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This verse is usually interpreted as a prophetic word by Jesus about Himself:

Matthew 12:40: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.—King James Version

Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday night. On Sunday morning he was discovered by Mary as a resurrected One, which means that only two nights had passed: one from Friday to Saturday, and the other one from Saturday to Sunday.

Can anyone please explain to me, in simple terms, how is it three days and three nights?

  • Brilliant - Seeing as your question asked for a simple explanation - I provided one that doesn't require charts, or complicated explanations dependent on religious beliefs in Rabbinic authority. However, this question actually exists already in different questions posted in this community. – elika kohen Aug 31 '17 at 23:19
  • I posted kind of a follow up question here: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/60881/… – vonjd Nov 26 '17 at 10:33
  • Numbers 19:11,12 (NIV) “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean". I read this passage in Numbers last night, and my thoughts were immediately drawn to the three days of Jesus in "the heart of the earth", and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. There could be a connection. – Constantthin Dec 9 '18 at 2:24
  • @Constantthin - Can you, please, elaborate? How do you think they could connect? – brilliant Dec 9 '18 at 2:33
  • The numbers 3 and 7, for starters. Is it just a coincidence? Secondly, being transformed from death to life, seems to be another thing that they have in common. – Constantthin Dec 9 '18 at 4:06

10 Answers 10

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The Idea in Brief

Jesus compared his death to Jonah, who was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights (Matt 12:40). Jonah had related his ordeal not only in terms of having been swallowed by the great fish but also as having been "at the roots of the mountains" (Jonah 2:6); that is, Jonah stated that "the earth with its bars was around" him in the confines of Sheol (Jonah 2:6), because he was physically dead in the belly of the great fish. That is, Jonah was not in the ground (the grave), but his body was under water and his soul was in the heart of the earth (and thus in Sheol).

Peter indicates that Jesus too was in Hades (Acts 2:27 and Acts 2:31), which is Sheol in the LXX, and Paul indicates that Jesus was "in the lower parts of the earth" (Eph 4:9). In other words, like Jonah, Jesus was in the belly of the earth (Sheol) for three days and three nights.

The comparison to Jonah avoids ambiguity with the ground, because the body of Jonah was not buried in the ground when he entered Sheol, which in the Hebrew Bible is often equated with "the pit" in the ground where the human corpse is laid; thus the account of Jonah enables us to understand that Sheol includes some location "in the heart of the earth" as Jesus said (or to use Jonah's words, "at the roots of the mountains"). Thus Jesus entered the same place as Jonah (Sheol/Hades) for three days and three nights.

Finally, Jesus ate the Passover with his disciples in the early hours of the Day of Preparation, which was late evening (because this Hebrew day had begun at sunset). During the midnight hours He was betrayed and arrested. That is, within 12 hours (on the same Day of Preparation) he was hanging on the cross, where He died before sunset that began the actual Passover. Please see the illustration, below.

enter image description here

The Thursday here was the Day of Preparation, and therefore the Passover (which starts the First Day of the FEAST of Unleavened Bread and is considered an automatic Sabbath day) had began at sunset on Thursday and continued until Friday evening, when the "normal" Sabbath had begun. Thus the Passover (First Day of the FEAST of Unleavened Bread) combined with the "normal" Sabbath created a 48-hour Sabbath, since the Passover on this particular year had occurred on the very day just before the "normal" Sabbath.

In other words, the body of Jesus lay in the grave for three days and three nights while at the same time his soul remained in Sheol/Hades for three days and three nights.

Discussion

Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples on the late evening of Wednesday, which were the first few hours of the Day of Preparation, which had begun at sunset. That is, in the Hebrew Bible there are two evenings: one is late afternoon, and one is early night.

Exodus 12:5-6 (NASB)
5 Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight.

The Hebrew phrase "at twighlight" is literally, between the evenings (בֵּין הָעַרְבָּיִם). Thus sunset/twilight occurred between the evening (late afternoon) and the evening (of early night). We see the same dichotomy of evenings in the Gospel accounts.

For example, the following passage is clear to indicate that the second meaning of evening is in mind.

Mark 1:32 (NASB)
32 When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed.

We see the same dichotomy of evenings in the Gospel of Matthew. The following two verses in the same context provide Evening #1 (late afternoon) and Evening #2 (early night), respectively.

Matthew 14:15 (NASB)
15 When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Matthew 14:23 (NASB)
23 After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.

In other words, Jesus fed them before sunset (Evening #1), and after sunset, he went to pray by himself (Evening #2).

