Three Days and Nights In The Heart of the Earth

by Mike Ratliff

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:38-41 ESV)

Today is Good Friday. From what we learned in our last post, Do This In Remembrance Of Me, we saw where Passover was a feast instituted by God to be held on Nisan 14 every year. Also, the Jewish day always began at sunset. Therefore, Nisan 14 began at sunset on Thursday and ran until sunset on Friday. At sunset Nisan 15 would begin. The next festival or feast after Passover was Unleavened Bread. This feast was eaten in the afternoon following the Seder, which was the Passover meal. Notice that this feast was held prior to sunset on Nisan 15 so it would still be Nisan 14.

Now, with this in mind let us look at something that is quite troubling to many Christians. In Matthew 12:40 Jesus made this statement, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” However, using our 21st Century methods of calculating time and our Western mindsets we struggle lining up what Jesus said here with the timing of His crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

The problem is that there are some missing pieces on our logic. The Jews reckoning of a ‘day” was not given as A.M. to P.M. Instead, the day’s start was in the evening to the next evening, from sunset to sunset. The 7th day of the week, the Sabbath, actually starts on Friday evening. The morning of the 1st day of the week is Sunday morning since Saturday evening is when it began. However, even with this understanding we know that Jesus’ time in the tomb was not a full three days and nights.

In our way of thinking, Jesus died in the afternoon on Friday and was buried before it got dark. He lay in the tomb that evening then all day on Saturday and was resurrected on Sunday morning. That is a great deal fewer hours than the 72 which is how many hours are in three 24 hour days. In fact, if we use 3 p.m. on Friday as the time of Jesus death and allow about an hour to lay Him in the tomb we have 8 hours from that time to Midnight. Then we add 24 hours for Saturday to bring it to 32 hours. Then if we add from Midnight on Saturday to sunrise on Sunday we probably have 6 to 8 more hours. That would bring the total to around 40 hours more or less. So why did Jesus say 3 days and nights in a tomb? Look closely at v40 again. Did Jesus say that the 3 days and nights would be in a tomb? No, He said he would spend 3 days and nights in the heart of the earth. What does that mean?

Where is the heart of the earth? The term seems to suggest a place deep underground. The tomb in which He was lain was very close to the place He was crucified and the opening was at ground level. When John and Peter looked in through the opening they could see the place where Jesus body and been placed. So this tomb was not deep in earth. I contend that Jesus was using figurative language in Matthew 12:40. He was using an analogy to express a spiritual truth.

The Greek Word for “Earth” in Matthew 12:40 is “γης” or “ge.” It means the earth or land. However, in analogical thought it stands in antithesis to heaven; it is associated with the idea of emptiness, weakness, sinfulness, and does not correspond with the wisdom and power of God. The word “heart” here is “καρδια” or “kardia.” It refers to the human heart or the center of something. In this case Jesus was saying that for 3 days and nights He would be in the center of or in the middle of and subject to those who are empty, weak, sinful, and stand in antithesis to the wisdom and power of God.

What was Jesus’ status and ability when He was in His ministry? Could He go anywhere He pleased and do whatever He desired to do? Yes, and no one could do anything to limit Him in any way. Why? He was doing the Father’s will and that meant He was not subject to the whims of men in any way. However, something changed when our Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper which began the Crucifixion sequence. What did Jesus tell Pilate?

So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:10-11 ESV)

When the time came for the New Covenant to be sealed in our Lord’s blood, the requirement was for Him to become subject to those who sought His life. When did the Crucifixion sequence begin?

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. (John 13:21-31 ESV)

Notice, that our Lord told Judas to quickly do his evil deed. It was at this moment as Satan entered Judas that the events began that would lead to our Lord’s crucifixion. He became subject to others to whom the Father and given authority over Him. This was prior to the institution of the Lord’s Supper so this is during the Seder. Therefore, we are looking at not long after sunset at the beginning of Nisan 14.

We know that later that evening Judas led the mob to Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem to where Jesus was praying and the disciples were sleeping. Judas betrayed our Lord with a kiss and the mob arrested Him. Jesus was held by the high priests, or He was under their authority for 3 full days and nights. They did with Him whatever they pleased. They committed a horrible sin in condemning an innocent man, their kinsman. who was also the Messiah.

