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?

  • I may assume it to be a Biblical numerology. There are common numbers like 3,7,12,40,70.
    – Mawia
    Feb 19, 2013 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, 2013 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, 2013 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.
    – user3961
    Feb 19, 2013 at 8:58
  • Not a single answer had mentioned Hosea 6:2? Wow "2After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him."
    – Joshua
    Mar 28, 2016 at 0:23

6 Answers 6


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

  • This answer is a pretty simple and straightforward one. Good job.
    – user9485
    Apr 27, 2014 at 2:25
  • 1
    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, 2014 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. Apr 27, 2014 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, 2014 at 2:49

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.

  • So following that through, Jesus being dead for 3 days is because 3 is divine perfection?
    – Greg
    Feb 19, 2013 at 5:18
  • 1
    @Greg Yeah, thinking the same thing here. It's perfect to be dead?
    – user3961
    Feb 19, 2013 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.
    – user3961
    Feb 19, 2013 at 8:46
  • 1
    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. Feb 19, 2013 at 12:43
  • 1
    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. Feb 20, 2013 at 0:39

I think there is a much simpler answer to why 3 is an important number and related to resurrection. First of all the concept of resurrection is not a new one. There are numerous cultures that have had Christ-like gods that have been born of a virgin, had 12 disciples or followers, died and rose in 3 days. This is most likely related to an astrological understanding of the stars and of course the almighty sun (son?). Ancient cultures recognized that the sun provided life. The sun in its pattern moves southward across the sky until December 24 or so. It then stops and appears to reverse its course - signaling the coming of spring and new life. Visually the shift in the sun lasts three days. This was known by ancient cultures for thousands of years and is likely the bases for the three day resurrection that has been consistent in the lore of many cultures for thousands of years.


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.


I have read the answers and the commentaries, very detailed and comprehensive. I also agree in the plain answer Jesus used Jonah as an example to fulfil a prophetic meaning and event. Thus it still begs the question WHY (3) days.

It is in the bible, in the order of creation itself. On the third day God (Elohim) separated the waters to create seas and expose the earth. And spoke forth the grass,herbs and the trees that they would bring forth fruit and 'SEED' after 'HIS' kind.

Notice the personal possessive pronoun, not after THEIR kind. Jesus was the SEED of all life from the beginning all things were made by Him, through Him and for Him and nothing that was made was made without Him. Thus He was the SEED that had to fall into the earth and die so that He could produce SEED after His kind...US.

Do you know how long it takes for a seed to germinate? 72 hours, how ironic...or not. God has His way. James 1:18, Of His own will He has begat us with the word of truth (1 Pet.1:23), that we should be a KIND of firstfruits of His creations.


The simplest answer for the “third day resurrection” is “to fulfill all righteousness, according to scripture”!

There are at least 34 references in the New Testament that includes “be fulfilled”, i.e.; Mathew 1:22, 2:15, 2:23, 4:14, 5:18, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 21:4, 24:34, 26:54, 26: 56, 27:35, Mark 13:4, 14:49, Luke 1:20, 21:22, 21:24, 21:32, 22:16, 24:44, John 12:38, 13:18, 15:25, 17:12, 18:9, 18:32, 19:24, 19:28, 19:36, Romans 8:4, Revelations 6:11, 17:17 & 20:3!!

There is an overall pattern within all of Scripture that begins in Genesis and ends in Revelations! In order to establish the pattern to “be fulfilled”; we will only use Old Testament references as the primer pointing to the “third day” question and what is to “be fulfilled” by Jesus The Messiah concerning His death, burial and resurrection from The Gospels!

1) Within the Creation account; the sun, moon and stars were created on the 4th day of creation week, as fore types of; a) The Messiah as The Light of the world, b) The Church to reflect His Light of Redemption, c) the stars as many witnesses to His Life; i.e. “The heavens declare His Glory”! And God rested the seventh day! The 5th & 6th days are fore types of The Church age (note that Eve was taken from Adams side and then God said “very good”) during the 6th day of creation and then God rested the 7th day as the initial pattern for The Sabbath Day. In some Messianic groups it is taught concerning the 7000 year plan of God, as it is not difficult for a discerning Bible student to comprehend, hence the Passion Week Pattern is established, from the beginnings!

2) The sons of Israel, Judah the fourth son to bring forth The Lion of the tribe of Judah and Joseph the seventh son as the suffering servant sold by his brothers; both as fore types of the person and Ministry of the Appointed King to come; 1st and 2nd coming! These can also be placed on a line under the creation account within their respective columns days per birth order. From here we can begin to develop a chart, “line upon line, precept upon precept” from the fore types that are consistent through Scripture and required of The Messiah! Should you desire to proceed with this type of study; just make nine columns beginning with zero, leave room for notes and Scripture references and subsequent numbering through eight! Zero for eternity past and eight for eternity future. From that array of columns; Bible history and eschatology can be developed and understood!

