The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the most important events in the Bible since the creation of the world. They are the fulfillment of prophecies and promises from the Old Testament, and they set a precedence of what happens afterward.
It was through Christ that man was reconciled with God.
“For it was by God’s own decision that the Son has in Himself the full nature of God. Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to Himself. God made peace through His Son’s blood on the cross and so brought back to Himself all things, both on earth and in heaven.” (Colossians 1:19-20)
Our sins had alienated us from God, but because of His love and mercy, He sent His only Son to die so that we may not perish but live together with Him(1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).
The death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ rewrote and redefined history. But when did it all happen?
When Was Jesus Born And When Did He Begin His Ministry?
The Bible doesn’t give a specific date or year when Jesus was born. But it does offer some details of things that were happening around that time, which can help us figure out when our Christ was born and when He died.
The Gospels point out that Jesus was born when Herod was King of Judea(Matthew 2:1, Luke 1:5). According to history, Herod the Great reigned over Judea from 47 BC until he died in 4 BC. We know that Herod ordered the killing of boys who were two years old or younger. Therefore, Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:14-16). When Herod died, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph once again to tell him to return to Israel.
From this information, most scholars assume that the birth of Jesus happened between 6 and 4 BC.
To know when Jesus began his ministry, we look at the Gospel of Luke that gives details of when John the Baptist started preaching. “It was the fifteenth year of the rule of Emperor Tiberius; Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was the ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip was the ruler of the territory of Iturea and Trachonitis.”(Luke 3:1)
From history, we know that Tiberius started reigning as co-regent with Augustus Caesar in AD 12, but he became the second Roman emperor from 14-37 AD.
Jesus began his ministry at the age of around 30 years(Luke 3:23) at almost the same time as John the Baptist. Thus, from this calculation, scholars estimate the time Jesus started preaching and gathering followers was around 28-29 AD. This is also confirmed by John’s statement in John 2:20, that the temple was in its 46 years of construction when Jesus went there for Passover after he began his ministry.
He continued his ministry for one to three years. Therefore, most historians and theologians agree that Jesus was about 33 years when they crucified him.
Several non-christian sources support these facts, including the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian and politician Tacitus.
When Did Jesus Die? The Year, Day, And Hour
All four canonical Gospels(Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) state that Jesus was crucified when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Roman-Judea. He appears in Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19.
In the Antiquities of the Jews (written about AD 93), Josephus states that Jesus was crucified on orders of Pilate. He also mentions that Pilate was governor of Judea from AD 26 until around AD 36 or 37 when he was replaced by Marcellus. This establishes the date of the death of Jesus to be between AD 26 and 37.
In the Gospel of Luke, when they took Jesus before Pilate, he(Pilate) realizes that Jesus is a Galilean. He, therefore, ordered Jesus to be taken to Herod, who was in Jerusalem at the time.
Herod Antipas, whose father was Herod the Great, was born in BC 20 and exiled to Gaul in the summer of AD 39. These indicate that Jesus’ death happened before AD 39.
To narrow these years down further, we look at Roman history. We find that Tiberius, the Caesar of Rome at the time, thought it best to change the strong anti-Semitic views that were angering the Jews in AD 31. Therefore, before Jesus appeared before Pilate, Tiberius had already warned him against antagonizing the Jews. So, hoping to keep his job, Pilate didn’t want to anger the ruling Jewish body over a single rabbi. These then narrow the years between AD 31 to AD 37.
Another way of estimating the date and year when Jesus died is to look at the year when the apostle Paul was converted, which according to the New Testament, took place sometime after the death of Jesus.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul talks about his conversion. The conversion experience is also mentioned in Acts 9, Acts 22, and Acts 26.
Estimating the year of Paul’s conversion requires us to work backward from his trial before Junius Gallio in Achaea, Greece(Acts 18:12-17). Most historians estimate Junius’s tenure to have been around AD 51 to 52. Paul’s trial most likely happened during the earlier part of Junius’tenure. Acts 18:2, Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth. The two had just come from Italy after Emperor Claudius ordered all Jews to leave Rome(AD 49 and 50).
Looking at the New Testament, we see that Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth, around seventeen years after his conversion. In Galatians 1:18, Paul states that he went to see Peter in Jerusalem three years after his conversion. He returned to Jerusalem again fourteen years later(Galatians 2:1-10) on various missions with Barnabas and Titus.
Based on these accounts, scholars estimate the conversion of Paul to have happened between AD 33-36. These places the death of Jesus before this date range, narrowing it to around AD 31-33.
In regards to the month, day, and hour that Jesus died, all the four gospels agree that it was at the time of the Passover and just a few hours to the start of the Jewish Sabbath. That would be on Friday at three in the afternoon. (Matthew 27:46-50; Mark 15:34-3; Luke 23:44-46; John 19:31, 42).
Astronomical data (the Jewish calendar was Lunar based) narrows it down to two possible dates –April 7 AD 30 or April 3 AD 33. There are scholarly arguments that support both dates. If Jesus died in AD 33, he would have had a longer ministry that would have begun at least a year later than that of John the Baptist. AD 30, on the other hand, would keep in line with what we learned about the start of the ministry of Jesus from Luke 3:1.
Most scholars believe that Jesus died on April 7, AD 30.
What Happened When Jesus Died?
Several supernatural things happened when Jesus died:
- At noon, darkness covered the entire country for three hours.(Matthew 2:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44-45)
- The curtain of the temple that separated God’s Holy place from the people, was torn into two, from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45)
- There was an earthquake, and the graves broke open, and saints who had died came to life(Matthew 2:52)
When Did Jesus Rise?
After Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and asked for permission to bury the body. He then took it down, wrapped it in a linen sheet and buried it in a stone tomb, and rolled a huge stone across the entrance. He did this on a Friday before the Sabbath began. (Luke 23:53-54; Mark 15:42- 46; Matthew 27:57-60)
The next day, which was a sabbath, the high priests went to Pilate and asked for a guard to be placed outside the tomb so that the disciples would not steal the body. (Matthew 27:62-66)
On Sunday morning, after the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and some other women went to the tomb carrying spices to apply to the body of Jesus. When they got there, they were surprised to see that someone had rolled the stone from the entrance. Then an angel appeared to them and informed them that Jesus had risen from the dead.(Matthew 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-6; Luke 24:1-6)
There has been some contradiction on the actual day when the death and resurrection of Jesus happens. In Matthew 12:40, Jesus says that he would stay in the grave for three days and three nights. These raise some debate, with some scholars proposing that the crucifixion could have happened on Thursday or Wednesday.
While it is good to know the year, day, and hour that our Lord Jesus died, it should not deflect us from the fact that Jesus actually died and rose again. He came and sacrificed his life so we may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)