In response to a question from the Scribes and Pharisee for proof He was the long-awaited Messiah Christ stated: “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 12:40).
The sign Jesus gave the Scribes and Pharisees to prove He was the Messiah was that He would be three days and three nights in the grave. But the traditional view of the crucifixion and resurrection only allows for Jesus to have been entombed for a day and a half.
Some try to reconcile the problem by maintaining “three days and three nights” doesn’t require a literal span of 72 hours, and that part of a day can be reckoned as a whole day. So, since Jesus died in the afternoon—around “the ninth hour” after daybreak, which is about 3 pm (Matthew 27:46-50)—the remainder of Friday is counted as the first day, Saturday the second and part of Sunday the third. However, the fact that only two nights—Friday night and Saturday night—are accounted for in this explanation is not acknowledged, as the Bible is clear Jesus had already risen before the daylight portion of Sunday (John 20:1). If Jesus were in the tomb only from late Friday afternoon to sometime early Sunday morning, then the sign He gave that He was the prophesied Messiah was not fulfilled.
Another mistaken assumption about the crucifixion of Christ is the belief it took place on a Friday because Mark 15:42 states it was the preparation day (‘the day before the Sabbath’). In the normal weekly Sabbath cycle, Friday is the preparation day, but in this case there were two Sabbaths in that week. The Sabbath referred to in Mark 15:42 was an annual Holy Day—the First Day of Unleavened Bread. John 19:31 confirms this by stating that it was a high day, or annual Holy Day. Then two days later was the weekly Sabbath, which is the one referred to in Luke 23:56.
Taking the reference to the annual Holy Day into account the timeline for Christ’s death, burial and resurrection would be as follows: Jesus was hurriedly laid in the tomb as sunset (the beginning of the Holy Day) was approaching (Mark 15:42). Joseph of Arimathea, wanting to properly bury Jesus before the beginning of the high Holy Day, took down Jesus’ body, wrapped it in linen and then placed the body in the tomb (Luke 23:53; Mark 15:43). Luke’s account then says Jesus’ female disciples observed He was buried as the Sabbath drew near (Luke 23:54-55).
By comparing details in both Gospels—where Mark tells us the women brought spices after the Sabbath and Luke relates they prepared the spices before resting on the Sabbath—we can see that two different Sabbaths are mentioned. The first, as John 19:31 tells us, was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The second was the weekly seventh-day Sabbath. Mark did not mention this weekly Sabbath rest in his account, but Luke, who wrote his account of these events later, did.
When we allow the Scriptures to interpret themselves, all four Gospel accounts accurately harmonize and attest to the validity of Jesus’ promise that He would be in the grave three days and three nights—not just part of that time. Because most people do not understand the biblical high days kept by Jesus Christ and His followers, they fail to understand the chronological details so accurately preserved for us in the Gospels.
Bible Study Guide