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Atoning Death of the Lamb of God

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

It is important to gain clarity about the time and circumstances of the atoning death of the Lord Jesus outside of Jerusalem on Good Friday, almost 2000 years ago. The historical event itself as well as the deep spiritual significance of the crucifixion should be clearly understood. We first have to identify the three days between the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in their correct historical context.

The Lord Jesus compares His burial and resurrection from the dead with the experience of Jonah: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Jonah 1:17 reads, “And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” John Hannah (1985:1467) says, “The phrase three days and three nights need not be understood as a 72-hour period, but as one 24-hour day and parts of two other days.” Compare in this regard also Esther 4:16 and 5:1, where Esther asked for a fast of three days and three nights; but on the third day, before the end of the day, she had accomplished her purpose with the fast.

Some people have a problem with the view that Jesus was not in the grave for three full days (i.e. 72 hours), and endeavour to move the crucifixion from Friday to the preceding Wednesday. However, in the inclusive chronology of the Jews a part of a day is also reckoned as a full day. Louis Barbieri (1983:47) makes the following remarks on Matthew 12:40: “Since the Jews reckoned part of a day as a full day, the ‘three days and three nights’ could permit a Friday crucifixion.” In an addendum to the Strong’s Concordance (Harmony of the Gospels), 41 events are listed, together with Scripture references, that all occurred during the week of Christ’s crucifixion – the week commencing with His entry into Jerusalem and ending with His crucifixion and burial (Strong, 1990). This sequence of events proves beyond any doubt that He was crucified on a Friday.

According to the Bible, as well as other supporting sources, Jesus was buried on the Friday afternoon shortly before the start of the Sabbath, while He rose early on the first day (Sunday) of the following week. The day when He was crucified (Friday) was the first day of the Passover events, Saturday (the Sabbath) was the second day, and Sunday (His resurrection) was the third day. In Jewish chronology, a period of this nature is described as “three days and three nights” or simply as “three days”. Jewish days elapse between sundown and sundown the next day. Therefore, the third day after the crucifixion already commenced on the Saturday even at dusk.

The men on their way to Emmaus confirm these facts. The day (Sunday) when Jesus rose from the dead they were walking along the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13). Not being aware of the fact that Jesus Himself had joined them, they discussed the events related to His crucifixion early on the Friday morning, and added: “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive” (Luke 24:21-23). Sunday was, therefore, the third day after the crucifixion of Jesus, which occurred the preceding Friday.

On this Sunday afternoon, on the third day, when the men of Emmaus talked to Jesus, he had already risen from the grave several hours earlier: “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” (John 20:1). After Jesus had met with the travellers to Emmaus, still on the day of His resurrection, He also appeared to His disciples (John 20:19).

Jesus was in the grave for only a part of the third day, and also for only a part of the preceding Friday. But the Jews nevertheless regard this as three days and nights, although only parts of these days constitute the entire period. The discussion of the men from Emmaus precludes all speculation on an earlier day for the crucifixion. If Christ was crucified and buried on Wednesday (the fourth day of the week), then the following Sunday would have been the fifth day since the event took place, but these men clearly said it was “the third day”!

Jewish chronology

Since a part of a day may be regarded as a full day in a system of inclusive reckoning of time, a week (e.g. from Wednesday afternoon to the next Wednesday afternoon) may be described as eight days as both Wednesdays are counted as full days. The Feast of Tabernacles in Israel is celebrated for one week, from the 15th to the 22nd day of the seventh month: “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation... For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation” (Lev. 23:34-36). The last day of this week, i.e. the eighth day, was the great day of the feast (cf. John 7:2,37).

Leviticus 23 says, among others, the following on the feast of the 50th day: “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath... seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath” (Lev. 23:15-16). These 49 days between a Sunday and a Sunday seven weeks later, are referred to as 50 days because the first and last Sundays are both counted as full days. In the New Testament, these two feasts were fulfilled during the resurrection of the Lord Jesus on a Sunday, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit seven weeks later, again on a Sunday. “Pentecost” means “Fiftieth” – that is the feast of the fiftieth day.

The Old Testament feast of the first fruits was fulfilled during its proper time in the New Testament, i.e. on the Sunday on which it started and the Sunday seven weeks later when it was concluded. Note the clear directives for both feasts: “...the day after the Sabbath”. Sunday is the first day of a new week, or dispensation, in God’s divine plan for mankind. During this present dispensation, the resurrection of Jesus is spontaneously celebrated every Sunday as the day of the Lord.

