A Study of the Doctrines of the Church of God


Part Six: ``... the third day rose again from the dead ...''


by Doug Ward

The gospels report that when Jesus Christ was arrested and crucified, His followers became fearful, confused, and despondent. Their hopes that Jesus would deliver them from Roman occupation and return the Promised Land to the people of Israel (Luke 24:21) had been dashed. Peter, who had previously stated his conviction that Jesus was the Messiah (John 6:69; Matt. 16:16), watched the proceedings from a distance and three times denied any association with the condemned man.

Just several weeks later, however, the disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, began to proclaim boldly that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Peter led the way in announcing the good news (Acts 2-4). Jesus' half-brother James, who had earlier apparently been a skeptic (see John 7:5), was another key figure in their movement. Their commitment was so strong that many, including Peter and James, would ultimately be put to death for the sake of the gospel.

What had changed the minds of the disciples? What gave Peter renewed conviction? What persuaded James that his brother was the Messiah after all? The answer, of course, is that they were eyewitnesses of one of the most amazing truths of history: Jesus Christ had risen from the dead!


The Centrality of the Resurrection

Christ's atoning death and His resurrection are surely the two most essential points in the Creed. The apostle Paul, whose own encounter with the risen Christ radically changed the direction of his life, pronounced them to be ``of first importance'' (I Cor. 15:3, NIV). Indeed, verses 3-8 of I Cor. 15, which assert the veracity of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection, are believed to constitute one of the earliest Christian creeds (see for example [7, pp. 35, 229]). As Paul goes on to point out, our own hope of eternal life hinges on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ:


``And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile: you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.'' (I Cor. 15:17-19)


In the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), we have always affirmed the truth of the resurrection, as do all Christians. Traditionally we would reflect upon the significance of the resurrection during at least two seasons of the year. During the Paschal season, we noted that the wavesheaf offering of Lev. 23:9-14 was a prophetic type of the resurrection. In ancient Israel, this offering of the firstfruits of the spring harvest was carried out ``on the day after the Sabbath'' (Lev. 23:11) during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Similarly the risen Christ, the firstfruits of the spiritual harvest (I Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18), apparently ``returned to the Father'' on this same day as a kind of spiritual wavesheaf offering (John 20:17).

We also studied the resurrection each year at the time of the Feast of Trumpets. The resurrection of believers at Christ's return is one of the things symbolized by the Feast of Trumpets-note the connection between the last trump and the resurrection in Matt. 24:31, I Cor. 15:51-52, and I Thes. 4:16-and one of our favorite texts for this festival was I Cor. 15, the ``resurrection chapter'' quoted above.

Still, it was often possible for the importance of the resurrection to be ``lost in the shuffle'' during our festival celebrations, partially obscured by less significant matters. This was an unfortunate and unintended consequence of our former mistaken belief that the Scriptures do not authorize an annual celebration of Christ's resurrection. Thankfully, the WCG has been led in recent years to a fuller appreciation and understanding of the central role of the resurrection in Christianity. Today, following the precedents of the wavesheaf offering and centuries of Christian tradition, we typically commemorate it each year in a special service held during the Paschal season.

In the present article, I will touch upon four aspects of this pivotal part of the Creed: (1) the historical evidence that the resurrection of Jesus occurred; (2) the ways in which the resurrection was foretold in the pages of the Hebrew scriptures; (3) the nature of Christ's body after His resurrection; and (4) the chronology of the crucifixion and resurrection.


Evidence for the Resurrection

The God of the Bible is One who is active in human history, directing the course of events in accordance with His plan for mankind. Thus we have observed in previous installments that the Creed makes claims about specific people-Jesus, the virgin Mary, Pontius Pilate-and certain historical events, like the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We have not met these people or personally witnessed these events, so our belief in them is ultimately a matter of faith. However, our faith does not have to be a blind faith. For instance, the existence of Jesus and the fact that He was crucified are backed up by both Christian and non-Christian sources, as we saw in part 5 of this series. (Further discussion of the historical evidence for Christ can be found in Chapter 4 of [7].)

There is also very strong historical backing for the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, many lawyers who have studied the evidence consider the resurrection to be as well-documented as any event in history [4]. Let's take a look at the testimony in support of the resurrection.

