Was Jesus really in the grave for three days and three nights?

This article is from Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book—Collector’s Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008)
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Jesus specifically tells us, “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). The Gospels also tell us that Jesus died on the day before the Sabbath––Friday––and rose on the day after the Sabbath––Sunday. How do we resolve this apparent contradiction?

First, in Jewish idiom any part of a day counted as a day–night unit. Thus, there is no need to literalistically demand that seventy–two hours be accounted for. This is particularly evident in light of Jesus’ own contention that he would rise on the third day, not after the third day and night had ended (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 24:46; cf. Matthew 26:61; 27:40, 63–64).

Furthermore, the Gospels unanimously declare that Jesus died on the Day of Preparation; that is, Friday, the day leading up to the beginning of the Sabbath at sundown (Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:31, 42). The gospel writers demonstrate similar unanimity regarding the discovery of Jesus’ resurrection early in the morning on the day following the Sabbath; that is, Sunday, the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Thus, to suggest as some have that Jesus died on Wednesday and rose on Saturday, or died on Thursday and rose on Sunday directly contradicts the testimony of all four gospel writers. Jesus’ sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection on the third day is the glorious archetypal fulfillment of Old Testament types.

Finally, once knowledge of ancient culturally informed modes of oral and literary expression replaces a naïve literalistic interpretation, the majestic harmony of Scripture shines through. Indeed, Jesus’ sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection on the third day is the glorious archetypal fulfillment of Old Testament types including the Passover Lamb (Exodus 12; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7), Jonah’s preservation “for three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17), and the restoration of Israel “on the third day” prophesied by Hosea (Hosea 6:2).

For further study, see Hank Hanegraaff, Resurrection (Nashville:Word Publishing, 2000).

“He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.’”

Luke 24:46

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