A Question I Was Asked:

How Can You Have 'Three Days and Three Nights' Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday?

A More Comprehensive Consideration...

How can you have 'three days and three nights' between Good Friday and Easter Sunday?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, I have obviously responded to this same question before but I now feel there is a bit more information which I can add. I want to make four or five overall points:

1. The Jews Calculated Days Inclusively.

It is quite well known that the Jews counted days in this manner, so whereas today in the West we would calculate that from Friday to Sunday is two days, the Jews would count from the first day of reckoning, so, from Friday (any part of the day) to Sunday is 'three days.' Many articles have been written upon this by myself and several others, I don't need to add to them.

2. The Saying 'Three Days' Signifies Completeness, Occurring Elsewhere in the Bible and in Jewish Writings.

This expression was never about counting literal numbers of hours. So 'three days and three nights' signifies utter, complete, a period of time long enough to accomplish some purpose. The expression 'three days' occurs often in Scripture. Some examples in these verses:

Genesis 30:36; Exodus 3:18; Jonah 1:17; Numbers 33:8; Exodus 10:22; Judges 19:54. A far more extensive list of instances of 'three days' in the Bible can be found HERE.

So 'three days' biblically has the somewhat loose meaning of a few days in order to accomplish some purpose; it may or may not be a literal three days but undoubtedly often is, it is a brief number of days but long enough to accomplish some purpose, but it has a complete or completeness sense. This helps us to understand the 'three days and three nights' of both Jonah and Jesus; in both cases it is long enough to fully accomplish a purpose but it is somewhat ludicrous to state that the period has to be exactly 72 hours! So 'three days' in Scripture is not to be understood in a strict literal sense, it is not a strictly numerical term, it refers to a few days - probably less than a full week - in order to complete or accomplish something.

To insist that 'three days' has to be exactly 72 hours shows a great misunderstanding of how the Hebrews used this term!

3. The 'Three Days and Three Nights' Could Be Said to Have Commenced Upon the Arrest of Jesus - Not From the Crucifixion!

In this section I partly quote some ideas coming from the 'Blessed Cause' website.

Here is the reasoning: the 72 hours of the three days and three nights (that is, if one should insist on a literal understanding, which I have shown is not entirely necessary) did not commence from the moment of the crucifixion but upon Jesus' arrest since that is when His full rejection started from. In this manner of explanation there were indeed a full three days and three nights involved.

So "heart of the earth" - according to this explanation - does not mean dead in the tomb; it means 'in becoming man's sin,' or, 'in taking man's sins upon Himself.' Thus Jesus temporarily became separated from God (because of those sins).

"...so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40).

"He has made Him to be sin for us...that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Interesting here that the 'heart' is often associated with wickedness in the Bible:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9).

So Jesus Christ 'became sin' on the night He was betrayed, when the soldiers took Him. Thus payment for our sins did not begin with His death but with His blood, which began to flow on the night He was betrayed, before He was actually crucified. This adds a good few hours to the reckoning.

"[We were redeemed]… with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." (1 Peter 1:19). After all, When Adam sinned, righteousness was removed, and when Jesus (the second Adam) became sin for us, righteousness was also removed and nakedness was revealed. Adam sinned and thus the fall. Jesus was the second Adam who became sin and bought us back by His blood. When this event happened, Jesus was delivered into the hands of men and was beaten, bruised and scourged. He bled His precious blood to redeem us. The spilling of His atoning blood started to occur before His crucifixion.

So it could be stated that Jesus entered 'the heart of the earth' on the night He was betrayed, He became sin and the blood began to flow and payment began, this longer period would easily amount to three days and three nights as we might comprehend it in our day. In this regard, here are one or two verses that show us that sin separates us from God, showing that the Father had to temporarily turn His back on His Son:

"But your iniquities have separated you from your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, that He will not hear." (Isaiah 59:2).

"If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." (Psalm 66:18).

I quote the above verses to show that when Jesus started to take the sins of mankind upon His shoulders, God the Father had to turn His back on His Son.

