Is a 'high day' a weekly Sabbath?
Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. (John 19:31)
What is the "high-day Sabbath" mentioned in this verse? Is it the same as a weekly Sabbath? The answer is no. A high day is technically an annual holy day, or annual Sabbath, as commanded in Leviticus 23. Certainly, the weekly Sabbath is a day to keep holy, but these annual holy days take precedence if they occur on the seventh-day Sabbath.
The annual Sabbaths are seven: the first and seventh days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah in Hebrew), Atonement (Yom Kippur), the first day of Tabernacles (Succoth), and the Last Great Day. The first three occur in the spring, and the last four in the fall. Thus, the high day of which John was speaking was one of the three spring holy days, and since Jesus crucifixion took place on the day of Passover (Nisan 14 on the Hebrew calendar), the high day of which he speaks must be the first day of Unleavened Bread, which falls the day after the Passover (Nisan 15).
This verse also provides some very interesting and definitive proof of when Jesus died, and thus when He was resurrected. Jesus Himself said several times that His time in the tomb would be three days and three nights, just as the prophet Jonah had spent three days and nights in the fish's belly (see Matthew 12:38-40; 27:63; Mark 8:31; John 2:18-22). This in itself rules out a Friday crucifixion-Sunday resurrection because there is no way to cram three days and three nights between sunset on Friday and sunrise on Sunday.
If Jesus rose exactly three days and three nights after His burial (just before sunset; see Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34), the only candidate for His resurrection is the very end of the Sabbath at sunset. Counting back three full days, then, Jesus must have died on the previous Wednesday, which would have been the day of the Passover (Jesus and His disciples had observed the Passover the evening before). The first day of Unleavened Bread began just minutes after Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus sealed His tomb.
The gospel account says that, after this, His disciples and the women kept the holy day on Thursday (Mark 16:1). On Friday, the preparation day for the weekly Sabbath, the women prepared spices for His embalming (this was a normal workday; see Luke 23:56), then kept the weekly Sabbath. When they came to the tomb early Sunday morning, He had already risen some time before. He rose exactly three days and three nights from His interment (a full 72 hours) at sunset as the weekly Sabbath ended. This shows that there were two Sabbaths—a high day and a weekly Sabbath—during the time of His burial, not one!
'After Three Days'
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing John 19:31:
1 John 5:1-8