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Jesus in the Tomb 3 Days and 3 Nights

For almost two thousand years, Biblical scholars have been completely stumped concerning how Jesus could have been entombed on Friday, arisen on Sunday and yet have spent 3 days and 3 nights in the earth. The math just does not add up…. right? But, if we slow down, take a deep breath and a closer look at what Scripture actually says on this subject, we clearly read that He was entombed on Friday, He did arise on Sunday and He did actually spend three days and three nights in the “heart of the earth.”

First, we need to look at the prophecy made by Jesus concerning this issue. In the Book of Matthew Jesus says, “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” {or Sheol} (Matthew 12:40). There has been an ongoing debate among scholars as to whether Jonah was swallowed by a fish or a whale. The word used in Scripture is fish, but logically speaking, only a whale would be big enough to swallow a grown man whole. My research on this subject has revealed the logical answer to the question. It turns out that Jonah's body was rescued by animal that was both a fish and a whale. Jonah was apparently held in the mouth of a giant plant eating aquatic animal know as a Basking Shark. This animal is 30' long, weights 6 tons, has a mouth three to four feet wide and can still be found today in the Mediterranean Sea. While it is in the shark family, it uses it gills to filter out microscopic plankton and swallows without chewing. Mystery solved … lets move on.

Mediterranean Basking Shark
Mediterranean Basking Shark

If you read what Jesus said closely, and you should always read anything Jesus says closely, we clearly see that He did not say He would be in His surface tomb three days and nights. He said, "For as Jonah 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, while Jesus' physical body was in the tomb located at surface level, His spirit body was in Sheol or Hell located down in the earth. This is the place where all human spirits went before the resurrection of Christ. After His resurrection, all the spirits of the righteous dead would immediately go to be with Him (II Corinthians 5:8). The unrighteous dead continue to have their spirits confined in Sheol. The understanding that all the spirit of the dead both righteous and unrighteous before Christ went down into the earth to reside in Sheol is found in over one hundred passages of Old and New Testament scripture.

By citing Jonah, Jesus confirms that the Jonah story actually happened, he was really dead and entombed in the belly of a fish/whale for three days and nights. Additionally, the Book of Jonah actually confirms that he was physically dead from drowning and that for three days and nights his spirit resided in Sheol (Jonah 2:2). However, on the third day, the fish vomited him out of its mouth depositing him on the shoreline where he was resurrected back to life (Jonah 2:10). See related: Lots of Resurrections and Lots of Raptures. But Jesus does not say Jonah was in the belly of the whale three twenty-four-hour days and nights. And, while Jesus says He would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights, He also did not say three twenty-four-hour days and nights. This is not splitting hairs, it is simply stating the facts as they are given in Scripture. Here is the math as it would have been figured in first century Judah.

In the first century, Judeans considered any part of a day a full day. I know this is not the way we calculate time today. But, we are not in first century Judah, now are we? And, since the timeline was written in the first century by first century Judeans, this is how we must approach the timeline given in order to have an accurate understanding of the author's intent. With that historically factual understnding in mind, let us now consider the burial and resurrection timeline as given in Scripture.

Jesus died at approximately 3:00 P.M. on Friday, April 3rd, 33A.D. Two of His followers took Him down from the cross. They then carried Him a short distance to the entrance of a tomb. There they laid Him down and anointed His body with spices and wrapped Him in a linen burial cloth. They then lifted Him up and carried Him into the tomb laying His body on a stone shelf carved out from the side of the tomb. It was now only one or two hours until sunset and the start of Passover. According to computer driven astronomical software, the moon that rose that night over Judah was a Blood Moon.

