How do you get 3 days and 3 nights?
Here is the full question as I received it:
In Matthew 12:40 Jesus is speaking “For as Jonah was 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be 3 days and 3 nights in the heart of the earth.” But if he died on Friday and rose up on Sunday, that does not add up to 3 days and 3 nights.
There are two important facts of Jewish culture which quickly help us to understand thus seeming enigma. First, the Jewish day began not at midnight but at sundown, roughly 6 pm. Second, it was natural in Jewish culture to count any portion of a 24-hour period as one day. We do this too actually.. just go rent a moving van or a hotel room for example. You’ll often find fees are based on “so much per day or any portion thereof.” For such a rental business any part if a day counts as a full day… a full 24 hours… having day and night.
So, following this logic, the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Christ looks like this:
Jesus is crucified, expires and is entombed before sundown on Friday (which 24 hour period began at sundown on Thursday). Thus, by Jewish calculation, He has already spent a night and a day entombed. Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown constitutes a second night and day. Then the third night and day begins at sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday. Jesus rises Sunday morning completing the Jewish count of three days of both night and day.
We see this odd (to us) way of counting days elsewhere through scripture.
In Esther 4:16, for example, Esther has Mordecai tell the Jews to fast “for three days, night or day” at which time she would dare to approach the king. Yet, in Esther 5:1, we read that “on the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace.” Not after 72 hours, but on the third day, sufficient enough to count any portion of a day as the full day and night 24 hour period.
To the Jewish mindset “the third day” is the same as “after three days.” Just like the rental contract example I mentioned above, you pay the full day rate “so much per day or any portion thereof.”
Great question! Thank you!
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3 thoughts on “Friday, 5/10/19 – Tough Question”
Thanks John. I’ve wondered about this for years. Once again, knowledge of Jewish culture in scripture helps to illuminate some passages. Thanks again.