Three Days And Three Nights?

Quite a controversy exists concerning the Messiah's death and resurrection. For many centuries it was believed that Yeshua died on a Friday and resurrected on the following Sunday. Out of that belief arose such venerated days as "Holy Thursday," "Good Friday," and "Easter Sunday." It also resulted in changing the weekly sabbath from the seventh day to the first day of the week in honor of Messiah's resurrection on that day. In recent years, however, a belief that Yeshua died on a Wednesday and resurrected at the end of the weekly sabbath came to exist. The intent of that doctrinal change was to refute the veneration of Sunday as the "Christian Sabbath." If it could be proven that Yeshua resurrected on the seventh day, then there would no longer be a foundation for a Sunday sabbath.

The purpose of this study is to restore the historical truth of a Friday impalement and Sunday resurrection. Those of us who continue to keep the seventh day sabbath holy do not have to rewrite history in order to support sabbath keeping. Yahweh's commandments are immutable. If He, His Son, or the Apostles did not change the sabbath commandment, then it must continue to be observed on the seventh day of the week despite what others do.

The foundation of a Wednesday impalement and death is based on a literal interpretation of Mt.12:38-41; "Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seek after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here."

Proponents of a Wednesday death say that the sign of the true Messiah was that he would be in the tomb exactly 72 hours, just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. They go on to say that anyone who believes in a Friday death and Sunday resurrection is believing in a false messiah. To understand the true meaning of these verses we must study all that the scriptures say concerning this event.

A parallel account to this encounter with the Pharisees is found in Lu.11:29-30; "And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation." Here Yeshua specifically tells us that the sign was Jonah himself. He also says that he, the Son of man, would be the sign to the current generation of Israel. The emphasis is not on how long those men were entombed in their respective prisons but on the men themselves and on the message of repentance that they preached. The Ninevites were quick to repent after hearing Jonah's message, however, the evil generation of Israel would not respond to the greater message of the greater messenger.

A sign is something that is visible to the sign seeker. The Jews wanted a visible sign that was even more convincing than the miracles that Yeshua performed. The question is, "In what way was Jonah's journey in the fish's belly a sign to the Ninevites?" According to Jonah 2:10 - 3:3, after he was vomited out of the fish's mouth he was to go to Ninevah. No one from Ninevah saw Jonah being spewed out of the fish, nor did he tell them of his encounter with it. Since they did not know or see what had happened to Jonah, it could not have been a sign to the Ninevites. Jonah himself, as a preacher of repentance sent from Yahweh, was the sign, not his three days and three nights in the fish. In the same way, Yeshua himself, as a preacher of repentance sent from Yahweh, is the sign to the evil generation of Israel. The emphasis is on the man and his message, not on the time element involved.

Concerning the Hebrew word for "night" and the phrase, "three days and three nights," we read the following from, "The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament," by Harris, Archer and Waltke, pages 478 & 479; "Instructive, in this connection, are three days and three nights of 1 Sam.30:12. Verse 13 plainly says, 'Today is the third [day].' Therefore it may be concluded that the expression is a stereotyped formula which applies when any part of three days is involved, not an affirmation that seventy-two hours have expired." In other words, they are saying it is an idiom, an expression peculiar to the Hebrew language. An example of an English idiom is, "It is raining cats and dogs." If someone unfamiliar with English idioms read that phrase he may think cats and dogs were literally falling from the sky. The phrase, "three days and three nights," is a Hebrew idiom that is not to be understood literally.

This type of counting, that would include any part of a day as a whole day, is called "inclusive reckoning." An example of this is found in the counting of the days to Pentecost. Lev.23:16 specifically says to "number fifty days," however, the feast begins as soon as the fiftieth day begins, not after the fiftieth day is ended. The count of sabbatical years leading to Jubilee is also inclusive reckoning. The "Jewish Encyclopedia," Vol.4, pg.474, confirms this method of reckoning time. It reads, "A short time in the morning of the seventh day counted as the seventh day; circumcision takes place on the eighth day, even though, of the first day only a few minutes remained after the birth of the child, these being counted as one day."

Forcing Mt.12:40 to have a literal meaning results in forcing many other clear scriptures to say something they don't. For example, one Sacred Name group tries to prove the visit to the tomb in Mk.16:2 took place just after sunset ending the weekly sabbath. The KJV translates the Greek word "anateilantos" as "rising," in reference to the sun, implying the event took place on Sunday morning. They, however, go to great lengths to prove "anateilantos" means "setting." If that were true, all verses using that word, or a form of it, should be translated the same way. Judge for yourself whether the following verses warrant a translation of "setting" (Mt.5:45; Ja.1:11; Lu.12:54; Mt.4:16; 2 Pe.1:19).

This same group tries to prove Lu.24:1 occurs after sunset ending the weekly sabbath. They say the Greek word "batheos," translated "very early in the morning" in the KJV, means "earliest dawn" or "the dawn of a new day." Since days begin at sunset, that would mean the end of Sabbath. This group, however, fails to translate "orthrou," meaning "the time before daybreak, in the morning early." The same word in various forms was used in Acts 5:21, Jn.8:2, and Rev.22:16. Again, judge for yourself what the meaning of "orthrou" is.