The Feast of Firstfruits in Leviticus 23 is the earliest indication in the Old Testament of a future Sunday celebration as a Christian feast. On this day we proclaim the message: “He has risen – He lives!” Jesus Himself delivered the first sermon of the new dispensation on the   Sunday of His resurrection, and a week later, again on a Sunday, the second one (John 20:19-29). Thereafter, Sunday worship became an established practice. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit as the spiritual enduing for world evangelisation also occurred on a Sunday.

The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus on Good Friday, His resurrection three days later on a Sunday, as well as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a Sunday, are pivotal dates on the Christian calendar. His ascension occurred on a Thursday, 40 days after His resurrection, and ten days prior to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The date of the crucifixion according to Daniel

Daniel 9:24-27 offers a clear prophecy on the time of the Messiah’s crucifixion, from which it is evident that he was crucified at the end of the 69th week – that was on a Friday. This prophecy is based upon prophetic years of 360 days each, in which each month has 30 days (cf. Rev. 11:2-3, in which 42 prophetic months equal exactly 1260 days).

69 year-weeks (483 prophetic years) had elapsed since the day when King Artaxerxes, on 1 Nisan 445 BC, gave Nehemiah permission to go and rebuild Jerusalem (Neh. 2:1-8), and the day of the Messiah’s crucifixion on 14 Nisan, 32 AD. Prof. J.M. Schepers of the University of Johannesburg indicated in an article (1984), that 483 prophetic years of 30 days each, represent 173 880 days. Divided by 365¼, this period equals 476,06 years on the Gregorian calendar. On this calendar, the 69 year-weeks elapsed between 23 March 445 BC and Friday 11 April 32 AD, ending on the Friday when Jesus was crucified.

The Passover

The fulfilling of the Old Testament Passover was during the crucifixion of the spotless Lamb of God who was incarnated in the fullness of time to lay down His life on our behalf. John the Baptist pointed at Him and said: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). Peter also referred to the priceless sacrifice of the Lamb when he said: “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). “In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). “And without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).

Because of the typological nature of the Passover, referring to the future sacrifice of the Lamb of God, it was obvious that this feast would be fulfilled during one of its future celebrations. The Lord Jesus was indeed crucified on the feast of the Passover. According to Mark 14:1-2, the Jews wanted to avoid such a situation: “After two days it was the Passover... And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people”.

But the Jews could not succeed in averting the exact fulfilment of this feast, and Jesus was crucified on Friday 14th Nisan (11 April 32). On the ninth hour of the day (3 p.m.) He died (Mark 15:34-37), on precisely the same hour when the lamb was slaughtered during the first Passover in Egypt. Pilate was surprised that Jesus had died so soon, and gave permission for His burial (Mark 15:42-45). That was done before six o’clock on the Friday evening, when the Sabbath started, on which no one was allowed to be buried (Luke 23:52-54; John 19:31).

We read the following about the day of the crucifixion in Mark: “Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member... went in boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus (Mark 15:42-43). John Grassmick (1983:191) comments as follows on this passage: “Jesus’ burial officially confirmed His death, an important point in early Christian preaching (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-4). The designation Preparation Day is used here as a technical name for Friday, the day before the Sabbath (Saturday) as Mark explained to his non-Jewish readers. Since no work was allowed on the Jewish Sabbath, Friday was used to prepare for it. This reference confirms that Jesus was crucified on a Friday.”

Friday (the day before the Sabbath, or the Preparation Day) and Saturday (the Sabbath) are the only two days with specific names in the Jewish week. The other days are simply numbered, e.g. the first day of the week (Sunday), the second day (Monday), etc. Should a religious feast such as Passover (the 14th day of Nisan) be celebrated on any particular day of the week, it is celebrated like a Sabbath, but not referred to as a Sabbath; the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week. Likewise we may also, on any day of the week, celebrate certain religious feasts as a Sunday, but that does not however, turn such a day into a Sunday.

