Three Days and Three Nights

Three on Crosses

A generation, evil and adulterous, doth seek a sign, and a sign shall not be given to it, except the sign of Jonah the prophet.

— Jesus the Messiah

The one item that began my serious study into the Holy Bible almost thirty five years ago is the same one item that is the subject of this chapter. I had begun reading the Bible to a small degree when I was twelve years old. And I finally decided to read it completely when I was around twenty one years old.

My reading into scripture originally left me with several questions which I couldn’t answer. Though I had these questions, it never crossed my mind that the “Protestant World” which was so familiar to me might be wrong in several key areas. I simply assumed that I needed further instruction into how to understand what I didn’t understand. Surely, after spending enough time at study and with a trained minister and paying close attention, I would be able to grasp the teachings of the scriptures which would elucidate the “truth” which could be heard every Sunday morning in protestant church services. It never crossed my mind that all these people might be wrong. They were good people with good intentions and they were going to God’s church services. How could they all be wrong? Well, I still believe that they were basically good people with basically good intentions, but I now know that they were wrong in several areas. And in some cases they were very wrong about major points in the Holy Bible. It was difficult to accept and believe, and it was even more difficult to deal with personally, but I came to know that they were very wrong.

One of the things that had always bothered me even as a child was the teaching that Jesus was in the grave for three days and three nights, and that this “three days and three nights” was from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. Yes, even as a child I could count to three and figure out that there was a problem here. I assumed, though, that the problem was with me and my lack of understanding. After all, all these good people just could not be wrong about something as simple as “three plus three.” I eventually did learn that they were wrong about their knowledge of “three plus three.” After learning from this one issue that all these people could indeed be wrong, I began to seek answers to my other questions about protestant teachings which I had theretofore been unable to glean from scripture. To use a hackneyed phrase, “the rest is history.”

So how, we may asked, do we get “three days and three nights” from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. Obviously, the plain and simple and even childlike answer is “we don’t.” So we cannot get three days and three nights between Friday afternoon and Sunday Morning, and yet “three days and three nights” was the only sign Jesus gave us that he is our Savior. Let’s grasp this: if Jesus was not in the grave for an entire “THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS”, then he is NOT our Savior! This is serious business here.

Matthew 12:38-40Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

We can see Jesus’ promise in Matthew 12. He would be three days and three nights in the heart of the Earth. Fortunately for us, Jesus WAS in the heart of the Earth for three days and three nights. He was in the Earth for an ENTIRE three days and an ENTIRE three nights. And it is also fortunate that it is quite easy to prove that the Holy Bible does indeed teach that Jesus was in the Earth for an ENTIRE three days and an ENTIRE three nights. This chapter will definitively establish that Jesus’ promise of three days and three nights was fulfilled completely and exactly. Again, we asked, how do we get the entire three days and three nights? To end this suspense, let’s first realize that there were two Sabbaths during the week in which Jesus was tortured and assassinated. One of those Sabbaths was a “HIGH SABBATH” which always occurs on the day after the Passover. This High Sabbath was on Thursday of the crucifixion week. The second Sabbath was the regular weekly Sabbath which is always on the seventh day of the week. When we read the gospels with the idea and knowledge that there were two Sabbaths during this week, the confusion melts away. If this idea of two Sabbaths should sound new or unusual to us, we will be “unconfused” upon reading the remainder of this chapter.

John 19:31 – The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (for that Sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

Here in the Gospel of John, we learn that indeed the day following the crucifixion was a “high day.” This was a special Sabbath, and not the regular weekly Sabbath. We might ask, just exactly what is a “high day” or “high Sabbath”? From the Torah (the Books of Moses) we learn that there are seven days each year which are declared to be annual Sabbaths. Six of these annual Sabbaths have the characteristic that they may fall on any day of the week, and not necessarily the seventh day of the week. The remaining annual Sabbath, Pentecost, is on the same day of the week each year. One of the annual Sabbaths is always on the day following the Passover – and let’s remember that Jesus was killed on the Passover.

Exodus 12:12-17 – For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over – {PASSOVER} – you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. "This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses, for if any one eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly; no work shall be done on those days; but what every one must eat, that only may be prepared by you. And you shall observe the feast of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt: therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as an ordinance for ever.

In the above passage we learn about two of the annual Sabbaths on which there was to be a Holy Assembly. The first of these days was on the day after the slaughtering of the Passover lamb. Jesus became our Passover sacrifice when he was slaughtered on the day of Passover just one day before the annual Sabbath. The day after Jesus’ slaughter was the first day of unleavened bread on which there was a commanded holy assembly on which no work was to be done. It was an annual Sabbath. It was a “high Sabbath.” It was not routinely on the seventh day of the week, but was (and is) on the fourteenth day of the month, which could be on any day of the week. We can thus see some evidence here that there were two Sabbaths during the week of Jesus’ murder.

