For just 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.

The word "the Sabbath" is defined as "the seventh day of the week" and others on this site believe that in the NT it only refers to the seventh day of the week.

So, Jesus died on Nisan 14 on Friday and was resurrected on Nisan 16 on Sunday.

But what is He referring to here? A big clue is His choice of words: 'heart of the earth'.
If He had said "the grave", it would be open-and-shut.

I read a theory that the 3 days, and 3 nights include the time spent dead but also include the night He was arrested (I don't have the link but you can work it out: if you use inclusive duration i.e. any part of sunlight/night counts as one of the 3 days/night, you get 3 days and 3 nights).

Question 1
Based on the usage of this phrase in 1st century, what can it mean?

Question 2
If the above theory is correct, what did Jesus mean?

  • Am I now to understand that you actually do believe that Jesus died on a Friday, Nisan 14, which you yourself said could only have been in 33 AD, in one of your comments, given just last week, regarding your Q. Daniel 9:25 - what is end point of 69 weeks?. Now if you could only get the birth and baptism dates right, which would have to have been in the Fall of 2 BC and Fall of 29 AD, respectively, seeing that the general consensus of opinion is that Jesus was 33 1/2 years old when he died, not to mention 30 years old at his baptism, you would be well on your way ..... Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 0:28
  • The theory that you must/may have read, before Robert's answer here (see my comment to him below) was probably my answer, incorporating Jesus' arrest on the Thursday (the 1st night of the 3 nights), within the subjected 3 days and 3 nights, and I actually mention the elusive link to Robert, so you can now see it again for your further consideration. Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 0:51
  • @OldeEnglish Jesus born Sep 11, 3 BC. [1] Rev 12 sign. [2] This is on Tishri 1 i.e. "at the last trump". Kings were crowned on the Feast of Trumpets. Min age for priesthood is 30: +30 Jewish years = fall 28 AD. 3 Passovers were mentioned so soonest resurrection is 31 AD but soonest Nisan 14, Friday is AD 33. The end. Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 3:24
  • Where do you get this stuff? And are you plagiarizing someone here?? In any case, Jesus was a Fall baby, not a Summer baby. There were also 4 Passovers that Jesus witnessed during his ministry, which by all accounts did indeed last for 3 1/2 years, if we include John 5:1 as being a Passover feast, which many a theologian does. You utilize "stellarium" to try and prove Jesus' birth and yet nobody knows the precise night/evening hour, not to mention actual date of his birth, which one would need to know in order to truly ascertain the moons position in relation to the feet of the woman. Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 8:42
  • Try giving an actual written, concise, answer for once, for crying out loud. You've never posted a single one in over 2 years of you being a BH member, which I find to be somewhat crazy. I haven't written many, compared to some I could mention on this site, but I have at least posted over 60. Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 8:52

6 Answers 6


I interpret the plain meaning of this as being subject to powers of the earth and its darkness. E.g. in Luke 22.53-54

When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness. Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest’s house. And Peter followed afar off. [KJV]

Therefore the three "nights" of that darkness would start on the night of the trial (Thursday), and continued Friday and Saturday night, whereas the three "days" would be Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

I am not sure why people assume the trials of Jesus would only start when he died, given that the abuse, beatings, and crucifixion must also be counted (In my opinion) as part of trials of Jesus in "the heart of the earth".

This is further strengthened by the idea of Jonah, who was not dead in the belly of the whale -- or at least he was alive enough to pray his prayer of repentance -- but nevertheless he was in the belly of the whale. The belly of the whale signifies

  • Being led by those around you, so you cannot decide where you go, but are led around by a force on the earth. Jonah was swallowed by the whale and taken a place he did not want to go. Jesus was taken by the guards who led him from place to place, and ultimately the cross.
  • Being in darkness (away from the light, or the light is hidden from you) - just as Jesus cried the utterance of desolation "Why have you forsaken me"
  • Being in some form of bondage or chain, just as Jonah was trapped in the belly, so Christ was in chains, then fixed to the cross, then in the grave

For the idiom of "belly", the idea is that it is the center of the domain. E.g. Job 20.14b - "he shall vomit them up again: God shall cast them out of his belly".

Then the earth is the domain of man: Psalm 115.16 "The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD'S: but the earth hath he given to the children of men."

So being put into the "heart of the earth" would mean that Jesus was handed over to the authority of men.

