Three Days and Three Nights

We believe that the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead after His body lay three days and three nights in the grave, thus making immortality possible for mortal man. He thereafter ascended into heaven, where He now sits at the right hand of God the Father as our High Priest and Advocate.

One of the most dramatic, encouraging and gracious events of all time was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God the Father resurrected His Son Jesus, who had been killed and placed in the tomb outside Jerusalem's walls. His death, allowed by the Father and willingly submitted to by Jesus (John 10:17-18), paid the penalty for all the sins of all human beings who will have ever lived, on the condition that they truly repent of those sins. His death was preordained by the Father and Himself from the foundation of the world as a necessary part of the salvation of mankind (1 Peter 1:20).

God, in His sovereign justice, mercy and love, thus made it possible for all human beings to have their sins forgiven (upon repentance and faith) and to be reconciled to Him by the blood of Christ as the Lamb of God (Matthew 26:28; Revelation 12:11). (See the chapters titled The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ and Repentance and Faith.) But the death of Jesus was not the end of the matter. We are reconciled to God by His death, but we are saved by His life (Romans 5:10).

Only through Christ's resurrection to immortality could we have a living Savior who, as High Priest, intercedes for us with the Father (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 4:15-16; Romans 8:26-27). And the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead gives human beings a very compelling reason to believe in the gospel of the Kingdom of God and to believe that they also can be brought back from death (1 Corinthians 15:14-19). Christ's resurrection provides for human beings a solid basis for living in hope that they, too, may inherit eternal life (1 Peter 1:3).

Jesus offered the fact that the grave would hold Him for only a short period as the only divine sign to His generation that He was "greater than Jonah" and "greater than Solomon" and that His message should lead its hearers to repentance (Matthew 12:39-42). He said that He would be three days and three nights—a period of 72 hours (John 11:9-10; Genesis 1:5)—in the heart of the earth (the grave), just as the prophet Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish (Jonah 1:17). Elsewhere, Jesus said that He would "be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31).

A major problem with the commonly accepted belief regarding the timing of the crucifixion and resurrection is that there are not three days and three nights between Good Friday afternoon and Easter Sunday morning.

The weight of scriptural and historical evidence leads us to conclude:

That Jesus died on Wednesday afternoon;

That His body was hurriedly placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea shortly before sunset that same afternoon—the eve of an annual Sabbath (a holy rest day), the first day of Unleavened Bread (John 19:30-31, 42; Mark 15:42-46);

And that Jesus was resurrected by the Father near sunset on Saturday (the end of the weekly Sabbath), three days and three nights after being placed in the tomb, exactly as He had said.

This explanation is consistent with the details found in Scripture. It does not require a strained fitting of three days and three nights between Friday evening and Sunday morning at sunrise by speculating about parts of days and nights. It also reconciles the accounts of the women and the burial spices found in Mark 16:1 and Luke 23:56. In the first account, the women obediently rested on a Sabbath day before procuring the spices. In the second account, they prepared the already-procured spices and afterward rested on a Sabbath day.

These accounts are reconciled by understanding that there were two Sabbath days during the week in question. Jesus was crucified on the Passover (Matthew 26:18-20; 1 Corinthians 5:7), which was the preparation day for a Sabbath that was a "high day" (Mark 15:42; John 19:31). This high day was the first annual Holy Day on the Jewish calendar, the First Day of Unleavened Bread, which always fell on the day after the Passover (Leviticus 23:5-7). It was an annual Sabbath, not a weekly Sabbath. Annual Holy Days are also called "Sabbaths" since work was not to be done on them (verses 7, 24, 32).

The women waited until this day, the annual Sabbath, was over; then they bought and prepared the spices; then they rested again on God's weekly Sabbath day; and then they proceeded to the tomb to apply the spices to Jesus' body early on Sunday morning.

They visited the tomb after the holy "Sabbaths" (plural) of that week (Matthew 28:1, Green's Literal Translation). The annual Sabbath that year lasted from sunset Wednesday to sunset Thursday, and the weekly Sabbath, as always, lasted from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. When they arrived at the tomb early Sunday morning, they found it empty and heard the announcement from the angel that Jesus was alive and was not there (Mark 16:6).

There is historical and scriptural evidence that points to A.D. 31 as the year of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. Among the indicators of the crucifixion year are the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy of the coming of the Messiah (with a specified count of years in Daniel 9:24-26 evidently commencing with the decree of the Persian king Artaxerxes in Ezra 7), and a careful consideration of three milestones—the likely date of Jesus' birth, His age when He began His ministry and the duration of His ministry.

The Passover of the year Christ died fell on the fourth day of the week (sunset Tuesday to sunset Wednesday), and Jesus Christ's death on that day fulfilled His role as the true Passover Lamb of God (1 Corinthians 5:7). The next day, from sunset Wednesday to sunset Thursday, was a holy annual Sabbath.

In summary, we believe that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, died for our sins on the Passover, was entombed for three days and three nights (72 hours) and then was resurrected and, after a period of further contact with the disciples, ascended to heaven to sit at the Father's right hand, far above all others in power, glory and honor (Ephesians 1:19-23). (See the chapter titled God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.)

For more details, read Jesus Christ: The Real Story and Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe?


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