The Only Sign Given
Calculating the Dates
To determine the actual calendar for the passion of Jesus, we have to establish a few things first. We must first determine in what year the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus occurred. The year AD 30 is the most commonly accepted year of the passion of Jesus. Can we prove this to be the case from Scripture?
I believe that we can. Using the Bible, historical events, and the Jewish feast days, I believe that we will show that AD 30 is the year of Jesus' passion.
We first will want to discover when Jesus began his ministry, then we will calculate the duration of his ministry, which should take us right to the year of the passion.
The Beginning of Jesus Ministry
There are several possible ways to determine this date. We will triangulate the date using three different approaches, as being the best and most likely from a historical and Biblical standpoint.
WITNESS ONE: In John 2:20, a statement is made by the Jews during the first Passover mentioned in John, that the temple had been under construction for 46 years. Some may call into question the historical accuracy of this statement. However, it should only be doubted if there is sufficient reason. In my viewpoint and research, none is found.
We should understand this statement to mean, at the time it was made, that the temple had been in the process of building for 46 years. It is widely admitted, that the temple complex was not completed until AD 63. Here in John 2:20, the Greek term for 'temple' refers to the whole temple complex, and not just the sanctuary itself.
According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod began actual work on the temple in the eighteenth year of his reign. Herod began his actual reign of Judea in 717 AUC (AUC means from the founding of Rome), or about 37 BC. Edersheim states that the temple construction began in the month of Kislev, 734 AUC, which corresponds to Nov/Dec. of 20 BC.1 By counting forward 46 years from 20 BC, we come to Nov/Dec. AD 26. Thus, by the Passover of AD 27, the temple had been in the process of building 46 years. So the first Passover recorded in John's Gospel, would have occurred in the year AD 27. This would place the baptism of Jesus in the fall of AD 26.
WITNESS TWO: In Luke 3:1, we have the statement concerning the appearance of John the Baptizer in the Fifteenth year of Tiberius' reign. Edersheim says,
"It was, according to St. Luke's exact statement, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar reckoning as provincials would do, from his co-regency with Augustus, which commenced two years before his sole reign. . ."
We also have the witness of Suetonius to confirm Edersheim's statement. In Suetonius', Life of the Caesars, in the section on Tiberius, he states that after spending two years in Germanica, he returned to Rome in AD 12.2
After two years he returned to the city from Germany and celebrated the triumph which he had postponed, accompanied also by his generals, for whom he had obtained the triumphal regalia. And before turning to enter the Capitol, he dismounted from his chariot and fell at the knees of his father, who was presiding over the ceremonies.
He then adds,
Since the consuls caused a law to be passed soon after this that he should govern the provinces jointly with Augustus and hold the census with him, he set out for lllyricum on the conclusion of the lustral ceremonies;30 but he was at once recalled, and finding Augustus in his last illness but still alive, he spent an entire day with him in private.
This informs us that after his return from a campaign in Germany, in AD 12, Tiberius is given a grand celebration for the victory over the German tribes. After this celebration a law was passed that he "should govern the provinces jointly with Augustus and hold the census with him." It should be obvious that Luke is counting the rule of Tiberius as beginning with this joint rulership with Augustus.
To calculate what year would be determined as the fifteenth year of Tiberius' reign, we would need to begin counting from the first year of his co-regency with Augustus. Since Augustus died AD 14, we would count 15 years from AD 12, allowing for the two years of Tiberius' co-regency, and arrive at the year AD 26 (inclusive counting). If this is the year of John's appearance, this would make Jesus' public ministry beginning late AD 26 or early AD 27.
Again we see, the first Passover after Jesus' baptism would be the Passover of AD 27.
WITNESS THREE: In Luke 3:23, Luke states that at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, ' . . . He began to be about 30 years old.' The Greek word translated about, when used with numbers, means approximately. So when Jesus began his ministry, he was approximately 30 years old.
According to Edersheim, Herod the Great died 750 AUC, or about 4 B.C. He states, "Indeed, there is scarcely any historical date on which competent writers are more agreed than that of Herod's death."
Therefore, if the dates of 5 or 4 BC are accepted for Jesus' birth, then by adding 30 years, in AD 26, Jesus would be a full 30 years of age, depending upon the year and time of year of his birth.
Considering the best evidence at hand, the year AD 26 seems to be the best calculated year for the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.
WITNESS FOUR: According to the prophecy of the seventy weeks found in Daniel 9, the end of the sixty-nine weeks to the appearing of the Messiah, would bring us to AD 26/27.
The Duration of Jesus Ministry
The Gospel of John seems to give us the most complete chronology for Jesus' public ministry. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) mention only one Passover, being the final one of his passion. If the chronology of John is accurate, and there is no reason to doubt it, then the following would best represent his ministry duration, using the seasonal feasts as our chronological markers.
John's gospel mentions three Passovers, one Tabernacles, one Chanukah, and one unnamed feast. Using AD 27 as the starting point of his public ministry, the duration of his ministry works like this.
1. First Passover of Jesus' ministry - John 2:13,22. This would be the Passover, Tuesday, April 8, AD 27.
3. Second Passover - John 5:1; Luke 6:1. Although this is not specifically called a passover, but "a feast of the jews", it is evident from the witness of John 4:35, John 5:1 and Luke 6:1. This would be Passover, Sunday, March 28, AD 28.
3. Third Passover - John 6:4. During this Passover, the account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 is given. The synoptics report this event, but only John gives the timeframe. This would be Passover, Friday, April 15, AD 29.
4. Tabernacles - John 7:2 This would be Sukkot, October 10-18, AD 29.
5. Chanukah - John 10:22 This occurring December 18-26, AD 29.
6. The Last Passover - John 13-19. Passover night, took place on Tuesday, April 4, AD 30.
This gives us three and a half years for the duration of Jesus' ministry. This period begins in the fall of AD 26, and ends in the spring of AD 30.
I realize that this date for Passover will likely not set well with some. For instance, those who hold to AD 33 as the year of His Passion. This year seems to be favored among some due to the fact that this is the only year where it can be said that Passover fell on a Thursday night, allowing for a Friday crucifixion.
Some may argue, as some will always do, that John may not have recorded the entire record of the duration of Jesus' ministry. That in actuality, there may be more than what is recorded by John. This is true, but the problem arises, how are you going to prove it? If you look at the record of the synoptic Gospels, they only record one passover. If we take the chronology of these gospels, then the duration of Jesus' ministry was less than a year. I don't know of any decent Biblical scholar who holds to this.
The point here, and as stated elsewhere, John's purpose in writing was to 'fill in the gaps' of what the others had passed over. The other writers had passed over these feasts as markers of time and how they related to the events in Jesus life. John obviously felt it important to include them.
There is no real reason to doubt that John did not give the full chronology of Jesus' ministry and its duration, based on the time markers of the feasts.
1 Edersheim, Life and Times, p.257
2 Speidel, Michael Riding for Caesar:The Roman Emperorors’ Horse Guards p.19