After Three Days? Third Day? Yeshua and Passover

In February, March, and early April I’ll have plenty of Passover goodness here at Messianic Jewish Musings. At this time of year we need good inspiration about Passover, insight into the haggadah, tips for better Seders, and also to explore a number of issues of biblical matters that come up seasonally.

The timing of Yeshua’s crucifixion and resurrection is a major issue of interest to a vast number of people looking for information on the internet. I’ve written extensively about this subject in the past, but I’m giving it all a fresh look this year. I may not agree with things I’ve said in the past. I’m looking at the sources again and rethinking. In this article I’ll summarize some viewpoints and one of the major issues: did Yeshua say he would be raised “after three days” or “on the third day”? What does this all mean? This one gets a bit technical, but the history of Yeshua’s crucifixion and resurrection is worth a bit of work, I think.

Mark has three predictions by Yeshua of his suffering and resurrection. In all three, Yeshua says, “and after three days rise again” (8:31; 9:31; 10:34).

Matthew and Luke duplicate Mark’s three passion predictions, but in each case they substitute “on the third day” for “after three days” (Matt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7). Matthew adds another reference, the chief priests asking for the tomb to be guarded “until the third day” (27:64). Luke adds a few references. Yeshua has an additional saying: “the third day I finish my course” (13:32) and in the post-resurrection appearances, Yeshua says it was written that the Messiah must rise “on the third day” (24:46).

In Matthew 12:40 we read that “the Son of Man will be three days and nights in the heart of the earth.” As will be seen below, this passage has been the source of much doubt about the Good Friday tradition. In Yeshua’s statements about his opponents destroying “this temple” (meaning his body, but confusing the witnesses who thought he was speaking of destroying the Temple), he says he will raise it again in three days (Matt 26:61; 27:40, 63). The use of “three days” at the trial and by mockers is also in Mark (14:58; 15:29).

Three days is a sort of ideal period of time for an endeavor or journey in numerous texts.

“In two days He will make us whole again; On the third day He will raise us up, And we shall be whole by His favor” (Hosea 6:2).

In the early days of Messianic Jewish Musings, I dealt extensively with the sort of over-literalist Wednesday or Thursday crucifixion crowd. Some of my good friends still read the Bible this way. The view goes like this: Yeshua had to be in the tomb three whole days and three whole nights or this would violate the prophecy from Jonah being three days and nights in the whale’s belly. Thus, if Yeshua rose Saturday night or Sunday before dawn, he had to be crucified on Wednesday (some say Thursday). This viewpoint overlooks many things, most notably that “after three days” is NOT EQUAL to “on the third day.” This view simply privileges one description over another and uses evidence selectively. As will be seen in future articles as well, this view CANNOT EXPLAIN the notion in all the gospels that they rushed to bury Yeshua before the Sabbath.

I now read a lot of historical Jesus books and scholars working based on ideas about pure history and what we can reconstruct with evidence that has some corroboration often choose an a-traditional reading: the evangelists changed a saying about people in general at the resurrection and made a prediction of Yeshua’s resurrection out of it. This view works as follows: Yeshua, based on Hosea 6:2 made a general saying that a son of man (a human being) will suffer and be rejected but will rise on the third day. The evangelists modified this into a specific saying that the Son of Man (Yeshua specifically) will suffer in a specific way and be raised variously “after three days” or “on the third day.” A problem with this view, aside from the fact that it rejects tradition completely and unnecessarily assumes it impossible that Yeshua knew who he was and what would happen to him, is that it doesn’t explain the earliest layer in Mark which says “after three days” and not Hosea’s “on the third day.” Maurice Casey, in his reconstruction, leaves out Hosea 6:2 and simply implies that “three days” would be such a general phrase for “very soon” that the original hearers would have understood it this way. In other words, Yeshua assumed the end was near and all the righteous would be raised very soon. Thus, he went to die to spark the beginning of the end of the age and bring the general resurrection.

As I will explain in a future post, the Wednesday or Thursday crucifixion views are baseless. The Friday crucifixion and Sunday before dawn resurrection tradition is what the gospels point to.

So, how do we explain the variation in “after three days” and “on the third day”? And how do we explain Matthew’s “three days and nights” comparison to Jonah?

In answer to the first, I reject the skeptical notion that Mark did not know much about the resurrection. Yes, there is a theory that Mark was written early (perhaps 40 CE, see Casey and also Crossley’s book, Date of Mark’s Gospel). It is possible (I don’t know that either Casey or Crossley say this) to say that Mark got it wrong because he wrote early and had poor information. By the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15, everyone knew Yeshua rose on the third day.

