HOW LONG WAS CHRIST IN THE TOMB?
The view of most Christians today is that Christ was buried on Friday and raised on Sunday, that adds up to two nights and two days. But the sign of Jonah is that Christ will be buried for three nights and three days. And there are several verses that tell us that Christ was raised “the third day”. Does that mean full days, or does it mean part of three days? There is one verse that seems to tell us that Christ was raised “within three days but within three days is less than three full days.
We will study the following topics in our search for the truth in this matter:
THE HEBREW DAY
THE SIGN OF JONAH
THE DAY OF CHRIST’S DEATH AND THE DAY OF HIS RESURRECTION
CHRIST WAS BURIED BEFORE THE SABBATH
THE TIME OF CHRIST’S DEATH
A CONSIDERATION OF THE PHRASE “AFTER THREE DAYS”
A CONSIDERATION OF THE PHRASE “UNTIL THE THIRD DAY”
A CONSIDERATION OF THE PHRASE “THE THIRD DAY”
A CONSIDERATION OF SOME PROBLEM VERSES
THE HEBREW DAY
It is crucial that we understand that the Hebrew day begins and ends at sunset. How do we know that? Let us consider Gen. 1:4, “…..and the evening and the morning were the first day. And 1:8, “…..and the evening and the morning were the second day”. And 1:13, “…..and the evening and the morning were the third day”. See also verses 19, 23 and 31. Please note that in every case, the order is first the evening, and then the day.
In point of fact, even in the 21st century, the Hebrew day begins and ends at sunset. That is to say, Jews today count sunset as the beginning and the end of the day.
THE SIGN OF JONAH
The sign of Jonah is explained in Matt. 12:39-41. That passage reads, “But He answered and said unto them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth'”.
Let us consider exactly what the sign of Jonah does tell us and what it does not tell us. Some have pointed to the fact that Jonah was not dead in the belly of the whale. But the sign, as Christ described it, was not that He would be dead, but that He would be “in the heart of the earth”. Of course, the fact that He would be in the heart of the earth certainly implies that He would be dead, but His death, per se, was not part of the sign. Therefore, the fact that Jonah was not dead in the whale of the belly does not detract from that event being a sign of Christ being “in the heart of the earth”.
Let us also consider the phrase “heart of the earth”. We know that Christ was buried in a sepulcher not in the earth. How shall we understand the phrase “heart of the earth”? Because the earth does not have a heart, we must understand this phrase to be a figure of speech. The note in the Companion Bible on that phrase reads, “heart of the earth = in the earth: i.e. the sepulcher, or tomb……… . It is the Fig. Pleonasm (a Hebraism)….the midst, or ‘in’. …… In any case it is not ‘the centre’, any more than the heart is in the centre of the body, instead of near the top……”.
In terms of our study, what is important is that the sign of Jonah is that Christ would be buried for three days and for three nights. I believe they are three whole days and three whole nights. This will be discussed below.
THE DAY OF CHRIST’S DEATH AND THE DAY OF HIS RESURRECTION
We read in Jn. 20:1, “the first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark unto the sepulcher, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulcher”. The first day of the week is our Sunday. How do we know that? We know that from the fact that we read in Lev. 23:3, “Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest…”. Jews today who keep the sabbath, keep it on Saturday. Because Jewish traditions have been kept without break from the time of Christ to this day, we may, in my opinion, conclude that Saturday was the sabbath day in the time of Christ as it is today. If Saturday is the weekly sabbath, the seventh day, (and I believe it is) that makes Sunday the first day of the week.
So Mary Magdalene went to the sepulcher early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, and she found it empty. The section below on the term “after three days” will prove from Scripture that Christ was indeed buried for three full days and three full nights. But Mary went to the tomb while it was still dark, which tells us that Christ was not there all of Saturday night. Therefore, because Christ was not in the tomb for all of Saturday night, Saturday night can not be counted as the third night.