If there were two Sabbaths during the week of the crucifixion (and there were two Sabbaths during that week) how does this knowledge help us to establish the three day and three night period? It helps us in this manner: both of these Sabbaths are referred to in the gospel, but since the knowledge concerning the annual Sabbaths has been lost by most professing Christians, people simply read the word Sabbath, or day of preparation, and falsely assume that it means the weekly Sabbath. Some translators have even been guilty of this error and have in some instances translated “day of preparation” as “Friday.” The original never says “Friday,” but since the day of preparation is the day immediately preceding the Sabbath, even the translators have assumed that this means the “Friday” which always precedes the weekly Sabbath. Since Jesus was murdered on the “day of preparation,” many have falsely assumed that this means Friday. Jewish people, who are accustomed to the idea of annual Sabbaths, do not have a problem understanding that the gospels are speaking of two separate Sabbaths during the same week.

In this chapter we will establish that a legitimate reading of the gospels reveals the following:

  1. A Biblical day begins at sunset, and ends at the following sunset.
  2. Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday.
  3. Jesus was placed into a grave or tomb on late Wednesday afternoon at sunset.
  4. The First Day of Unleavened Bread was on Thursday and was a “high” Sabbath.
  5. Friday, the normal “day of preparation” both followed and preceded a Sabbath day.
  6. Jesus was in the Earth for an entire three days and an entire three nights.
  7. Jesus had ALREADY ARISEN and had gone elsewhere on early Sunday morning BEFORE sunrise when his friends went to his tomb.

Let’s read the information which follows in order to definitively establish the above seven statements.

Modern man has declared that the day begins at midnight. A midnight beginning for the day has not always been the case. From the beginning of Creation, God’s day has begun in the evening (sunset). We read in Genesis 1:5, “And the evening and the morning were the first day.” We see here that the first day began with an evening. In reading the first chapter of Genesis, we find this statement repeated six times – once for each of the first six days of Creation. In every instance, the evening comes first. In addition to this evidence, it is common knowledge the world over that the Jews are guided by the Hebrew Calendar, and that a day on this calendar begins at sunset.

Lest we think that the Jews should play no part in determining the beginning of a day, let’s remember the statement in Genesis 49:10 that “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah (father of the Jews), nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” The scepter referred to here was simply a symbol of authority. The literal meaning of scepter according to Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon is “a stick (for punishing, writing, fighting, ruling, walking, etc.).” Notice then that the Jews were given authority in matters of “writing” and of “ruling.” The calendar (which would include the beginning point of a day) is a “written” instrument. The Jews were given the authority of rule until Shiloh arrived. As a part of their rule, they were the official keepers of the calendar. They thus enforced God’s original idea of a day beginning at sunset (evening). “Shiloh” is a reference to the Messiah or Jesus. We should note here that history bears out that the Jews did indeed retain some semblance of authority until after Jesus’ birth. Shortly thereafter, the Roman government removed all authority from the Jews. It seems that this should be an indication to the Jews that “Shiloh” had indeed come, and that the only reasonable candidate for the title was Jesus.

Aside from the above scriptural evidence that a day begins at sunset, let’s also note that there is no significant contradictory opinion to this idea from any professing Christian denomination of which I am aware. We find for all practical purposes unanimous agreement among all Biblical experts that a Biblical day began at sunset.

Let’s now read the following verses and then discuss the Passover and the crucifixion.

John 18:28 – Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the Passover.

John 18:39 – But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the Passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?

John 19:14 – And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!

We know from a cursory reading of the gospel accounts and verses such as those above that Jesus was crucified on the Passover. After enjoying the Passover supper (which is commonly referred to as the “last supper”) with his Apostles, Jesus then went to a garden to pray, was arrested by Roman soldiers, went through several “court trials” and was nailed to a stake of wood by 9 A.M. the following morning. Because a day begins and ends at sunset, we also know that the following morning was still the Passover. We additionally are told by the Apostle John that the day after the crucifixion was a “high day”, and remember we learned from Exodus 12 that the Passover is always followed by a Holy Day or “high Sabbath.”

John 19:31 – The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (for that Sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

So now we are left with no doubt that Jesus was killed on the Passover and that the Passover week always has a High Sabbath. We also know that High Sabbaths can fall on any day of the week, thus we see the likelihood that the week of Jesus’ death contained two separate Sabbaths. This is not yet confirmation of two Sabbaths, since the High Sabbath could possibly fall on the seventh day and coincide with the weekly Sabbath.

Matthew 27: 57-61 – Towards sunset there came a wealthy inhabitant of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who himself also had become a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and begged to have the body of Jesus, and Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean sheet of fine linen. He then laid it in his own new tomb which he had hewn in the solid rock, and after rolling a great stone against the door of the tomb he went home. Mary of Magdala and the other Mary were both present there, sitting opposite to the sepulchre.

