Harry Whittaker

6) Three Days and Three Nights (1:17)

1: 17 Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

There is no detail about Jonah more familiar and more certain, than the simple fact that he was buried inside the whale for three days and nights. Nor is there any detail of greater importance, for did not Jesus make it so?

“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” (Mt. 12: 40).

A simple fact, a very simple fact — in need of interpretation!

On the strength of the words just quoted it is very dogmatically asserted by some that there is a great error in the long received idea that the Lord Jesus was crucified on a Friday and rose from the dead on the Sunday morning.

Not possibly! For where is the room between Friday afternoon and Sunday sunrise for ” three days and three nights”?

Accordingly, it is decided that the crucifixion was on a Wednesday, followed by a Passover Sabbath on the Thursday and then an ordinary Sabbath on the Saturday. Thus, reckoning from Wednesday sunset to Saturday sunset, the body of the crucified Lord lay in the tomb for exactly seventy-two hours.

Leaving on one side the strange incongruity that the Sun of righteousness should rise just as darkness fell; there is a large accumulation of unexplained difficulties before the theory can be fully accepted:

  1. Whilst the New Testament mentions this “three days and three nights” only once, it also uses the expression “after three days” and no less than ten times it says “the third day” when speaking of Christ’s resurrection.
  2. The words of the two disciples talking to Jesus on the road to Emmaus on the day of his resurrection: “Today is the third day since these things (the crucifixion) were done” (Lk. 24: 21). But if Christ had lain in the tomb for seventy-two hours, ought they not to have said “the fourth, or even the fifth, day since these things were done”? This point is surely decisive.
  3. The Lord’s enemies, the chief priests, give the same kind of witness. They came to Pilate: “That deceiver said...After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day” (Mt. 27: 63,64). “After three days” would require, would it not, a guard at the tomb until the fourth day? But they were content to have the guard until the third day.
  4. If the theory is correct, why should the women leave their visit to the tomb, to anoint the body (Mk.16: 1,2), until the Sunday, when Friday would have been the most obvious time? The problem of corruption of the body would decide this, wouldn’t it? (Jn.11: 39).
It seems strange that there has not long ago been clear recognition that “three days and three nights” is a familiar Bible idiom for “the third day”. Considering that the phrase is not of common occurrence, it is surprising how many times this idiom crops up—with the explanation in the context:

  1. Queen Esther, faced with a great threat against her own people, bade them fast with her “three days, night and day” (Esth. 4: 16). Yet before this seventy-two hours fast was concluded, she went in “on the third day” to intercede with the king. Thus “three days and three nights” was interpreted as meaning “on the third day”.
  2. “They continued three years without war between Syria and Israel”. Yet “in the third year” war broke out again (1 Kgs. 22: 1,2). Here the same idiomatic usage is applied to years.
  3. In the fourth year of Hezekiah, the king of Assyria took Samaria “at the end of three years” in the sixth year of Hezekiah (2 Kgs.18: 9,10).
  4. King Rehoboam told the deputation, who came appealing to him, that they should “come again unto me after three days.” They returned “on the third day” (2 Chr.10: 5,12).
  5. Similarly, Mk. 8: 31 has the phrase “after three days”, and what is certainly the parallel record in Mt.16: 21 has “on the third day”.
There are other examples of the same sort, but these should suffice to establish that the solitary use of “three days and three nights” (Mt.12: 40) about the Lord’s entombment is to be understood as meaning “the third day”. The eight occurrences of this latter phrase (Mt.17: 23; 20: 19; Mk.9: 31; 10: 34; Lk.9: 22; 18: 33; Acts 10: 40; 1 Cor.15: 4) besides those already quoted should surely settle the question.

There is also the very striking double type of the wave sheaf of barley and also the Jamb of the first year (the Passover lamb reconsecrated to God), which were both offered on the day after the Passover Sabbath (Lev. 23: 11,12). Thus the death and resurrection of Jesus correspond exactly with the slaying of the Passover lambs on the 14th, and the reconsecration of a Passover lamb on the morning of the 16th.

Now the question needs to be asked afresh and answered afresh. How long was Jonah in the whale?

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