How Long Was Jesus In The Heart Of The Earth?
One of the most vital things to a Christian is to know completely that Jesus Christ is Lord.
You will at some time be asked to give an answer for the hope that is within you.
That's when the questions comes up - "Is what I understand the truth?" "How do I know that Jesus is the savior of the world?"The simple answer is that Jesus fulfilled every prophesy about the Messiah in the bible! Throughout the New Testament reference is constantly made to the things that Jesus did and how they matched exactly to what had been said beforehand.
But someone may ask you - "I thought Jesus said the proof was that he would be in the heart of the earth for 'three days and three nights'?" "I don't see three days and three nights between Friday night and Sunday morning!"
Well the first thing we have to realise is that we are attempting to get into the mind-set of a different culture so we have to learn to see things the way they did. And secondly, we should follow the evidence logically applying the same rules in all similar circumstances.
So let's see what scriptures refer to the time of Christ's death and the period up to his resurrection. These will help us build a time-line like they do on CSI!
21 Bible verses overall in the 4 Gospels give details of the time period of Christ's burial, and there are an additional 2 verses (Acts 10:40 and I Cor. 15:4) which quote "the third day".
So we need to find out how the Hebrews used the term 'three days
and three night' and what they meant by it.
At this point it might be wise to check if anywhere in the bible someone does something for a short period like 3 days and nights and we can see how they used the time. This would enable us to pin down the Hebrew thinking regarding the term 'night and day'.
Let's look at the Book of Esther.
There came a time when Esther had to approach the King of Persia and ask a favour to save her nation. She requested that all the Jews in the town of Susa would fast for three days, night and day, to petition God. She, Esther would also fast for three days and three nights and afterwards go in to see the King. p>
Esth 4:15-17 "Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, "Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish." "Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him."
Yet ON the third day she went in to see the King and sat down to enjoy a banquet she invited him to!
Esth 5:1-4 "On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king's palace, in front of the king's quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace. And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. And the king said to her, "What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom." And Esther said, "If it please the king, let the king and Haman come today to a feast that I have prepared for the king."
Now if the saying 'three days and three nights' or 'three days, night and day' meant 72 hours to the Eastern mind, Esther should have waited untill the fourth day before going to see the King! The fact that she didn't but went within 72 hours shows that three days and three nights to the Hebrew mind did not mean 72 hours! In their culture any part of a day counted as the day and night.
We can look at another incident where God is even more intimately involved to check how long 3 days might be to the eastern mind. Let's look at
Exo 19:9-13 And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and may also believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments, and be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.
Notice that to God the third day from today is the day after tomorrow! He said sanctify them today and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow is the third day when He would come down. Now if he spoke at 4.00 pm today and came at 8.00 am on the day after tomorrow that would only be 40 hours in-between.
So even though to us with our Western mindset 'three days and three nights' means 72 hours, we find that the Hebrew mindset was different to ours and to them it meant the same thing as 'on the third day'! And both meant two days hence (in our terms)! In other words in counting from 'today' they started counting with today as 'Day 1'.
This is also seen in the calculation for Pentecost. The instruction is to count 50 days from the Sunday within the "Feast of Unleavened Bread". Yet, 50 days from Sunday comes to another Sunday! Once again from Sunday means count that Sunday as "Day 1"!
So, now that we've established the timespan we can continue drawing the timeline.
The easiest point to establish from the internal bible evidence
is the end day. If we look at Luke 24:7-21 we see two people (and Jesus!)
discussing the events surrounding Christ's death. They tell us (and Jesus)
that the Christ was to be delivered into the hands of sinful men,
crucified, and then rise the third day. They then say, -
Now the day that they were saying these things on was Sunday, and Christ is quite happy to accept that this is the third day since he died. So we have proof positive that the last day of the three day time period of Christ being dead, is SUNDAY. `
Despite this straightforward evidence some, still thinking in terms of 72 hours, may like to claim that Christ was resurected on Saturday afternoon, but this is easily disproved. Look at Matt 28:1-4.
Mat 28:1-4 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.
Notice that the Guards are still at their posts on Sunday morning at dawn. If the 'three days and three nights' period ended on Saturday afternoon, then with nothing happening at the tomb the Sanhedrin and the Guards could tell the world that Christ did not fulfil his claim to rise again the third day!
What's more, with their job done the Guards would have gone home! What are they doing at the tomb on Sunday morning if Sunday is supposedly the fourth day? Unpaid night-time overtime? And what is the point of the earthquake (bookending the one when Christ died) and the Angel rolling back the stone, 12 hours too late for showing that Christ had kept his promise?
No, SUNDAY is day 3 as proven in Luke 24:7-21 and we just have to
count backwards till we come to day 1 to get the start point. That
is FRIDAY and so we have the complete timeline for Christ's death,
burial and resurrection.
THREE NIGHTS FROM FRIDAY TO SUNDAY MORNING!
But to cover those of a later time-period who do not think as the Hebrews
do, God even arranged to have three day-time and night-time periods in the
time from Friday to Sunday morning! God covers all the bases but we have
to be astute in checking the scriptures.
We need to remember always though, that what is of primary importance
is not the time Jesus was in sheol, but as Paul says in 1 Cor 15:3-4 -
1 Cor 15:3-4 "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures"
What is important to know is that Christ died for our sins and was resurrected in line with the scriptures, as proof that we, trusting in him, can have eternal life. And, throughout the New Testament as Christ's life is unfolded there is overwhelming evidence that Jesus is our Savior!