  • You are "right on" here, with your answer. The only answer here that correctly stipulates Thursday night as the 1st night, + 1. I answered in the same vein just over a year ago. You can see my answer to the Q: How is it that Jesus could be "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth"?, in the "Related" column, just to the right here. If you missed it before, feel free to upvote it now, that is if the inclination grabs you ?? Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 23:48
  • @Robert If the meaning is so plain why is there so much confusion over that meaning? Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 21:20
  • @Robert If the meaning of Robert 12:40 is plainly "Subject to powers of the earth and it's darkness" then why didn't Jesus say so since it is more clear than "in the heart of the earth:? Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 21:23
  • I've heard at least of dozen alternative interpretations of "in the heart of the earth" in my lifetime and I believe the most common one is the one that makes more sense than the others. I believe "in the heart of the earth" more closely aligns with in the subterranean part of the earth. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 21:27
  • Jesus revealed in Matthew 10:28 that a man can kill you but cannot kill your soul. Once you are dead, mankind no longer has power over you. Luke 12:4-5 says the same. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 21:48

Matt 12:40 and its "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" is tricky only for this who decide to make it tricky. However, the passage is unique in all the NT:

  • "heart of the earth" occurs nowhere else in all the Bible. The closest we get is Eze 38:12 but that is "center of the earth", and not, "heart".
  • "three days and three nights" occurs nowhere else in all the NT and only occurs in Jonah 1:17, Est 4:16 and 1 Sam 30:12 in the OT, only the first of which is germane here.

[Even BDAG creates a special category for the meaning of "kardia" (= heart) in this verse.]

Thus, Matt 12:40 has been interpreted in several main ways:

  1. "Heart of the earth" means "in the tomb"

This then creates two sub-categories of interpreters who either believe that

  • "three days and three nights" means a literal 72 hours and thus Jesus was crucified either on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday
  • "Three days and three nights" is the usual inclusive reckoning of Jews and thus Jesus was crucified on Friday afternoon [This is by far the most common and dominant understanding.]

However, there is no explicit scriptural support for interpretation #1; despite it being probably the most natural. Note the comments of Barnes, which are typical of many:

In the heart of the earth - The Jews used the word "heart" to denote the "interior" of a thing, or to speak of being in a thing. It means, here, to be in the grave or sepulchre.

  1. "heart of the earth" can be quite reasonably translated "heart/center of the land" and thus, means "in Jerusalem".

The big problem with this understanding is that Jesus was in Jerusalem from at least Sunday. To overcome this obvious difficulty, these exegetes say that it is the time from the arrest of Jesus on Thursday night. While this is exegetically "neat" it is imaginative and without explicit scriptural support.

  1. "heart of the earth" means "subject to powers of darkness", ie, the time when Jesus was arrested and under temple/Roman control.

This is almost/essentially the same as #2 above and has even less Scriptural support than #2 above.

An even bigger problem is that Satan's kingdom is never referred to as the "center/heart of the earth" but is referred to and the "power of the air" (Eph 2:2) or "the prince of this world" (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), or, "the evil spirits in heavenly places" (Eph 6:12), etc.


So, what are we to make of Matt 12:40? The simplest is to understand the most common way which resolves most of the difficulties. Jesus was crucified on Friday and rose on Sunday morning thus making Him lie in the tomb for three days (by inclusive reckoning). This was the uniform understanding of the all the writers from the first century onwards until some started trying to understand differently.

APPENDIX - Three Days and Three Nights

How long was Jesus in the tomb? When was He crucified? Was it Friday or Wednesday? The debate around these questions centres on just one verse, Matt 12:40, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Specifically, what is meant by three days and three nights?

Various Phrases

The phrase, “three days and three nights” occurs only in Matt 12:40 in all the New Testament. “In three days”, or “after three days” or the “third day” occurs in Matt 16:21, 17:23, 26:61, 27:40, 64, Mark 8:31, 14:58, Luke 9:22, 24:21, 46, John 2:19-21, which all clearly refer to the same time period that Jesus occupied the tomb.

In Bible times, time periods were invariably counted using the inclusive reckoning method. This means that a time period counted part of the first day and part of the last day as full days, or weeks or years as the time period required. Similarly, this three-day period is also reckoned by the inclusive method, which means that if Jesus died on Friday and rose on Sunday morning, this is entirely consistent with three days (and nights). Such time periods should not be understood in the modern sense, but in the sense in which the Bible writers commonly used and intended. An excellent example of this occurs in 2 Kings 18:9, 10 where three years is actually two years by modern reckoning but is correctly three years by inclusive reckoning.

