Book: A Harmony of the Gospels - In Modern English

THE EXACT LENGTH OF TIME THAT JESUS WAS IN THE TOMB

Many prophecies in the Old Testament foretold the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. The prophet Daniel foresaw that His life would be taken (Dan. 9:26), and both David and Isaiah described the suffering and humiliation that He would endure before His death (Psa. 22, Isa. 53). Other prophecies pointed to His resurrection to immortality (Psa. 16:10-11, Dan. 7:13-14, Isa. 9:6-7). However, there is no scripture in the Old Testament that foretold the length of time that the Messiah would be in the tomb before He was resurrected from the dead. This prophecy is found only in the Gospel accounts, spoken by Jesus Himself: “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Master, we desire to see a sign from You.’ And He answered and said to them, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, in like manner the Son of man shall be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights’ ” (Matt. 12:38-40).

Jesus spoke these words because the scribes and Pharisees did not believe in Him, nor did they believe that His works of healing were done by the power of God. When they challenged Him to perform a miraculous sign in their presence, Jesus did not do so. Instead, the only sign He gave them was the sign of Jonah the prophet. The fulfillment of this sign was a testimony not only to that generation but to all future generations that He was the Messiah.

The vast majority of Christians today believe that Jesus was crucified and laid in the tomb on a Friday, and He was resurrected on Sunday morning. Thus, He was not in the tomb for three days and three nights, as He had prophesied, but for two nights and one full day. This traditional interpretation of Jesus’ death and resurrection is completely contrary to the Gospel accounts.

Nearly all churches within Christendom have misinterpreted or rejected the scriptural record. In its place, they have adopted an ancient Babylonian religious tradition that predates the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ by thousands of years.* Various theories have been advanced in an attempt to reconcile this ancient religious tradition with the scriptural accounts, but the error is clearly exposed by examining the accounts that have been accurately recorded and faithfully preserved in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

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*For historical evidence of the Babylonian practices, see The Two Babylons by Alexander Hislop and The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer.

The Gospel accounts do not support the traditional belief in a Good Friday crucifixion and an Easter Sunday resurrection. The facts that are recorded by the Gospel writers reveal a profoundly different time frame for the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.


The Scriptural Definition of a Day

Some have claimed that Jesus was using an idiomatic expression when He declared that He would remain in the tomb for three days and three nights. They teach that His words should be interpreted as referring to parts of days rather than to whole days. But when the scriptural use of the term “day” is examined one finds that it is very specific. The Scriptures of the Old Testament show that a day consists of an evening and a morning (Gen. 1). An entire day has two portions: the night portion, which begins at evening, or sunset; and the day portion, which begins at sunrise, or morning. These two consecutive periods are identified as one complete day, reckoned from sunset to sunset, or evening to evening (Lev. 23:32).

According to Scripture, each day has an average of twelve hours in the night portion and twelve hours in the day portion, making a complete day of twenty-four hours. Jesus Himself verified that the day portion is about twelve hours long when He said, “Are there not twelve hours in the day?” (John 11:9.) Jesus also spoke of the three watches of the night, which extended from sunset to sunrise and were each four hours long, making a total of twelve hours (Luke 12:36-38). There is no question that Jesus included a full twelve hours of daylight and a full twelve hours of night in reckoning the length of each calendar day. This scriptural method of reckoning time had been used by the Hebrews for centuries. Moreover, it is clear that Jesus and His disciples observed the Passover and the holy days of God each year according to the determination of the Hebrew Calendar, as God had ordained. This is a key fact in understanding the exact length of time that Jesus was in the tomb.

When the four Gospel accounts are examined, it is clear that the Gospel writers used the scriptural method of reckoning each day from sunset to sunset, or evening to evening. Beginning six days before Jesus’ last Passover until the day after His resurrection, the Gospel writers accurately recorded all the events day by day. They took careful note of the mornings and evenings, making it possible to determine the beginning and end of each day. The fact that they meticulously noted the mornings and evenings demonstrates that these days were whole days composed of twenty-four hours. Nowhere do the scriptural records leave room for an interpretation of partial days or partial nights.

