By Fred Coulter
How long was Jesus in the tomb, and when was He resurrected? This is undoubtedly a most controversial topic, perhaps one of the most disputed subjects of the Gospels. Various Christian-professing churches and organizations have accepted tradition concerning the resurrection and the length of time Jesus was in the tomb. This traditional interpretation is hopelessly irreconcilable with, and completely contradictory to, the facts as presented in the Scriptures. Many people know that the pseudo-Christian tradition of Easter is in fact not Biblical at all! The controversies about a supposed Easter morning resurrection, and an alleged Friday crucifixion, stem from the acceptance of human tradition over the Biblical account and the clear Hebrew Calendar evidence. It is general knowledge that such traditions did not originate from Scripture, but were engrafted Oriental and Babylonian religious myths! These traditions have only obscured the true scriptural accounts. But once these traditions are set aside and the Scriptures are examined, the truth emerges for all to see.
How does God reckon time? How long is a day according to God? God does not want us to doubt. The book of Genesis shows that a day consists of an evening and a morning (Genesis 1). The entire day has two portions: the night portion, which begins at evening; and the day portion, which begins at sunrise, or morning. These two segments are identified as one complete day. A full day then is calculated from sunset to sunset. A Biblical day is also defined this way: "from evening to evening" (Leviticus 23:32).
Jesus further clarified the day portion as being about twelve hours. "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" (John 11:9). A full Biblical day has an average of 12 hours in the night portion and 12 hours in the day portion, making a complete day of 24 hours. Jesus of course used this method of reckoning time.
The length of time Jesus would be in the tomb, "in the heart of the earth", was prophesied by Jesus Himself. Jesus was in fact the only one who ever prophesied the exact length of time He would be in the tomb!
None of the prophets of old specifically declared that the Messiah would be in the tomb three days and three nights. Even Jonah, who was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, did not proclaim that the Messiah would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.
Some prophecies in the Old Testament show that the Messiah would die (Psalms 22; Isaiah 53; Daniel 9); others reveal that the Messiah would live forever (Daniel 7:13-14; Isaiah 9:6-7). But there is no place in the Old Testament which specifically says that the Messiah would die, and be in the tomb three days and three nights, and then be resurrected....
The Gospel sections about the three days and three nights have been faithfully preserved. Still there is uncertainty in the minds of many people over the meaning of these Scriptures. Their problem is that they attempt to arbitrarily read into the Scriptures the Oriental-Babylonian myth of an Easter resurrection after a Friday crucifixion!
Various theories have been advanced in a futile attempt to reconcile this ancient myth with the Scriptures. But divergent speculations among some scholars do not take away from the pure scriptural accounts contained in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The author is thoroughly acquainted with the major theories scholars have presented, including those based on Greek and Hebrew idiomatic expressions. But all these theories are merely conjectures of scholars having no real scriptural basis.
When all His statements are put together and analyzed, the time of His resurrection becomes abundantly clear.
He said, "...and there shall no sign be given it [that generation], but the sign of the prophet Jonah: for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly [the great fish]; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:39-40).
"And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31; see also Matthew 16:21). "...[A]nd after that he is killed, he shall rise on the third day" (Mark (9:31). "[A]nd I do cures today, and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected" (Luke 13:32). "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 18:32-33; see also Luke 24:7, 46).
"Jesus answered and said to them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.... But he spoke of the temple of his body" (John 2:19, 21).
Notice that Jesus didn't say "in about three days", or "after approximately three days", or "close to three days and nights", or "hopefully, as near to three days and three nights as possible, if everything goes right." His own statements are exact and precise. Since that was the only sign He was giving as proof that he was truly the Messiah, Jesus did not want us to be in doubt and confusion.
In analyzing Jesus' key statements, we note that He was quoted as saying, "on the third day", "in [within] three days", and "after three days." "On the third day" could by itself mean any time on the third day. It could mean even the first minute of the third day. He also said, "in [within] three days." These two expressions give the minimum time limit for his resurrection. On the other hand, the expression "after three days" defines the maximum limit in calculating the precise time of the resurrection. When the expression "after three days" is taken into consideration, there is only one moment of time to which all can apply.
Here is the explanation: The last portion of the third day is still "on" and "in" (within) the third day. As that last portion of the third day was ending, but before the beginning portion of the fourth day, Jesus Christ was resurrected. This was the only moment of time when all of Jesus' own prophecies concerning His time in the tomb, and His resurrection, could be precisely fulfilled.
Jesus was in the tomb three complete days and three complete nights, a total of approximately 72 hours. Since Jesus Himself prophesied He would be in the tomb for this exact period of time, anything more or less would make Jesus a liar. And if Jesus lied, and did not fulfill the only sign He had given to show His identity, we have no Savior.
