Herbert Armstrong and the Crucifixion–3 Days + 3 Nights = 1 False Doctrine

Friday and Saturday

John 18:28 is an important scripture in regard to this topic. The events in this verse take place after Jesus had eaten the Passover with His disciples and had been arrested: “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.” Does this scripture mean, as Armstrong taught, that Jesus ate the Passover one day earlier than the Jews?

A Gentile was considered unclean. For the strict Jew, coming in contact with a Gentile or anything in a Gentile’s house was like coming in contact with an unclean animal, and the Jew who came into contact with an unclean animal was unclean until evening (Leviticus 11:25). A. T. Robertson points out, “Since this remark was made early in the morning, how could that affect the eating of the [Passover] supper in the evening? For whatever impurities one had during the day passed away at evening. Hence this uncleanness must belong to the same day on which it was incurred.”[19] If, as according to Armstrong teaching, these Jews were concerned with eating the Passover meal that coming night, entering the Roman governor’s palace in the morning would not be a problem to them because their uncleanness would pass away with the coming of evening (see Leviticus 11:24–25; 27; 31; etc.). What then is the answer?

As I have already mentioned, “Passover” had come to be used to refer to the Feast of Unleavened Bread and vice versa. The apostle John uses the word “Passover” in nine other places in the Bible besides John 18:28. In none of these places does he use it to specifically refer to the Passover meal or the Passover lamb. And there is no reason to assume he is using it to refer to the Passover meal or the Passover lamb in John 18:28. These Jews wanted to participate in the offerings and special meals that would take place that day, the 15th of Abib, the first Holy Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They had already eaten the Passover lamb the evening before (the evening that began the 15th, the same evening that Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover lamb). When John said that the Jews wanted to eat the Passover, he meant special festival meals taking place during the daylight portion of the 15th. This brings us to the morning of the 15th of Abib, Friday morning.

Pilate, the governor, sent Jesus to Herod who then sent Him back to Pilate (see Luke 23:6-15). In John 19:14, John writes, “And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!” Churches in the Armstrong tradition would like you to believe this was the preparation day for the Passover; that is, the 14th of Abib. But there is no reason to believe this.

“The afternoon before the Passover was used as a preparation,” writes A. T. Robertson, “but it was not technically so called. This phrase ’Preparation’ was really the name of a day in the week, the day before the Sabbath, our Friday.”[20] Of this same day, Mark and Luke write, “And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath” (Mark 15:42), and “And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on” (Luke 23:54). Notice that they do not say that the Sabbath to follow was the first annual Sabbath of the festival or the day on which the Passover lamb was to be eaten. As I have explained, that day had already come. The Gospel writers intended their readers to understand that this Preparation Day was Friday. It was the Friday of the Passover feast.

John also writes, of the time later that same day after Jesus’ death on the cross, “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away” (John 19:31).

In John 19:31, this Sabbath is described as “an high day.” “Just what is a ’high day’?” asks Herbert W. Armstrong. “Ask any Jew! He will tell you it is one of the annual holy days, or feast days. The Israelites were commanded to observe seven of these every year—every one called a Sabbath! Annual Sabbaths fall on certain annual calendar dates, and on different days of the week in different years, just like the Roman holidays now observed.”[21]

Armstrong’s definition of a “high day” is not acceptable. To the modern Jew, the “high days”—more correctly the High Holy Days or High Holidays—are Rosh Hashanah (the Feast of Trumpets) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) with a season of about two months surrounding these days.[22] The High Holy Days have nothing to do with the Passover festival. Therefore, John’s use of “high day” has no relationship to modern Jewish usage.

Armstrong presents no convincing evidence to support his belief that the Sabbath of John 19:31 was an annual Sabbath. The other Gospel writers refer to it only as the Sabbath. Why, then, did John write that this particular “sabbath day was an high day”? The most natural explanation, in light of other evidence supporting the view that this was the seventh-day of the week, is that this seventh-day Sabbath was the weekly Sabbath that occurred during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Every day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread—also called the Passover in the New Testament—is a feast day. Two of the feast days are annual Sabbaths.

