"THE MISSING NIGHT"
I like finding what may first appear to be inconsistencies in the Bible. This may sound strange coming from a Christian. Now don't get me wrong, I am not trying to disprove the Scriptures like those the apostle Peter referred to when he said:
"...in which (i.e., the Bible) are some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures." 2 Peter 3:16.
From the beginning of God's inspired record-keeping, there have been the intellectual (so-called) opponents who cynically interpret the Scriptures. They do this in order to affirm their own humanistic, naturalistic, evolutionary, ungodly biases. But as I said, I like the same passages they attack, for I have discovered that within them are gems of knowledge which, when understood, rather than establishing a point of error in their favor, actually further affirms the Christian faith. In this article I want to share one example of what I mean.
"THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS"
Jesus Christ once took an Old Testament account of the prophet Jonah (see Jonah 1:17) and applied it to Himself when He said:
"For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Matthew 12:40.
Jesus was predicting His own death and burial. It's interesting that He used a historical event that was probably highly doubted by the scribes and Pharisees, to whom He was speaking at the time. Let's face it folks, it takes faith to believe that a man once actually lived for three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish. (Whether it was a whale or not that consumed Jonah is not really made clear in the text. I believe a more literal rendering of the Greek term would be "sea monster".)
Some might take the position: "Well, it doesn't matter what I think about Jonah. After all, what I believe about Jesus is all that's important." If you think this way, watch out, the depth of your knowledge and faith may be showing! Jesus, Who the Bible says created all things that exist (see Colossians 1:16), equated the duration of His own human death to the time Jonah spent alive in the belly of the great fish. The truth is, both facts require exactly the same kind of faith. Jesus obviously believed Jonah was in there three days and three nights. Do you?
Now I'm not saying that believing the Jonah incident is a prerequisite to being saved. No, Jesus' sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin and the new life imparted to believers in Him is the way of salvation. What I am saying is that if one does not believe in the Old Testament story of Jonah, which foreshadows Christ's death and burial, leaves room for doubt about the sincerity of one's belief in Jesus.
Anyway, the detail I want to get across here is that Jesus stated that He would be in the "heart of the earth" for "three days and three nights". Let's try to decode what he meant.
HOW LONG WAS JESUS DEAD?
We know that Jesus was crucified on "Preparation Day" (Friday) because of the following Scripture:
"Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for the Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away....But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs."
The Scripture leaves no doubt about the day of the week, Jesus died on Friday. But why did they speak of the Sabbath (Saturday) when it was yet Friday? Well, that's because the Jewish "next day" begins at 6 o'clock in the evening and it was approaching that hour when they requested that His legs be broken. (By the way, the reason for breaking the legs was to hasten death. As long as one could push himself up occasionally when hanging on the cross, he could get another breath of air. But once the legs were broken, death by suffocation would soon occur. However, in Jesus' case, He was already dead.)
Next, they buried Jesus in a borrowed tomb.
"Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus,..." John 19:41 & 42.
HOW LONG WAS JESUS ACTUALLY IN THE TOMB?
"The first day of the week (Sunday) Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Jn.20:1
A short time after this scene, Mary saw Jesus. He had been raised from the dead.
"And when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus." John 20:14.
So, let's count the days Jesus was dead in the "heart of the earth".
From the Scripture’ accounts, it is only possible to conclude that He could have been in the tomb part of Friday, all day Saturday and part of Sunday morning. That's a portion of three different days. But as to nighttime, He was only in the tomb Friday night, Saturday night, but no part of a third night! Where's the missing night??
Some preachers and expositors answer the puzzle this way: according to Jewish custom, any part of a day can be thought of as a "day and night". (Recall, their day begins at 6 p.m. and goes to 6:00 p.m. the next day.) So, since Jesus was dead part of Friday, all day Saturday and part of Sunday, this supposedly satisfies the prediction that Jesus was dead three days and three nights.
But, for me, the little conjunction "and" refutes the Jewish-custom-idea of this "inconsistency". Let's all agree that Jesus knows the difference between day and night. He said "and three nights", strongly indicating three different periods of darkness. If He had wanted to only convey that three different parts of three separate days were His meaning then He would likely have simply said "three days". He wouldn't, I'm convinced, have said "three days AND three nights".
One day while studying another passage of Scripture I saw what I believe is the real answer to the mysterious "missing" night.
THE MISSING NIGHT
The night before He was crucified (Thursday night), Jesus went into the garden of Gethsemane to pray. (See Luke 22:39-46.) He was asking the heavenly Father if the "cup" could be removed from Him — a reference to the shame of the crucifixion and/or His separation from the Father, which He knew was coming the next day. We have no verbal account of the Father's answer to Jesus' request, but what happened next clearly reveals His response:
"And being in agony, He (Jesus) prayed more earnestly. And His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground." Luke 22:44.
The agony Jesus was experiencing in the garden was not from fear of dying. He came to die! As God the Son, Jesus knew this from the foundation of the world. No, it was right there in the garden on Thursday night that God the Father commenced the act of making His Own Son to be sin in our behalf:
"Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us,..." Galatians 3:13.
You have already read the Scriptural answer of the "missing" night but you may have missed it. I overlooked it for years and apparently so does everyone else. Look back at the verse, Luke 22:44, where it says, "...sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground". Can you imagine experiencing agony so severe that one's sweat would literally become drops of blood? That's what happened to Jesus right after He asked the heavenly Father if this part of His earthly ministry could be removed.
The answer to Jesus' question, insofar as humanity is concerned, was unquestionably NO! The only way our sin could be removed was for Jesus to bear that "cup". He had to allow God the Father to literally curse Him! Not to take away what occurred on the cross, but it was in the garden of Gethsemane that Jesus became the "Lamb of God", death beginning when the blood started flowing from His brow.
This was pictured in the Old Testament by Abraham (being a foreshadowing of God the Father) when He raised the knife to slay His son Isaac (who foreshadowed God's Son, Jesus). Now we know God didn't allow Abraham to go through with it. But God did allow the incident to go long enough to establish the clear forecast of what God Himself, and His Son Jesus, would do one day in the future.
Notice how careful the Holy Spirit was to inspire Luke to tell us exactly where the blood fell: "...down to the ground". Why would he be so specific as to where the blood would go? Of course that's where it would fall! This little, but oh-so-profound, phrase satisfies Jesus' earlier prediction that He would be in the "heart of the earth" (the ground) for three days and three nights. The "missing night" of Jesus' being in the heart of the earth is Thursday night! His blood was precious and He shed it willingly.
It's important that we see it was God the Father Who slayed His Own Son. What occurred the next day on the cross continued the process of mankind carrying out his part in rejecting Jesus. But the true sacrifice was God's doing, not man's. Man rejected God in the Garden of Eden, but God reconciled us back to Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was there, on Thursday night, that Jesus pleased the Father and saved us! To be saved, our part now is believing the story.
My friends, Jesus bowed humbly to the Father's "sword", committing Himself totally and unreservedly to the Father's will and discretion. Is He not worthy of our bowing to Him and serving Him? What a Savior! What a God! There's nothing else in the universe remotely like the Gospel as revealed in God's Word for the benefit of mankind.
God’s best to you today,