Why Did Jesus Wait Three Days to Rise from the Dead?

Jesus ResurrectionMaybe this is a pointless question, but why did Jesus wait three days to rise from the dead?

I mean, once He died, He had fully paid the penalty for the sins of all mankind. Why couldn’t He just resurrect right there, jump down from the cross, dust himself off, and call it good?

Maybe he needed to be buried in the grave. Fine. But why wait three days for the resurrection? Why not get wrapped in burial clothes, then rise sometime during that first night?

Here are some possible reasons, but honestly, I find none of them satisfactory.

To prove He was dead

I suppose some could argue that He had to stay in the tomb for three days to prove He was dead. There is, after all, the “swoon theory” in which people say Jesus didn’t really die, but just went unconscious. I suppose if Jesus “resurrected” two minutes after dying on the cross, this theory would be much more plausible. But when Jesus is buried in tomb for three days, this theory loses all credibility.

But at the same time, this still doesn’t answer the question. If Jesus wanted to prove He was dead, why not wait seven days? Or thirty? I suppose these longer periods can be disregarded because God did not want Jesus to see decay (Ps 16:10; Acts 2:27). But even in three days the body of Jesus would have started to decay.

To fulfill prophecy

Some say that Jesus had to spend three days in the grave to fulfill prophecy. Which prophecy? The sign of Jonah, who spent three days in the belly of a great fish (cf. Matt 12:39-40). But we must be careful here because the story of Jonah is not really a prophecy. Yes, Jesus prophesied that He would be in the grave for three days, just like Jonah was in the fish for three days, but if Jesus had never said this, then there would be no such thing as a prophecy about spending three days in the grave.

So this answer just kicks the question back a little further: Why three days? Why couldn’t Jesus have connected His death with the creation of the world, and said a prophecy about how “Just as the world was created in six days, and on the sixth day, Adam was raised from the dust of the ground, so also, after six days the Son of Man also will rise from the dust”? Jesus could have taken any number of stories and accounts in the Bible and turned them into a prophecy about how long He would be in the tomb. Why did He pick the story of Jonah? What is special about three days?

To increase faith

Another possible explanation is that Jesus wanted to increase the faith of His followers. By not resurrecting right away, they had to question why they had followed Him, and whether He was truly the Messiah. They had to work through the despair of losing Him, and the questions of what would have happened if they had not followed Him, or if they had defended Him better, or if they had simply been duped.

By waiting three days, Jesus allowed them time to work through some of these issues and questions. But again, this begs the question. If three days does this, why not seven, or twelve, or forty, all of which are also significant biblical numbers.

Could not rise during the Sabbath

It could be argued that resurrection is work, and so Jesus could not rise on the Sabbath, but had to wait until the Sabbath was over. This argument actually has some merit. But Jesus was always doing things on the Sabbath that other Jewish people frowned upon, including healing on the Sabbath.

Acting as our High Priest

Maybe Jesus was busy “doing stuff” in paradise, hell, and heaven. You know, High Priestly stuff like sprinkling blood on the altar in heaven, defeating sin, death, and the devil, preaching to spirits in prison, that sort of thing (Heb 9; 1 Pet 3:19).

I suppose this is possible. It just doesn’t really explain why these things took three days.

It doesn’t matter

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it was all just random. Maybe Jesus picked a number out of the air, and selected Jonah as a way of making a prophecy about it to prove that He could predict the future, which would then prove that He was a prophet of God when the prophecy came true. But the number of days in the grave is irrelevant. It just happens to be what Jesus chose.

I just struggle with this because the biblical authors seem to place such an emphasis on three days in the grave.

But in the end, I have no answer.

The important thing is that Jesus rose

We can all agree here. Maybe questioning why Jesus spent three days in the grave is a pointless question which only theologians ask. The important thing is that Jesus rose from the dead, and for this, we can praise and thank God for all eternity.


