Three Days and Three Nights: Did Jesus Keep His Word?

Jesus foretold the length of time He would be in the grave as a sign that He was the Messiah. But that time simply doesn't fit between a supposed Good Friday crucifixion and burial and an Easter Sunday resurrection. What does the Bible actually tell us?

The inside of a tomb looking out.
Source: DesignPics

Easter Sunday is the most attended church service of the year. People believe it celebrates Jesus' resurrection. But did you realize there's a major contradiction in the Easter story?

Most believe that Jesus was crucified and placed in the tomb on a Friday afternoon—and then raised back to life on Easter Sunday. But when you compare that to what Jesus Christ Himself said, you'll find there's a major discrepancy, as we'll see.

This is important to understand. Grasping the facts may transform your perspective and even lead you to no longer observe the Easter holiday. Yet it should actually enhance your faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and bring you to truly honor that as God desires.

This major discrepancy between religion and the Bible, between Christianity and Christ, over Jesus' resurrection is a very serious matter.

What does the Bible actually say about how long Jesus would be in the tomb? Does Scripture itself give contradictory information? Could identifying and understanding the discrepancy affect what you believe and even impact your eternal life?

A sign recalling a great fish

Did you know that people demanded a miraculous sign from Jesus to prove He truly was the Messiah? They wouldn't trust He was Savior without proof: "Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, Teacher, we desire to see a sign or miracle from You [proving that You are what You claim to be]" (Matthew:12:38, Amplified Bible, brackets in original).

Jesus told them there would be one proof for them—one miraculous sign. What would verify that Jesus was the Christ, the true Messiah, God in the flesh?

"Jesus answered, 'Evil and sinful people are the ones who want to see a miracle for a sign. But no sign will be given to them, except the sign of the prophet Jonah'" (Matthew:12:39, New Century Version, emphasis added throughout).

What was the sign of Jonah? Jesus goes on to explain: "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" (Matthew:12:40).

That was the sign—the one and only proof that Jesus gave to show them He was the promised Savior. But there's a dilemma—a clash between what He said and what most Christians believe and practice. Again, Jesus said, quoting a different translation: "Jonah was in the stomach of the big fish for three days and three nights. In the same way, the Son of Man will be in the grave three days and three nights" (Matthew:12:40, NCV).

That seems pretty straightforward, doesn't it? But here's the problem: How does a Good Friday crucifixion and an Easter Sunday resurrection match with what Jesus said is the one proof that's He's the Savior? This traditional view would place Jesus in the grave for only a day and a half—not three days and three nights.

Counting conundrum from Friday to Sunday

The Bible is clear. After Jesus died, His body was quickly placed in the tomb late in the day, just before sundown when a Sabbath began (as all biblical days are counted from sunset to sunset—see Genesis:1:5, Genesis:1:8, Genesis:1:13; Leviticus:23:32).

Notice John 19: "Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken [to cause death quickly], and that they might be taken away . . . But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs" (John:19:31, John:19:33).

Soon after, His body was taken down and placed in a tomb close to where He was crucified: "So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews' Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby" (John:19:42).

Did you catch the apparent contradiction in the story?

It's based on the Preparation Day being the day before a Sabbath—and the weekly Sabbath always falling from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. Thus many believe Jesus to have been crucified and buried on a Friday—often called Good Friday.

Consider now Jesus' sign of three days and three nights in the grave before being resurrected. If He was in the grave on Friday night, that's one night. And then the daylight part of Saturday is one day. Then Saturday night is two nights. And then Sunday morning He was supposed to be resurrected, which would seem to total two days and two nights. So it doesn't add up!

All we have to do to see the problem is count correctly. Add the days and nights between a late-afternoon Good Friday burial to an Easter Sunday morning resurrection, and it doesn't compute. For Jesus said the proof that He was the Messiah was that He would be in the tomb three days and three nights.