Let’s calculate this again. The Seder or Passover began on Nisan 14 and Jesus began the Crucifixion process before the Lord’s Supper was instituted by telling Judas to quickly betray Him. So Jesus was placed under the authority of evil men at that point. Even if we use the time of arrest as the start of the 3 days and nights we are still talking about the evening portion of Nisan 14. This is Thursday at sunset. He was held and tried that night into Friday morning. He was crucified around 9 a.m. and died that afternoon prior to sunset. He was quickly buried because it was getting dark. At sunset He had been under the authority of these evil men from Thursday at sunset through Friday at sunset which is one full day and night. He was in the tomb from sunset to sunset on Nisan 15 which is Friday evening to Saturday evening. That made two full days and nights. He arose from the grave on Sunday morning which is the day portion of Nisan 16. So, how many hours was Jesus under the authority of men?

My calculations are that it was around 60 hours. I am not being dogmatic about that though. We do not know at what hour our Lord rose from the grave. We do not know the exact time that our Lord told Judas to quickly betray Him. So we don’t know exactly how long our Lord was under their authority. What we have is this. He was delivered into the hands of sinful men on Thursday evening. This made one evening. HE was scourged, beaten and crucified on Friday morning. This made one evening and one morning so far. On Friday evening His burial was rushed and then the Sabbath starts. This makes two evenings and one morning so far. On Saturday morning the Sabbath continues so this makes two evening and two mornings so far. Then we have Saturday evening and our Lord remained in the tomb. This makes three evenings and two mornings so far. Then on Sunday morning our Lord was Raised from the dead. He rose from the grave. He was resurrected. He is alive. This makes Him being under the authority of evil men three evening and three mornings.

He was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, which was to be subject to sinful men. He is no longer my brethren. His alive. He is on the throne. He reigns and will forever more.


18 thoughts on “Three Days and Nights In The Heart of the Earth

  1. I have gone from Wednesday to Friday over the years and have come to the conclusion it doesn’t matter. Whether three days and three nights was literal or a Hebrewism is something to be known later, Paul seem unconcerned.

    What Paul is all about is that He died and rose again! Those are the facts!!!


  2. Mike, I was looking forward to your post on this and am blessed to have the clarity I was looking for. I have been a Christian for over 20 years and have asked this question to several pastors over the years and even a radio talk show question and answer format (the pastor on the program did not even attempt to answer; he said he would do some research and answer it on another show. If he did, I missed it). This is the first explanation that has made any sense. I believe every Word recorded in the Bible is there for a purpose. Thank you for your ministry of teaching truth.


  3. Bingo Rick! Yes, you are right, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that God did turn Christ over for a short time to the authority of evil men to work out His plan for our salvation. Amen!


  4. Marie,

    Thank you and you are very welcome my sister. After I posted this last night I went over it in my mind many times. Something was troubling me about what I wrote. Then it hit me. I had left out the significance of His being in the Heart of the Earth for three days and nights AS A SIGN. How would Him being in a tomb be a sign? However, those who resisted Him knew very well that He was beyond their control. They could not shut Him up. They could not arrest Him. They could not kill Him. However, for 3 days and nights they would have authority over Him, then like Jonah in the belly of the Fish that would end suddenly and with great power. Our Lord’s enemies have no power over Him or His message. They could not stop Him from being resurrected. The Church will continue until it is complete. I pray for that to be soon.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  5. In one sense it does not matter to me and in another it does. It doesn’t matter in the sense that no matter what I don’t understand about God’s Word doesn’t change the fact that He is my Savior I am overwhelmingly grateful of His mercy and grace. On the other hand, I desire to have a ready answer when confronted with an unsaved person who has read the Bible (like my boss), who might consider a verse like this a discrepency and use it to challenge me. Anyway, have a Blessed Resurrection Celebration.