I believe that Christ was buried at sunset Wednesday. If we count from Wednesday at sunset to Saturday at sunset we will have three whole days and three whole nights. So the first night of His burial was Wednesday sunset to Thursday sunrise. The first day of His burial was Thursday sunrise to Thursday sunset. The second night of His burial was Thursday sunset to Friday’s sunrise. The second day of His burial was Friday’s sunrise to Friday’s sunset. The third night of His burial was Friday’s sunset to Saturday’s sunrise. And the third day of His burial was Saturday’s sunrise to Saturday’s sunset. In short, Christ was raised some time after sunset on Saturday night.
CHRIST WAS BURIED BEFORE THE SABBATH
As stated above, most Christians believe that Christ was buried on Friday and raised on Sunday. But that is only two days and two nights and the sign of Jonah is that Christ would be buried three days and three nights. I believe the difficulty comes from a misunderstanding of Luke 23:52-54 which reads, “This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And He took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulcher that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on”.
The thinking of most today is that this sabbath was the weekly sabbath which began at Friday sunset. But again, the sign of Jonah is that Christ would be buried three days and nights, and Friday to Sunday is only two. There are no contradictions in the Word of God so we must consider this passage further.
We know that Christ was killed on the day of Passover because Paul wrote in I Cor. 5:7 that Christ is our Passover. In other words, Christ was the antitype of the passover lamb that was sacrificed on passover and in order to fulfill the type, He was killed on passover. We read in Lev. 23:5-7, “In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord’s passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the Lord: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread. In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein”. Please note that the passover itself is not a sabbath. That is to say the law does not say that there shall no servile work be done on passover. We must not add to the Word of God something that is not there. Therefore, because we are not told that the passover was a sabbath, I believe that it is not a sabbath.
This passage tells us that the day after passover is the feast of unleavened bread, the first day of which they were not allowed to do any servile work, i.e. it was a sabbath. It was just before this sabbath, not the weekly sabbath, on which Christ was killed. This is the sabbath mentioned in Luke 23:54.
THE TIME OF CHRIST’S DEATH
We read in Mark 15:25, “And it was the third hour and they crucified Him”. Then in Matt. 27:46 we read, “and about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is to say, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?'”. And in verse 50, “Jesus, when He had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost”.
We learn from these verses that Christ was hung on the cross at the third hour and died at the ninth hour. Now the question is, the third and the ninth hour from when? As mentioned above in the section on the Hebrew day, the day begins at sunset. If we reckon the third hour and the ninth hour from sunset that would make the time of Christ’s crucifixion from around midnight to 3:00 the next morning. But we read in Matt. 27:45, “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour”. If Christ hung on the cross from midnight to 3:00 in the morning, it would have been dark anyway, and that would make the statement of Matt. 27:45 meaningless.
I believe, therefore, that the time is reckoned from sunrise. That is to say, if sunrise is about 6:00 A.M then the third to ninth hours (the time Christ hung on the cross) would have been from 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P. M., and that makes more sense because it would not normally have been dark at those hours.
Furthermore, we read in several other passages that even though the Hebrew day does begin at sunset, the time in some scriptures is reckoned from when the day, as opposed to night, is reckoned, i.e. from sunrise. For example, we read in Matt. 20 of the parable of the hired labourers. We read in verses 2-3, “For the kingdom of Heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace”. In this passage we have “the third hour” described as “early in the morning”. If the third hour is reckoned from sunrise, the third hour would be about 9:00 A. M.. This makes perfect sense.
Let us also consider Acts 2:14-15 which is another example of how some scriptures reckon the day, as opposed to night, from sunrise. “But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, ‘Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words; for these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day‘”. Peter’s argument is that the third hour of the day is too early for any to be drunk. But the third hour of the day if reckoned from sunset, would be around 9:00 P. M., and that would make Peter’s argument void. Therefore, we must conclude that here too, the third hour of the day is reckoned from sunrise, not sunset.