 

An Analysis of the Phrase “Three Days and Three Nights” in the Book of Jonah

Jesus’ prophecy that He would be in the grave for three days and three nights is a direct reference to Jonah 1:17, which speaks of Jonah’s symbolic entombment in the belly of a great fish: “And the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

The word “days” in this verse is translated from the Hebrew yom, and the word “night” is translated from the Hebrew lailah. Both of these words are preceded by the cardinal number “three,” which is translated from the Hebrew shalosh. This cardinal number is used as an adjective before the nouns “days” and “nights” to express a specific period of time. Other scriptural references confirm the use of cardinal numbers to record the exact duration of a condition or event:

Gen. 7:4 “seven days”

Gen. 7:12 “forty days and forty nights”

Ex. 10:23 “three days”

Ex. 24:18 “forty days and forty nights”

Lev. 12:4 “thirty-three days”

I Sam. 30:12 “three days and three nights”

I Kings 19:8 “forty days and forty nights”

The use of a cardinal number with the terms “days” and “nights” shows that these terms are being used in a very specific sense. The presence of the Hebrew waw (the conjunction “and”) between “days” and “nights” makes the meaning of the text even more emphatic, limiting the duration of time to the exact number of days and nights that are specified. By the Scriptural method of reckoning time, it takes an “evening” and a “morning” to complete one full day (Gen. 1:5). Just as “the evening and the morning” in Genesis 1 denote a whole day of twenty-four hours, so the term “a day and a night” denotes a full day of twenty-four hours. In the same way also, the expression “three days and three nights” denotes three whole days of twenty-four hours each.

The Hebrew text leaves no room to interpret the expression “three days and three nights” in Jonah 1:17 in a broad or general sense. The use of this same Hebrew expression in I Samuel 30:12 demonstrates that it is a literal period of three 24-hour days: “... for he had eaten no bread nor drunk water for three days and three nights.” The following verse in I Samuel 30 uses the expression “three days agone” in reference to the period of three days and three nights. These were the words of an Egyptian who was accustomed to reckoning days from sunrise to sunrise. The use of the expression “three days agone” by the Egyptian confirms that he had completed a full three days and three nights of fasting from sunrise on the first day until sunrise on the fourth day. The literal meaning of “three days” in I Samuel 30:13 is confirmed by the use of the same Hebrew expression in II Samuel 24:13 to describe a specific duration of time: “three days’ pestilence.”

The construction of the Hebrew text does not allow the expression “three days and three nights” in Jonah 1:17 to be interpreted in any manner except the literal sense of three 24-hour days. The Hebrew terminology cannot be interpreted as an idiomatic expression that is describing incomplete units of time, such as part of a day and part of a night. To denote incomplete units of time, the Hebrew text uses a word that means “to divide.” This word is not found in the expression “three days and three nights,” either in Jonah 1:17 or in I Samuel 30:12. However, this word is found in reference to a duration of time in Daniel 12:7: “... a time, times, and a half a time.” The word “half” is translated from the Hebrew word meaning “to divide.” Since this word is not used to describe the duration of time in Jonah 1:17 and I Samuel 30:12, it is evident that the Hebrew text is describing complete units of time—three 12-hour days and three 12-hour nights. By testifying that Jonah was in the belly of the fish “three days and three nights,” the Scriptures reveal that a full 72 hours had elapsed before Jonah was cast out on the shore.

