How long was Jesus dead in the tomb?

Matthew 12:40 and Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1

  1. Three days and three nights
    1. (Matthew 12:40) - "for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
  2. Less than three days and three nights
    1. (Matt. 28:1) - "Now after the Sabbath [SABBATHS -PLURAL], as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave."
    2. (Mark 16:2) - "And very early on the first day of the week, they *came to the tomb when the sun had risen."
    3. (Luke 24:1) - "But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices which they had prepared."
    4. (John 20:1) - "Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene *came early to the tomb, while it *was still dark, and *saw the stone already taken away from the tomb."

The Jewish day was measured from sun down to sun down. If Jesus was in the grave for three 24 hour periods, then He could not have been raised on the third day because the third day had not yet been completed. He would have to be raised on fourth day for three 24 hour periods to have been completed, and that wouldn't make sense to then say He was raised on the third day. So, what is going on?

  DAY 1 DAY2 DAY 3
THU
starts at
sundown on Wed.
THU
ends at sundown
FRI
starts at sundown on Thu..
FRI
ends at
sundown
SAT
starts at sundown on Fri.
SAT
ends at sundown
SUN
starts at sundown on Sat.
SUN
ends at sundown
Night Day Night Day Night Day Night Day

 

Crucifixion

Sabbath

He rose

The solution is simple when we learn that according to Jewish custom any part of a day, however small, is included as part of a full day.1 "Since the Jews reckoned part of a day as a full day, the 'three days and three nights' could permit a Friday crucifixion."2 This phenomena is exemplified in scripture in the book of Esther. "Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way," (Esther 4:16 ). Then, in Esther 5:1 it says, "Now it came about on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace in front of the king’s rooms, and the king was sitting on his royal throne in the throne room, opposite the entrance to the palace." We can see that even though the three days and nights had not been completed, Esther went in to see the King on the third day even though she said to fast for three days and nights. We see that "on the third day" is equivalent to "after three days."

Additionally, Mark 8:31 says, "And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again." Yet, 1 Cor. 15:4 says, "and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." Also, Luke 24:5-7, "and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, 'Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.'" Here we can see that "after three days" is equivalent to mean "on the third day."

Therefore, we can see that because of the Jewish usage of counting any part of a day as the whole of the day, the term "three days and nights" is idiomatic and not literal.

Another possible solution

"In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover. Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work," (Lev. 23:5-7).

The verses above tell us that the Passover occurred on the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish Calendar year; this corresponds to our months of March-April. It is possible, then, that this Passover could have occurred during the week with the Saturday Sabbath following. Since Lev. 23:5-7 tells the people to rest on the first day (not the last day Saturday), this is a type of Sabbath occurrence. Therefore, perhaps the following chart could represent a Thursday crucifixion and a subsequent set of three "night and days" before the Sunday resurrection.

  Day 1 Day 2 Day 3  
13th of Nisan 14th of Nisan 15th of Nisan 16th of Nisan
THU
starts at
sundown on Wed.
THU
ends at sundown
FRI
starts at sundown on Thu..
FRI
ends at
sundown
SAT
starts at sundown on Fri.
SAT
ends at sundown
SUN
starts at sundown on Sat.
SUN
ends at sundown
Night Day Night Day Night Day Night Day

Passover/Crucifixion

 

Sabbath

He rose

Something worth mentioning concerning this is that in the Greek in Matthew. 28:1, it says "Now after the Sabbaths [PLURAL], as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave." It is possible that there may have been two "sabbaths" during that week. The first may have been the Passover related "Sabbath" and the second may have been the Saturday Sabbath. If we look at Lev. 23:5-7 quoted above it says "On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work."

Another clue that this may be the case is found in a comparison of two more verses that I have arrange in a before-and-after-the-Sabbath pattern.

"And they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment,"
(Luke 23:56 ).

SABBATH

"And when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him,"
(Mark 16:1).

I would need to do more research on this, but it is possible that this arrangement can also be an answer to the three nights and three days scenario.

 

This article is also available in: Indonesia

  • 1. Jamieson, R., A. R. Fausset, and D. Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997.
  • 2. Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Wheaton, IL: Scripture Press Publications, 1985.

 

 

 

 
 
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