We see in the above passage that it was sunset when Jesus was placed in a tomb and that it was enclosed with a great stone. We also see that this event was witnessed by the two Mary’s. So we know that as the High Sabbath arrived (at sunset), Jesus’ body was in the tomb and that the two Mary’s were present after spending the day observing the crucifixion.

Luke 23:55-56 – 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.

Here from the same account in the Gospel of Luke we see that the women (the two Mary’s) after seeing how Jesus was laid in the tomb, prepared spices and ointments for Jesus dead body, and THEN THEY RESTED ON THE SABBATH DAY. Let’s note also from the verse below in the Gospel of Mark that these ladies had to PURCHASE these spices with which to anoint Jesus’ body AFTER THE SABBATH WAS OVER.

Mark 16: 1 – When the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, in order to come and anoint His body. (WEY)

So they purchased the spices AFTER the Sabbath, and then they rested on the Sabbath AFTER preparing the spices. Are we seeing a picture here? Let’s now note below in the Gospel of Luke that the two Mary’s and other friends found the empty grave early on the first day of the week. This would have been the day immediately following the weekly Sabbath.

Luke 24:1-3 — 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, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

Let’s now recap what we’ve just learned concerning the sequence of events after Jesus death. (1.) We know that Jesus was placed in the tomb at (or very near) sunset as the day of the Passover ended. (2.) We know that the two Mary’s were there at (or very near) sunset to witness the placing of the body in the tomb. (3.) We know that the two Mary’s then returned from the grave, and then prepared spices, and then rested on a Sabbath day. (4.) We know that the two Mary’s had to purchase the spices AFTER leaving the tomb where Jesus was laid, and AFTER a Sabbath was over (they obviously had no idea when the Passover began that they would have need of any spices for anointing the dead body of Jesus). (5.) We know that the empty tomb was found AFTER the weekly Sabbath had ended.

With the above information, we have just established that there must have been two Sabbaths during the week when Jesus was murdered. As the women were leaving the tomb, sunset was at hand and the day of preparation had ended, thus the High Sabbath had begun. On the High Sabbath, all markets would have been closed and no spices could have been purchased, nor would the women have done the work of preparing the spices on a High Sabbath. Thus it was at least a day later – after the High Sabbath – before the women had opportunity to purchase and prepare spices. We then read that after they purchased and prepared spices, they rested on the Sabbath day – which would have been the weekly Sabbath. We now know that there were two Sabbaths between the time Jesus was placed in the tomb and the time when it was found empty, and we know that there had to be a “non-Sabbath” day between the two Sabbaths. By logic this means that the day between the Sabbaths had to be a Friday, and thus the High Sabbath was a Thursday. So we can conclude that Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb at sunset on Wednesday, as the High Sabbath began.

We’re all aware that many religious denominations practice sunrise services on Easter Sunday to supposedly commemorate the resurrection of Jesus at that time. But when we read the scriptural accounts of the resurrection, what do we discover? Note the verses from John and Matthew below tell us that when the women went to the tomb, it was “yet dark,” and that it was “beginning to dawn” on the first day of the week. Thus it was prior to sunrise when they went to the tomb. And what do they discover when they arrive at the tomb? They are told, and they see, that Jesus is NOT THERE and that he HAS ALREADY ARISEN. So prior to sunrise, Jesus had already been resurrected, and then the women were told that Jesus had ALREADY gone before them into Galilee. Jesus was thus resurrected early enough PRIOR to sunrise, that he had time to go into Galilee before the two Mary’s even arrived at the tomb PRIOR to sunrise.

John 20: 1 – The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.

Matthew28: 1-7 – In the end of the Sabbaths*, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come; see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

*Note that an accurate translation from the original Greek requires that this word be translated in the plural sense, i.e. SABBATHS. Only a few translations render it correctly. Fenton renders it “after the Sabbaths.” YLT renders it “And on the eve of the Sabbaths.” Quite obviously, this scripture is telling us that the week had two Sabbaths.

We now know both that Jesus was lain in the tomb at sunset on Wednesday, and that he was gone from the tomb prior to Sunday morning. We can see that Jesus’ promise of “three days and three nights” in Matthew 12 was a legitimate promise and that it happened just as he said it would. Though we don’t have a record of anyone seeing the resurrection, we can conclude that it had to occur at sunset on Saturday. From sunset on Wednesday evening until sunset on the following Saturday (or weekly Sabbath) would be exactly three days and three nights. This scenario is not only much more logical than the commonly taught “Friday evening until Sunday morning illogical scenario”, but it is also scripturally sound.

We have talked much about the Passover in this chapter. In the next chapter, we will discuss the Passover a little further and also learn about a few additional Holy Days.

Garden Tomb