This section would not be complete without a discussion of Jn. 19:14-1 which reads, “And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’. But they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him’….”. This passage records the hours before Christ was actually hung on the cross, and it says it was the “sixth hour“. But we read in Mark 15 that Christ was crucified beginning with the third hour. There are, of course, no contradictions in the Word of God. Therefore, I suggest therefore that we consider the suggestion of Charles Welch which states that John records Gentile time, which begins at midnight.
We will consider three passages from John’s Gospel which explain things that any Jew at the time would have known. The explanations therefore are for the benefit of Gentiles. Those three passages are Jn. 4:9, 6:4 and 20:16.
Jn. 4:9, “Then saith the woman of Samaria unto Him, ‘How is it that Thou being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? (for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans)“. Obviously, the Jews knew that they had no dealings with the Samaritans, and this explanation would therefore be for the benefit of Gentiles.
Jn. 6:4, “And the passover, a feast of the Jews was nigh”. Every Jew knew that passover was a ” feast of the Jews”. This explanation is also obviously for the benefit of Gentiles.
Jn. 20:16, “Jesus saith unto her, ‘Mary’. She turned herself, and saith unto Him, ‘Rabboni’; which is to say, ‘Master'”. Every Jew knew what “Rabonni” meant. Again, the explanation of the word is for the benefit of Gentiles.
So where Mark and Matthew reckon the hours of Christ’s crucifixion from sunrise, John gives the hour reckoned from midnight, according to the Gentile reckoning.
A STUDY OF THE PHRASE “AFTER THREE DAYS”
We read in Mark 8:31, “And He (Christ) began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again”. This is the only verse that records our Lord telling anyone that He would be raised after three days. In order to understand the phrase “after three days”, it is imperative that we understand the Greek preposition “meta”, translated “after”. Let us look at a few verses that use “meta” the same way it is used in reference to the time of Christ’s resurrection, i.e. with the accusative. I believe it will help us determine if what is meant is three full days or part of three days.
Mark 14:28, “but after that I am risen I will go before you into Galilee “. In this verse the “after” tells us that Christ will go into Galilee at the completion of the act of being raised. So too, in my opinion, “after three days” must mean at completion of the three days.
Luke 5:27, “After these things He went forth”. Christ had just healed a man of palsy and was talking to the Pharisees about forgiveness of sins. Again, the “after” tells us that it was when Christ had completed what He was doing that He “went forth”.
Luke 12:4, “And I say unto you My friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do”. It is not until the body has been killed and the act completed that there is nothing more that can be done to it.
Jn. 2:11-12, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee……after this He went to Capernaum…”. Christ did not go to Capernaum until the miracles of that time and place had been completed.
Jn. 11:6-7, “When He had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place where He was. Then after that saith He to His disciples, ‘Let us go into Judea again'”. Again, “after” has the sense of completion. In other words when the two days were completed He told His disciple that they should all go to Judea.
Rev. 11:9 and 11, “And they of the people….. shall see their (the two witnesses) dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves”. Verse 11, “And after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them and they stood upon their feet…..”. The bodies of the two witnesses will lay in the streets of Jerusalem for three and one half days. Therefore, when we read that they will be raised “after” three and one half days, we must conclude that it was at the completion of those three and one half days that their bodies were brought back to life.
After considering how the Holy Spirit uses “meta” with the accusative, we must conclude that “after three days” means at the completion of three full days.
A CONSIDERATION OF THE PHRASE “UNTIL THE THIRD DAY”
We read in Matthew 27:63-64: “…saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said while he was yet alive, ‘After three days I rise again’. Command therefore that the sepulcher be made sure until the third day, lest haply his disciples come and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: and the last error will be worse than the first.”
The reason this passage is important in our study is that, in my opinion, it tells us that the term “after three days” is equal to the term “until the third day”. Let us consider the passage from Matt. 27 with the question in mind, i.e. does the term “after three days” mean the same as “until the third day”?
