In the first mention of His sufferings (Matt. 16:21) the Lord mentions the fact that He would be "raised again the third day". In John 2:19 He had already mentioned "three days" as the time after which He would raise up "the Temple of His body".
The expression occurs eleven times with reference to His resurrection (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19. Mark 9:31; 10:34. Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 46. Acts 10:40. 1Cor. 15:4.).
We have the expression "after three days" in Mark 8:31, used of the same event.
This shows that the expression "three days and three nights" of Matt. 12:40 must include "three days" and the three preceding "nights". While it is true that a "third day" may be a part of three days, including two nights; yet "after three days", and "three nights and three days" cannot possibly be so reckoned.
This full period admits of the Lord's resurrection on the third of the three days, each being preceded by a night, as shown in Ap. 144 and 156.
But, why this particular period? Why not two, or four, or any other number of days? Why "three" and no more nor less?
1. We notice that the man who contracted defilement through contact with a dead body was to purify himself on the third day (Num. 19:11, 12).
2. The flesh of the peace offering was not to be kept beyond the third day, but was then to be burnt (Lev. 7:17, 18) as unfit for food.
3. John Lightfoot (1602-75) quotes a Talmudic tradition that the mourning for the dead culminated on "the third day", because the spirit was not supposed to have finally departed till then (Works, Pitman's ed., vol. xii. pp. 351-353).
4. Herodotus testifies that embalmment did not take place until after three days (Herod. ii. 86-89).
5. The Jews did not accept evidence as to the identification of a dead body after three days.
This period seems, therefore, to have been chosen by the Lord (i.e. Jehovah, in the type of Jonah) to associate the fact of resurrection with the certainty of death, so as to preclude all doubt that death had actually taken place, and shut out all suggestion that it might have been a trance, or a mere case of resuscitation. The fact that Lazarus had been dead "four days already" was urged by Martha as a proof that Lazarus was dead, for "by this time he stinketh" (John 11:17, 39).
We have to remember that corruption takes place very quickly in the
East, so that "the third day" was the proverbial evidence as to the certainty
that death had taken place, leaving no hope.