If Jesus was crucified on Friday, how could he be “three days and three nights” in the tomb before His resurrection on the first day of the week?

Some suggest a Wednesday crucifixion with a  resurrection on Sabbath evening after sundown. But that is just as problematic time-wise as a Friday crucifixion, since the New Testament says repeatedly  (12 times to be exact) that Christ was raised “the third day” (e.g., Luke 24:21). And this is exactly how many times the NT says that Jesus would be dead “three days” (e.g., Matt. 27:63).

So “three days” versus “the third day”—what’s the solution? Is this a conflict in Scripture?

Not at all. The dilemma is resolved when we consider “inclusive reckoning,” which is how people in Bible days sometimes counted time (and still do in some cultures). Basically it means that part of a whole is counted as a whole.

In other words, if you visited us in Lincoln, Nebraska late Friday and left early Sunday, according to inclusive reckoning you stayed three days. And if you were born the last month of the year, you would be called two years old the next month.

Inclusive reckoning isn’t always used in Scripture, obviously. It’s interesting that when “three days” or “after three days” is used, the context is usually typological (in a comparison with Jonah) or metaphorical (with the temple of His body being destroyed and rebuilt, or with Him buried in the “heart of the earth”—whereas Jesus was actually buried within the earth’s surface).

Taken as a whole, it seems clear that Jesus did rise the third day after death on a Friday afternoon, for the following reasons:  1) use of that timeframe regarding Christ is always literal rather than symbolic; 2) the Bible notes that the Sabbath over which Jesus rested was “a high day” (John 19:31)—that is, it had double significance that year with the Passover; and 3) it preserves the parallel Sabbath memorials of Christ’s life-giving accomplishments, in which He rested on the seventh day after competing His provision of life (Eden) and new life (Calvary) on the respective Friday afternoons.