In the first mention of His sufferings (Matt. 16:21) the Lord mentions
the fact that He would be "raised again the third day". In John 2:19
He had already mentioned "three days" as the time after which He would
raise up "the Temple of His body".
The expression occurs eleven times with reference to His resurrection
(Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19. Mark 9:31; 10:34. Luke 9:22; 18:33;
24:7, 46. Acts 10:40. 1Cor. 15:4.).
We have the expression "after three days" in Mark 8:31, used of the
This shows that the expression "three days and three nights" of Matt.
12:40 must include "three days" and the three preceding "nights".
While it is true that a "third day" may be a part of three days, including
two nights; yet "after three days", and "three nights and three days" cannot
possibly be so reckoned.
But, why this particular period? Why not two, or four, or any
other number of days? Why "three" and no more nor less?
- We notice that the man who contracted defilement through contact
with a dead body was to purify himself on the third day (Num. 19:11, 12).
- The flesh of the peace offering was not to be kept beyond the
third day, but was then to be burnt (Lev. 7:17, 18) as unfit for food.
- John Lightfoot (1602-75) quotes a Talmudic tradition that the
mourning for the dead culminated on "the third day", because the spirit
was not supposed to have finally departed till then (Works, Pitman’s
ed., vol. xii. pp. 351-353).
- Herodotus testifies that embalmment did not take place until
after three days (Herod. ii. 86-89).
- The Jews did not accept evidence as to the identification of
a dead body after three days.
This period seems, therefore, to have been chosen by the Lord (i.e.
Jehovah, in the type of Jonah) to associate the fact of resurrection with
the certainty of death, so as to preclude all doubt that death had actually
taken place, and shut out all suggestion that it might have been a trance,
or a mere case of resuscitation. The fact that Lazarus had been dead
"four days already" was urged by Martha as a proof that Lazarus was dead,
for "by this time he stinketh" (John 11:17, 39).
We have to remember that corruption takes place very quickly in the
East, so that "the third day" was the proverbial evidence as to the certainty
that death had taken place, leaving no hope.