2008 John H Mattox

    The answer to this question is contingent upon the answers to three other questions; viz:

  1. On what day did Jesus rise from the dead?
  2. At what time of day was he placed in the grave?
  3. How long did he remain in the grave?

We will consider these questions in the order given.

  1. On what day did Jesus rise from the dead?
    According to Mark 16:9, it was on the first day of the week:

"Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week..."

This testimony is borne out by Luke 24:18-21, where Cleophas says:

"... today is the third day since these things were done."

This statement was made on the first day of the week (see Luke 24:1,13), and these things refer to the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus. Now if the first day of the week was the third day since the crucifixion of Jesus, it must also have been the resurrection day, for Jesus himself predicted that his resurrection would take place on the third day, or within three days, after he was crucified. See Matthew 16:21, 20:19. In addition to the above Scriptures, we have the supporting testimony of the reverence shown by the early church for the first day of the week (Acts 20:6-7), as well as the undisputed tradition from apostolic times that Jesus was raised on the first day of the week.

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On What Day Of The Week? (cont)

  1. At what time of the day was Jesus placed in the grave?

    According to Matt. 27:57 and Mark 15:42, it was after even had come, that Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and asked for permission to bury the body of Jesus. Now, in seeking to determine the exact time of the even, it is necessary to take into consideration the little-known fact that the Jews actually recognized two evens. This fact is obscured from the English reader due to the unfortunate circumstance that the King James Version of the Old Testament ignores it. In the instructions for killing the Passover, for example, the Hebrew reads literally:

"and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it between the evens".
Ex. 12:6b.

The word evens is in the dual number, rather than the plural, and therefore denotes two evens. The same phraseology is found in Exodus 16:12, 29:39 & Lev. 23:5, as well as other passages. Since the time of the Temple, according to The Pulpit Commentary, these two evens were recognized as about two or three o'clock in the afternoon, and sundown. The even referred to by Matthew and Mark must have been the first even - about mid-afternoon. Cf. John 19:31-38 with Mark 15:42-45. After the even was come, and Joseph had obtained permission from Pilate, and had taken the body down from the cross, and wrapped it in linen and laid it in the nearby tomb; there was still time for some of the women to go and see where he was laid, return to their place of abode (probably Bethany), and prepare spices before sundown. See Matt. 27:61, Mark 15:47, Luke 23:55-56. It therefore appears that Jesus, having died about three o'clock in the afternoon, was buried, probably not earlier than four o'clock, and not later than five (considering six o'clock to be the time of sunset).

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On What Day Of The Week? (cont)

  1. How long did Jesus remain in the grave?

    In answering this question we must consider both the literal and the metaphorical references to the sojourn of Christ's body in the tomb. According to the statement of Jesus in Matthew 12:40, his stay in the heart of the earth would be three days and three nights. However, in Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:19; Mark 9:31; 10:34; Luke 9:22; 18:33, he stated that he would be raised on the third day after his crucifixion. In Mark 8:31, he used the expression after three days. In addition to these literal references, we also have several metaphorical references to the duration of his body's stay in the grave. In John 2:19, Jesus said:

"Destroy this temple, and in three days (en trisin hemerais) I will raise it up."

Verse 21 explains that: "He spake of the temple of his body."
    Referring to this prophecy, the false witnesses at his trial testified that he claimed to be able to destroy the temple and raise it up in three days (dia trion hemeron). The reviling passersby at the cross quoted the words of Jesus more accurately: en trisin hemerais. See Matthew 26:61; 27:39-40; Mark 14:58; 15:29. It must be evident to any unbiased mind that all of these expressions must denote the same period of time, and therefore must be synonymous. Matthew 27:62-64 proves that the expression after three days is equivalent in meaning to until the third day. Likewise a period of three days, or three days and three nights was considered to have ended on the third day:

"And he put them all together in ward three days. And Joseph said to them the third day..."
Gen. 42:17-18.

"Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer, Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day. I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish. Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the king's house."
Esther 4:15-16, 5:1.

See also I Kings 12:5,12; and I Samuel 20:5,12,19. Joshua 1:11, compared with Joshua 3:2, shows that the expression after three days could be synonymous with within three days. According to A.T. Robertson, the expression in three days as used by Jesus in John 2:19, means within three days:

"By en trisin hemerais it is clear that Jesus meant the resurrection will take place within three days."
Robertson's Grammar, p. 586.

    If we accept three days and three nights as denoting a full seventy-two hours, we are faced with an insuperable difficulty: Jesus, as we have shown, was raised on the first day of the week, before sunrise. The earliest that he could have been raised would have been shortly after sundown on Saturday (our reckoning). Counting back exactly seventy-two hours, we find that he would have been buried shortly after sundown on Wednesday (our reckoning). But we have already shown that he must have been buried before sundown, since the next day, which began at sundown, was a sabbath, and it was unlawful to do such work on the sabbath. Also, the time needed by the women to do what they did after he was buried and before sundown must be considered.
    Having seen therefore that three days and three nights can denote a period of time which ends on the third day, it appears that the three days and three nights must be modified by the other expressions used (which, after all, do have the weight of numbers in their favor), and shortened sufficiently to fit the other requirements. Once we free our minds of the necessity of understanding three days and three nights as a full seventy-two hours, there is no real difficulty involved.
    Jesus was crucified on Thursday, the 14th of Nisan, A.D. 32, and died "between the (two) evens"; i.e., between about two P.M. and sundown (precisely at the time and on the day that the passover lamb was customarily sacrificed); was buried between four and five P.M. Thursday; remained in the grave through Friday, the 15th of Nisan and the seventh-day sabbath; and rose on Sunday, the 17th of Nisan, probably just before dawn. Had the crucifixion been on Wednesday, there would have been a secular day, between the Passover and the seventh-day sabbath, on which the women could have visited the tomb without waiting for the first day of the week.

John H Mattox

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