Was Jesus three days and three nights in the grave, as He said in Matthew 12:40? Can you figure three days and three nights between sunset "Good Friday" and sunrise Easter Sunday?
It is commonly supposed today that Jesus was crucified on Friday, and that the resurrection occurred about sunrise on Easter Sunday morning. Few professing Christians have ever thought to question or to prove this "Good-Friday-Easter" tradition. Yet the Bible tells us to prove (test) all things. And you will be literally astounded by this proof. For proof there is but one dependable authority, a sole historical record — the Bible.
Tradition No Proof
There were no eye-witnesses to the resurrection. Even so-called "apostolic fathers" had no source of information save that record which is today available to us — the biblical revelation. Any tradition, then, which conflicts with God's revelation must be dismissed. What are the recorded facts? The doubting Pharisees were asking Jesus for a sign — supernatural evidence — in proof of His Messiahship. Jesus answered: "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:39-40). Now consider, please, the tremendous import — the overwhelming significance — of Jesus' statement. He expressly declared that the only sign He would give to prove He was the Messiah was that He should be just three days and three nights in the rock-hewn sepulcher in "the heart of the earth."
The Significance of the Sign
These Christ-rejecting Pharisees demanded proof. Jesus offered but one evidence. That evidence was not the fact of the resurrection itself. It was the length of time He would repose in His grave, before being resurrected. Think what this means! Jesus staked His claim to being your Saviour and mine upon remaining exactly three days and three nights in the tomb. If He remained just three days and three nights inside the earth, He would prove Himself the Saviour — if He failed in this sign, He must be rejected as an impostor! No wonder Satan has caused unbelievers to scoff at the story of Jonah and the "whale"! No wonder the devil has set up a tradition that denies Jesus is the Messiah!
The Dilemma of the Higher Critics
This one and only supernatural PROOF ever given by Jesus for His Messiahship has greatly bothered the commentators and the higher critics. Their attempts to explain away this sole proof for Christ's divinity (deity) are ludicrous in the extreme. For explain this away they must, or their "Good-Friday-Easter" tradition collapses. One commentator says, "Of course we know that Jesus was actually in the tomb only half as long as He thought He would be!" Some expositors impose upon our credulity to the extent of asking us to believe that "in the Greek language, in which the New Testament was written, the expression 'three days and three nights' means three periods, either of day or of night." Jesus, they say, was placed in the tomb shortly before sunset Friday, and rose at sunrise Sunday morning — two nights and one day.
The Bible Definition
But the Bible definition of the duration of "nights and days" is simple. Even these same higher critics admit that in the Hebrew language, in which the book of Jonah was written, the expression "three days and three nights" means a period of 72 hours — three twelve-hour days and three twelve-hour nights. Notice Jonah 1:17: "And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights." This, they admit, was a period of 72 hours. And Jesus distinctly said that AS Jonah was three days and three nights in the great fish's belly, so He would be the same length of time in His grave. As Jonah was in the "grave" (see marginal reference, Jonah 2:2) 72 hours, after which he was supernaturally resurrected by God, by being vomited up, to become a saviour to the people of Nineveh upon proclaiming the warning to them, so should Jesus be 72 hours in His grave, thereupon being resurrected by God to become the saviour of the world. Did Jesus know how much time was in a "day" and in a "night"? Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in a day ... but if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth" (John 11:9-10). Notice the Bible definition of the expression, "the third day." Text after text tells us that Jesus rose the third day. Notice how the Bible defines the time required to fulfill "the third day." In Genesis 1:4 God "divided the light from darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening [darkness] and the morning [light] were the first day .... And the evening [darkness] and the morning [light] were the second day .... And the evening [now three periods of darkness called night — three nights] and the morning [now three periods of light called day — three days] were the third day" (Gen. 1:4-13). Here we have the only Bible definition which explains and counts up the amount of time involved in the expression "the third day." It includes three dark periods called "night," and three light periods called "day" — three days and three nights, and Jesus said they contained twelve hours for each period — a total of 72 hours. That ought to be conclusive! Any seven-year-old, near the end of the second grade, could figure it easily.