But leaving that aside, how do we explain the two very different expressions of time. “After three days” does not equal “on the third day.” Or does it?

Actually, that may be the explanation for the variant sayings. They are equivalent, but they are described differently because in different ways of reckoning they mean the same thing. Here is what I mean: perhaps in one way of reckoning any part of a day and night would count, which gives us “after three days.” Whereas in another way of reckoning, the interval from Friday to Sunday could never be called three days, and so we get “on the third day.” I call as evidence for this the fact that even Mark uses both expressions (“after three days” in the predictions and “on the third day” in the evidence offered at the trial and in mocking at the cross). It is doubtful that anyone saw this variation as a contradiction.

How, then, do we explain Matthew’s three days and nights? Well, Matthew uses scripture midrashically in many cases. We know very little about how much midrash existed in Matthew’s time, but there are enough similarities between various fulfillment formulas in Matthew and the early midrashic literature to suggest that Matthew lived in the same world of biblical interpretation. And in midrash, scriptural notions can be used very loosely. No one would fault a midrash for finding a coincidence between two sacred events the way Matthew does (Jonah was “entombed” three days and this is similar to Yeshua’s entombment).


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Passover, Resurrection, The Cross, Yeshua. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to After Three Days? Third Day? Yeshua and Passover

  1. James says:

    Don’t take this personally Derek, but I blogged a response to this article.

  2. Lance Ponder says:

    Well, there’s more to it than you’ve brought up, and you’ve brought up a lot. As I’m sure you’re away, Jewish days run dusk to dusk. It was dark when Jesus died. Yeah, it was 3 in the afternoon. It was also dark. There was a cycle of dark and light on that Friday afternoon, the cycle of dark and light on the Sabbath, and the cycle of dark and light of the first day of the week. It was shortly after dawn when the risen Christ was first encountered by the women, then the disciples. It is that first day (dark/light cycle) that is generally misunderstood. Of course there’s quite a bit to this, but the fact it was dark when Jesus died on the cross is without question.

  3. bryang041 says:

    Derek: Thanks for an informative post. Here are my 2 cents.

    In linguistics they tell us that “language is what people speak”.

    As a mathematician, I learned that numbers are rounded, and/or used as upper bounds, lower bounds, least upper bounds and greatest lower bounds. However, in nontechnical language, it is common for people to use numbers without being explicit about which rounding or bounding technique is being used. The New Testament was written in Koine or common Greek, right?

    Here is an example of normal English using a bounding technique in ordinary nontechnical language. In Western English we round down for age, rather than rounding up. So the age we give is a lower bound, but when someone says he is 17 one day before his eighteenth birthday, he will be understood. He doesn’t need to state that his age is 17.99, or tell us that he is rounding down.

    As you have pointed out “on the third day” and “after three days” are used as synonyms in the texts. Perhaps the three days and three nights phraseology, also allows the time interval mentioned to have a boundary on one end (within the first night/day cycle and on the other end within the third night/day cycle. Or perhaps you are saying that what Yeshua spoke in the original language was translated into Greek by Matthew using the Midrashic techniques.

    Either way, language is what people speak and the phraseology was understandable.

  4. Pingback: The 2011 Passover Palooza of Information! | Messianic Jewish Musings

  5. Eric Anthony says:

    Mark Said He Has Risen,He Did Not Said,He just resurrected, I study This To End The point Is JESUS can not died,Because He is The Creator Of Life, and According to the Scriptures, They dont match lol Therefore We better Dont Get Into Trouble,GOD Bless you.

  6. Zeus Cooney says:

    hi derek
    my understanding is three days and three nights must be seen form a jewish perspective. the eveing andf the morning are the first day.hence…we know passover and the sabbath were back to back.thursday and friday passover an d the shabbat friday to saterday.
    so it must have been the supper wednesdaynite. and the beginining of the feast of unlevened bread. wednesday nite. so thursaday before the passover Yeshua is cruxfied. before the passover day 1. according to luke…and matt after his arrvial in jerusalem…on the sunday…he left becoz mark says it was late…he went to bethany… next day monday the disciples asked Yesua where to prepare the passover. supper wednesday nite. so day 1 is wednesday into thursday. thur nite 1st nite. friday day 2/ saterday day three… friday nite night 2 saterday nite 3. that leaves me three days and three nights.. and it aligns up with scriptures…..what do u think…..friday catholic teaching is in error… would lvoe to hear ur views on this thanks.

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