Today’s blog is about a Bible story that doesn’t exist: the story of how Jesus’ followers spent the Sabbath after his crucifixion. In each of the gospels, the story of the crucifixion concludes with the burial of Jesus. Matthew tells us what the Pharisees were doing – breaking the Sabbath and asking Pilate to post a guard in front of Jesus’ tomb (Matthew 27:62-66) – but for the disciples, we have a single verse: Luke 23:56b. “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment (ESV).”
We can only imagine what must have been going through the disciples’ minds on that dark Saturday. The Sabbath is a day of celebration, rest, and commemoration, but they likely spent it in hiding, huddling together in someone’s house and mourning their crucified friend. I imagine Peter, still fresh from his betrayal of Jesus, staring blankly at a wall, knowing he will regret his words for the rest of his life. In another corner, John holds Mary close and tries to get her to eat something, fulfilling the role Jesus gave him as her new son (John 19:27-28). Every time the wind whistles at the windows or they hear footsteps outside, they flinch and cower. Jesus has just been executed as a traitor to the nation; what will the government do to his followers?
We, of course, know that the story doesn’t end here. We don’t have to read of the disciples’ devastation – we move right away to the women bringing spices to embalm Jesus’ corpse, to their incredible surprise, to the glory of the resurrection. But in the endless hours of that fear- and grief-filled Saturday, all the disciples knew was their earth-shattering disappointment.
While all Christian denominations find their hope and purpose in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Adventist church is uniquely based on disappointment. After careful study of the Bible, William Miller predicted that Jesus would return to earth on October 22, 1844. Excited and assured of their coming Savior, thousands of people left their crops standing unharvested in the fields, sold all of their possessions, and quit their jobs. Then October 23 arrived. Jesus had not returned. “I waited all Tuesday [October 22] and dear Jesus did not come;” writes Henry Emmons. “I waited all forenoon of Wednesday, and was well in body as I ever was, but after 12 o’clock I began to feel faint, and before dark I needed someone to help me up to my chamber, as my natural strength was leaving me very fast, and I lay prostrate for two days without any pain – sick with disappointment.”
The Millerites’ disappointment was devastating, but it was not the end. Jesus’ failure to come on October 22, 1844, became known as the Great Disappointment – but it also led to the formation of a new community of faith, the Seventh-day Adventist Church. You can read about this journey in full detail here.
“I believe,” Martin Luther King Jr. writes, “that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” Even in the darkest night, right still endures.
The disciples thought that all was lost when Jesus died, but Jesus still kept his promises and rose. After the Great Disappointment, many Millerites reconciled themselves to the fact that they had gotten their initial ideas about Jesus’ return incorrect, but kept the faith that he would return. Do you think it is fair to compare the two events?
Are we still living in “Dark Saturday”?
- Why do you think that the Bible doesn’t include an account of what the disciples did and said on the Sabbath after the crucifixion?
- What was Jesus doing during that Saturday between his crucifixion and resurrection? Yes, he was dead, but he was also the eternal Son of God in human form. Was there anything supernatural going on behind the scenes? Many Christians have found this question confusing and have provided different answers:
- Some say Jesus was in Paradise, according to what he said to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43 - See also our post from last week! The only problem with this theory is that after his resurrection, Jesus says that he had not yet ascended to the Father! (John 20:17)
- Others believe that Jesus actually descended into Hell. Some believe this was to receive further punishment for humanity’s sins, although the majority from this point of view actually believe this was actually a conquest: Jesus went into hell to conquer hell, to steal the keys of death, and overcome the powers of darkness. In traditional Christian theology this is called the “Harrowing of Hell,” and is believed by many Christians who hold to the traditional creeds like the Apostles Creed and some versions of the Nicene Creed. There is not much direct support for this view from the Bible, but some people have seen it in Revelation 1:18 and 1 Peter 3::18-20. Does this seem like a reasonable interpretation of those passages?
- Adventists generally hold to the belief that Jesus was actually dead between the crucifixion and resurrection - that his consciousness somehow went dark and only “woke up” again when he rose from the dead. This would harmonize well with the silence of the gospels about what happened to Jesus during that time. Also, it is interesting that this would mean that, in a way, Jesus rested on the Sabbath even during his death.
- Which of the views above do you think is the most compelling? Why?
- Does disappointment mean that you were wrong, or just that the story isn’t over yet? Can you think of examples from your own life where you thought “all is lost!” only to realize that the story wasn’t over yet?
- Can you think of any reasons why Jesus hasn’t returned yet? See 2 Thessalonians 2, 2 Peter 3, and Matthew 24:1-14 for some possible Biblical context.
- Using the Center for Adventist Research and/or the White Estate, try and find a letter, diary entry, or other document detailing an individual’s reaction to the Great Disappointment. What kind of things do they say about their faith? About themselves? About God?