Three Days and Three Nights: According to the Scriptures

When someone makes a comment about the three days and three nights as related to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the conversation usually heats up a little when people are convinced about what it means, and about how it was fulfilled. But when asked about how they came to believe what they believe, they are a little less adamant, and begin to hum and haw, unsure of the source of their beliefs.

The likelihood is, that the majority of people reading this post would say that Jesus died on a Friday and rose again on the Sunday. And why would most say that? Simply put, it is because tradition teaches that Jesus died on Friday afternoon and rose on Sunday morning. Bear with me for a few posts and I will outline how that the Friday afternoon death and the Sunday morning resurrection belief is based on tradition and not on the Scriptures.

Gymnastics and Contortions

I have often wondered about how it would be possible for Jesus to fulfill the requirement of three days and three nights within the limited time frame suggested by the Friday to Sunday timeline. I taught mathematics and applied mathematics for a number of years and no matter how much I tried, I could not fit three days and three nights in between those two points. Even with all the gymnastics and contortions suggested by many to make it fit, it just doesn’t fit.

If you consider it as just “three days” (excluding the night requirement), you can “make it fit” by suggesting a partial day on Friday, the full day on Saturday and the partial day on Sunday. Summing that up, you can reach three days. But what about the nights? You can’t just ignore half of what Jesus left as a sign.

Besides all that, what is the authoritative source for things related to the life and death of Jesus Christ? In this series of posts I will consider the three days and three nights, according to the Scriptures. What does the Word of God have to say about this topic? Not only will we be able to see a detailed fulfillment of the sign Jesus left, we will also be able to determine the day of His death and the time of His resurrection.

What was said about the three days and three nights?

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord Jesus announces his death three times and makes a statement about his resurrection:

  • Matthew 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.”
  • Matthew 17:23 “And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry.”
  • Matthew 20:19 “And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.”

In the Gospel of Matthew, the religious leaders remembered what Jesus had said about raising from the dead, and look to prevent his disciples from “making it happen” by stealing His body. They commented to Pilate:

  • Matthew 27:63 “Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.”

In the Gospel of Mark, the Lord Jesus announces his death three times and makes a statement about his resurrection:

  • 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 10:34 “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.”
  • Mark 8:31 “And he 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.”

In the Gospel of Luke, the Lord Jesus announces his death and makes a statement about his resurrection:

  • Luke 9:22 “Saying, 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 18:33 “And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again”

When the women went to the tomb with the spices, the two men in shining garments reminded them of what Jesus had said about his death and resurrection:

  • Luke 24:7 “Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again”

After rising from the dead, Jesus Christ speaks to His disciples and comments about the resurrection:

  • Luke 24:46 “And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day”

Paul preached the gospel, emphasizing the resurrection of Jesus:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:4 “And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:”

The Lord Jesus Christ left a sign to an evil and adulterous generation. This sign was His resurrection:

  • Matthew 12:40 “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.”
  • Jonas 1:17 “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up
    Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three
    nights.”

It all has to match

The difficult thing for any reader of the Bible is, that what all these verses say, has to match up. The Scriptures do not contradict themselves, and the details have to mesh. So how is it possible, considering the following statements from the previous verses?

  • and be raised again the third day
  • and the third day he shall be raised again
  • and the third day he shall rise again
  • After three days I will rise again.
  • he shall rise the third day
  • and the third day he shall rise again
  • and after three days rise again
  • and be raised the third day
  • and the third day he shall rise again
  • and the third day rise again
  • and to rise from the dead the third day
  • and that he rose again the third day
  • three days and three nights in the heart of the earth
How can “the third day”, “after three days”, and “three days and three nights” mean the same thing?

Are you confused?

So what do you think so far? Can you make it all fit together?

Don’t worry if you haven’t figured it all out. It is going to take a little more analysis and a few graphics to be able to wrap your mind around it all. Be patient, it will all come together.

I encourage to you to read the next post in this series Three Days and Three Nights: The Women Hold the Key

Action Point: According to the Scriptures

  1. Download and print the Three Days and Three Nights PDF Reading sheet
  2. Download and print the Three Days and Three Nights PDF Worksheet
    1. Try to figure out how it all works out.
  3. What do you think? Did Jesus fulfill the Three Days and Three Nights prophecy?
  4. Click here for the next part of the study: Three Days and Three Nights: The Women Hold the Key

10 thoughts on “Three Days and Three Nights: According to the Scriptures”

  1. Hi Mitch,

    I have been a christian all my life but have never thought beyond the point that the three days may have been simply based on traditions and not the scriptures.

