Q.

Please comment on Matthew 12:40, the part that says Jesus would be three days and three nights in the grave. If this statement is true, and if Jesus rose from the tomb on Sunday morning, how could He possibly have died on Friday?

A.
Many Bible teachers have contemplated this question. As a result, some have concluded that Christ died on Thursday or even Wednesday. But I believe that the view of a Friday crucifixion is not only valid but also likely. Many Bible scholars take the Friday position. Let me explain.
First, we need to consider another Scripture passage, Luke 23:50–56, which reads,

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment (NIV).

The events of this passage took place immediately after Jesus died on the cross. Notice that it was “Preparation Day.” This designation simply means that it was the day to prepare for the next day, the Sabbath. Preparation Day was obviously Friday, as the Sabbath, of course, was Saturday. Thus Jesus was buried on late Friday afternoon, just before the Sabbath began at sundown Friday evening.

Second, we must also note something that many students of the Word fail to take in at this point. The Jews calculated days differently that the Gentiles do. They had a saying that went like this: “A day and a night make an onah, and part of an onah is as a whole.” In other words, any part of a day and night counted as a whole day. In this calculation Jesus was in the grave part of Friday (which counted as a day), all day Saturday (the Sabbath, or day of rest), and part of early Sunday (which also counted as a day). Jesus did not need to be in the grave a full 72 Gentile hours to fulfill the verse you cited.

I should emphasize that in the Gospels, the term “Day of Preparation” always referred to Friday, never to any other day of the week. Another interesting observation: If Christ died in AD 30 as history seems to indicate, the first night of the Passover was indeed on Thursday night, and Friday was the first day of the Passover, the day on which He was crucified. (In Jewish reckoning, a night of something precedes a day of it.)

Some Bible scholars have avoided a Friday crucifixion just because the Roman Catholic Church has held to this view. To me, this posture makes no more sense than throwing out the precious doctrine of the Virgin Birth just because the same group holds it.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (April 1995).
© 1995 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.