by Rayola Kelley
Q: I am confused by the celebration of “Good Friday.” Supposedly, Jesus died on Friday, but rose on Sunday. According to my math, this does not really allot for Him being in the grave for three days and three nights.
A: In the past, I have also been confused by the concept of “Good Friday.” I can see how people might believe that Jesus died on Friday. You can squeeze it in by the fact that the Jews considered a day from sunset to sunset. We know that Jesus actually died before the sunset commemorating the Sabbath. You could count Friday as one day, which would make Sunday the third day.
Another reason that there is confusion is because Jesus was taken down from the cross just before the Sabbath. We all know for the Jews the Sabbath was Saturday. However, what many of us forget or fail to realize is that there were other Sabbaths as well. Other Sabbath days were observed during the different feasts as well. It would be the same concept as the 4th of July falling on a different day other than a weekend. We refer to such days as vacation time.
However, to bring clarity to this subject, you must consider what Scripture states in Matthew 12:40: “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.” Note, what Jesus said. He would be in the grave for three days and three nights. If He died on Friday, that would not allow Him to be in the grave for three nights. Therefore, for Jesus to be in the grave for three complete days and three complete nights, He would have died either on a Wednesday or a Thursday. Due to the celebration of Passover, a Sabbath would have been observed on either of those days depending on what day the Passover fell on.
This brings us to another important point. The Jews had a belief that a person was not really considered dead unless he or she had been dead for four days. In their mind, the spirit of the person could come back into the dead corpse within the first three days. In fact, we see this very same scenario in the raising of Lazarus in John 11. He had been dead for four days before Jesus brought him out of the grave. No doubt this was to prove the point that Lazarus was indeed raised from the dead.
If Jesus had to be determined as being dead according to this custom, most likely He gave up His spirit on Wednesday just before sunset. This would place Him in the grave on Wednesday. Remember, a day was counted from sunset to sunset. Since Jesus clearly brought out the fact that He would be in the grave for three nights, let us use this premise to follow the possible timeframe. So from sunset of Wednesday to Thursday was the first night, sunset to sunset from Thursday to Friday would be the second night, and sunset to sunset from Friday to Saturday would be the third complete night. We are told He rose on the morning of the first day of the week. This means He arose before the fourth night was over with, and the official commencement of the fourth day, which would have started at sunset on Sunday. Therefore, He rose on the third day, which also would allow Him to be considered officially dead, according to the Jewish belief of that time since He died on Wednesday and rose on Sunday.
Granted, this conclusion may not be correct. But, we can with clarity state that Jesus did not die on Friday. This is a Catholic observance, not a Christian custom or belief. I do hope this clears up some confusion for you.