So consistent with the Hebrew Bible, the Christian New Testament uses the same idea of two evenings: one is the late afternoon, and one is the early night. As the following will show, this confusion has contributed to the misconception that Jesus was crucified on Friday, which is NOT supported by the Scripture.

Matthew 26:20 (NASB)
20 Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples.

Jesus was in the upper room during Evening #2 (early night) on the 14th of Nisan with his disciples eating the Passover meal, which as just noted was the first day of Unleavened Bread (also known as the Day of Preparation). It a technical sense, Jesus ate the Passover on the precise day of the 14th of Nisan, but not at the end of the day as was common; instead he ate the meal almost 18 hours before most people ate the meal toward the end of the day (sunset). So by the time daylight broke on the 14th of Nisan (Thursday), Jesus was going to be carrying his cross to Golgotha, so that he would become the Passover Lamb of God that was to be sacrificed before sunset.

So, we read the following in the Gospel of Matthew regarding the eating of the Passover meal on the first day of Unleavened Bread -

Matthew 26:17 (NASB)
17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”

Sunset had already passed (Evening #1), and the first day of Unleavened Bread was therefore the 14th of Nisan according to Moses.

Exodus 12:18 (NASB)
18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.

So the 14th of Nisan was the first day of Unleavened Bread, however, the following day (15th of Nisan) was the first day of the FEAST of Unleavened Bread, which was an automatic Sabbath.

Leviticus 23:6 (NASB)
6 Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.

In other words, the first day of Unleavened Bread (14 Nisan), when Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples, was different than the first day of the FEAST of Unleavened Bread (15 Nisan). This confusion has also contributed to the misconception that Jesus was crucified on Friday, which is NOT supported by the Scripture.

In order to close the circle we read the following:

John 18:28 (NASB)
28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.

This verse is very explicit that Jesus had to be crucified on the Day of Preparation, because at sunset the actual Passover would begin (which, as just noted, would be the first day of the FEAST of Unleavened Bread and thus an automatic Sabbath). The Jewish leaders did not want to defile themselves by coming into contact with the Roman Praetorium, because the Passover would start at sunset.

Conclusion

In summary, the plain and normal reading of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament indicate that Jesus was hanged on a cross on early Thursday (which was the mid-point of the 14th of Nisan), which was the first day of Unleavened Bread (or Day of Preparation). Before sunset he died on the cross as the Passover Lamb of God and was then interred in the tomb, where his body remained for three days and three nights (while his soul, however, was in Sheol/Hades). The importance of this symmetry of dates is very critical, because of the alignment with the Exodus account in the Hebrew Bible, when Moses led the Israelites from the bondage of sin, and presented the Old Covenant 50 days later on the Feast of Weeks. That is, Jesus led Israel from the bondage of death, and presented the New Covenant 50 days later on the Feast of Pentecost. (Please click here.) The plain and normal reading of Scripture enables us to see these parallels in plain light.

Finally and not least important, we noted the confusion of the two "evenings" in the Hebrew Bible (and carried into the Christian New Testament) combined with the confusion between the first day of Unleavened Bread with the first day of the FEAST of Unleavened Bread. The confusion has led to the mistaken notion that Jesus was crucified on Friday, and, therefore very unfortunately uncouples the rich meanings and parallels of the Hebrew Bible with the Christian New Testament.

  • John 19:31 "Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. ".. I could see a word special sabbath in NIV and HCSB, may indicate a sabbath different from normal sabbath (friday evening to Saturday evening) . Also Mathew 27:62 "The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate". Matthew does not mention as Sabbath, but as " the one after Preparation Day". – Jamess Mar 23 '16 at 3:57
  • But Mathew 28:1 starts as "After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week", so I feel credence to this line of argument that there was 'special Sabbath" and a 'normal sabbath', thus two continuous days of rest. Mathew avoids the use of the word, on the day of Sabbath in Mathew 27:62, but gives an explanation to the day where as he dont have this problem for Mathew 28:1 says it was a Sunday. – Jamess Mar 23 '16 at 3:57
  • Wow, when even "three days and three nights" (which seems pretty clear to me) needs pages and pages of interpretation I wonder what else, that seems clear, has a completely different meaning. I wonder why God is just not able to communicate properly so that simple minded people like me (I am only a professor) could understand him... – vonjd Nov 11 '17 at 9:52
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A little bit of Friday, Saturday and a little bit of Sunday could be properly describe as three days and nights in Biblical language. We think of days as 24 hour periods but they included in their common expressions a 'day' as 'any part of a day, or 'touching any part of a calendar day'. The term 'three days and three nights' was a Jewish expression that means 'any period that touches three days, including the nights.' Therefore even 26 hours could be three days and nights, if one hour touched a different day on each end.

