New Book: Daniel's 70 Weeks

Appendix 7: The 3 Days and 3 Nights

The Problem. The weight of evidence (from reading the Gospels literally) supports a Friday Crucifixion (the Day before the Sabbath). This is certainly the natural conclusion a reader would come to (John 19:31,42). Likewise the evidence is equally strong and clear for a Sunday morning resurrection (the first day of the week). Moreover this agrees with the primary (standard) description of this period of time-frame: that the Resurrection was on the 3rd day from His death, not the 4th (Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, 26:61, 27:40, 27:63,64, Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34, 14:58, 15:29, Luke 9:22, 18:33, 24:7,21,46, John 2:19-22, Acts 10:40, 1Corinthians 15:4, Hosea 6:2 - see Appendix 1), for it is well-known that the Jews reckoned inclusively (any part of a day as a whole day). When one reads the events one gets the clear impression He rose on the 3rd day. He died and was buried early evening (before sunset) of the day of preparation (Friday), the day before the Sabbath (Matthew 27:62, 28:1, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54,56, John 19:31,42). The women returned home and rested on the Sabbath (Saturday, Luke 23:56). Early on the first day of the week(s) (Sunday) they went to the tomb (Matt 28:1, Mark 16:1,2, Luke 24:1, John 20:1) and found it empty. Also on the the same day He arose, Jesus walked with 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13) and they told Him their Lord was crucified and “now it is the 3rd day since this occurred” (Luke 24:21). All this evidence points to a Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection.

However, there is a single Prophecy of Jesus that seems to stand in contradiction to this:
Matthew 12:39,40: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the great fish,
so will the Son of Man be 3 days and 3 nights in the heart of the earth.”
Since it seems impossible to reconcile this with a Friday-Sunday death and resurrection, alternative theories have arisen to provide a literal fulfilment of this prophecy (Wednesday-Saturday, Thursday-Sunday and Friday-Monday). However these theories do not agree so well with the other evidence in the Gospels, requiring interpretations that contradict the plain meaning of some other scriptures, so that in solving one problem they create many more. Without this one prophecy there would be no argument, because all the other statements are so clear and consistent.

So it seems that we are given the choice between taking the 3 days and 3 nights literally or a group of other scriptures literally (such as 'on the 3rd day'). If we have a literal 3 days and 3 nights we have problems interpreting the other scriptures in their plain, literal meaning. Conversely if we uphold the general evidence, we have a problem upholding a literal 3 days and 3 nights. For those who uphold the literal inspiration of all scripture both alternatives pose a problem.

Based on the weight of evidence, we should lean towards accepting the testimony of the many witnesses and endeavour to understand the 3 days and 3 nights in that context, rather than the other way round (by trying to make all the other statements fit with the single witness on the other side). I propose 2 ways this can be done:

Solution 1. It is not to be taken too literally, but an idiom, according to accepted Jewish usage. In other words, it is equivalent to: 3 'days and nights' and that any part of a day or night counts as a whole 'day and night' (See 'Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ'- H. Hoehner) the principle of literal interpretation allows for the use of idioms, so that if it can be shown that it is according to accepted Jewish usage, it is a possible interpretation:

Now in the Old Testament a part of a day = a whole day
(Genesis 42:17,18, 1Kings 20:29, 2Chronicles 10:5,12).

In Esther 4:16 she calls a fast for 3 days and 3 nights before she goes into the king. Then in 5:1 she went into the king on the 3rd day.
In 1Samuel 30:12, an abandoned servant said he had not ate or drank for 3 days and 3 nights, and in verse 13 he says he was abandoned 3 days ago.
In these examples: 'after 3 days and 3 nights' seems to be equivalent to 'on the 3rd day.' Several passages of Rabbinic literature combine Jonah 1:17 with the passages above. Also Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (10th from Ezra, 100AD) said: “a day and a night are an Onah (a portion of time) and a portion of an Onah is as the whole of it” (in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud) That is, in Jewish thinking, any portion of 'a day and a night' is counted as 'a day and a night.' In this way '3 days and 3 nights' can be thought of as consistent with Friday-Sunday.

Solution 2. While the above may be valid, as a literalist myself, I would prefer a more literal solution (by saying '3 days AND 3 nights' did He not imply there would be 3 periods of darkness), which I am now pleased to present. I believe I have found the literal solution that is confirmed by the words of Jesus Himself!

Prophetic Paradoxes. I believe what we have here is a good example of a prophetic paradox, a common characteristic of Messianic Prophecy, where a prophecy is given in a doublet form, where the two parts seem contradictory, so that the prophecy could only be fulfilled under very special circumstances, so that when it is fulfilled it is doubly impressive and indicative of the supernatural hand of God.

