By: Carl E. Sadler, Th. D.; D.D.


A study of the ten days surrounding our Lord’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection, with an emphasis upon the interpretation of Matthew 12:40 “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth.”




Jesus Was In The Grave Three Days And Three Nights


Matthew 12:39-40


“... An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. "



The Bible says that Jesus was in the grave three days and three nights.

I hope to show from the Word of God that the rest of the Bible supports the passage just quoted, and that Jesus was actually in the grave three days and three nights.

I will show He was crucified on Wednesday and buried before the Jewish day was complete; then I will show He arose from the grave Saturday evening, just before the Jewish first day of the week began.


It this be so, then the commonly adopted tradition of Christianity is not! According to the commonly accepted theory, Jesus was crucified Friday, dying about 3:00 PM, and was buried sometime between that and 6:00 PM. This theory also teaches that Christ was resurrected early Sunday morning.


Dr. Broadus gives a good account of this common view (pages 276 and 277 - "American Commentary of the New Testament: Vol. I. Comments on Matthew”):



"Our Lord was actually in the grave less than thirty-six hours but it began before the close of Friday, and closed on the morning of Sunday, according to the mode of counting time among the Jews, this would be reckoned three days, both the first and the last day being always included. The only difficulty is that he not merely says "three days" but "three nights", when He spent only two nights in the tomb. But the Jews reckoned the night and day as together constituting one period, and part of this period was counted as a whole. Lightfoot quotes from the Jewish Talmud two Rabbis as saying, “A day and a night made an Onah, and a part of an Onah is as a whole”. There was no way to express in Greek this period of twenty-four hours except by day and night (or night and day) as here, or by the late and extremely rare Greek compound "night-day" (nuchthemeron) used in 2 Corinthian 11:25. It was natural to choose here the former phrase (even if we suppose the other known to Matthew), in order to state more strongly the similarity of the two cases."



Many are puzzled to know how the interval between late Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning can be figured to be three days and three nights. It seems, rather, to be two nights, one day, and a very small part of another day.


There are many persons whom the above solution does not satisfy, and this writer is one of them. It seems an evasion of the problem, or a lack of willingness to accept certain facts revealed in the Scriptures.


It is true, we should be careful in departing from commonly accepted theories, but when they are only theories and not truth, they should be denied, regardless of who has sponsored them or how strongly they are accepted.


Let me kindly, yet firmly say: Christ, Our Saviour, knew what He was saying when He spoke those words. He knew what they meant then, and also how they would be translated later to the English language. Let us be careful to stay with the meaning of Scripture rather than follow the crowd.


Jesus did not die Friday; neither did He arise Sunday morning. This we will show as we proceed in the treatise. Other truths, especially God's laws of the Sabbaths, are dependent upon the right understanding of the time of our Lord's resurrection.


To me, there is a solution that is altogether satisfactory. To solve this problem, caused by tradition, some facts need to be noticed very carefully.




The Sabbaths Of Israel


What the Bible says about the time of Christ's crucifixion should be noticed carefully. The Bible does not say, nor does it imply Christ was crucified on Friday.


It does say (Mark 15:42) "on the day before the Sabbath” and (Luke 23:54) “that day was the preparation and the Sabbath drew on”. Since the weekly Sabbath was Saturday, the conclusion is made that the day to which these writers refer must be Friday.


This conclusion is too hasty, because it is well established that Israel had many Sabbaths in addition to the weekly ones, and that preparation was made the day before those special Sabbaths even more carefully than for each weekly Sabbath.


Leviticus 23:3 describes Israel's regular Sabbath:


 v. 3 “Six days shall work be done: but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, a holy convocation: ye shall do no work therein: it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.”



Exodus 20:9-11 tells why the seventh day was Israel's regular Sabbath:


v. 9 “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work:


v.10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:


v.11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”



Leviticus 23:4-14 gives a good description of the Sabbaths during the Passover week:

v. 4 “These are the feasts of the Lord, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their Seasons.


v. 5 In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord’s Passover.


v. 6 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the Lord: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread.


v. 7 In the first day ye shall have a holy convo­cation: ye shall do no servile work therein.


v. 8 But ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord seven days: in the seventh day is holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.


v. 9 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,


v. 10 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring of a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest:


v. 11 And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.


v. 12 And ye shall offer that day when ye wave the sheaf an he lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering unto the Lord.

v. 13 And the meat offering thereof shall be two tenth deals of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire unto the Lord for a sweet savour: and the drink offering thereof shall be of wine, the fourth part of an hin.


v. 14 And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generation in all your dwellings.”