Some people have been perplexed over this phrase and invent alternate theories on which day what exactly happened around the death of Christ, but I have noticed most who study it deeply seem to revert back to the traditional view that Christ died on a Friday and rose on a Sunday.

However just to be thorough, it must be admitted there is 'some difficulty' in being assured of this answer purely based on the reference to a Hebraism, because it involves trying to trace potentially lost Hebrew meanings two thousand years later. But at a surface level we can at least find very similar instances. For example, a young man fell sick in 1 Samuel 30:12 and he had not eaten any food or drunk any water for ‘three days and three nights’ in the following verse he describes these ‘three days and three nights’ as simply ‘three days’ for he says, ‘I became ill three days ago’. Does three days mean the same thing as three days and night? Since we know that three days could be three periods of time that touch three days when only two nights are within this span, can we infer the phrase ‘three days’ is only different to ‘three days and three nights’ in word but not meaning?

In some way, whether convinced or not, it does not matter to me on two accounts. First, it seems to that early Hebrews and early Christians did not much have difficulty over this phrase. Nobody said, ‘Hey, wait a minute—you rose too early, Jesus.’ I may be wrong but the questioning about when Jesus died and when he rose seems to be a more recent doubt based on ignorance of historical modes of expression. Second, even if it turns out that this Hebraism can only apply to three days and should not extend to three days and three nights, maybe the agony of Christ in the garden is considered by scriptures as the begging of his actual descent into the crucifixion and the 'heart of the earth', not the actual nails being pound into his flesh?

It seems on such trivial matters we need not questions a tradition that Catholics and Protestants have not bothered to question in earlier generations without more to go on. For proof that a Hebrew day was merely a part of a day can be found in this sample article: Three Days and Three Nights

  • 4
    Good answer! I'll defer to GoneQuiet on the Hebrew, but in Greek "three days and three nights" certainly had the idiomatic connotation you've mentioned. Early Christians who translated the gospels from Greek to Latin and later to other languages explained the phrase precisely on those grounds. – Bruce Alderman Aug 17 '12 at 5:47
  • Wow, when even "three days and three nights" (which seems pretty clear to me) needs pages and pages of interpretation I wonder what else, that seems clear, has a completely different meaning. I wonder why God is just not able to communicate properly so that simple minded people like me (I am only a professor) could understand him... – vonjd Nov 11 '17 at 9:49
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They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a calendar that presents one one theory of how the events may have transpired that would have been three full days and three full nights.

Note the extra day between the Sabbaths during which the women buy and prepare spices.
this is another theoretical calendar proposed by some that sees an extra day between the Sabbaths during which the women buy and prepare spices.

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Matthew 12:38-40 is often quoted in the context of the timing of Jesus death, burial and resurrection, but seldom is the cryptic nature of Jesus’ reply to the request by his enemies for a sign, alluded to (e.g. the phrase “the heart of the earth” is not a literal phrase). Also, seldom is sufficient attention drawn to precisely who it is that Jesus is answering (i.e. giving this cryptic sign to).

Jesus refers to those requesting a sign as: “a wicked and adulterous generation” and he infers that no clear sign will be given them. He actually states that "there shall no sign be given ...” except this cryptic sign with its deliberately mysterious link to Jonah’s three days and three nights spent in the belly of the great fish. In short, Jesus never claimed that he would be dead and in the grave for three days and three nights. This is only an interpretation of the cryptic sign he gave, but it is not the best way to understand his response to the "evil and adulterous generation" demanding a sign from him.

In prophesying his death, burial and resurrection, Jesus uses a number of phrases: “after three days”, “in three days”, "on the third day” all of which refer to the same period of time. So, for example, the phrase, “after three days” has the same meaning as "on the third day" (i.e. ‘after the third day has arrived’ - see Luke 2:41-46 for an example of this use of the phrase) or, as elsewhere stated "in three days."

This phrase "on the third day" is the one used by Luke when he records for us the day Jesus rose from the dead (it's also the phrase preferred by Peter in Acts 10:40 and by Paul in 1 Cor 15:4). Jesus was raised, Luke tells us, on "the third day" which happened to be the day we call Sunday, the morning of the first day of the week (Luke 24:21), The day of crucifixion (i.e. Friday) being the first day, Saturday being the second etc.

Ironically, given the emphasis often placed, by some, of the need for a precise 72 hour (3 days and 3 nights) period (based on their interpretations of Mat 12:38-40); a Wednesday view leaves you with 4 nights and 3 days and a Thursday view leaves you with 3 nights and 2 days. Thankfully, the timeframe proposed by proponents of such views is neither required nor supported by scripture.

