What Jesus was doing on Saturday

Jesus died and was buried on a Friday afternoon.

Although the New Testament makes no claim on exactly when he was raised from the dead, the assumption is that he was resurrected early Sunday morning–at least after sunset on Saturday.

What was Jesus doing between sunset Friday and sunset Saturday? Between death and resurrection?

Nothing in particular?

Many Christians, especially in ancient through medieval and even in modern times, assume that what he was doing must have been something particularly Christian in nature. It was even thought by some that he went to preach in Hell. This even made its way into the Apostle’s Creed.

Christians haven’t been particularly aware or even open to the Jewishness of Jesus. Some Christians were even antagonistic to such an idea. But he was Jewish. Christianity as we know it does not exist without its entirely Jewish basis and framework, and so when this Jewish context is ignored, and the story of Israel remains forgotten, a distorted, diminished Christianity remains. Even the name “Christian” is from a Greek word representing a Jewish concept: Messiah. Anointed, rightful, Davidic, king of Israel.

When we “accept Christ,” we accept a king of a certain ethnic group/nation/religion. That ethnic group/nation/religion happens to be that of the Jewish people.

Augustine is definitely the most influential father of the church. I would say that he is probably one of the most influential figures for

Last known photo of Augustine.

Last known photo of Augustine

the Western world, period.

And I disagree with so much of what he says. But, gosh, was he smart. And he had a heart of gold. And he battled for things that the church needs to be battling for.

One is anti-Semitism, evidence of which in our own time have tragically broken out recently. Anti-Semitism is an ironic, even self-contradictory position for a Christian to hold. Those who do are usually driven by necessity to say that Jesus was not Jewish.

Against Faustus, a former fellow Manichae, Augustine asserts that, yes was Jewish, and so observant and devoutly Jewish was he that he did not rise from the dead immediately because it was sunset on Friday by the time he was in the tomb.

It was the onset of the Sabbath, and lifting up his body would be work.

So in the tomb, Jesus waits until the Jewish Shabbat is complete so that he could do the rather considerable work of rising from the dead.

Unless Christ had considered this Sabbath-which in your want of knowledge and of piety you laugh at–one of the prophecies written of Himself, He would not have borne such a testimony to it as He did. For when, as you say in praise of Christ, He suffered voluntarily, and so could choose His own time for suffering and for resurrection, He brought it about that His body rested from all its works on Sabbath in the tomb, and that His resurrection on the third day, which we call the Lord’s day, the day after the Sabbath …

Contra Faustum, 16.29

Remarkably, for Augustine, even at his resurrection–and even with how he deals with his resurrection–Jesus remains Jewish. This is good news. Not because the most pervasive problem for Christians and Judaism in our world today is violent anti-Semitism (I’m glad to say that it is not), rather, it is a Christianity without its Jewish basis and framework that has been pulled up from its roots in the story of the people of Israel. All with a decontextualized Jesus to match. If you’re still looking for some Eastertide reading, I suggest The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine.


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