Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried then rose again three days later. Due to sabbath restrictions, Jesus' body could not be fully prepared for burial until the Sunday following His crucifixion. That day some of the women who had been close to Him went to His tomb. "And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, 'Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise'" (Luke 24:2–7).
Why does it matter that Jesus was dead for three days?
Jesus being dead for three days is a fulfillment of prophecy. Before He died, Jesus said that He would be crucified and would resurrect three days later (Matthew 16:21; 27:63). He compared Himself to Jonah when He spent three days in the belly of a whale (Matthew 12:40). In John 2:19 He spoke of His death and subsequent resurrection, referring to His body as the temple. Hosea in the Old Testament also prophesied that the Messiah would be raised from the dead in three days (Hosea 6:1–3).
Jesus being dead for three days is evidence of His real physical death. In Jewish culture it was believed that a person's soul would remain with the body for three days after death and then it would leave. Jesus' greatest opponents at the time of His death were not the Romans, but rather the Jewish leaders. His resurrection needed to be a miracle that they could not deny. In fact, Jesus followed this logic while He was alive when He resurrected Lazarus from the dead. He waited four days before He went to him so that no one could refute the miracle (John 11:38–44).
Jesus rising on the third day is also demonstrative of the new life found in Christ. Jesus was crucified during the Jewish holiday of Passover. During this week they celebrate how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Pharaoh would not let the Israelites leave Egypt so God sent plagues upon the nation. The final plague was the death of the first born in each family. Moses warned the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb and spread the blood over their doorposts so the Lord would pass over their homes. Jesus died on a Friday, the same day the Passover lamb is sacrificed, and rose on a Sunday, the first day of the week. In death He was a sacrifice for the sins of humanity and in resurrection He became new life for those who put their faith in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17–21).
Some also point to the significance certain numbers seem to carry in the Bible, for example seven being associated with completion or perfection, or forty with a period of trial. Many biblical scholars associate the number three, sometimes called "God's number," with divine perfection or completeness.
The Bible does not explicitly tell us the significance of Jesus being dead for three days. We know without a doubt that He did die and that He did rise again. In doing so, He perfectly fulfilled prophesy and proved that He is God in human flesh, conqueror of sin and death, and our only Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3–8).
Was Jesus crucified on a Friday? If so, how did He spend three days in the tomb if He was resurrected on Sunday?
Is the death of Jesus Christ or His resurrection more important?
Where was Jesus for the three days between His death and resurrection?
Why should I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Why is the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus so central to the Christian faith?
Truth about Jesus Christ