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It would appear that the crucifixion would have happened on Thursday, rather than Friday. How could the next day be Sabbath? The next day was Passover, a high holy day which was treated as a Sabbath. This would have required two Sabbath day observances back to back and would make sense as to why the women were making their way to the tomb early Sunday morning to finish the embalming rituals. This way Jesus would be in the tomb on Thursday late afternoon (counted as one day), Thursday night/Friday morning (night 1), Friday day (day 2), Friday night/Saturday morning (night 2), Saturday day (day 3), and Saturday night/Sunday morning (night 3). The women were coming to the tomb before the day had really dawned and found the tomb empty, evidencing that Jesus had arisen before the daylight hours of Sunday (the first day of the week).

  • Please consider posting an answer to this question if you have studied this in enough detail to answer objections to this view. – Jas 3.1 Jun 11 '13 at 21:58
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    Interestingly, if you take this approach to the question, you have a new problem to address, because if you shift Jesus' crucifixion back a day, rather than Him being dead 3 days and 2 nights, you have Him dead 4 days and 3 nights. If you go with Him being in the tomb instead, then you only have him in the tomb 2 days, because He had already risen before the last day began! – Jas 3.1 Jun 11 '13 at 22:01
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1. Question:

How is it that Jesus could be “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”?

This question was also answered, here:

Do Idioms Used in the Crucifixion Narrative Resolve the “3 Day/3 Night” Objections?

Note: This is temporarily posted at: Calculating the Exact Day of Jesus' Crucifixion, and includes the U.S. Naval Observatory's data on how these exact dates were derived based on their lunar event calculations.


2. Answer - The Double Sabbath Method:

  • Day/Night 1: Thursday - Daybreak Trial, and Crucifixion, Thursday Night & Friday between 12am and Daybreak.
    Note: Any part of this day, would have been considered a complete day.
  • Day/Night 2: Friday Day, Friday Night & Saturday between 12am and Daybreak.
  • Day/Night 3: Saturday Day, Saturday Night & Sunday between 12am and Daybreak.

If Jesus was Crucified Thursday Night, then that would mean that "Friday" must have been also considered a "Sabbath" in addition to "Saturday".

This could only happen if, and only if, that Friday might have been the first day of Passover. So, since Passover follows the Vernal Equinox according to Biblical Law, then:

We should know the exact date of Jesus' crucifixion:

  • Crucifixion - C.E. 33, April 30th, Thursday; New Moon - April 17, 7 p.m., Friday; Vernal Equinox - March 22, 10 p.m., Wednesday

Another date is also possible, though perhaps more problematic:

  • Crucifixion - C.E. 30, April 27th, Thursday; New Moon - April 21, 9 a.m., Friday; Vernal Equinox - March 22, 3 p.m., Sunday

Since a Biblical Day, (not the Halakhic reckoning of a day), and especially the Temple reckoning of a day, began at Sunrise, then no day-time on Sunday would have been considered part of the "Three Days and Three Nights", since Jesus was resurrected at "Daybreak".

Occam's Razor - The simplest explanation is probably the right one.


3. Invalid Presuppositions:

Jesus, the Disciples, and the Sadducees, outright rejected the Oral Law, and Pharasaic tradition - So, then there is zero basis for any Christian to believe in Rabbinic traditions - if not affirmed in the New Testament.

If not presupposed - then there are no conflicts in any of the Passion narratives, and they are all very easily reconciled.

Many of the presuppositions, in other answers, rely on unsubstantiated claims:

  1. The modern Christian belief that New Testament writers observed the Rabbinical / Pharasaic reckoning that a day began at sunset, rather than the temple reckoning that a Biblical Day begins at sunrise. See: Luke 23:54 - Historical Evidence that the Jewish Calendar Day began at Sunrise?.

  2. The anachronistic Christian belief that Jesus was crucified on a "Friday" - believing that only "Saturdays" can be considered Sabbaths, (The first day of Passover - regardless of the day it falls on, is always a Sabbath - meaning that "Friday" could have been a Sabbath too. See: Do Idioms Used in the Crucifixion Narrative Resolve the “3 Day/3 Night” Objections?.

So, any "supposed-contradiction" exists only because of dogmatic, unsubstantiated beliefs - by Christians - to believe in Rabbinic Authority, which is very inconsistent with Jesus' condemnation of their authority as "Synagogues of Satan".

