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According to the New Testament, Jesus was in the tomb for three days after he was crucified. This is mentioned in several places in the New Testament, including Matthew 12:40, which says: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
This statement is a reference to the story of Jonah in the Old Testament, who was swallowed by a large fish and spent three days and three nights inside it before being spit out onto dry land. The comparison is meant to emphasize that just as Jonah was miraculously delivered from his predicament, Jesus would also be resurrected after his death on the cross.
Some argue for three days, based on Jesus’ words,
Matthew 12:40 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
This would seem to suggest a full 72 hours. However, we should not set aside similar expressions that may allow us to get at the intent of the words. Many times in Scripture, three days does not always mean a full 72 hours of three days. For example, look at the words of Rehoboam,
1 Kings 12:5, 12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
5 He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away. 12 So Jeroboam and all of the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had spoken: “Return to me on the third day.”
You see that the king told the people to go away for three days and then return to him. But you also will notice that they returned on the third day, which was not a full 72 hours of three days. Now, consider what Jesus said of himself, something that Scripture repeatedly says,
Luke 24:46 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead on the third day,
Now, if he had remained in the grave for a full 72 hours of three days, it means that he would have been raised on the fourth day. Jewish days ran from sundown to sundown. Jesus died on Friday afternoon about 3:00 p.m., Nisan 14, 33 C.E.
- Jesus’ death Friday Nisan 14, about 3:00 p.m. (Matt 27:31-56; Mk 15:20-41; Lu 23:26-49; Jn 19:16-30)
- Jesus was in Tomb before sundown Friday evening (Matt 27:57-61; Mk 15:42-47; Lu 23:50-56; Jn 19:31-42)
- Jesus in tomb all of Nisan 15th from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, which began Nisan 16 (Matt 27:62-66)
- Jesus resurrected early Sunday morning of Nisan 16th (Matt 28:1; Mk 16:1; Lu 24:1; Jn 20:1)
Therefore, Jesus was dead and in the tomb for at least a period of time on Friday Nisan 14, was still in the tomb during the course of the whole day of Nisan 15, and spent the nighttime hours of Nisan 16 in the tomb.
- Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. (Matt 28:1)
- When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. (Mk 16:1)
- But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. (Lu 24:1)
- Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. (Jn 20:1)
Certain women came to the tomb on Sunday morning, it was still dark, he had already been resurrected. Thus, Jesus had been in the tomb for parts of three days.