The quietest 24 hours in all history

Saturday, April 8, AD30 (or April 4, AD33): It was quiet.

Jesus hadn’t said much from the cross, he was exhausted, near death, spent.

  • Forgive them (luke 23:34)
  • Today I say to you truly, you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)
  • Behold your mother (John 19:26-27)
  • My God, why have you forsaken me!? (Mark 15:34 cf. Ps 22)
  • I thirst (John 19:28)
  • Paid in full (John 19:30)

And then one final cry, the end of an agonizing, lonely six hours hanging just off the earth, but excluded from heaven:

  • “Father… Into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46)”

It was over, it was quiet, the quietest time in all history.

Jesus went into the grave. The disciples were stunned, His opponents felt the uneasiness of a hollow victory, the demons amazed, the angels in shock… an uneasy calm over all creation.

After being beaten severally, mistreated and mocked, He was on the cross for six excruciating hours from 9:00am to 3:00pm.

He was laid in the tomb of a friend named Joseph as the Sabbath began… no work, no hustle and bustle, just reflection on who Jesus was and what He had done… His followers were overcome with great sorrow.

They hadn’t remembered what he said:

“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”

-Mark 9:31

Saturday was the longest twenty -four hours in history.

Though the Bible doesn’t explicitly say (chronology is not really the concern of Greco-Roman Biography), Jesus was most likely crucified on Friday.

Mark uses the phrase “after three days” talking about when Jesus would rise (e.g. Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). Well, three days is 72 hours, right? So how could Jesus be raised on Sunday morning and be raised “after” 72 hours if he was crucified on Friday afternoon? Only a modern skeptical mind would interpret these words so far out of their original context.

The other Gospels also use the phrase “on the third day” to describe the timing of Jesus’ resurrection (cf. Matt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7; 24:46. See also Acts 10:40 and 1 Cor 15:4).

John even quotes Jesus “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19).

So which is it, “after three days” “on the third day” or “in three days?”

Matthew uses this interesting wording:

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

-Matt 12:40

Now that sounds like 72 hours to me, Friday afternoon to Sunday morning counted as 72 hours sounds like “fuzzy math” to me… doesn’t it?

Well, that’s the problem. We tend to read the Bible for how it sounds “to me” rather than how it sounded “to them.”

See, Jews around Jesus’ time used the phrase “day and night” to describe a day-unit of time known as an ‘onah, and any part of an ‘onah was considered the whole day when counting chronology (see: Mishnah, third Tractate, “B. Pesachim” part 4a; and Mishnah, Tractate “J. Shabbath” chapter 9, part 3).

  • The Jewish day begins and ends at 6:00pm.
  • Jesus died on the cross at 3:00pm.
  • Fri 3:00pm – Fri 6:00pm = part of the first ‘onah (“Day & Night” 1)
  • Fri 6:00pm – Sat 6:00pm = the whole second ‘onah (“Day & Night” 2)
  • Sat 6:00pm – Sun Morning = part of the third ‘onah (“Day & Night” 3)

(Here is MY CHART of how all the days and nights work out.)

So at least two contemporary Jewish extra Biblical sources confirm that Jews use “day and night” as an idiomatic expression of a “day unit” including any part of a day or night. Additionally, the book of Esther uses specifically “three days and three nights” as a non 72-hour period of time (see Esther 4:15-16 & 5:1; 5:4-6; also cf. Gen. 42:17-18 “after three days” = “on the third day”).

It is also telling that Matthew does not say “three nights and three days” as one would expect because the Jewish world put the evening first. When the Bible wishes to indicate literal 24-hour days, as in Genesis chapter one, it says something like

And there was evening and there was morning, the first day

-Gen 1:5

But matthew specifically uses the Jewish idiom of the onah by putting the day first so as to indicate that he is referencing this common Hebrew expression of Jesus’ day – not a literal 12 or 24 hour day.

