Summary: This is a study on the subject of what day of the week was Jesus crucified to fulfill the prophecy He spoke about Himself in Matt. 12:40.
Three Days and Three Nights:
On What Day of the Week Was Jesus Crucified?
This morning we are going to have a little Bible Study as opposed to a sermon. A few weeks ago I was approached with a question concerning the timing of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ that I have found many Christians ask. And the question is this:
Modern Christianity teaches that Jesus was crucified on a Friday (hence, Good Friday) and rose from the grave on a Sunday (Easter). If this is true how could Jesus have fulfilled the prophecy He spoke in Matthew 12:40, which says, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”?
This is a very confusing puzzle because if Jesus was buried on Friday and rose on Sunday, the most time you can count is one day and two nights. Did He fail to fulfill His own prophecy of three days and three nights in the earth? Or could tradition concerning the day of crucifixion be wrong?
This is the problem we’re going to try to tackle this morning. But before we begin I want you to realize that this study is an effort to give you more information and understanding about the life of Christ and our faith in general. However, it is more important to believe in Christ’s atoning death and victorious resurrection than it is to argue the exact day on which the events occurred. With that thought in mind then, let’s see if we can clear up the confusion surrounding the timing of the crucifixion.
Jewish Reckoning of Time
The first thing we need to recognize is that the Jews don’t reckon the time of day in the same manner that we do today. For us one 24 hour day ends and another one begins at 12 a.m., midnight. Not so for the Jew. For them one day ends and another begins at 6 p.m. For example, today is August 31, tomorrow is September 1. For us, August 31 began last night at 12 a.m. It will end and September 1 will begin at 12 a.m., midnight, tonight. However, for the Jew, August 31 began yesterday at 6 p.m. It will end and September 1 will begin this evening at 6 p.m.
Likewise, while we separate our concept of a day into morning first and then night. The Jews separate their day into evening or night first (from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) which is followed by the morning or day (from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.). The Jewish “day” begins with a nightly rest. This idea, while strange to us, is important to keep in mind so we can understand when to start counting certain days when determining what day Jesus was crucified on.
Okay, so before we start counting days and nights, let’s see if we can figure out why so many claim that Jesus was crucified on a Friday. I believe this tradition came about from a misunderstanding of the passages of Scripture concerning the day of crucifixion.
The first one is found in John 19:31. It reads, “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.”
Then in Luke 23:54, “It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.”
Mark 15:42, “It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath).”
Many people will look at these passages and see that the day following the crucifixion day was a Sabbath, and the Jewish weekly Sabbath always occurs on a Saturday, that last day of the week, or the seventh day. Therefore, they conclude that since the following day was a Sabbath or Saturday then Jesus must have been crucified on a Friday. Now this sounds right. But as we said before when you start counting up the number of days and nights He was in the earth, you see that from Friday to Sunday in only two nights and one day. That doesn’t fit prophetic Scriptures.
We know definitively that Jesus arose from the dead sometime early Sunday morning because Matthew 28: 1 says, “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.” And of course they found it empty. The first day of the week is always Sunday, so there is no doubt as to what day Christ arose.
As we said before between Friday and Sunday you only have two nights and one day. That doesn’t fit the prophecies of three days and three nights. Some have argued that the Jews reckoned any part of a day as a full day. So even though Saturday was technically the only full day, since He was buried before 6 p.m. on Friday, they claim you can also count part of Friday as one day. Then because it was after 6 p.m. on the first day of the week when He arose, then you can also count part of Sunday as one day and thus get a total of three days. This theory may have some merit, but no matter how you look at it, there are still only two nights between Friday and Sunday, so that argument is rather weak.