Did Jesus Really Spend Three Days in the Heart of the Earth?
If I were to ask the average person on the street: What do you think Easter is all about? I can pretty much guarantee that most people would answer that we are apparently celebrating Easter because a man, or the Son of God called Jesus, died on a cross on Friday and rose again the third day which is apparently on Sunday morning, and oh yeah, He died to save us all.
Probably a large majority would also have the “so what!” attitude to go with it! Some people might even have the view, like I remember having, and might say: “How come Jesus died on a Friday and rose again Sunday morning and that’s supposed to be three days later?” Well I remember puzzling over this myself so they would have a good point.
I think that most of us have seen films in our time about the crucifixion of Jesus and we all pick up on the fact that Jesus appeared to have died late afternoon in these films. We partly remember this because we remember seeing that it grew dark in some of these films and it all seemed to climax towards the end of the day.
I think a lot of people who watch some of these old films picked up on the fact that the darkness in these films was supernatural darkness but still it was all going on in the afternoon and towards the end of the day which again, when you think of that question: “How come Jesus died on a Friday and rose again Sunday morning and that’s supposed to be three days later?” You might at this point try to work it out for yourself and you wind up thinking to yourself:
“So He died late Friday afternoon just before it gets dark; so that looks like a few hours on Friday; so that must be the first day.”
“Saturday, Jesus is dead in His tomb a whole day and then He rose early Sunday when the sun came up so that must have been the third day!” But then you have this funny thought in your head: “That sounds like He was only dead for a day and a bit? What’s all this I seem to remember hearing that He spent three days in the heart of the earth and then rose again? How do you fit three days into one and a half days? It doesn’t make sense!”
Well, a lot of people at this point might look up and think to themselves or say: Must be a load of old religious claptrap, all this Easter stuff, oh well, we might as well have a nice dinner on Easter Sunday and get the kids some Easter eggs anyway! On the other hand, there are the odd few of course, who might continue to puzzle over these matters and choose to weigh them in the balances, so to speak, and look deeper. Upon looking deeper there really is a simple explanation as to how come Jesus died and rose again the third day and as to how come Jesus spend three days in the heart of the earth. Jesus, during His ministry on earth, was asked by the Jewish people of His time to show them a sign from Heaven to prove that He really was who He said He was – “the Son of God”, “the Messiah”, or the “Anointed One”. Jesus refused to give them a sign from Heaven but in a sense He was saying that He was going to give them a greater sign than a sign from Heaven, and this sign would be the sign of Jonah. Jesus said He would only give them the sign of Jonah:
“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 12:40).
So Jesus was saying that there would be great similarities between His own death and rising again the third day and Jonas being swallowed by a whale, and in Jonas’ case, being spewed out of the fish’s belly on the third day.
When you read the story of Jonah, you read that Jonah was woken up out of sleep because a great storm had come upon the ship that he was on. Jonah was then hurled into a life-threatening situation in that he found himself helping to lighten the ship of its cargo throughout the day, this they were doing of course to save the ship. They also had a kind of trial situation on the ship in which they tried to find out just who the guilty person was (who were the gods angry with?). They cast lots and the lots pointed to Jonah as being the guilty one. Jonah told them they would have to throw him into the sea and then the storm would cease and they would be saved. It would appear at this point that a decision was made to not throw Jonah into the sea but to try to save him and themselves (a bit like what Pilot did with Jesus!). This only made matters worse and the storm raged on so they finally had no other choice but to throw Jonah into the sea. In short, the picture you get here is that they battled all day long until late afternoon to save the ship; so it would appear that Jonah was thrown into the sea late afternoon that day – possibly even about three O’clock?