  6. I have a question please. We know that Passover is on Nissan 14th and Unleavened Bread is on the 15th. That is a given in Lev 23 and doesn’t change. We know Christ rose on Feast of FirstFruits, 3 days later, as He was the First Fruits offering. This would be the 17th. If He rose on Sunday that would make Sat a Sabbath and Friday a Sabbath (Lev 23) and would put Him in the tomb Thurs just as this Sabbath started. The women would have any time to get and mix the things they needed to prepare His body by first light on Sunday. Maybe I am making too much of this, but I believe everything He put in His word has a meaning and purpose. Please help


  7. Linda,

    Nisan 14 began at sunset on Thursday. Therefore Jesus was in the Upper Room with His disciples that evening. He was arrested a few hours later. He was tried, beaten, and crucified still on Nisan 14, but now it is Friday morning.

    He dies that afternoon before sunset, probably while the Unleavened Bread meal is being eaten. Passover ends at sunset on Friday.

    The Sabbath began at sunset on Friday. Jesus was buried before it was dark, hurriedly. This is Friday evening.

    Saturday is the Sabbath until sunset. No one could work on Jesus’ body that day because it was the Sabbath. However, at sunset ending the Sabbath it is too dark to embalm His body. The only time the women could embalm Him was on Sunday morning, Nisan 17. When they got to the tomb, He was not there.

    Does that make it more clear?

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  8. What gets me is the leadership saying (in Matthew 26:5) that they didn’t want to arrest Jesus during the feast (which feast were they referring to?) lest it cause an uproar among the people. But Passover? I guess that was OK as long as it wasn’t daytime! But then it carried over into daytime and you have to wonder whether these priests were home piously eating their seder while their dirty work was being done. Oh the irony.

    What I also wonder about though is how they got all that shuffling back and forth between pilate and herod, and beatings, and walking to golgotha with a very weakened Jesus, done from between late evening Thursday to 9 am Friday?


  9. Oh the hypocrisy of these religious leaders! The festival they were referring to included all three, Passover, Unleavened Bread and Early First Fruits. However, Judas came to them with the offer and they went for it.

    Passover seems to be a meal event that once it is done then the people can do all sorts of things. It isn’t a Sabbath. The leaders did not want to enter Pilate’s palace so as not to defile themselves so they could eat the Unleavened Bread feast on Friday afternoon. They were probably at home eating this while Jesus was dying on the cross or being buried. The Sabbath began on Friday at sunset and they got Jesus’ body into the tomb hurriedly so they would not break it.

    I have often wondered about the back and forth as well. Most of this took place after the Seder and before 9 AM on Friday. I don’t think 1st Century Jerusalem is a very large place. Also, some scholars believe that Pilate’s residence was actually the former palace of Herod the Great instead of the Fortress Antonio. This would have placed it and the palace of Herod Antipas much closer together.

    Also, Jesus was sinless. I am sure He was in perfect physical condition prior to this. I am sure that I wouldn’t not have survived very far into this. However, it was God’s will that Jesus be crucified so He enabled Him to remain alive until, “It is Finished” happened.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  10. Passover is not a sabbath but the first and last day of Unleavened Bread are according to Lev 23:7 with no sevile work to be done. If Friday was the first day of Unleavened Bread how were they able to do the crucifixtion? And Saturday is a Sabbath with no work, so it would almost have to have been done on Thursday before sunset at the earliest wouldn’t it? Help, what am I missing.


  11. Linda,

    The Crucifixion was on Nisan 14 not Nisan 15. Unleavened Bread began at sundown on Friday. In Jewish reckoning for “days” you must understand that we are talking sunset to sunset. Passover is on Nisan 14 and that was sunset on Thursday to sunset on Friday. Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified after the Seder on Thusday night. He was crucified Friday morning around 9am. Unleavened Bread began at sunset on Friday so the period of Friday morning and afternoon was not the Sabbath. There was the preliminary meal called “Unleavened Bread” which the Jews ate on the afternoon of Nisan 14 (Friday afternoon), but the actual Unleavened Bread Feast corresponded to the Sabbath on Nisan 15.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  12. Thank you Mike and thank you for your patience. May Father continue to bless you and this ministry as it has blessed me


  13. I’ve read the posted replies and I’d like to add to this by sharing from my studies over the years…..I seek the truth and have come to this conclusion that there will never be another way to understand and correctly count the days as Yeshua spoke them.

    Now if you believe Yeshua only said that which he meant precisely, and if taken in context, with whom he was speaking and the reason to be so specific, it could only have been exactly as he said. From minute to minute, hour to hour, evening to morning, HE ONLY COULD HAVE MEANT 3 DAYS AND 3 NIGHTS WHEN HE MADE HIS STATEMENT to the Pharisees. I’m very happy to see others who are searching so hard to find the truth, as I have also.