Some Examples are:
(1) Isaiah 53:9: “And they made His grave with the wicked -but with the rich at His death.” Messiah will die as a criminal by capital punishment and so a criminal's grave will be prepared for Him. But at the same time, because He is innocent He will have an honourable burial in a rich man's tomb. The 2 descriptions of His grave seem contradictory and both could only be literally fulfilled under very

special circumstances. The Gospels of course show how God did it.

(2) Psalm 22:18: They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots. Psalm 22 is an amazing description of the crucifixion from Christ's viewpoint. In v18 we have a dual description of what happened to his clothes. On one hand the clothes were divided equally among a group, but on the other hand they cast lots to determine a winner who would get them. The two methods seem contradictory, but the Gospels show how both were fulfilled (John 19:23,24). His garments were divided equally among the 4 soldiers, but His outer tunic was too valuable to be torn and divided, so they cast lots for it.

(3) Isaiah 9:6,7 along with many other prophecies present Messiah as both God and man, which seems paradoxical. Either He is God or a man, but how can He be both? This paradox was resolved in the uniqueness of the incarnation. Since it was hard to see how both aspects could be fulfilled in one person the Jews tended to see the Messiah as just a man. But Jesus claimed to be the unique God-man.

(4) Zechariah 9:9,10 describes the Messiah as a conquering King whose dominion will cover the earth, but who comes to Jerusalem on a donkey. This paradoxical vision is one example of the two streams of messianic prophecy running together (often in adjacent verses) that describe His Suffering and His Glory. These 2 visions of the Messiah seem so different, that many had trouble reconciling them. So some thought they described two different Messiahs. However mostly they looked for the conquering Messiah and ignored the prophecies of the suffering Messiah. However we can now see how Jesus perfectly resolves this paradox and fulfils both visions in His two Comings.

In all these prophecies, God gives us 2 different angles on Messiah which seem to be a paradox. But in each case the paradox is resolved through the special

uniqueness of the Messiah. Thus these prophecies most effectively pinpoint the Messiah, as no one else can achieve this resolution.

It seems to me that the prophecy of the 3 days and 3 nights is deliberately designed to be one of these paradoxes. Christ Himself repeatedly predicted His resurrection on the 3rd day, but now as a challenge to our thinking He says it will also be after 3 days and 3 nights. The paradox here, of course, is that even if one allows for any part of a day (or night) to be counted as a whole day (or night), counting 3 days and 3 nights literally from His death and burial takes you to the 4th day. So then His resurrection would be on the 4th day, not on the 3rd day, but that contradicts the literal meaning of His other statements. For example if He died on Friday afternoon, the 3rd day is Sunday (before 6pm). However '3 days and 3 nights' takes you to Sunday night (after 6pm) which means He rose between 6pm Sunday and 6am Monday, which is on the 4th day from His death (by Jewish sunset reckoning).

How can both be literally true? A Paradox indeed!

So the Question is: “Are there special (unique) circumstances surrounding Messiah's death and resurrection that make a resolution of this paradox possible, so that Christ rose literally after 3 days and 3 nights, as well as on the 3rd day?” Has God set up an impossibility, only to do the impossible and make it possible by a supernatural intervention, and in so so doing mark these 3 days and 3 nights as truly Messianic, unlike any other? I believe the answer is YES. By making both sets of paradoxical prophecies come literally to pass, He makes the fulfilment doubly impressive, so that men might know the hand of God is at work, and know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Greater than Jonah.

Friday-Sunday is only 3 days and 2 nights, or is it? The general evidence in the Gospels leads us to believe that Christ died at Friday 3pm (at the closing of the supernatural darkness) and rose at about sunrise (6am) Sunday morning.

However, even by an inclusive reckoning this is only 3 days and 2 nights. Thus we are one night short for a literal fulfilment. We need another NIGHT! Did the special circumstances surrounding Christ's death and resurrection provide another night? YES! The 3 HOURS of DARKNESS!
My proposal is that the 3 hours of darkness count as a Night, so that if He left His body just before the darkness lifted and rose just after sunrise, then we literally have Him 3 days and 3 nights in the heart of the earth (in total 39 hours)!

*Night 1 (Friday noon-3pm). We can establish that Christ died during the supernatural darkness, which lifted just after. His spirit-soul then immediately descended to Hades (in the heart of the earth) where all the dead went at that time (to Paradise or Torments). The expression 'heart of the earth' clearly relates to His spirit-soul rather than to His body which was buried at the earth's surface. Therefore, the 3 days and 3 nights describe how long His spirit was in Hades, and they begin at His death rather than at His burial (as do all the other 3 day measurements of the time until His resurrection). This agrees with Christ descending first to the Lower Parts of the earth (Ephesians 4:9), to the Abyss or Bottomless Pit (Romans 10:7), for His soul went to Hades (Acts 2:31). Clearly these parallel scriptures are not speaking of His body.
Day 1: Friday 3pm-sunset (6pm).