It is recorded in John's Gospel that Jesus was placed in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus (John 19:38-42). They closed the entrance of the tomb with a large stone at sunset, as the Passover day ended. This sunset, as the 14th of Nisan ended, and the 15th of Nisan began, marks the beginning of Jesus' three days and three nights in the tomb. Knowing that it had to be exactly "in", "on" and "after" three days, it is possible to determine the exact time of Jesus' resurrection. But first the Sabbath following the crucifixion day must be identified.
According to tradition, Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Some translations accordingly interpret "a preparation day had really been a Friday. But there are obvious inconsistencies in the traditional interpretation. If Jesus had been crucified on a Friday, it would be scripturally impossible for Him to have been resurrected on a Sunday morning. The time extending from Friday evening at sunset to Sunday morning at sunrise is simply not three days and three nights, no matter how one might seek to justify the traditional view. Many scholars insist that the period of darkness from the sixth hour to the ninth hour can be counted as the first night in the tomb. But the truth is that Jesus was not in the tomb during this period of darkness, but on the cross, and alive. He did not die until the ninth hour? To count this period of darkness as a night in the tomb is a gross stretching of the imagination to justify a tradition which is not scriptural. If Jesus had not been in the tomb for precisely three days and three nights, He would not be the Messiah. The three days and three nights in the tomb was the only sign He gave to show that He was the Messiah. Those who deny this sign by clinging to mythical traditions are in fact rejecting Jesus Himself as their Messiah and Savior! What then is the proper understanding of this time period?
Luke tells us, "And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment" (Luke 23:55-56). According to Scripture, a Sabbath began shortly after the tomb was sealed. It would not have been possible for them to purchase the spices, return home and prepare them in the few minutes left before the Sabbath began. Furthermore, none of the businesses from which they could purchase spices would have been open. All businesses normally closed for the Sabbath at the ninth hour of a preparation day, or 3 p.m. This was the exact hour when Jesus died (Matthew 27:46-50). The women could not buy spices until the stores reopened after the Sabbath. Mark 16:1 plainly says, "And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought spices, that they might come and anoint him." It is clearly a fact that they bought the spices after the Sabbath.
Putting the two Gospel accounts together, it would have been impossible for them to purchase the spices after the Sabbath, and then to prepare them before the Sabbath, and rest on the same Sabbath. The conclusion is inescapable. There were two Sabbaths that week, and when properly harmonized, everything fits in place.
John says of the day following the Passover, "The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day (for that Sabbath was an high day) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away" (John 19:31). The Sabbath after the Passover was a high day, or a holy day -- an annual Sabbath. The only Sabbath that immediately follows the Passover, and is a holy day, is the First Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread! This annual Sabbath is totally separate from and in addition to the weekly Sabbath.
The book of Luke carries on with the chronology at this point. Here is my translation of this part. "After he [Joseph of Arimathaea] had gone to Pilate, [he] requested the body of Jesus. And after he had taken it down, he wrapped it in fine linen cloth, and placed it in a tomb hewn in the side of a rock, in which no one had ever been laid. And it was a preparation day, and a Sabbath [the first annual holy day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread] was approaching at sundown. And the women also, who came with him out of Galilee, followed along and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid, and then returned" (Luke 23:52-55). When this was originally written in Greek, Luke did not use the definite article "the" for "preparation day" and "Sabbath". At this point Mark continues the story. "And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. And after the Sabbath was past [the first holy day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread], Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought aromatics and spices, that they might anoint him" (Mark 15:47-16:1). Luke continues, "And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments [on the day following the holy day Sabbath]; and on the [weekly] Sabbath they rested according to the commandment" (Luke 23:56). In the Greek, in verse 56 the definite article "the" is used with "Sabbath," showing that this Sabbath was the weekly Sabbath. However, in verse 54 Luke was inspired to write "a preparation day, and a Sabbath," making a difference between the two Sabbaths, further verifying that there were two Sabbaths in the week Jesus was crucified.
At any Passover the following facts are always constant in the Hebrew Calendar, no matter what year might be in question. First: The Biblical injunction is that the Passover always be kept on the 14th day of the first month of the year, which is the month Nisan in the Hebrew Calendar. Second: The day after the Passover is always the First Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Therefore, the First Day of The Feast of Unleavened Bread is always the 15th of Nisan. The Bible command is that the 15th day of the first month is always an annual holy day, an annual Sabbath (Leviticus 23:4-6; Numbers 33:3). Third: Whenever the Passover falls in the middle of the week, or on a Wednesday according to our Calendar, it is still the 14th of the first month according to the Hebrew Calendar, regardless of the day of the month on our Roman Calendar. Then it follows, that when the Passover, the 14th day of the first month, is in the middle of the week, a Wednesday, the 15th day falls on a Thursday. The 16th accordingly falls on a Friday, and the 17th day naturally falls on the weekly Sabbath. These factors are true regardless of the year in question.
