Most believe Jesus was crucified on Friday afternoon and arose on Sunday morning. That is what we have been taught over the centuries. However, in Matthew 12:40 Jesus says that he will be in the ground for 3 days and 3 nights! As you will see below, what we have been taught doesn’t line up with what Jesus said would happen. I propose here a possible solution to this dilemma.
Traditional Timing for Passion Week
Above we see the Traditional view of Passion Week. I don’t see Jesus being in the ground for 3 days and 3 nights. Josephus buried Jesus shortly before sundown on Friday, so Jesus would have had to leave the ground Monday just before sundown.
There are Two Different Sabbaths
Weekly Sabbaths (Saturday)
The Weekly Sabbath is from sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on our Saturday. The Orthodox Jews observe a 25-hour Sabbath by adding an extra hour to the end as a means of safeguarding themselves from ending the Sabbath rest too early. The timing is based on the sighting of the moon in Israel.
“Sabbath” does not only refer to Saturday as many people assume. If you look at the book of Leviticus, chapter 23, you can see that Sabbath means “Day of Holy Convocation” where no work is to be performed.
High Sabbaths are annual events, that are designated by the date, not the day of the week. In a week when a High Sabbath occurs, there are actually two ‘Sabbaths’: The High Holy Sabbath and the weekly sabbath, Saturday.
The day before a High Sabbath is called a “Day of Preparation”.
High Holy Sabbaths (On the Annual Calendar)
Here are the High Sabbaths of the Jewish Calendar:
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread, of which Passover is the first day, (14th day of Nissan)
- Shavuot which is also known as Pentecost,
- Rosh Hashana,
- Yom Kippur,
- The first day of Tabernacles (Sukkot),
- 8th (last) day of Tabernacles
High Holy Sabbath Passover
This holiday is observed on the 14th of Nisan. It is the Day of Preparation for the Feast of Unleavened bread, which is 15 Nisan. The Feast of Unleavened bread is a High Holy Sabbath day (Leviticus 23: 5-7). Exodus 12 tells the story of the Passover and deliverance from Egypt. Seders (dinners) are eaten on both nights and the 14th is the preparation day for the 15th.
Sign of Jonah
“Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.“Matthew 12:38-40
“Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”Jonah 1:17
An interesting side note is that we learn three things about Jonah’s story:
- Jesus treated it as if it is a true story!
- It’s not just a story about Jonah. It’s also a precursor to Passion Week.
- Also, it is the ONLY sign Jesus was going to give that generation!
So, if Jesus was indeed crucified on a Friday evening, and arose the following Sunday morning, that would son give us the 3 days and 3 nights Jesus spoke of! For His words to ring true, and if He was buried late Friday afternoon, He would have to arise sometime late afternoon on Monday!
We know that the Passover is the preparation day for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. How do we know that this Sabbath reference is to the Feast of Unleavened Bread and not the weekly sabbath?
The Day After the Day of Preparation!
“The Jews therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was a high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and [that] they might be taken away.”John 19:31
Here we see scripture saying the next day was a “High Sabbath Day”. A Saturday does not need a “Preparation Day”. Is it possible that we had both a High Holy Sabbath on a Saturday? Yes, there is no reason for them not to be on the same day. However, we will see that in this case, they probably weren’t.
“On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead’. So the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard: go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.”Matthtew 27:62-66
Matthew’s gospel is the only one that mentions this request by the Jewish leaders, and Pilate’s response. The day after the “Day of Preparation” is a High Sabbath and no matter on which weekday Jesus was crucified, they violated the High Sabbath! Also, this confirms that the “next day” did not have to be a Saturday Sabbath.
The Empty Tomb
We know that that tomb was found empty just after the Sabbath. All we know from scripture is that He arose BEFORE sunrise on Sunday morning. (Matthew 28:6, Mark 16:6, Luke 24:6, John 20:2)
Now let’s take a look at the timing of the events of that fateful day.
- Matthew 27:1 Jesus is captured and beaten in the evening after the Last Supper. (Early in the next day!)
- Matthew 27:2 Jesus is bound and brought before Pilate.
- Matthew 27:17-23 Barabbas is released and Jesus is sentenced to be crucified.
- Matthew 27:27-35: Jesus is mocked and crucified.