But there is also a third Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is the weekly seventh-day Sabbath that happens to fall within the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Because this seventh-day Sabbath falls during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it is a feast day and therefore is special. It would be natural for John to call this Sabbath a “high day.” It is this day, the seventh-day Sabbath that falls during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, that John and the other Gospel writers are referring to.

John 19:41-42 reads: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.” It is now near Friday evening, which for the Jews ended the sixth day of the week and began the seventh-day Sabbath. About this time, “the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment” (Luke 23:55-56).

“Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate” (Matthew 27:62). It is now the Sabbath, our Saturday. Besides the women resting and the Jews going to Pilate to ask that the tomb be made secure, the Bible is silent about what occurred on this day. Yet, this is the day that Armstrong tradition would have you believe that Jesus rose from the dead!

“And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him” (Mark 16:1). According to Armstrongism, this verse, coupled with Luke 23:55-56, says that there had to have been two Sabbaths (an annual Sabbath and a weekly Sabbath) separated by a non-Sabbath day between Jesus’ death and His resurrection. It says this non-Sabbath day (which it says was Friday) is the day the women bought and prepared the spices. Admittedly, the time sequence in Mark 16:1 and Luke 23:55-56 is not completely clear. There is no reason, however, to resort to this explanation of two Sabbaths separated by another day as the weight of evidence is against it.

Luke may not have meant that the women went home and prepared the spices immediately. It is completely possible that he meant that the women went home and prepared spices, but they (first) rested on the Sabbath. They would have procured and prepared the spices on Saturday night, after the Sabbath. Alternatively, the women may have prepared some spices as soon as they returned home, rested on the Sabbath, then procured more spices and prepared them on Saturday night. These explanations are not, of course, completely conclusive. Nevertheless, they are stronger arguments than Armstrong’s explanation that requires the insertion of an entire day between the words, “And they returned” and “and prepared spices and ointments” (Luke 23:56)—a day that is never mentioned.


“In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre” (Matthew 28:1).[23] “And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun” (Mark 16:2). “Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them” (Luke 24:1). “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre” (John 20:1).

Notice that although Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts indicate the time as dawn, Luke only says “very early in the morning.” John, however, says, “when it was yet dark.” There are several possible reasons for this seeming discrepancy. Perhaps John meant it was still dark when they left their houses, but the sun rose as they were on their way. Or Mary Magdalene may have left before the others and arrived first. “Dawn” and “sunrise” in Matthew and Mark may refer to the time of morning when the eastern sky is beginning to get light, but before any of the disk of the sun is above the horizon. This can still be called “dark.” What is important is that all four Gospel writers agree that this was the first day of the week.

Nevertheless, Armstrong makes the following statement: “Jesus was already resurrected from the dead and had already risen from the grave by sunrise Sunday morning! Of course he was. The resurrected Jesus rose from the grave the previous evening!”[24] True, Matthew 28:5-6, Mark 16:6, and Luke 24:6 tell us that Jesus was already risen when the women arrived. But must this mean that He rose on Saturday evening? Absolutely not! Armstrong read more into these scriptures than is there.

Jesus need only have risen moments before the women arrived, which would still be the morning of the first day of the week. Jesus died on the cross and was buried on Friday and rose from the dead on Sunday, the third day. This is supported by the weight of biblical evidence.

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19. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels, p. 282. Return20. Ibid., p. 283. Return

21. Armstrong, The Resurrection Was Not on Sunday, p. 7. Return

22. Abraham E. Millgram, Jewish Worship (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1971), p. 224. Return

23. Although it is not certain, it appears likely that, as is found in some King James Version margins and explained in a note on Matthew 28:2 in The NIV Study Bible (p. 1489), the events in Matthew 28:2-4 occurred before the women arrived at the tomb. “There was” might better be rendered “Now there had been.” Return

24. Armstrong, The Resurrection Was Not On Sunday, p. 8. Return

Copyright © 1993-2009 Peter Ditzel