Thus, it is not necessary to find 72 hours for the time Jesus was in the grave, because of the way the Jews commonly counted time, which is different from our modern methods. To assert otherwise is to read a modern sense into the ancient text, which was never intended!

The timing of the crucifixion is clearly demonstrated by the following Gospel references:


  • Death on Friday (Παρασκευή preparation day): Matt 27:57, 62
  • Sabbath rest: Matt 27:62-65 (Guard)
  • Resurrection on Sunday (first of the week): Matt 28:1, 4 (Notice here that the guard was undisturbed until Sunday morning. Further, the KJV in Matt 28:1 has an awkward translation that incorrectly implies that the tomb was found empty late on the Sabbath. Every modern version has it more correctly.)


  • Death on Friday (preparation day): Mark 15:42
  • Sabbath rest: -
  • Resurrection on Sunday (first of the week): Mark 16:1, 9 (This latter text states unequivocally that Jesus rose on the first day of the week. The Greek is even clearer!)


  • Death on Friday (preparation day): Luke 23:54
  • Sabbath rest: Luke 23:56
  • Resurrection on Sunday (first of the week): Luke 24:1-7


  • Death on Friday (preparation day): John 19:14, 31, 42
  • Sabbath rest: -
  • Resurrection on Sunday (first of the week): John 20:1, 17

Notice that in all these cases, the day of Jesus’ death is described as the preparation day (Παρασκευή paraskeue) – an invariant designator of what we now call Friday, the sixth day of the week. There is not a single exception to this rule in any literature; in neither the New Testament nor any of the Apostolic Fathers. This practice is so wide-spread that the same word for Friday was also adopted into Latin, Parascue.

Annual Sabbath?

It has sometimes been asserted that the Sabbath referred to above was not the weekly Sabbath but one of the annual Sabbaths, namely the Passover, which occurred on Thursday, thus making the day of crucifixion, Wednesday, about sunset [Passove could not occur on Friday.]. Jesus would then have risen about sunset on Saturday.

This theory has a number of problems including:

  • Why did the women wait until Sunday morning to embalm Jesus? Why not embalm on Friday which was neither a weekly nor an annual Sabbath?
  • Matthew clearly records that Jesus died about 3:00pm, the time of the evening sacrifice (Matt 27:45-50); while Mark 15:25 records that the impaling occurred at about 9:00am.
  • The time of death must have been several hours before sunset otherwise Joseph could not have had time to observe Jesus’ death, then go to Pilate, who then sent a centurion to ascertain and confirm Jesus’ death, and then Joseph removed the body, wrapped it and placed it in his tomb, all before sunset! (Recall that the place of execution was outside the city.)
  • The uniform testimony of the early church was that Jesus was crucified on what we now call Friday and rose early on Sunday morning. It is only in modern times when the idea of inclusive time reckoning was superseded, thus creating the need to have exactly 72 hours between death and resurrection.
  • Further, how does one reconcile the reference in Luke 24:22 where Cleopas and his friend said, on Sunday evening, it was the third day since Jesus’ trial and crucifixion? If Jesus had been crucified on Wednesday, Sunday would be the fifth day!
  • There is not a scintilla of evidence that Jesus rose on the (weekly) Sabbath day – merely that it was before the women arrived early on Sunday morning. (Recall that when He met Mary on Sunday morning, He had not yet ascended to His Father, John 20:17. If He rose on Sabbath – where did He spend the night and doing what?)

Thus, all Gospel writers affirm that Jesus died on Friday (the preparation day), rested in the grave on Sabbath and rose on Sunday morning.