The New Testament reveals that Jesus the Christ was the Lord God of the Old Testament before He became a man. He was the one Who caused the great fish to swallow Jonah and descend to the bottom of the sea for a period of time before swimming to the shore and depositing Jonah on the land. As the Lord God, He knew exactly how long Jonah had remained in the belly of the fish, and He inspired Jonah to record this duration of time, which was a foretelling of His future burial. There is no question concerning the length of time that passed as Jonah lay in the belly of the fish, because this fact is preserved in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Since the Hebrew text cannot be interpreted in an idiomatic sense, but must be interpreted literally, it is clear that three whole days and three whole nights passed while Jonah lay in the fish’s belly. Jesus was fully aware of this fact of Scripture when He declared to the Jews, “... in like manner the Son of man shall be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights” (Matt. 12:40).

 

Jesus Said That He Would Rise Three Days After His Death

The Gospel writers record that Jesus made specific statements to His disciples concerning the length of time that He would be in the tomb and when He would be resurrected: “And He began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of man to suffer many things, and to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and to be killed, but after three days to rise from the dead” (Mark 8:31; see also Matt. 16:21 and Mark 9:31). Jesus proclaimed to His disciples that He would not rise from the dead until three days after He had been killed. Jesus’ statement that He would rise three days after He had died is most significant. According to Jewish law, to be declared legally dead, a person had to be dead for more than three full days. If someone who appeared to be dead revived and came back to life prior to three full days, he or she was not legally deemed to have been dead. Therefore, if Jesus had risen from the dead before 3 PM on the afternoon of Nisan 17, a weekly Sabbath, He would not have been considered legally dead. As a result, His return to life would not have been considered a true resurrection from the dead.

Knowing this fact, one can understand why Jesus delayed going to Lazarus in the account in John 11. Jesus knew that Lazarus was sick unto death, but He deliberately remained where He was for two more days (John 11:6). He knew that Lazarus would not be considered legally dead until he had been dead for four days. When Lazarus was legally dead, Jesus went to resurrect him from the grave: “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of him who had died, said to Him, ‘Lord, he already stinks, for it has been four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you will believe, you shall see the glory of God?’ Then they removed the stone from the tomb where the dead man had been laid. And Jesus lifted His eyes upward and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You hear Me always; but because of the people who stand around I say this, so that they may believe that You did send Me.’ And after He had spoken these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ And he who had been dead came forth, his feet and hands bound with grave clothes, and his face bound up with a napkin. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him and let him go’ ” (John 11:39-44).

Like Lazarus, Jesus had to remain dead for a minimum of three full days in order to be declared officially dead. If He had been crucified on a Friday and restored to life on Sunday morning at sunrise, His death would not have been “valid” since only two nights and one day would have passed between Friday sunset and Sunday morning. In order for His death to be publicly recognized and acknowledged, it was necessary for Jesus to remain in the grave for three nights and three days before He was raised from the dead. The Scriptures reveal that Jesus died at the ninth hour, or 3 PM, on the Passover day, Nisan 14, which fell on Wednesday, April 5, in 30 AD (Matt. 27:46 and Mark 15:34), and He was placed in the tomb just before sunset at approximately 6 PM. The Gospel of Matthew describes His burial by Joseph of Arimathea: “And when evening was coming on, a rich man of Arimathea came, named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. After going to Pilate, he begged to have the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given over to him. And after taking the body, Joseph [with the help of Nicodemus (John 19:39)] wrapped it in clean linen cloth, and placed it in his new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock; and after rolling a great stone to the door of the tomb, he went away” (Matt. 27:57-60). Luke records that “a Sabbath was coming on” (Luke 23:54), which means that by the time they had closed the entrance of the tomb with a huge stone, the Sabbath was nearly upon them. Since all Sabbaths were reckoned from sunset to sunset, it is clear that the sun was about to set.

Both Matthew and Mark testify that Jesus died at the ninth hour, or 3 PM. Luke’s account shows that they closed the entrance to the tomb with a huge stone just before sunset. Because the Passover is in the spring of the year when the days are twelve hours in length, we know that the tomb was closed at about 6 PM. Since He died about 3 PM, Jesus was dead for approximately 75 hours before He was resurrected. The total length of time included three days (from sunrise to sunset) and three nights (from sunset to sunrise) plus approximately three hours. Because He had been dead for more than three days, His death was legally established. When He appeared to His disciples three days after He had been placed in the tomb, the reality of His resurrection was beyond question.

