Was Jesus in the tomb three days and three nights?

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“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).

In Matthew 12:40, the word “heart” comes from the Greek word kardia, which is where we get the word “cardiac.” According to Strong’s, “kardia” means the heart (i.e., thoughts or feelings [mind]); it also can mean the middle. Additionally, the Greek word for “earth” is “ge.” It literally means soil, a region, or the solid part or whole of the terrene globe (including the occupants in each application)—including country, ground, land, or world.

So, the phrase “in the heart of the earth” can be interpreted as “in the midst of the world”—or in the grip of this lost Earth. In other words, in Matthew 12:40, the Lord is telling His disciples that just as Jonah was in the belly of a great fish, so the Son of Man would be in the central grip of the world.

But when were the sins of the world placed upon the Lamb of God? It was before He died on the cross. According to Hebrew tradition, the sins were confessed upon the Passover lamb before it was slain as an atonement.  So it was during the Last Supper (Thursday night), that Jesus sealed His new covenant with the bread and grape juice, to be the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Soon after the instituting covenant at the Last Supper, Jesus began carrying our guilt. And thus after the Last Supper, Jesus started to carry the wrath of God for our sin.

Three Days and Three Nights

On that Thursday evening, Jesus prayed in agony, sweating drops of blood. He said, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42-44). From that moment on, Christ had sealed His surrender, fulfilling His destiny as the guilt-bearer for the fallen race. He was in “the heart of the earth,” or more clearly: “the depths of the world.” Just as with Jonah, there appeared to be a total and hopeless darkness that surrounded the world’s Redeemer.

There are five Bible verses in which Jesus refers to Thursday evening as “the hour,” meaning an important transition period in His ministry:

“Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matthew 26:45).

“Then He came the third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners’” (Mark 14:41 NKJV).

“And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him” (Luke 22:14).

“Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone” (John 16:32).

“Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee” (John 17:1).

Jesus was where He said He would be, in heart of the earth, for three days and nights, beginning Thursday night. He was there bearing our sin in the garden of Gethsemane, followed by His death, burial and resurrection adding up to three days and nights.

Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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