According to historical sources, the keeping of Sunday began as early as the middle of the second century (150 C.E.). People at that time believed the resurrection took place on Sunday and honored it as Israel had honored the Sabbath. They concluded a Sunday resurrection based on oral accounts passed down from one generation to another and by the Greek copies of scripture. They were not influenced by the KJV which was not yet published. Therefore, arguments about specific Greek words are irrelevant since people back then knew their true meaning, and yet, still observed Sunday.

The most common expression Yeshua used concerning his resurrection was "the third day." Yeshua gives us a clear example of what he means by "the third day" in Lu.13:32; "And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected." Yeshua refers to "today" as day 1, "tomorrow" as day 2, and "the third day" as day 3. Regardless of how much time remained in day 1, it was still included in Yeshua's count. In Yeshua's mind, the third day is the day after "tomorrow." "Tomorrow" is the day after "today," and "today" is the day he was speaking. The day Messiah died, Abib 14, was "today." Abib 15 was "tomorrow" and Abib 16 was "the third day." With that in mind we can understand some other references to three days.

In Lu.24:13-35, we read of the encounter between Cleopas, his companion, and Yeshua. The meeting takes place on the same day the women came to the tomb and found it empty. Verse 29 shows it was late in the day, therefore their conversation must have taken place during the daylight hours of Sunday, or as Lu.24:1 states, "the first [day] of the week."

The conversation with Yeshua begins in verse 17. "And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad? And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days? And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Yeshua of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before Yahweh and all the people: And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have [impaled] him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done."

The last sentence is very important. The day they were speaking was the third day since the things they were speaking about took place. What were they speaking about? Cleopas began his account of past events with the arrest of Yeshua and ended them with Messiah's death. Cleopas said "today is the third day since these things were done." Therefore, Sunday was the third day or day 3; Saturday was the second day or day 2; and Friday was the first day or day 1. Referring to Yeshua's understanding of counting days in Lu.13:32, we see that day 1 was counted as one day regardless of how much time remained in that day. That Friday was Abib 14, Passover. Yeshua was killed at the same time the Israelites were killing their Passover lambs, 3:00 in the afternoon. Even though only about three hours remained in that day, it was still day 1.

If we try to apply a full 72 hours to Yeshua's entombment we create problems with this text. Saturday, at approximately noon, would comprise one 24 hour period; Friday, at noon, the second 24 hour period; and Thursday, at noon, the third 24 hour period. Cleopas ended his account of "these things" with Yeshua's death which did not take place on Thursday afternoon. There are no scriptural grounds to end "these things" that were done with the sealing of the tomb on Thursday.

In fact, a review of the following 13 scriptures clearly shows the count of three days begins with the death of Messiah, not his entombment (Mt.16:21; Mt.17:23; Mt.20:18,19; Mt.27:63,64; Mk.9:31; Mk.10:34; Lk.9:22; Lk.13:32; Lk.18:33; Lk.24:7; Jn.2:19-21; Acts 10:39,40; 1 Cor.15:3,4).

In Mt.27:62-66, we learn something interesting concerning the sealing of the sepulchre and the soldiers that were to guard it. Verse 63 says the chief priests and the Pharisees were concerned about Messiah's prophesy of rising again after three days. They requested the sepulchre be made sure "until the third day." That phrase must surely mean "until the third day ends." Pilate granted the "watch" and eventually the sepulchre was sealed and guarded by soldiers.

If Messiah died on a Wednesday, and we count in the way Wednesday proponents prefer, then Thursday, the day the watch began, would have been day one, Friday - day two, and Sabbath - day three. As the sun set ending the Sabbath, the command to make the sepulchre sure "until the third day" would have ended. The soldiers would have gone home for a good, warm nights sleep. The Roman soldiers were certainly very good at following commands to the letter. But what happened?

We see in Mt.28:1-4 that the "keepers" or those that guarded the tomb were scared to death by the Angel of Yahweh who rolled the stone away on Sunday morning. Therefore, the watch was continuing to guard the tomb on the fourth day even though they were only commanded to guard until the third day.

However, if Messiah died on a Friday, it doesn't matter if we use the Hebrew or Roman method of counting. Sunday would have been either day three (Hebrew) or day two (Roman) in the count which would justify why the watch was still there on Sunday morning.

What about Mt.27:63 and the phrase "After three days?" Can a Sunday resurrection be considered "after three days" if Yeshua's died on Friday? The Pharisees were referring to Yeshua's statements in Jn.2:19-21, when they were speaking with Pilate. In John's account Yeshua said "in three days." This shows that "after" can be an idiom for "in." We see this in 2 Chr. 10:5-12 as well. In verse 5, the people are told by king Rehoboam to return "after three days." In verse 12, the people return "on the third day." It appears as though "after," "on," and "in" are all used interchangeably. Therefore, "after three days" does not necessarily mean "after the third day ends." It most likely means "after the third day begins," which is in keeping with the Hebrew way of counting part of a day as one day.

