Was Jesus in the Grave Three Days and Three Nights? Here’s How It Adds Up

In Matthew 12:38-41, we read about how some of the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign that he really was who he said he was: the Messiah. Jesus responded that only one sign would be given to them: the “sign of the prophet Jonah.”

For just 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.

Here’s the problem: If Jesus died on Good Friday and rose on Easter Sunday, that doesn’t add up to 3 days and 3 nights. At most it adds up to 2.5 days and 2 nights.

So… does that mean that Jesus didn’t stay in the grave long enough to fulfill his own prophecy?

Nope. Jesus really was in the grave three days and three nights, which is why the early Christians also taught that he was raised on the third day (Acts 10:40, 1 Corinthians 15:4). Let me explain how it adds up, but be prepared: it’s going to change the way you think about “Good Friday.”

Some Basics to Start With

  1. The Jewish calendar is lunar (based on the cycles of the moon), whereas the Roman calendar (which we use) is solar (based on the rotation of the Earth around the Sun). As a result, they don’t always correspond, hence the reason why the date of Easter changes every year. Today in Western Christianity, Easter is celebrated on the Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon. For more on why the date of Easter changes each year, click here.
  2. We tend to think of the new day beginning when we wake up, but in the Jewish mindset, the new day begins at sunset. So, when the sun sets on Monday, it is not considered Monday evening, it is considered the beginning of Tuesday.
  3. We know that Jesus resurrected on a Sunday, “the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1)

What is a “Sabbath”?

The word sabbath means “rest,” and it refers to a holy day when no work is to be done.

Every Saturday is a sabbath, but there are other sabbaths as well – also known as “special Sabbaths.” Some of these “special Sabbaths” are celebrated on a specific calendar date, no matter what day of the week that date falls on – kind of like how we in the USA celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July, and we observe that holiday no matter what day of the week it falls on.

In John 19:31, we read this about the day when Jesus was crucified:

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.

The special Sabbath referred to here was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a holiday which is always observed on the 15th day of Nisan according to the Jewish calendar.

According to Leviticus 24:4-14, there are three special holidays in the month of Nisan: Passover (the 14th of Nisan), the Feast of Unleavened Bread (15-22 of Nisan) and the Feast of First Fruits which was held on the Sunday following the Passover.

Let’s Sum This Up

Jesus actually died on a Thursday. Friday and Saturday were both sabbaths: Friday was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Saturday was the weekly sabbath.

Jewish Month of Nisan

How can we be sure that this is what happened?

Several decades ago, the London Royal Observatory took on the challenge that since they could theoretically identify the position of the planets and start on any date in history, to figure out if around the time of Jesus there was such a time when Passover fell on a Thursday. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar, there is always a full moon on Passover, so this is pretty easy to figure out. Not surprisingly, there were several years around the time of Jesus when this took place. It’s really not that uncommon – just like how Christmas falls on a Tuesday every few years.

Even More Interesting…”Coincidences”?

According to Exodus 12:1-13, God told the Israelites that they were to select the Passover Lamb on the 10th day of Nisan. They were to examine it from the 11th to the 13th to make sure it was without blemish, and they were to sacrifice it on the 14th.

If the 14th was Thursday – and Jesus was crucified on “the day of Preparation” (Matthew 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:31) which was the day when Passover began and the celebration began with the eating of the Passover meal (Jesus and his disciples then would have eaten the last supper Passover meal on Wednesday evening). Then what this means is that when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, that was on the 10th of Nisan – the day when the Passover lambs were to be selected!

Furthermore, remember that the Sunday after Passover was the Feast of First Fruits (Leviticus 23:9-11) – which means that Jesus resurrected on the Feast of First Fruits. This is what Paul the Apostle is making direct reference to in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, where he says:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

So there you have it:

Jesus was indeed in the grave for three days and three nights. It really wasn’t that much of an anomaly, but it resulted in two sabbaths back to back – something which regularly happens every few years.

So “Good Friday” was actually on Thursday, “Maundy Thursday” was actually on Wednesday, and “Holy Saturday” was actually two days long.

However, it is incredible to see how God orchestrated and prepared for this to happen as it did for thousands of years before it happened. In reality, the Bible tells us that God had planned this whole thing out from eternity past (see Revelation 13:8) – and all of it so that you may have life in His name by believing! (John 20:31)

 

The Less Famous Days of Holy Week

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Good Friday and Easter Sunday get all the press, but there are other important days of Holy Week.

Maundy Thursday

What is a “maundy” anyway? It comes from the Middle English and Old French word Mandé, which comes from the Latin Mandatum – which means Mandate.

Maundy Thursday refers to the mandate that Jesus gave the night before his crucifixion, when he shared his last supper with his disciples. After Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet in an act of love and service, he then told them:

A new commandment (Latin: mandatum) I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

On Maundy Thursday we remember the events of the last supper, the institution of the sacrament of communion, the betrayal of Jesus by one of his closest friends, and the all night prayer vigil that Jesus had in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he sweat blood from the stress and anxiety he was experiencing as he looked forward to the physical and spiritual suffering that awaited him.

It was on this night that Jesus prayed three times: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39-44)

The fact that the Father did not remove this “cup” of suffering from Jesus reminds us that there was no other way for us to be saved, then for Jesus to go forward with taking our place in death and judgment so that we might be able to receive forgiveness and eternal life.

Holy Saturday

The day between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is known as Holy Saturday. For the disciples of Jesus this would have been a day a great darkness and uncertainty, when the effects of Jesus’ crucifixion were not yet understood by all, and even though it wasn’t the case – it seemed like all hope was lost. Little did they realize that Sunday was coming…

Max Lucado wrote an excellent post on “The Silence of Saturday” a few years ago:

Jesus is silent on Saturday.  The women have anointed his body and placed it in Joseph’s tomb.  The cadaver of Christ is as mute as the stone which guards it.  He spoke much on Friday. He will liberate the slaves of death on Sunday.  But on Saturday, Jesus is silent.

