HOW LONG WAS JESUS IN THE GRAVE?
The traditional view is that He was crucified late Friday evening, and rose early Sunday morning, making His sojourn in the grave two nights (Friday and Saturday) and one day (Saturday) with a small part of Friday and Sunday.
The usual explanation is that the custom of the Jews was to reckon a part of a day or night as a whole day of 24 hours. Thus we are told that there was a very small part of Friday, or a day and a night; all of Saturday, another day and night; and a very small part of Sunday, another day and night.
DIFFICULTIES TO THIS THEORY
It does not take a logician to see that there are several difficulties to this theory that are insuperable. The first one is that it is tradition rather than scripture. Nowhere does the Bible teach, by direct statement or implication, that Jesus was crucified on Friday evening and rose Sunday morning. There is a tradition to that effect, but Christ Himself warned us against “Making the word of God none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered,” Mark 7:13. And in Colossians 2:8 the apostle Paul sounds the same note when he says: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”
Another difficulty with the tradition is that it contradicted the plain statements of Scripture that Christ would be in the grave for three days and three nights. Let us note a few passages. “For as Jonah 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.” Matt. 12:40.
This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, “AND TO BUILD IT IN THREE DAYS,” Matt. 26:61. “Thou that destroyest the temple, AND BUILDEST IT IN THREE DAYS, save thyself,” Matt. 27:40. “Sir, we remember that the deceiver said, while he was yet alive, AFTER THREE DAYS I WILL RISE AGAIN,” Matt. 27:63. “The Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected of the elders and of the chief priest, and scribes, and be killed and AFTER THREE DAYS RISE AGAIN,” Mark 8:31. “The Son of man is delivered up into the hands of men, and they shall kill Him; and when He is killed, AFTER THREE DAYS HE SHALL RISE AGAIN,” Mark 10:34. “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, AND IN THREE DAYS I WILL BUILD ANOTHER MADE WITHOUT HANDS,: Mark 14:58. “Thou that destroyest the temple, AND BUILDEST IT IN THREE DAYS, save thyself,” Mark 15:29. “Yea, and beside all this, IT IS NOW THE THIRD DAY SINCE THESE THINGS CAME TO PASS,” Luke 24:21. “Jesus answered and said unto them, destroy this temple, AND IN THREE DAYS I WILL RAISE IT UP. The Jews therefore said, forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou RAISE IT UP IN THREE DAYS? But he spake of the temple of His body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that He spoke this; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.” John 2:19-20. Would that people today were as ready to believe the Scripture, and the words which He spoke as were the disciples. These passages are so plain that no comment is necessary.
But that is not all. If Jesus was crucified on Friday then the Old Testament prophecies which relate to His atoning death were not fulfilled.
For example, we know that all the sacrifices of the Old Testament were but types of Christ Who was the real Pascal “Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.” Everything about the Passover lamb, therefore, must be fulfilled in Jesus. If we accept the theory, however, that He was crucified on Friday, at least two of the very important details of the prophecy were not fulfilled, that is the Pascal Lamb must be chosen on the 14th of Nisan, in the evening just before the 15th of Nisan (Ex. 12:6).
Still another difficulty presents itself. In the year 30 A.D., the year of the crucifixion, the astronomers tell us that the Passover fell on Thursday, April the 6th, which was a full moon. In the light of that fact, the traditional theory that Christ was crucified on Friday, the day of the Passover, has no standing ground. The gymnastics to which some have betaken themselves in order to extricate themselves from the difficulty is, to say the least, amusing. For instance, it has been suggested that the crucifixion may have occurred in the year 33 A.D. It is true that the full moon was on Thursday in 33 A.D. also, but the suggested solution is, that since it was about two and one half hours before Friday, maybe they observed it on Friday.
Note one more difficulty. If Christ was crucified on Friday then He violated the divine law with reference to the Sabbath. Six days before the Passover, (John 12:1) Christ made the journey from Jericho to Bethany. Now if the Passover came on Friday, and He was crucified on that day, then this journey was made on Saturday, the Sabbath, just six days before. Such a journey was a violation of law, and certainly Jesus would not have taken such a journey in defiance of law, because He came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.
The fact is, the traditional theory that Christ died and was buried on Friday is so fraught with difficulties that it cannot be harmonized with the Scripture teaching at all. Not only so, but when you take into consideration the fact that not one single thing is to be gained by the traditional theory, but that, contrariwise, it contradicts the plain teaching of the Bible on every hand, the difficulty becomes an absurdity and a rank inconsistency. Our first question then is,
WHEN WAS THE CRUCIFIXION?
