Did Yeshua Spend Three days and Three Nights in the Grave Prior to the Resurrection?

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The question of the resurrection and how many days Yeshua was in the grave between his death on the cross and the resurrection day frequently comes up during this time of the year.  The specific question is:  “Yeshua said he was going to be in the earth (buried) for three days and three nights. If he died on Friday and rose on Sunday morning, how is this three days and three nights?”  Let’s examine a few Scriptures and the Rabbinic literature and try to answer this question.

ספר בראשית פרק מב  יז   וַיֶּאֱסֹף אֹתָם אֶל-מִשְׁמָר שְׁלשֶׁת יָמִים: יח   וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יוֹסֵף בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי זֹאת עֲשֹוּ וִחְיוּ אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים אֲנִי יָרֵא:  יט  

Bereshit / Gensis 42:17-18  “And he put them all in custody for three days. 18 On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God”  (NASB)

ספר מלכים א פרק כ  כט   וַיַּחֲנוּ אֵלֶּה נֹכַח אֵלֶּה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וַיְהִי | בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַתִּקְרַב הַמִּלְחָמָה וַיַּכּוּ בְנֵי-יִשְֹרָאֵל אֶת-אֲרָם מֵאָה-אֶלֶף רַגְלִי בְּיוֹם אֶחָד: ל

1 Kings 20:29  “For seven days they camped opposite each other, and on the seventh day the battle was joined. ” (NASB) 

ספר דברי הימים ב פרק י  ה   וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם עוֹד שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים וְשׁוּבוּ אֵלָי וַיֵּלֶךְ הָעָם: … יב   וַיָּבֹא יָרָבְעָם וְכָל-הָעָם אֶל-רְחַבְעָם בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִשִׁי כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר הַמֶּלֶךְ לֵאמֹר שׁוּבוּ אֵלַי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִשִׁי: יג

2 Chronicles 10:5  “And he said to them, ‘Return to me again in three days” (NAS) and verse 10:12 states “So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day as the king had directed, saying, ‘Return to me on the third day.” (NASB) 

ספר אֶסְתֵּר ד  טז  לֵךְ כְּנֹוס אֶת־כָּל־הַיְּהוּדִים הַֽנִּמְצְאִים בְּשׁוּשָׁן וְצוּמוּ עָלַי וְאַל־תֹּאכְלוּ וְאַל־תִּשְׁתּוּ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים לַיְלָה וָיֹום גַּם־אֲנִי וְנַעֲרֹתַי אָצוּם כֵּן וּבְכֵן אָבֹוא אֶל־הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר לֹֽא־כַדָּת וְכַאֲשֶׁר אָבַדְתִּי אָבָֽדְתִּי׃  ה:א  וַיְהִי ׀ בַּיֹּום הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וַתִּלְבַּשׁ אֶסְתֵּר מַלְכוּת וַֽתַּעֲמֹד בַּחֲצַר בֵּית־הַמֶּלֶךְ הַפְּנִימִית נֹכַח בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַמֶּלֶךְ יֹושֵׁב עַל־כִּסֵּא מַלְכוּתֹו בְּבֵית הַמַּלְכוּת נֹכַח פֶּתַח הַבָּֽיִת׃

Esther 4:16  “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.'” And in 5.1: “On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king’s hall. ” (NASB)

ספר שמואל א פרק ל  ב   וַיִּתְּנוּ-לוֹ פֶלַח דְּבֵלָה וּשְׁנֵי צִמֻּקִים וַיֹּאכַל וַתָּשָׁב רוּחוֹ אֵלָיו כִּי לֹא-אָכַל לֶחֶם וְלֹא-שָׁתָה מַיִם שְׁלשָׁה יָמִים וּשְׁלשָׁה לֵילוֹת:  יג   וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ דָוִד לְמִי-אַתָּה וְאֵי מִזֶּה אָתָּה וַיֹּאמֶר נַעַר מִצְרִי אָנֹכִי עֶבֶד לְאִישׁ עֲמָלֵקִי וַיַּעַזְבֵנִי אֲדֹנִי כִּי חָלִיתִי הַיּוֹם שְׁלשָׁה: יד