Something's obviously wrong with the traditional Good Friday-Easter Sunday timing. It simply doesn't work, no matter how you try. But if these days don't add up scripturally, then we don't have a Savior.

Reinterpreting as parts of days still doesn't work

Most theologians, religious scholars, pastors and priests know this is a problem. What do they do about it? Most try to work around the conflict by arguing that any part of a day or night could count as a full day or night.

The next step is then typically to argue that the final few minutes of Friday afternoon were the first day, Friday night was the first night, all day Saturday was the second day, Saturday night was the second night and then the first few minutes of Sunday morning were the third day.

That might sound reasonable, but wait. It still doesn't work. This adds up to three days and only two nights, not three days and three nights like Jesus said.

There's another problem, too. John 20 tells us that "on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb" (John:20:1).

Did you catch it? The Bible says it was still dark when Mary went to the tomb on Sunday morning and found it empty. Jesus was already resurrected well before daybreak. Therefore, He wasn't in the tomb for any of the daylight portion of Sunday, so none of that can be counted as a day.

That leaves us with, at the very most, part of a day on Friday, all of Friday night, a whole daylight portion on Saturday, and most of Saturday night. That totals one full day and part of another, and one full night and most of another—which is still at least a full day and a full night short of the time Jesus said He would be in the tomb. Once again, it doesn't add up!

What the Bible actually reveals

We know we can't fit three days and three nights between a Friday afternoon crucifixion and Easter Sunday. So what is the truth? When was Jesus crucified and resurrected?

Here are the facts from your Bible: Jesus was actually crucified on a Wednesday and was resurrected near the end of Saturday, the weekly Sabbath. You can verify this, but it's going to take an open mind and an open Bible.

Now let's note something surprising: The week in which Jesus was crucified actually had two Sabbaths in it. Remember John:19:31? It tells us, "Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day )."

Again, most think this is talking about the regular weekly Sabbath day, observed from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, which is why most assume Jesus died and was buried on a Friday. But that's not accurate.

The Bible refers to two kinds of Sabbath days—the normal weekly Sabbath day, which falls on the seventh day of the week, and seven annual Sabbath days, which each come once a year and can fall on any day of the week (all listed in Leviticus 23).

The Sabbath that began at sundown immediately after Jesus was entombed was one of these annual Sabbath days. The day before wasn't a Friday at all. As we just saw noted in John:19:31, John tells us "that Sabbath was a high day." That's a term used to show the difference between the seven annual Sabbaths—high days—and the regular weekly Sabbath day.

So what was this "high day" that came at sunset right after Jesus was buried?

Jesus kept the annual Passover with His disciples (Matthew:26:18; Luke:22:52), then was arrested later that night. The next morning, still the Passover day, He was crucified. After dying around 3 p.m., He was later placed in the tomb before the day ended, just as the sun was setting to begin the "high day." That high Sabbath day had to be the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which immediately follows the Passover. You can read about it yourself in Leviticus:23:5-7.

The annual first Holy Day of Unleavened Bread that year was observed from Wednesday sunset until Thursday sunset. Then from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset the normal weekly Sabbath was observed.

So let's see if the math works out:

• Wednesday sunset to Thursday sunset is one day and one night.

• Adding Thursday sunset to Friday sunset makes two days and two nights.

• Then adding Friday sunset to Saturday sunset makes three days and three nights.

• It does add up!

Jesus Christ was in the grave three days and three nights—just as He said. He came back to life at the exact time He foretold He would. The angel at the empty tomb confirmed it: "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said" (Matthew:28:5-6, New International Version).

Does it matter—what's at stake?

Biblical evidence reveals that the Good Friday-Easter Sunday tradition just doesn't figure. To claim that it's valid and that Jesus' statement about three days and three nights is not valid amounts to a denial of Christ. If we don't believe what Jesus said, or if we try to give it our own interpretation that doesn't agree with what He said, isn't that exactly what we're doing? We'd be saying that Jesus didn't know what He was talking about—that the only sign He said would prove He was the Messiah was either a mistake or a lie.

