I have been wondering about the actual time of the Crucifixion of Christ with Easter almost here. In John 19:14 it seems to say that at the 6th hour Jesus was crucified where in Mark 15:25 it says the 3rd hour. Also, John seems to suggest that Jesus died on the Preparation Day for the Passover where the other Gospels say the Last Supper was the Passover Feast. I believe the Bible to be infallible, but I want to know how the two stories fit together? Hoping you can help? Thanks.
The problem with the hours mentioned around Christ’s crucifixion are fairly easily answered. Your other question about the exact meal that was eaten at the Last Supper has been the subject of much more wide ranging debate and opinions. Let me attempt to give you the best explanation I have for these apparent discrepancies.
The difference in the time of Jesus being crucified in Mark versus John is most likely the result of Mark reckoning the time in Hebrew mode and John in Roman mode, which is how we in the West do it today. The reason for this difference is that Mark is writing to a mostly Jewish Christian audience, probably before 60 AD, and John is writing much later, to a mostly Gentile Christian audience, around 90-100 A.D. We know John is concerned for his non-Jewish readers’ perspective as he translates Hebrew terms for their benefit often (John 1:38, 9:7, 20:16).
The difference in the two methods of telling time is that the Hebrews marked their day sunset to sunset, the Romans, midnight to midnight. To understand Mark then, we must understand the day begins with the watches of the night (6 PM on). The night was broken up, not into hours, but into these “watches”, standing for military sentinels who remained on duty for 4 periods. The last period (or 4th watch of the night) ended at sunrise. For the Hebrews, this would be hour zero. Near the Equator, the sun rises around 6 am all year long. So when Mark says Jesus was crucified at the 3rd hour, that’s the 3rd hour from hour zero (6 am). Thus, he was crucified at 9:00 am.
This reconciles perfectly with John’s record, if John is marking time in Roman time, from midnight. Thus, the 6th hour in John refers to 6 AM. Now, why is it not 9 AM as in Mark? Well the context reveals that the actual event that John says happened in the 6th hour was NOT the crucifixion. It’s the trial before Pilate. It stands to reason then, that it took another three hours to beat Jesus and drive him and his cross outside the city to Golgotha for execution, which happened around 9 AM.
Later, Matthew and Mark will say that Jesus died at the 9th hour, which again, from a Hebrew reckoning would be 3 PM (9 hours from 6 am), thus he hung on the cross for 6 hours until he died.
Now the question about whether the Last Supper was a Passover is explained partly by the Jewish reckoning of time and mostly by understanding Jewish Passover traditions from Moses. If you read in Exodus 12 about the first Passover, you realize that the Passover begins in the Jewish month Nisan, the 14th – the Day of Preparation (Ex 12:6). The week Jesus was killed, Nisan 14 was a Friday. On this day each family was to sacrifice a lamb in the afternoon and eat it that night after sundown. But remember, by Jewish reckoning a meal that evening was actually taking place on the next day – Nisan 15. In this case, the next day was Saturday – the Sabbath – making it both a 7th day Sabbath and a Passover Sabbath – hence a special Sabbath (John 19:31).
So John has it right, Friday night (when Jesus was dead) was the Passover meal. But if so, what was Jesus eating with this disciples on Thursday night? He seems to think of it as a Passover meal:
Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover .” NIV.Luke 22:8
This tension is resolved in a few ways by scholars, but the best is to understand that there is more than one meal that might qualify as a Passover meal. Looking back into the first Passover commands, we see that the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 12:18) ALSO starts on Nisan 14. The Bible says it was eaten on the evening of the 14th day, which is the beginning of that day by Jewish reckoning, not the end. Thus it corresponds to Thursday night of the passion week. It’s that meal that Jesus ate with his disciples.
It launches Passover week. As such, it might be called a Passover by Jesus, even though it was not the time to eat the actual Passover lamb. So if the Lord’s supper took place on what we would call Thursday night, the evening (beginning) of the 14th of Nisan, the meal would have no roast lamb but only unleavened bread and wine. Interestingly, roast lamb is never mentioned at the Last Supper, only bread and wine.
The only other plausible explanation I’ve heard is derived from Luke 22:15-16. It says,
I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.
Some scholars feel Jesus is not actually calling the meal they are eating the Passover but that his actual meaning is, “I wanted to eat the Passover, but I won’t until I come again.” They note that Luke 22:15 can be rendered as follows:
I have longingly desired to eat this Passover with you before my suffering; 16 however, I tell you that I shall not eat of it, until it can be administered in the Kingdom of God.” (The Holy Bible in Modern English)
That he still has them prepare for Passover (Mark 14:16) is no problem since they need to prepare for it, but Jesus doesn’t reveal that he’ll be dead when it’s time for them to actually eat it. What they eat is some other meal, perhaps the first meal of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, launching Passover, or perhaps a meal of Jesus’ own original design.
The second explanation is weaker, but both explanations indicate that the Lord’s Supper was probably not the actual Passover Lamb feast.
What is very interesting to note is this: Moses commanded that the Passover lambs were to be killed on Nisan 14 (the Day of Preparation) literally “between the evenings” (Ex 12:6). The Jews traditionally understood this to be around 3PM to 5 PM. So on Friday, the Day of Preparation for the Passover, around 3 PM, the day before the Sabbath, as hundreds of lambs were being killed at the Temple site, at that very moment somewhere just outside the city gate, surrounded by only a few brave women, Jesus’ blood was spilling out on Golgotha and he breathed his last.
Kind of lends new and awesome significance to 1 Cor 5:7 where Paul says:
For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. NIV