Since Jesus was in the grave three full days and three full nights the question naturally arises, when was He crucified? By no possible stretch of imagination can one get three full days and three full nights from 6 o’clock Friday evening to 6 o’clock Sunday morning. What, then, are the facts?
In Mark 15:42, 43 it is said: “And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea…went in boldly unto Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” Inasmuch as Saturday is a Jewish Sabbath it is usually taken for granted that the crucifixion was on Friday. What is not usually taken into consideration is the fact that the Jews had Sabbaths other than Saturday, the weekly Sabbath. The first day of the Passover Week upon which it came. This is clear from such passages as the 12th chapter of Exodus, 23 chapter of Leviticus, and the 28th chapter of Numbers.
The question, therefore, is, was Mark talking about Saturday, the weekly Sabbath, or the Passover Sabbath which always came on the 15th of Nisan, and fell that year on Thursday. Fortunately, we are not left in doubt as to which Sabbath is meant. In John 19:14 we read: “And it was the preparation of the Passover, which was always the day before the Passover. Since the Passover came that year on Thursday, the day before would be Wednesday. Hence Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, and died on the cross at the very hour that the Passover Lambs were being slain. And what was the hour for the slaying of the Lambs? Exodus 12:6 tell us: “And ye shall keep it (the passover lamb) until the fourteenth day of the same month (Nisan); and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at even.” The Hebrew for the phrase “at even” is literally, “Between the two evenings,” that is, as the one day was passing out, and the new one coming in. With the Jews that was about six o’clock or sunset.
When Wednesday is recognized as the day of the crucifixion how beautifully do the Scriptures harmonize, and how completely are the types and prophecies fulfilled. Not only was Christ God’s real Pascal Lamb without spot and without blemish (Ex. 12:15; Heb. 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19), but the Lamb was chosen on the 10th day of Nisan in accordance with the law. (Ex. 12:3). As we have seen, in the year 30 A.D., the year of the crucifixion, the passover came on Thursday. John 12:1 tells us that six days before the Passover, which would be on the preceding Friday, Christ made the journey from Jericho to Bethany, and it was the next day, Saturday, the 10th of Nisan, that the triumphant entry into Jerusalem was made (John 12:12).
According to the traditional theory we have seen that this journey from Jericho to Bethany was made on Saturday, the Sabbath, and that was contrary to law. But according to this view the Passover was on Thursday and Christ died on Wednesday, making the journey from Jericho to Bethany on (Friday) and from Bethany to Jerusalem on Saturday, which was not only permissible, but altogether probable, because we are told that Bethany is a Sabbath day’s journey from Jerusalem (Acts 1:12; Luke 24:50).
Jesus reached Bethany on Friday afternoon. That evening a supper was given in His honor in the home of Simon the leper. After supper Judas went to the chief priests and made a bargain with them, offering to turn the Savior over to them for thirty pieces of silver, the exact value of the Lamb predicted by the Old Testament prophecy (Zech. 11:12; Matt. 26:6-16; Mark 14:3-11). As the bargain was made late Friday evening after supper, it was in reality made on Saturday, because the Jewish Saturday begins at 6 o’clock or Sunset Friday, and Saturday was Nisan the 10th. Thirty pieces of silver being the price set on Christ, the Lamb, by the chief priests, it was the choosing, or taking to them of a lamb on the 10th day of Nisan, in accordance with their law.
The law provided that the lamb should be chosen on the 10th day of Nisan (Ex. 12:3), and slain on the 14th day of Nisan (Ex. 12:6). Now Christ was chosen late Friday evening which was the beginning of the Jewish Saturday, or the 10th day of the Nisan. He was crucified the day before the Passover, which came that year on Thursday, Nisan 15th, making the crucifixion on “Wednesday, Nisan the 14th. And Luke tells us (Luke 23:54) that the hour of His death was just as the one day was passing out, and the new one coming in. It is the same expression that we find in Hebrew in (Ex. 12:6), designating the hour at which the sacrifice was to be offered. Thus the law and the prophets were marvelously fulfilled to the very letter.
WHEN WAS THE RESURRECTION?
Pressing our investigation further, let us raise the question. When was the resurrection? Tradition says it was early Sunday morning – perhaps about sunrise; but here again the Scriptures are silent as to any such idea.
We have found that Christ, the true Pascal Lamb of God died about 6 o’clock, or sunset, Wednesday evening or just as Wednesday was passing out and Thursday was coming in, the exact hours that other lambs were being slain for the Passover (Ex. 12:6; Luke 23:54). We have seen, furthermore, that Christ, Himself, said that He would be in the grave, three full days and three full nights (Matt. 12:40). Now since He died about 6 o’clock Wednesday evening, Thursday evening would be one day and one night; Friday would be two days and two night(s). Thus the resurrection occurred Saturday evening about 6 o’clock, or sunset, making three full days and three full night(s), or a period of seventy-two hours, that He was in the grave.