 

Additional Statements of Jesus Confirm That He Was in the Tomb for Three Days and Three Nights

While Matthew and Mark record Jesus saying that He would be raised “after three days,” Luke records that He would be raised “on the third day.” Luke wrote: “For He shall be delivered up to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked and insulted and spit upon. And after scourging Him, they shall kill Him; but on the third day, He shall rise again” (Luke 18:32-33).

The apostle John records another statement by Jesus that He would be raised up “in three days.” Jesus made this statement when the Jews confronted Him for casting the money exchangers out of the temple and driving out the animals they were selling: “... The Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘This temple was forty-six years in building, and You will raise it up in three days?’ But He spoke concerning the temple of His body. Therefore, when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scriptures, and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:18-22).

The phrase “in three days” contains the Greek preposition en. This Greek preposition, which is translated “in” in John 2:19-20, can also mean “within.” At first glance, the statements “in three days” and “on the third day” appear to conflict with the statement that He would be raised “after three days.” How is it possible for all three of Jesus’ statements to be correct?

When we understand Jesus’ statements, we find that instead of being contradictory, they reveal the exact time that He was raised from the dead. Jesus made it clear that He would be raised after He had been dead for three days. The other statements, “in three days” and “on the third day,” do not include the total time that He was dead but only the time that He was buried in the tomb. The Gospel accounts show that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus closed the tomb just before sunset, three hours after Jesus died on the cross. Although He was in the tomb for exactly three days and three nights, He was dead for a longer period than that. Thus He rose from the dead “after three days.” The difference between this statement and the statements “in three days” and “on the third day” is that these two statements refer to His burial “in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.”

When one compares all of Jesus’ statements, it is evident that they place specific limits on the time frame between His death and resurrection. Of itself, “in three days” could mean any time on the third day, even the first minute of the third day. “On the third day” could mean any time on the third day up to the last minute on the third day. But the statement that He would “be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights” shows that three whole days and three whole nights would pass while He lay in the tomb.

When all of Jesus’ statements are taken into consideration, there is only one moment of time to which all can apply. Here is the explanation: The end of the third day is still “on” and “in” the third day. At the end of the third day, precisely at sunset, Jesus was resurrected. This was the only moment of time that could fulfill all of Jesus’ prophecies concerning the time of His death, the length of time that He would be in the tomb, and the time of His resurrection.

The Gospels record that Jesus died on the Passover day, Nisan 14, which fell on a Wednesday in 30 AD. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus placed Jesus’ body in the tomb and closed the entrance with a huge stone when the sun was setting at approximately 6 PM, ending Nisan 14. Jesus was resurrected from the dead precisely three days and three nights later, when the sun was setting at the end of the weekly Sabbath, or Saturday, Nisan 17, 30 AD. As He had prophesied, He remained in the tomb for three full days and three full nights. Jesus the Christ was raised from the dead at sunset on the weekly Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. He had already been resurrected when the sun rose on Sunday, the first day of the week. (Please see the chart on pages 320-321).

 

Scriptural Evidence of Two Sabbaths During the Three Days and Three Nights

According to religious tradition, Jesus was crucified on a Friday. This religious tradition appears to be supported by the statement in John 19:31 that the day of His death “was the preparation.” Most have assumed that this statement refers to the Jews’ preparation for the weekly Sabbath. They fail to realize that the Passover day, on which Jesus died, has always been a preparation day for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which immediately follows (Lev. 23:4-6). The first day of this feast, Nisan 15, is observed as an annual holy day, or “high day.” Like the Passover day, it may fall on different days of the week. Regardless of which day of the week it falls on, it is always observed as an annual Sabbath, and the day portion of the Passover is always used as a day of preparation. It is erroneous to interpret “the preparation” in John 19:31 as evidence that the day of the crucifixion was a Friday.