In those days, victims of crucifixion were often thrown into common graves or left on the cross. All four gospels declare, however, that Jesus received an honorable burial. The assertion that Jesus was buried is repeated in I Cor. 15:4, where Paul, writing by about 55 A.D., presumably related what he had heard from Peter and James when he visited them in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18-19) less than ten years after the crucifixion. Such an early historical account carries a great deal of weight.

Moreover, the gospels are very specific about the location of the burial-the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy disciple of Jesus and a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. This detail is not one that the gospel writers would have been motivated to report if it were not authentic. For one thing, it would have been an easy detail to check. The Sanhedrin was a high-profile institution, and people in Jerusalem were undoubtedly very familiar with those who belonged to it. Secondly, early Christians had no reason to concoct a story in which most of Jesus' disciples were scattered, leaving His body to be buried by a member of the very group that sentenced Him to death. The fact that archaeologists have found tombs like the one described in the gospels and the nonexistence of any alternate explanations of Christ's burial lend even further credibility to the conclusion that Joseph of Arimathea was a genuine historical figure who carried out that burial.

The gospels go on to report that three days after the burial of Jesus, Joseph's tomb was found to be empty. Although the emptiness of the tomb is not mentioned explicitly in the early creed of I Cor. 15 or the sermons of the apostles recorded in the book of Acts, it is implicit in the apostles' assertion that Jesus was risen from the dead. This becomes clear when we consider first-century Jewish beliefs about the resurrection. It was customary in those days for Jews to collect the bones of a loved one a year after the person's death and place them in a container called an ossuary , so that the bones would be together in one place for God to reassemble at the final resurrection [6, Chapter 6]. Therefore if any remains of Jesus' body were still extant, the early Christians would not have believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Another implicit reference to the empty tomb occurs in Acts 2:29, where Peter notes that David's ``tomb is here to this day.'' In this verse he seems to be contrasting David's still-occupied tomb with the tomb of Jesus, suggesting that the latter tomb was known to be vacant.

The empty tomb is an important piece of evidence in favor of the resurrection. No one has ever been able to refute this evidence, either in the first century or at any time since. When the apostles began preaching about the resurrection just weeks after the crucifixion, no one came forward with information about the location of Jesus' remains. Anyone who had such information would have quickly been able to squelch the message of the first Christians. The explanation of the church's enemies that the guards had fallen asleep and allowed the body to be stolen (Matt. 28:11-15) presupposes both that the tomb had been guarded and that it was later found to be empty.

A key part of the apostles' message was their personal experience of having seen the resurrected Christ (e.g., Acts 2:32; 3:15; 5:32). The Bible describes some ten appearances of Jesus to various groups and individuals during the forty days following His resurrection. These appearances constitute an additional body of convincing evidence for the truth of the resurrection. Paul states that Jesus once ``appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living ....'' (I Cor. 15:6). Here Paul tells his first-century readers that there are several hundred living eyewitnesses of the risen Christ. There is indeed no major occurrence in ancient history as thoroughly documented as the resurrection!

Over the centuries, skeptics have advanced several alternate explanations of the evidence for the resurrection, but all of them have serious problems. For example, some have speculated that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus were mere hallucinations. However, a hallucination is generally a personal, subjective experience. It is highly unlikely that over five hundred people would share the same hallucination. Furthermore, the disciples were not expecting or even hoping that Jesus would soon come back to life, and people do not hallucinate about things that are beyond the realm of their imaginations. Finally, Jesus was not immediately recognized in some of His post-resurrection visits with disciples (e.g., Luke 24:13-32; John 20:11-16), which again is not consistent with hallucinations.

Other critics have suggested that the resurrection was essentially a gigantic hoax, with either the disciples stealing Jesus' body or Jesus escaping from the tomb after having somehow survived the crucifixion. But such scenarios are inconsistent with what we know about the early church. Would the disciples have given their lives for a fraud? What would have led them to invent a controversial new Jewish sect, especially one with such an unusual and unpopular message? Certainly not the hope of fame or financial gain! As Paul commented in I Cor. 1:23, ``...we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.'' Many Jews would not accept a Messiah who had been crucified like a common criminal. On the other hand, the idea of a resurrection was strange and distasteful to many people in the Greek world, where the ideal was to have one's ``soul'' escape the imprisonment of a physical body. No, the gospel was not the sort of message that would have been developed by a group of ancient hucksters seeking fame and fortune.