The problem is, for people who wish to put Jesus in the tomb for 72 hours, they are following their own logical constructs that have been formed by people like Graham W Scroggie [“Guide to the Gospels” 1948],  Herman L. Hoeh [“The Crucifixion Was Not on Friday” (Pasadena, CA: Worldwide Church of God, 1979)], and the Worldwide Church of God’s very own Herbert W. Armstrong.

We should not read the words of God’s Holy Scriptures from a modern context, we must get back to the Jewish Roots of the phrase, especially because it comes from Matthew, which is steeped in “Jewishness.”

But couldn’t he have meant 72 hours?

No, not if you believe all of Matthew and the rest of the Gospels are inspired and inerrant.

First of all, as referenced above, three times Matthew says “on the third day” when describing the time of Jesus’ resurrection (i.e. Matt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19). Obviously, Matthew is not trying to contradict himself.

Look specifically at this verse in Matthew’s Gospel:

“Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.”

-Matt 27:63-64

For the author of Matthew, “on the third day,” after “three days and three nights” and “after three days” (even before the third day, i.e. “until the third day”) all are used interchangeably, and this is within the same Gospel.

But this is Jewish idiom, it’s the Hebrew way of talking. This can be well illustrated when you look at the “sign of Jonah” in Matthew’s Gospel and compare it to Luke’s account in Luke 11:29-32. Jesus says the only sign will be given is the “sign of Jonah” but he says nothing of “three days and three nights.”

Why the omission by Luke (or perhaps the addition by Matthew)? Because Matthew is associated with the mission of James in Jerusalem, and is the most “Hebrew” of all the Gospels, while Luke is associated with Paul’s mission and is the most “Greek” of all the Gospels. The Jews would understand the words not to mean 72-hours and thus would be in harmony of the other Gospels, but Greeks (like us) might not understand this idom, so it isn’t there.

“Day and night” being seen as a unit of time is a Jewish expression, not a Greek one. The first audience of Matthew’s Gospel spoke like this, the first audience of Luke’s Gospel did not. That’s why Luke, and the sequel “Acts,” says “on the third day.”

Today, we think more like the Greeks than the Hebrews. To us if he says “on the third day” that’s what it means to us. It’s we who have the problem with the addition of Jewish Matthew “after three days” or “after three days and three nights.” He didn’t mean what we would mean if we said “after three days and three nights.” He didn’t mean 72 hours.

This is obvious to anyone who is not simply trying to disprove the church’s understanding of Easter. As I said above, the Gospels are written as “Greco-Roman Biography” and are not concerned with chronology as much as us in our modern histories. But that being said, out of the four Gospels, Luke seems to be the most concerned with historical details like this. He even says: “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account” (Luke 1:3).

I don’t think Luke is writing a modern-day history as we would view it, but I do think he’s closer to attempting this than Matthew. So when Luke gives us chronological information, we can read it closer to our own type of understanding.

Which brings us to Luke 24:13ff.

The forty or so hours that Jesus spent in the grave were quiet, Saturday was the quietest twenty-four hours in all of history, but Sunday came, Jesus rose from the dead!

Luke records and interesting account of Jesus walking with his disciples on the road to Emmaus. It was Sunday, the very day that some had seen the empty tomb, but they didn’t recognize Him. Jesus basically asks “why the long face?” and so they described how the Jews handed Jesus over to the Romans and that they crucified him. Then in Luke 24:21 they say “Yes, and besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened.” (cf. Luke 24:7 “on the third day rise”).

So, when we understand that “three days and three nights” is a Jewish phrase used to talk about “parts of three day-units” as confirmed in extra Biblical sources, and in the OT itself, and we plainly look at the NT for what it says, there’s absolutely no contradiction.

Even though the Bible never exactly tells us which day Jesus was crucified on, because that’s not the important part, there’s no reason to think it wasn’t Friday, in fact, the best evidence seems to point to a Friday crucifixion.

Saturday becomes the most uncomfortable and quietest day in history, but that makes the earth shaking news of Sunday all the more welcome. Jesus is risen and God has proven His triumph over death!

Praise the Lord! See you Sunday…

About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
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