Verses 5 to 8 are about the week of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In the time of Christ, this week was called both the Passover and The Feast of Unleavened Bread and when either is mentioned the other is included. They went together after Israel came into the Promised Land. The fourteenth day was the Passover proper; the fifteenth day was the first day and the twenty-second day was the last day of Unleavened Bread. Both the fifteenth and the twenty-second were Sabbaths.


Therefore, every year, Nisan 15th and 22nd were Feast Sabbaths. It mattered not what day of the week they came. A regular Sabbath was somewhere between those two special Sabbath days.


Verses 9 to 14 describe what was done on that regular Sab­bath that was during the Passover/Unleavened Bread week:


The wave offering of verses 10 - 11, is the first-fruits of rye or barley and is typical of the resurrection of our Saviour. The wave offering of Pentecost (verses 16-17) is of the first-fruits of wheat and is typical of the 3,000 saved and added to the church on the day of Pentecost. (More will be given later about these types).


Other Sabbaths of Israel are given in the same Chapter in verses 15 thru 36:



v. 15 "And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven Sabbaths shall be complete:


v. 16 Even unto the morrow after the seventh Sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord.

v. 17 Ye shall bring out of your habitation two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour, they shall be baked with leaven; they are the first-fruits unto the Lord. ...


v. 21 And ye shall proclaim of the selfsame day, that it may be a holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations. . . .”


Fifty days after the waving of the offering of first-fruits (Leviticus 23:10-11) during the week of Unleavened Bread, another festal Sabbath came. This one is called the feast of Pentecost. The word Pentecost means fifty. Seven regular Sabbaths came between the Feast of the Passover which included the "Feast of the Unleavend Bread" and the “Wave Offering of Firstfruits(verses 10-11), and the Feast of Pentecost.



v. 24 “…in the seventh month, in the first day of the month, ye shall have a Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation….



During the time of the final harvest there was the "Feasts of Trumpets."  This was the first day to the seventh month and was a Sabbath also. It was the beginning of their civil year.



v. 27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: It shall be a holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord…


The tenth day of the seventh month was the “Day of Atonementand was also a Sabbath.



v. 34 The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord…


v. 35 On the first day shall be a holy convo­cation: ye shall do no servile work therein.


v. 36 Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: on the eighth day a holy convocation unto you… "



The "Feast of the Tabernaclesbegan on the fifteenth day of the seventh month and lasted one week; therefore, the fifteenth and the twenty-second were Sabbath days.


So far, we have read of a weekly Sabbath that looked backward to the rest of God after creation and forward to the weekly rest of men after six days of labor. Next, we learned that the Sabbaths of the Passover week looked backward to the deliverance of Israel from Egypt by the blood of the lamb, and their being brought out of the land by the power of God. These looked forward to the death and resurrection of Christ who would deliver us from the power of sin and raise us from the power of death. Then, Pentecost, which looked backward to the day the law was given to Israel at Mt. Sinai, and by which they were guided by God. That day looked forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell the Lord's church and to guide the people of God (primarily Gentiles) during this age.


The first day of the seventh month was another festal Sabbath, regardless of the day it occurred. Also, the tenth day, the fifteenth day, and the twenty-second day were festal Sabbaths.


Notice what could happen at times concerning these regular and festal Sabbaths: If the first day of the seventh month came on Friday, there would be five regular Sabbaths and four festal Sabbaths in that month. Four of these Sabbaths would be between the 15th and the 23rd.




The Passover And Unleavened Bread


Exodus 12:3-6 records the instituting of the Passover: On the tenth day of the first month (Nisan or Abib) the Passover lamb was selected. It was kept until the fourteenth. (Later we will show that Christ entered Jerusalem on the tenth and it was Israel's Sabbath and not the Christian's Sunday.) The lamb was killed and eaten on the night of the fourteenth. Notice carefully: Our day begins at midnight, but the Jewish day began at sunset. In order for the Passover to be eaten the night of the fourteenth by Jewish reckoning, we would say it was eaten the night of the thirteenth. But remember, their night came before the daylight hours; whereas, our day has a part of a night, then a day, and then a part of a night. Let us remember this.