What Is Wrong?
What is wrong with these plain, simple words of Jesus? How do these wise and prudent theologians know Jesus was crucified "Good Friday" and rose "Easter Sunday"? The simple answer is, they do not know it — for it is not true! It is merely tradition, a tradition we have been taught from childhood and carelessly assumed! Jesus warns against "making the word of God of none effect through your tradition" (Mark 7:13). We have examined two scriptural witnesses, in Matthew and in Jonah, both setting the duration of the body of Jesus in the tomb as three days and three nights, which the Scriptures plainly define as 72 hours of time. Now let us examine four other scriptural witnesses that prove the same thing. Notice Mark 8:31. "And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and AFTER three days rise again." (Any young second grader can figure this.) If Jesus had been killed on Friday, and then after one day He had risen, the resurrection would have occurred on Saturday evening. If after two days, it would have occurred Sunday evening, and if after three days, it would have occurred Monday evening! Examine this text carefully. You cannot, by any process of arithmetic, figure any less than a full 72 hours — three days and three nights — in a resurrection which occurred three days after the crucifixion. If Jesus was in the grave only from Friday sunset to Sunday sunrise, then this text too, must be torn out of your Bible or else you must reject Jesus Christ as an impostor! If He rose after three days, it might have been more than 72 hours, but it could not have been a second less. Notice now Mark 9:31. "... They shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day." The duration expressed here must be between 48 and 72 hours. It could not be one second past 72 hours, and Jesus still rise the third day. And it could not be Friday sunset to Sunday sunrise, because that it only 36 hours, carrying us into the middle of the second day, after He was killed. In Matthew 27:63 Jesus is quoted as saying, "After three days I will rise again." This cannot possibly be figured as less than 72 full hours. And in John 2:19-21, "Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and IN three days I will raise it up .... But he spake of the temple of his body." To be raised up IN three days after being destroyed, or crucified and buried, could not be more than 72 hours. If we are to accept all the testimony of the Bible, we must conclude that Jesus was exactly three days and three nights — three full 24-hour days — 72 hours in the grave, or the only supernatural proof He gave must fail.
The Time of Day of Resurrection
Now notice carefully this fact: In order to be three days and three nights — 72 hours — in the tomb, our Lord had to be resurrected at exactly the same time of day that His body was buried in the tomb. Let us realize that very vital fact. If we can find the time of day of the burial, then we have found the time of day of the resurrection. If the burial, for instance, were at sunrise, then for the body to be left an even three days and three nights in the tomb, the resurrection likewise had to occur at sunrise, three days later. If the burial were at noon, the resurrection was at noon. If the burial were at sunset, the resurrection was at sunset, three days later. The crucifixion day was called "the preparation," or day before "the sabbath" (Matt. 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54). This day ended at sunset, according to Bible reckoning (Lev. 23:32). Jesus cried out soon after "the ninth hour" or three o'clock in the afternoon (Matt. 27:46-50; Mark 15:34-37; Luke 23:44-46). Yet Jesus was buried before this same day ended — before sunset (Matt. 27:57; Luke 23:52-54; John 19:42). John adds, "There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day." According to the laws observed by the Jews all dead bodies must be buried before the beginning of a Sabbath or feast day. Hence Jesus was buried before sunset on the same day He died. He died shortly after 3 p.m. Therefore — notice carefully — the burial of Christ's body was in the late afternoon! It was between 3 p.m. and sunset as these scriptures prove. And since the resurrection had to occur at the same time of day, three days later, the resurrection of Christ occurred, not at sunrise, but in the late afternoon, near sunset. Startling as this fact may be, it is the plain Bible truth! If Jesus rose at any other time of day, He could not have been three days and three nights in His grave. If He rose at any other time of day, He failed to prove, by the only sign He gave that He was the true Messiah, the Son of the living Creator. Either He rose near the END of a day near sunset, or else He is not the Christ! He staked His claim on that one and only sign. So a time-honored tradition must be shattered.
