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. Remember, the Hebrew day began at sunset. So the Last Supper was actually eaten on Wednesday; that is, some time 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 an 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 didn’t 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 really 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 in reality 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.
I do understand that pastors have enough on their plate without trying to correct everyone’s misconceptions. You have to chose your battles as a pastor. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could teach the Bible like it is written. What would it hurt for a church to start having a special service on Wednesday as well as Friday? Often I know churches meet together on what is known as “Good Friday,” and I would encourage this as well. God wants us to fellowship together even if we have the day wrong.
I will convince some people, and most Christians will think it impossible that so many people could be mistaken for so long. The only thing is there are many such truths in the Bible that people are ignorant of. For me personally it brings me great satisfaction to see how the Word of God is perfect, and that there are no errors in it. The errors are in our thinking, and in our traditions sometimes.
It is wonderful for me to see that God’s Word is perfect in the smallest detail. Every single prophecy will be fulfilled to a “t.” When Jesus said He would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights, He means just that. It doesn’t change the truth of the facts of the matter if many people don’t believe something that is true. For many years people thought that the earth was flat, and it made a good argument to say, “Look at it, it looks flat.” The truth of the matter is most people were wrong. We know now that the earth is definitely a sphere. Christopher Columbus took a lot of laughs before he had the last laugh.
Many people for a long time taught that the sun and other planets rotated around our planet earth, not the sun, but they were wrong. Today, many people don’t know that United States landed on the moon. Some people will not believe it even if you try to prove it to them. The same thing happens when you teach the Bible, many people in the world will not believe the Bible is all true. So do we go by what the world believes or what the Bible and Jesus say? I will go with what the Bible and Jesus say any day. Will I convince every Christian that Jesus died on Wednesday afternoon, no, but did it happen this way. Yes, it did!
“Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:7)
So to answer your questions, first something that you need to understand. The Jews’ day and night are different than the way we think of them. To them the next day starts at 6:00 in the evening. It goes until 6:00 the next afternoon. So to them night is first. They get this from Genesis and how God says He created the earth in six literal days. “So the evening and the morning were the first day.” (Genesis 1:5b) [ Christian World View Part Two ]
The Jews also have yearly Feasts and when they fall on a week day, like the Passover does, then they have a Sabbath rest, even though it is in the middle of the week. Jesus ate the Passover with his disciples Tuesday night [our time]. This is the night before Unleavened Bread. “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover.then came the day of Unleavened bread, when the Passover must be killed. And He sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.'” (Luke 22:1, 7-8) So they ate the Passover one day before most people would, so He could be crucified at the same time that most lambs were being sacrificed.
“Reinforcement of this view has . come to light at Qumran, where discoveries have shown that the Qumran sect always observed Passover on Tuesday night [our time]. Thus it is suggested that Jesus ate a Passover on Tuesday (as the Synoptics imply)…” (See J. A. Walther, “Chronology of Passion Week,” JBL, June, 1958, p. 116ff.)
That night the mob came and took Him, so the next morning He was “tried” and crucified by 9:00 A. M. By 3:00 P. M. He gave up His life for us, said it is finished, and gave His spirit into the hands of His Father. Before 6:00 P. M. His body was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb, in time for the believers to get back home. That means that Jesus was being sacrificed on the cross for us at the same time many of the animals were being sacrificed. John’s Gospel was written last, and seems to try and clear up some misunderstandings, so John adds: “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day).” (John 19:31a) “So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.” (John 19:42)
Jesus said over and over He would rise the third day. His apostles said He was in the grave three days. How could Jesus be crucified the Preparation Day, and then come out of the grave with only one day in between? That doesn’t make any sense. There are not the three days and three nights that Jesus prophesied would take place, no matter how you put it together, there is just not enough time between Friday evening and Sunday morning. But if Christ died on Wednesday (our time), there are exactly three days, and three nights! Wednesday night (1), Thursday (1), Thursday night (2), Friday (2), Friday night (3), Saturday (3). Jesus arose from the grave some time during the night, remember that Mary arrived at the tomb before sunrise, He had already risen, and the stone was rolled away so people could get in to see that He was not there. (John 20:1-2)
The next day would have been the regular Passover when no one could work, so it too is called a Sabbath. Therefore they had to get Jesus’ body off of the cross and into the tomb because the Sabbath (Passover Thursday was coming.) “These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. ‘On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD’S Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD for seven days. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.’” (Leviticus 23:4-8)
“On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation.” (Matthew 27:62a) Jesus was there in the tomb until after the regular weekly Sabbath (Saturday). “.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.” (Matthew 27:62-64)
Notice that Matthew makes it very clear that another Sabbath, the weekly Sabbath, the one before the first day of the week is when Jesus rose from the dead. “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” (Matthew 27:1)
There would have been one day that the ladies could have bought the spices for Jesus’ body before Saturday, and that was Friday, but they could not walk as far as the tomb until after the Sabbath’s were over. John’s Gospel also makes it clear that it was not the day after the Preparation Day that Jesus arose on, there would not have been enough time elapsed. Look again at what John says in John 19:42: “So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jew’s Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby. Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early.(John 20:1) So it was not the regular weekly Sabbath, but the Jews’ Preparation Day, or else John would have said ‘because the Sabbath, for the tomb was nearby.’ Thus John corrects the misunderstanding about which day it was that Jesus died on, by saying the Jews’ Preparation Day.
Thank you for your questions, I hope this helps,
Gary T. Panell
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Gary Panell says
I don’t know if you know this, but your comments go to Spam. Maybe you can put your name in English to avoid this. Thanks for your comments though. Gary
Norma Kling says
In John 20;1 The first [day] of the week, the word [day] isn’t in the original text. In the Greek it is [one of the sabbaths] as they counted down the 7 sabbaths until Pentecost. I believe when Jesus said He would be in the heart of the earth 3 days and 3 nights and then gave the “religious leaders” of the day the sign of Jonah that he doubled down on what He said. I have a hard time with not only celebrating Easter but Christmas also as they are mostly traditions of men and not what Jesus taught. Christianity has lost sight of its roots. Jesus taught “as it is written.” The feast days are all about Christ. He fulfilled the spring feasts to perfection and I have no doubt that the fall feast will be fulfilled with the same perfection but we don’t hear about or understand because I don’t hear them preached about.
Gary Panell says
Hi Norma, I don’t celebrate like the world celebrates Christmas and Resurrection Sunday, but I do worship Jesus year round! Thanks for your comments. Brother Gary