Great question. Glad you asked. The answer is quite simple when you consider the way that days were counted in the first century in Jerusalem (and continue to be counted in various cultures today). We in America are probably thinking that 72 hours are required to count three days, but that’s not required.
One thing to remember that is part of the answer. The Jewish day begins at 6:00 PM (the approximate time of sundown) on the evening before the next day. For example, 6:00 PM on Friday until 6:00 PM on Saturday is considered Saturday, the Sabbath.
So here’s the answer of how Jesus died on Friday, rose from dead on Sunday (less than 48 hours later), yet he was absolutely in the grave for three days.
- First day in the grave (Friday) – Jesus died at 3:00 PM on Friday. He was buried and placed in a tomb before sundown, therefore he was in the grave on Friday. One day in the grave.
- Second day in the grave (Saturday) – Jesus’ body lay in the tomb all day on Saturday, the Sabbath. Two days in the grave.
- Third day in the grave (Sunday) – when the sun set on the Sabbath, Jesus’ body was still in the tomb. Thus Sunday had begun at 6:00 PM. Three days in the grave.
But the story doesn’t stop there. Sometime before dawn on Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead!
Prophecies fulfilled. Promises kept. Jesus said that his death and resurrection would be like the sign of Jonah, who was in the belly of the whale for three days. Jesus said that on the third day he would come back to life.
And. He. Did.
He is alive! We serve a risen, victorious Savior. Jesus is alive.