For 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.Matthew 12:40
This text has perplexed many people since Jesus was not in the grave for three nights. Some try to move His crucifixion back to Thursday so they can fit him into the grave for three nights. Remember when William Miller thought the earth was the sanctuary mentioned in the 2300 day prophecy of Daniel 8:14? He thought at the end of the 2300 days Jesus would return and cleanse the earth with fire. He had the time right but the place wrong. Nowhere in the Bible does it say the earth is the sanctuary. Likewise in Matthew 12:40, many scholars have the time right but the place wrong. Now maybe we should not be so hard on William Miller for his mistake. Fact is, nowhere in the Bible does it refer to the grave as being the heart of the earth. After all Jesus was not even buried in the earth but placed in a small cave. This verse can also be translated “in the midst of the earth” or in the “middle of the earth.”
When Jesus prayed, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,” He was not referring to “in earth” as the grave but the midst of the earth where all the people are. If you take the day for a year in Bible prophecy mentioned in Ezekiel 4:6, you have Jesus preaching the gospel for three years in the midst of the earth where all the people are. Therefore, the sign of Jonah has nothing to do with a grave at all. The heart of the earth is not the grave, it is where the population is. When John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world” it is obviously the people that God loved. So the sign that Jesus would be in the heart of the earth, He was referring to His ministry among the people. He was not referring to a grave.
The sign of Jonah is not so much about a time period anyway. We miss what this verse is really saying when we get all wrapped up trying to explain what three days and three nights mean. The point is, the religious leaders were asking Jesus for a sign while sinners had already accepted Him, and the religious leaders refused to believe. In the story of Jonah the men who threw Jonah overboard prayed to God and believed. The wicked inhabitants of Nineveh believed. The only person who kept rejecting God in his life was the prophet Jonah! Everyone else believed. Jesus is simply making a parallel with Jonah’s day and His day. Sinners believe and accept Him but the religious leaders wont. It is just like it was in the story of Jonah. The irony of the story of Jonah was the irony of the Story of Jesus. Those in the most favorable circumstances rejected God’s Light, while those in less than favorable circumstances accepted Him. That is what the sign of Jonah is all about.
How sad that Satan has been able to distract so many people with the “three nights” when that simply has nothing to do with Jesus’ point in this verse. Let’s all take heed, lest we, like Jonah or the Pharisees have a heart of unbelief while those with less light than we have freely accept Jesus as Savior and Lord.