The crucifixion of Jesus on the Preparation Day is clearly evident from John 19: “Therefore,   because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a solemn day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away... But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:31-34). The Sabbath directly following upon the Preparation Day on which Christ was crucified, was described as a solemn day (NKJV) or a special Sabbath (NIV) because it was at the same time the weekly Sabbath and the important first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Luke also confirms the fact that the burial of Jesus occurred on the Preparation Day: “Then he took it [the body of Jesus] down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near” (Luke 23:53-54). The Sabbath that would start at sundown that evening was, without any doubt, the weekly Sabbath. If it was the Passover that would begin, it would mean that Jesus was crucified a day before the Passover and that this feast would then not have been fulfilled on its appointed time. He was indeed crucified on the day of the feast, the day when the sacrificial lamb was slaughtered in Egypt to mark the beginning of Israel’s exodus from slavery.

We should have an unwavering confession of Christ’s atoning death and His resurrection, regardless on which specific day they occurred. Nevertheless, it is edifying to have specific historical points of reference for these important events.

The sign of Jonah

We should not confine the sign of Jonah only to the burial and resurrection of Christ, but also take notice of what happened to Jonah after he had been delivered from the belly of the fish. He had a message of repentance for the pagan city of Nineveh. These people sincerely repented from their evil ways and begged the Lord for mercy. Because of this, the wrath of the Lord was turned away from them (Jonah 3:1-10). God did not relent in the sense that He withdrew a wrong decision that He had made with regard to Nineveh, but the repentance of the inhabitants ensured His benevolence and grace (Jonah 3:10). The repentance of the people caused the postponement of God’s judgements upon the city for about 150 years. Subsequent generations again walked in sin and rebelled against God, which led to the destruction of the city and its inhabitants in 612 BC.

In a message through the prophet Nahum the Lord said: “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle. It shall come to pass that all who look upon you will flee from you, and say, Nineveh is laid waste! Who will bemoan her? ... There the fire will devour you, the sword will cut you off... Your injury has no healing, your wound is severe” (Nah. 3:6,7,15,19).

After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the message of God’s wrath upon sinners should be proclaimed, as well as His saving grace upon those who sincerely repent: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).

What is the condition to be favoured by God? We must believe in the atoning death of His Son on the cross, and thoroughly repent from our sinful past. This is the message which should be proclaimed to the world. Shortly before His ascension the Lord Jesus said to His disciples: “This it is written, and this it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47).

During the past 2000 years there have been various communities, and even countries, where the gospel of Christ was accepted, Christian constitutions were implemented, and Christian norms established and honoured in various spheres of social life. As in the case of Nineveh and their national conversion, the blessings of the Lord were enjoyed by these communities and nations.

But these good times did not continue – not because God was unfaithful, but because the upcoming generations apostatised into open sin and rebellion against God. Christian constitutions were repealed and replaced by humanistic constitutions in which all religions are equally recognised. At the same time, Christian norms were also rejected and this widely opened the door to antichristian practices such as lies, corruption, materialism, idolatry, sexual immorality, abortion, homosexuality, drunkenness, violence, and various other malpractices. Things that were previously regarded as shameful conduct are now openly practised.

What else can a depraved world expect than the judgements of God? All those who failed to repent to the Lamb of God, will be the objects of His wrath and be judged by Him: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all, by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

Do you believe in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus with all your heart, and has the foundation of repentance from dead works been laid in your life? (Heb. 6:1). If so, you will escape the outpouring of God’s wrath during the coming tribulation period (Luke 21:36). The believers in Thessalonica have “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9-10).

Those who pursue a false, man-made peace outside of Christ will miss the rapture and unexpectedly be overcome by the judgements of God. “For when they say, Peace and safety!  then sudden destruction comes upon them... And they shall not escape” (1 Thess. 5:3). Those who truly believe and, as disciples of Christ, live holy lives, will watch and pray to be worthy to escape the coming tribulation and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36).

Our escape is based upon the work of redemption which the Lord Jesus did on Good Friday on the cross. “The chastisement for our peace was upon Him” (Isa. 53:5). Let us persevere on this way, “for we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb. 3:14). Let us not, like the inhabitants of Nineveh, backslide into apostasy after a time.

References

Barbieri, Louis. A. Jr. 1983 : Matthew. In: Walvoord, John F. & Zuck, Roy B. (eds.) The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. Victor Books.

Grassmick, John D. 1983 : Mark. In: Walvoord, John F. & Zuck, Roy B. (eds.) The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. Victor Books.

Hannah, John D. 1985 : Jonah. In: Walvoord, John F. & Zuck, Roy B. (eds.) The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. Victor Books.

Schepers, J.M. 1984: The date of Jesus’ crucifixion prophesied centuries earlier. Trumpet Call, Vol. 1.04.

Strong, James 1990 : The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Watchman Nee 88