Why was Jesus in the tomb for three days?
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Jesus was in the tomb for three days following His death prior to His resurrection (a length of time of which Jesus spoke even prior to His death) in order to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. When the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus in Matthew 12:38-40 to show them a sign to prove that He was the Messiah, Jesus told them that the only sign that would be given to them was the sign of the prophet Jonah, and that, just as Jonah had been in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17), Jesus would be in the heart of the earth (that is, in the tomb following His death on the cross) for three days and three nights prior to His resurrection from the dead, which was the supreme validation, or visible sign, of His identity as the Messiah. (In addition to fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, the interval between Jesus' death and resurrection also complied with the Law by the fact of His body "resting" in the tomb on the Jewish Sabbath, prior to His resurrection on the first day of the week.)
The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that Jesus was in the tomb “three days and three nights.” Jesus told the disciples that the Son of Man will “be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Jesus died on Friday, Preparation Day, and rose on Sunday – that’s why we commemorate the Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. No matter how we cut it, Jesus was not in the tomb for three nights. Some have tried to accommodate the “three nights” by reasoning that Jesus actually died on Wednesday or Thursday, but there is no Scriptural evidence for that. However, the problem is not in “the three days and three nights” but with the assumption that “in the heart of the earth” means the grave. The phrase “in the earth” appears 66 times in the KJ Bible, but none of these refers to the grave. The term “heart of the earth” is found only in Matthew 12, and nowhere else in Scripture. In Matthew 12:40, the word “heart” is kardia. According to Strong’s concordances, kardia means the heart, but also means in the middle. In other words, in Matthew 12:40, Jesus is saying that just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish, so the Son of Man would be in the clutches of the world. Was Jonah in the grave for three days and three nights? He was not. According to Hebrew law, the sins of the people were placed upon the Passover lamb before it was slain. During the Last Supper, Jesus sealed His new covenant to be the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Soon after the Last Supper, Jesus began bearing our sins, guilt and penalty. On Thursday night, in the Gethsemane Garden, Jesus prayed three times (Luke 22:42-44). From that moment on, Christ surrender His will to the Father fulfilling His destiny as the guilt-bearer for humanity. Then the mob carried Him to Caiaphas and from that moment until His Sunday morning resurrection, Jesus was “in the heart of the earth.” Before this point, every time the mob tried to capture or stone Jesus, or hurl Him off a cliff, He slipped unharmed right through their fingers because He was under divine protection. His hour had not come yet. It was not yet His time to suffer for the sins of the world. But after that hour (Thursday evening), all the past, present, and future sins of the world were placed upon Him, the Lamb of God. Jesus came to take our penalty, the suffering, and the death (Rom 6:23). Jesus sufferings for our sins began on Thursday evening in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was beaten, spat on, dragged from the high priest to Pilate, from Herod back to Pilate, and finally to Golgotha. From the moment He began bearing the penalty for our sins, Jesus was in the heart of the earth. Soldiers beat Him, the crowds spat on Him, was scourged 39 times and then finally crucified. He was in the clutches of this evil world for exactly three days and three nights.
I don't believe Jesus was in the tomb, dead or asleep, for 3 days. Let's remember who Jesus is. He is the Son of God, a spiritual being, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Jesus chose to become a human being, a man, but he did not stop being a Spiritual Being. He was both Son of God and Son of Man. When the man died the Spirit of Jesus was still alive. So what did Jesus do for 3 days before his resurrection. Scripture doesn't give us a lot of information but we do have a few clues. My belief, expressed below, is based on my interpretation of the following verses: 1) Genesis 6:4, 2) Matthew 27:52-53, 3) Luke 4:18, 4) Luke 16:19-31, 5) 2 Corinthians 2:14, 6) Ephesians 4:8, 7) 1 Peter 3:19. Jesus had several missions to complete during those 3 days. Mission 1 He descended into the spirit world to a place called "Abraham's Bosom". This is the resting place for the spirits of the millions of Old Testament saints. We get a picture of this place in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Jesus went there to testify that he was their long awaited Messiah. These saints had put their faith in God. They knew their were sinners, but they believed God's promise that he would forgive their sins and cover them with the blood of the animal sacrifices. They had put their faith in God so Jesus applied the blood of his own human sacrifice to wash away all their sins and make them holy. After his resurrection the spirits of many of these holy ones appeared in Jerusalem. When Jesus ascended into heaven he took all the spirits of the old testament saints with him. They were his captives. He had set the prisoners free by paying the penalty for their sin and by his resurrection victory over death. Mission 2 Jesus descended into the spirit world to a place called Sheol, the location of the human spirits of the damned. These are the billions of people from Adam until the coming of Christ who rejected God's plan to save them. Jesus proclaimed their coming judgment and eternal punishment in hell. Mission 3 Jesus descended into hell (mentioned in the Apostle's creed) to the place where the spirits (demons) were sent, who had disobeyed God by leaving their permitted habitation in the heavens, and became human beings so they could marry the daughters of men and create the race known as the Nephilim. These beings died in Noah's flood and the demonic spirits were sent to hell. Jesus descended into hell to proclaim his victory as the Messiah and to proclaim God's coming judgement and the demons' eternal punishment in hell. O how amazing and marvellous is his victory. I am so glad that Jesus is my Saviour and Lord. He could be yours too.
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