Was Jesus in the tomb 3 days and 3 nights?

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By BibleAsk Team


Christ said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39-41). 

There are few Christians who insist that Christ used the expression “three days and three nights” because He was to be in the grave exactly seventy-two hours. This belief has led them to conclude that Christ was crucified on Wednesday afternoon and was resurrected at the same hour late Sabbath afternoon. In this way, they account for the full seventy-two hours which they believe Christ spent in the tomb. 

Does their explanation harmonize with the full Bible record on the subject? What do the other Bible references indicate? 

On seventeen different occasions Christ or His followers spoke of the time of His death and resurrection. Ten times it was mentioned that the resurrection would happen on the “third day.” On five occasions it was mentioned, “in” or “within three days.” Twice it was mentioned “after three days,” and one time only Christ spoke of His death as “three days and three nights.” 

Christ, in Matthew 12:40 said, “three days and three nights,” but in Mark 8:31 He said, “after three days.” He pointed to the same event in John 2:19 as “in three days,” and on five occasions He said, “the third day” (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 13:32; 24:46).  

Can all these expressions be taken in a strict literal way and still harmonize with each other? Absolutely not! For example, “after three days’ would mean a period longer than seventy-two hours. “Within three days” would mean a period less than seventy-two hours, and “three days and three nights” would mean exactly seventy-two hours to the second.  

Is it possible for all these texts to be explained in such a way so that they will not contradict each other? Yes. 

Jewish Timing – Inclusive Reckoning of Time

The only way we can harmonize all the statements of Christ is to understand them in the light of the inclusive reckoning of time. This was the method used throughout the Bible in computing time and was used by the Jewish people. 

The Jewish Encyclopedia on this matter affirms: “A short time in the morning of the seventh day is counted as the seventh day; circumcision takes place on the eighth day, even though, of the first day only a few minutes after the birth of the child, these being counted as one day.” Vol. 4, p. 475.  This means that any small part of a day was reckoned as the entire twenty-four hour period. 

Inclusive reckoning was the method used in the Bible for computing time. Here are 3 examples of that:  

1-The flood. In Genesis 7:4 God said to Noah, “For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth.” But in verse 10 we read, “And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth.”  

2-The circumcision of babies. Genesis 17:12 specifies “he that is eight days old.” But Luke 1:59 reads “on the eighth day.” Again Luke 2:21 says: “When eight days were accomplished.” 

3- The tax issue between King Rehoboam and the people. The king said, “Come again unto me after three days. … So … all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day” (2 Chronicles 10:5, 12). 

Christ’s Own Explanation for Computing Time

To settle the matter about the reckoning of time, Christ Himself gave a conclusive explanation of how to locate “the third day” and thus He cleared all doubt in this matter. He said, “Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following” (Luke 13:32, 33). This is a clear cut illustration of the common Oriental custom of inclusive reckoning. The “third” day according to Jewish reckoning would be “the day following” tomorrow (verse 33). 

The above verse was Christ’s own definition of time. Speaking prophetically of His own death and resurrection, He said, “To day (crucifixion) and to morrow (in tomb), and the third day I shall be perfected (resurrection).”  

Although Christ died in the late afternoon, the entire day would be counted as the first day. The second day would be the Sabbath when He rested in the tomb. Even though He was resurrected in the early hours on the third day, inclusive reckoning would make it one of the three days.  

Sunday Resurrection

The Bible confirms that Sunday was the first day of the week when Christ arose not Saturday as some claim. Mark clearly says, “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene” (Mark 16:9).  

Also, the Bible says that Christ was crucified on the “preparation day.” The preparation day was not Wednesday but Friday. Mark 15:42, 43 confirms, “And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea … went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.” 

And, Luke 23:54-24:1 affirms the same truth, “And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment. Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared.” 

If the crucifixion took place on Wednesday, why did the women wait until Sunday to come to the sepulcher? Waiting to embalm the dead after the body breaks down is contrary to Jewish custom (John 11:39).

Conclusion

Those who insist that Christ was in the grave a full seventy-two hours contend that the three days and three nights must be taken in strict literal sense. But such an explanation is contrary to the Scriptures and Christ’s own testimony. The “three days and three nights” phrase should be interpreted by all the Bible references on this topic and the Jewish method of reckoning time, which teaches that any small part of a day was reckoned as the entire twenty-four hour period. This method shows that Christ did not rise from the grave on Saturday, as some contend. Neither was He crucified on Wednesday. 

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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