Sadly, many erroneously believe that the weekly day of worship was changed for Christians from the Saturday Sabbath to Sunday because Jesus was resurrected on Sunday. But He was not, as we've seen, and the change in worship day was more about conforming to pagan practices and gnostic ideas. God tells us to come out of this false worship system (Revelation:18:4).

We hope you'll take a look at the details recorded in the Bible and compare your practice with Jesus' own words. Our worship must be based on truth. Jesus said that "true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him" (John:4:23).

So should this change your life? Should it change the way you worship? Don't you want to worship God in the way He appreciates—the correct way? Then it really does matter. You don't want to be like those Christ described as practicing a useless or vain way of worship (Matthew:15:8).

Isn't it time to be sure that what you believe and practice is based in the Word of God? Make the commitment to worship God according to biblical truth rather than human tradition!

You'll need to take the time to look into the Holy Bible and really get to know the true God. Honor Him the way He wants to be honored, not through the traditions of manmade holidays like Easter and weekly Sunday observance.

Instead, worship Him on His days—the weekly and annual Sabbaths He instituted. Check out the Holy Days of God, the true biblical days of worship, and truly follow Christ. Read your Bible and discover them for yourself!


The Chronology of Jesus Christ Death, Burial and Resurrection

Bob Gv

Bob Gv's picture

What was the year that Nisan 15 fell on a Wednesday evening to Thursday evening?

Jaki Daley

Jaki Daley's picture

I agree with your article, it is exactly what the Bible states. A point I like to use is that it was a Wednesday at this particular time but it is always the 14th day of the 1st month no matter what day of the week it is - as each year it changes. Our Lord died for us on the 14th and rose so we may have eternal life on 17th 3 days and 3 nights. Thank you for continuing to teach Gods Word.

Malachi 3_16-18

Malachi 3_16-18's picture

Hi Jaki,

Actually, our Lord died for us around 3 p.m. on the 14th day of Nisan, but wasn’t buried until just before sunset (Mt 27:57-60). So the days He was in the grave were Nisan 15th, 16th, and 17th - which were Thursday (the First Day of Unleavened Bread), Friday, and Saturday (the weekly Sabbath) – that year.

God is precise in His timing. Since Jesus was laid in the tomb just before sunset at the end of Wednesday, He would be raised exactly three days and nights later, which was around or just before sundown ending the Saturday Sabbath. This explains why He was already risen when Mary Magdalene came to the grave Sunday morning while it was yet dark (Lk 24:1; Jn:20:1).

The above article included a chart of the Biblical Chronology of Jesus’ Burial and Resurrection, which is worth further study. You may find it helpful to magnify your screen a little, to provide a better focus. If you have your own hard copy of this Good News issue, it appears on a half-page spread, which is easier to read.

Hope this helps.

Malachi 3_16-18

Malachi 3_16-18's picture

Hi Bob,

Referring to the chart shown above, Jesus died around 3 pm on Weds. of that year, but wasn’t buried until around sundown that evening, beginning Thurs., an annual Holy Day (the 1st Day of Unleavened Bread). And United Church of God believes this year was 31 A.D. This is the only year, based on recorded historical events & what we know of God’s true Holy Day observance, that seems to be a logical fit.

Most sources assume a Fri. crucifixion, since they don’t recognize 2 Holy Days in 1 week: the 1st Day of Unleavened Bread, & the weekly Sabbath. I even found an internet article admitting 31 A.D. as a possibility, but only for those believing Jesus was in the tomb for a full 72 hrs. Well, the Bible says He was in the grave for 3 days & 3 nights (Mt 12:39-40), not 3 “parts” of days, or 1 ½ days, as most believe.