After evaluating the evidence, we are led to the conclusion that the resurrection is no hoax. The apostles were sincerely convinced that they had seen and talked with Jesus after He had risen, and their claims are strongly supported by the available facts.


``...according to the Scriptures''

This section of the Apostles' Creed states that Jesus ``the third day rose again from the dead.'' The Nicene Creed, echoing I Cor. 15:4, adds that the resurrection occurred ``according to the Scriptures.'' The extra phrase in the Nicene Creed communicates an important truth: the resurrection of Messiah had been foretold centuries in advance in the Hebrew Scriptures (I Peter 1:11). This truth was not recognized by the disciples before the resurrection took place, but Jesus, who stressed that it was part of God's plan all along, taught it to them afterward (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46). The disciples, in turn, forcefully announced it to the world (Acts 2:24-32; 13:33-37; 17:2-3).

A key text on the resurrection for both Peter and Paul is Psalm 16, which was written about a thousand years before Christ's coming. Peter points to Ps. 16:10 as a reference to Jesus in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:25-32). In this verse, David expresses his confidence that God will not let His ``Holy One see decay.'' Peter argues that since David's own body certainly had seen decay, David must have been looking ahead to the Messiah's resurrection. The apostle Paul makes a similar argument in Acts 13:35-37.

Some critics have accused Peter and Paul of reading a meaning into David's words that the ancient king of Israel had not foreseen or intended. However, support for the apostles' exegesis can be found in a careful study of the Hebrew word hasid, the word translated ``Holy One'' in Psalm 16:10. This word refers to ``one to whom God is loyal, gracious, or merciful'' or ``one in whom God manifests his grace and favor'' [5, p.33]. David himself was such a person, especially because God had pledged that David would be the progenitor of a line of kings which would culminate in the Messiah (2 Sam 7:12-16; Ps. 89:3-4, 19-37). In fact, the word hasid is used for David in Psalm 89, a psalm that praises God for His wonderful promise to David:


``Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one [ hasid] and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. I have found David my servant; with my holy oil I anointed him: With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm also shall strengthen him.'' (Ps. 89:19-21, KJV)


Notice that this passage says that David is God's servant and anointed one in addition to being a ``holy one.'' The terms ``servant'' and ``anointed one'' are often used in the Hebrew Scriptures in reference to the coming Messiah. It seems, then, that hasid is another messianic term which here refers to David specifically in his role as the bearer of God's promises and ancestor of the Messiah.

The context of Psalm 16:10 is likewise one of thanksgiving to God for the ``delightful inheritance'' (Ps. 16:6, KJV) that He has bestowed upon David. Given this context, it is quite reasonable to assert with Peter and Paul that the hasid in verse 10 is the coming King prophesied to be a descendant of David. In vv. 8-11, David is then expressing confidence that his role in God's promise and plan includes eternal life in God's presence, as evidenced by the fact that his descendant the Messiah would not be left in the grave.

Another advance proclamation of Jesus' resurrection is found in the famous ``suffering servant'' prophecy of Isaiah 53. This prophecy was used by Philip the evangelist to bring the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-38), and it has led countless numbers to Christ over the centuries. In verses 10-12 of this remarkable chapter, we read:


``Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.'' (KJV)


Note that these verses describe the ultimate triumph of the Servant. Although he would ``pour out his soul unto death,'' he would also ``prolong his days'' and ``divide the spoil with the strong.'' These verses imply that the One who would die for the sins of mankind would also be resurrected.

Prophecies like Ps. 16:10 and Isa. 53 illustrate a main purpose of the Bible: the written word of God leads us to the Living Word of God. This theme is further developed in Walter C. Kaiser's inspiring book, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Zondervan, 1995), the subject of another series of articles in this magazine.

It is also instructive to observe that this section of the Nicene Creed is one of only two places in that creed in which the scriptures are explicitly mentioned. (Later in the creed, the inspiration of the prophets is affirmed as part of the work of the Holy Spirit.) As was discussed in part two of this series (Grace and Knowledge , Issue 3, pp. 36-37), the Bible, though a precious gift to us from God, plays a role in our faith secondary to that of God Himself.