  • 1
    "Why did the women wait until Sunday morning to embalm Jesus?". Consider Mark 16:1 and Luke 23:56: "Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary [et al.] bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. … Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.". — They bought spices after the Sabbath, prepared them, and then rested on the Sabbath. Clearly there are 2 separate days of rest here. Thursday was the high sabbath, Friday was when they bought and prepared the spices, and Saturday was the weekly sabbath. Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 23:43
  • @RayButterworth - are you suggesting that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday or Thursday?
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 7:33
  • 1
    Wednesday: crucifixion and burial just before sunset; Thursday: Passover; Friday: buy and prepare spices; Saturday: Sabbath and resurrection just before sunset; Sunday: discovery of empty tomb. ¶ Notice that Matthew 28:1 has "σαββάτων", which is plural. LITV, CLNT, YLT, Fenton, all translate it as "sabbathS". With two sabbaths that week, everything falls into place, with no contradictions or discrepancies to explain away. Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 12:21
  • 1
    @RayButterworth - that SabbathS arguement is hollow and not unique in the NT - the plural is OFTEN used for the singular in the NT. Further, if Jesus was raised before sunset on the (weekly) Sabbath - where was He all night before Mary found Him on Sunday morning?
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 21:11
  • 1
    @Ray Butterworth Only one Sabbath is needed - spices were bought and prepared BEFORE the Sabbath and then AFTER the same Sabbath there were more spices bought and prepared. Spices bought and prepared - Friday afternoon. Then, After the same Sabbath, spices were bought and prepared. Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 15:23

Looking at the scripture, we can see that Jesus is using the events of Jonah's time as prophetic to his resurrection.

Recalling what happened to Jonah, he was swallowed by a big fish and believed he would die there. (Jonah 2:1, 2) This would be his grave. (For additional information as to how 'Sheol' is the common grave of mankind see the article Sheol in the Insight on the Scriptures.)

The word 'heart' can be used to mean the center of something. (see Insight's Heart and Barne's Commentary) So when Jesus uses the words "heart of the earth" in conjunction with the story of Jonah, Jesus is saying that he himself will be 'in the grave'.

But note that in the story of Jonah, he was vomited out of the big fish. This can be seen as a 'resurrection' of sorts. The parallel with Jesus implies that Jesus will be resurrected from this death.

Additional information can be found:


Jesus is invoking Jonah as a shadow or type of His resurrection (and the consequent good news thereof being preached to the nations, just as Jonah preached to those at Ninevah after he was vomitted up by the whale).

Jonah 2:1-11 And the Lord sent a great fish to swallow up Jonah: and he was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.

But Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying: Let me call out to the Lord in my desparation, and He shall answer me from the bowels of hell. Hear my voice, I beg you! You have cast me into the darkest depths, even into the heart of the sea: I am surrounded by the currents of waters — all Your crests and waves crash above me. I thought to myself: I have been cast out from before You; even so, I wait in expectation for your holy temple. The waters have engulfed my very soul: the abyss surrounds me. My head is bound up with reeds. I have been plunged down to the very foundations of the mountains. The bars of the earth are shut around me forever, but you shall bring me up from ruin, O Lord, my God.

As my soul swoons within me, I will think of God. May my prayer make it to You, even to your holy temple.

Those who revel in vain things grow cold in their fervour, but I will sacrifice with praising: whatever I have vowed, that will I pay. For salvation belongs to the Lord.

And the Lord gave the word and the fish vomitted Jonah up upon the land.

This is reminiscent of Acts 2:23-27:

Acts 2:23-27 This same [Jesus], being delivered up through the hands of the lawless, by the counsel and foreknowledge of God, you murdered, crucifying him; whom God raised from the the sorrows of death, since it was impossible that he should be held by it. For David said of him: I saw the Lord before me continually. He is at my right hand, and so that I am never shaken. This is why I my heart rejoices, and my tongue exults: and my flesh also shall rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in hell, nor will you allow your holy one to see decay. You have made known to me the ways of life: You shall fill me with gladness by Your countenance.

So either Jonah really died (how could he survive for three days in stomach acid, drowning, and without air?), or this whole episode — real and historical, and of whatever nature it was — was written for the purpose of, and to be reminiscent of, resurrection from a sure death and hopeless situation. Either way, "heart of the earth" seems to correspond in Jesus' words to "heart of the sea" in the story of Jonah to which He is directly pointing His hearers. Namely Jonah died, or for-all-intents-and-purposes he died, while 'buried in the depths of the sea' ("the heart of the sea" here overtly referring to the depths or inner portion of the sea) while Jesus was buried in the depths of the earth, namely, in the tomb. Another possibility is that hell is in the center or heart of the earth, and so in both senses, He was in the heart of the earth ( in Hades or hell in spirit), and in the tomb (in body).

Ephesians 4:9 And what does He ascended mean if not that he first descended into the lower parts of the earth?

