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The third day He rose from the dead

1 March 2011 | by Monty White

The third day He rose from the dead

At Easter we celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We remember that He was crucified and died on Good Friday and that He rose from the dead on the third day – on Easter Sunday. In Matthew 12:40, it is recorded that Jesus said that as Jonah was in the great fish for ‘three days and three nights’ so He would be dead for the same period of time.

Now many people – Christians and non-Christians alike – have a problem with this which can be summarised as follows: If Jesus was to be in the grave three days and three nights, how can we fit this time period between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? I know one Christian who taxed with this problem maintains that Jesus was not crucified on a Friday but was crucified on a Thursday. This is in spite of the clear teaching of the Scriptures that Jesus was crucified on a Friday (in our terminology) because the following day is described as the Sabbath, (a Saturday in our terminology) – see Matthew 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54 and John 19:31. This is further indicated because all four gospels state that the visit to the tomb by the women the very next day was the first day of the week (a Sunday in our terminology) – see Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1 and John 20:1.

So the problem arises: If Jesus was crucified on Good Friday afternoon and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning, how can it be said that He rose on the third day? Surely the third day would be the Monday (in our terminology)? The solution to this is simple. The difficulty we have in understanding this is because we are using our twenty-first century method of counting. What we have to do is to employ the method of counting used by the Hebrews in biblical times in order to solve this anomaly. When we do so, we will see that the first day of the week in their method of counting time, was indeed the third day after the crucifixion.

An Old Testament example

In order to see this, we have to look at another passage of Scripture. In Esther 4:15-16 we read that Esther sent a message to Mordecai asking him to gather all the Jews who were in captivity in Babylon and urge them to fast for her in preparation for her dangerous undertaking to have an audience with the king. She asked Mordecai to get them to ‘neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day’ (v.16). Two verses later, we read in Esther 5:1 ‘Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court in the king’s palace, across from the king’s house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house.’

Now if the three days that Esther asked for the Jews to fast were counted as we count them today, then Esther could not have had an audience with the king until the fourth day. But she saw him on the third day – only two days later! This time period in the book of Esther is comparable to that of the Lord Jesus Christ being raised from the dead ‘on the third day’.

We can see therefore that in biblical times, the way that they counted was as follows:

  • Jesus died on Good Friday: this was counted as day one. Day one includes the whole of the day as well as the previous night even though Jesus died on the afternoon of day one.
  • Day two was the Sabbath – the Saturday.
  • Jesus rose on the morning of the first day of the week – a Sunday. This was day three.

It should not surprise us that different methods of counting are used in different cultures. When we adopt the Hebrew method of counting used in biblical times, the problem of how long Jesus was dead disappears and we see that the traditional teaching that Jesus was crucified on a Friday and rising triumphantly on a Sunday disappears. We can rely therefore upon what the Bible teaches as there is no problem with the statement that Jesus rose on the third day and yet was in the tomb three days and three nights. There is nothing to hinder us from putting our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for He did indeed rise from the dead on the third day as He said He would.

Monty White is a member of Freeschool Court Evangelical Church in Bridgend  and has an itinerant ministry, Biblical Foundations.