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A few thoughts...There were more than Jesus **in the heart of the earth.**Everyone who died is there awaiting the final judgement. When the body dies the spirit is still alive. Think of Death as "separation" from your body. There are two deaths in scripture. "The first death" and "The second death" (death of the spirit...eternal separation)

1.Jesus preached to the souls in prison, so apparently there is a holding place awaiting the final judgement.

18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the spirit, 19in which He also went and preached to the spirits in prison 20who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, while the ark was being built. In the ark a few people, only eight souls, were saved through water.…

  1. Jonas' "Water Burial" **[Baptism] represents death, as does noah's ark, as does God parting the red sea for the Israelites to cross. Jesus spoke of his suffering death as being a "baptism" he had to go through.

  2. Baptism for us represents sharing in his death, burial and resurrection. "if we die with him, we will also live with him"

    1. When Jesus rose from the dead there were many people who rose up with him and were walking around on the earth. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.* (Matthew 27:51–53)

    2. Its possible that 3 days dead was enough time to insure that he was truly dead and not just appearing to be dead. I imagine that a body would start to stink or decompose quickly. And many people would claim that jesus wasn't really dead but only appearing dead when he rose again.

    3. when believers die their spirit goes to be with the lord ***"To be absent from the Body is to be present with the Lord*", but their bodies will rise from the grave changed "in the twinkling of an eye". A mystery here "we shall not all sleep..."

Revelation 21:8 explains the second death in the most detail: *“The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. **This is the second death.”*******

  • (1) "When Jesus rose from the dead there were many people who rose up with him and were walking around on the earth" - How do you prove that in Matthew 27:51–53 we are told about the physical city of Jerusalem and not the heavenly Jerusalem that is described later in Galations 4:26 and the book of Revalation? I heard that kind of interpretation. Some of the points that I remember as backing this "heavenly" interretation are the fact that thorought his whole Gospel Matthew never refered to physical Jerusalem as "holy city", and – brilliant Nov 29 '18 at 7:19
  • (2) the fact that none of the other three evangelists report the entering of physical Jerusalem by many ressurected saints right after Jesus' death on the cross, an event that would have definitely been witnessed and remembered by many and would have been worthy of mention in the account of Jesus crucifiction in the Gospels. – brilliant Nov 29 '18 at 7:20
-1

"The heart of the earth" is not a reference to the grave; it is a reference to the city of Jerusalem.

In the previous chapter we see Jesus calling out various cities where he performed mighty works, but they didn't repent of their wicked ways. And he compares them to other cities, making mention of these other cities being shown more tolerance at the day of judgment than those in which he performed these mighty works:

Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:

Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.

And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. (Matthew 11:20-24 KJV)

Now, consider the immediate context:

Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:38-40 KJV)

When those of the scribes & Pharisees asked to see a sign, Jesus said there would be no sign given to them, except for the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Many assume the sign he is speaking of is the fact that Jonah was in the belly of the whale, but if we keep reading, it becomes more clear that the sign is that the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah.

The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.

He contrasts "the men of Nineveh" with "this generation" saying those of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, yet while one who was greater than Jonah was in their midst, and they evidently were not repenting.

Now when Jesus refers to Jonah being three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, he contrasts that with his being three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

The Greek word translated as "earth" is γῆ (G1093) and can also be translated as "land".

The Greek words translated as "belly" (G2836) and "heart" (G2588) are two different words referring to two different parts of the body. The former refers to "a cavity" in the middle of the body according to Thayer's Greek definitions; it is often translated as "womb" in the New Testament when speaking of women. The latter refers to "the heart", which is a vital body organ, through which all lifeblood flows; it is the life center.

Thayer's Greek Definitions says:

G2588 καρδία kardia Thayer Definition: 1) the heart 1a) that organ in the animal body which is the centre of the circulation of the blood, and hence was regarded as the seat of physical life 1b) denotes the centre of all physical and spiritual life

According to Google's "define" feature, our English term "heartland" means "the central or most important part of a country, area, or field of activity." or "the center of support for a belief or movement."

While I don't typically refer to definitions of English words when I study the Bible, I cite this to demonstrate where we get that term from. The meanings of the two words that make up the English compound word supports what I am saying. The heart of the land there in Judea in Jesus' day was most certainly Jerusalem.

Given these meanings, another way of saying the latter part of verse 40 is: So shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the life center of the land or in the heartland.

Now, consider the verse that immediately follows:

The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. (Matthew 12:42 KJV)

Notice there is a contrast being made between the heart of the land from verse 40 and the uttermost parts of the land in verse 42. When the queen of the south traveled to hear the wisdom of Solomon, notice where was he located:

And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to prove him with hard questions. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart. And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not any thing hid from the king, which he told her not. (1 Kings 10:1-3 KJV)

So, the bottom line is that Matthew 12:40 is not addressing the time Jesus will spend in the grave. Rather, it is simply saying that he will spend three days and three nights in Jerusalem.