'Stone of Unction' Where Jesus Was Laid For Embalming

This means that Jesus was actually physically in the tomb during Friday and that counts as day one. I know some will say that a few hours of daylight does not make a full day. But again, in first century Judah, any part of a day was considered a day. The Jews also considered any part of a year to be a whole year. For example, if a king reigned from April 100 B.C. to March 80 B.C., he was credited with reigning as king the full year of 100B.C. through the full year of 80 B.C. Thus, He would be considered to have reigned 21 years whereas today, we would count his reign as 20 years. This way of dating confused historians trying to document the accurate ruling dates of Judean kings until they finally figured out that the Jews kept time in this way. So, in the case of Jesus, Friday was considered by the Jews as the first of three days. He was in the tomb Friday night which counted as the first night. He was in the tomb all day Saturday and Saturday night or a second day and a second night. He arose early on Sunday morning just after sunrise which is the third day.

Now this is where scholars have not paid close attention to Scripture and so have contrived a number of ways to create a third night. Some by moving the crucifixion back a day. But in some cases, they have moved the crucifixion to a Wednesday in order to create three full 24-hour periods. But again, this is not what Jesus said and this is not the way Judeans historically counted time. As far as I am aware, I may be the only person to have look at this issue both Scripturally and factualy in ordr to solve what many believe to be a Biblical error or an unsolvable mystery. Here is the answer as to how Jesus was in the earth a third night.

Jesus First Appears To Mary Magdalene At Tomb

When Jesus arose Sunday morning, He first met Mary Magdalene at the tomb and told her that He must immediately ascend to His Father but that He would meet with His followers later (John 20:17). After He met Mary, He then briefly appeared to the group of women that had come to His tomb earlier that morning, who had seen and heard the angels, and were now approaching Jerusalem to announce His resurrection to His followers (Matthew 28: 5-10; Luke 24:9-11).

Jesus Ascending Into Heaven Sunday Morning

After He briefly talked with these women, He then ascended to meet with God the Father. His spirit was still the eternal Word of God. His body, through the resurrection process, was now immortal. As such, He was able to withstand being raptured from the earth up into heaven. As the eternal Word of God, He was able to walk into the heavenly Holy of Holies after which the Tabernacle or Temple was patterned. There He was able to approach the Throne of God and sprinkled His pure sin free human blood on the Mercy Seat of the Ark. This act consummated for eternity the Everlasting Covenant.

Jesus Consummates the Everlasting Covenant With the Triune Godhead

God had already shown His approval of Jesus' self-sacrifice for the atonement of the sins of mankind by resurrecting Him Sunday morning (Hebrews 9:7-15, 10:24).

This act of placing His blood on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant was the consummation of a new more perfect Covenant between the Eternal Triune Godhead concerning their creation mankind. Man was not involved as an active participant in this covenant. It was strictly between the members of the Godhead. Sinful mankind had proven to be incapable of honoring their part of an agreement as evidenced by the complete failure of God's chosen people keeping the Mosaic covenant for the past 1,500 years. This was a more perfect covenant as mankind was now represented by Christ, a perfect man, who kept the Mosaic law perfectly and now made it possible for God to issue a new Eternal Covenant based on the accomplishments of Christ on behalf of mankind.

Christ then descended back to earth later that same day, and in the chilly April evening air, caught up with two of His followers walking down a road heading for home. With the hood of His robe covering His head, He approached them from behind and asked them what they were taking about. The couple was Cleopas and his wife Mary (Luke 24:18; John 19:25). As they walked they told Him that the famous Rabbi Jesus was found missing from His tomb that morning and that some were saying He had risen from the dead. When they arrived at their home, He quickly walked past them so they would not see His face. They invited Him for supper and He accepted their invitation. So it must now have been approximately 6:00 P.M. as that is when the Jews traditionally ate supper and feast meals. He took the loaf of bread, and looking up to heaven gave a blessing, raised up His arms and broke bread. At that moment, His Hood fell back exposing His face and His sleeves slid down exposing the nail marks in His wrists. The two followers suddenly realized who He was and Jesus immediately disappeared from the room (Luke 24:13-35). See related: Timeline of the Resurrection.

