Was Jesus Three Days and Three Nights in the Heart of the Earth?


I have somewhat of a dispute to make concerning the date of the resurrection of our Lord. I agree that the burial took place before sunset the day of the crucifixion (April 13, according to your 1995 anniversary date). Following this you say the anniversary for the resurrection is April 15. Can you figure three days and three nights between sunset of the 13th and sunrise of the 15th? Of course you can’t. And please don’t think this isn’t important, for we read in Matthew 12:40 (KJV), ‘…so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’ On all other points I most wholeheartedly agree concerning this issue. I will be anxiously awaiting your comments


If one were to stop with a surface reading of Matthew 12:40, your point on the “three days and three nights” would seem to be well founded. However, we are not safe in drawing any conclusions until we have examined all that the Biblical writers have to say on any given point.

First, if we take Matthew 12:40 to mean that Jesus was literally in the tomb three whole days and nights, we have a statement which in one sense is not appropriate at all; for Jesus was never in the “heart of the earth.” He was placed in a rock hewn tomb that was probably more like what we would call a vault today.

As for the record of the length of time involved, the gospels give two other statements of interest:

  1. After Jesus had risen from the dead, the angels who spoke to the women at the tomb quoted the words of the Master that “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again” (Luke 24:7). Notice that there are three different events specified which were to occur during the three days.
  2. On the afternoon of the day Jesus was resurrected, two of His disciples walked to Emmaus, and “Jesus himself drew near and went with them.” Recounting recent events, one of the disciples told of “Jesus of Nazareth,” how the “chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him, [and]….to day is the third day since these things happened.” This was said, according to our understanding, near the close of Abib 15, and it was “the third day since these things happened” (Luke 24:20-21). We might also give some thought to the meaning of the word “earth.” The terms “heaven’ and “earth” are used in Scripture with meanings other than the literal. For example, see Isaiah 1:2, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord has spoken.” The Prophet was addressing people, as verse 10 clearly states: “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah.” If we understand Jesus’ being “in the heart of the earth” as His being in “the hands of sinful men” (Luke 24:7), we have harmony, because Jesus was in the hands of sinful men during parts of three days and nights. He was betrayed on the evening of Abib 13 (April 12 1995) and delivered by Judas into “the hands of sinful men”; was tried and crucified and buried before the close of Abib 13 (day of April 13), which gives us one night and a day. The night and day of Abib 14 (April 13-14) He lay in the tomb, which totals two nights and two days; and it was after the night of Abib 15th and a very small portion of the day before He rose from the dead. So the disciples could say in the closing hours of the 15th of Abib, “Today is the third day since these things happened” and the prophecy was fulfilled that Jesus was “three days and three nights” in the “earth” or “in the hands of sinful men.”