Jewish historians verify this time as the eating of the lamb. They tell us the lambs were killed in the late afternoon of the thirteenth and were eaten in the early hours of the fourteenth at night. The daylight hours that followed the eating of the Passover was not a Sabbath, for those hours were still the fourteenth. The fifteenth day was the Sabbath Day (Leviticus 23:5-7).


To strengthen this in our minds, let us remember that no work was done on the fifteenth, but the fourteenth was a prep­aration day. The Jews tried Jesus the same night He ate the Passover and they were in the trial of Jesus by Pilate much of the day that followed. This was still the fourteenth. They were permitted to work on it.


The fourteenth was the day of preparation for the Sabbath day which was the first day of the Feast of Unleavend Bread. Seven days later the Feast of Unleavened Bread ended and that day was also a Sabbath. The regular Sabbath that came between these two festal Sabbaths was the seventeenth day of Nisan that particular year.


Leviticus 23:5-8 and 9-14 shows the Passover associated with the festival maccoth of Unleavened Bread after Israel was in the land to which the Lord led them. The Passover (Nisan 14th) was a memorial of the last meal they ate in Egypt, which was eaten while the death angel was passing throughout the land of Egypt slaying all the first born in all the families where the blood of the Iamb was not sprinkled. This meal was eaten in the evening. The following morning, still the same day, they borrowed the wealth from Egypt and began their journey.


After Israel came unto the land of promise they were to remember their deliverance from Egypt with an added feast (the Feast of Unleavened Bread which was to last one week.) This week was to begin the day after the Passover, therefore, the daylight hours of the fourteenth became the preparation day for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. All leaven was to be put away during this time. It was during this time that my Saviour was putting away sin, of which leaven is a type.


It was during this week the rye or barley harvest began. Dur­ing this week a wave offering of first-fruits was offered unto the Lord. This offering was to be waved the day after the Sabbath that occurred during the week of the Unleavened Bread. It was waved as the beginning of all their harvests, to signify they believed the Lord would bless them in their crops. Christ became the fulfillment of this offering when He was raised from the grave, being the first-fruits of them that slept. He was raised as the day began.

E. P. Gould, commenting on I Corinthians 15:20 in The American Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 5, page 131, says:


““First-fruits” denotes the beginning of anything, regarded as a pledge of the rest. Thus, the Spirit is called the first-fruits of redemption, because it is what is given the Christian here as a pledge of what he is to have hereafter. And so, Christ's resurrection is the beginning, and the pledge of all the rest. He is this, because, while others had risen before him only to succumb to death again, his victory over death was permanent.”



Christ was not only the first-fruits of them that slept, but He also fulfilled the whole ceremonial law system of Israel. In this act of fulfilling the law, he did away with Israel's elaborate Sabbatical System which constantly reminded them of their obligations to Jehovah and their worship of Him.


B. H. Carroll deals with this in commenting on Hebrews 4:4-11 in his commentary: “An Interpretation of the English Bible”. pages 237 - 238.


...note the following words in the original:


  1. The word "rest" - Greek, katapausis, (3:11, 18:4:1, 3, 8, 10-11).
  2. "The seventh day" - Greek, hebdome, (4:4).
  3. "Another day" - Greek, alIa hemera, (4:8).
  4. "Sabbath - keeping" - Greek, sabbatismos, (4:9).


The difficulty of interpretation has resulted from three causes:


  1. A failure to note the contrast between the "seventh day" in verse 4, and "another day" in verse 8.
  2. In translating "sabbatismos" in verse 9 as if it were "katapausis". Uniformly in all the context when the apostle means "the rest" in any sense he uses the "katapausis". The change to "sabbatismos" is inexplicable if he means the same thing. But "sabbatismos" is a verbal noun, and means "the keeping of a sabbath", and so explains the contrast between the "seventh day", as appointed of old, and "another day' foretold in the prophetic psalm.
  3. In arbitrarily referring to the pronouns, "0", "autou" and "auios" in verse 10 to the Christian, instead of to Christ as the true antecedent.


In the deliberate judgement of the author, there is no justification for any one of these three things. The idea of the context is:





Jesus was crucified the day before the Passover Sabbath


The question then arises: Was Jesus crucified before the regular Sabbath or before the Passover Sabbath?


One does not need to speculate about this, because the Bible makes this plain. It says that it was the day in "preparation of the Passover" (John 19:14, 31).