Night 2: Friday 6pm-Saturday sunrise (6am).
Day 2: Saturday 6am-6pm.

Night 3: Saturday 6pm-Sunday sunrise.
Day 3: Sunday sunrise to sunset. Jesus rose at or just after the sunrise on Sunday morning: Mark 16:9 confirms that Jesus rose early Sunday morning:
“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week (not 'weeks') He appeared first to Mary Magdalene.”

Now the validity of this interpretation depends on whether this period of darkness is correctly described as 'a Night'. We will see that both the Gospel records and the other historical records certainly describe this time of darkness as Night, for the sun(light) was not just obscured by dust or clouds, it was absent just as at Night. Moreover the stars were shining just as at Night. Therefore as judged by its nature this darkness was Night. God's assessment of it can be deduced from Genesis 1:3-5: “God called the light day and the DARKNESS He called NIGHT.” Thus to God it was NIGHT. But it was only when I saw that Christ Himself described this Darkness as 'Night' that I was fully convinced. What greater confirmation can we ask for? As He hung on the Cross in this darkness, He called it Night!

If we don't accept Christ's testimony on this point, then obviously no evidence will convince us, as there cannot possibly be any better evidence! If He calls the supernatural darkness a 'Night', who are we to differ with Him? Someone may say: “I will only accept this if Christ Himself says it is a Night.” Well, we will demonstrate He did indeed say this. Just as we must take His '3 days and 3 nights' statement seriously, so likewise if He calls the supernatural darkness a 'Night', then we must take this statement equally seriously (literally). Since He is the one who predicted the 3 days and 3 nights (Matthew 12:40), He must be the final authority as to what constitutes a Night in this prophecy. If someone says something that we think is ambiguous then imposing our preference is not the way to resolve it. We must try and get into the mind of the speaker to see what He meant by those words. If we can't ask Him directly, we must see what else He said on that subject, and then from that we can deduce his intended meaning. Therefore Christ must have the last word as to the correct interpretation of 'Night' in '3 days and 3 nights'. He has the right to tell us what He means by 3 days and 3 nights. His word should stand as to whether the hours of darkness constitute 'Night' or not. If He affirms that these 3 hours are Night, then the issue is established beyond doubt.

So now we shall investigate if Jesus made such a statement.

Matthew 27:45: “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is,
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Just before He dies, in the darkness, Jesus (His 5th Saying) quotes from Psalm 22:1 (“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”), signifying that He was now praying Psalm 22 (the whole Psalm). It is well accepted that the whole of Psalm 22 is a detailed description of the Crucifixion of Christ from His personal viewpoint (both from all the internal evidence and the New Testament references).
It is nothing else but His Prayer from the Cross. Moreover Psalm 22 finishes with a prophecy (v31) that: “They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born: That He has done it.” In other words: it will be proclaimed down the generations that: “He has accomplished it, that it is finished, that through His death for us He has paid the price in full.”

Matthew 27:50a: “And (then) Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.” John 20:30 tells us what this cry was: “He said, “It is finished!” (which is equivalent to: “I have done it!” - the end of Psalm 22). And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”

Just as He indicated by quoting the first verse He was praying Psalm 22, so now just before He died He indicated He had completed His prayer by referencing the last verse. Thus by quoting the last verse of Psalm 22, He signified that He had now finished praying the Psalm. Thus He wanted us to know that Psalm 22 was His prayer just before His death. We know the whole Psalm relates to His time on the Cross. He prayed it from start to finish and it contains His most exact and detailed description of the time of His crucifixion.

Let us now see what He said about His time on the Cross:

Psalm 22:1 My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning (screaming)?
v2: O My God, I cry in the DAYTIME (8am-noon), but You do not hear; and in the NIGHT SEASON !!! (noon-3pm), and am not silent.”

Clearly He describes the darkness He was in at that time as being a NIGHT! His time on the Cross therefore included both a DAY and a NIGHT time.

Thus we see the Paradox is resolved by God Himself. The missing 3rd night is missing no longer, for now we can see that an extra, 3-hour-long, night of complete darkness has been supernaturally interposed by God Himself! He was in the heart of the earth for 3 periods of darkness and 3 of light, and He was raised on the 3rd day!

*Some further Thoughts: Soon after Christ died: “The veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked” (Matthew 27:50).
Luke 23:44-46 implies the veil was rent during the darkness: “And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened (completely blacked out), and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up His spirit.”
Therefore He died while it was still dark. According to the Gospel of Peter and Acts of Pilate (see Appendix 4) the ending of the darkness coincided with the rending of the veil and the earthquake (soon after His death), confirming that Jesus died in the Night.
The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus' giving up His spirit immediately before the account of the earthquake and rending of the Temple veil. In the apocryphal Gospel of Peter (dating from the first half of the 2nd century AD) He expires just before an earthquake at the end of the 3 hours of darkness and the return of light.
According to the apocryphal Acts of Pilate, the fear of the earthquake persisted during the period of darkness between the 6th and 9th hours. Thus these accounts all agree that the darkness ended with the earthquake and the rending of the veil, and that was shortly after Christ's death in the dark. The lifting of the darkness and the earthquake shortly after His death explains the conversion of the Centurion (it would not have been so impressive if the darkness lifted before His death and the earthquake):
“when the Centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).

