Three Days and Three Nights

Text: Matthew 12:38-42


I.         Jesus’ statement that he would spend three days and three nights in the grave has puzzled people through the ages.

            A.        If Jesus died on Friday afternoon and was buried just before sundown and then arose before dawn on Sunday, that is only 36 hours.

            B.        Some try to explain this by pointing that partial days are counted as full days, but even then we have a part of Friday day, Friday evening, Saturday day, Saturday evening, and a part of Sunday day.

                        1.         That is only 3 days and 2 nights.

                        2.         The wording of Jesus in Matthew 12:40 doesn’t allow for a shortage of nights.

II.        The fact that Jesus would spend three days in the grave was know by Jesus’ followers and by his enemies.

            A.        We already looked at Matthew 12:40, but there were other statements as well - John 2:19; Matthew 17:22-23

            B.        His enemies understood the prophecy - Matthew 27:62-64

            C.        The question is how to account for those days.

            D.        The Jews, as we do today, counted a partial day as a full day.

                        1.         You might say, “I worked all day on that project.”

                        2.         But we won’t conclude that you actually spent 24 hours or even 12 hours at work, even though you said, “all day.”

III.       The final week

            A.        John 12:1 tells us that six days before Passover, he came to Bethany

                        1.         Translating this into modern terms is more difficult that it first appears because two systems are used.

                                    a.         We follow the Roman style of counting a day from midnight to midnight.

                                    b.         The Jews counted a day from sundown to sundown.

                        2.         John appears to use the Jewish system.

                                    a.         If Passover was on the Sabbath day (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday), then six days before would place Jesus arrival on the prior first day of the week of the week (between sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday).

                                    b.         It appears he arrived in the evening because he had supper with Martha, Mary and Lazarus

            B.        The next day (Sunday) was the triumphal entry - John 12:12

            C.        Mark 11:11-12 Mention that Jesus didn’t stay long and returned to Bethany

            D.        The next day (Monday)

                        1.         Was when the fig tree was cursed - Mark 11:13-14

                        2.         And the temple was cleansed - Mark 11:15

            E.        The following day (Tuesday)

                        1.         The fig tree is withered - Mark 11:19-20

                        2.         A lot of teaching occurs on this day in Jerusalem and then with the disciples on the Mount of Olives

            F.        Mark 14:1 and Matthew 26:1-2 mention that the next series of events occur two days before Passover

                        1.         Most people assume that the Passover was on the Sabbath Day, or Saturday.

                        2.         Thus a gap of one day (Wednesday) is introduced where nothing is recorded.

            G.        The Passover is always eaten on the fourteenth day of the first month, just after sundown - Leviticus 23:5

            H.        The last supper was eaten on the day of preparation - Mark14:12, (also Matthew 26:17 and Luke 22:7), thus on the thirteenth of the month

            I.         Which day of the week Passover falls varies from year to year, just as it does on our calendars today.

                        1.         However, whichever day it fell was treated as a special Sabbath day, or sometimes called a holy convocation

                        2.         The same rules for a Sabbath day applied - Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:6-8

                        3.         Thus holy convocations are sometimes called Sabbaths - Leviticus 23:24

            J.         Jesus and his disciples remained until late in the evening and then went to the Garden of Gethsemane.

                        1.         After a period of praying, during which the disciples kept drifting off to sleep, Jesus was arrested by a mob and hauled to Annas’ home - John 18:12-13

                        2.         Next, he was taken to Caiaphas, the High Priest - John 18:24

                                    a.         It was at Caiaphas’ home that the incident of the roster crowing took place, so we know it was near dawn - John 18:25-27

                        3.         John 18:28 gives us a very telling point.

                                    a.         The Passover had not be eaten yet.

                                    b.         It is still the Preparation Day

            K.        When Pilate brought Jesus out it was the sixth hour (noon) of the Preparation day - John 19:14

            L.        At the crucifixion, there was concern about having the deaths completed before sundown - John 19:31

                        1.         Notice that John specifically mentions that it was still the Preparation Day and the following day was a Sabbath and he mentions that it was a high day Sabbath – or what the Old Testament called a holy convocation.

                        2.         This day falls on the fourteenth day of the first month, and not necessarily on Saturday.

            M.       Joseph asks for the body of Jesus on the Preparation Day - Mark 15:42-43

                        1.         Jesus was hastily prepared for burial and put into a tomb - John 19:42

                        2.         The rush was because at sundown it became the Passover day and no work could be done, including the burial of a loved one.

            N.        The next day, after the Passover was completed, we find the Jewish leaders petitioning Pilate - Matthew 27:62-64

            O.        Luke’s account is of special interest - Luke 23:50-56

                        1.         Jesus was buried on the Preparation Day

                        2.         The Sabbath drew near (the special Sabbath of the Passover)

                        3.         Everyone rested on the Sabbath (either the special Sabbath or the actual Sabbath of the week, or both)

IV.      When was the Passover?

            A.        Most people assume the Passover that year fell on Saturday, not realizing that the Passover itself was a special Sabbath.

                        1.         Placing the Passover on Saturday leaves you with the last week described in rich details, except that one day, Wednesday, is left out.

            B.        However, if we accept that the Passover fell on Friday, then there is no gap in the records. Each day is accounted for with little happening on Friday or Saturday because both days were days of rest.

                        1.         The meal at Simon’s house would take place on Wednesday evening

                        2.         The finding of the upper room and meal preparation was done one Wednesday day (Jewish style).

                        3.         The last supper was on Thursday evening

                        4.         The crucifixion was on Thursday day

                        5.         Jesus as in the tomb Friday evening (night 1), Friday morning (day 1), Saturday evening (night 2) Saturday morning (day 2), and Sunday evening (night 3)

            C.        Jesus arose on the first day of the week at dawn - Matthew 28:1-2 (also Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1; and John 20:1) Note that Matthew 28:1 literally says, "After the sabbaths"

                        1.         Peter, looking back on these events stated - Acts 10:39-40

                        2.         Peter stated that the resurrection happened on the third day, not after the third day.

                        3.         Jesus time in the tomb wasn’t a full day, but only a part of a day

                                    a.         A small part, granted, since he rose early in the morning before it became fully light.

V.        The point of the entire lesson is that many supposed contradictions are actually the result of suppositions that are not always justified

            A.        At times, looking at an account for what is only said can lead to a better explanation of the events.

            B.        And one that does not include a contradiction.


















Room Located

Meal Prepared

Last Supper






Night 1

Day 1

Guards requested

Night 2

Day 2

Night 3

Day 3




Preparation Day


Holy Convocation

Special Sabbath


First Day of the Week