Interesting in this regard is that several Scriptures seem to confirm that the passion of our Lord started before His crucifixion:

Notice carefully how these verses - especially the first three - appear to reckon (or count) the 'third day' from His rejection and mock trial, but before the actual crucifixion. With regard to John 2:18-19, the 'temple' of Jesus started to be destroyed when He took the sins of the world upon His shoulders, before it's total destruction at Calvary.

So to calculate from Jesus' arrest and mocking right up to His resurrection would easily amount to 'three days and three nights.'

4. The Church Fathers Were United in their Belief that Jesus Died on a Friday and Arose from the Dead on Sunday Morning.

We really should stop and consider that the 'church fathers' lived incredibly close to the time of our Lord and the Apostles, whereas we live 2,000 years after! Should we not expect that their information in some of these matters is stronger and better evidenced than our own opinions 2,000 years later? It was not until the late 19th century that a few American based cults and sects started to say that Jesus died on a Wednesday and rose from the dead on a Sabbath (Saturday). This immediately flew in the face of well over 1,000 years of Christian scholarship!

Against this, the ante-Nicene Church Fathers (Christian writers from circa 100-350 AD) universally held that Jesus was crucified on a Friday and rose from the dead on a Sunday, this is largely why they also worshipped on a Sunday, which they soon called, "The Lord's Day." Several of the Fathers also testify to the Institution of communion on a Thursday (Maundy Thursday). These sources are vital because they recorded these things so close to the era of Jesus and the Apostles!

Justin Martyr (writing in 150 AD) testifies to both Sunday worship and a Friday crucifixion of Jesus:

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples... (First Apology 67).

The Didache (written around 70-90 AD) also mentions Sunday worship, and fasting on Fridays (very likely connected to Jesus' crucifixion that day):

Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites... but fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday)...But every Lord's day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure (8, 14).

The Apostolic Constitutions (late 4th century) verifies the same chronology. Note that, based on Scripture, this document provides the rationale for the dates of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday:

And on the fifth day of the week (Thursday), when we had eaten the Passover with Him, and when Judas had dipped his hand into the dish, and received the sop, and was gone out by night, the Lord said to us: "The hour is come that ye shall be dispersed, and shall leave me alone" (V:3:XIV).

...it being the day of the preparation (Friday), they delivered Him to Pilate the Roman governor, accusing Him of many and great things, none of which they could prove...[Jesus] commanded us to fast on the fourth and sixth (Friday) days of the week; the former on account of His being betrayed, and the latter on account of His passion (V:3:XIV, XV).

But when the first day of the week (Sunday) dawned He arose from the dead, and fulfilled those things which before His passion He foretold to us, saying: "The Son of man must continue in the heart of the earth three days and three nights" (V:3:XIV).

Virtually every Church Father who addresses the issue agrees with the traditional dating of a Thursday Last Supper, Friday Crucifixion, and Sunday resurrection. This includes those Church Fathers and writings mentioned above, but also Ignatius (105 AD), Barnabas (120 AD), Clement of Alexandria (195 AD), and many others. This chronology is firmly based on Scripture, and universally verified by Tradition.

(I want to thank Church Answers for some of this information. I could have looked it up myself but an article of theirs provided some of the information in very accessible form).

5. As far As I am Aware, the Seventh Day Interpretation That Jesus Died on a Wednesday And Arose on a Saturday Did Not Arrive Until the 19th Century.

H.W. Armstrong was especially keen on this idea. He was born in the 1890s in Oregon, USA. Other Seventh Day Adventist people (though not all of them) also accepted and held to this belief. Some scattered and diverse seventh day people still hold to it, but mainstream Christianity has rejected it. Why have these people wanted to find a Sabbath (Saturday) resurrection? Because they were stalwart seventh day sabbatarians and a seventh day resurrection seemed to fit better with their theology!

Not a single major Christian theologian from Augustine, Aquinas right through to Luther, Calvin and Zwingli and on to the 20th century Bible theology 'heavyweights' of Lloyd-Jones, Berkhof, Barth, Brunner, Kuyper, Ladd, Moltmann, Pannenberg and Wayne Grudem have stopped to give the theory a moment's serious consideration. Enough said?

Robin A. Brace. May 3rd-4th, 2017.