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Bible verses about Three Days and Three Nights
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Psalm 90:4

Isaiah says that God "inhabits eternity" (Isaiah 57:15), so time to God takes on different dimensions. He can function outside of time if He so desires. These verses, however, give us a rough guide that a thousand years equal one day in God's prophetic revelation to man.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
God's Master Plan


 

Jonah 1:17

What about the sign of Jonah? Was the prophet in the great fish's belly for a complete 72 hours? The marginal note in Bullinger's Companion Bible for Jonah 1:17 reads: "Three days and three nights. The Hebrew idiom 'three days' can be used for parts of three days (and even of years): but not when the word 'nights' is added" (our emphasis). By the addition of "nights," the expression becomes more specific, precluding the idea of "parts" of days!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'


 

Matthew 12:38-40

If Jesus rose from His tomb Sunday morning after being interred Friday evening, we have no Savior! Jesus gave only one sign of His Messiahship: "...so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

Why did the Pharisees ask Him for a sign? The answer appears in the section immediately preceding their request. Jesus had been preaching that "a tree is known by its fruit" (verse 33), so naturally, these Jews asked for a sign from Jesus to prove He was the Messiah! They wanted to see what fruit He would produce!

Jesus swiftly rebuked them because they had completely missed the point (verses 41-42). To satisfy their curiosity, they wanted to see a miracle, but the fruit Jesus meant was repentance, good works, and spiritual growth. He would make them wait to see the fruits of His ministry.

Thus He says, paraphrasing, "The only sign that will absolutely prove the truth of My message is one that I will have no control over. I will be exactly three days and three nights in the grave. I will be dead. I will not be able to resurrect Myself. So if God the Father resurrects Me after exactly three days and three nights, it will be proved beyond doubt that I am the Messiah."

He gave the same sign in other places to different audiences, each time using similar wording. In John 2:19-21, He says, "'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' . . . But He was speaking of the temple of His body."

To His disciples, He says, "The Son of Man is being delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day" (Mark 9:31; 10:33-34; Matthew 17:22-23; 20:18-19; Luke 9:22).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'


 

Matthew 16:4

Jesus Christ had had this conversation before in Matthew 12:40, where He defines His terms: "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."

What does Jesus actually say? If we were listening to Him speak, would we think He meant 72 hours or a period ranging from 36 to 72 hours? Some confuse the issue by arguing from the Jewish tradition supposedly extant during Jesus' day. They claim that if a thing is done at any time during a Jewish day, that day is counted as a whole day. For example, had the fish swallowed Jonah just before sunset, this event of just a few seconds would be counted as occurring over one whole day or 24 hours. Since a day and a night have been counted, only two days and nights remain. By the time Jonah exited the fish, he would have spent only 48 hours there, but the time would be counted as three days and three nights.

Was Jonah in the fish's belly for 72 hours or some time other then 72 hours? The problem with their argument is that they ignore the Timekeeper, God! Notice Jesus' understanding of a day's length in John 11:9: "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" From this we can safely assume that night is also twelve hours long, and day and night together equal 24 hours. It is no stretch of intellect to figure that three days and three nights total 72 hours.

Jesus said He would be in the grave for the same amount of time Jonah was in the fish's belly, a total of 72 hours. In John 2:19, He makes a similar statement in response to the Jews requesting a sign of His messiahship: "Destroy this temple [His body, verse 21], and in three days I will raise it up."

Staff
Was Jesus Resurrected on Easter Sunday?


 

Matthew 27:64

Commentators say this proves that Jesus did not have to be in the tomb a full three days, but only parts of three days. However, they fail to recognize that the priests spoke this on Thursday, not Wednesday. They were asking Pilate to seal and guard the tomb at least through the Sabbath, when three days and three nights would have fully elapsed since Christ's death and burial!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'


 

Mark 15:42-46

Several points stand out in this passage:

» Evening was beginning—at best Joseph had only about three hours before sunset, when the Sabbath would begin. The task of preparing and applying the spices for burial required work, which is expressly forbidden on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-10). Additionally, Deuteronomy 21:22-23 demands that an executed criminal be buried before nightfall, and the Jewish law of the time required all dead bodies to be buried before a Sabbath or a feast day (John 19:31).

» Before he could take the body down, Joseph had to go before Pilate and receive permission. At first Pilate did not believe Jesus had died so quickly, so he called the centurion of the crucifixion detail to verify it (Mark 15:44-45). This delay must have taken at least a half hour.

