Scriptures

What Are ‘High Day’ Sabbaths?

Introduction

‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’ Matthew 12:40

Jesus said He would be in the tomb three days and three nights, emphasising it by using the phrase ‘three days and three nights’ twice.

Now whichever way we look at it, the Lord Jesus was saying He would be three days and three nights in the tomb. Not only three days but also three nights. The problem of trying to reconcile the human tradition of remembering the death of the Lord on a Friday is that there is no way one can count three nights from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, not even if one follows the Hebrew custom of counting an incomplete night as a whole night.

However, there is no problem if we accept that He died during Thursday daytime. Counting part Thursday as one day, together with Friday and Saturday as two more days adds up to three days by Hebrew reckoning.

The night of Thursday to Friday together with the night of Friday to Saturday is two nights. Counting part of the night of Saturday to Sunday as another night brings the total to three nights by Hebrew reckoning.

‘A high day’

‘The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (because that Sabbath day was a high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away’. John 19:31

John explains that there was urgency in removing the bodies from the crosses because the next day was a ‘high day’ but what is meant by a ‘high day’?

The Greek word translated ‘high’ or ‘great’ is found in John 7:37 and John 19:31 both of which refer to the more important days of the Hebrew feasts. For example, the last day of a feast would be designated a ‘great day’.

John 7:37 ‘On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.’

The word in italics ‘day’ is added by the translators to complete the sense in English. The word ‘great’ or ‘greatest’ in the Greek text is ‘megas’ which is from mega, which means ‘great’ be it either in size or in importance.

John 19:31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (because that Sabbath day was a high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.’

The phrase ‘a high day’ is ‘megalh h hemera’ which is better translated ‘the great day’ because ‘h’ is the definite article – “the”.

A holy convocation

In the Old Testament, the regular weekly Sabbath was called ‘a holy convocation’. Leviticus 23:3. The days referred to as ‘great days’ in John’s Gospel are also called ‘holy convocations’, because these were also observed as Sabbaths. Hebrew months were lunar, tied to the phases of the moon and the Hebrew year had 360 days 1 which isn’t exactly divisible by 7.

So, these special holy convocations would occur on different days of the week each year. Leviticus 23:21 / Leviticus 23:24 / Leviticus 23:27 / Leviticus 23:34-35 / Leviticus 23:36.

Solemn is the Hebrew day of restraint. Numbers 28:26 / Numbers 29:1 / Numbers 29:7 / Numbers 29:12. There were ‘holy convocations’ observed as Sabbaths, at the beginning and end of the Passover week. Exodus 12:16 / Leviticus 23:6-8 / Numbers 28:17-18 / Numbers 28:25.

So, as explained above, the Hebrew months being lunar and their year having 360 days, 1 each year the Passover ‘high day’, 15th of Abib/Nisan, would occur on different days of the week.

Which weekday?

Secular history doesn’t help us to determine the precise year when the Lord was crucified. So, the only way we can decide which day of the week was the 15th of Abib is from the Biblical evidence.

1. The Lord’s claim that he was three days and three nights in the tomb. Matthew 12:40.

2. He rose early on the first day of the week which would be after sunset Saturday before daybreak Sunday. Mark 16:9.

From these two facts, those not having preconceived ideas would automatically conclude that He must have died on the Thursday, so Friday is ruled out. We should bear in mind that Biblical evidence is reliable, human tradition isn’t. Credence must be given to Biblical evidence rather than human tradition.

Recognising that the Lord died on a Thursday would raise the question in the minds of those not familiar with Hebrew culture. How could the next day (Friday) be a Sabbath since the regular Sabbath is Saturday?

I understand that it is for their benefit that John explains that the Sabbath following the crucifixion was a special Sabbath, a ‘high day’ Sabbath, in that way distinguishing it from the regular Sabbath. There is no other reason why he should introduce the matter of ‘high days’ because they would be anxious that bodies should not remain exposed even on the regular weekday Sabbath.

Conclusion

Every so often an extra month would be inserted in a year to keep the festivities in line with the seasons. Some might wonder why the synoptic Gospels didn’t emphasise that it was a ‘high day’.

Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote soon after the event when the readers would be familiar with this Hebrew custom. John was written much later when explanation would be needed for folk less familiar with Hebrew custom.

Ignoring human tradition, does the Bible require us to believe that the Lord was crucified on a Friday?

The synoptic Gospels do state that the Jews wanted the bodies removed from the crosses because after sunset it would be a Sabbath. John 19:31.

They would want that to be done before any Sabbath, whether for the regular weekly Sabbath or for one of the several Hebrew festival ‘convocations’ which would occur on different days of the week each year. On these days, no servile work was allowed. These Sabbaths were known as ‘High Days’, alternatively translated ‘Great Days’, John 7:37 ‘On the last and greatest day of the festival’.

There was always a ‘High Day’ on the 15th of Abib.

John explains that the Sabbath following the Lord’s crucifixion was a ‘High Day’. There would be no need for his explanation if that year the 15th of Abib was on a Saturday, that is on a regular weekly Sabbath.

However, it would make sense for John to stress that it was a ‘High Day Sabbath’ if it fell on a Friday. In which case the Lord would have been crucified on a Thursday.

If the Lord was crucified on a Thursday afternoon, then there are 3 days counting part of Thursday and the whole of Friday and of Saturday. Also, there are three nights counting Thursday Night, Friday night and part of Saturday night.

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted."

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