Yes, there is more in the sky which declares “Messiah has come.” But to see these things, we must know when to look up. Peter used the sky as a proof that Messiah had come, but which sky did he use? A body of scholarly work addresses the date of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. This body of work, together with Roman and Jewish histories, archaeoastronomy and the words of the Bible allow us to identify the day and almost the moment of his death. That is an extraordinary claim. You must judge it for yourself. Consider the evidence.
What can we learn from the Jewish calendar?
Quite a lot, if we assemble the puzzle pieces. By law and custom, the Jewish people of Jesus’ day took the Sabbath as a day of complete rest (1). Because no work could be done on the Sabbath, which we call Saturday, Friday came to be known as Preparation Day (2). It was a day when food and other things needed for Saturday were prepared in advance. This is our first clue to the date of the crucifixion, because all four Gospels state that Jesus was crucified on Preparation Day, a Friday (3). This is also the common consensus of the Church Fathers and scholars throughout church history (4).
The Gospels also record that the crucifixion occurred the day before the Passover festival (5). This is a second important clue, because it gives us a solid connection with the ancient Jewish calendar system. Passover always begins on the 14th day of the Jewish lunar month of Nisan. (Nisan 14 is in the Spring, which is why Easter is celebrated then). By Judean tradition, Passover begins at twilight, the dividing line between Nisan 14 and 15 (6).
On the Jewish calendar (and on ours) a numbered day of the month may fall on any day of the week. For example, in one year your birthday might fall on Tuesday, in the next year it might fall on Thursday. This “float” among days of the week is why this second clue is so powerful. Putting these two Biblical puzzle pieces together, we see that the crucifixion must have occurred in a year when Nisan 14 happened to fall on a Friday, Preparation Day. That narrows things down considerably.
Ancient non-Biblical historians record that Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate (7). Pilate was Roman procurator of Judea during the years 26 AD through 36 AD (8). This limits our search for a date to those years. In Setting the Stage we found that Jesus was born in 3/2 BC. And there are also important Biblical clues: the Book of Luke records that Jesus began his public ministry when he “was about 30 years old” (9), and the Book of John records three annual Passovers during Jesus’ ministry (10). Taken together, these puzzle pieces add to a crucifixion date in the early 30’s, AD. During those years, Nisan 14 fell on a Friday, Preparation Day, twice: on April 7 of 30 AD and April 3 of 33 AD (11). To help us choose between those two dates, there is ample and fascinating evidence.
- The Book of Jeremiah, Chapter 17: “22 Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers.” See also, The Book of Exodus, Chapter 16.22-30
- Josephus, Antiquities, Book XVI, Chapter 6
- The Book of Matthew, Chapter 27:62 “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.”
The Book of Mark, Chapter 15:42 “It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath)…”
The Book of Luke, Chapter 23:54 “It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.”
The Book of John, Chapter 19:14 “It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.”
- Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Chapter IV: “The Day of Christ’s Crucifixion” (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1977) ISBN 0-310-26211-9
If you are interested in scholarly analysis of the date of the execution, Hoehner is an excellent reference.
- The Book of John, Chapter 13:1 “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”
- Judeans reckoned the 24-hour day from sunset-to-sunset. The Book of Leviticus, Chapter 23: “5 The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month..”
Gallileans, like Jesus, apparently reckoned the 24-hour day from sunrise-to-sunrise. This is the day-reckoning of the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus and the disciples ate the Passover meal on the Thursday preceding the crucifixion, at what we call the Last Supper. See, Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Chapter IV: “The Day of Christ’s Crucifixion” (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1977) ISBN 0-310-26211-9
- As examples, Tacitus states in The Annals, Book XV that “Christus, from whom the name [‘Christian’] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…”
Josephus records in Antiquities, Book XVIII that “…Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned [Christ] to the cross…”
- Josephus records in Antiquities, Book XVIII that “…Pilate, when he had tarried ten years in Judea, made haste to Rome, and this in obedience to the orders of Vitellius, which he durst not contradict; but before he could get to Rome Tiberius was dead.” Tiberius died on March 16, 37 AD See also, section 620, Jack Finegan, The Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Revised Edition; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998) ISBN 1-56563-143-9
- The Book of Luke, Chapter 3, verse 23
- The Book of John, Chapter 2:23 “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.” Chapter 6:4 “The Jewish Passover Feast was near.” And Chapter 13: “(John 13:1, NIV) 1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”
- Table 179, Jack Finegan, The Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Revised Edition; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998) ISBN 1-56563-143-9