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How Many Days Was Jesus In The Tomb?

How many days did Jesus lie in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (cf. Luke 23:50-56)? Was it “3 days” (John 2:19)? Or was it “3 days and 3 nights” (Matthew 12:40)? Or was it less than 2 days? Which is correct, and do the Scriptures contradict themselves?

Let us first establish the day that Jesus died on. We know that Jesus died on a Friday. Jesus “gave up the ghost” (i.e. died) (Mark 15:37), and it was specified that it was the “day before the Sabbath”, that is, what we would call Friday (Mark 15:42), when Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, to bury in in the tomb (Mark 15:43-47).

Next, let us establish the time that Jesus died at. Jesus was crucified at 9 AM on a Friday, or the “third hour”, as reckoned by the Jews’ method of keeping time, beginning from sunrise (Mark 15:25). He hung on the cross in pain and agony for about 6 hours, and when it was 3 PM on that same Friday (the “ninth hour”, according to Jewish time), He cried out with a loud voice, and then “gave up the ghost” – that is, He died (Mark 15:33-37).

Finally, let us establish the day and time that Jesus rose from the dead. The Bible records that some women came to the tomb of Jesus “when the Sabbath was past” with spices, to anoint His body (Mark 16:1). They reached the tomb at sunrise, “very early in the morning on the first day of the week”, that is, on Sunday morning, at approximately 6 AM (Mark 16:2). They discovered that the tomb was empty, and that “Jesus had risen early on the first day of the week” (Mark 16:6, 9).

There will be some of you readers who have quickly determined that as Jesus died at about 3 PM on a Friday, and rose early in the morning on a Sunday, He did not even spend 48 hours in the tomb, let alone “3 days” or “3 days and 3 nights”. Are the Scriptures erroneous then?

Today, I might come back from a long day in the office and tell my wife that “I spent the whole day at work”. My wife understands that I did not literally spend 24 hours in the office, but that I was using a figure of speech. I might make a hotel booking for one day, and yet when the hotel’s policy only allows me to check in no earlier than 3 PM, and that I must check out before 12 noon the next day, I do not kick up a fuss over them short-changing me.

We see similar figures of speech being used in the Bible where keeping time is concerned. King Rehoboam told the people to “come again unto me after three days” (2 Chronicles 10:5), but they came to him “on the third day, as the king commanded” (2 Chronicles 10:12). Queen Esther told Mordecai to tell the Jews in Shushan to “fast three days, night or day”, and then she would go in to seek an audience with King Ahasuerus (Esther 4:16). Yet “on the third day”, Esther went in to see the king (Esther 5:1ff).

Jesus spent part of Friday, the whole of Saturday, and part of Sunday in the tomb. Although the cumulative time in the tomb was less than 48 hours, yet it was still not inaccurate to use the terms “3 days” or “3 days and nights”, for they were figures of speech commonly used not only in those days, but today as well. Furthermore, after the resurrection of Jesus, the enemies of Jesus made the false accusation that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus (Matthew 28:11-15), but they never once said that Jesus came back to life on the wrong day than that which He had promised!

Brethren, we can have absolute confidence in the accuracy of the Bible, for it is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Let us always give thanks for the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins, but that He did not stay dead, and was resurrected the third day, proving that He is indeed the Son of God (Romans 1:4).


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