So you might ask: How does this fit in with Jesus being three days in the heart of the earth just like Jonah was three days in the belly of a whale? The simple answer to that is that it fits in extremely well with Jesus. Jesus’ ordeal started in the early hours of the morning. He had a trial as we all know: Pilot during this trial tried to save Him but couldn’t. Everyone agrees that Jesus was nailed to His cross at 9 O’clock in the morning; He was on the cross, alive, for six hours and He died at 3 O’clock in the afternoon. Most people also agree that Jesus died the day before the Sabbath day. The Sabbath day for Jewish people is Saturday; this is where most people make their big mistake! Yes, they are all right when they say that Jesus died at 3 O’clock in the afternoon but they are wrong when they conclude that Jesus died on Friday, the day before the Sabbath. The simple explanation for this is that, that year the Jews were celebrating a high Sabbath (a Passover Sabbath); there were two Sabbaths that particular week, one which was the normal Sabbath which would be on Saturday and the other was called a high Sabbath which was to fall on Friday (the day before the regular Sabbath), this putting Jesus’ death at three O’clock in the afternoon on Thursday.
“The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (for that day was a high day,) besought Pilot that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away” (John 19:31).
So yes, when you read this verse, it makes it quite clear that we are talking late afternoon; the Jews wanted to break the legs to bring about a quick death because they were not allowed to work upon the High Sabbath day either.
So with all this in mind, lets see how this fits in with the sign of Jonas (Jonah) that Jesus said He would give to the Jews and of course us. Jesus said:
“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.”
So in the same order that Jesus said:
Day 1 (Thursday) – Just like Jonah appeared to have died late afternoon, Jesus died around 3 O’clock. When He died His spirit went to the heart of the earth to a place down there called Hades (dimensionally speaking). So it’s fair to say that on day one, Jesus, just like Jonas was in the whale’s belly about 3-4 hours, so was Jesus 3 or 4 hours in the heart of the earth – this being Day 1 like as Jonas.
Day 2 (Friday) – “Like as” Jonas was in the whale’s belly all day, so Jesus was in the heart of the earth all day.
Day 3 (Saturday) – “Like as” Jonas was in the belly of the whale all day, so Jesus was in the heart of the earth all day.
So here you have your three days like as Jonas! Jesus also said that He would spend three nights in the heart of the earth so Jesus’ ordeal started with “Day” and ended with “Night” (to the Jewish people, night time meant the period of darkness, as long as it lasted). So to summarise here:
Talking Our Time
Day 1: (Thursday – The day of the Crucifixion) 3 – 6 pm.
Night 1: (Thursday come Friday) 6 pm – 6 am.
Day 2: (Friday) 6 am – 6 pm.
Night 2: (Friday come Saturday) 6 pm – 6 am.
Day 3: (Saturday) 6am – 6pm.
Night 3: (Saturday come Sunday) 6pm – 6am.
Also in the story of Jonah we read that God spoke to the whale (after Jonah prayed and cried out to God) and the whale spewed up Jonah out of his belly. Jonah had been told by God to go and warn a city called Nineveh. Walking to Nineveh would normally take about three days; Jonah it says ran to Nineveh and it took him a whole day so it’s reasonable to suggest that Jonah was spewed out of the whale’s belly at the very beginning of the day, or just before the beginning of the day. Jesus also, like as Jonah, came out of the heart of the earth and came back to life in His physical form at sometime at the very crack of dawn (Sunday). Literally three days after He was crucified on Thursday, He rose again on Sunday and was seen by Mary and His disciples that day.
Note: The above explanation is a very simple one from the standpoint of the average person on the street that has very likely never looked into Jewish times and what constituted the start and finish of a Jewish day and therefore has English times in mind. To add further clarity, it needs to be understood that the Jewish day was counted in hours by the rising and setting of the sun, this making roughly two separate 12 hour intervals, one of night and one of day at the time of the equinox (the time when the sun crosses the earth’s equator, making day and night of approximate equal lengths) occurring about March 21 and September 22. Their day began as soon as the sun went down (sunset), usually sometime after 6 pm (English time), this making 7 pm the 1st hour of the Jewish day (at dusk), and their day ended at (sunset) again, so from sunset to sunset consisting of roughly two 12 hour periods, although the day and night hours would vary considerably according to the time of year but as the time period we are looking at here is around April (Easter time) then two twelve-hour periods as outlined in this chart would be reasonably accurate (John 11:9). It is also interesting to bear in mind that God in the beginning, separated the light from the darkness; He called the light Day and He called the darkness Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day (Genesis 1:5).