Question: "What was the significance of Jesus being dead for three days?"
Answer: There are several reasons it is significant Jesus was dead for three days before His resurrection. First, resurrection after three days of death proved to Jesus’ opponents that He truly rose from the dead. Why? According to Jewish tradition, a person’s soul/spirit remained with his/her dead body for three days. After three days, the soul/spirit departed. If Jesus’ resurrection had occurred on the same day or even the next day, it would have been easier for His enemies to argue He had never truly died. Significantly, Jesus waited several days after Lazarus had died before He came to resurrect Lazarus so that no one could deny the miracle (John 11:38–44).
A second reason it was important for Jesus to be dead for three days was to fulfill biblical prophecy. Jesus personally claimed He would be dead three days (Matthew 12:40; 16:21; 27:63; John 2:19). Also, some point to Hosea 6:1–3 as a prophecy of the Messiah’s resurrection after three days: “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” This may also be the passage Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 15:4 that Jesus “was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
The three days were significant in other ways as well. Jesus died on a Friday, Nisan 14, the day when the Passover lamb was sacrificed. His death represents the death of a perfect, unblemished sacrifice on our behalf. His resurrection on the third day took place on the first day of the week, illustrating a new beginning and new life to all who trust in Him.
So, why was it important for Jesus to be dead for three days before His resurrection? (1) So the unbelieving Jews could not deny that Jesus had truly been dead. (2) Because three days is what Jesus Himself prophesied. Aside from these two reasons, the Word of God does not explicitly state the reason for the necessity of three days between Jesus’ death and resurrection.