Three days and three nights?
Jesus said He would be in the grave for three days and three nights. Most Christians today observe Good Friday as the day of Jesus' crucifixion and death. The following Sunday, early in the morning, is observed as the time of His resurrection. Counting from Friday afternoon we have: Friday night, Saturday (daytime), and Saturday night... a total of two nights and one day - not three days and three nights. How can this be? Even if we include daytime Friday and daytime Sunday we still come up short: three days but only two nights. Was Jesus wrong? Is the Bible wrong?
Let's look at some scriptures. First, a couple verses about the three days and three nights:
The apostle John described Jesus' trial by Pilate, immediately followed by His crucifixion. The trial was at about the "sixth hour" on the "preparation of the passover." The preparation day was the day the Jews killed and prepared the Passover lambs, during the afternoon. Those lambs where eaten after sunset; sunset marked the beginning of the next day, called the "first day" of "unleavened bread" (Leviticus 23:6-8). There were seven consecutive days, observed once every year, during which unleavened bread was to be eaten. The first and seventh days were annual Sabbath days, "high days," observed only once every year. No work was to be done on them. The lamb, killed during the afternoon of the "preparation day" before sunset, was eaten after sunset. Sunset marked the beginning of the first day of unleavened bread. The meal - and to some extent the entire seven days - came to be called the Passover, because the death angel had "passed over" the Israelites in Egypt that same night many years before.
John 18:28 describes how the Jews, apparently including John, refused to enter Pilate's judgment hall that day so that they could remain undefiled and eat the Passover meal (after sunset):
A few verses later John describes the end of Jesus' trial:
Matthew describes Jesus' death later that afternoon, at "the ninth hour" - about three o'clock:
Jesus was buried as quickly as possible, in a nearby tomb. This was done because the next day, starting at sunset that afternoon, was the Passover (specifically, the first day of unleavened bread) and was an annual Sabbath day of rest, "an high day" as John described it in John 19:31. Here is Luke's account:
It is easy to assume the Sabbath day they were talking about was the weekly Sabbath - Saturday - the seventh day of every week as per the fourth commandment (Exodus 20). Since Jesus died the previous day it is natural to conclude He must have died Friday, in the afternoon on Good Friday. But as we have seen the Sabbath they referenced was actually the first day of unleavened bread, an annual Sabbath - not the weekly Sabbath. Annual Sabbaths - and their calendar - were determined by lunar cycles and were not tied to any particular day of the week (except the feast of firstfruits, Pentecost). The day Jesus died was a Wednesday, in the afternoon, at the same time the Passover lambs were being killed that year. Sunset Wednesday afternoon marked the end of the preparation day and the beginning of the first day of unleavened bread, an annual Sabbath, a high day. The Passover - the lamb - was eaten after sunset Wednesday, during the beginning of the first day of unleavened bread. The first day of unleavened bread ended at the next sunset, at the end of the daytime portion of Thursday that year.
Returning to John's account we find Mary arriving at the tomb on the first day of the week, very early on Sunday morning. She discovered Jesus was no longer there:
Now we can honestly fit in three days and three nights. Jesus died Wednesday afternoon... so we have Wednesday night and Thursday daytime, and Thursday night and Friday daytime, and Friday night and Saturday daytime... three days and three nights. Jesus was resurrected after the three days and nights were complete: at sunset Saturday. So when Mary came early the next morning, Sunday morning, she learned that Jesus had already been resurrected.
Mary (and others) had come to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body with "sweet spices" as described in Mark 16:1. Why did they wait so long? Why not anoint the body on Thursday, or Friday, or Saturday? There are several good reasons. Thursday, as we have seen, was an annual Sabbath day of rest, the first day of unleavened bread. And Saturday, the weekly Sabbath, was also a day of rest. They could not anoint the body on a day of rest. So, why didn't they anoint the body on Friday? At the request of the chief priests and Pharisees, a "watch" or guard of soldiers had been placed at the tomb for three days, to guarantee the tomb remained sealed shut. Mary and the others would have been denied access to the tomb on Friday, as well as Thursday and Saturday:
We have seen that Jesus' death took place at exactly the same time as the Passover lambs were being killed: during the afternoon of the "preparation day," just before the first day of unleavened bread. That timing was not a coincidence. For the Israelites in Egypt, the blood of their lambs protected them from the death angel that night. This was symbolic. On a higher level, the blood of Jesus, the perfect "Lamb of God," made available permanent protection from death: salvation (see Hebrews chapter 10). His death, paying the death penalty for sin on our behalf, made redemption to God and eternal life available. John the Baptist described Jesus as "... the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Jesus said "the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). He fulfilled the promise made hundreds of years earlier in Hosea 13:14: "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death..."
Each of the annual holy days given in Leviticus 23 is likewise symbolic of major consecutive points or events in God's plan. For example, during the seven days of unleavened bread the Israelites were to eat unleavened bread. Leavened bread, symbolic of sin, was to be put out of their lives. At the same time they left Egypt; leaving Egypt also symbolized leaving sin. Only by leaving sin could they hope to reach the promised land. On a spiritual level, the same applies to us today.
Nowhere does the Bible say Jesus died on Good Friday. In fact there is no mention of "Good Friday" anywhere in the Bible. Good Friday is a perfect example of the many errors that have become part of professing Christian belief. Other examples are belief in eternal life in heaven and belief in eternal torment of the wicked... both beliefs are from pagan afterlife concepts, adopted into professing Christianity over the centuries. Search your Bible from cover to cover: you will not find eternal life in heaven promised anywhere! Other pages in this website reveal the truth about heaven and hell as expressed in the Bible. What is promised is far more meaningful and loving than some kind of selfish eternal vacation in heaven. For those who will not be saved, there is a merciful end. To teach that God would torment anyone forever is to teach that God is merciless, even sadistic.
There are important lessons in all this. One is that the Bible, when properly understood, is consistent and coherent. The present example shows Jesus - as He foretold - was in the grave three days and three nights, not from Good Friday to Sunday morning. Another lesson is that we have to seek the truth. Truth is important: what we believe has a deep affect on our view of life, of God, of the Bible and on how we live our lives. What Jesus said to His followers is true: "ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,"... free from darkness and confusion, free to understand and fulfill God's great plan for us.