When exactly did Jesus die?

If Jesus was truly an historical figure, a man who lived and died in a certain place and time, then we should be able to find important dates in His life on the calendar. And what more important date was there than the day He died? All four Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified and buried on a Friday, lay in His tomb on a Saturday, and rose on a Sunday morning. CLICK graphics to embiggen for easier viewing.

Clearly, any year that doesn’t match these week days is the wrong year. And, as you can see on this calendar, 33 AD is a perfect fit. Traditionally, the year of Jesus’ Passion has been set in 33 AD. And, as you can see on this calendar, the weekdays fit perfectly.

So why do so many sources (including The Chosen) cite years other than 33 AD? So far as I can tell, the debates hinge on two things. One is that, in the printed version, a key historical document says King Herod died in 4 BC. What a lot of people don’t realize is that, in the original copies, the date is 1 BC. This transcription error has proven to be a huge and unnecessary source of confusion, one which I’ve no doubt was inspired by Satan to instill doubt in the faithful.

Since we know Jesus was born before Herod died and that He was about 30 years old when He began his 3 year ministry, moving His birth backwards forces His Passion to occur during years when Friday, Saturday, and Sunday fall in the middle of Passover. But we know He died on a Preparation Day that fell on a Friday. Note in John 19:31, where he says that the Passover Sabbath was a “solemn” one. The first day of Passover and every Sabbath day were and are days of sacred assembly, when no work may be done. A “solemn” Sabbath is one in which the first day of Passover lands on a Sabbath day, so it’s like a double day of rest. This should give us pause, given that Jesus lay dead in His tomb on that day, something God knew would happen when He set up the calendar in the first place!

So far, so good. If we ignore the transcription error regarding Herod’s death, then we have no problem, right? Wrong. There is a second source for the “what year?” debates which comes from the Gospels themselves. Specifically, the Synoptic Gospels which describe the Last Supper as happening on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Except we know that Jesus was arrested after the Last Supper, then was crucified and died the following day, which we also know was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

So what gives? It’s not like these guys didn’t know what the real dates had been. Matthew was there and Mark was a Jew who certainly knew the holy days by heart. Luke may have been a Gentile, but he wrote at a time when many early Christians were Jews who had been in Jerusalem for that very Passover. So what were they talking about?!

I think we get a big clue in the Gospel of John which says in Chapter 13 that the Last Supper happened “before the feast of Passover.” The Gospel of John was written some time after the Synoptics had been in circulation, so I’m thinking maybe he did it to clear up confusion the first three had created among readers, particularly Gentiles, who didn’t understand the nuances of the Jewish calendar.

One of these nuances may have come from the fact that the many of the earliest Christians were members of the messianic sect known as the Essenes. They were responsible for the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, in which we learned that they had celebrated a lamb-less Seder meal after sundown on Nisan 13. Thus, at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, when Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist, He Himself was the Lamb. Unlike the other major Jewish sects – Sadducees, Pharisees, and Zealots – the Essenes disappeared from history, no doubt because they had all accepted Jesus as the Messiah and thereafter identified as Christians.

A second thing the early Christians would have known that Gentiles wouldn’t is how Jews celebrate Bedikat Chametz. This is a ceremony whereby observant Jews search for, collect, and burn up every speck of leaven in the house. From the description I read, it sounds like households with children turn it into a fun game a little like our Easter egg hunts. In most years, Bedikat Chametz happens on Nisan 14. But in years like 33 AD, where Nisan 14 falls on a Friday and Nisan 15 on Sabbath, this “preparation dayBedikat Chametz takes place on Thursday, Nisan 13 … the same day as the Last Supper.

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