Briefly, here are the events of this one day:



All these things took place the same day by Jewish standards.


If the traditional position (crucified on Friday) is taken, the sequence of incidents that took place previous to the cruci­fixion do not come in their logical place; whereas, when Wednesday is taken as the crucifixion day, all the incidents can be accounted for as they should. Note: The journey from Jericho to Bethany, which occurred six days before the Passover (John 12:1), would have fallen on Saturday (A Jewish Sabbath). The Jews could not make such a long jour­ney journey on their Sabbath, for it was contrary to their law. But the traditionalist has Him making such a jour­ney. Now, if Wednesday is taken, all the days are accounted for. That long journey would have been made on Friday and the entrance into Jerusalem would have been made on the 10th, which was Saturday rather then Sunday. The 10th was the day the lamb was selected. Jesus fulfilled this too.


His entrance into Jerusalem on the Sabbath, rather than on Sunday, accounts for the incidents better. There were no traders in the Temple the day of His entering Jerusalem; whereas, they were there the next day. They would not be in the Temple on the Sabbath, but they would have been there on Sunday to do their business.


See the chart for the sequence of events surrounding Christ's death and resurrection.          ­


Astronomers have determined that in the year 30 AD, (the year commonly accepted as the year of Christ's crucifixion) the Passover Sabbath, was on Thursday (according to the Roman calendar, April 6th), because the moon was full that day. Those who suppose the crucifixion took place on Friday and who know these facts have been perplexed.


One writer, in seeking a solution to this difficult question, suggests the crucifixion may have taken place in the year 33 AD. Though the moon was full on Thursday of that year also, yet it was within 2 1/2 hours of Friday; therefore, he thinks that perhaps the Jews may have kept the Passover on Friday that year.


If the Bible is accepted, which says Jesus was crucified on the "preparation of the Passover" and that He was to be in the "heart of the earth three days and three nights", then we must accept the fact that Jesus was crucified on Wed­nesday and not on Friday. THIS IS A FIXED POINT.




In the Grave Three Days and Three Nights


Look at my chart for all the incidents during the three days.


There are some things I want you to clearly see about these days.


The language that is used concerning the preparation for Christ’s burial gives a very convincing argument for a longer period than the commonly accepted theory allows. Luke uses two different words that are translated linen. In Luke 23:53 the Greek Word used is “sindon.” This is the word that is used for large sheets of linen as it is ordinarily used by people. In Luke 24:12 the Greek word used is "othonion”. This word means strips of linen as used in bandages. Mark 14:51-52 uses the word "sindon" when referring to a piece of linen large enough to cover a man's body. John 19:40 uses the word "othonion" as he describes the burial manner of the Jews.


What does the use of these words show? They tell us that Joseph laid the body of Jesus in the sepulchre wrapped in sindon (a large sheet) late in the afternoon of the preparation day just before the Sabbath began. He did not have time to prepare the body for burial because he could not work on the Sabbath. These words also tell us that some time later, (It would be after the Sabbath.) Joseph and Nicodemus prepared the body for burial, using the mixture of myrrh and aloes and the correct linen strip (othonion). Joseph did not use the same material in putting Jesus' body in the tomb as he and Nicodemus used to prepare Jesus' body for proper burial. Nor was the material found at the tomb after the resurrection the same that Joseph used the afternoon when hurriedly he put the body of Jesus in his tomb.


Please notice another thing: The women saw Joseph put the body of Jesus in the tomb Wednesday afternoon, but had not seen him and Nicodemus prepare the body for burial: For had they seen the preparation for burial, they would not have brought material to prepare the body themselves. Why did they wait so long, and why did the men do the work so much sooner? The answer to this seems to me a simple one: both Joseph and Nicodemus were wealthy men and could have bought the material already prepared, or they could have had the material already prepared at home; whereas, the women were poor and must collect the material and prepare it before they could anoint the body of Jesus.

Let us take another look at Matthew 12:40: "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Recognizing the difficulty of exactness in translating from one language to another, I still insist upon this meaning. Yes, I believe it means seventy­-two hours. If there were no other evidence than this would you not also say it was "three days and three nights"?


Jesus had to be there that long to fulfill the type of Jonah (Jonah 1:17). He must be there that long to fulfill His own words: “I will raise it in three days." Since the only sign He gave was the sign of Jonah, surely, He would have used language that was not ambiguous, especially, since it would be translated into many languages.