Here are other posts in this series on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

  1. Forget Christmas, It's Easter!
  2. The Physical Suffering of Jesus
  3. The Spiritual Suffering of Jesus
  4. The Love and Horror of the Cross
  5. Let this Cup Pass - Did Jesus Change His Mind?
  6. The Case for a Thursday Crucifixion
  7. Did Jesus Descend into Hell?
  8. Steps of Jesus our High Priest
  9. Good God, Bad God - On the Satisfaction Theory of the Atonement
  10. Death Precedes Resurrection
  11. Did the resurrection of Jesus really happen?
  12. Does the resurrection of Jesus prove He is God?
  13. Bored with the Resurrection of Jesus
  14. The Resurrection of Jesus is the Answer
  15. Why Jesus Wasn't Saved
  16. When the Passover Meal Includes Meat Sacrificed to Idols
  17. Why Did Jesus Wait Three Days to Rise from the Dead?
  18. The Most Beautiful Words in the Gospels
  19. Jesus Uses Doubters Too
  20. What if Jesus Had Never Been Raised?

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Comments

  1. says

    Out of all the explanations, the last one is my favorite…

    “The important thing is that Jesus rose from the dead, and for this, we can praise and thank God for all eternity.”

    Good stuff. Have a great weekend with your family :)

  2. says

    Interesting question! And one I was thinking about in connection with Matthew 27:52-53, where it seems that others were raised to life as soon as Jesus died, although they didn’t come out of their tombs until he rose again. Could Jesus also have actually come back to life immediately but waited in the tomb for the first day of the week?

    I suspect part of the reason is one that you didn’t mention. Jesus by rising again is inaugurating a new creation, a new creation week. So it is significant that his work in the old creation was finished on the sixth day of the week he had spent in Jerusalem (here reading the gospel chronology in the traditional way), he rested in the tomb on the seventh day, and then he rose again for the new creation on the first day of a new week.

  3. Mike says

    Jeremy:

    He waited for three days because Judaism taught that the spirit of a person hovered over the body for at least three days. He wanted to remove any doubt that He was raised by the power of God. (notes from classes on Judaism in the first century years ago by the legandary Dr. Fruchtenbaum)

    Peace,

    Mike

      • Mike says

        Yes, it is probably in one of his manuscripts that deal with the Life of Messiah or you can wait a few more months unril his book Life of Messiah is published. (probably the most anticipated book I have ever been associated with. Can’t wait.

        Mike

  4. Leslie MacPherson on Facebook says

    My guess is that, because Jesus truly was human in every way, and a Jew, He had to not only die a human death, but in death, be buried by the Jewish laws. That’s why He had to be buried before sundown, the beginning of the Sabbath – no work is to be done on the Sabbath. There also might be a Jewish law (at least, at the time) that the dead must be buried promptly, to avoid uncleanliness, but I don’t really know.

    Following this line of thought – which might be completely erroneous; just a guess – it would not have made sense for Him to come to life, and show himself on the second day, as that would have been the Sabbath, and I believe that pious Jews are not supposed to travel on the Sabbath. In other words … no one would be at the tomb. I also imagine that people would not have been out and about that much after sunset, if for no other reason than the Romans may have imposed curfews, so to arise after the end of Sabbath, Saturday night, wouldn’t make sense either.

    It is my understanding (and belief) that God the Father always stays true to his own Word and plans, so it seems that He would fully carry out his plan for His Son to be born, live, and die in fully Jewish tradition and by Jewish laws, before arising from the dead to eternal life. For all of us, for which I thank God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, every day.

    • says

      Leslie,

      Yes, I think this had something to do with it.

      The New Testament records three resurrection miracles of Jesus: the widow’s son, Jarius’ daughter, and Lazarus. None of these three occurred on the Sabbath. While Jesus does heal people on the Sabbath, it may be that resurrection would have actually violated the Jewish Sabbath.

  5. Ethan Allen says

    Why does anyone think that he waited three days? Could have been three minutes after the stone rolled. Prophecy, perhaps, about three days and three nights, but He just couldn’t wait? .

