The Significance of the Three Days
by Michael Schiffman
There has been a long and drawn out discussion going on in Evangelical circles over the years regarding the timing of the Death and Resurrection of the Lord. Some believe that the Lord was crucified on a Friday afternoon, and rose from the dead on Sunday morning. In support of this position, they point to the scripture which says the Sabbath was approaching at the time of the Lord’s death, and He had to be buried before the Sabbath began. Luke 23:54 says, “It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.”
This concept of the crucifixion day being Friday would seem to fit the Sabbath description and would satisfy the context of the Gospel accounts, but it leaves one problem: There are not three days between Friday evening and Sunday morning. Yeshua said he would be three days and nights in the earth. Some have tried to reason this by pointing to the Jewish reckoning of days, counting Friday afternoon as day one, Saturday through sundown as day two, and saturday evening – early Sunday as Day three, and He rose on the third day. This is a possible understanding. Critics of this view point to the statement of “three days and three nights” in Matthew 12:40. The Friday – Sunday interpretation can not stand under this understanding. The problem in understanding the meaning of these statements is in the interpretation of “Sabbath,” and “three days” in these passages.
An alternative view to the Friday – Sunday interpretation is the view that the Lord was sacrificed on a Thursday. This would allow a three day burial of the Lord (Thursday/evening, Friday/evening, Saturday/evening), and His resurrection on Sunday morning. The problem with this interpretation is in the idea of the Sabbath approaching, at the time of the Lord’s death. In support of this view, people point to the fact that because of the proximity to Passover, this day (Thursday?) was a day of preparation. Leviticus
23:7 teaches that the first day was a sacred day in which no work was to be done. In a sense, a Sabbath. So, because of the Passover approaching, this special Sabbath, this day of preparation could have taken place on a Thursday, and the last supper on Wednesday evening. This is only a possibility.
A second point important to the issue of when the Lord rose is the significance of three days. Genesis 22:4 says, on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes to Mt. Moriah, where he would bind Isaac, in obedience to the Lord’s command, and God would provide a substitute for Isaac.
On the morning of the third day, God appeared to the people at Mt. Sinai, bringing the revelation of His Word (Exodus 19:16).
On the third day, Joseph said to his brothers, “Do this and you will live” (Genesis 42:18).
Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days before he was saved (Jonah 1:17).
On the third day, Esther put on her royal robes to see the king (Esther 5:1) after which Israel was delivered from destruction. Hosea said it most clearly, “After two days He will revive us, He will raise us up on the third day.” A rabbi’s comment in the Midrash Rabba says, “The Holy One Blessed be His Name, never lets the just stay in affliction longer than three days.”
“On the third day” has less to do with the counting of time than the fact that it is a clear reference to God’s mercy, grace, and deliverance. The three days points to the redemption and its completion in the Resurrection of the Lord.
Personally I hold to the Thursday Crucifixion, but the important thing is not the day of the crucifixion but he fact of the Resurrection, and the redemption that it has guaranteed for those who have received the Lord as Messiah.