    I now feel a little disappointed that we would put tradition before the facts. However to know the truth of the scriptures and understand that  tradition would come first and foremost can come with a acceptance and go with the flow is the best option. Faith is number one for me.

    I still don’t get it completely and will look to do more research here

    Thanks Mitch

    Paul

    1. I suspect many feel disappointed when they find out what they have learned all their lives doesn’t match with what the Scriptures are actually saying. I hope you are able to continue studying it. There are 5 post total that deal with this topic as it is pretty detailed. I’ve enjoyed the study and hope you will too.

  2. One thing I do like about your post is that you are prepared to challenge the norm.

    I often ask people “why are you a catholic?”

    And most say because their parents were. And that is not a good answer.

    I often challenge people as to why they believe what they believe to 1) discover most do not know why they believe what they believe and then 2) told to shut up and stop being a trouble maker.

    I also liked that you have discovered that a lot of belief is based on tradition and not truth.

    Look at Christmas as an example. There is little truth in what most people believe about that.

    I think you have done a great job of asking questions.

    Hopefully people will take time to investigate their belief systems and stop following blindly.

    Tim

    1. Following something as a heritage or a tradition is dangerous.

      The Lord told the people of Israel to have an answer when their children asked the “Why?”. They were supposed to know the reason, and not just say “because that’s what we do”. Everyone should know what they believe and WHY they believe it.

      Sadly, you are right in your observations. My prayer is that people will take the time to search the Scriptures and find out what they actually say instead of believing what people tell them the Scriptures say. Hopefully this website can help people out a little and realize that it’s OK to ask questions in order to find out the truth.

      The people from Berea had it right by searching the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

      My favorite question about the Christmas story is “How many wise men went to see Jesus?” followed by, “Where did the wise men find Jesus?”. Creates a great opportunity to address the topic of tradition vs Scripture.

  3. Never thought about it, I have always considered it as a fact that Jesus has risen the third day. Anyway from Friday to Sunday there are three days, so on Sunday we are exactly at the third day. There is no nention that they are full days. You are right about the three nights, but now I’m confused, where is it mentioned that there are 3 nights too?

    1. In Matthew 12:40, Jesus confirms the three days and three nights from the sign of the prophet Jonah. I encourage you to read through the post again. There are 5 posts total and the last one has some graphics to help organize the information.

      It is a little confusing so I encourage you to take your time as you go through it.

      Let me know how it all turns out.

  4. I found your post most interesting as I’d never thought to give it much attention other than it was 3 days, the nights hadn’t stood out for me as point of discussion.

    What I found frustrating though was that you didn’t have a link where you recommend we download the reading sheet, I looked all over your site especially in the Free Downloadable PDFs section and it just gives the same page with links over and over again.  If I click on the relative link, it just gives the same page and no option to download a PDF.

    Please could you look into this as I was eager to download the PDF.

    Looking forward to your reply.

    Edu

    1. Thank you so much for pointing out the missing link to the PDFs. I think I have them all sorted out now.

      I hope that you will be able to start on your study of this topic and find out why the 3 nights are a critical component of the sign of Jonah the Lord gave those who asked him.

    1. You make a very interesting observation. Not all Scripture is easy to understand and sometimes it is good to consult with the “experts”. When Philip asked the Eunuch in Acts 8:30 “So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Eunuch responded “And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”

      Philip was neither a priest, nor a scribe, nor a Biblical Scholar, but he had been with Jesus. With that experience, he was able to explain to the Eunuch what the passage meant (which interestingly enough had to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ).

      This study on the Three Days and Three Nights is not something I whipped up in a couple of hours. I literally did the study at least five times starting from scratch by throwing away all my previous notes. I confess that I don’t have any formal training in seminary or any Bible College, but I have been studying the Scriptures for over 35 years though I’m not sure if that qualifies me as a biblical scholar :).

      Following the Biblical principle of two or three witnesses, I also checked to see what other “Biblical Scholars” who had actually studied this topic had to say about it. It did not surprise me to find out that they had come to the same conclusion of a literal three days and three nights, according to the Scriptures (and some of them even used a different approach).

      I am 100% confident in the accuracy of Scripture. The challenge for everyone of us in understanding the Scriptures is to recognize that it’s not up to the Bible to change its mind when there is a difference of opinion, it is up to me to change my mind.

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