And the sign the scribes and Pharisees sought from Jesus was not given to them. Instead, Jesus referred to the sign of the prophet Jonah, that the men of Nineveh, having been steeped in wickedness, repented at the preaching of a coming destruction.

And we see later that Jerusalem did not repent at the preaching of Jesus.

EDITED 3/20/18:

There are about a dozen references in the New Testament of the Son of Man being killed and raised up on "the third day". The question is how is "the third day" counted in Scripture?

The first mention of the “third day” is found in Genesis 1 outlining the creation account.

We are told on day one, God said “Let there be light…”; on the second day, God said “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters…”; and on the third day, God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together…”. That would be one day, the second day, and the third day.

In another example where the third day is laid out for us is in Exodus 19 when the children of Israel came to Mt Sinai. We see three days: “today”, “tomorrow”, and then “the third day”.

And the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever." When Moses told the words of the people to the LORD, the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. (Exo 19:9-11)

In the New Testament we see Jesus counting the days in the same way: “to day”, “tomorrow”, and then “the third day”.

"The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee. And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem." (Luke 13:31-33 KJV)

Given this, the third day would start with “today” (day 1), followed by tonight (night 1). Then there is “tomorrow” (day 2), followed by tomorrow night (night 2). Then there is “the third day” or “the day following” (day 3). That adds up to three days and two nights. This does not add up to three days and three nights.

Jesus was killed on one day, was buried and remained in the tomb that night, the next day and the next night, and then on the third day he was raised up.

There is only one reference in the New Testament of the Son of Man being in the heart of the land/earth for three days and three nights, and that is in Matthew 12:40, even though there are at least two other mentions in the New Testament to "the sign of Jonah". And with each of these mentions of the sign of Jonah, there is never any discussion of anyone being killed or raised up.

As far as where do we see Jesus spending three days and three nights in Jerusalem...

According to Matthew, it appears that the first of those three days in Jerusalem is when Jesus came into the city after spending the night in Bethany following his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the clearing of the temple, and he cursed the fig tree (Mt. 21:18-20) and his stay spans the next 4 chapters.

In Matthew 26:2 he says, "Ye know that after two days is the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified."

This was said at the end of DAY (1), then there'd be that NIGHT (1). Then, the next DAY (2) followed by the next NIGHT (2). And then "after two days" would be the Passover when he ate with his disciples, which would be DAY (3) followed by the next NIGHT (3) when the Son of Man was betrayed to be crucified.

That would be 3 days and 3 nights in heart of the land: Jerusalem.

-2

Tradition observes that Christ was put to death on Good Friday but Thursday is the day that would fulfill the sign of Jonah. Matthew 12:38-40 says "the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth". So did the Lord mean what He said here in Matthew 12? Three days and three nights in the earth? There are not 3 nights between Good Friday and Sunday morning, the first day of the week when Christ arose (John 20:1). By looking at the Feasts from Leviticus 23, we can confirm our answer that the Lord is always accurate. In some weeks the Jewish feasts could require two consecutive days of rest (weekly and annual Sabbaths). This helps to determine that Christ was crucified Passover day, Thursday the 14th of Nissan.

John 18:28 shows that some Jews had not yet eaten their passover in the hours before early Thursday morning. We know that Jesus and others had already eaten their Passover meal the previous Wed. evening. Customs or reasons for different times in killing the lamb and the Passover meal might come from the translation of Leviticus 23:5 where "at twilight" literally means "between the evenings". Also Pharisee and Sadducee disputes on Passover customs perhaps were based on past examples of Hezekiah, Josiah or from the book Ezra when passover changes were allowed. We can be sure Jesus celebrated the passover meal at the correct time of Wednesday evening when the 14th began. A new day was said to begin when 3 stars were visible in the evening. It is helpful to mention that the Jewish day begins in the evening unlike our present method of changing over at midnight. The 14th of Nissan is the date of the Passover meal celebration at twilight Wednesday evening. However it is still Passover, the 14th during daylight hours Thursday. During these daylight hours several events took place as our Savior was on the cross. It was the day of preparation (John 19:14) when all leaven is to be removed from the house in preparation for the High Sabbath of the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This High Sabbath Friday the 15th, proceeded the weekly Saturday Sabbath of the 16th. This study is not to prove what the priests were doing at the exact time Jesus was nailed to the cross, but it may be probable that the priests were sacrificing a national passover lamb at the temple Thursday the 14th, as the true sacrifice of God was taking place on Golgotha outside the camp.