» After being granted the body, Joseph went to a local shop and bought several yards of fine linen in which to wrap Jesus. With the help of Nicodemus, he then took the body down, wrapped it in the linen—along with about a hundred pounds of spices—and placed it in the tomb (John 19:39-41).

With all this activity and work between the various locations, Joseph and Nicodemus must have had very little daylight left when they finally rolled the stone over the entrance to the tomb. On this point all the accounts again concur; sunset was very near (Matthew 27:57; Luke 23:54; John 19:31).

No one disputes that Jesus was laid "in the heart of the earth" at sunset. If, as we have shown, He was buried for exactly 72 hours, He was also resurrected at sunset—not at dawn!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'


 

Luke 24:21

This verse is commonly misunderstood in relation to the timing of Christ's death and resurrection. Two of the disciples, traveling to Emmaus, were conversing with the resurrected Christ, though they did not know it was He (verses 13-16). They were rehearsing what had happened in Jerusalem to Jesus by the chief priests and rulers of Judea (verses 18-20).

This conversation occurred on Sunday, the same day that the women, Peter, and John had gone to the tomb only to find it empty. Yet these disciples heading to Emmaus say that it had only been three days, not four. How do we reconcile this to the overwhelming body of evidence that Christ was buried on a Wednesday afternoon and raised again on a Saturday afternoon?

The key is in the repetition of the words "all these things," "these things," and "the things" of verses 14, 18-19 and 21. "Things" is modified by the disciples' specifying in verse 20 that they were speaking of the actions that "the chief priests and our rulers" had done to Christ. The fact that is often forgotten is that their ignominious actions against Him did not end with delivering Him to Pilate for crucifixion! (See Matthew 27:62-66.)

The day after "the Day of Preparation" was Thursday, the first day of Unleavened Bread. These Jewish leaders went to Pilate on the holy day to "guarantee" that their Messiah would not rise from the dead. And with the guard in place and the tomb sealed, they felt certain nothing more would happen.

Thus, when the two disciples on the road to Emmaus say that Sunday "is the third day since these things happened," they are counting from the last despicable actions of the chief priests and Pharisees on Thursday, not Wednesday. Note that their words preclude a Friday crucifixion as well, since Sunday is only the second day from Friday.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'


 

John 11:9-10

The plain meaning is that He recognized the twelve hours of daylight to form a "day," and the corresponding twelve hours of darkness He called "night." Thus three days and three nights would be made up of six twelve-hour periods or 72 hours.

This is the same method He uses in the Old Testament—in fact, in the very first chapter of the Bible! "God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day. . . . So the evening and the morning were the second day. . . . So the evening and the morning were the third day" (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13). Here are three days and three nights so clearly defined anyone can understand.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'


 

John 20:1

Mary Magdalene arrives at the grave early on the first day of the week while it was still dark—and Jesus has already been resurrected! So much for Easter sunrise services! Even if one thought Christ rose at dawn on Sunday, counting back 72 hours (three full days and three full nights) brings one to dawn on Thursday, and God's Word explicitly says that Christ was buried at sunset!

Yes, Jesus rose from the grave, but not on Sunday, the day traditional Christians call "the Lord's day." If He did, He could not be our Savior because He would have failed to fulfill the one sign of His Messiahship: three days and three nights in the tomb. Jesus rose on the day of which He says He is Lord: the true seventh-day Sabbath (Mark 2:28).

Staff
Was Jesus Resurrected on Easter Sunday?


 

1 Peter 3:19

Jesus could not have preached to anyone, dead or alive, while His dead body lay in the tomb. Why? Because He was dead! If He was not dead during those "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40), then His sacrifice for the sins of humanity was in vain!

Scripture says that, when Jesus died on the cross, like all men His "spirit [returned] to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7; see Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46; John 19:30). The spirit of a human is not conscious in death, for Solomon tells us plainly that "the dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5). Thus, the spirit of a dead person cannot do anything: "for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going" (verse 10). As the psalmist writes, when a man dies, "His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans [thoughts, KJV] perish" (Psalm 146:4; see also Job 14:20-21; Psalm 104:29).

Jesus, in order to taste death like every man (Hebrews 2:9), had to die just as every man does. He was completely dead for three days and three nights; He was without life and consciousness both in body and in spirit. He could do no preaching to anyone, much less "to the spirits in prison," whoever they are.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jesus and 'the Spirits in Prison'


 

 




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