That is a good question. I can think of at least THREE REASONS why it had to be THREE DAYS.

1) To FULFILL PROPHECY. In Matthew 12:40 Jesus said, “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” (NKJV). Jesus was referring to Jonah 1:17 and it is obvious that Jonah was a PICTURE of the Lord Jesus. Jonah being in the belly of the fish for THREE DAYS foreshadowed Jesus being in the grave for THREE DAYS. In Jonah 2:10 we read, “So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” This illustrates “the resurrection of Christ on the THIRD DAY.” Jesus Himself foretold that He would rise again from the dead on the THIRD DAY in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple, and in THREE DAYS I will raise it up.” The Jews mistakenly thought He was referring to the temple in Jerusalem, but the Holy Spirit adds in verse 21, “But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” The Apostle Paul knew that Scripture was being fulfilled when he wrote 1st Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He ROSE AGAIN THE THIRD DAY ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES.”

2) To PROVE HE HAD TRULY DIED. There is a Jewish tradition that holds “a person’s spirit/soul remained in his body for three days.” Of course this is NOT TRUE, for one’s spirit/soul actually departs the moment one dies (see Luke 23:46 with John 19:30), but if Jesus had not waited THREE DAYS to rise again His enemies could have said that He had not actually died. The raising of Lazarus in John chapter 11 is a good example of what we are saying, for Jesus purposely waited until Lazarus had been in the grave FOUR DAYS before He raised him from the dead. Verse 17 says, “So when Jesus came, He found that He had already been in the tomb FOUR DAYS.” No Jew would question that Lazarus had TRULY DIED and thus no Jew could question that raising Lazarus from the dead was a TRUE MIRACLE (a miracle which brought glory to God…see verse 4).

3) To PREVENT JESUS FROM SEEING CORRUPTION. In Psalm 16:10 we have a prophecy that predicted the resurrection of Christ and it states, “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” God would NOT allow the body of His Holy Son to see corruption so He raised Him from the dead on the THIRD DAY. Again, in thinking of Lazarus being in the grave FOUR DAYS we read this in John 11:39, “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there is a stench, for HE HAD BEEN DEAD FOUR DAYS.’” The body started to decay AFTER THREE DAYS. As we said earlier, “God would NOT allow the body of His Holy Son to see corruption so He raised Him from the day on the THIRD DAY.”  (373.3)  (DO)