What Sabbath Followed the Crucifixion?
Now we come to an objection some may raise, yet the very point which proves this truth. Perhaps you have noticed that the Scriptures say the day after the crucifixion was a Sabbath. Hence, for centuries, people have blindly assumed the crucifixion was on Friday. Now we have shown by all four Gospels that the crucifixion day was called "the preparation." The preparation day for the Sabbath. But for what Sabbath? John's Gospel gives the definite answer: "It was the preparation of the Passover." "For that sabbath day was an high day" (John 19:14, 31) Just what is a "high day"? Ask any Jew! He will tell you it is one of the annual holy days, or feast days. The Israelites observed seven of these every year — every one called a Sabbath! Annual Sabbaths fall on certain annual calendar dates, and on different days of the week in different years, just like the Roman holidays now observed. These Sabbaths might fall on Monday, on Thursday, or on Sunday. If you will notice the following texts, you will see these annual holy days were all called Sabbath days: Leviticus 16:31; 23:24, 26-32, 39. Notice Matthew 26:2: "Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified." And if you will follow through this chapter you will see that Jesus was crucified on the Passover! And what was the Passover? In the twelfth chapter of Exodus you will find the story of the original Passover. The children of Israel killed the lambs, and struck the blood over the doorposts and on the side posts of their houses, and wherever the blood had thus been applied the death angel passed over that house, sparing it from death. Following the Passover was a holy convocation or annual Sabbath. Observe the dates: "And in the fourteenth day of the first month is THE PASSOVER of the Lord. And in the fifteenth day of this month is the FEAST" (Num. 28:16-17). The Passover lamb, killed every year on the 14th of the first month called "Abib," was a type of Christ, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Christ is our Passover, sacrificed for us (I Cor. 5:7). Jesus was slain on the very same day the Passover had been slain every year. He was crucified on the 14th of Abib, the first Hebrew month of the year. And this day, the Passover, was the day before — and the preparation for — the Feast day, or annual high day Sabbath, which occurred on the 15th of Abib. This Sabbath might occur on any day of the week. Frequently it occurs, and is observed even today, on Thursday. For instance, this "high-day" Sabbath came on Thursday in 1972, 1975 and 1979, and will occur on Thursday in 1982, 1986 and 1989. And the Hebrew calendar shows that in the year Jesus was crucified, the 14th of Abib, Passover day, the day Jesus was crucified, was Wednesday. And the annual Sabbath was Thursday. This was the Sabbath that drew on as Joseph of Arimathea hastened to bury the body of Jesus late that Wednesday afternoon. There were two separate Sabbaths that week!
What Day Was the Resurrection?
Now which day of the week was the resurrection day? The first investigators, Mary Magdalene and her companions, came to the sepulcher on the first day of the week (Sunday) very early, while it was yet dark, as the sun was beginning to rise, at dawn (Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Now here are the texts most people have supposed stated the resurrection was at sunrise Sunday morning. But they do not say that! When the women arrived, the tomb was already open! At that time Sunday morning while it was yet dark, Jesus was not there! Notice how the angel says, "He is not here, but is risen" (see Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6; Matt. 28:5-6). Jesus was already risen at sunset Sunday morning! Of course He was. He rose from the grave in the late afternoon, near sunset! And since we know Christ was buried late Wednesday afternoon, and that the resurrection took place at the same time of day three days later, we now know the resurrection of Christ occurred late Saturday afternoon. The Sabbath day ended at sunset. It was late on that day, before the beginning of the first day of the week. It was not, then, a Sunday resurrection at all. It was a Sabbath resurrection!
Did Christ Fulfill His Sign?