*Extra-Biblical accounts (see Appendix 4). The Bible says that all the earth was in darkness (Luke 23:24) as well as over all the land (of Israel) (Mark 15:33). The secular accounts consistently agree that the darkness covered the whole known world. They also agree that the stars were seen, as at night. But if it was not really night, but the daytime with something (like dust or clouds) blocking the light of the sun, then the stars would have faded out of visibility. Neither could it have been an eclipse. Therefore by nature it was not a daytime gloominess, but a genuine night.

*The phrases used for the time of the resurrection.
Most statements of the time of the resurrection are 'on the 3rd day' not 'on the 4th day'. The fact that this assertion is made so many times (in contrast to the one mention of 3 days and 3 nights) shows there to be an intentional emphasis on the fact that Christ would rise on the 3rd Day, although the paradoxical '3 days and 3 nights' would also be fulfilled because of special circumstances (miraculous intervention).

1. 'On the 3rd Day' from his death (not 4th day) is by far the commonest (main) expression. (Matthew 16:21, 17:22,23, 20:18,19, 27:64, Luke 9:22, 18:32,33, 24:7,21,46, Acts 10:39,40, 1Corinthians 15:3,4, Hosea 6:2)

2. 'In 3 days' (John 2:19-22). Here the preposition is 'en' meaning 'in' or 'within.' Also Matthew 27:40, Mark 15:29. Clearly this carries the same meaning as 'on the 3rd day.' In Matthew 26:61 and Mark 14:58, the preposition is 'dia' meaning 'by' or 'within', which again means the same.

3. 'After 3 days' seems to contradict the previous two statements (Mark 8:31, Matthew 27:63). Here the preposition translated is 'after' is 'meta' which generally means 'with', that is 'with 3 days.' So the translation is misleading. Mark 8:31 is a parallel verse to Matthew 16:21 and Luke 9:22 where 'on the 3rd day' is used instead. Thus this phrase is equivalent to 'on the 3rd day'. Both phrases mean a period extending to the third day.
The prophecy that He will rise 'meta 3 days' applies through the 3rd day, but not after it. Thus the resurrection was not after 3 days were completed but on the 3rd day.

In Matthew 27:63, His enemies say He predicted He would rise 'after (meta) 3 days' (perhaps a reference to Mark 8:31), but then they asked to secure the tomb till the 3rd day, so they must have understood that 'after 3 days' must have been equivalent to 'on the 3rd day', so that the prophecy only applied through the 3rd day, not after it; otherwise the Pharisees would have asked for a guard until the 4th day. Matthew 27:63: “Saying (to Pilate), “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, 'After 3 days I will rise.' v64 Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the 3rd day” It could be argued the the 4th day after His death was meant as the request was made the day after His death, but it is more likely they were reckoning from His death. In all other instances Matthew uses 'on the 3rd day' and never 'after 3 days', so it is unlikely he meant to indicate here that Christ rose on the 4th day after His death. So this confirms that the Pharisees were reckoning from Christ's death.

Mark 9:31 and Mark 10:33,34 have two manuscript variations. Some manuscripts have 'meta 3 days' and others have 'on the 3rd day.' This accounts for the two different translations of 'after 3 days' and 'on the 3rd day.' As we have seen, these two phrases are equivalent anyway. This is confirmed by the fact that whichever form these verses take, they are paralleled by verses in the other Synoptics, and in each case the other Synoptic uses 'on the 3rd day' instead: Mark 9:31 = Matthew 17:23, Mark 10:34 = Matthew 20:19, Luke 18:33. This again confirms that 'meta 3 days' means the same as: 'on the 3rd day.' Any confusion is due to translation.

Conclusion: We have now dealt with every verse describing this time-period (except Matthew 12:40). In the final analysis all 20 of them mean the same: “On the 3rd day.” Matthew 12:40 stands apart as a special exception. Although it must be taken seriously, we also must interpret it in the light of what the other 20 verses clearly reveal.


"3 days and 3 nights" chart

s 70 Weeks29


"Jesus' death and resurrection" chart

s 70 Weeks30



About Us



Bible Commentary






OBC Office

363 Banbury Road
Oxford - England - UK
Telephone: +44 (0)1865 515086
Fax: +44 (0) 8721 107068
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Sunday Services

Sundays at 11am and 6pm
Cheney School Hall
Cheney Lane - Headington
Oxford - England - UK