The events surrounding the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ have puzzled people in more ways than one. The puzzle being considered here is how Jesus could be buried for three days and three nights between Friday late afternoon and pre-dawn Sunday morning.
A quick count of days reveals that there are only two nights and one day between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning. This is puzzling because Jesus said in Matthew 12:40,
For as Jonas 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.
You see, Jesus specified three days and three nights rather than generalizing the time by saying “about three days.”
In order to get an accurate counting of days and nights, consider the time of Christ’s burial. Matthew 27:57-58 reveals the time of Jesus’ burial, saying,
When the even was come, …Joseph…begged the body of Jesus….
In other words, Jesus was buried at the end of the day, in the evening. So our count of days and nights must begin with the first evening (night), not the first day.
Additionally, we must consider when Jesus was resurrected and left the tomb. Mark 16:2 says,
And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.
John 20:1–2 adds that Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark.
When the women came to the tomb, the stone was already rolled away, and an angel in the tomb told them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.
So Jesus was already gone before the women came to the tomb very early Sunday morning. This means that Jesus was out of the tomb before dawn (day).
Are you counting? How many nights are there between Friday evening and pre-dawn Sunday morning? Two nights and one day is all one can squeeze in between “Good” Friday and resurrection Sunday.
If Jesus was in the grave for three days and three nights and rose from the grave before Sunday morning, it is obvious that Jesus was not crucified and buried on Friday.
To figure out which day Jesus died, we must count backwards from Sunday morning. Counting three days and three nights prior to Sunday morning brings us to Thursday morning.
But according to Matthew 27:57-60, Jesus was buried in the evening not in the morning. So then, we have to consider that Jesus was not raised Sunday morning but Saturday evening.
This is the reason the tomb was already empty when the women discovered it early Sunday morning just before sunrise.
Counting backwards three days and three nights prior to Saturday evening, brings us to Wednesday evening. This means that Jesus was crucified Wednesday on the Jewish day of preparation, Nisan 14, and was buried just before evening began.
So then, Wednesday evening, Thursday day and evening, Friday day and evening, plus Saturday day fulfill the prophesy of three days and three nights.
Was Jesus resurrected on Saturday or Sunday?
Jesus was resurrected on Sunday the first day of the week. However, He was already gone before the dawning of Sunday morning when the women arrived. As we already noticed, Jesus could not have spent Saturday night in the grave prior to Sunday morning, so when on Sunday was He resurrected?
It may surprise you to learn that Jesus could have risen from the grave as early as after 6:00 pm Saturday evening.
How can that be?
First, by Saturday evening, Jesus had been in the grave for three days and three nights.
Second, for the Jews, each new day begins at 6:00 pm. So 6:00 pm Saturday evening was the beginning of Sunday for the Jews. By Jewish reckoning, any time after 6:00 pm Saturday would be considered Sunday, or the first day of the week, resurrection.
The Jews begin each day with the evening rather than the morning because the Bible refers to each day beginning in the evening. Thus, a twenty-four hour day is described as the “evening and the morning,” not the “morning and the evening.”
The description of the six days of creation in the book of Genesis uses the phrase “evening and the morning” to refer to a twenty-four hour period of time.
By Biblical reckoning of time, Jesus was crucified Wednesday and was in the grave that same night, which would be Thursday night for the Jews. Counting each day beginning at 6:00 pm, the time Jesus spent in the grave after His crucifixion on Wednesday would look like the following.
Nights and Days named Biblically 6 pm to 6 pm
Thursday night Thursday day
Friday night Friday day
Saturday night Saturday day
= 3 nights 3 days
The last day of the week for the Jews ended Saturday evening at 5:59 pm. Sunday began at 6:00 pm. Biblically, Sunday begins in the evening preceding the dawn of a new day. So if Jesus rose at the beginning of the first day of the week, it would have been in the evening, not in the morning. When the women came to His tomb early Sunday morning, He was already gone. In fact, His tomb had been empty all night!
What about the Sabbath day?
Luke 23:53-54 says that the burial of Jesus was the day before the Sabbath. Because Saturday is the regular Sabbath of the week, many assume that Christ had to be crucified on Friday.
However, John 19:31 explains that this was not the regular, weekly Saturday Sabbath, saying,
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,) ….
In other words, Jesus was crucified and buried the day before a High Sabbath not a regular Saturday Sabbath.
What Is a High Sabbath?
All Sabbaths are days set aside for devotion to God when no work is to be done. They are days of rest. Saturday was the regular, weekly Sabbath. Other Sabbath days that did not occur on Saturday were called high Sabbaths. They could occur on any day of the week. John 19:31 indicates that Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation before the first day of the Passover feast.
According to Leviticus 23:7, God told Israel that the day after the Passover would be a Sabbath day of rest.
In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.
The first day of the Passover occurred on the 15th day of the month Nisan every year and was a Sabbath day. If it occurred on a day other than Saturday, it was called a high day. Thus, if Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, Thursday was the high Sabbath day. This conforms to what the Bible says in John 19:31.
The following summarizes the burial and the empty tomb discovery associated with the days of their occurrence.
- Jesus was in the grave three days and three nights.
- Jesus was buried in the evening just before 6:00 pm.
- Each new day began in the evening at 6:00 pm.
- Jesus was buried the day before the high Sabbath.
- Jesus was gone before dawn Sunday morning.
In light of Biblical information, Jesus was crucified on Wednesday and buried that evening (Thursday). After spending three days and three nights in the grave, He was resurrected after Saturday day (6:00 pm) at the beginning of Sunday, the first day of the week.
Matthew 12:40 For as Jonas 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 27:57-58 When the even was come, …Joseph…begged the body of Jesus….
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,)….
Leviticus 23:7 In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.
Genesis 1:5 And the evening and the morning were the first day.
Matthew 28:6 He is not here: for he is risen as he said.