Passover and the Feast of Unleavened bread are sometimes referred to like one feast(1). However, a 7 day Feast of Unleavened Bread starts the day after Passover. The 7 day Unleavened Bread feast is proceeded by a day of preparation(Passover day). Passover is an evening memorial meal of unleavened bread and roasted lamb celebrated at twilight on the 14th. Studying these feasts should also help us understand Jesus words about Him being the bread from heaven, eating His flesh and drinking His blood (John chapter 6). Like our Savior, no bone of the passover lamb was to be broken (Exodus 12:46, John 19:36).

From Exodus 12:3-6 we read that the Jews are to choose their sacrificial passover lamb on the 10th of Nissan, the first month of the Jewish calendar. Nissan 10th was the day after a weekly Saturday Sabbath, and it is also called Palm Sunday by Christians today. This day Christ rode into Jerusalem and the people laid palm branches before Him, not realizing that He was to be their sacrificial lamb in a few days(2). Isaiah 53:1-9 predicted that Messiah would be the final paschal sacrifice, the final sacrifice for sin. Jesus is "our passover" in I Corinthians 5:6-7. Jesus is portrayed as this Passover Lamb in four passages: John 1:29, 1:35-36, I Peter 1:18-19, and Revelation 5:6. John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29, 36). Believe in this Lamb for eternal life.

Leviticus and Exodus give us the best look at the timing of Christ sacrifice and how God had revealed this prophecy so many years before(3,4,5,6):

  • Nissan 10th—Palm Sunday (the 10th actually starts Saturday evening till Sunday evening)—Jews choose and test the paschal lamb.
  • Nissan 11th—Sunday evening till Monday evening—the lamb is tested
  • Nissan 12th—Monday evening till Tuesday evening—the lamb is tested
  • Nissan 13th—Tuesday evening till Wednesday evening—the lamb is tested
  • Nissan 14th—Wednesday evening till Thursday evening&mdash.The lamb is killed at twilight on Passover (is not a Sabbath). Also called preparation day to rid the house of all leaven for the next day is a High Holy Sabbath, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
  • Nissan 15th—Thurs. eve till Friday eve—High Holy Sabbath the beginning day of Feast of Unleavened Bread (John 19:31, Leviticus 23:6-7, Exodus 12:16).
  • Nissan 16th—weekly Sabbath. Friday eve till Sat. eve
  • Nissan 17th—Sunday morning—Feast of Firstfruits—celebrated the day after Sabbath—Christ arose and is the firstfruits of our resurrection.(1Cor.15:20-23). Note that the Sadducees also disputed the Pharisees over the Feast of Firstfruits day. They could not agree from which Sabbath they should count for being the day after the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:11). This argument would arise because two Sabbaths occurred in one week.

This study can help us tie Old Testament and New Testament together in showing how God has revealed His plan for all mankind through His chosen people and through His Son who is the Word. On Palm Sunday many of the Jews welcomed Jesus saying "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" (Matthew 21:9). Just a few days later the crucifixion took place and Jesus was killed. In Matthew 23:13-39 Jesus had warned the nation of Israel of their coming desolation for rejection of God's Word. One day they will see Him again, but not "till you say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" (Matthew 23:39). All Israel will be saved one day when they call on Jesus as Messiah (Romans 11:26, Romans 10-11). He will not come back until they do. Maranatha.


Footnote:

  1. Some translations read "first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread or Day of Unleavened Bread" in Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12, and Luke 22:7. By inserting capital lettered words here, unless we are careful, it may confuse Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. A Passover meal includes "unleavened bread" but is not one of the 7 days of Feast of Unleavened Bread. The use of "first" or "Day" would indicate of chief importance. The Passover day is the first day of 8 days of feasts which include unleavened bread.

  2. An additional comment about John 12:1-12 , in relation to the Sign of Jonah study may answer another possible question. I had looked at this passage before but originally decided not to include it in the study. John 12:1 says Jesus arrived in Bethany 6 days before passover. Some might jump to the wrong conclusion in counting 6 days from the supper in verse 2 which was Saturday night as verse 12 makes clear. Most likely Jesus and His disciples did not travel much on the sabbath and were in Bethany before the sabbath began Friday evening. Friday during daylight hours was the 8th of Nissan and 6 days before passover on the 14th. We are not told that they(Martha) made Jesus a supper the evening He arrived. The time of arrival and the time of supper are not stated to occur on the same day. John 12:1-12 does not contradict my view on the sign of Jonah unless one jumps to wrong conclusions on time between verse 1 to verse 12.