So is God.  He made himself heard on Friday.  He tore the curtains of the temple, opened the graves of the dead, rocked the earth, blocked the sun of the sky, and sacrificed the Son of Heaven.  Earth heard much of God on Friday.

Nothing on Saturday.  Jesus is silent.  God is silent.  Saturday is silent.

Easter weekend discussions tend to skip Saturday.  Friday and Sunday get the press.  The crucifixion and resurrection command our thoughts.  But don’t ignore Saturday.  You have them, too.

Silent Saturdays.  The day between the struggle and the solution; the question and the answer; the offered prayer and the answer thereof.

Saturday’s silence torments us.  Is God angry?  Did I disappoint him? God knows Jesus is in the tomb, why doesn’t He do something?  Or, in your case God knows your career is in the tank, your finances are in the pit, your marriage is in a mess. Why doesn’t He act?  What are you supposed to do until He does?

You do what Jesus did.  Lie still.  Stay silent.  Trust God.  Jesus died with this conviction: “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Acts 2:27 NIV).

Jesus knew God would not leave him alone in the grave.  You need to know, God will not leave you alone with your struggles.  His silence is not his absence, inactivity is never apathy.  Saturdays have their purpose. They let us feel the full force of God’s strength. Had God raised Jesus fifteen minutes after the death of His son, would we have appreciated the act? Were He to solve your problems the second they appear, would you appreciate His strength?

For His reasons, God inserts a Saturday between our Fridays and Sundays.  If today is one for you, be patient.  As one who endured the silent Saturday wrote:  “Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7 NKJV).

Good Friday: The Great Exchange

103 the crucifixion of christ-tintoretto

The good news of Good Friday is that “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Because of that, we can rest from our labors of trying to justify ourselves, and we can revel in hope, because not only were our sins imputed to Jesus, but his righteousness was imputed to us.

This is what it means when it says: “For our sake, He (God) made Him (Jesus), who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

It’s the most astonishing exchange of all time: for those who receive Him (John 1:12), all of your sinfulness was placed on Him, and in return all of His righteousness was accounted to you.

Jürgen Moltmann puts it this way:

“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” (from The Crucified God)

Moltmann goes on to say:

God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.

May your Good Friday be filled with reflection upon, appreciation for and response to what Jesus did for you on Calvary, the ultimate expression of God’s love for you!

 

The King’s Crown

…and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
– Matthew 27:29

Today is Good Friday, the day on which some 2000 years ago Jesus of Nazareth was nailed to a Roman cross just outside the walls of Jerusalem.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus wore a crown of thorns?

Clearly, the Roman soldiers put it on his head to mock him.  Jesus had been hailed “King of the Jews”,  so the Romans considered him an insurrectionist.

But there is a deeper meaning.

Back in Genesis chapter 3, we read about what happened when sin entered the world. When by their rebellion and disobedience to his commands, people first told God, “we don’t trust you and we don’t want you – we know better than you what is best for us” – as sin entered into the world, it brought with it a curse: the curse of death.

This curse affected all of creation, and amongst the various effects of this curse, we read:

cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you
– Genesis 3:18

Do you see the symbolism of the crown of thorns?  Thorns, the symbol of the curse of sin and death, were placed upon Jesus’ head because on the cross Jesus was taking our curse upon himself, so that we might be set free from it.

He hung on a wooden cross. Why? Because in his death, he was taking our curse – the curse of sin and death – upon himself.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”
– Galatians 3:13

In the same way, the crown of thorns symbolized our curse, which Jesus took upon himself on the cross, so we could be redeemed.

Have a wonderful Good Friday, reflecting on the fact that “It is Finished!”
And don’t forget: Sunday is coming…

Maundy Thursday – The Greatest Servant

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day of Holy Week when Jesus and his disciples celebrated their last supper.

On this day, we read that they rented a room in which to eat the traditional Passover meal, full of symbolism, of which Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment.

Being that people wore open sandals and that the roads were dirt, it meant that if they had been walking around outside, people’s feet were dirty.  Not only were they dirty from dusty roads, but without modern sewage systems, a lot of waste would end up in the streets, adding to the level of grime and filth on a person’s feet after simply going about a day’s business outside. Especially, considering that dinner was eaten sitting on pads on the floor, this foot washing was important because of the close proximity people would be in to each other’s feet – smelly feet ruin appetites.

For this reason, the custom was for people who entered a house to remove their sandals and wash their feet. If you were a guest at someone’s house, usually that foot washing would be taken care of by the host, or if the host could afford it, by a servant.

However, Jesus and his disciples were using a borrowed room, so there was no host to welcome them, and no servant assigned to wash people’s feet.

Luke’s Gospel tells us that as they sat at this dinner table, eating the passover – the disciples began to argue over which of them was the greatest. Presumably, part of this discussion was also to determine which one of them was the least – which one of them should become the servant of all and wash everyone’s feet.

And then something happened which no one expected: Jesus stood up and wrapped a towel around his waist and one by one, he washed the feet of his disciples.

Peter, seeing this, protested! How could he let Jesus serve him?! He should be serving Jesus!   But Jesus told Peter: If you don’t let me serve you, you can have no part in me.

And Jesus explained to them – that if anyone would be the greatest in His Kingdomhe must become the servant of all. In His Kingdom, those who humble themselves are the greatest, and those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Jesus explained: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But it will not be so amongst you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the least, and the leader as one who serves.”

At another point Jesus had said: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

How are you doing as a servant? Pursue true greatness and be like Jesus: a servant.