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The inquirer is referring to Matthew 12:40 which says, “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.”  This is a very good question, for today we would not use that language because Christ was actually in the tomb two part days (Friday afternoon and Sunday morning), one complete day (Saturday), and two complete nights (Friday and Saturday nights).  But Matthew was a Jew and he used the language of the Jew, which computed time differently than we do.  To the Jew, any part of a day could be counted as a whole day (a “day and a night”).  Jewish tradition coined a phrase that confirms this, “A day and a night make an onah, and a part of an onah is as the whole.”  An ‘onah’ is a time period which, in this case, is a day.  And thus in Jewish reckoning Jesus was buried for “three days and three nights.”

The central message that Matthew was trying to convey was that on the third day Jesus would rise from the dead. The Apostle Paul echoes the same truth in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” In stating that Christ died, was buried and then rose again the third day “according to the scriptures,” Paul no doubt had in mind the same picture of Jonah being in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights and how on the third day “it vomited out Jonah upon dry land”, as we read in Jonah 2:10.  Jonah’s deliverance from the great fish is a beautiful picture of the resurrection of Christ! The Lord Jesus Himself referred to this same truth of His resurrection on the third day in John 2:19 where we read, “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews mistakenly thought He was referring to the temple in Jerusalem that had taken 46 years to build, but the Spirit adds in verse 21 those blessed words, “But He spake of the temple of His body.”

Perhaps we could ask, “Why was He raised on the third day, and not the fourth, or fifth?” Someone has said, “The first day saw the deed done, the second bore witness to its reality, and the third, the day of manifestation, showed all the power of God.” But there’s another blessed truth to add to this, which is suggested in Psalm 16:10, “For Thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.” God would NOT allow the body of His Holy Son to see corruption. You may recall that after Lazarus died and the Lord visited His grave it was recorded in John 11:17, “Then when Jesus came, He found that he had lain in the grave four days already…”  Then we read in John 11:39, “Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto Him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.”  It was the “fourth day” since Lazarus’ death and the process of corruption had started.  God the Father would not allow this in the case of His Son and so He raised Him on the “third day.”

Dear fellow-believer, we do well to meditate often on these precious truths. The Lord Jesus was willing to die for our sins and to enter into that cold and lifeless grave for three days. The One Who is the Prince of life succumbed to death, in order to offer us eternal life! But thetomb could not hold Him, for He had glorified God in His death by dying for our sins and, on the third day, God raised His Son to prove that He was satisfied with the atonement Christ had made on the cross for our sins. What a Savior we have! May we praise Him and serve Him every day of our lives for being willing to “die for our sins” and to be “buried,” and may we rejoice in His glorious resurrection on the “third day!”  (125.3)  (DO)