Jesus’ resurrection is a vitally important aspect of Christianity. Unfortunately, many don’t understand these biblical teachings about the resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave is a central teaching of Christianity. It demonstrates that Jesus was indeed the Son of God (Romans 1:4).
The Greek word translated “resurrection” means “a raising up . . . a rising from the dead” (Thayer’s Greek Definitions).
The apostle Paul emphasized the importance of Christ’s resurrection when he wrote: “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty . . . And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17).
Although instruction to observe Christ’s resurrection is not found in Scripture, millions of professing Christians go to Easter sunrise services to commemorate the event.
Based on the fact that it was early Sunday morning when Jesus’ followers discovered that His body was no longer in the tomb, the common but mistaken belief is that Jesus rose on Sunday morning and that Sunday is, therefore, the appropriate day of the week for worship.
Unfortunately, there is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding about the timing and significance of Christ’s resurrection.
In this article we will delve into three important biblical teachings associated with Jesus’ miraculous rising from the grave:
- Jesus didn’t die on Friday and wasn’t resurrected on Sunday morning.
- Jesus really died, and His physical body was changed into spirit.
- Jesus was the firstfruits of the dead.
Truth 1: Jesus didn’t die on Friday and wasn’t resurrected on Sunday morning.
The traditional Good Friday–Easter Sunday timeline for the death and resurrection of Jesus isn’t supported in Scripture. This misunderstanding arises due to both a failure to note Jesus’ clear statement about how long He would be in the grave and a lack of understanding of God’s annual holy days.
Prior to His crucifixion, some of the Jewish religious leaders asked Jesus to show them a sign—a miracle—to prove that He was the Son of God.
Jesus gives a sign
In response, Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 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 12:39-40).
Basic math reveals that there aren’t three days and three nights between late Friday afternoon (just before sundown) and Sunday morning. There aren’t even three partial days and partial nights during this period of time, as some try to interpret Jesus’ words.
Since Jesus gave this length of time as the sign of His identity, we need to take His words literally—He would be in the grave a full 72 hours.
As Bullinger’s Companion Bible notes regarding Jesus’ statement: “When the number of ‘nights’ is stated as well as the number of ‘days,’ then the expression ceases to be an idiom, and becomes a literal statement of fact” (Appendix 144, p. 170).
Weekly Sabbaths and annual Sabbaths
Further misunderstanding arises over the fact that Jesus was buried on “the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath” (Mark 15:42). People unfamiliar with God’s annual holy days assume this had to be the day before Saturday.
What many do not realize is that the word Sabbath can refer to the weekly Sabbath, which always falls on a Saturday, or to any of the annual Sabbaths, which can fall on other days of the week.
As John explained, this “Preparation Day” was before “a high day” Sabbath—that is, an annual Sabbath (John 19:31).
Recognizing that Jesus was in the tomb a full 72 hours and was resurrected by Sunday morning would indicate that Jesus had to be crucified on a Wednesday. This aligns with the Preparation Day for the annual Sabbath of the First Day of Unleavened Bread.
When was Jesus resurrected?
The Gospel writers tell us that the women came to Jesus’ tomb early Sunday morning as it began to dawn. John notes that Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb “while it was still dark” and saw that Jesus was no longer there (John 20:1-2).
But this account does not say that Jesus was resurrected at sunrise on Sunday morning. And it does not say that He rose at any other time on the first day of the week. What these women discovered was that by early Sunday morning, prior to sunrise, Jesus had already risen.
So when did Jesus rise from the tomb?
Remember, Matthew 12:40 records Jesus saying He would be in the grave “three days and three nights.” Other passages read “after three days,” “the third day” and “in three days” (Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22; John 2:19).
These four slightly different expressions all precisely harmonize if Jesus was buried close to sundown on Wednesday and was resurrected close to sundown on Saturday, exactly 72 hours after He had been placed in the tomb.
For an in-depth exploration of the time Jesus was in the grave, see “How Do You Count Three Days and Three Nights?”
Truth 2: Jesus really died, and His physical body was changed into spirit.
At first glance, the understanding that Jesus died and that His physical body was transformed into a glorified, immortal form may appear straightforward. Unfortunately, belief in the nonbiblical teaching that humans have an immortal soul has led to alternative theories that deviate from the biblical record.
In brief, when the Bible uses the word soul, it is speaking of a living creature that can die. The creation of Adam exemplifies this, as God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [soul in the King James Version]” (Genesis 2:7).
