Matthew 12:40 has led many to question whether or not Jesus actually was crucified on Friday. It says, “For just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” If He was crucified on Friday, that leaves only two nights and three days, assuming a Sunday morning resurrection, and two of those days are only partial. So can this verse be reconciled with the traditional view of a Friday crucifixion or must we accept that it was actually on a different day to allow for more time to pass?
First, let’s be clear that the resurrection was on Sunday, without a doubt. Matthew 28:1 says, “Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.” The Sabbath was Saturday, the seventh day of the week, so the next day would have been Sunday, which is the first day of the week. So, according to the Biblical narrative, the ending point of the “three days and three nights” was sometime Sunday morning.
Second, the Biblical narrative makes it very clear that Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Matthew 27:62 says, “Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate.” Preparation Day was the day before the Sabbath, i.e. Friday. The implication is that Jesus was crucified on Friday, the day of preparation, and the next day the chief priests and Pharisees gathered with Pilate, which would have been the Sabbath Day. Then the next day, Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead. The idea of a Friday crucifixion is also supported by Mark 15:42 which says, “When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath.” Luke 23:54 and John 19:14 also confirm this.
So the gospel writers are clear that Jesus was raised from the dead Sunday morning and that He was crucified on Friday. This indeed leaves us with only two nights, one full day, and two partial days. Was Scripture wrong, and Jesus Himself for that matter, or is there another way to understand what Jesus was trying to say by speaking of “three days and three nights”?
In Rabbinic thought, any part of the day or night was considered an entire day. Thus, since some part of the events of the crucifixion to the resurrection happened on three different days, this can be counted as three entire days in their understanding. Thus, there is no conflict with the infallible Scripture, as we would expect, and there is no need to read a Thursday crucifixion into the account of Scripture.