Christ's Glorious Body

What was the body of Jesus like after His resurrection? This is a question of more than academic interest to us, since it has a bearing on our own future mode of existence. According to Phillipians 3:21, Christ at His return ``will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.''

Insight into the nature of this ``glorious body'' can be gleaned from an examination of the gospel accounts of Christ's post-resurrection appearances. These accounts show that Jesus' resurrected body is in many ways like the body that was placed in the tomb. For instance, when He appeared to His disciples, His body could be seen and touched, and it had flesh and bones and included evidence of the crucifixion (Luke 24:37-40; John 20:24-28). Moreover, He was heard and recognized by people, and He could eat food (Luke 24:41-43; John 21:12-15; Acts 1:4; 10:41). On the other hand, His body displayed supernatural properties. He could appear and disappear suddenly (Luke 24:31, 36), and His dazzling presence blinded Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9).

In light of this information, Christians from the beginning have understood that Jesus' resurrection body is a material body-the same body that was crucified-made immortal (see [2, Chapter 7]; [3, pp. 658-670]). There are a number of other theological and scriptural considerations that contribute to such an understanding.

First, we should remember that when God created the material world, He pronounced it to be ``very good'' (Gen. 1:31). Sin subsequently brought death and decay to the world, but God will one day restore Edenic conditions (e.g. Isa. 65:17; 2 Peter 3:10-13; Rev. 21:1-4). The redemption and glorification of our bodies (Rom. 8:18-23) through a resurrection are integral parts of that restoration. Since God created Adam with a material body, it makes sense that our glorified bodies will be material-anything else would imply some deficiency in the original creation. And since Jesus' resurrection is a model for our future resurrection, it makes sense that His glorified body would itself be a material one.

A second theological reason for Jesus' body to be material is His current role as our heavenly High Priest (Heb. 7:24). As was discussed in the third installment of this series (Grace and Knowledge, Issue 4, p.3), Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine, and His humanity is an important factor in His continuing priesthood. Because of His humanity, He can deeply understand our struggles in this life (Heb. 2:18; 4:15). An essential part of

being fully human, of course, is having human flesh, so it is fitting that Jesus would continue to have a material body today.

These theological considerations are supported by I John 4:2, which states that ``Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.'' The tense of the Greek verb translated ``has come'' is used for actions that continue in the present, so this verse implies that Jesus remains ``in the flesh'' today [3, p. 666]. Similar comments can be made about 2 John 7. Another verse to consider is I Cor. 15:53, part of Paul's description of our future resurrection: ``For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.'' Notice that this verse does not seem to say that our material bodies will be replaced by incorruptible ones, but rather that they will take on the additional property of imperishability.

What is a ``Spiritual Body''?

The current WCG Statement of Beliefs contains the following statement about the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ: ``As the prophesied Savior of humanity, he died for our sins, was raised bodily from the dead, and ascended to heaven, from where he mediates between humanity and God.'' The phrase ``was raised bodily from the dead''-note especially the adverb ``bodily''- indicates our agreement with the orthodox teaching about Jesus' resurrection body that I have described above. This is a change from years past, when we taught that Jesus's body at His resurrection was transformed from matter to ``spirit,'' which we pictured as a sort of eternally-lasting, nonmaterial substance. Our former teaching was based largely on our understanding of I Cor. 15, especially verses 44 and 50. To understand fully why the WCG has altered its views on the resurrection body, let's examine these two verses.

In I Cor. 15:44, the apostle Paul makes the following contrast between our present bodies and our resurrection bodies:


``it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.''


What is a ``spiritual body''? Is it one that is made entirely of something else besides physical matter, as the WCG formerly believed? We can gain some insight into these questions by looking at two other passages from I Corinthians in which Paul uses the same Greek word (pneumatikos ) that is translated ``spiritual'' in I Cor. 15:44.

In I Cor. 2:14-15, we find another contrast between ``natural'' and ``spiritual,'' with the Greek words for ``natural'' and ``spiritual'' the same as in I Cor. 15:44. Here Paul is comparing a ``natural man''-i.e., one who has not submitted to God and will not readily accept His instruction-with a ``spiritual man.'' It is clear that in this passage, a ``spiritual man'' is not a person with a nonmaterial body, but rather a person who is led by the Spirit of God. It may be, then, that Paul is making a similar comparison in I Cor. 15:44: Whereas in our current bodies, we must constantly battle the ``pulls of the flesh,'' our resurrection bodies will be completely governed by the Holy Spirit. (See [3 , p. 658], [2, pp. 263-266].)

