The Day of Messiah’s Death and the Three Days in the Tomb
By Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum
To conclude the narrative of the death and burial of Messiah, Dr Fruchtenbaum addresses two specific questions in his book Yeshua: The Life of Messiah from a Messianic Jewish Perspective.
The first question pertains to the day on which Yeshua died. Some who do not understand the Jewish reckoning of time incorrectly conclude that the crucifixion occurred on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. The Gospels, however, clearly indicate that Yeshua was killed on a Friday and placed in the tomb before sundown. The term Sabbath need not be interpreted other than normally, which is from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. Scripture emphasizes this, and John 19:31, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, and Matthew 27:62 clarify that Yeshua died around three o’clock on Friday afternoon. He was then placed in the tomb before the Sabbath began, which, by Jewish reckoning, was when three stars appeared in the night sky.
Besides the Gospels, ancient Jewish records such as the Talmud confirm that the day the Messiah died was a Friday during Passover:
On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover! . . . A Florentine Ms. adds: and the eve of Sabbath.b. Sanhedrin 43a; p. 281, n. (7).
This Talmudic quote refers to Yeshua’s trial and execution, and the Florentine manuscript mentions twice that He was executed on the eve of the Sabbath, which is Friday. Furthermore, twice it mentions that it was at the Passover, which is why Yochanan stated that the Sabbath was a high Sabbath:
The Jews therefore, because it was the Preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross upon the Sabbath (for the day of that Sabbath was a high <day>), asked of Pilate that their legs might be broken, and <that> they might be taken away(Jn. 19:31).
Finally, the Talmudic quote reveals the exact charge against Yeshua, claiming that He practiced sorcery and seduced Israel and estranged them from their God. This reflects what occurred when Yeshua was officially rejected on the grounds of being demonized (Mt. 12). Interestingly, the rabbis of this period never denied that He performed real miracles. In this particular quote, they admit that He did. Still, the main import of this quote is that Yeshua died on a Friday before the Sabbath, and during the week of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Teaching that His death occurred on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday violates the clear statements of the Gospels and also other historical documents.
The second question pertains to the time Yeshua spent in the tomb. Many believe that the statement three days and three nights refers to three full 24-hour periods. The crucifixion would have occurred earlier in the week with Yeshua in the tomb for a period of 72 hours. However, if Yeshua had been in the tomb for three full days and was resurrected the moment the third 24-hour day had ended, it would have been the fourth day. Furthermore, He met the two disciples on the Emmaus road on Sunday afternoon, and many hours had passed since the resurrection (Lk. 24:13-32; Mk. 16:12-13). Not recognizing the Messiah, the disciples related to Yeshua the events of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion, and early reports of a resurrection, pointing out that it is now the third day since these things came to pass (Lk. 24:21). The only way Sunday afternoon could be the third day is if the crucifixion occurred on Friday.
In defense of those who misread the Gospels, it must be acknowledged that when considering all of Yeshua’s statements, they appear contradictory. For example, sometimes He prophesied that the resurrection would occur on the third day (Mt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:64; Lk. 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Acts 10:40; I Cor. 15:4). Other times He said that it would happen after three days, meaning on the fourth day (Mt. 26:61; 27:40, 63; Mk. 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; 14:58; 15:29; Jn. 2:19-20). Then again, He said He would be in the tomb three days and three nights (Mt. 12:39-40).
These statements are easily reconciled by looking to the Jewish context of the Gospels. The Mosaic Law stipulated that the new year began on the first of Nisan. In the Jewish mode of counting years, any part of the end of the previous year, or any part of the new year, whether it be a few months or even just days, counted as a full year. If, for example, a king took the throne on the last day of a year, he was viewed as having ruled the whole year. A day later, the new year began, but the records would read, “the second year of his reign.” The second day of his reign would be considered the second year of his reign because even the first day of a year was officially considered to be one year. Likewise, even the last hour of a day or the first hour of a day counted as a full day. Yeshua was in the tomb during the waning hours of Friday, the full 24 hours of Saturday, and then in the early hours of Sunday, which in the Jewish reckoning of time counts as three days.
Accordingly, Yeshua’s seemingly contradictory statements are reconciled: First, the resurrection was to be on the third day,and although He was in the tomb in the early hours of the third day, lateron that same day, Yeshua was resurrected, so He was resurrected on the third day.
Second, the resurrection was to be after three days, and since Yeshua was in the tomb part of Sunday, it counted for all of Sunday. Therefore, from a Jewish point of view, counting one full day and the two partial days as whole days, Yeshua was not only resurrected on the third day, He was also resurrected after three days.
Third, the Jewish expression three days and three nights is also reconcilable, for it is a figure of speech referring to any period of time that touches three days and is used in the Hebrew Scriptures several times (Gen. 42:17-18; I Sam. 30:12-13; I Kgs. 20:29 [seven days]; II Chron. 10:5, 12; Esth. 4:16, in comparison with 5:1).
All this is to say that the Gospels were written by Jews using the Jewish frame of reference to reckon time. In keeping with their frame of reference and terminology, Yeshua was buried on Friday before sundown and before the Sabbath began. He was resurrected sometime after the Sabbath, on Sunday, the first day of the week. From a Jewish perspective, the Sabbath had already ended and the first day of the week had already begun as of sundown Saturday.
Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Yeshua: The Life of Messiah from a Messianic Jewish Perspective (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2018), p. 605-608.
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