  3. Further detail concerning Exodus 12 is needed. Exodus 12:41 and 12:51 are linked together in structure and are referring to Nissan the 15th as the day the Lord led Israel out of Egypt. The phrase in verse 41 and 51, "and it came to pass, on that very same day" are both referring to the ending of the 430 years of captivity when the Lord led them out and is not saying that He led them out on the 14th. Leviticus 23:5-6 showing the dates of passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread not being on the same date. The word "It" beginning verse 42 seems to refer to it being night when the Lord led them out. But verse 42 could be a transition referring to verses 43-50 and Passover. Or the "It" in verse 42 could lead back to verse 27 and "It is the Passover". Either way verse 42 is not contradicting all the events of Passover happening in the night on the 14th. Exodus 12:43-50 are viewing some additional regulations for passover, which is on the 14th. It would require some time for all the events of the night and the daylight of the 14th (Ex.12:21-39) to occur. For example, just to assemble all Israel with belongings in preparation to depart Egypt may have taken most of the daylight hours. As evening approached and the beginning of the 15th starts, the Lord led Israel out. An additional comment about the phrase, "This same night" or "that night" in Exodus 12:8;12. These verses are referring to all the events occurring at night on Nissan 14th, from Exodus 12:6 thru 12:31. For passover to have occurred on the closing evening of the 14th, the amount of time required to complete everything would put the majority of events on the 15th at night, and not the 14th. Demonstrating again that Jesus took the Passover meal correctly at the beginning evening of the 14th.

  4. Ex.12:18 says unleavened bread is to be eaten everyday for 7 days. On the 14th at evening till the evening of the 21st. That is a total of 8 days. However the requirement to eat unleavened bread on the 21st may not be included as the 21st begins at evening. But it is required to eat on the 14th. The word "on" is inclusive for the 14th but "until" the evening of the 21st is not inclusive, as the 21st begins at evening. No leaven is to be found in the house for 7 days. It would be difficult to find leaven for bread on the 21st in order to bake leavened bread because of this. Also this is a sabbath and certain restrictions apply. Difficult but not impossible as they may have been tired of unleavened bread after a week. Thank goodness for a gentile bakery across the street for example!

  5. Exodus 12:15-16 at first seems to mean the same day by using the phrase "On the first day". "On the first day" in verse 15 is referring to passover day as removing leaven from the house. Verse 16 is referring to "on the first day" as a holy convocation on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.Leviticus 23:5-6 showing the different dates and John19:14;31;42 showing the day of Preparation on the 14th for a high holy sabbath on the 15th.The overlapping of the seven days between these two feast makes it somewhat hard to follow. Note that in Leviticus 23 between verse 5 and 6 a period mark is placed for punctuation. But verse 4 is saying a list of the feast is following. Verse 5 and 6 are joined together with the word "and" their meaning should not be separated by a period mark. This shows the 7 days of unleavened bread overlap to include both the 14th and the 15th. This is in agreement with the reading of Exodus 12 on these matters. Let us not overlook the importance of such a small word as "and."

  6. Quartodecimanism holds that Jesus partook of the Passover meal on the correct beginning evening of the 14th. The following morning, still on the 14th, Jesus was crucified on Passover day.


Note: This article is copied from my web page under Sign of Jonah.

  • 1
    Regarding note 5: The Hebrew word for "and" is commonly used to show that the following sentence is part of the same narrative as the prior sentence. For good translation into English, that word isn't always translated. If we did, entire chapters of the Old Testament would be one sentence long (I do not exaggerate). That's bad English. – Frank Luke Jun 11 '13 at 15:56
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It seems to be the best supported tradition - as John was the closest eyewitness (Jh 19:26) and had the clearest memory of that day among the disciples (Jh, chapters 13 to 19) - that Christ was killed on preparation day (Jh 19:14) of Passover, the day before a great Sabbath (when Passover and the weekly Sabbath fell on the same day, Jh 19:31).

It is not surprising that His disciples did neither question His decision nor his authority to speak of "this Passover", even though it was still the evening of preparation day and no lamb present.

The synoptic gospels report about a darkness that fell over Jerusalem for three hours when Jesus suffered death. This darkness might well count as a night, if someone felt that the agonizing fear before His delivery in the garden of Gezemaneh was not yet like Jonah's cry 'out of the depths of sheol'.

Unsatisfactory for human fastidiousness it may remain. It were, however, the darkest days and hours for His disciples and the shedding of his soul into death for Israel's Messiah.

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