Question #168

How can you squeeze 3 days and 3 nights between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning?

You have mentioned that the Bible talks of Jesus rising on the first day of the week. Many believe He was crucified on Friday. but Jesus said in Matthew that just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so Jesus would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. How can you squeeze three days and three nights between Friday afternoon (3:00, or the the 9th hour) and Sunday morning? This would have to force a different interpretation of Jonah's time in the whale.

The Answer:

The following excerpt from a book by Josh McDowell called "The Resurrection Factor" provides a good explanation for this alleged contradiction:

Many people have questioned the accuracy of Jesus' statement that "just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."(12:40) They ask, "How could Jesus have remained in the tomb three days and three nights if He was crucified on Friday and rose on Sunday?"

The accounts of His death and resurrection as given in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John indicate that Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday, before sundown, which is the beginning of the next day for the Jews, and resurrected on the first day of the week, which is our Sunday, before sunrise.

This puts Jesus in the grave for part of Friday, the entire Sabbath, and part of Sunday. In other words, he was in the tomb two full nights, one full day, and part of two days. Since this is clearly not three full, 24-hour days, do we have a problem of conflict with the prophecy of Jesus in Matthew? (12:40)

Jesus is recorded as saying, "The Son of Man will rise again after three days," and "He will be raised again on the third day"(12:40)-- expressions that are used interchangeably. This can be seen from the fact that most references to the resurrection state that it occurred on the third day.

Also, Jesus spoke of the resurrection in John (2:19-22), stating that He would be raised up in three days (not the fourth day). Matthew (27:63) gives weight to this idiomatic usage. After the Pharisees tel Pilate of the prediction of Jesus, "After three days I will rise again," they ask for a guard to secure the tomb until the third day. If the phrase "after three days," had not been interchangeable with "the third day," the Pharisees would have asked for a guard for the fourth day."

That the expression "one day and one night" was an idiom employed by the Jews for indicating a day, even when only part of a day was indicated, can be seen also in the Old Testament.

For example, 1 Samuel says "For he had not eaten bread or dunk water for three days and three nights," and in the next verse, "My master left me behind... three days ago." (30:12,13)

Just as clearly, Genesis (42:17) shows this idiomatic usage. Joseph imprisoned his brothers for three days; in verse 18, he speaks to them and releases them, all on the third day. (2)

The phrase "after three days" and "on the third day," are not contradictory, either to each other or with Matthew (12:40), but simply idiomatic, interchangeable terms, clearly a common mode of Jewish expression.

Another way to look at "three days and three nights" is to take into consideration the Jewish method of reckoning time. The Jewish writers have recorded in their commentaries on the Scriptures the principle governing the reckoning of time. Any part of a period was considered a full period. Any part of a day was reckoned as a complete day. The Babylonian Talmud (Jewish commentaries) relates that "The portion of a day is as the whole of it." (3) The Jerusalem Talmud (so designated because it was written in Jerusalem) says, "We have a teaching, 'A day and a night are an Onah and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it.'"(4) An Onah simply means, "a period of time."

The Jewish day starts at 6:00 in the evening. Dr. Custance points out that, "It is generally believed that this method of reckoning was originally based upon the fact that in the week of Creation, the first day began with a darkness which was turned into light; and thereafter each 24-hour period is identified as 'the evening and the morning'- in this order (Genesis 1:5,8, etc).(5)

The "three days and three nights" in reference to Christ's period in the tomb could be calculated as follows: Christ was crucified on Friday. Any time before 6:00 p.m. Friday would be considered "one day and one night." Any time after 6:00 p.m. Friday to Saturday at 6:00 p.m. until Sunday when Crist was resurrected would be "one day and one night." From the Jewish point of view, it would make "three days and three nights" from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)