The death of Jesus of Nazareth, along with his resurrection from the dead, is the central event of the Christian faith. As a punishment, the cross was brutal, gruesome, and violent. Yet it’s also the place where Jesus expressed his love for sinners as he took their place and their penalty. Many people want to know how long Jesus was on the cross before he died.
Jesus hung on the cross for six hours before he died. According to the Gospel of Mark, which uses the Jewish method of counting hours, Jesus was placed on the cross at the third hour of the day, which is 9:00am. He also records that Jesus died at the ninth hour of the same day, which is 3:00pm.
Where does Mark record the time of day that Jesus was hung on the cross? Where does he record the time of day that Jesus died on the cross? Why do some people believe that Mark and John disagree about what time Jesus was placed on the cross? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
What time was Jesus hung on the cross?
Mark 15:25 records the time that Jesus was nailed to the cross. The Greek phrase Mark uses literally means “the third hour,” which is a reference to the time of day according to Jewish reckoning.
As seen below, English Bibles with a precise translation philosophy, retain the phrase “the third hour.” Others, that seek to clarify the meaning for readers, record the time in relation to the modern method of counting hours.
- “And it was the third hour when they crucified him” (ESV)
- “And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.” (KJV)
- “It was the third hour when they crucified Him.” (NASB)
- “It was nine in the morning when they crucified him.” (NIV)
- “It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.” (NLT)
What time did Jesus die on the cross?
Combining Mark 15:33 and 15:37 reveals that Jesus died at three in the afternoon, which means he hung on the cross for six hours. In 15:33, Mark describes the darkness that came over the land as Jesus hung on the cross. It started at the sixth hour or 12:00pm noon. It lasted until the ninth hour or 3:00pm.
Mark 15:37 states that at the ninth hour, Jesus took his last breath and died. Like in Mark 15:25, some translations retain the phrase “the ninth hour,” while others say it was 3:00pm.
- “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” (ESV); cf. Jesus “breathed his last” (v. 37)
- “And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” (KJV)
- “When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour.” (NASB)
- “At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.” (NIV)
- “At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.” (NLT)
Do John and Mark disagree on the time of Jesus’ crucifixion?
John doesn’t mention the hour that Jesus was placed on the cross. However, he mentions the hour of the day that a certain moment in one of Jesus’ trials occurred.
At first glance, it seems to some readers that the moment John mentions occurs after the time that Mark says he was hung on the cross. If there is an unresolvable disagreement between the Gospel writers, then how long Jesus hung on the cross would be less clear.
The moment that John mentions is when Pilate, appealing to the crowd for direction, presented Jesus to the Jews and said, “Behold your King!” Yet, according to Mark’s description of the crucifixion, and the events surrounding it, Jesus was already on the cross. How is this problem solved?
- Mark 15:25, “And it was the third hour when they crucified him” (ESV); NIV: “it was nine in the morning”
- John 19:14, “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!'” (ESV); NIV: “it was about noon”
For many scholars, the solution to the problem lies in knowing that Mark and John numbered days and hours differently.
|Mark 15:25||John 19:14|
|Mark says Jesus was placed on the cross in the third hour of the day||John says Jesus was on trial at the sixth hour of the day|
|Alleged problem: Mark says Jesus was placed on the cross before John says he was tried||Alleged problem: John says Jesus was tried after Mark says he was placed on the cross|
|Explanation: Mark uses Jewish time to count daytime hours||Explanation: John uses Roman time to count daylight hours|
|According to Jewish time, a day began at 6:00am||According to Roman time, a day began at 12:00am midnight|
|Solution: Jesus was placed on the cross at 9:00am||Solution: Jesus trial was at 6:00am|
|Mark doesn’t disagree with John; Jesus was placed on the cross three hours after he was tried||John doesn’t disagree with Mark; Jesus was tried three hours before he was placed on the cross|
What was the Roman method for counting daylight hours?
Matthew and Luke follow Mark and state that Jesus was placed on the cross at the third hour on Friday morning. These three Gospels have many similarities, so it’s not surprising that they are in agreement on this detail.
Many Christians are familiar with how Jews numbered days and hours because of subjects like the Sabbath, which are prevalent throughout the Bible.
Roman time is less familiar to many Bible readers and leads to questions about how it’s calculated and why John uses it. As the table above indicates, Romans believed that a day started at midnight. References to Roman time can be found in non-biblical literature, which verifies how people counted days and hours.
Why doesn’t John use Jewish time?
If John counted daylight hours according to Jewish time, it would be easier to see that there is no discrepancy between his Gospel and Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s. So why doesn’t he? Most scholars believe the answer lies in knowing more about where John writes his Gospel.
Scholars are in general agreement that John wrote his Gospel from Ephesus, which was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. Days and hours in Ephesus were numbered according to Roman time.
Importantly, John’s first readers may have been those he was serving with, and ministering to, in Ephesus. Telling stories in Roman time may have helped those he was with to understand Jesus’ crucifixion.
There are other examples in John’s Gospel of him using Roman time. In these passages, John refers to days ending at midnight, not sunset like in Jewish time (John 12:1; 20:19).
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