There seems to be no possibility Friday could have been the crucifixion day. The THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS MUST BE A FIXED POINT.




Jesus Arose Saturday Evening


Notice carefully all of the Scriptures. Bear with me as we look at the different ones that deal with this event. Let the Scriptures speak for themselves about this.

Matthew 28:1 says: "In the end of the Sabbath" (King James Version): "At the close of the Sabbath" (American Standard Version) "Late on the Sabbath" (Moffatt’s Translation). Actually: the word "sabbator" is plural. This could mean there was another closely preceding this one.


In other words, this Scripture means that about 6:00 PM Saturday evening when the first day of the week was about to begin, two women came to the grave where Jesus had been laid. Matthew, along with Mark and Luke used Jewish time. John alone used Roman time.


Christ's grave was visited by Mary Magdalene and the other Mary late on the Sabbath, just as the first day of the week began. These two came only to see. It was late and it would get dark soon after their visit. How many trips they had made before, if any, we do not know. They did not come to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. They did not have any material with them at this visit. They did have spices the next morning to use on His body.


Several things occurred at this visit that did not occur on the other occasions when the grave was visited: There was an earthquake; and angel rolled away the stone: and the guards were still at the scene. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were the only two Women that came this time.


Jesus arose from the grave at the close of the weekly Sabbath. THIS IS A FIXED POINT.


These three fixed points I have shown tally with one another and with the Scriptures. Jesus was crucified on Wednesday; buried about sunset that day and arose from the grave Saturday about sunset. This declares Him to have been in the grave "three days and three nights" as the Scriptures also declare. One is not forced to follow tradition that is wrong.


The first visit on Sunday morning is recorded by John. Only Mary Magdalene came this time. She came before it was daylight and the tomb was empty when she arrived. She ran and found Peter and John, who came hurriedly to see an empty tomb, also. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene after the disciples left. There were two angels at the sepulchre on this occasion.


The second visit on Sunday morning is recorded in Mark 16. Three women are recorded having visited this time. They brought sweet spices to anoint the body of Jesus. They came as the sun was rising. They saw a young man at the sepulchre who told them to find the disciples and tell them of Christ's resurrection.


Luke 24 records the next visit of the women to the tomb where Jesus had lain for three days and three nights. There were at least six women (probably more) who came this time. It was still early in the morning. At least some of these women had spices they prepared. The tomb was empty when they came, and there were two men who spoke to them about our Lord's resurrection.


Luke gives a good description of those who came to the empty grave where Jesus had lain. It was difficult for the followers of Jesus to believe He had risen. No wonder His followers came many times to the sepulchre during this day to ponder the great miracle. These women remembered that Jesus had told them these things but their words "seemed to them (the apostles) as idle tales, and they (they apostles) believed them not" (verse 11). Jesus had to prove to His own disciples the reality of His resurrection. This is the reason there are so "many infallible proofs" of His resurrection for us to believe.


Since I believe in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, it is not difficult for me to believe that each of the gospel writers recorded exactly what took place. Verbal inspiration insists that these visits be different one, because God did not allow the writers of the Scriptures to give less than exactness.


If the facts I have presented are true, then a great portion of the teaching of Christianity concerning the resurrection of Christ is false. "Easter" as this memorial is commonly called fails to show the real truth about His resurrection. The word Easter comes from the name of a heathen goddess of sex (Astarte). Oh, how far men finally go away from the Word of God when they once depart from any truth. The resurrection of Jesus has given us fifty-two days every year to remember His great work for us. Let us remember Him in this way, rather than one Sunday full of men's ideas and notions.


These truths also show to us that Sunday is the correct day to worship Him from whom all blessings flow. God worked six days in creation and on the seventh He rested for He had finished the work of creation. There was a memorial day kept to remember this day. It was the seventh day of the week, or our Saturday.


Jesus completed a greater work than creation. He finished the work of redemption for sinful men. When He finished this work, there is nothing else that can be added to His work, because it is finished. He rested from His work as God did from His, and there is another Sabbath-keeping for the children of God. That day is our Sunday, for He began His rest that day. He finished the work of redemption when He came forth from the tomb.


Those who observe Saturday as the day of worship are remembering creation as the law commanded. Those who observe Sunday as the day of worship are remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus (recreation) as commanded by Grace.