Wasn't Jesus in His tomb three full days and three full nights?


Email Received:

Doesn't Jesus' prophecy, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40), imply a 3-day (or at least a 72-hour) time interval in the tomb?


Ted's Response:

Traditionally, any part of a day or night was considered to be a "day" or a "night." There is no stipulation anywhere, that I know of, indicating that Jesus had to have been "in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40) for at least 72 hours (which is 24 hours × 3).

We know that it was the ninth hour of daylight (about 3:00 p.m.) that Jesus died (Matthew 27:45-50; Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46). If this were at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, and assuming the 72-hour minimum time constraint, then the earliest Jesus could have risen would have been at mid-afternoon on Saturday. Surely the guards (and others nearby) would have been awake during daylight hours and, presumably, would have seen Jesus emerging from the tomb.

Had Jesus died at about 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday and had risen sometime after sunset following Saturday, this would have comprised parts of four days and four nights (the remainder of Wednesday, all night and all day Thursday, all night and all day Friday, all night and all day Saturday, and the beginning of the night on Sunday), nullifying Jesus' prophecy. Thinking that there must be three full days and three full nights, in my opinion, is an attempt to force Jesus' prophecy to comply with one's personal preferences and wishes.

If I say, "I visited my friend in the hospital yesterday and last night," it does not necessarily mean that I had to have been there from dawn yesterday morning to dawn this morning—one entire day and one entire night, or 24 hours. In fact, anyone listening to me most likely would have assumed that I was not there that entire time. I could have gone there at 9:00 in the morning and left at noon, then gone again at 6:00 p.m. and left at 9:00 p.m., which meant that I was there only part of a day and part of a night.

If Jesus died on Thursday at about 3:00 p.m. (at "twilight," halfway between the minor evening oblation from noon to 3:00 p.m. and the major evening oblation from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.), and since He would have had to have been buried prior to sunset (which began the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a special Sabbath—John 19:31,42), then He would have been in the earth the rest of the day ending Thursday, the night and day of Friday, the night and day of Saturday, and some part of the night after sunset, beginning Sunday. This qualifies as "three days and three nights." See more details at Good Thursday.


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