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".

What's said in the KJ Bible No. of times
"the third day" 14
"in three days"  4
"after three days"  2
"three days"  1
"within three days"  1
"three days and three nights"  1

We see straight away from this that only one scripture out of the 23 refers to 'three days and three nights' and implies a 72-hour period. The other 22 verses fit with the normal explanation of parts of three days for Christ's burial period, perfectly.

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.

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'.

Jesus himself thougt this way. And being Jehovah one would expect this! In a direct quote from Jesus where he counts off what he means by the third day, we read this...

Luk 13:31-32 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you. ” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.

So according to Jesus himself the third day from today is the day after tomorrow.

This format 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, -
"But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done."

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.

From the events around his death we know that took place in the afternoon of Friday and from the events that occurred on Sunday morning like the earthquake to mark the event as it began to dawn, we know Jesus was resurrected on 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.

So, let's look together at Psalm 22 which is a prophesy of Christ from His position on the cross. While on the cross He showed He was praying this psalm by quoting the beginning and the end!

In Psalm 22, verses 1-2, He tells us that He was on the cross both in the day-time and in the night-time as He cried out to God!

Psa 22:1-2 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

So let's see when this occurred. Jesus was put on the cross during the day-time prior to 12 noon. Between 12 and 3pm there was a night when the sun did not shine and secular writers reported that the stars came out! Jesus died during this night.

After 3pm the sun came out again and we have day-time following, which gives us one night and one day while Jesus is dead (on the cross).

Then follows the Sabbath night and day with Jesus' body now in the grave; dead.

Finally we have the next night followed by Sunday morning when Jesus was dead and then resurrected!

So we have three night-time and three day-time periods included in the time from Friday to Sunday morning, according to the scriptures!

Jesus was to be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights and this time starts when He dies. That is when one's soul goes into sheol. His body was placed in a tomb above ground, not in the heart of the earth! But, He was dead during three nights and three days with His soul in sheol!

Whenever God sets up a paradox He provides the special circumstances which will be necessary for it to be fulfilled.

An adulterous generation who did not believe all the other signs and wonders in Jesus' life which showed that Jesus was Lord, was given the sign of Jonah. And, even that sign trips them up!

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!

Attlee Brathwaite

For more on the good shepherd Click Here.
For what it means to 'endure to the end' Click Here.
For more on God's work Click Here.