We have analyzed the principal texts (Matthew 12:40; 28:1; Mark 8:31; John 19:31) and their many supporting references on which the teaching of the duration of Jesus’ entombment for three days and three nights is based. These texts offer ample support for the teaching that Jesus was indeed entombed for a period of three days and three nights. The doctrine of a Friday cruciﬁxion and Sunday morning resurrection is discredited because it fails to fulﬁll Jesus’ prediction that He would be in the grave for three days and three nights. We have established that the phrase “three days and three nights” (Matthew 12:40) is not an idiom. We have shown also that the phrase “after three days” is parallel to the phrase “three days and three nights.”
The deﬁnite phrases “three days and three nights” and “after three days” require Jesus to remain in the grave for approximately 72 hours. The indeﬁnite phrase “on the third day” must be understood in the context of those two deﬁnite references. We have reviewed the texts that demonstrate both Jesus’ disciples and His accusers knew and understood that Jesus had described the duration of His entombment as a period of three days and nights. His accusers wanted the tomb guarded for this period (Matthew 27:63, 64), and some of His disciples were discouraged and ready to give up their belief that Jesus was the Messiah when they thought that the three days had passed and Jesus had not risen from the grave (Luke 24: 19-24).
We have demonstrated that in John 19:14, 31 the reference to “the day of Preparation” is not a reference to Friday. John’s use of preparation to describe the day before a Sabbath is qualiﬁed by his explanation “the next day was to be a special Sabbath.” We have shown it to be a reference to an annual Sabbath by his use of the Greek term megale hemera (“special day” or literally “great day”). We have cited various authorities that recognize John’s use of “day of preparation” as a proper reference to the day preceding an annual Jewish festival, such as Pass- over Sabbath. We also have shown that the use of the term preparation in the other Gospels refers to the same day as John 19:14, 31. These references are parallel to John’s reference to the Passover Sabbath. We see that John’s use of the term “great day” to describe the Pass- over Sabbath in John 19:31 is not a reference to the supposed coincidence of the Passover Sabbath and the weekly Sabbath. Rather, it refers to the Passover Sabbath that followed the day of Jesus’ cruciﬁxion. In examining Matthew 28:1-6, we have taken a careful look at the dual time references made by Matthew to the approximate time of Jesus’ resurrection. We have provided ample evidence to support the translation of Matthew 28:1 as “ln the end of the Sabbath” (KJV) and “Now late on the sabbath day” (ASV 1901), which clearly places the time of the women’s visit to the tomb late on the afternoon of the weekly Sabbath and not at sunrise on the ﬁrst day of the week. Additionally, we have shown that “as it began to dawn toward the ﬁrst day of the week” (KJV) is a reference to late Sabbath aftemoon and not sunrise Sunday morning. While the women’s visits to the tomb described by Mark, Luke, and John took place early on Sunday morn- ing, Matthew reported the women visited the tomb late on the Sabbath and found it empty.
The Gospels cannot be harmonized to make Matthew’s account of the women’s visit late on Sabbath afternoon to coincide with the visits on Sunday morning, reported by the other Gospel writers. No one disputes that Jesus was laid in the tomb near the end of the preparation day, just before sunset (Luke 23:53, 54). The parallel use of epiphosko (dawn) in Matthew 28:1 (KJV) demands that Jesus’ res- urrection and the women’s visit occur at the same time of day as His entombment — that is, near sundown, not at sunrise. Counting back three days and three nights from the time and day of His resurrection, we conclude that Jesus was laid in the tomb near sunset on Wednesday. While the day of His entombment is not identi- ﬁed in the Gospels, all agree that the time of His burial was late in the afternoon on the day of His cruciﬁxion. Since both his burial and resurrection occurred at approximately the same time of day, it is not difficult to understand how these two events were separated by three days and nights. Finally, we have shown activity that took place on each day of Jesus’ entombment, activities that require the passing of Thursday (the Pass- over Sabbath), of Friday, and of Saturday (the weekly Sabbath). These activities account for the full “three days and three nights” in the fulﬁllement of Jesus’ predicﬁon. We believe that the duration of Jesus’ entombment is a vital part of the miraculous sign Jesus offered to the unbelieving Jews. The sign Jesus gave includes His death, the duration of His entombment, and His victorious resurrection, as summarized in His prediction: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). Our faith in Jesus does not rest in knowing primarily about of the duration of His entombment. Let it rest in the whole truth that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (l Corinthians 15:3, 4).