The Greek word pneumatikos also appears in I Cor. 10:3-4, which states that during the time of the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites ``all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that acompanied them, and that rock was Christ.'' In the wilderness incident to which Paul is referring, the Israelites of course drank literal water that came out of a physical, material rock (Ex. 17:1-7). However, this water was miraculously produced and came from a supernatural source. In this passage, then, the word ``spiritual'' seems to mean ``supernatural.'' And in fact, the Revised Standard Version renders pneumatikos as ``supernatural'' rather than ``spiritual'' in these verses [3, p. 658].

In light of I Cor. 2:14-15; 10:3-4, we can see that ``spiritual'' in I Cor. 15:44 does not necessarily mean ``nonmaterial.'' Instead, a spiritual body could be one that is material but supernatural and fully led by the Holy Spirit.

Now let us consider I Cor. 15:50, where Paul states, ``I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.'' In the past, the WCG concluded from this verse that our resurrection bodies could not possibly be composed of flesh and blood. In context, however, this verse is not necessarily saying that a resurrection body will not have flesh. Instead, it is saying that a resurrection body will not have the perishable, corruptible flesh that we humans now possess (see vv. 42, 51-54). I Cor. 15:50 does not contradict the view that a resurrection body is a material body that has been made incorruptible and immortal.

The phrase ``flesh and blood'' also appears in Matthew 16:17 in the King James Version. After Peter announces his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus answers, ``Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.'' Here Jesus means that no human being has revealed His identity to Peter. Similarly, I Cor. 15:50 seems to be stating that no mortal human being will enter God's kingdom, not that no one in that kingdom will have a material body.

In summary, the view that Christ's resurrection body is a glorified material body has a great deal of theological and scriptural support, and objections to this view based on I Cor. 15:44, 50 do not stand up to close scrutiny. The evidence backs up the orthodox position which the WCG has adopted.


``... the third day....''

Both the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed mention that Jesus rose from the dead on ``the third day,'' again following I Cor. 15:4. This phrase in the creeds affirms that Jesus was accurate in predicting the duration of His stay in the tomb (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mark 9:31; 10:34; Luke 9:22; 18:33; John 2:19).

Some skeptics call into question the consistency and accuracy of the gospels on this point. On one hand, a straightforward reading of Luke's account would indicate that Jesus was buried on a Friday afternoon (Luke 23:54-56) and resurrected by some time early on the following Sunday morning (Luke 24:1-6). This is the predominant Christian tradition, and it agrees with a resurrection on ``the third day'' if the time is reckoned inclusively, with Friday counting as the first day, Saturday as the second, and Sunday as the third. There is some evidence from rabbinic sources that time was often counted inclusively in those days (see for example [1, Chap. 2]).

On the other hand, Jesus makes the following statement in Matt. 12:39-40 (KJV):


``An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.''


These verses seem to say that Jesus would be in the tomb for a time period of three full twenty-four days, longer than the interval between a Friday afternoon and a Sunday morning. How can we resolve this apparent contradiction?

One possible solution places the crucifxion date on a Wednesday rather than a Friday, allowing time for Jesus to have been in the tomb for a full seventy-two hours.1 This scenario relies on John's testimony that the day following the crucifixion was an annual Sabbath, the First Day of Unleavened Bread (John 19:14, 31), so that there could have been two Sabbaths in the days immediately following the crucifixion-an annual Holy Day on a Thursday and a regular weekly Sabbath two days later. In addition to accounting for Matt. 12:39-40, the Wednesday crucifixion model harmonizes Mark 16:1 and Luke 23:56. According to Mark 16:1 (NIV), a group of female disciples bought spices ``when the Sabbath was over'' to anoint Jesus' body, while Luke 23:56 mentions female disciples preparing spices and then resting on the Sabbath. These verses mesh well with a Wednesday crucifixion date, because then the Sabbath of Mark 16:1 could be the earlier annual Sabbath.

