Three Days and Three Nights: The Women hold the Key

In a previous post we looked at a number of Scripture references related to the three days and three nights will relation to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When summarizing the verses, we noticed different statements: “the third day”, “after three days”, and “three days and three nights”.

The Scriptures do not contradict themselves, and so we are left with the question as to how these three different statements can mean the same thing. When we look at the buying and preparation of spices, we discover that by their actions the women hold the key to the whole mystery as to when Jesus died, was buried and rose again.

If you have not done so, I encourage you to read Three Days and Three Nights: According to the Scriptures before moving on.

The Women at the Tomb

One might wonder why the detail about the women being at the burial of Jesus is mentioned by several of the gospel writers. It does not seem to add anything to the story, and might be considered by some as superfluous or unnecessary information.

  • In Matthew 27:60 – 61 “And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.”
  • Mark 15:46 – 47 “And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.
  • Luke 23:53 – 55 “And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.”

The fact that the women were at the tomb at the moment of the burial, and saw where the body of the Lord Jesus Christ was buried, is a significant detail in figuring out the chronology of the three days and three nights.

The Women Buying Spices

One thing to consider when reading the story about the burial of Jesus Christ is that NONE of His followers anticipated Him dying that day. In Luke 24, after the Lord rose from the dead, we read of the disciples still being perplexed about all that had happened. It is safe to say that the events of the day came as a total surprise to the followers of Jesus and that they were left in shock.

When reading through the gospel accounts, a question arises as to when the women bought the spices they would use to anoint His body. Some would suggest that they bought them in the afternoon of the day of the crucifixion after the three hours of darkness and before the burial, while Nicodemus went to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus. It is definitely a possibility, yet the Scriptures seem to indicate something quite different.

Mark 16:1 clearly states that the women bought the spices to anoint Jesus AFTER the sabbath had past. “And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.”

Understanding this detail raises yet another question because the day after the Sabbath (Saturday), is the first day of the week when the women went to the tomb, and they were there really early.

The Women Preparing the Spices

Another question that arises when reading through the gospel accounts has to do with when the women prepared the spices. Some would suggest that it was in the afternoon after Jesus died and before He was buried. They suggest that the women went to buy the spices and prepared them before going to the tomb for the burial. Again, we would defer to what the Scriptures say.

Luke 23:56 makes an interesting statement that would seem to indicate that the women prepared the spices before the Sabbath and then rested on the Sabbath day. “And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.”

A careful reading of verse 55 (and of the accounts of the other gospels) will show that the women were at the site of the burial pretty much right until nightfall. When the sun set, it was the start of the following day (click here for a study on God’s 24 hour day according to Genesis 1:5). It would have been impossible for the women to prepare the spices before the Sabbath day began, seeing as they were at the tomb pretty much until the start of the Sabbath day… and, the Scriptures indicate that they prepared the spices after the burial event.

One Sabbath or Two Sabbaths?

Following the spices will lead you to an apparent contradiction in the Gospel accounts of the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We read that the women bought the spices after the Sabbath and prepared the spices before the Sabbath. This raises a serious question:

How is it possible to buy the spices AFTER the Sabbath (Mark 16:1)
AND prepare the spices BEFORE the Sabbath (Luke 23:56)?

A common mistake that people make when reading these accounts, is to assume that the gospel writers are referring to the same Sabbath day. But in John 19:31 we read something that seems like maybe another superfluous or unnecessary detail, yet it is crucial to our understanding of the chronology of these events: “(for that sabbath day was an high day,)”. The other gospel writers do not mention it, yet John does. So what does it mean?

Simply put, it means that the Sabbath day, the day immediately after the death and burial of Jesus, was not a normal Sabbath. (I will not enter into the details in this post and you can read more about in a subsequent post about the Feasts of Jehovah and their relevance to the last week of the life of Christ). Suffice to say, that this Sabbath is a likely reference to the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a feast that initiated at the setting of the sun on the Passover day. It was a day when no servile work was to be done, making it a “day of rest” or a “sabbath day”. The first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was a Holy Convocation, a special “high” day.

Those who insist that the Sabbath’s mentioned are the same one, would suggest that the women must have brought a small amount of spices for the actual burial and then were bringing the bulk of the spices on the first day of the week when they went back to visit the tomb. There is a simpler solution which I present in this post called Three Days and Three Nights: A Spicy Solution.

Action Point: fulfilled prophecy to the jot and tittle

  1. Download and print the Three Days and Three Nights PDF Reading sheet
    1. Summarize the information about the women at the sepulcher
    2. Summarize the information about the spices with relation to the Sabbath
    3. Try to resolve the apparent contradiction.
  2. Click here: Three Days and Three Nights: A Spicy Solution, to continue with this study.

4 thoughts on “Three Days and Three Nights: The Women hold the Key”

  1. Three days and three nights the women hold the key is a great article. I love all the gospels of Jesus Christ and to know that you have pointed out how women hold the key to a lot of questions. I found reading this article very enlightening and it lifted my spirit. I love reading anything about the gospels of Jesus and his travels.

    Thank you again and I really appreciate all the messages you gave me in this article.

    1. Often when reading the Bible, we overlook the small details. The women’s presence at the burial, and their desire to anoint the Lord’s body with spices might seem insignificant in the large picture, but God uses it to show us some very remarkable details about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  2. It’s interesting to hear about the second Sabbath. We really don’t know as much as we should about the historical significance of words and events mentioned in the Bible. Historical understanding definitely adds to what we can get from the text. Thanks for looking into this topic and publishing it!

    1. An excellent observation about historical significance. Often our understanding of a story, or text from the Bible is clouded because we did not live in the circumstances nor with the customs that existe at the time of the events. We tend to interpret things based on our circumstances and our own customs and experiences.

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