The original question was:
In Matthew 12: 40 we read Jesus saying: 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. Since Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Sunday), three days and nights before that is a Wednesday, so how could Christ have been crucified on a Friday?
Answer by John Mackay
Tradition in the church has long been to celebrate Good Friday as Jesus’ crucifixion day and Easter Sunday as his resurrection day. So what did Jesus mean when he referred to Jonah as a sign and mentioned 3 days and 3 nights?
The converted Jewish religious academic and Pharisee Paul, wrote to the church in Corinth stating;
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
This passage is commonly preached on Easter Sunday, but what is interesting is that it refers to a little known Old Testament prophecy about Christ rising again on the third day found in Hosea 6:1-2 where we read: Come, and let us return to the Lord; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, That we may live in His sight. (Hosea 6:1-2)
No other scripture has ever been found or suggested as the source of what Paul is quoting from, or referring to with his line “according to the scriptures”. You and I with our Western thinking would probably have never even considered this verse as a prophecy about the resurrection, but humble yourself a little and remember that Christ first of all came to the Jews, and even though they mostly rejected him, the first apostles and disciples were Jews and Paul was one of them. The Gospel came originally to people with a Jewish mindset who saw and thought in Jewish way. So despite the fact that western minds think the days and three nights are a contradiction with being crucified on the Friday and raising on the first day of the week – the Jewish mind both untrained and trained never has.
One further example will suffice from the same Jesus who used Jonah as his sign. The very meticulous Greek Doctor Luke recorded Jesus talking to Peter in the following way: “He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” (Luke 9:20-22)
Note that Jesus said he would be raised up on the third day. This was again stated to all the disciples together in Luke 18:31-34 where we read: Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken. (Luke 18:31-34)
After Christ did rise again on the third day, and especially after the Holy Spirit was given, they did understand. So despite the appealing logic that some western minds have for a crucifixion on Wednesday such claims are both unnecessary and false.
The Sign of Jonah
The first thing that most people miss about Jesus statement on the sign about Jonah is that there was more than one bit of information tucked into it which clue comes from Nathaniel’s question in John 1:44-46 where we read: Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:44-46)
We know that Jonah was a prophet from Gath Hepher (2 Kings 14:25) which happens to be a hilltop just north of Nazareth. Jonah’s tomb is still pointed out by locals. Jonah was born there and Jonah was one good thing to come from the Nazareth region and Jesus would be another.
The second sign from Jonah was his entombment in the whale and his delivery for ministry to the gentiles. There is no doubt that the Gospel of Matthew actually says “three days and three nights” in reference to Jonah, but let’s ask how did Jewish listeners heard what Jesus said?
Those who heard this were Christ’s enemies and they were listening with Jewish ears to a Jewish Lord referring to a Jewish prophet. They were not reading an English translation with English eyes belonging to non-English prophets. So let us first examine his enemies later reported Christ’s speech to Pilate, In Matthew 27:63-64 they said to Pilate; “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.” (Matthew 27:63-64)
Did you notice their request uses both the concept of 3 as well as third? In verse 63 they quote Jesus accurately saying “After three days I will arise” yet then they request the tomb secured only until the third day. Obviously in their mind there was no contradiction.
That same meaning was also given to Jesus words by the angel talking to Mary in Luke 24:2-8 when the woman visited the tomb: But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’” And they remembered His words. (Luke 24:2-8)
It is obvious that the disciples and the angel, and the women who reported the angel’s words so they would be recorded, understood the resurrection to have occurred on and during the third day, rather than on or during a fourth day after three days and three nights.
Jewish and Western Days
Some people struggle with the complication caused by the Jews measuring days from one sunset to the next, i.e. around 6pm to 6pm. Therefore, there is an approximately six hour time shift from the western day of midnight to midnight. The diagram below will help.
THIRD DAY: Why did Jesus say he would be buried for three days if he died on Friday and rose on Sunday? Answer here
CRUCIFIXION of Christ? Did Jesus just go into a coma on the cross and merely appear to rise from the dead? Answer here.
For more information
For a more detailed study of what is meant by “the third day” read the article Three Days, Third Day. PDF three-days-third-day.
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