Another problem is created by a Wednesday impalement. Proponents of that belief quote Mk.16:1 which states the women bought spices after the sabbath ended. They believe that sabbath was Abib 15, Thursday, an annual sabbath. Then they quote Lu.23:56 to show the women prepared the spices before the sabbath, which they say refers to the weekly Sabbath. Thus they have two separate sabbaths, one on Thursday and one on Saturday. This forces them to place three entire days between verses 55 and 56 of Luke 23. They say verse 55 occurs on Wednesday and verse 56 occurs on the weekly Sabbath. A careful reading of those verses will show that the women "returned" from watching where and how Joseph laid Yeshua's body. There is no break in time between verses 55 and 56. The women already had spices on hand when they returned from the tomb on Friday. They prepared what they had and then rested on the weekly Sabbath. When Sabbath ended they obviously felt more spices were needed so they bought more spices on Saturday night. They prepared them that same night and returned to the tomb Sunday morning.

How does all this relate to the "wave sheaf" and Pentecost? The day the sheaf was waved is day #1 in the count of 50 days to the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost (Lev.23:15). Groups that always keep Pentecost on Sunday point to Yeshua's resurrection and ascension as the fulfillment of the wave sheaf. That is because they believe the "sabbath" referred to in Lev. 23:11 and 15 is the weekly Sabbath. Therefore, the wave sheaf would always be offered on a Sunday. The Jews of Messiah's day and certain groups of believers today understand the "sabbath" of Lev.23:11 & 15 to be the annual sabbath of Abib 15. Therefore, wave sheaf day would always be Abib 16 to them. This belief, combined with a belief in a Wednesday impalement, means Abib 16 fell on a Friday the year of Messiah's death. This makes a fulfillment of the wave sheaf impossible since Yeshua was still dead at that time. If, however, Messiah died on a Friday, Abib 16 would be Sunday, thereby providing a fulfillment of the wave sheaf with Yeshua's resurrection and ascension on Sunday.

Yeshua's death at exactly 3:00 pm on Abib 14 fulfilled the Passover sacrifice perfectly. The wave sheaf was also fulfilled perfectly as we shall see. According to the Mishnah, the sheaf was reaped shortly after the sun set ending the annual sabbath of Abib 15 and the beginning of Abib 16. This reaping was fulfilled by Yeshua's resurrection from the dead. He was the first of the firstfruits of the spiritual harvest of souls. On the morning of Abib 16, the sheaf was offered by the High Priest. That took place no later than 9:00 am. That offering was fulfilled by Yeshua's ascension to heaven and his acceptance by Yahweh as the first of the firstfruits. That took place early Sunday morning, after Yeshua's meeting with Miriam in Jn.20;17.

If we were to use a full 72 hours from Messiah's entombment on a Wednesday, it would have him resurrecting on the fourth day, not the third day. Assuming he was placed in the tomb around 5:00pm; 5:00 on Thursday is 24 hours, 5:00 on Friday is 48 hours (2 days), 5:00 on Sabbath is 72 hours (3 full days). Yet, he did not resurrect until AFTER Abib 15 ended to fulfill the wave sheaf offering which offering was reaped at night shortly after Abib 16 began.

Finally, the most conclusive proof that a Wednesday death is impossible is this;

Wednesday proponents say that Wednesday was Abib 14, Thursday was Abib 15 (an annual sabbath), Friday was Abib 16, and Saturday was Abib 17 (a weekly Sabbath). That would make Abib 10 a weekly Sabbath as well. John 12:1 says, "Then Yeshua six days before the Passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead . . ."

When John refers to Passover in his evangel, he means the entire festival of seven days which began on Abib 15. Both the Hebrew and Greek words for "Passover" can refer to the seven day festival or the lamb itself. Ezekiel 45:21 calls the Passover , "a feast of seven days." This is the sense in which John understands Passover as can be seen in John 19:14; "And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!"

This was spoken on Abib 14. Abib 14 was the preparation or day before Passover. The same is true of the preparation day of the Sabbath, it is the day before Sabbath. Therefore, John's reference to six days before Passover means six days before Abib 15. That would take us back to Abib 9. Abib 9 is when Yeshua came to Bethany in John 12:1.

John 12:12, 13 then says, "On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Yeshua was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of Yahweh."

That "next day" was Abib 10, a weekly Sabbath according to Wednesday death proponents. Now let's read Matthew's account of what happened that day.

" And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of Yahweh; Hosanna in the highest."

If these people were cutting down branches from palm trees on a weekly Sabbath, there would have been a major uproar by the Pharisees. We certainly know that merely gathering sticks that were on the ground was punishable by death (Nu 15:32-36). How much more were these people transgressing by not only gathering branches, but first having to cut them off.

This, however, was not a weekly Sabbath. Six days before a Saturday, Abib 15 would be Sunday, Abib 9. The "next day" would be Monday, Abib 10, on which cutting branches is lawful.

The Jews have always been correct as far as when to observe Sabbath, Passover, and Pentecost. The Christian churches and many Sacred Name groups have been keeping these days at the wrong times because they misunderstand the scriptures. A correct understanding of the wave sheaf and Pentecost will help in understanding when Yeshua died, how long he was in the tomb, and when he resurrected.