The mistaken belief in a Friday crucifixion is based on the assumption that there was only one Sabbath during the crucifixion week. However, the Scriptures clearly reveal that during that week there were two Sabbaths. The first Sabbath was an annual holy day, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The second Sabbath was the weekly Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. Consequently, during the week of Jesus’ crucifixion there were two preparation days. The day portion of Nisan 14, the Passover day, was the preparation day for the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the 15th, which was an annual Sabbath. The following day, the 16th, which was a Friday, was the preparation day for the weekly Sabbath.

When the Gospel of John is examined, it is evident that the Sabbath immediately following the day Jesus died was an annual Sabbath: “The Jews therefore, so that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath, because it was a preparation day (for that Sabbath was a high day) ...” (John 19:31). The term “high day” was never used to refer to the weekly Sabbath, but only to annual Sabbaths. John’s use of this term makes it clear that the Sabbath that was about to begin was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Nisan 15. Mark’s account makes reference to the coming of sunset, which would bring the end of the preparation and the beginning of the annual Sabbath, or high day: “Now evening was coming, and since it was a preparation, (that is, the day before a Sabbath) ...” (Mark 15:42).

As the Gospel of Luke shows, this Sabbath was about to begin when Jesus was put into the tomb: “Now it was a preparation day, and a Sabbath was coming on. And the women also, who had come with Him from Galilee, followed and saw the tomb, and how His body was laid” (Luke 23:54-55).

The Gospels record the events that followed Jesus’ burial. On Nisan 15, the day after the crucifixion, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate to request that guards be assigned to watch Jesus’ tomb. Because they were afraid that the disciples would come and steal away His body, they did not hesitate to take care of their business on the holy day (Matt. 27:62-66). While the priests and Pharisees went to Pilate, the women who followed Jesus were observing the annual Sabbath, as commanded by God. They could not buy spices on that day because all the businesses were closed in observance of the command to rest (Lev. 23:6-7). After the end of that Sabbath, or high day, they bought spices and aromatic oils to anoint Jesus. Mark relates this event: “Now when the Sabbath had passed, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic oils, so that they might come and anoint Him” (Mark 16:1).

It is quite evident that the women could not have purchased the spices until after the high day, or annual Sabbath, had ended. The high day began when the Passover day, Nisan 14, ended at sunset. The observance of the high day, Nisan 15, lasted until the following sunset, which began Nisan 16. The women bought the spices “when the Sabbath had passed” and prepared them on the same day. When they had finished, they observed a second Sabbath: “And they returned to the city, and prepared spices and ointments, and then rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56). The Gospel records concerning the buying and preparation of the spices by the women clearly reveal the observance of two Sabbaths during the crucifixion week.

 

Two Women View the Tomb Late on the Weekly Sabbath

Before the weekly Sabbath came to an end, Matthew records that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to observe the tomb: “Now late on the Sabbath, as the first day of the weeks was drawing near, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to observe the sepulcher” (Matt. 28:1). Because it was still the Sabbath day, the women did not come to anoint His body with the spices they had prepared. Perhaps they went to observe the tomb because they remembered Jesus’ words that after three days and three nights in the grave, He would rise from the dead.

After the two women viewed the tomb and saw that the stone covering the entrance was still in place with the soldiers standing guard, they returned home for the night. The next morning, as they were coming back to the tomb, they were wondering who might roll back the stone so that they could anoint Jesus’ body: “And very early on the first day of the weeks, at the rising of the sun, they were coming to the tomb; and they were asking themselves, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ ” (Mark 16:2-3) But when the women arrived, they found that the stone had already been removed and the tomb was empty. The three days and three nights had ended at sunset on the weekly Sabbath, and Jesus had risen from the dead! (See Chart on pages 320-321 for The Three Days and Three Nights in the Tomb and the Resurrection After Three Days and Three Nights.)


