3 Things You May Not Know About Maundy Thursday and Good Friday
Reflecting on Jesus’ death is sobering. Unfortunately the timing is rarely understood. Do Maundy Thursday and Good Friday fit the timing in the Bible?
Churches will soon be packed with some of their largest attendances of the year. The “CEOs” (Christmas and Easter Only attendees) will make one of their semiannual appearances for Easter, the most holy observance of the year for mainstream Christianity. Good Friday, which occurs two days before Easter Sunday, is also significant as the most solemn occasion because it recalls the crucifixion of Christ.
Most professing Christians understand that Jesus died so our sins can be forgiven. What is not common knowledge is the timing of His death, which has been hidden by the establishment of Easter and its closely related observances of Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in lieu of the biblical festivals observed by Jesus, His apostles and the first-century Church.
If you sincerely want to honor Christ at this time of year, you need to know the real story—the one that shows us the correct timing of His death and how to properly commemorate this event.
Doesn’t Christ deserve the respect to have the true, biblical history of His death told and remembered on this sobering occasion?
In that light, here are three important things to know about Maundy Thursday and Good Friday:
1. Of all the man-made holidays, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are the only ones that claim to commemorate something Jesus said to commemorate.
In teaching the Corinthians to observe this solemn service, Paul told them that through this memorial they would “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (verse 26, emphasis added throughout).
Jesus never commanded Christians to celebrate His birth or resurrection. Rather, His instruction was for us to memorialize His death—something that Maundy Thursday and Good Friday actually do attempt to do.
But does that mean you should observe Maundy Thursday and Good Friday?
2. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday aren’t the biblical names of the observance that commemorates Christ’s death.
The terms Maundy Thursday and Good Friday appear nowhere in the Bible. But the Bible does talk about another festival to honor Christ’s death: the Passover.
The New Testament Passover established by Christ Himself includes taking bread and wine. The bread represents His broken body and the wine represents His shed blood (Matthew 26:26-28).
Churches vary in how often they partake of the symbols of bread and wine. Some take these symbols daily, some monthly and some on Maundy Thursday. But the Bible instructs us to observe it only once a year on a specific day (Leviticus 23:5). When we take the Passover symbols of unleavened bread and wine, we annually “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Observing the Passover is a memorial of Christ’s death. Jesus did not die on many different days throughout the year. He died on only one day, and He observed the Passover on the prescribed evening before the day of His death.
Today documentation is commonly recorded for births and deaths. While we don’t have these same types of records from the first century giving us the exact day of Christ’s death, the Bible does give us enough details to show that Jesus definitely didn’t die on a Friday.
Let’s begin with the best known facts about Christ’s death. The Bible clearly tells us: “Now after the Sabbath [Saturday], as the first day of the week [Sunday] began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb,” but Jesus was not there because He had risen (Matthew 28:1, 6). So Jesus had already been resurrected by very early Sunday morning.
The next biblical key to note is that Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 12:40). We can also note that Jesus died at about 3 p.m., the ninth hour after sunrise, and was buried that evening shortly before the beginning of a Sabbath (Matthew 27:46-50, 57, 62).
People have assumed that the Sabbath mentioned in these verses is a Saturday, leading them to the conclusion that Jesus died on a Friday—hence the name Good Friday. But there is a problem with this timeline. There simply are not three days and three nights between Friday evening and Sunday morning. There aren’t even parts of three days and three nights in this time period between Friday evening and Sunday morning (as some have tried to interpret the three days and three nights).
The biblical fact is, Jesus died on a Wednesday—not on a Friday as many believe.A careful reading of a companion scripture explains this apparent dilemma. John 19:31 tells us that the day Jesus was buried preceded a “high day”—a designation reserved for an annual Sabbath, which could fall on any day of the week and not necessarily Saturday. In fact, Jesus was buried just prior to the beginning of the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread—an annual Sabbath.
The weekday timeline that fits the facts we have noted is easily constructed. Jesus observed the Passover with His disciples on Tuesday evening. He was crucified and died on Wednesday, buried near sunset on Wednesday prior to the beginning of the annual Sabbath called the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and resurrected three days and three nights later near sundown on Saturday, the weekly Sabbath. When the women arrived at the tomb early Sunday morning, they discovered that He had already been resurrected.
The fact that there were two Sabbaths during the timeline of Jesus’ burial and resurrection is confirmed by several Bible translations, including the International Standard Version, which translates Matthew 28:1: “After the Sabbaths, around dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to take a look at the burial site.” The annual Sabbath occurred on Thursday that year; the weekly Sabbath, on Saturday.
The biblical fact is, Jesus died on a Wednesday—not on a Friday as many believe. Interestingly when we look at the years for God’s holy days falling on the days of the week indicated by the Scriptures, we find that Jesus died on the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar in A.D. 31.
Now that you know
Now that you know the real story regarding Christ’s death and resurrection, why not take the next step and start worshipping Jesus as He instructed? The biblical festivals have so much more meaning than man-made days like Good Friday and Easter. If you’d like to know more, just contact us and we’ll be pleased to help.
For further study including a chart showing the timeline of Jesus’ burial and resurrection, see “Sign of Jonah: Did Jesus Die Good Friday, Rise on Easter?”
Originally posted on March 23, 2016; Updated on March 30, 2021.