Some additional arguments are often made in support of the Wednesday model. One is that in Matthew 28:1, which begins, ``After the Sabbath....,'' the Greek word for ``Sabbath'' is plural, indicating that there could have been two Sabbaths in that week. Another is based on the famous ``seventy weeks'' prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27. In Daniel 9:27, we read that the Anointed One (i.e., the Messiah) ``will confirm a covenant with many for one `seven'. In the middle of the `seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering.'' This passage is commonly identified by Christians as a prediction that the Messiah would ``put an end to sacrifice and offering'' with His atoning death after a ministry of three and a half years (``in the middle of the `seven'''). It would be fitting, in light of this prophecy, if in addition the crucifixion occurred on a Wednesday, in the very middle of a literal seven-day week.

The Wednesday scenario also has its weaknesses. One biblical passage that does not seem to fit well with this model is Luke 24:21, where the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, in relating the news about the crucifixion to the risen Jesus, say that ``it is the third day since all this took place.'' This conversation occurred on Sunday afternoon (see Luke 24:29), which would be at least the fourth day after a Wednesday crucifixion. Luke 24:21 is hard to reconcile with the Wednesday model unless the events described by those disciples included some things that happened on the day after the crucifixion-e.g., the sealing of the stone that blocked the tomb and the posting of a guard there (Matt. 27:66).

A Wednesday crucifixion is not the only possible explanation of Matt. 12:39-40. It has also been suggested that the phrase ``three days and three nights'' in Jonah 1:17 and Matt. 12:40 is an idiomatic expression that does not have to refer to an exact seventy-two hour time period, but could be roughly synonymous with ``on the third day.'' In support of this idea, Bacchiocchi [1, Chap. 2] points out that in the commentary on Genesis in the Midrash Rabbah, a rabbinic work that dates from around the fifth century A.D., Jonah 1:17 is connected with Gen. 22:4, Gen. 42:17-18, and Esther 5:1, all of which refer to ``the third day.'' This explanation is consistent with the fact that Jesus is most often recorded as saying that He would rise on ``the third day.''

A third explanation is based on the fact that the most important part of the sign of Jonah was the resurrection of Jesus, not the length of time He would spend in the grave. (Note that in other gospel references to the ``the sign of Jonah''-e.g., Luke 11:29-30; Matt. 16:4-no period of time is mentioned. The most important part of Jonah's ministry was his witness to the Ninevites after his rescue from the fish's belly, not the length of time he spent in the fish.) It could be, then, that in Matt. 12:40 Jesus mentions ``three days and three nights'' in an incidental way, because he happens to be quoting Jonah 1:17, not because his time in the tomb would exactly match Jonah's time in the belly of the fish. 2

The WCG, which formerly was an outspoken advocate of the Wednesday crucifixion model, today makes no dogmatic statements on the duration of Jesus' stay in the tomb.3 In this writer's opinion, that is a sound policy. All three of the above explanations of Matt. 12:39-40 seem to be legitimate possibilities, and therefore both the Wednesday and Friday crucifixion scenarios uphold the credibility and consistency of Jesus and the biblical record, as well as the reliability of the ancient creeds.

After careful examination of the evidence, I wholeheartedly join the chorus of Christian believers who affirm the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day, according to the scriptures.




1.  Samuele Bacchiocchi, The Time of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, Biblical Perspectives, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1986.


2. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection: A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, Biblical Perspectives, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1997.


3. Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1999.

4. Haven Bradford Gow, ``Faith on Trial,'' The Plain Truth, March/April 2000, p. 21.

5. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Uses of the Old Testament in the New, Moody Press, Chicago, 1985.

6. J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1987.

7. Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998.


1 This was the explanation formerly advocated by the WCG-see the booklet ``The Resurrection was not on Sunday,'' by Herbert W. Armstrong (Radio Church of God, 1952), which can be seen at https://www.hwalibrary.com/cgi-bin/get/hwa.cgi?action=getbklet&InfoID=1319658718

2 See the discussion ``How Long Was Jesus in the Tomb?'' by Peter H. Davids on pp. 380-381 of Hard Sayings of the Bible, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1996.

3 For recent WCG discussions on this subject, see the articles ``How Long Was Jesus in the Tomb?'' and ``Was Jesus Crucified on a Wednesday?'' at http://www.gci.org/jesus.

Issue 7


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