1 Samuel 30:12-13  “He ate and was revived, for he had not eaten any food or drunk any water for three days and three nights. 10:13 David asked him, “To whom do you belong, and where do you come from?” He said, “I am an Egyptian, the slave of an Amalekite. My master abandoned me when I became ill three days ago. ” (NASB)

In Bereshit / Genesis 42:16-18, the Scriptures state they are released (ON that day) on the third day.  In this example from the Torah, being held in prison “for three days” meant only up until the “third day” or at some point “into the third day.”  In 1 Kings 20:29, the Scriptures state that “for seven days” the were encamped and on the seventh day the war began.  In this case seven days of encampment meant only “in the seventh day.”  In 2 Chronicles 10:5, the Scriptures state that they are to return to Rehoboam in three days and it happend on the third day they returned, this “in three days” was equivalent to “on the third day.”  In the book of Esther 4:16, the Scriptures say that Esther asked to not eat or drink for three days, day and night, and then in verse 5:1 it says that Esther got dressed and went before the king on the third day.  In this case, interestingly, “on the third day” is equivalent to “for three days, night and day”.  In 1 Samuel 30:12, the Scriptures say that he had not ate or drank water for three days, and this had happened three days ago.  The Tanach provides Hebrew idioms that express the “three day” picture where the third day, three days and three nights, are all equivalent and are used synonymously to indicate the same period time of three days.

As a result of all the various examples given in the Tanach, there exists a similar idiomatic expression that is used in the mindrashic literature.  Take for example Midrash Rabba on Bereshit / Genesis 65, Part 1.

מדרש רבה בראשית פרשה נו סימן א  א ביום השלישי וישא אברהם את עיניו כתיב (הושע ו) יחיינו מיומים ביום השלישי יקימנו ונחיה לפניו, ביום השלישי של שבטים כתיב (בראשית מב) ויאמר אליהם יוסף ביום השלישי, ביום השלישי של מרגלים, שנאמר (יהושע ב) ונחבתם שמה שלשת ימים, ביום השלישי של מתן תורה, שנאמר (שמות יט) ויהי ביום השלישי, ביום השלישי של יונה, דכתיב (יונה ב) ויהי יונה במעי הדגה שלשה ימים ושלשה לילות, ביום השלישי של עולי גולה דכתיב (עזרא ח) ונשב שם ימים שלשה, ביום השלישי של תחיית המתים, דכתיב יחיינו מיומים ביום השלישי יקימנו, ביום הג׳ של אסתר (אסתר ה) ויהי ביום השלישי ותלבש אסתר מלכות לבשה מלכות בית אביה, באיזה זכות, רבנן ורבי לוי רבנן אמרי בזכות יום השלישי של מתן תורה שנאמר ויהי ביום השלישי בהיות הבקר, ור׳ לוי אמר בזכות של יום שלישי של אברהם אבינו שנאמר ביום השלישי וירא את המקום מרחוק, מה ראה ראה ענן קשור בהר, אמר דומה שאותו מקום שאמר לי הקב״ה להקריב את בני שם.

Notice the correlations that are made between Joshua, Jonah, Esther, Ezra, and the third day of the giving of the Torah in Midrash Rabba on Bereshit. (Note these examples are the source material for the Scripture verses shown above.)  The understanding on the three days of Jonah that are used to correlate differing events to Jonah 1:17 (‘in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights‘) in addition to other Scriptures provides answers to our question on whether Yeshua was in the grave three days and nights as stated in Matthew 27:63.

Matthew 27:63 “”Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive  that deceiver said, `After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give the  order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. “ (NASB)

According to Scripture and the rabbinic literature, three days and nights are equivalent to up ‘until the third day’ and does not meant that Yeshua had to remain in the grave up ‘until  the fourth day.’  The question was:  “Yeshua said he was going to be in the earth (buried) for three days and three nights. If he died on Friday and rose on Sunday morning, how is this three days and three nights?”  Based upon the Scriptures, having died on Friday prior to 6:00pm (they removed his body from the cross before sundown, note this is customary with the Jewish day begining at the evening on sundown) and raising from the grave the evening of Saturday.  This would constitute raising from the grave on the “third day” both rabbinically and Scripturally is consistent with “three days and three nights” as stated by the leaders in Matthew 27:63.

Therefore, Yeshua was indeed in the grave three days and three nights, and it was on the third day that God raised him from the grave overcoming death and the grave.  Praise the Lord for such a wonderful Savior and and awesome God!