The three days refer to Good Friday to Easter Sunday, that is, the time of His death at the third hour on Friday, and thus descent to Sheol in spirit ("in[to] which, going, he preached to the spirits in prison" 1 Peter 3:19), through to the time of His Resurrection early on the Sunday following, body and soul.

"Three days and three nights" was always a Hebraism meaning "three days [inclusive]," not literally "the duration of three days plus the duration of three nights." That is, the Friday on which they buried Jesus and left off to avoid working on the sabbath, then the sabbath on which they did nothing, and then the day on which they returned to find Him rise "early in the morning." "And nights" is redundant by nature, and only serves for rhetoric in Hebrew (emphasizing the lack of respite or breaks, for example: cf. the flood of Noah, or Jesus' fast in the desert), given how it's used; and second, Jesus is alluding to a type or shadow and so is using explicit terminology used in the passage alluded to: "three days and three nights" "heart of" etc. That is, He is respecting and assuming the readership understands this is a Hebraism and not a literal description of a duration involving three periods of 24 hours — since that's not how it is used in Scripture/Hebrew.

  • 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise. Then what's the difference between three days, three nights and just three days? Why didn't He say after three days and three nights he will rise? Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 18:29
  • 1
    "and nights" in "days and nights" is a Hebraism - it does not change the semantic range of the meaning "days," but only has additional rhetorical value, namely, expressing the unceasing, or unrelenting, nature of the time period, or the lack of respite at any time during that period (again, such as Jesus' fast in the deser, or the 40 days of rain during Noah's flood), or the completeness thereof. 3 days and 3 nights in Hebrew means what '3 days' means in English. The only difference is in its rhetorical value. The first day = crucifixion, day 2 = sabbath, day 3 = "the third day." Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 18:39

In Matthew 12:28 we see that Jesus is speaking to the Scribes and Pharisees. We know that when Jesus spoke with them (and with the crowds) He often spoke in parables. There isn't a special 1st century meaning to the phrase "heart of the earth". It's simple a parable referring to his death and resurrection.

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    – agarza
    Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 21:03

Matthew 12:40 - "heart of the earth": what does it mean?

The expression "heart of the earth" seems to be more equivalent to in "hades", a subterranean region of the earth that was believed to be located somewhere inside the earth's surface. In the Hebrew Scriptures it is referred often to Sheol.

It was believed to be a place where all the departed spirits went to when they died. Jesus died at about 3 pm on a Friday. So his spirit (or soul) would go to Hades, where Paradise was located at the time, about 3 pm Jerusalem time. It is commonly believed that Hades was ALL fire but there is no evidence for that.

Here is a link to more about Shoel and Hades.

Jonah 2:1-2 - why say "Sheol" to refer to the literal belly of a literal fish?

When Lazarus went to Abrahams's bosum in Luke 16:19-31,there was no fire where he was at. The rich man died, and opened his eyes to discover he was in Hades.And there was this flame that tormented him but not enough torment to keep him from carrying on a conversation with Abraham. It is also a possibility that this story was a parable although it is not indicated as such. All the other parables in the Gospels were indicated as such. If Hades was not real, I wonder if Jesus would have used it in a parable.

Luke 16:19-31:

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.

27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:

28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.

29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.

31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

Josephus writes about dissertation on Hades here:


Jesus' body was buried inside a tomb. John 19:42 states that it was there where they buried JESUS. Read it here:

John 19:

42 There laid they JESUS therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

So we see the dual nature of man, body and soul. The body was buried in a tomb on the surface of the earth but Jesus's soul went to Sheol or Hades around three hours earlier. That is, that's where he went if Hades was real.

Jesus states that man can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. However, God can destroy both body and soul in hell.


Matthew 10:28

28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Here hell refers to Gehenna, not Hades. Gehenna (or the valley of Hinnom) was an actual place that was found outside the city of Jerusalem where trash and unburied bodies were cast. The fires were stoked to burn the rubbish and the corpses. The fires were never quenched and burned constantly so the fires were referred as a place where "the fires that cannot be quenched". At night one could look over the walls into the valley and see a sea of fires burning constantly. The expression "lake of fire" probably originated from that.

Luke 12:4-5

4 And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.

.5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.

Hades and Hinnom may have been used interchangeably for each other. Or not.

Therefore I believe "heart of the earth" is more likely to be "in Hades" than the other options so far.

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