The guards were concerned that Christ’s disciples would try to steal the body of Christ away from the tomb. But they knew that Christ prophesied that He would be raised “after three days” so they determined that in order to prevent that theft the sepulcher would be “made sure” until the third day” Obviously, they would make the sepulcher secure until the completion of the third day. In other words, the guards would make the sepulcher secure the entire time that Christ prophesied He would remain in the sepulcher. That means, of course, that the term “after three days” means exactly the same as the term “until the third day”. Because we have, in the section above, proved that “after three days” refers to the completion of the third day, and in this section we have proved that the phrase “after three days” means the exact same thing as “until the third day” we must conclude that both terms mean the completion of three days.
A CONSIDERATION OF THE PHRASE “THE THIRD DAY”
Does the phrase “the third day” also mean at the completion of the third day? Let us consider each passage in which Christ used the phrase “the third day” as it relates to His resurrection.
Matt. 16:21, “From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and be raised again the third day.”
Matt. 17:22-23, “…….Jesus said unto them, ‘The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: and they shall kill Him, and the third day He shall be raised again’…”.
Matt. 20:18-19, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge, and to crucify Him: and the third day He shall rise again”.
Mark 9:31, “For He taught His disciples, and said unto them ‘The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill Him; and after that He is killed, He shall rise the third day“.
Mark 10:33-34, “..Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles: and they shall mock Him, and shall scourge Him, and shall spit upon Him, and shall kill Him: and the third day He shall rise again”.
Luke 9:22, “…The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day“.
Luke 18:32-33, “For He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge Him, and put Him to death: and the third day He shall rise again”.
Luke 24:7, “The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again”.
Luke 24:46, “And said unto them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day”.
There are two passages where the term “the third day” is used by others of Christ’s resurrection.
Acts 10:39-40, “…Whom they slayed and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed Him openly”.
I Cor. 15:3-4, “…..Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures”.
While it is true the phrase “the third day” may be interpreted to mean sometime in or during the third day, i.e. not three full days, we cannot understand it that way in reference to how long Christ was buried. The reasons we cannot interpret it that way is because: 1) The prophecy of Jonah, which our Lord quoted, tells us that Christ would be in the grave three days and three nights, i.e. three full days. 2) as proved in the section on the phrase, “after three days” it can mean only one thing, i.e. at the completion of three full days. 3) as proved in the section on the phrase “until the third day” that phrase refers to the exact same length of time as does the phrase “after three days”, i.e. after three days were completed.
Therefore we must conclude that Christ was buried for three whole days and three whole nights.
SOME PROBLEM VERSES
JOHN 2:18-21 “IN THREE DAYS”
We read in Jn. 2:18-22, “Then answered the Jews and said unto Him, ‘What sign shewest Thou unto us, seeing that Thou doest these things?’ Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then said the Jews, ‘forty and six years was this Temple in building, and wilt Thou rear it up in three days?’ But He spake of the Temple of His body. When therefore He was risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said”.
Before we seek to interpret this passage we must first understand what it was that our Lord said to His audience. He told them that He would raise up the “Temple” in three days. We can tell by the response of the Pharisees that they understood Christ to be speaking of the literal Temple. If we were told that something would be built in three days, I believe we would understand that it would be built by the end of three days. Let us consider two other passages that speak of something done in a particular period of time.
I Cor. 10:8, reads, “Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand”. The note in the Companion Bible gives Numbers. 25:1-9 as the reference to this tragedy. That passage tells us that these died by a plague. Surely, we must understand that they had all died of the plague by the end/completion of the day.
And we read in Rev. 18:10, “….Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come”. Again, I think we would naturally understand that by the end/completion of one hour Babylon was destroyed.
