Bible Chronology

The 3 Days and 3 Nights paradox (full version)

*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, 1Cor 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 fulfillment 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.


Now based on the weight of evidence, we should lean towards accepting the testimony of the many witnesses and endevour 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 two 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 honorable 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 acheive 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 fulfillment. 

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 & 3 nights in the heart of the earth (in total 39 hrs)!


*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: “And 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 NT 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!” (‘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 period of darkness and 3 periods of light, and He was raised on the 3rd day!


Soon after He 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 thy 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 below) the ending of the darkness coincided with the rending of the veil and the earthquake (which was 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 darkness and 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): “So 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).


Appendix 1: Extra-Biblical accounts:

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.



A large fragment of this apocryphal, Docetic, Gospel was discovered at Akmim (Panopolis) in Egypt in 1886. The following section deals with the catastrophic events at the Crucifixion: This work is mentioned with disapproval by Serapion of Antioch towards the end of the second century AD (apud Eusebius Hist. Ecc. VI. xii. 2-6) and is datable to around the middle or earlier half of that century. It is therefore an early witness to traditions current in second century Church circles concerning the catastrophic events at the Crucifixion. v5. And it was noon, and darkness came over all Judaea: and they [the Jewish leaders] were troubled and distressed, lest the sun had set, whilst he [Jesus] was yet alive: [for] it is written for them, that the sun set not on him that hath been put to death. And one of them said, Give him to drink gall with vinegar. And they mixed and gave him to drink, and fulfilled all things, and accomplished their sins against their own head. And many went about with lamps, supposing that it was night, and fell down. And the Lord cried out, saying, My power, my power, thou hast forsaken me. And when he had said it he was taken up. And in that hour the vail of the temple of Jerusalem was rent in two. v6. And then they drew out the nails from the hands of the Lord, and laid him upon the earth, and the whole earth quaked, and great fear arose. Then the sun shone, and it was found the ninth hour: and the Jews rejoiced, and gave his body to Joseph that he might bury it, since he had seen what good things he had done. And he took the Lord, and washed him, and rolled him in a linen cloth, and brought him into his own tomb, which was called the Garden of Joseph."



From the Acts of Pilate, First Greek Form (as extant, not older than 4th century AD, but a work of this name, the Acts of Pontius Pilate, is referred to by Justin Martyr, I Apol. 35, 48, in the middle of the 2nd century AD, in his defense before the Emperor, who would have been able to examine these Acts himself, so this may be a reworking of earlier, genuine material):


"And at the time he was crucified there was darkness over all the world, the sun being darkened at mid-day, and the stars appearing, but in them there appeared no luster; and the moon, as if turned into blood, failed in her light. And the world was swallowed up by the lower regions, so that the very sanctuary of the temple, as they call it, could not be seen by the Jews in their fall; and they saw below them a chasm of the earth, with the roar of the thunders that fell upon it. And in that terror dead men were seen that had risen, as the Jews themselves testified; and they said that it was Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the twelve patriarchs, and Moses and Job, that had died, as they say, three thousand five hundred years before. And there were very many whom I also saw appearing in the body; and they were making a lamentation about the Jews, on account of the wickedness that had come to pass through them, and the destruction of the Jews and of their law. And the fear of the earthquake remained from the sixth hour of the preparation until the ninth hour."



Thallus was a historian who wrote his Histories in AD 52. Though no copies survive, we do have quotes of it from others.  Thus Julius Africanus, in A.D. 220, refers to the Histories: “Thallus, in the 3rd book of his Histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun, unreasonably … of course, because a solar  eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was  the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died.”


Phlegon was a Greek  astronomer. Philopon and Origen draw from Phlegon's Olympiads (written A.D.138) an account of the darkness of the crucifixion.   Origen's quote is the best documented and quite similar to  Philopon's:  Phlegon, in treating of the fourth year of the two hundred and second Olympiad, (AD33) the year in which our Lord  was crucified, tells us:

“That the greatest eclipse of the sun which was  ever known to happened then; for the day was so turned into night that the stars in the heavens were seen.”    To this account, Philopon adds that: “this is shown by the historical account  itself of Tiberius Caesar” suggesting that a Roman account exists.  


From the Chronography of Julius Africanus (first half of the third century AD): "ON THE CIRCUMSTANCES CONNECTED WITH OUR SAVIOR'S PASSION AND HIS LIFE-GIVING RESURRECTION.  As to His works severally, and His cures effected upon body and soul, and the mysteries of His doctrine,

and the resurrection from the dead, these have been most authoritatively set forth by His disciples and apostles before us.

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.   For the Hebrews celebrate the Passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the Passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun.  And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let that opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it;  and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe?  Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period.   But it was a darkness induced by God, because the Lord happened then to suffer."


Eusebius Writing about the year 315, in his Chronicle , volume II, the historian  and friend of the emperor Constantine Eusebius, writes:  "Jesus Christ .. underwent his Passion in the 18th year of Tiberius [AD 33].  Also at that time in another Greek compendium we find an event recorded in these words: "the sun was eclipsed, Bithynia was struck by an earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings fell." All these things happened to occur during the Lord's Passion. In fact, Phlegon, too, a distinguished reckoner of Olympiads, wrote more on these events in his 13th book, saying this:

"Now, in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [July AD 32-33],

a great eclipse of the sun occurred at the sixth hour [noon] that excelled every other before it, turning the day into such darkness of night that the stars could be seen in heaven, and the earth moved

in Bithynia, toppling many buildings in the city of Nicaea."