    He may not have shown Himself, or He could have gone and visited a lot of folks, who didn’t bother to mention it to someone who could write. Or maybe they didn’t recognize Him-that seemed to happen a lot after He came back–maybe dying gives you a new “look”. Possibly He went wandering in the wilderness, or, true to His Markan past, went for a boat ride. Guy loved boats, and we know that at some point He went fishing (See the last chapter of John).

    Houdini routinely escaped from dangerous situations and sat smoking and reading the paper until the audience reached a frenzy. As good a reason as any for Him to cool His heels.

  6. Elvis Daniel Blandon says

    Jesus rose from death 3 days after following the nature of origin, The Father, The Son and of the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes from a Holy Trinity, and 3 is the creation number. Remember, in the Bible we read: The three of them got together to make creation…

  7. Paul Price says

    Does this seem odd to you?

    “Come, let us return to the LORD;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
    After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.

    (Hosea 6:1-2 ESV)

    I see this potentially as a prophecy that God will revive his covenant with his people after 2000 years (For a day with the Lord is as 1000 years, and 1000 years as a day says Peter). So 2000 years after Christ ascended would be roughly 2030 or so. So I would personally expect the Third Temple to be up and running around that time, and Christ returning a “week” later. Not a prophecy, but I’ve been reading and listening into this. God does nothing arbitrarily. I believe the entire history of Earth is in accordance with a week of millenniums(That’s why Revelation says Christ will reign on Earth for 1,000 years- it’s the true fulfillment of the Sabbath). Study and pray, and do not be caught off guard.

    http://www.studylight.org/ls/ds/index.cgi?a=453

  8. LogicPoints says

    In my opinion, if a question doesn’t directly better somebody’s life in a significant way, it’s meaningless.

    With that said, I agree with the last and second to last answer.

  9. Dolphin says

    My understanding is this, heavenly Father took three days to resurrect Jesus from death. in order to fullfill the below prophecy. Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19 NIV)

  10. Jeffry Smith says

    Thanks for asking a good question! The answer that satisfies me is that Jesus had to fulfill the role of the high priest giving the firstfruits offering on the Sunday during the days of Unleavened Bread. In this, He is both the pure, unleavened (sinless) offering and the priest offering. In this, He continues to fulfill the Old Covenant types by first being the Passover lamb killed while the other lambs were killed. He also sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. I can hardly wait for the Feast of Trumpets! Realize, this is my understanding and not divinely inspired, so weigh it against the Word of God.

  11. T. Michael says

    For instance, many of the world’s crucified “god-men” have their traditional birthday on December 25. This is because the ancients recognized that (from an earth-centric perspective) the sun makes an annual descent southward until December 21 or 22, the winter solstice, when it stops moving southerly for three days and then starts to move northward again.

    During this time, the ancients declared that “God’s sun” had “died” for three days and was “born again” on December 25. The ancients realized quite abundantly that they needed the sun to return every day and that they would be in big trouble if the sun continued to move southward and did not stop and reverse its direction. Thus, these many different cultures celebrated the “sun of God’s” birthday on December 25th. The following are the characteristics of the “sun” of God:

  12. Josh S says

    It’s interesting that the 2 stories Jesus mentions when he mentions the sign of Jonah, both of them involve prophets going to non-Jews, and those people turning to belief. I think the OT prophecy reasons have more weight than you give them credit, including Jonah, as the OT is filled with events, directives and feasts which God ordained to foreshadow the Christ. Also, as someone mentioned, the timing is indicative that he fulfilled the role of the passover lamb, and then rose in fulfillment of the feast of first-fruits. These feasts and prophecy were set up long before Jesus walked the earth, and they are important because God directed them.
    I like that people are asking these questions and seeking truth. It’s always important to search for truth, and too many people these days are settling for relativism or lies. I think it’s also important, too, to remember that God’s “ways are above our ways, his thoughts above our thoughts” so just because something God said doesn’t quite make sense to us, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make sense, we’re just not seeing it from His perspective.

  13. Dawn says

    Ultimately for me the significance is that Jesus died to save all mankind from certain death, and that all our questions will be sufficed upon our own resurrection. The peace that passes all understanding in the humility of his grace carries me personally forward albeit 3 or 3 thousand days.

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