Jesus Breaking Bread With Clopas and Mary in Village of Emmaus

Paul tells us Jesus also met with Peter but does not say if this was before or after He met with the two followers from Emmaus. The next time we read that He met with anyone, was when He met with His disciples after dinner. Since it was evening at the first supper He attended in Emmaus, it was even later that same evening by the time the two followers walked seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples that they had just seen and talked with Jesus. The disciples were eating or had finished eating their supper when Jesus suddenly appeared in the middle of the gathering (Luke 24:33). Jesus asked them for some of their dinner so He could eat food in front of them and prove that He was not a ghost. They gave Him some fish and honeycomb which He ate. So, we know all of these events from the meal at Emmaus to the meeting with the disciples took place well after 6:00 P.M. {sunset}, or what the Jews considered nighttime.

Jesus Suddenly Appears Standing in the Midst of His Disciples

As we read the Gospel of Matthew’s account of the death of Jesus on the cross, he suddenly leaves the crucifixion narrative and gives a startling out of sequence account of an event that he said occurred at some time “after” Jesus’ resurrection. Matthew writes, “The graves were opened: and many bodies of the Saints which slept {were dead}, arose, and they came out of their graves after His resurrection, and went into the holy city {Jerusalem} and appeared unto many” (Matthew 27: 52-53). After these two short yet remarkable verses, Matthew then returns and picks back up where he left off concerning his narrative of Jesus who is now dead on the cross, the centurion that witnessed His death and details concerning His burial. So, it is clear from scripture that at some time on Sunday "after His resurrection" but before He appeared in the midst of His disciples in the room after 6:00 P.M. or dinner, Christ must have returned back down into Sheol located in the heart of the earth and caused the first spiritual resurrection as recounted by Matthew. He did this in order to both release and rapture the spirits of the righteous dead into Heaven. But, according to Scripture, at this time He also caused the bodies of some dead saints to be resurrected as proof that He would keep His promise to physically resurrect all who had faith in Him.

Jesus in Sheol Announcing the Good News

Again, while Jesus' dead body lay in the tomb, His spirit body was among the righteous dead down in Sheol. It was then and there that Jesus proclaimed the good news or Gospel to the righteous dead. He announced that He was the long-awaited Messiah of the world and that He had paid the sin debt of mankind by self-sacrificing Himself as High Priest. He told the believers that He would temporarily leave them to ascend to God His Father but would soon return and free them from Sheol by leading them up into heaven to be in the presence of God. He must have done this Sunday evening just before He met with His disciples.

Paul actually wrote about this same event when he said, “… He ascended {from Sheol}, up on high {to Heaven}. He {then} led captivity {spirits in Sheol}, captive {into Heaven}. Meaning, these spirits are now no longer held captive in Sheol away from God but are now safely held captive in Heaven with Christ (Ephesians 4:8). And again, Matthew writes that not only were the spirits of followers raptured to Heaven, but a few also received resurrected bodies, met with family and friends and then they too were apparently raptured into Heaven (Matthew 27:53). To this day, all spirits of the unrighteous dead continue to be confined in Sheol and will remain there until they are tried at the Great White Throne Judgement for their unrepentant sins against God their Creator (Revelation 20:11-15).

Since this mass spiritual exodus from Sheol led by Christ occurred in the evening or night, this then qualifies as the third night that Jesus was once again down in the “heart of the earth”. He was only in the earth a short time in order to free those deemed righteous by God from Adam to those saints who had died during His ministry. The reason Christian bodies are referred to as asleep or resting in peace as in RIP, is because of the understanding that at the rapture, they will be resurrected back to life and reunited with their spirits. Therefore, they are not in the truest sense dead so much as bodies that are only temporarily asleep or at rest. The spirits of the righteous under the Old Covenant were also taken out of Sheol at this time. Scripture explains this when it states that, “Abraham believed {had faith in} the LORD, and He {God} credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 16:6) Scripture tells us that there were Old Testament believers also confined in Sheol awaiting a Savior to free them (Job 19:25-27).

So, Jesus went back down into the “heart of the earth” or Sheol to lead all the captive saints to Heaven. And because He did this the evening of His resurrection, this would legitimately count under Jewish time reckoning as a third night thus fulfilling His prophecy. There, another Mystery of the Bible Revealed!

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