How could Jesus have died on Friday and still be buried for three days?
Bible Questions Answered by Paul R. Van Gorder (Radio Bible Class):
Question: A young believer has asked the following question: “If Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and rose on the first day of the week, how could He have been in the grave for 3 nights?”
Answer: First of all, I am aware that there is a great difference of opinion among equally sincere students of the Word of God as to what day our Lord was crucified. Please allow me to sketch briefly what I believe to be the order of events.
It is important to realize that two Sabbaths occurred in the week of Christ’s death. Thursday was the “great” or Passover Sabbath, while Saturday of that week was the regular weekly Sabbath. Matthew 28:1 makes reference to “the end of the Sabbath.” Literally, this statement should read “the Sabbaths having just passed,” or “after the Sabbaths.” The word “Sabbath” in Matthew 28:1 is in the plural, indicating that two Sabbaths occurred that week.
Tuesday night of the final week of His earthly life, the Lord Jesus ate the Last Supper with His disciples. That is, sometime after 6 o’clock on what we would call Tuesday night. Then followed His prayer in the garden, His arrest, and His appearance before Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas. Finally, He was taken back to Pilate, condemned to death, and led out to be crucified. I believe this all occurred on Wednesday.
In John 19:31 it is recorded, “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 a high day), [the Jews] besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” The Sabbath day referred to in this verse was the “great Sabbath” and occurred on Thursday. So, our Lord’s body was taken down from the cross on Wednesday and buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. His body was in the tomb that Thursday (the great Sabbath), Friday (a work day), and Saturday, the regular weekly Sabbath. This fulfills the 3 days and 3 nights (Matthew 12:40).
Our Lord arose from the grave some time before sunrise on Sunday, the first day of the week. Remember that when Mary arrived at the tomb before sunrise He had already risen (John 20:1, 2)
Therefore, even though we commemorate our Lord’s death on Good Friday, I believe He actually was crucified on Wednesday. [Maybe we should have Good Wednesday services.]* This accounts for His being in the tomb 3 days and 3 nights, and it fulfills the type of Jonah being in the belly of the fish for the same amount of time.
I know it is very hard for Christians to think that there is an error in the day we remember as the day Jesus died on the cross. I was a pastor before, and anytime I even studied into the true day of Christ’s death; I always came back to thinking about how most of the Church thinks of Good Friday as the day. Then my next thought was how could Christ have been three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish as Jesus said He would be?
Either there is a contradiction or something I did not understand. “But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will 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 great fish, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’” (Matthew 12:39-40)
We know there are no contradictions in the Word of God, and Jesus is not going to lie to us, so how can this be? [For no contradictions in the Bible look at our article Is There Even One Mistake in the Bible?] Then I got to thinking about how could the whole Catholic Church be wrong; didn’t the early leaders know the truth? Then I thought, maybe it is like other things that are believed that are not true. Many believe that Mary was always a virgin even after she had Jesus, but this is not true because Scripture teaches that she had other children. These were not born like Jesus was born, of course, because she was a virgin when she had Him. [Look at our answer Mary the mother of Jesus]
The next thoughts I had about this subject of when Christ died was, what if I teach people that Jesus died on Wednesday what will they think of me as a pastor? Then I thought what will other people think of us as a church if we were to have a celebration on “Good Wednesday” and “Good Friday,” wouldn’t that seem a little strange? You see people who know the truth have these dilemmas, especially pastors. And in one sense, is it worth trying to change all the churches? Sometimes you know the truth and you teach the truth, but you live with disagreements. You agree to disagree in love.
We agree to disagree for the sake of unity on this one. It would be too hard to get everyone to admit, oh, we made a mistake. It is just like the Christmas story, it is so wonderful to have the Shepherds and the Wise men together in the scene of Jesus’ birth, but, the Wise men came later, and if you look at Scripture it is clear. Jesus was not in the manger when the Wise men came, He was in a house. He was not a baby, but a small child. [For our study on this look at Four in One Gospel Part Three]
So there are other misunderstandings people have. Should I go around and try to change people’s manger scenes? No, but it is our responsibility to study Scripture to see what it really says, even if the majority believe the traditions of men, rather than the Word of God.