But this is not the only line of argument, nor is it the strongest evidence. Matthew makes it clear as to the time of the resurrection. In 28:1 he says: “Now late on the Sabbath Day, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.” (added: Actual quote is: “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, …..”)
Do you catch the significance of that statement? In Exodus 12:6 we are told the hour that the Passover Lamb should be offered is “At Even”, or, as we have seen, as the one day was passing out and the new one coming in. Luke tells us in 23:54 that the time of Christ’s death and burial the real Pascal Lamb was at even, or just as the one day was passing out and the new one coming in. Now Matthew uses the same word to tell us that it was between the evenings, or as Saturday was closing and Sunday was beginning that the women made their visit to the tomb and found it empty. The point is to note that when the two women reached the sepulchre late Saturday Jesus had already risen. The Angel said to them: “He is not here: for He is risen, as he said,” Matt. 28:6.
With the possible exception of Mark 16:1, Matthew is the only one to mention the evening visit to the tomb. All the other writers speak of the Sunday morning visits, which Matthew does not mention at all. We must take all the records to get the full number of visits, but the important thing for us to remember is that the first visit was Saturday evening, and the tomb was already empty.
Now let us summarize. How long was Jesus in the grave? He was crucified on Wednesday, and died about 6 o’clock, or sunset, as the one day was passing out and the other coming in, and was buried at once. He arose about 6 o’clock, or sunset, the following Saturday, just as the day was passing out and Sunday was coming in. Thus He was in the grave three full days (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), and three full nights (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday), or a period of seventy-two hours, exactly the time that He said He would be in the tomb. Therefore, Christ’s statement that He would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights is not only verified, but all prophecy which relates to Christ and His atoning death is gloriously fulfilled in every type, shadow and symbol.
AN OBJECTION CONSIDERED
To the above view it might be objected that, if Christ was crucified on Wednesday, and the Passover came on Thursday, then He either did not eat the Passover at all; or, if He did so, it was at an irregular time, and that the law prohibited. What are the facts? It is true that the law which enjoined a strict observance of the Passover on the 15th of Nisan was religiously enforced; however, it was not like the iron-clad law of the Medes and Persians. According to the 9th chapter of Numbers there were two exceptions under which one was permitted to eat the Passover at a time other than the stated time. If an ordinary Jew could claim those exceptions for good and sufficient reasons, certainly the provision would obtain with regard to the Lord of the Passover. Yes, Jesus ate the Passover, but it was on Wednesday and not on Thursday, the regular day.
We are told by the Synoptists (Matt. 26:17-20; Mark 14:12-17; Luke 22:7-16) that Jesus observed the Passover, with His disciples, on the first day of unleavened bread. The first day of unleavened bread was Nisan 14th, the day before the Passover. As the Passover came that year on Thursday, Nisan 15th, the 14th would necessarily be on Wednesday. Remember that according to the Jewish reckoning Wednesday began Tuesday evening at 6 o’clock. So when Christ and His disciples met in the room for supper on Tuesday evening late, it was in reality Wednesday the 14th day of Nisan.
On this subject John is in perfect harmony with the Synoptists. Some have fancied that there is a contradiction between them, but that is not true. In John 13:1-11 it is said that Christ did observe the Passover before the regular time. Furthermore, in John 13:27 Jesus said to Judas: “That thou doest, do quickly,” and in the 29th verse it is said distinctly that some of the disciples understood the instructions to mean that He was to secure those things necessary for the feast of the Passover. Take the position that Christ ate the Passover Thursday, and died on Friday, and this passage is meaningless, but recognize the fact that the regular passover was to be observed the next day by the public, and the statement is perfectly clear and intelligible.
In John 18:28 we are told that the Jews would not go into the place of Pilate at the trial of Jesus, lest they be defiled and not be permitted to eat at the Passover. If the Passover had passed, where is the force logic of that action? The fact is, it was the day before the Passover, and they would not have time for the ceremonial cleansing which the law required as prerequisite to the Passover on the morrow.
An examination of the evidence discloses the fact that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John agree that Jesus ate at the Passover, but not publicly with the Jews as a whole. He gathered His little band about Him in the evening of the day before, and observed that ceremonial law, after which He instituted the Christian Passover, that sacred memorial to Himself, the Lord’s Supper. Then, at the exact time and hour of the offering of the Pascal Lambs, He offered Himself on the cross as our Savior and sacrifice, as God’s real Pascal Lamb.
Blessed Book! How beautifully does it harmonize with itself, and how the difficulties all roll away as the mists of the morning when it is allowed to speak its own message.
Written by R. A. Tindall