Now all this is based on the supposition that Jesus did fulfill His only sign of being three days and three nights in the grave. All our evidence is based on the claims of Jesus before His crucifixion. But some of the higher critics and doctors of divinity tell us that Jesus made a mistake — that He was only in the tomb half as long as He expected to be. Let us have proof as to whether He did spend the exact amount of time in the grave He said He would. Notice that in Matthew 28:6, the angel of the Lord gives this testimony, which we now present as evidence. "He is not here: for he is risen, as he said." And He certainly did not rise AS He said unless He rose at the precise TIME that He had said! So we have the proof of the angel of the Lord, recorded in the sacred Word of God that Jesus did fulfill His sign — He was three days and three nights in the earth — He did rise Sabbath afternoon, and not on Sunday morning. Another proof that Christ was in the grave the full length of time He expected to be is found in I Corinthians 15:3-4: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures." His death and burial were according to the Scriptures — not contrary to them. The third day following His Wednesday burial was the Sabbath; three full days spent in the grave ended Saturday afternoon just prior to sunset, not Sunday morning.
Which Day Was the Crucifixion?
Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, the middle day of the week. He died shortly after 3 p.m. that afternoon; was buried before sunset Wednesday evening. Now count the three days and three nights. His body was Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights in the grave — three nights. It also was there through the daylight part of Thursday, Friday and Saturday — three days. He rose Saturday the Sabbath — late afternoon, shortly before sunset, at the same time of day that He was buried! It is significant that in Daniel's prophecy of the "seventy weeks" (Dan. 9:24-27), Jesus was to be cut off "in the midst of the week." While this prophecy has the application of a day for a year, so that this 70th week became a literal seven years, Christ being "cut off" after three-and-a-half years' ministry, as He was, yet it is significant that He was also "cut off" on the middle day of a literal week.
Honest Objections Examined
Someone is sure to notice Mark 16:9, thinking this text says the resurrection was upon Sunday. But if you read the whole sentence, it does not say that at all. The expression "was risen" is in the perfect tense. What was Jesus' condition early the first day of the week? Does it say He "was rising" or that He "did rise" from the grave? No, early the first day of the week, at the time He appeared to Mary Magdalene, He was risen. Of course He was! He had risen the late afternoon before, so naturally He was risen Sunday morning. The text does not in any way refute the other texts we have given. Another passage that might confuse is Luke 24:21: "... And beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done." "These things" included all the events pertaining to the resurrection — the seizing of Jesus, delivering Him to be tried, the actual crucifixion, and, finally, the setting of the seal and the watch over the tomb the following day, or Thursday. Study verses 18-20, telling of "these things" and also Matthew 27:62-66. "These things" were not completed until the watch was set, Thursday. And the text says Sunday was the third day since these things were done. Sunday truly was the third day since Thursday. But it was not the third day since Friday, so this text could not prove a Friday crucifixion. There is yet one final clinching proof of this truth. A vital text proving that there were two Sabbaths in that week has been obscured by almost every translation into English. Only Ferrar Fenton's version has this point correct. Turn to Matthew 28:1. In the common versions it says, "In the end of the Sabbath," or more correctly, "after the Sabbath." Notice that both of these renderings use the singular — Sabbath. But in the original Greek the word is in the plural. Fenton renders it correctly by saying, "After the SABBATHS," although the remaining part of the verse he has not translated quite correctly. In a footnote to this text, he says, "The Greek original is in the plural, 'Sabbaths.'" According to Mark 16:1, Mary Magdalene and her companions did not buy their spices to anoint the body of Jesus until after the Sabbath was past. They could not prepare them until after this — yet after preparing the spices they rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment! (Luke 23:56.) Study these two texts carefully. There is only one possible explanation: After the annual high-day Sabbath, the feast day of the days of Unleavened Bread — which was Thursday — these women purchased and prepared their spices on Friday, and then they rested on the weekly Sabbath, Saturday, according to the commandment (Ex. 20:8-11). A comparison of these two texts proves there were TWO Sabbaths that week, with a day in between. Otherwise, these texts contradict themselves. For proof of the pagan origin of such long-cherished days as Easter and Christmas, request our free booklets on those two subjects. The shocking truth is that nowhere can you find sanctions for those two holidays in the Bible. It is time we discovered the source of our religious beliefs and found out whether we ought to observe them.