Hours of the Crucifixion

Matthew 27:25‑34; Mark 15:25‑34; John 19:14  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 7
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The apparent discrepancy between the accounts given by John, and Mark and Matthew, as to the hour of crucifixion of our blessed Lord, is full of deep interest. May we look at it with holy fear.
In Mark we read, “And it was the third hour, and they crucified him..... And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama Sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:25-3425And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. 26And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 27And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. 28And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors. 29And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, 30Save thyself, and come down from the cross. 31Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. 32Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him. 33And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Mark 15:25‑34)) To this agree the words in Matthew: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour,” &c. (Matt. 27:4545Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. (Matthew 27:45), fee.) Whilst in John we read, “And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour,” when Jesus was condemned by Pilate, and delivered by him to be mocked and crucified.
Now it is evident that the mode of reckoning time cannot be the same, otherwise it would make the trial three hours after the crucifixion. From the Jewish character of Matthew, and indeed Mark, they no doubt always used the Hebrew mode of reckoning time, or the Jewish mode of reckoning the hours from sunset to sunrise, about six o’clock to six. So that the third hour would be our 9 a.m., the sixth hour 12 noon, and the ninth hour 3 p.m.
It is generally thought that John wrote his Gospel much later, even after the destruction of Jerusalem. And, supposing he used the common way of Roman time, which was the same as ours now, then we shall find all difficulty disappear, There was, it is true, the civil mode the Romans had of stating the hours of the day, which was like the Hebrew, from six to six. But the common people reckoned from midnight to noon, as we do to this day. And as the church of God was chiefly composed of the poor of this world, it is quite in keeping with the Gospel of John that common Roman time should be used.
Let us now trace the order of these solemn events, full of such deep interest to our souls. Oh how sad the malignant hatred to Jesus is seen to be in the very early hour of His trial: Satan, high priest, Herod, Pilate, all astir. We will use our mode of time. What a scene from about four o’clock to six must have taken place! Then about six o’clock a.m. of our time, our adorable Lord is condemned by Pilate, to satisfy the hatred of those He so loved; He the Lamb of God. Think of Him set forth for three hours. Read Mark 15:15-2215And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. 16And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band. 17And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head, 18And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! 19And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him. 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him. 21And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross. 22And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull. (Mark 15:15‑22); Matt. 27:26-3426Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. 27Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. 28And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. 29And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! 30And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. 31And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. 32And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. 33And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, 34They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. (Matthew 27:26‑34). Here we have the history of those three hours, from 6 a.m. to the third hour of Jewish time (9 a.m.)
The scourging of Jesus; the Son of God delivered into the hands of cruel, brutal Roman soldiers; and this scourging would take up some time. He is taken into the common hall. Every outrage is poured upon him. The stripping, the putting on the scarlet robe, the crown of thorns, the bowing of the knee in mockery and derision, the spitting upon Him—God manifest in flesh—the smiting of Him on the head. In the meantime the trial of the two thieves, for it was customary to execute the criminals immediately after trial. And no doubt the hatred to Jesus was such that the Holy One must be condemned first before the poor thieves. Then there was Pilate writing out the crimes and judgment. And lastly, the awful procession, when earth and hell, men and demons, followed Him to execution. See the Man of sorrows slowly bear His cross, and the preparations on Calvary’s hill. All this would surely occupy some three hours. And thus we reach the Roman time of 9 a.m., the third hour of the Jews from six in the morning. Then took place the crucifixion. Then for three hours more He hung a spectacle for men—hearing, and in meekness bearing, their cruel mockings, from the third hour (9 a.m.) to the sixth hour (12 noon).
Then the scene closed to the eyes of men. Darkness covered the whole land. Then the dark billows of divine wrath, when no eye saw Him but the eye of God—His God. Then was heard that bitter loud cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Truly those three hours were the center of eternity. And oh, blessed Father, all this that Thou mightest have us redeemed sinners with Thee forever. Blessed Jesus, then couldest Thou say, “It is finished,” bowing Thy head in death. The veil was rent, the way into the holiest for man was opened for the vilest sinner, saved by such grace as this.
Thus we see all difficulty disappears. There must have been some hours between the condemnation of our Holy Substitute and the crucifixion. John was not writing specially for the Jews, who had rejected their Messiah, and therefore he uses the mode of reckoning time used by the common people in the Roman empire.
A question might arise: Is there any evidence in the Gospel of John, where hours of time are named, that he used nowhere the Hebrew mode from six o’clock to six? Let us briefly examine the several instances.
“They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.” There is nothing in the context to question that this means the common method, that is 10 a.m.; but everything favors that time. Had it been Jewish time (4 p.m.) they could scarcely be said to have abode that day. (John 1, read vers. 35-42.)
John 4:6, 76Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour. 7There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. (John 4:6‑7): “Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour.” There is everything to favor the common time again, from five to six o’clock p.m. The end of a day’s journey, and He who had not where to lay His head, remains weary at Sychar’s well. Does not this throw some light on the journeyings of our Lord? The disciples had gone to the city to buy the evening repast. Oh, how oft did He retire on the lonely mountain in prayer to the Father, whilst the disciples slept. But that day’s work was not yet done. That poor woman may have been the last to come to the well that day, but she is just in time to meet God, the Giver of the water of life. The shades of that eventful evening would be falling beneath Samaria’s mountains, as, forgetting her water-pot, she enters the city, and proclaims the Savior-Messiah. And at once the hearers came to Him.
The disciples seem hungry, and think more about eating than the salvation of a sinner. This looks more like six o’clock p.m. (after a weary day, the usual time of eating in the East) than twelve at noon, the Jewish sixth hour of the day, beneath a burning sun.
“Sir, come down ere my child die. Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth.” As he returned, his servants met him, and told him, “Thy son liveth. Then inquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth.” Now it is evident that there was not time to travel fourteen miles from seven o’clock in the evening on the clay that Jesus said, “Thy son liveth.” But had it been the Jewish time (1 p.m.) there would have been sufficient time to travel fourteen miles before dark, when in those parts it was both dangerous and unusual to travel. But reckoning common Roman time, it would be seven o’clock p.m., and therefore too late to return that night. The next day he returns, and on the way meets his servants. In this case, then, may we not say, John must, as at the crucifixion, have used Roman time?
There is one other instance, at least—John 11:99Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. (John 11:9). Speaking of the day as the period when men walk, He says: “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world,” &c. This passage shows at least that there was a common habit of speaking of the twelve hours of the day, as we speak even now. Indeed, it was a simple fact used for illustration: twelve hours of light and twelve hours of darkness, or day and night.
May the Lord make that which seemed difficult and contradictory to us, when we were in darkness, become real blessing to us now that He has, in the riches of His grace, made us light in Himself. When He says, “Let there be light,” there is light, and it is very good.
There is another matter in connection with this subject I may, if the Lord will, take up at another time. C. S.