"Today Is the Third Day Since These Things Took Place”

Those who believe in a Sunday resurrection point to a statement in Luke 24:21 as evidence that Jesus rose from the dead at sunrise on the first day of the week. This statement was made by two of Jesus’ disciples: “… today is the third day since these things were done.” Because this statement was made on the first day of the week, many have assumed that Jesus rose from the dead early that morning. The King James Version reads:

“And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.

“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 Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified 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’ ” (Luke 24:13-21 KJV).

 

An Exegesis of Luke 24:21 Reveals the True Meaning of the “Third Day”

The translation of Luke 24:21 that appears in the King James Version has been used to support the teaching that the resurrection took place at sunrise on the first day of the week. However, the Gospel accounts clearly show that Jesus had already risen from the dead before the women came to the tomb at sunrise. There is no question that Jesus was in the tomb for “three days and three nights,” beginning at sunset on Wednesday, Nisan 14, and ending at sunset on the weekly Sabbath, Nisan 17, in 30 AD. Jesus rose at the end of the three days and three nights, exactly as He had declared.

When one analyzes the phrasing that is used in the Greek text, one will see that the disciples were not talking about that day being the “third day” since Jesus was crucified. Let us examine this verse as translated in interlinear form by George Ricker Berry from the Stephens text of 1550, the same text that was used by the King James translators:

In order to correctly interpret the meaning of the Greek text, we must examine the two expressions that are underlined:

1) (triten tauten hemeran agei)

A. T. Robertson informs us that this expression is an idiom: “{Now the third day} (triten tauten hemeran agei). A difficult idiom for the English” (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, s.v. Luke 24:21). Vincent’s Word Studies concurs that this is a difficult idiom to render into English.

Because triten tauten hemeran agei is an idiomatic expression, its true meaning cannot be understood by translating the Greek words literally, as the King James translators have done. The literal translation of this expression in the KJV (and many other translations) only serves to distort the true meaning of Luke’s words in the Greek text. Edward Hobbs, a scholar who began teaching the Greek language over 50 years ago, recently wrote the following to another scholar regarding the translation of idioms: “But may I speak to the larger question of what are called ‘IDIOMS’ in language-teaching….What older books almost always meant by an ‘idiom’ was something which, when translated word-for-word into English either didn’t make sense or made the wrong sense … But the fact is, very little in other languages means the same thing when put word-for-word into English….The semantic value of a word should always be evaluated contextually ... the good lexicons [like Arndt and Gingrich] already do this, without singling such phrases for separate listing….This principle applies equally to individual words and to strings of words which are semantically opaque (Idioms)(Bold emphasis added).

Hobbs concludes his remarks by stating, “One of the real reasons for studying ancient Greek is to learn how they thought about things, especially how they thought DIFFERENTLY about things, not simply what different thoughts they had about things….We need to learn what translations cannot reveal: How the thinking itself was oriented differently” (Edward Hobbs, EHOBBS@wellesley.edu, 12 Jul 1997, bold emphasis added).

Since the true meaning of Luke 24:21 depends on a proper understanding of the idiomatic expression that Luke used, we must examine the use of this expression by other writers of that era. When we examine their works, we find that tritos often appears in classical Greek literature as an expression of completed time (Liddell, Scott and Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. “Tritos”). Notice Josephus’ use of the word in this manner: “When the rigour of winter was over, Herod removed his army, and came near to Jerusalem, and pitched his camp hard by the city. Now this was the third [tritos] year since he had been made king at Rome …” (Josephus, Ant., 14:15:14). As defined by classical Greek literature, Josephus’ words indicate that Herod undertook the conquest of Jerusalem at the completion of his third regnal year; that is, after three full years—not at any time during the third year. As we will see, the additional use of aph hou in conjunction with tritos makes the meaning of this idiom even more emphatic.

