How many days did Jesus actually spend in the grave? According to some scholars He was supposed to be in the grave 3 days and 3 nights. Was the whole process supposed to take 3 days?
Matthew 12:40 says, “For as Jonas 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 Bible is very clear that Jesus was in the grave for 3 days and 3 nights.
The Jewish day was reckoned differently than ours. Our days go from 12 midnight to 12 midnight. The Jews reckoned their days from evening to evening (6 P.M. to 6 P.M.). So where our days are “morning and evening,” the Jewish reckoning was “evening and morning”. The Jewish way is the way that God started out in creation. Notice the creation week, “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the EVENING AND THE MORNING were the first day.” (Genesis 1:5). Genesis 1:8 says, “And God called the firmament Heaven. And the EVENING AND THE MORNING were the second day.” Genesis 1:13 says, “And the EVENING AND THE MORNING were the third day.”
Sabbath days were also celebrated from evening to evening. At 6 P.M. on Friday the Sabbath began, and it was over at 6 P.M. on Saturday. Leviticus 23:32 says, “It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, FROM EVEN TO EVEN, SHALL YE CELEBRATE YOUR SABBATH.”
The other Jewish holy days would be observed in a similar fashion. Deuteronomy 16:6,7 says, “But at the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice THE PASSOVER AT EVEN, AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt. And thou shalt roast and eat it in the place which the LORD thy God shall choose: and thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy tents.” So the Passover also started in the evening.
On the afternoon of Jesus’ betrayal, His disciples went to prepare where they would eat the Passover. Mark 14:12-17 says, “And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover? And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he will show you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us. And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. And IN THE EVENING HE COMETH WITH THE TWELVE.” So Jesus observed the Passover with His disciples the evening before He was crucified.
That night, Jesus was betrayed, and He faced the Jewish leaders all night long. In the morning, they took Him to Pilate. Mark 15:1 says, “And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.”
At 9 A.M. that morning, Jesus was placed on the cross. Mark 15:25 says, “And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.” Daylight or working hours were reckoned from 6 A.M. in the morning. That would make the third hour 9 A.M.
At 12 noon, it suddenly became dark, and remained so until 3 P.M. It was at that time that Jesus died. Luke 23:44-46 says, “And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.”
The Jewish leaders wanted those on the cross to die before evening came, because it was then that a Sabbath day would start. John 19:31 says, “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (FOR THAT SABBATH DAY WAS AN HIGH DAY,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” This Sabbath day was not just a normal Sabbath day (Saturday), but was a special one — an “high day.” This means that it was not necessarily Friday evening, but could have been Thursday. What that means is that there would have been two Sabbath days in a row. An “high” Sabbath day, followed by the regular Sabbath day. And after the Sabbath was past, Jesus would rise from the grave on the first day of the week, Sunday. Mark 16:1-6 says, “And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.”
If we go backwards in our count, we can count the nights and days. Jesus was in the grave Saturday night, Friday night, and Thursday night — that would make the three nights in the grave. Now let us count the three days. Jesus was in the grave Saturday, Friday, and Thursday. If He died at 3 P.M. on Thursday, that would still be considered “day,” because the next day or night did not begin until 6 P.M. If those calculations are correct, then Jesus would have observed the Passover on Wednesday evening with His disciples. He would then have been betrayed that same night. Jesus would have been tried all night long Wednesday, and then appeared before Pilate on Thursday morning. He would have been crucified on Thursday morning at 9 A.M., and would have died at 3 P.M. Thursday.