Additional evidence for a 31 A.D. crucifixion is His ministry beginning in 27 A.D. We believe this spanned 3 ½ yrs, based on at least 3 Passovers occurring in that time (Jn:2:13; 6:4; 13:1). Check this link for the 27 A.D. evidence:

Bob Gv

Bob Gv's picture

Thank you for your prompt reply, Malachi 3_16-18.

Bob Gv

Bob Gv's picture

You say Jesus' ministry began in 27 AD, and you give convincing proof from the book of Daniel. How then is Luke:3:1 to be understood? According to history the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar's reign was 29AD.


cjgennaro's picture

Bob Gv,

Maybe antedating explains the issue

Malachi 3_16-18

Malachi 3_16-18's picture

You're welcome, Bob Gv.

I saw your additional comment, and thought I might be able to help by pointing out that we can't always rely on the traditional historical dating. I checked some sources and actually found a wide range of "possibilities" as to when the 15th year of Tiberius' reign was, but interestingly, at least one source admits it could have been before 29AD.


ARC1212's picture

It's still amazing to me, that most will not accept the fact, that Christ truly was 3 days and 3 nights in the tomb. False traditions evidently die very hard. My family won't even consider the truth!


DanielSnedden's picture

Thanks for another excellent, easy to read and understand, straight to the heart of the matter handout that can be used to help others understand the truth. Beyond Today and the Good News have really been hitting them out of the park recently! Keep 'em coming! Thanks again for your hard work and dedication.


ramongpope's picture

Can someone help me with this question?
What did Jesus do in the 12 hours from resurrection till the time He showed Himself to Mary?

Jesus was already out of the grave before dawn on sunday...He resurrected on the closing of the weekly shabbath.

My question is: what happened in those 12 hours. Can someone tell me please.

Be blessed


cjgennaro's picture

Hi ramongpope,

As far as I know, the scripture doesn't tell us anything about what He did at that time. He didn't ascend to heaven until Sunday during the day. Then later He appeared to many for 40 days and 40 nights.


candcconnell's picture

Thank you for this article. It helped me to improve my understanding a whole lot.

But I read beyond the scriptures quoted here and stumbled upon one scripture that confused what I thought I understood very well. It seems to contradict the above timeline, but I know the bible cannot contradict itself... I was wondering if anyone can help me piece this scripture along with this above timeline:

Of course read the whole story to get the full context, but part of Luke:24:21 reads "...and what is more, it is the third day since all this took place", which is clearly referring to Sunday since it was determined it was the first day of the week at the beginning of Luke 24. I have read other versions as well as the Hebrew and Greek translated scriptures. And still, this does not appear to line up with the thinking that the third day was Saturday. This utterly confused me...

Thanks for your help in advance

Ivan Veller

Ivan Veller's picture

Hi Bob, like Malachi I have likewise found regarding Luke:3:1 that “Tiberius succeeded Augustus as emperor in A.D. 14 and reigned until A.D. 37. The fifteenth year of his reign, depending on the method of calculating his first regnal year, would have fallen between A.D. 27 and 29” (Catholic Study Bible 2006). “‘The fifteenth year of…Tiberius Caesar’ could be as early as A.D. 26…because Tiberius had been delegated some of the authority of his stepfather, Augustus…, several years before [full imperial accession on A.D. 29, when Augustus] died” (HCSB Study Bible 2010). “Tiberius Caesar became co-emperor with his stepfather Caesar Augustus in AD 11 and full emperor in AD 14, reigning until AD 37. Depending on which date Luke is referring to, John’s public ministry began around AD 26/27 or AD 29/30; Jesus began his own ministry shortly thereafter” (NLT Study Bible 2008).

Hi Ramongpope, perhaps, “having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and…prayed” (Mark:1:35)?

Dear Candcconnell, Luke:24:21 can be translated “three days have already passed”:

Login/Register to post comments
© 1995-2015 United Church of God, an International Association | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use

Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. All correspondence and questions should be sent to Send inquiries regarding the operation of this Web site to

You may login with either your assigned username or your e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.