Three Days and Three Nights


Jesus, to the Pharisees and teachers  - Matt 12:39-40
. . . "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
(from New International Version) 

Problems With a Wednesday Crucifixion

Some scholars and students of the Bible believe that Jesus was crucified and died on the Wednesday, and that Thursday was a Holy Day. They explain that Wednesday was the 'preparation day' referred to in related scripture, that Jesus died Wednesday afternoon, was buried at the end of the day, and was resurrected at the end of Saturday. Hence he was in the tomb exactly 72 hours.

However - -

  • that would have been three nights and three days, not three days and three nights.
  • what about the events one would have expected to occur on the Friday? e.g. some activities involving the disciples, or the embalming of the body of Jesus.
    Luke 23:56
    Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
    (from New International Version)
  • they rested on the "Sabbath", which could have been the First Day of Unleavened Bread, but it does not confirm it. 
  • on Sunday, Luke 24:21
    ". . . it is the third day since all this took place."
    (from New International Version)

    So, the disciples reckoned that Sunday was the third day, not Saturday.
  • Ps 16:10
    . . . you will not abandon me to the grave,nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
    (from New International Version)
    The decay or corruption of the flesh was associated with the completion of three days. From the death of Jesus till late Saturday would have been well over three days.

Problems With a Friday Crucifixion

The more popular and widely-held belief is that Jesus was crucified on the Friday and rose early Sunday morning.

This would satisfy the counting of the days as

  • Friday first day
  • Saturday second day
  • Sunday third day

A similar way of counting occurred in the following - -

Lev 7:15-17
15 The meat of his fellowship offering of thanksgiving must be eaten on the day it is offered; he must leave none of it till morning. 16 "'If, however, his offering is the result of a vow or is a freewill offering, the sacrifice shall be eaten on the day he offers it, but anything left over may be eaten on the next day. 17 Any meat of the sacrifice left over till the third day must be burned up.
(from New International Version)

However - -

  • Friday night and Saturday night only make two nights, not three.

The Heart of the Earth

Jesus did not say he would be dead in the grave three days and three nights, but that he would be in the "heart of the earth" (see top of page). The original word here for heart is the Greek 'kardia' - the location of emotions and feelings.

If we were to take one figurative meaning of "the heart of the earth" we would expect Jesus to have been buried miles underground. We visualise the heart of the earth to be white hot molten, but Jesus was using the figure of speech in a different way. His body was not buried miles underground.

So we could say that on Friday Jesus was abandoned by God to the tender mercies of this earth, and on that day darkness came upon the land, and God turned his face from Jesus (Jesus asked his Father why he had forsaken him).

Deut 21:22-23
22 And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: 23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) . . .

The people who do not believe in God, who are not close to God, who do not have God as their Father, are referred to as the dead of this world (even though they are still physically living).

Matt 8:22
But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."
(from New International Version)

Anyone who is left to the tender mercies of this earth is to find things very unpleasant.

Jer 17:9
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked:

When a sailor is adrift in the midst of the ocean, you could say that there he was in the heart of the ocean, that he was at the tender mercies of the ocean, that he was cut off from normal life.

Three Days and Three Nights

It should be noted that Jesus did say, "three days and three nights", not "three nights and three days".

The beginning of the days was early in the morning on the Friday when he was handed over to the Romans. So began his time in the heart of the earth.

Matt 27:1-2
1 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. 2 They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.
(from New International Version)

The Darkness Was Counted As Night

The period of darkness (midday until 3 pm) at the end of Jesus's suffering is counted by God as the first night.

Matt 27:45-46
45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi,  lama sabachthani?"-which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
(from New International Version)

This means that there were three "nights" - -

  • Friday from the sixth hour to the ninth
  • the normal Friday night
  • Saturday night

The three "days" were - -

  • Friday, until mid-day (the sixth hour)
  • Friday, from 3 pm until dark 
  • Saturday 

This shortened three "days" meant that Jesus's body did not see any decay, but simultaneously fulfilled the sign of Jonah.

Early in the Morning

Just as the three days began with "early in the morning", so they ended with early in the morning. It did not amount to a full 72 hours though.

It was light when Jesus was handed over to Pilate - Luke 22 66.
It was still dark when Jesus rose from the dead - John 20.1.

Luke 22:66
At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them.
(from New International Version)

Mark 16:9
Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, . . .

 - and when he rose from the dead it was still dark,

John 20:1
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
(from New International Version)

Other Scriptures

Now we must reconcile the above with all the other relevant scriptures.

If you perform a New Testament search you find numerous verses referring to the resurrection, some using the term "third day", others "after three days".

Where "third day" is used, the implicit counting method is the one in Lev 7:15-17 above.

Where "three days" is used, the implicit counting method is the 3 days and 3 nights.

created 14apr07, upd.15,22,29apr07,5may07,16jun07
21jul07 - incl' hours


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