Easter Saturday: Day of No Hope
We know little about what happened on Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The Gospels are silent regarding the whereabouts of Jesus’s followers on the Sabbath, which started Friday at sundown and continued until Saturday at sundown. It is safe to assume, though, based on their behavior Sunday evening, that they were huddled together fearfully behind closed doors, spending the day following their Master’s gruesome execution frightened and dreading that they were next. In their minds, it was only a matter of time until the authorities would come after them as well. Clearly, the memory of the crucifixion would have been raw and terrifying, and the disciples were doubtless reeling from the trauma of the previous day’s events, which had accelerated in rapid succession and culminated in seeing their beloved teacher and Lord suspended on the crossbars of a tree with nails in his hands and feet.
They had devoted three and a half years of their lives following a man who had now been shamefully hung on a cross, punished like a criminal and evildoer. Their hopes of reigning along with Jesus in his kingdom had been crushed, and all they had left were heady memories of miraculous healings, even raisings from the dead, and lofty dreams that had been shattered like a piece of broken pottery. The whole experience had been harrowing. They were sleep-deprived and exhausted, physically, emotionally, and spiritually spent. Yet there was little time to process all that had happened. They must be on guard against the Jewish leaders. Now that their leader had been executed for allegedly inciting a political uprising, they were anything but safe. To be sure, as long as Jerusalem, the Jewish capital, was filled with tens of thousands of visitors for the annual Passover feast, they can blend in. Perhaps some, on Friday before sundown, withdrew to nearby Bethany, where Jesus’s friends Lazarus, Martha, and Mary lived. All Luke the evangelist reveals is that, “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56).
Matthew, for his part, does record some relevant activity on Saturday, the day following the crucifixion. Even though it was the Sabbath, the chief priests and Pharisees, with a sense of urgency, approach Pilate, the Roman governor, and urge him to post guards at the tomb where Jesus had been laid until the third day, that is, Sunday (note that first-century Jews used inclusive reckoning, counting even parts of days as whole days). Ironically, while calling Jesus an “imposter,” they take his words seriously that he would rise after three days (e.g., Mark 831; 9:31; 10:34). They are not going to take any chances. Not that they really believe Jesus will rise from the dead; they merely want to ensure that his followers don’t steal his body and then claim that he rose as he had promised. If so, they say, “the last fraud will be worse than the first” (Matt 27:63–64). The fact that the authorities didn’t rest on the Sabbath but went to Pilate shows their own agitation and turmoil, which may have been exacerbated by the circumstances surrounding the crucifixion: darkness, the torn temple curtain, and even an earthquake. Pilate, no doubt in a foul mood, acquiesces to the Jewish leaders’ demands to secure the tomb. They seal it with a large rock and place guards in front of the tomb, likely consisting of both Jewish personnel and Roman soldiers.
The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday offers powerful spiritual lessons for believers. When disaster strikes and our hopes are dashed, we must be patient and wait for God, because God, in his own good timing, can bring good out of evil. Remember the “Joseph principle”: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20). As the apostle Paul insists, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28). David’s experience and childlike trust still inspire: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. … Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Ps 23:4, 6–7).
God uses trials to test and strengthen our faith in him. No matter what your predicament, trust in the one who is totally trustworthy, the God who can raise the dead, the God who loves you and cares for you more than you’ll ever know. Nothing is impossible with him. His ways are inscrutable and infinitely higher than our ways: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa 55:8–9). God will never leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5; cf. Deut 31:8). He is faithful (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Tim 2:13). Wait on God and put your hope in him. He will not disappoint you. If you’re living on the day of no hope, as pastor S. M. Lockridge (1913–2000) famously put it, remember: “It’s Friday. But let me tell you something: Sunday’s comin’.”
Andreas J. Köstenberger is cofounder of Biblical Foundations and theologian in residence at Fellowship Raleigh Church. He is also the author of The Final Days of Jesus, The First Days of Jesus, and The Jesus of the Gospels. Dr. Köstenberger and his wife Marny have four grown children and live in Wake Forest, North Carolina. This essay was originally posted here.