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Christianity teaches that Jesus died on the cross and on the Third day rose from the dead. His resurection is significant for all sorts of reasons which I don't want to go into in this question. What I'm interested in is why did he rise THREE days later? Why not 4 days, or 2 days?

The only thing I could find is that Jonah was in the fish for 3 days, however this just moves the question to why was Jonah in the fish for 3 days (instead of 2 or 4 or any other number).

Is there any significance to Jesus being dead for three days?

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I may assume it to be a Biblical numerology. There are common numbers like 3,7,12,40,70. –  Mawia Feb 19 '13 at 5:04
    
I recall hearing once that, according to Jewish tradition, the departed spirit would hang around the body after death, and would not fully "move on" for three days. By rising on the third day, Jesus demonstrated that he was not simply reviving, but truly Coming Back From The Dead. Not posting this as an answer because I don't have any references to support it, but if anyone has any information about this idea, feel free to use it. –  Mason Wheeler Feb 19 '13 at 5:19
    
@MasonWheeler I have heard something similar - that you weren't considered dead until the 3rd day, but like you have no evidence to back it up. –  Greg Feb 19 '13 at 5:23
    
@mason I think you might be on to something there but I think at the time of Jesus' death it was more common thought among Jews that the body and soul were one (no sources either). The Sadducees for example, because they did not believe in any kind of resurrection. –  fredsbend Feb 19 '13 at 8:58

3 Answers 3

Numerology in Scripture us often debated, but the number three is significant. It is considered the number of divine perfection, represented in:

  • The Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  • The three-part nature of man - Body, Soul, Spirit
  • Past, Present, Future
  • Time, Space, Matter
  • Depths, width, height
  • Solid, liquid, gas

The number three is seen by some as significant all throughout creation and history. Others remain skeptical.

Specifically, the significance of three days applied to the death, burial, and resurrection is addressed at http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/documents/The%20Symbolic%20Significance%20of%20the%20third%20day.htm

In the symbolic language of the Bible, a three day period points to an act of divine intervention which impacts Salvation History. Genesis 22:4 records that Abraham's journey to Mt. Moriah to offer his son in sacrifice, as commanded by Yahweh, was a three day journey. In the Matthew passage Jesus refers to three days, applying the significance of the three day period to His resurrection and man's redemption. In the Gospels Jesus often spoke of a three day period prophesying His sacrifice and resurrection. (2)

Interestingly, in Judaism, the number three has this significance:

From http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/608781/jewish/On-the-Meaning-of-Three.htm

The number three symbolizes a harmony that includes and synthesizes two opposites. The unity symbolized by the number three isn’t accomplished by getting rid of number two, the entity that caused the discord, and reverting to the unity symbolized by number one. Rather, three merges the two to create a new entity, one that harmoniously includes both opposites.

That can be taken many ways applied to Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. A new harmony between sinful man and righteous God made possible by Christ's atoning death, for example.

It seems likely (but not conclusive if you discount numerology) that there is a significance in the choice of three days.

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So following that through, Jesus being dead for 3 days is because 3 is divine perfection? –  Greg Feb 19 '13 at 5:18
    
@Greg Yeah, thinking the same thing here. It's perfect to be dead? –  fredsbend Feb 19 '13 at 8:41
    
Significant to whom? Only numerologists. A few denominations quickly attack any talk about numerology as occultic and wrong. 7th day adventists I have spoken to feel this way. They say simply 40 means a generation when talking about years, and similar things. However, they accept the 666 for the number of the beast's name like it is kind of a kids game. Certain letters equal certain numbers then add them up. I don't quite see the distinction. Now on three days I thought there was a prophesy in the OT. –  fredsbend Feb 19 '13 at 8:46
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Also, I'm aware that not everyone buys into numerology. However, I answered this way because if you stray away from numerology, the question becomes either unanswerable, or can be answered only with "no, it's not significant." For example, if you take the idea that it's based on the idea that after three days someone was "truly dead", it still only pushes the question back. Why three days to be truly dead? Why not four of five? Numbers had meaning in Judaism that also carried over into Christianity. –  David Stratton Feb 19 '13 at 12:43
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Re-reading the question, I can't see how this could be answered in any way that doesn't involve numerology. It's asking specifically about the significance of three days. Although I admit my first attempt to answer the question, before the edits was pretty bad. I certainly didn't follow through and connect the dots very well. –  David Stratton Feb 20 '13 at 0:39

To understand why Jesus rose on the third day, and not the second or fourth, one must understand the meaning of Jesus' words in Luke 24: 46 and Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15: 4. The third day, or a three day interval, is a prophetic pattern established in the Old Testament, and one example is the account of Jonah that Jesus talks about and that you mentioned in your question. I am currently doing a blog series on this very topic and invite you to follow. Go to http://gospelanalytix.wordpress.com and subscribe to the blog. Check out the 4 posts I currently have on this, under the Category "The Third Day." More posts examining more Old Testament accounts are coming. I do not think a quick and easy answer can be given in a forum such as this, but a quick answer would be the matter is typological in nature, not numerological. God established multiple Old Testament types, which found their fulfillment in Christ's third day resurrection.

Update to original post: In addition to what I said above, Gabriel's response is also true. Jesus had to rise on the third day because He said He would. But I think the reason He chose that day relates to my comments above, regarding His words in Luke 24 and the Old Testmanet prophetic types He was fulfilling. That is the context for understanding why Jesus said three days, as opposed to two or four.

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The significance lies in that Jesus prophesied that He will rise from the dead on the third day.

Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." John 2 : 19

But the temple he had spoken of was his body. John 2 : 21

The false witnesses misquoted Jesus at His trial, not for the days but on who will destroy the 'temple'.

But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.'" Matthew 26: 60 - 61

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This answer is a pretty simple and straightforward one. Good job. –  1Up Apr 27 at 2:25
    
I completely agree that it had to be 3 days because of the old testament (I mentioned Jonah in my question, but could have picked other passages including New Testament passages), but that just moves my question to why was it predicted to be 3 days. The question is What is significant about the number 3? –  Greg Apr 27 at 23:38
    
@Greg, well I guess one cannot argue that they had to be sure that He was really dead, because they already did that on the cross when they pierced Him in the side for the water-blood test. I'm not sure whether it would be healthy for one to obsess over the number 3 as having any more significance than it already has. The same can be said about why Peter had denied Jesus 3 times, or why there was 5/7 loaves and 2/few small fishes. –  Gabriël Wolmarans Apr 27 at 23:48
    
I agree he really was dead on the cross and I also agree we can over-study numbers in the bible. There are a few things that some of us have heard (to do with Jewish tradition of not really being dead until 3 days) but no evidence of it. If the answer is it's 3 because it's 3 then that's ok. –  Greg Apr 28 at 2:49

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