According to the Bible, Jesus wasn’t dead for three days. It was closer to a day and a half, perhaps just over a day. Which day? The Sabbath.
Let’s go through it step by step.
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice…And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last…And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath” (Mark 15:34, 37, 42).
The ninth hour is nine hours past dawn (about 6:00 am), so Jesus died about three on Friday afternoon. We don’t know exactly when he came back to life, but we do know it was before dawn on Sunday (Mark 16:1-6). Jesus was dead from Friday at 3:00 to before six am on Sunday. That’s a lot less than 72 hours (= 24 hours times 3 days), probably between thirty and thirty-six hours.
You might object and say, “But the gospels say Jesus was supposed to be dead three days” (see Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; 14:58). Yes, and in the Jewish system of counting, Jesus was dead for three days: the day of Preparation (for 3 hours), the Sabbath (for 24 hours), the day after the Sabbath (for we don’t know how long, but less than twelve hours). (In the Jewish calendar a new day begins not at midnight, but at dusk, which goes back to creation, “There was evening and there was morning, the first day”; Gen. 1:5.)
In our system of counting, Jesus was dead for a little over a day.
We celebrate Good Friday to commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion, and Easter Sunday to commemorate his resurrection, but Jesus himself remembered the Sabbath by resting in peace.
In the Jewish calendar, the year of Jubilee was celebrated every fifty years (Lev. 25:8-55), the Sabbath year, every seven years (Lev. 25:1-7), the Passover, every year (Lev. 23:5), but the Sabbath was celebrated, or perhaps we should say remembered, every week (Exo. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15). The Sabbath was supposed to be celebrated 52 times more frequently than the Passover. The Sabbath was also the only festival mentioned in the Ten Commandments (or as I like to say, the Fourteen Commandments).
Why was Sabbath so important?
It commemorated two of the most important events of the Old Testament.
According to the Fourteen Commandments, the Sabbath commemorated Creation when God rested on the seventh day (Exo. 20:8-11), and it commemorated Deliverance when God brought his people out of Egyptian enslavement (Deut. 5:12-15). Whenever the people of Israel rested on the seventh day they were remembering the two most dramatic events in their history, when God displayed his awesome acts of power as Creator and as Deliverer.
Instead of just celebrating Good Friday and Easter Sunday once a year, why not celebrate the Sabbath by resting once a week? The Sabbath commemorates God’s Creation, Israel’s Deliverance, and Jesus’ Death.
God knows that we need rest, so he commanded us to remember the Sabbath and rest. For me, I often teach on Sunday morning, so I rest Old Testament-style, from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.
We live in a world that desperately needs rest. Let’s follow Jesus’ example and rest in peace on our Sabbath. Just as it did for Jesus, resting on the Sabbath will give you new life.
What are your thoughts on taking a Sabbath?