The Thursday before Easter is called Maundy Thursday. Tradition has it that it was on this day that Christ ate his last supper, the Passover, with his disciples before going to the garden of Gethsemane where he was arrested. Tradition has it that he was crucified on the following day, a Friday.
What if tradition has it wrong?
While the timing of the events of Holy Week is clear through Tuesday, the timing of events that followed is not. In fact, there is strong evidence, presented by respected Bible scholars like F. LaGard Smith, that the Last Supper occurred on Wednesday, not Thursday, and that Christ was, in fact, crucified on Thursday, not Friday.
If Jesus had been crucified on Friday and immediately put in the tomb, he would not have remained there for three days and, more important, three nights.
The Jewish day begins at sundown of the previous evening. Therefore, our Wednesday night, is the beginning of Thursday to the Jews. Passover is observed on the 14 day of the month of Nisan in the Jewish calendar, which falls in March or April. The Passover lamb is to be slaughtered late on the 14th day – the day of preparation – and the Passover meal eaten that evening, which would be the beginning of the 15th day. The entire 15th day is to be observed as a special Sabbath to the Lord, regardless of what day of the week it might fall.
The Gospel of John appears to eliminate all doubt that this last meal Christ shared with his disciples was eaten on Wednesday evening. During that meal, Jesus tells Judas, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” John says that since Judas was in charge of the money, some of the other disciples “thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the feast” (the next evening).
Furthermore, Jesus explains to his disciples why it is important from him to eat this particular Passover meal with them (on the day of preparation). “For I tell you I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” The fulfillment is that Jesus, himself, would become the actual Passover lamb by going to the cross to shed his blood for our sins. Therefore, he would not be there with his disciples for the feast.
The final proof that Jesus was crucified on Thursday, not Friday, is that John 19:31 plainly states that Jesus’ crucifixion took place “on the Day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath.”
Somewhere in time, as the church began to mark the events of Holy Week, Friday was observed as the day Christ was crucified. Using Friday as the day of the crucifixion, it is possible to find parts of three days but not three nights. However, the actual day of the week on which Christ died is not important. What is important is that he willingly went to the cross and paid the price for our sins so that we might live forever and not be separated from a Holy God.
The name “Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum,” meaning “command.” This stems from Christ’s words during the Last Supper, recorded in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give unto you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
As Jesus approached the Mount of Olives, he repeated this commandment with a caveat. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus called his disciples “friends.”
Throughout history, there have been those who have laid down their lives for others. These courageous acts usually involve split-second decisions. Jesus gave his decision a lot of thought. In fact, that night in the garden he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
God loved us so much that he decided, years before the actual event, to send his only son to earth to show us the way to live and willingly lay down his life for us. God boldly announced those plans to the world through the prophets, knowing that Jesus would obey.
If we are to accept this gift of eternal life and follow Christ, we must lay down our lives in order to be born again and surrender our will so that Jesus can live through us.
Whether you observe this day as the day when Christ was crucified is unimportant. What is important is that you accept this indescribable gift and follow Him. Alleluia!