So the Pharisees understood Christ to say that He would build the temple by the completion of three days. We know that Christ was speaking of “the Temple of His body”, but that does not change the meaning of the phrase “in three days”. If we understood the phrase “in three days” to mean “by the end/completion of three days” in reference to the literal Temple, we cannot change the meaning of the phrase when we discover that it was actually in reference to the resurrection of Christ’s body.
In Matt. 27:40 we read the statement of those that reviled Christ while He hung on the cross saying, “Thou That destroyest the Temple, and buildest it in three days, save Thyself, if Thou be the Son of God come down from the cross”. To begin with, Christ did not say that He would destroy the Temple, but that is not really germane to this present discussion. What is germane however, is that even though Christ was speaking metaphorically of His own body, it does not change the fact that He said that the Temple will be raised, and as discussed above, it is understood that it would be raised by the completion of three days.
Mark 15:29 records the same event and, of course, must be understood the same way.
Matt. 26:61 records the testimony at Christ’s trial of two false witnesses that said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God, and to build it in three days'”. The Greek preposition translated “in” in this verse is not “en” as it is in every other verse we have considered thus far in the term “in three days”. This verse uses the preposition “dia” and the Companion Bible suggests that it could read “within”. In other words, these men were exaggerating what they falsely accused Christ as having said. As we have seen above, Christ said the Temple would be built by the end of three days. But these witnesses took our Lord’s statement one step further and reported, falsely, that Christ said He would build the Temple within three days.
Because this is a false statement, we should not consider it as true. Therefore, this passage does not change the fact that Christ Himself said that He would be raised “after three days”, as we have seen, i.e. three full days.
Mark 14:58 records the same event and of course, the same thing can be said of that passage.
Luke 24:21 is part of the passage that describes the risen Christ’s conversation with two of His apostles as they traveled to Emmaus. In verse 21 the two said to our Lord (not knowing that it was He), “But we trusted that it had been He Which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done”.
On what day did this conversation take place? The context will answer that question. We read in Luke 24:1-12 of the women’s discovery that Christ was no longer in the sepulcher and of their telling Peter and others of this discovery. This, we know from verse 1, was on “the first day of the week”, i.e. Sunday. Then in verse 13 we read, “And behold two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus….”. So this conversation took place on Sunday.
But Christ was crucified on Wednesday. So we have Thursday, Friday, Saturday and then Sunday would be the fourth day, not the third. Again, there are no contradictions in the Word of God so I suggest the following explanation from the internet:
Relying on the KJV, Strong’s Concordance identifies the word “is” in the phrase “to day is the third day” to have the root word αγω which is identified as follows: “A primary verb; properly to lead; by implication to bring, drive, (reflexively) go, pass (time), or (figuratively) induce:–be, bring (forth), carry (let) go, keep, lead away, be open.” It should be noted from this that the meaning closest to a time value for the root word for αγει in this list of descriptive terms is to “pass”. The “pass” here does not imply something in the past, but something that is passing or that has just passed.
The meaning closest to the time frame aspect of the word αγει, then, would not be that this is the third day since these things happened, but that three days have passed since these things happened.
This is significant in that it tells us when the counting of the three days should begin and end. If ………. “three days have passed since all these things were done” and this is the first day of the week as stated in Luke 24:1, then yesterday (the seventh day of the week, the weekly Sabbath) was the third day in the sequence, Friday was the second day in the sequence, and Thursday was the first day in the sequence. This latter understanding is supported by the definition of σημερον in Luke 24:21 to mean either current or just passed.
This is in keeping with what Scriptures teach in regard to how long Christ was in the tomb, i.e. from sunset on Wednesday to sunset on Saturday.
Mark 16:9 reads in the KJV reads, “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary…”. Note that the comma after the phrase “first day of the week” gives the impression that Jesus was raised on the first day of the week, i.e. Sunday. But I believe it should read, “Now when Jesus was risen,(comma) early the first day of the week He appeared first to Mary…”. In other words, this verse says that after Jesus had been raised, He appeared early on Sunday to Mary.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org