- Matthew 27:45 There is darkness from noon (the 6th hour) until 3pm (the ninth hour)
- Matthew 27:46-50 Jesus died at 3pm (the ninth hour)
- Matthew 27:51-53 The veil of the temple tears, there’s an earthquake, dead people rise from their graves and visit the living.
- Matthew 27:57 Joseph of Arimathea comes for the body of Jesus in order to bury him prior to the Sabbath.
- The women see where Jesus was laid in the tomb. (it being so late in the day, and the Sabbath upon them, they needed to observe the High Sabbath, prepare the spices on the day between the two sabbaths, and then come to the tomb on the next day!)
- The clock for Jesus’s time in the ground starts NOT from the crucifixion, but from His burial in Joseph’s tomb.
- Matthew 27:64 The next day (on the High Holy Sabbath!) the leaders got to Pilate and seal the tomb.
- After 3 days and 3 nights in the ground, Jesus arose. (Same time of day as He entered the tomb.)
Lastly, there is a scripture in the Jewish Testament that helps shed light on what the Messiah would do!
… in the middle of the week, He shall bring and end to sacrifices and offering.”Daniel 9:26b
Certainly, Jesus brought an end to sacrifices and offerings (given by the Jewish people to please God) when He was crucified.
(Some say that Daniel 9:26 talks about what Satan will do, and they may be right! However, God showed me an alternative interpretation while I was studying Passion Week.)
From there we can surmise and count the nights and days Jesus is in the ground:
Good Friday is a Christian-only Holy Day, because (as people believe) Jesus was crucified on the Friday before Easter. This is the traditional view, which the church started circa 200 AD, about 1,800 years ago. I have found no biblical evidence that the early church celebrated or even recognized this day.
For Jesus to have spent exactly 3 days and three nights in the ground, as He said He would, He was resurrected at the same time of day that He was entombed. So here’s one way it may have happened:
- The Last Supper is on Tuesday evening. Later that evening, He is arrested in the garden and taken to trial.
- Wednesday He is brought before Pilate, condemned, tortured, and He is crucified.
- It takes some time for Joseph to get to Pilate and get permission to take His body down.
- He is buried shortly before sundown which starts the High Holy Day, or High Sabbath. They were in a hurry!
- Wednesday Night to Thursday Night, the High Sabbath: darkness, then light. One of each (2 more of each to go!)
- On the High Holy Sabbath, the high priest asks for guards and set them as Pilate says to do.
- Thursday everyone except the High Priest rests as was their law. (However, by Jewish law he was no longer the High Priest!)
- The women prepare the spices for the burial.
- Friday Night to Saturday Night, the weekly Sabbath: darkness, then light. Three of each, nights and days, Jesus resurrects before sunset on Saturday
Why doesn’t scripture mention that He arose late on the Sabbath? No one saw Him rise because they were resting at home!! They first saw the empty tomb early Sunday morning! They had no idea how long it had been empty!
“And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned home and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.”Luke 23:55-56
As mentioned above, the women went to the tomb when Jesus was being buried, which was just before the start of the High Sabbath. I submit that they did not have time to prepare those spices before sundown. They would have had them at home already to do it so quickly! I believe that as good Jewish people, they rested on that High Sabbath. Then prepared the spices and fragrant oils on the next day, and rested on the weekly Sabbath. They went to the tomb on Sunday morning and found it empty!
That’s how I see it. I don’t have all the answers or even a complete one. In fact, just like the theory that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, this theory has holes as well.
Someone else did do a thorough study, maybe he got it right. His article is at: https://gracethrufaith.com/topical-studies/holidays-and-holy-days/solving-the-three-day-three-night-mystery/. I enjoyed reading it, even if we did not come to the same conclusion!
Thanks for letting me share this, and for reading it!
Articles with Alternative Views:
- A Possible, Alternative View of Passion Week.
- What John 3:16 Does Not Say
- The Gospel According to Lucifer
- Earning God’s Love and Respect
- Judgment Day!
- God’s Voice
- Scripture Mistakes!
- Third Commandment
- Alpha and Omega
- Deadly End or Dead End?
- Names of God
- Who’s the High Priest
- A Creation Story
Please comment and/or respond to what you heard inside of you as you read this! Let’s share!
To see and use Personalized Scriptures, visit YouIntheBible.org and enjoy!