Three Days and Nights
©2004 Rabbi David Markel Hall
This page was updated Feb 5th, 2004

S.Q. Asked the following question about the days before Yeshua's death.

"In the gospels' account of the resurrection after the burial of Yeshua, it is written in all 4 accounts that they went to the tomb early on the first day of the week (Sunday). If Yeshua said that he would be in the belly of the earth 3 days and 3 nights, that would have to work out to Him being buried late Thursday afternoon right? Yet the account of John said that they did not wish to keep his body upon the cross for it was the day of preparation, for the following day was a high day. (Shabbat). The way I see it no matter how many times I try, that leads to Yeshua dying on Friday then right? Then isn't that really not 3 days and nights?"

The misunderstanding comes from lack of knowledge of G-d's Holy Days (Notice I did not say "Jewish holidays"), and proper use of Jewish idioms. Several things need to be noted before we can proceed.

  1. Italicized words in the KJV indicate additions by the translators in hopes of clarifying otherwise uncertain scriptures. Sometimes these contribute to errors rather than clearing up questionable text.
  2. It is claimed that the reference in Matthew 12:40 is an idiom in attempt to explain away the three days and nights. However, phrases which include the words "and night(s)" are not considered to be idioms. (see "The Companion Bible", App. note #s 144 & 156 on Matthew 12:40) Therefore using the phrase, "days and nights" removes the phrase from the realm of idioms and causes the understanding to become three literal twenty four hour periods of time.
  3. The weekly Sabbath is not the only Sabbath observed by Jews. Shabbat (Hebrew for Sabbath) literally means rest. The first and last days of the feast of unleavened bread (Chag haMatzah) are commanded rests and sacred gatherings (Sabbaths) in Exod 12:16. These days do not often fall on a weekly Sabbath but move around in the week year by year.

Having laid this groundwork, we can now calculate the true day of his execution and understand the nature and time of his resurrection.

Fact #1 - He left the tomb before sunrise on the first day (day is italicized) of the week. (John 20:1) Notice the words "while it was still dark".

Fact #2 - He was in the ground for three days and three nights. (Matthew 12:40)

Fact #3 - He was buried in the end of "preparation day" of Chag haMatzah (the feast of unleavened bread). On this day the final chamatz (leavening) is removed for disposal at the temple. (Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14)

Fact #4 - He was buried before the Sabbath which was "an high day", not the weekly Sabbath. (John 19:31)

Fact #5 - Days begin and end at sundown. Therefore when it says "early the first of the week while it was still dark", could mean any time after sundown Saturday.

Using these facts lets now re-construct the time table counting backwards from a known point.

Day 4 - He had already risen. See Fact #1 "He left the tomb before sunrise"
Day 3 - Weekly Sabbath, Saturday
Day 2- Friday, called "Good Friday" in Christianity
Day 1- Thursday, High Day, annual Sabbath see Fact #2, first day of feast of unleavened bread
Day 0- Wednesday, "preparation day" See Fact #3, he was buried before sundown.

Since days begin at sundown, He would have been buried at the beginning of Thursday or on Wednesday evening by our accounting of time.

He was buried just before the Sabbath began at sundown on Wednesday, and as was indicated in Fact #4, that Sabbath was an annual Holy Day Sabbath. It fell on Thursday that year. So the Sabbath in question was not a Saturday but was a Thursday.

W.S. writes;,
I agree with your explanation on the total time Christ was in the tomb (3 days & 3 nights). But if you put his death on the preparation day before the Passover that would mean he would have to have eaten the Passover one day before the Passover Day.
This is very perceptive of you. As you must suspect these things are easily understood.
Leviticus 23:5 in Hebrew
with transliteration and English:

The instruction in the Bible for sacrificing the Passover is a little confusing. The translators interpreted the meaning to be "at evening" but the Hebrew is "beyn eruvim" meaning "Between evenings".

Passover is not a day. Passover is a commanded observance taking only three to four hours. It occurs just before or at the beginning of the first day of Chag haMatzah (the feast of unleavened bread). The Passover can be slaughtered anytime between the evenings beginning and ending the 14th day of Nissan. The Disciples slaughtered the Passover lamb for Yeshua's final meal on the 14th day of Nissan as the day began, at sunset on the 13th. This makes it a kosher Pesach Seder. It certainly wasn't the normal time for the Seder, but was legitimate none the less. As you and I are both aware, Yeshua would not be alive to convey the new symbolisms from the Seder at its regular time so their Seder was by necessity done the previous evening.

W.S. asked me to paraphrase Exodus 12:6 so I will paraphrase both references herein.

Leviticus 23:5 - The command for observance
In the first month of the calendar, the fourteenth day of the month, beyn haarbayim between the evenings the start and conclusion of the day according to Jewish reckoning of the day, starting at sunset and ending at sunset is the Passover to YHWH.
Exodus 12:6 - Instructions for observing the first Passover
And you shall guard or keep it close to you till the fourteenth day of the month and the whole assembly of the congregation shall kill it beyn haarbayim between the evenings the start and conclusion of the day according to Jewish reckoning of the day, starting at sunset and ending at sunset.
In both references the word beyn was rendered by the translators "in" but elsewhere it is translated "between" or "within," (see Strong's H-966) . This gives some latitude in translation. It is legal to use "in" in the translation but does not allow for the expanded time that "between" allows. Also, the word haarbayim is the traditional masculine plural ending so we are obviously talking about between the evenings. The translators wanted to give a more precise time for the killing of the pesach lamb so they rendered it "in the evening." Looking forward to future observances (plural) would include evenings (plural) so this is legitimate translating and sets the traditional time for the pesach sacrifice. However, it does not include the allowable expansion of time for an earlier observance which is clear in the Hebrew. If this were supposed to be translated "in the evening" then the priesthood slaughtered all of the Pesach lambs at the wrong time ever since Babylon, 4:00PM by their atomic clocks. 8^)
In reviewing your letter I wanted to respond specifically to the following statements:
Since these feast days were given by G-d as law & Christ attained righteousness by he law, this would make him a sinner.

First - His righteousness was not from The Law. He, unlike his piers, was born in and maintained righteousness supernaturally. It is true that the Law points our errors but he had none. Therefore the Law had no negative power over him. The Law does point out His reward and it foretold His coming. Only in this way did the Law apply to Him at all.

Second - He did not break this law. The perception comes from the translation as stated above. When you read the Hebrew, it certainly does allow for an earlier observance.

If you take your explanation & move it up exactly 7 days, placing Christ's death on the Wed. of the 20th, the preparation day of the last high day sabbath.
I fail to see why you would want to move it up seven days. If you do this then it misses all of the earmarks of the prophecies reflecting on his nature as our Passover lamb. He had to die beyn eruvim (between evenings) on Nissan 14 or he does not qualify as our Passover lamb.
This would also clear up how Christ could have been interrogated by the high priest, then Pilate, then Herod, then sent back to Pilate for execution all in a mere period of 3 hours.
As to the 3 hours of Yeshua's trial, it was done at the temple and close proximity. Pilot's home was near the temple mount. The active High Priest resided in the Temple itself. Of course Herod's home was nearby as well. It would have been easy to pass back and forth between Pilot's home and the temple several times during the three hours.

Rabbi David Hall