How Many Days Was Jesus Buried For?

Matthew 12:40 (NKJV)

40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS in the heart of the earth.

Jesus constantly affirmed the fact that He would be raised within three days, after His death. Jesus was crucified on Friday (the Passover) and raised on Sunday morning (Mark 16:9, Luke 24:1-3). This appears to contradict Jesus’ statement since Sunday is barely two days after His death (on Friday). Strictly speaking, Jesus would need to be raised on Monday, in accordance with His “three days” prediction.

A simple solution helps our understanding here. The phrase “three days and nights” must not be understood literally (i.e. three literal 24-hour days). It is an Hebrew figure of speech (an idiomatic expression) referring to any part of three days and nights. It is not the strict 72 hours we use today, but any time within three days.

The Jews often spoke this way. For example, the Psalmist speaks of a man whose “delight is in the law of the Lord” and he meditates on the same “day and night” (Psalm 1:2). This does not mean all throughout the day and night, but certain parts of it. “Day and night” here does not necessarily refer to the complete 24 hour period.

A similar example may be found in the eponymous book of Esther. Esther and the Jews are said to fast for “three days and three nights” (Esther 4:15-16), yet Esther appears before the King on the third day (Esther 5:1). This would make the three days incomplete, if we force “three days and three nights” here to mean a strict triple 24-hour period. However, the story of Esther reveals that “three days and three nights” does not strictly mean 72 hours in the Jewish thought, but certain periods within those hours. “Three days and three nights” therefore refers to any part of those three days and nights in the Bible.

Therefore, when Jesus says He would be raised “on the third day” (Matt 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, 26:61), He does not mean “after three days” but within three days (i.e. any period within the three days after His death). His point is: three days won’t elapse before He would be raised.

So Jesus dies on Friday (the Jewish Passover) to show that He is our true Paschal Lamb, Who saves from Judgment (1 Cor 5:7, Col 2:16-17). The Law of Moses mandated that the Pascal Lamb be killed on Friday, i.e. the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan (Lev 23:5). Jesus was fulfilling that type. His body rested on Saturday (the Sabbath). Then He is raised within three days (Sunday), not AFTER three days.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2022.


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