2) aph hou

The function of this Greek expression is quite different from the idiomatic use of the first expression. aph hou is a linguistic formula and is very precise in meaning. It is used in classical Greek to delimit a period of time that has been completed. Arndt and Gingrich inform us that the translators of the Septuagint used aph hou as a formula in Daniel 12:1, showing that this usage was common as early as the fourth century BC. aph hou was used in the same manner by the Levitical writers of the Maccabees nearly a century and a half later (see I Macc 9:29; 16:24; and 2 Macc 1:7 in the Septuagint). Arndt and Gingrich report that Josephus also used the expression in the same manner. The usage of this Greek formula by Josephus is of great value to our understanding, as he wrote within a short time after Luke wrote his Gospel. The English translation of Josephus’ words is given below:

“(6)[78] Then it was that Miriam, the sister of Moses, came to her end, having completed her fortieth year since [aph’ hou] she left Egypt, on the first day of the lunar month Xanthicus.”

The use of aph hou in Josephus’ works and the works of classical Greek writers enables us to understand the true meaning of Luke 24:21. As a formula, aph hou specifically refers to completed time and cannot be construed as referring to time that is in progress. Thus Luke’s use of aph hou with triten must be interpreted as evidence that the third day had already been completed.

Thus it is erroneous to interpret Luke 24:21 as evidence that the first day of the week was “the third day since these things were done.” The use of aph hou with the idiomatic expression triten tauten hemeren agei clearly conveys time that had already been completed and should be translated accordingly. When the disciples spoke of the “third day,” the three days and three nights of Jesus’ entombment had already been completed, although they did not yet know that Jesus had already been raised from the dead.

In addition, the use of tritos in the Gospel of Matthew clearly confirms that this Greek idiom refers to the completion of the three days: “Now on the next day, which followed the preparation day, the chief priests and the Pharisees came together to Pilate, saying, ‘Sir, we remember that that deceiver said while He was living, “After three days I will rise.” Therefore, command that the sepulcher be secured until the third day [tes trites emeras]; lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, “He is risen from the dead”; and the last deception shall be worse than the first’ ” (Matt. 27:62-64).

It is evident that the phrase “the third day” in Matthew 27:64 refers to the completion of the three-day period, as the chief priests and Pharisees were fully aware of Jesus’ declaration that He would rise “after three days.” It would make no sense to request a guard for the first and second days only, since He had declared that He would not rise before the third day; and this was the most likely day for an attempt to be made by the disciples if they had desired to steal His body.

As “the third day” in Matthew 27:64 refers to the end of Jesus’ three days and three nights in the tomb, so “the third day” in Luke 24:21 refers to the end of the three days and three nights. As in every other reference to “the third day” that we find in the Gospel accounts, the focus in Luke 24:21 is on the completion of Jesus’ three days and three nights in the tomb. Thus “the third day” did not include any part of the first day of the week. It is a mistake to apply this expression to the first day of the week when the records of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial clearly show that His three days and three nights in the tomb began at sunset on Wednesday, Nisan 14. He remained in “the heart of the earth” from the beginning of Nisan 15, which was an annual Sabbath or “high day,” until the end of Nisan 17, a weekly Sabbath. At the end of the weekly Sabbath, precisely as the sun was setting, He was resurrected from the dead. When the first day of the week arrived, the three days and three nights had been brought to completion.

The following translations of Luke 24:21 convey the true meaning of the phrasing that is used in the Greek text:

“… three days have already passed….” (Berkeley)

“… three days ago….” (Moffatt)

Both of these translations convey the idiomatic usage of tritos and the use of aph hou as a formula to express a period of time that has been completed.

Based on this information, a precise translation of Luke 24:13-21, which conveys the true meaning of the Greek text, follows:

“And behold, on the same day, two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, which was about sixty furlongs from Jerusalem. And they were talking with one another about all the things that had taken place.