3) In the Exodus account, study the calendar days declared and their instructions and compare to the path of Jesus during Passion Week! A) The lamb brought in on the 10th day (column zero) Ref; Revelations 13:8 “…slain from the foundations…” (before creation from everlasting to everlasting)! The 10th day; both in Exodus and the Triumphal entry were on a weekly Sabbath day introducing The Exodus Passover and Passion Week Passover. He had to borrow a donkey to be “brought in”, to prevent a violation of the Sabbath Day by others during His Redemptive Work! B) Jesus was examined 4 days (columns zero thru three)! Ref; Exodus 12:3-5 and Luke 23:14, C) Jesus was slain on the 14th day of that month (column four). Ref; Exodus 12:6-11, D) As we follow the trek of days out of Egypt where Israel was, a) forced to observe a Sabbath day (column seven, 17th day of that month); with their backs to the sea, Ref; Exodus 14:1-14 “…encamped…”, (Jesus The Messiah; "kept the perfect Sabbath to satisfy the extra-parameters applied by the Pharisees; physically dead in the tomb on that third day), then, b) Exodus 14:15-20 “…The Angel of God…removed…” (3 days after; the lamb was slain, breaking the will of Pharaoh in Egypt)! Now let’s compare that to Matthew 28:1, ”At the end of the Sabbath…”, (the distinguishing line, column separator between 7 & 8) At the end of that forced Sabbath, coming out of Egypt, (Israel latter instructed in the wilderness, Ref; Exodus 16; with manna provisions and in The Law of Moses & 10 Commandments “to be remembered”, Ref; Exodus 20:8 & Leviticus 23). As the waters were parted per obedient Moses instruction (a type of Jesus), The Almighty "Removed"; as the fore type of the resurrection, from leading; Israel out of Egypt from being the pillar of smoke by day and fire by night, to becoming the separating protection, pillar and cloud, between His people and the Egyptian army! In a nutshell, God told Moses, “I got this!”, c)Then compare; Exodus 14:21-31 “…all that night…”, (the evening and morning of the 8th column (the evening and morning of the 18th of that month; sundown Saturday to sunup Sunday) with Mathew 28:6, “…not here…”. He was gone before they got there! It took all night to remove Israel from Egypt, some were closer to the parted waters than others. In synagogues today they practice a liturgy called “Havdalah” which means; to make a difference or distinction, Ref. Acts 20:7-12, “And upon the first of the week...many lights…even till break of day…”! Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, attended Havdalah service at the onset of The Church Age! That night service would coincide with the evening and the mourning of the eighth column!! The early Church maintained Sabbath service and also celebrated The Resurrection on a weekly basis as Havdalah and as in many synagogues today, Havdalah is considered as an extension of The Sabbath until sunrise the following morning, as did Paul

4) Leviticus 23, the same pattern of, months and days with sacrifices pointing to the Ultimate Work of Jesus the Messiah, is prescribed as the message and sequence pattern that must be “proclaimed in their seasons!” Ref. II Timothy 4:2

5) Deuteronomy 18:15 (KJV) 15 The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;

Thus Jesus, The Messiah; fulfilled the path of Moses bringing Israel out of Egypt and also used Jonah as a fore type and subsequently "fulfilled", according to Scripture and His Word, grafting in the gentiles, via “grace thru faith!” “To fulfill all righteousness”, it was required as the patterns presented in Scripture! Therefore Friday crucifixion does not fit the patterns set forth in all of Scripture! The patterns from the beginnings is fourth day, (His Coming into the world, in the Millennial calendar and establishing the pattern for Passion Week, on Wednesday / 4th day) and at the end of the Sabbath Day (3 days and three nights in the grave as a parallel fulfilment to Jonah’s event) not old wives tales, fables, or traditions of men! If Jesus The Messiah; did not fulfill all righteousness according to scripture, there would be doubts concerning His legitimacy and completed work of Redemption!

Should you desire further proof and pattern, an exegetical study of; three days and three nights, third day, and Sabbath, it can be demonstrated by Scripture of all that was accomplished at and thru “The Cross and the Resurrection”. It is not difficult to assemble 200+ references (depending on translation and text) pointing to and confirming this short assessment to the question presented.

Give a boy a fish and he will hunger again! Teach a boy to fish, and he shall grow up to become a fisher of men!

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