Was Jesus Christ 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?
What are the recorded facts? The doubting Pharisees were asking Christ for a sign, supernatural evidence, in proof of His Messiahship. Christ 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 whales’ 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 importance, the overwhelming significance of Christ’s statement.
Christ 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 was the precise length of the time Jesus would be in the tomb! Now think of what this means! Christ was not saying that the sign of His Messiahship would be the fact of the resurrection, but, instead, the length of time He would be dead, in the tomb!
Think what this means! Jesus Christ staked His claim to being your Savior and mine upon remaining exactly three days and three nights in the grave. If He remained three days and three nights inside the earth, He would prove Himself the Savior, if He failed in this sign, He must be rejected as an impostor!
This has caused tremendous controversy, and no end of devious circumventions, human reasonings, evasions, convoluted explanations and outright lies among the so-called “higher critics” and would-be Bible “scholars.” Why? Simply because steeped in the traditions of men, they have clung to their Bible surrounding “Easter,” and rejected the only sign Christ gave as proof that he was, in fact, the Son of God! None of these so-called scholars will admit they are rejecting Christ! They will use every excuse, every argument, to get around the plain statement of Christ Himself, and, without knowing it, cling to a false “Christ” of his own imagination, rejecting the real Jesus Christ of the Bible.
No wonder Satan has caused unbelievers to scoff at the story of Jonah and the whale (big fish)! No wonder the devil has set up a tradition that denies Jesus is the Messiah!
This one and only supernatural proof ever given by Christ 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. They must explain it away or their “Good-Friday-Easter” tradition collapses. One commentator says, “Of course we know that Christ was actually in the tomb only half as long as He thought He would be!” Some translators expect 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 nights.” Jesus Christ, they say, was placed in the tomb shortly before sunset Friday, and rose at sunrise Sunday morning, two nights and one day.
Using this as an explanation, they have decided to say that Christ’s statement was in the Greek language, and that He used a Greek idiom, which meant only “part “ of three days and “part” of three nights, or, in other words just two nights and one day!
But Christ would not have spoken in Greek to His disciples, who were Galileans; who spoke Aramaic, a dialect of the Hebrew language which had developed among Jewish captives during the Babylonian captivity! Also, Christ said specifically that He would be in the tomb “as Jonah was three days and three nights!” The book of Jonah was written in Hebrew, not in Greek!
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” 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 Christ be 72 hours in His grave, thereupon being resurrected by God to become the saviour of the world. Did Christ know how much time was in a “day” and in a “night”? Jesus said, “Are there not twelve hours in a day, but if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth” (John 11:9-10).
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 mornings (now three periods of light called day, three days) were the third day” (Gen. 1: 4-13). This should be conclusive! Let the Bible explain itself.
There are not three periods of twelve hours of daylight between “Good Friday” at sunset and “Easter-Sunday morning! Instead, there are only twelve hours of daylight, one twelve hour day, the day we call by its pagan name, “Saturday!”
How do theologians know Christ was put to death on “Good-Friday” and rose “Easter Sunday’? The simple answer is, they don’t know, 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 traditions” (Mark 7:13).
We have examined two scriptural witnesses, in Matthew and in Jonah, both setting the duration of the body of Christ 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.” 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 on Sunday evening, and if after three days, it would have occurred Monday evening! Examine this verse 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 Christ’s death. If Christ was in the grave only from Friday sunset to Sunday sunrise, then these verses 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 is only 36 hours, carrying us into the middle of the 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 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 put to death, 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.
Now notice carefully this fact: In order to be three days and three nights, exactly 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.
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. 27:42; 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 Christ 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 later 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.
If Jesus Christ 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 God. 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.
Now we come to an objection some may raise. Perhaps you have noticed that the Scriptures say the day after the death of Christ was a Sabbath. Hence, for centuries, people have blindly assumed the death of Christ was on Friday, followed by the weekly Sabbath. Now we have shown by all four gospels that the crucifixion day was called “the preparation.” But, preparation day for which 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 on the seven annual holy days, or feast days, the Israelites observed, 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 Roman holidays now observed. These Sabbaths might fall on Monday, on Thursday or on a Sunday.
If you will notice the following verses, 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 Christ was put to death on the Passover! Observe the dates: “And in the fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover of the Lord. And in the fifteenth day of the month is the Feast” (Num. 28:16-17). Christ was slain on the very same day the Passover had been slain every year. He was put to death 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, the day after The Passover. This Sabbath might occur on any day of the week.
The Hebrew calendar shows that in the year Christ was crucified, the 14th of Abib, Passover day, the day Jesus was put to death, 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--the annual High Day Sabbath, occurring on Thursday and the weekly Sabbath two days later.
Now which day of the week was the resurrection day? The first investigators, Mary Magdalene and her companions, came to the tomb 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). Here are the verses 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, Christ was not there! Notice how the angel says, “He is not here, but is risen” (Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6 and Matt. 28:5-6). Jesus was already risen at sunrise Sunday morning! Of course He was. He rose from the grave in the late afternoon, near sunset the day before! 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 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. It is because people have blindly assumed that the “preparation day” was a Friday that they thought Christ was not buried until late on a Friday, and thus remained in the tomb only two nights and one daylight period!
Now all this is based on the supposition that Christ 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 death. But some of the higher critics and doctors of divinity tell us that Christ 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, “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 Christ did fulfill His sign, He was three days and three nights in the earth, He did rise Sabbath afternoon, and not on a Sunday morning.
Another proof that Christ was in the grave the full length of time He expected to be is found in I Corth. 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.
It is significant that in Daniel’s prophecy of the “seventy weeks” (Daniel 9: 24-27), Jesus was to be cut off “in the midst of the week.” 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 a 3 ½ years’ ministry, as He was, yet it is significant that He was also “cut off” on the middle day of a literal week—Wednesday.
Now, someone is sure to notice Mark 16:9, thinking this verse 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. This verse does not in any way refute the other verses we have given.
Another passage that might cause confusion 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 Christ, 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 verse 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 verse could not prove a Friday crucifixion.
There is yet one final clinching proof of this truth. A vital verse proving that there were two Sabbaths in that week has been obscured by almost every translation into English. Only Ferra 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 verse, 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 verses 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 rested on the Sabbath, Saturday, according to the commandment (Ex. 20: 8-11). A comparison of these two verses proves there were two Sabbaths that week, with a day between. Otherwise, these verses contradict themselves.
Unless Jesus Christ was exactly the length of time in the grave He said he would be, you have no Savior! Jesus Christ staked His Messiahship on being exactly three days and three nights in the tomb! For centuries, because fallible men who wanted to rid the apostate church of all things “Jewish,” claimed they were worshipping on Sunday in “honor of the resurrection!”
But Jesus Christ did not rise on Sunday! The angels told the two Marys, “He is not here, He is risen!” Jesus Christ commanded His disciples, and He commands us today, to observe the symbols of His death each year (I Corth. 11:23-30) at the “Lord’s Supper.” He told His disciples “Happy are you if you do these things.”