“And it came to pass, as they were talking and reasoning, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them; but their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him. And He said to them, ‘What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you walk, and why are you downcast in countenance?’ Then the one named Cleopas answered and said to Him, ‘Are You only traveling through Jerusalem, and have not known of the things that have happened in these days?’

“And He said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to Him, ‘The things concerning Jesus the Nazarean, a Man Who was a prophet, Who was mighty in deed and word before God and all the people; and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him up to the judgment of death, and crucified Him. And we were hoping that He was the One Who would redeem Israel. But besides all these things, as of today, the third day has already passed since these things took place’ ”(Luke 24:13-21).

When correctly translated, Luke 24:21 does not support the teaching that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead on the first day of the week at sunrise. Those who believe that He was resurrected at sunrise on Easter Sunday have been taught a falsehood! This religious myth rejects the sign of Jonah, which was the only sign that Jesus Christ gave as proof that He was the Messiah. Those who participate in the traditional observance of a Friday crucifixion and an Easter Sunday resurrection are observing traditions of men. Jesus said, “Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from Me.’ But in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men....Full well do you reject the commandment of God, so that you may observe your own tradition” (Mark 7:6-9).

The God of truth cannot be honored by practicing a lie. God the Father rejects that kind of vain worship. Rather, He is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth, as Jesus said: “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father is indeed seeking those who worship Him in this manner. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).

In order to worship God the Father and Jesus Christ in spirit and in truth, one must repent of his or her sins, accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, be baptized by full immersion in water, receive the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, and live from that time forward in the love and grace of God by keeping His commandments. These commandments include keeping the seventh-day Sabbath each week, and keeping the Christian Passover and the annual holy days of God at their appointed times each year. Only those who are under His grace, keeping all His commandments and living by His every word, are worshiping Him in spirit and in truth.

 



Knowledge of a Wednesday crucifixion was passed down for at least three centuries after the founding of the apostolic church. The Didascalia, which dates from the third century, offers historical evidence that the belief in a Friday crucifixion was a change from the original teaching. The following description of the day of Jesus’ crucifixion appears in Book V of the Apostolic Constitutions, which contains the original words of the Didascalia:

For they began to hold a council against the Lord on the second day of the week, in the first month, which is Xanthicus; and the deliberation continued on the third day of the week; but on the fourth day [Wednesday] they determined to take away His life by crucifixion” (Apostolic Constitutions—Didascalia Apostolorum, book V, section I, paragraph xiv). A church historian explains the significance of this record in the Didascalia: “…the only reason can have been that Jesus’ passion began on a Wednesday, i.e., the day when He was arrested [and crucified]” (Lietzmann, A History of the Early Church, p. 69).

THE FIRST DAY OF UNLEAVENED BREAD NISAN 15 – THURSDAY, APRIL 6 – 30 AD
367. ON THE HOLY DAY, GUARDS ARE PLACED AT THE TOMB
MATTHEW 27

62. Now on the next day, which followed the preparation day, the chief priests and the Pharisees came together to Pilate,

63. Saying, “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said while He was living, ‘After three days I will rise.’

64. Therefore, command that the sepulcher be secured until the third day; lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He is risen from the dead’; and the last deception shall be worse than the first.”

65. Then Pilate said to them, “You have a guard. Go, make it as secure as you know how.”

66. And they went and made the sepulcher secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.

 

THE WEEKLY SABBATH NISAN 17 – SATURDAY, APRIL 8 – 30 AD
369. THE WOMEN REST ON THE WEEKLY SABBATH
LUKE 23

56. ...and then rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.

370. TOWARD THE END OF THE WEEKLY SABBATH,MARY MAGDALENE AND MARY GO TO OBSERVE THE TOMB
MATTHEW 28

1. Now late on the Sabbath, as the first day of the weeks was drawing near, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to observe the sepulcher.

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