(38) Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.
(39) But he answered and said unto them, 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:
(40) 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.
Today's text sets forth the definitive sign to the Jews that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God: He would be entombed for three days and three nights, no more, no less. There are various other terms used regarding Christ's entombment (the third day, after three days, in three days) but all of these must be reconciled with “...three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (MAT 12:40).
It is commonly held that Jesus was crucified on a Friday afternoon, buried by sundown (say 6:00 p.m.) and rose from the dead Sunday sunrise (say 6:00 a.m.). This would make His entombment to include two nights (Friday night, Saturday night) and one day in between them (Saturday), or at most thirty-six hours. But Jesus Himself described a day as having twelve hours (JOH 11:9-10) and thus a night would have twelve hours. Thus, “three days and three nights” would be seventy-two hours, a period which will not fit between Friday night and Sunday morning. Trying to make “three days and three nights” the same span of time as “one day and two nights” is (at best) bad arithmetic, and it wreaks havoc with plain sequences of time such as the Creation Week of GEN 1:1-31. One could just as easily conclude that what God really meant in the first two chapters of His Bible is that He only took about three days to create all things and that EXO 20:9-11 means that men may only work three days in a row.
The Friday crucifixion/Sunday sunrise resurrection theory is based on two major assumptions. One of them is that it was the weekly sabbath day (EXO 20:10) before which Jesus was hastily buried (MAR 15:42; LUK 23:54), and so Jesus must have been crucified on Friday. This assumption overlooks the fact that the sabbath day following the crucifixion was a special one, “...that sabbath day was an high day...” (JOH 19:31): it was the special sabbath day to be observed on the fifteenth day of the first month immediately following the Passover (EXO 12:15-16). The High Sabbath was pegged to the lunar calendar date which did not necessarily coincide with the regular weekly sabbath day. The other assumption is that Jesus arose at sunrise on Sunday morning. This latter assumption is disproved by the fact that when the women arrived at the tomb in early hours of Sunday morning, it was still dark and Jesus had already risen (JOH 20:1-2).
When one takes into consideration: 1) two sabbath days, 2) three days and three nights, 3) Jesus was already risen before the women arrived at the tomb, then the entombment chronology must have been as follows: Wednesday night, Thursday (High Sabbath) Thursday night, Friday, Friday night, Saturday (weekly sabbath that ended at 6:00 p.m.) = three days and three nights. To assume that Jesus was still in the tomb early Sunday morning would mean three days and FOUR nights. It is more reasonable to conclude that Jesus arose from the grave as early as sundown on Saturday (which would have been exactly seventy-two hours entombment).
There are actually many professing Christians of various denominations over the centuries that have held to a Wednesday crucifixion. Some Baptist, Protestant and even Catholic scholars have affirmed this. One such voice was the evangelist and scholar, R. A. Torrey (1856-1928). The following quote is cited from his book, Difficulties and Alleged Errors and Contradictions in the Bible (pp. 104-109):
“...According to the commonly accepted tradition of the church, Jesus was crucified on Friday...and was raised from the dead very early in the morning of the following Sunday. Many readers of the Bible are puzzled to know how the interval between late Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning can be figured out to be three days and three nights. It seems rather to be two nights, one day and a very small portion of another day.
“The solution of this apparent difficulty proposed by many commentators is that 'a day and a night' is simply another way of saying 'a day', and that the ancient Jews reckoned a fraction of a day as a whole day...There are many persons whom this solution does not altogether satisfy, and the writer is free to confess it does not satisfy him at all. It seems to me to be a makeshift...
“The Bible nowhere says or implies that Jesus was crucified and died on Friday. It is said that Jesus was crucified on 'the day before the Sabbath'...Now the Bible does not leave us to speculate in regard to which sabbath is meant in this instance...it was not the day before the weekly sabbath (that is, Friday) but it was the day before the Passover sabbath, which came this year on Thursday---that is to say, the day on which Jesus Christ was crucified was Wednesday. John makes this clear as day.
“Jesus was buried just about sunset on Wednesday. Seventy-two hours later...he arose from the grave. When the women visited the tomb just before dawn in the morning they found the grave already empty.
“There is absolutely nothing in favor of Friday crucifixion, but everything in the Scriptures is remarkably harmonized by Wednesday crucifixion. It is remarkable how many prophetical and typical passages of the Old Testament are fulfilled and how many seeming discrepancies in the gospel narratives are straightened out when we once come to understand that Jesus died on Wednesday, and not on Friday.”
(as cited in Babylon, Mystery Religion by Ralph Woodrow, p. 141).
Mr. Torrey noted that the Friday crucifixion is an “accepted tradition” and Bible-believers should always remember that the traditions of men make God's word of none effect (MAT 15:6). In cases like the Friday crucifixion theory, they confuse minds, corrupt the Bible's record, and pervert the definitive sign proving Jesus as the Christ and Son of God.