Adam was not created with an immortal soul. Instead, he was told that if he disobeyed God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die (verse 17). The Bible does not say we continue to live in a nonphysical state. When people die, all conscious thought ceases (Psalm 6:5; Ecclesiastes 9:10) and their bodies decompose and return to dust (Genesis 3:19).
As God stated, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20).
Echoing this timeless truth, Paul taught that, due to sin, all humans (except Jesus, 2 Corinthians 5:21) have earned the wages of death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Death is the cessation of existence. The contrasting gift offered by God is “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Several Old Testament passages show that faithful people understood that, in order to live again, they would need to be resurrected from the grave (Job 14:13-15; Psalm 16:10). This was in contrast to the beliefs of pagan peoples, such as the Egyptians, who believed humans had an immortal soul.
The Trinity mistakenly incorporates the immortality of the soul teaching
While the Bible contradicts the idea that man has an immortal soul, the influence of this mistaken belief became part of the Trinitarian theory of the nature of God. (Note that this theological argument is not taught by the Bible but developed in the fourth century.)
The miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave after three days and three nights gives us hope that we, too, can anticipate being resurrected from the grave with spiritual bodies.Contrary to the biblical teaching that Jesus experienced genuine death, proponents of the Trinity suggest that only His physical body died, while His spirit continued to live. According to this theory, Jesus had two natures: a physical nature that died and a spiritual nature that endured as part of the eternal Trinity.
This teaching raises troubling questions regarding the significance of Jesus’ death for our sins. Did His death serve as a genuine sacrifice, or was it a staged spectacle? If Jesus remained alive as a spirit being, why was there a need for the resurrection of His physical body?
The Bible provides clarity on these questions. When Jesus came to earth as a human, He came “in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).
When Jesus said He would be in the grave for three days and three nights, He didn’t say that only one of His natures would die or that He would be only partially dead. Jesus was fully dead in the tomb.
Additionally, if Jesus had continued to exist as spirit after His crucifixion, the logical inference would be that He could have resurrected His own body. Yet the Scriptures consistently state that God the Father raised Him from the dead (Acts 3:15; 4:10; Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 15:15; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).
What happened to Jesus’ body?
When the women went into the tomb early on Sunday morning, they “did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Luke 24:3).
After Mary Magdalene reported that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb, Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves. When Peter went into the tomb, “he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple . . . saw and believed” (John 20:6-8).
What did this disciple believe? That Jesus had been resurrected!
In a footnote on John 20:7, The Companion Bible explains that John’s original wording “implies that the cloth had been folded round the head as a turban is folded, and that it lay still in the form of a turban. The linen clothes also lay exactly as they were when swathed round the body. The Lord had passed out of them, not needing, as Lazarus (11:44), to be loosed. It was this sight that convinced John (v. 8).”
The Bible says that when Jesus was resurrected, He became “a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). Jesus no longer had a physical body, but instead had a spiritual body.
After His resurrection, Jesus on two occasions simply appeared to His disciples who were together behind closed doors (John 20:19, 26). Though now spirit, He could also appear as a human with the wounds He suffered during crucifixion, eat a meal and then vanish (Luke 24:30-31; John 20:27; 21:1-14).
Emphasizing this transformation, Paul wrote: “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?’ . . . It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:35, 44).
We can rest assured that Jesus was mortal and that He truly died for our sins.
After Jesus had been in the grave for three days and three nights, God the Father resurrected Him back to eternal life. At that moment, His physical body was transformed into a glorious, spiritual body.
Truth 3: Jesus was the firstfruits of the dead.
Many are aware that Jesus was resurrected from the grave. But how many know that He was the first of many others who will also be resurrected?
Our only hope is to also be resurrected!
Paul proclaimed this profound truth: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
The biblical teaching of the resurrections is an integral part of God’s plan of salvation for all mankind. It is how God is offering all humans the opportunity to become part of His eternal family.
This plan includes three distinctive resurrections, each based upon an individual’s response to God’s commands. For a deeper exploration of these resurrections, see “What Are the Resurrections?”
The miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave after three days and three nights gives us hope that we, too, can anticipate being resurrected from the grave with spiritual bodies.
Let’s understand and appreciate the profound implications of Christ’s resurrection from the grave so we can have stronger faith in God and in the resurrections to come.