Furthermore, the computer-coordinated calculations of the Hebrew and Roman Calendars show that Jesus was crucified in A.D. 31. That year the Passover, Nisan 14, was in the middle of the week, or on Wednesday. This means that the Passover day was from sunset Tuesday evening to sunset Wednesday evening. The daylight portion of Nisan 14 was a time of preparation for the first annual holy day Sabbath, Nisan 15, which occurred from sunset Wednesday, April 25, to sunset Thursday, April 26. This was the first night and the first day Jesus was in the tomb. The next day, the 16th of Nisan, from sunset Thursday, April 26, to sunset Friday, April 27, was the second night and the second day in the tomb. Nisan 16 was the preparation for the weekly Sabbath. The 17th of Nisan, the weekly Sabbath, from sunset Friday, April 27, to sunset Saturday, April 28, was the third night and the third day in the tomb.
This further substantiates what the Scriptures reveal: 1) There were two Sabbaths during the week of Jesus' crucifixion; 2) Jesus was in the tomb exactly three days and three nights, as He had said He would be.
When all the factors are analyzed, it is abundantly clear that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday, and sealed in the tomb at sunset. When the three days and three nights are properly counted, Jesus was therefore resurrected at the end of the weekly Sabbath, at sunset. He could not have been resurrected on Sunday morning, later called Easter Sunday....
Later Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, and spoke to her. The account as recorded in Mark 16:9 gives the impression that Jesus was resurrected early the first day of the week. "Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene..." (KJV). However, when this section is examined closer, it is evident that the placement of the comma is the key to understanding this verse. If the facts prove that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead early the first day of the week, the placement of the comma in the King James Version would be correct. But Jesus was resurrected before the morning of the first day of the week, so the comma should be correctly placed as follows: "Now when Jesus was risen, early the first day of the week He appeared first to Mary Magdalene...." Going one step further, it would be more proper to translate that section in a way that fully conveys the feeling of the Greek. The author translates Mark 16:9 this way: "Now after [Jesus] was risen, early the first day of the week...." A literal translation reads, "Now having risen, early the of the week he appeared..." (Mark 16:9).
After He was resurrected, Jesus fulfilled another very important Old Testament ceremony. The day of this ceremony was not a holy day, but was a day of great significance. On the day after the weekly Sabbath, during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the firstfruit wave sheaf was offered. It occurred on the first day to the week. The command for this day is found in Leviticus 23. Beginning in verse 10 it says, "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When you be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest unto the priest: and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it" (Leviticus 23:10-11).
The first fruit harvest has a special meaning in the Bible. The children of Israel could not eat of the firstfruit harvest, usually barley, until the high priest had waved the wave sheaf offering. This offering of the sheaf of the firstfruits commenced at the time of the morning sacrificial lamb offering, at about the third hour Hebrew time, or approximately 9 a.m. our time. In the New Testament the firstfruit harvest and the waving of the sheaf have a spiritual meaning and fulfillment.
Christians are called firstfruits to God. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures" (James 1:18 KJV)....
Jesus was the first of the harvest of firstfruits.... "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming" (I Corinthians 15:20-23 KJV).
Just as the sheaf of the wave offering was the first to be harvested and accepted by God for Israel in the temple ritual, so Jesus was accepted by God as the first of the spiritual firstfruits harvest. The events of that first day of the week, the wave sheaf offering day, show this fulfillment. When Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalene, and she recognized Him, she was ready to touch Him. But "Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17 KJV). As the context shows, it was still early in the morning. Jesus had not yet ascended to God the Father to be accepted by Him as the first of the firstfruits. This ties in directly with Leviticus 23:11 and the wave offering. "And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it." When Jesus ascended to God the Father, He was the first of the firstfruits, and His sacrifice was accepted as complete payment for our sins. Jesus was "accepted for us." Later that same day, after He had ascended and had been accepted by God the Father, He did allow the disciples to touch Him (Matthew 28:9)....
[T]he 22nd Psalm was prophetic. In fact, Jesus uttered these words while on the cross; even to the last words of the Psalm, "It is finished." Those were the last words Jesus said before He died.
The 23rd Psalm, the Psalm that everyone knows, has far more meaning when viewed in the context of the resurrection of Jesus. Could this not also be a prophecy of His words after He was resurrected? It is interesting to note that the 23rd Psalm was to be read on the first day of the week following the Passover. This was the Wave Sheaf Offering Day....
Thus Jesus' victory over sin and death through His perfect sacrifice and resurrection was complete, opening the way for redemption and salvation for all whom the Father calls.
A Harmony Of The Gospels In Modern English -- The Life Of Christ, pp 231-241. Christian Biblical Church Of God, P.O. Box 1245, Hollister, CA 95023.
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