Zola Explains the Three Days and Three Nights

Reprinted with permission given from Zola Levitt Ministries…

The following is an essay on the most asked question that comes to Zola Levitt Ministries during the season of Lent/Easter, when you may ask it yourself.

Friday to Sunday?

QUESTION: If the Lord was crucified on Friday and rose on Sunday, how could that encompass three days and three nights?

ANSWER: The Gospel accounts indicate that the Lord was crucified on Friday at 9:00 a.m. and taken off the cross at 3:00 p.m. His body was prepared for burial and interred at sundown the same day, which was the beginning of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The Lord then arose on Sunday morning after sunup.

According to the modern way of counting, this spans barely two days. Yet that time period seems to disagree with Jesus’ earlier prediction:

“For as Jonas (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.” Matthew 12:40 

The prophecy can be understood when we examine the Jewish way of counting days and nights. We must recall that the Jewish day always starts at sunset, so that Friday really begins on Thursday evening (a fact that is reflected in the language of Genesis–“the evening and the morning” are the first day). The second day, then, begins at sundown on Friday and continues through the daytime on Saturday. Finally, Sunday begins at sundown on Saturday and stretches through Saturday night and the daylight hours of Sunday, making the third day. Since the Jews counted any portion of daylight as a full day, then Friday morning through Sunday morning would have been seen as three complete days and nights.

People have sometimes struggled to move Passover (the “Last Supper”) back one day in order to get three days and three nights the way we would count them in the Western world, but that would be inaccurate. Even in the Western world we begin each day on the night before at midnight, so the concept is not strange to us. Supporting this understanding of the Lord’s crucifixion on a Friday (against those who claim that it happened on a different day) is the centuries-long history of Christians celebrating Good Friday, not “Good Thursday” or “Good Wednesday.” This evidence indicates that we can trust the accuracy of the Bible’s account, and also confirms that knowing the Jewish roots of Christianity can open a deeper understanding of God’s Word.

Do the Gospels Disagree on When Jesus Died?

QUESTION: Did Jesus celebrate the Passover and die on Passover day, or did He celebrate and die on the day before? Matthew, Mark, and Luke say He died on Passover day, but John seems to claim that He celebrated and died the day before the Passover. Why the difference?

ANSWER: The difference between John’s Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) regarding the Passover and death of Jesus is attributable to the fact that two systems were used at that time for reckoning Passover day. The Judeans used a method of reckoning different from the Galileans (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). The Galileans and Pharisees measured days from sunrise to sunrise, whereas the Judeans and Sadducees used the sunset-to-sunset reckoning in John’s Gospel.

“And the evening and the morning were the first day.”–Genesis 1:5

Thus, Jews from Galilee celebrated their Passover on Thursday evening, with Passover day starting at sunrise Friday morning. Jews in Judea and Jerusalem, however, celebrated Passover on Friday evening at sundown. Consequently, according to John and the Jews in Judea, Jesus’ celebration on Thursday and death on Friday before sunset occurred on erev Pesach (the eve of Passover), because Passover started for them at Friday’s sunset.

The Galilean method used by Jesus and His disciples would have the Passover Lamb slain and Last Supper on Thursday, 14 Nissan. The Judean method used by John would have the Passover Lamb slain on 15 Nissan.

Most scholars agree that because of the two different methods of timekeeping, there were two days for the slaying of the lambs, which makes sense given the number of lambs being slaughtered. That task couldn’t be done in a single day.

There is no contradiction; the Gospels reflect the two different chronological systems for determining the Passover.

Zola Levitt site: http://www.levitt.com

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