    This does concern an accurate count of days which are the only three days and three nights that Yeshua (Jesus) was in the heart of the earth, and quite specifically so.

    The days are as follows, bringing full meaning to Yeshua’s words.. that is if you are a believer in every word he said as “the truth”, and I do. There was purpose for his preciseness but context and sequence must first be clearly understood. I see that many struggle over this issue, and I hope I can help you understand the answers:

    He already had a Passover meal with his Disciples the prior night – he had to have done this as it was part of G-d’s Plan…the time sequence fits (yes, a private Seder or Passover) during which Judas betrayed him at this time; all of this just prior to his capture to which he appeared before Pontius Pilate ultimately, and then to be crucified.)

    1. WEDNESDAY at sundown YESHUA went into the ground at the twilight period – the end of daylight/and point of evening. This starts the first 12 hours or evening hours.

    2. The next 12 hours is morning/daylight after which this totals 24 hours…this day, now into Thursday, is rarely accounted for as a High SABBATH (SCRIPTURE STATES A HIGH HOLY DAY BUT YOU MUST KNOW AND UNDERSTAND IT WAS WRITTEN HERE ABOUT JEWISH FAITH AND PRACTICES, and at that time THURSDAY was the Feast of Unleavened Bread (a HIGH HOLY DAY SABBATH BUT NOT THE REGULAR SATURDAY SABBATH!!) This is why they had to get him off the cross and buried before they prepared for THAT “High Holy Day Sabbath”, YET NOT the REGULAR weekly SABBATH.) This more than anything has confused so very many people; and without this made perfectly clear no one will come to this understanding to count the real “3 days and 3 nights in the ground”, meant by the words of the Messiah himself.

    3. Next is the 12 hours of evening (still Thursday – the evening portion) BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY totals now are WED and THURS evenings (2) added together. We now have 24 hours of evening (Wed & Thurs) OR the sequence total of 36 = WED – Night 12 + THURS – DAY 12 + THURS -Night 12 —2 evenings, 1 morning or 2 Nights and 1 Day.

    4. Next is the start of morning hours, another 12, which begins at sunup on FRIDAY. “..the women prepared this day – the day before the SATURDAY SABBATH” – the regular weekly Sabbath (to begin FRIDAY at sundown.)

    5. At sundown that “evening”(FRIDAY STILL, when another 12 hours passed again, added together is the next 24 hours….36 + 24 = 60 hours.

    6. The following morning becomes the start of THE LAST 12 hours – and is Saturday daylight, while at the end of SAT comes the twilight, and at this point totaling 72 hours, it is the full and properly accounted for 3 DAYS and 3 NIGHTS.

    As Yeshua said… a parallel to “Jonah in the belly of the whale” – the only sign Yeshua would give to the Pharisees when they asked him for a sign he was the Messiah.

    Yeshua died and went into the ground and remained from precisely WED, THURS & FRI counting those 3 nights or 3 periods of 12 hours each, same for the 3 DAYS of 12 hours each in THURS, FRI & SAT daylight hours. He was not in the ground one second more, nor one second less. You can count on this to be the exact truth because of the intensity of his words about the subject at hand when he responded to the Pharisees. It was extremely important, but then what wasn’t?

    If you don’t know how the Hebrews lived at that time, and if you don’t interpret Scripture through the eyes of the Hebrew ways, or language, most importantly how they practiced their faith, you’ll never make the fit for the right count of days and nights.

    I would like to add here …a Fri to Sun can never become 3 days so it’s ludicrous to think so because of Scripture alone, whether you were or were not aware of the “extra Sabbath in that week”! And, this is why it doesn’t make sense. If organized religion has made you think this is true, please rethink it, for it is “your faith in the truth” that matters.

    There was an authentic but second Passover that week, for Yeshua was the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God who has taken away our sins, redeeming us through his death as we believe in him as part of G-d’s plan.


  14. There were two Sabbath’s that week. Reg 7th day Sabbath and the High Holy Passover day of Sabbath? So how does this work in this senerio?

    Joh 19:31 ¶ The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.


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