his own grave on Christ’s behalf, then he, along with Nicodemus, wrapped the body in burial cloths with some spices, laid it in the tomb, and rolled the stone in front of the entrance.
This was a hasty burial, no doubt, because they had to finish before the Sabbath which began at six that evening.
Significantly, a group of women who we don’t hear a lot about, but who had followed Jesus also, saw where they put His body: “Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid” (Luke 23:55). Mark names two of these women: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of a man named Joses. Matthew mentions these two women also, apparently because they stayed by the tomb for a time: “And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave” (Matt. 27:61).
This is significant because of what came later. But at this point, Jesus was dead. What else were they to do? We know that Joseph and Nicodemus, two members of the Sanhedrin, neither having been part of Jesus’s trial, did what good Jews did: “And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” Of course, this “they” could have referred to all parties, not just those two men.
Scripture is silent about the twelve—now only eleven—except to say they were locking their doors because they were afraid of the Jews. But we are told what two other groups of people did.
First were those women who had followed Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb. They started by buying spices to anoint Jesus’s body: “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him” (Mark 16:1).
But when did they do that? The next day after the crucifixion was the Sabbath, so they wouldn’t have bought spices then. No market would be selling spices on a Sabbath. But according to Scripture, they took those spices they bought to the tomb early on the first day of the week—the day after the Sabbath. So either Mark got it wrong and the women already had the spices or the inspired Word of God is true even on this point, and we’ve merely misinterpreted the time frame.
By accepting the idea that the Sabbath following Jesus’s crucifixion was a Special Sabbath, we can then read these events as follows: all the Jews rested as was commanded. Then the day after the Special Sabbath, the women bought and prepared the spices (Luke 23:56a). The following day would be the regular Sabbath during which they would again rest, so the earliest they could have made it to the tomb was the first day of the week, early Sunday morning.
The second group Scripture follows during this period were the Pharisees, though “follow” is a little to expansive. The day after the crucifixion, they once again met with Pilate, this time to get his help guarding the tomb.
Jesus had said often enough that He would rise on the third day, that they got the message, even though they didn’t believe it. Their assumption was that His disciples would take things into their own hands and fake a resurrection by stealing away Christ’s body. The Pharisees were afraid of what would happen if that story got out.
Pilate granted them Roman troops—or perhaps they had a Roman contingent at their disposal on a regular basis and merely gained his permission to use them in this capacity. At any rate, they were able to assign guards to the tomb and even to put a seal upon it—some kind of authenticating mark, perhaps, that indicated the tomb was secured by the authority of Rome.
So now, Jesus has been buried. The disciples are afraid, the Pharisees are afraid, the women are preparing, the Romans are guarding. Apart from Jesus, none of them expected what was about to happen next.