The account of Phlegon is summarized as follows by Origen:

"And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth or fourteenth book of his Chronicles." (Origen, Against Celsus 2. 33). "Regarding these we have in the preceding pages made our defense, according to our ability, adducing the testimony of Phlegon, who relates that these events took place at the time when our Savior suffered" (Origen, Against Celsus 2.59). 

"Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events (although falling into confusion about some things which refer to Peter, as if they referred to Jesus), but also testified that the result corresponded to his predictions. So that, he also, by these very admissions regarding foreknowledge, as if against his will, expressed his opinion that the doctrines taught by the fathers of our system were not devoid of divine power" (Origen, Against Celsus 2.14)]


Cassiodorus, the Christian chronicler, 6th century AD, confirms the unique nature of the eclipse:  "... Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered (Crucifixion) ... and an eclipse [lit. failure, desertion] of the sun occurred, such as never was before or since." 


TESTIMONY OF THE PUBLIC ARCHIVES IN PAGAN ROME AND OF PILATE'S LETTER TO TIBERIUS:    Philopon, a Christian Neo-Platonist, 6th century AD wrote, "Phlegon mentioned the eclipse which took place during the crucifixion of the Lord Christ, and no other [eclipse], it is clear that he did not know from his sources about any [similar] eclipse in previous times ... and this is shown by the historical account itself of Tiberius Caesar."


Tertullian In his Apologeticus ,written about A.D. 197, wrote:

“at that same moment, about noontide, the day was withdrawn; and  they, who knew not that this was foretold concerning Christ, thought  it was an eclipse.  But this you have in your archives; you can read it there.” The foretelling is found in Amos 8:9 where it says: “And it shall come  to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go  down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day.”


Tertullian (first half of the third century AD), Apol. XXI: "But the Jews were so exasperated by His teaching, by which their rulers and chiefs were convicted of the truth, chiefly because so many turned aside to Him, that at last they brought Him before Pontius Pilate, at that time Roman governor of Syria; and, by the violence of their outcries against Him, extorted a sentence giving Him up to them to be crucified. He Himself had predicted this; which, however, would have signified little had not the prophets of old done it as well. And yet, nailed upon the cross, He exhibited many notable signs, by which His death was distinguished from all others. At His own free-will, He with a word dismissed from Him His spirit, anticipating the executioners work.  In the same hour, too, the light of day was withdrawn, when the sun at the very time was in his meridian blaze. Those who were not aware that this had been predicted about Christ, no doubt thought it an eclipse.

You yourselves have the account of the world-portent still in your archives.  Then, when His body was taken down from the cross and placed in a sepulcher, the Jews in their eager watchfulness surrounded it with a large military guard, lest, as He had predicted His resurrection from the dead on the third day, His disciples might remove by stealth His body, and deceive even the incredulous. But, lo, on the third day there a was a sudden shock of earthquake, and the stone which sealed the sepulcher was rolled away, and the guard fled off in terror: without a single disciple near, the grave was found empty of all but the clothes of the buried One. But nevertheless, the leaders of the Jews, whom it nearly concerned both to spread abroad a lie, and keep back a people tributary and submissive to them from the faith, gave it out that the body of Christ had been stolen by His followers. For the Lord, you see, did not go forth into the public gaze, lest the wicked should be delivered from their error; that faith also, destined to a great reward, might hold its ground in difficulty. But He spent forty days with some of His disciples down in Galilee, a region of Judaea, instructing them in the doctrines they were to teach to others. Thereafter, having given them commission to preach the gospel through the world, He was encompassed with a cloud and taken up to heaven, a fact more certain far than the assertions of your Proculi concerning Romulus.  All these things Pilate did to Christ; and now in fact a Christian in his own convictions, he sent word of Him to the reigning Caesar, who was at the time Tiberius. Yes, and the Caesars too would have believed on Christ, if either the Caesars had not been necessary for the world, or if Christians could have been Caesars."

 “Tertullian was probably a juris consult, familiar with the Roman archives, and influenced by them in his own acceptance of Divine Truth.   It is not supposable that such a man would have hazarded his bold appeal to the records, in remonstrating with the Senate and in the very faces of the Emperor and his colleagues, had he not known that the evidence was irrefragable."


Reports of Pontius Pilate to Augustus and to Tiberius are part of a collection called “Letters of Herod and Pilate” from a Syraic manuscript of the sixth or  seventh centuries.  The work is probably a forgery occasioned by a mention of  such a letter to Tiberius, by Justin Martyr when he wrote his “Defense of Christianity” to Emperor Antonius Pius about A.D150. Nevertheless here is what is written in: The Report of Pilate the  Governor, Concerning our Lord Jesus Christ; Sent to Augustus Caesar, in Rome:

“Now when he was crucified, there was darkness over all the  world, and the sun was obscured for half a day, and the stars appeared,  but no luster was seen in them; and the moon lost its brightness, as though tinged with blood; and the world of the departed was  swallowed up; so that the very sanctuary of the temple, as they call it, did not appear to the Jews themselves as their fall, but they perceived  a chasm in the earth, and the rolling successive thunders.


The Report of Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judea; Which was Sent to  Tiberius Caesar in Rome” reads as follows:

“Now when he was crucified darkness came over all the world; the  sun was altogether hidden, and the sky appeared dark while it was yet day, so that the stars were seen, though still they had their luster  obscured, wherefore, I suppose your excellency is not unaware that in all the world they lighted their lamps from the sixth hour until evening.  And the moon, which was like blood, did not shine all night long, although it was at the full, and the stars and Orion made lamentation over the Jews because of the transgression committed by them.”


Appendix 2 -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 fom 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 Matthew12:40).

We have shown that 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.






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