Matthew 12:38 - 42
NASB - 38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You. 39 But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.
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The sign of Jonah as mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 12:39-40 refers to Jesus being crucified and died on Friday and rose up again on Sunday. Jewish speech tradition (as oppose to our modern colloquialism) counts any part of a day as a whole day. Therefor when Jesus died on Friday, it was already counted as one day. In addition, in the Jewish context, the beginning of a day also starts at sunset. Therefor Sunday officially started on a Saturday evening. Even though Jesus rose before dawn on Sunday, Sunday already begun on Saturday evening, thus fulfilling the 3rd day. In John 2:19, Jesus said, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up". He did, and fulfilled the sign of Jonah. Three days and three nights, his body was in the tomb (in the heart of the earth). [Edit: See comments on interpretation that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday]
[Adding this as an alternate answer based on comments in the first answer provided.] Jesus was crucified on Wednesday. This is based on the reference in John 19:31 that "that Sabbath was a high day" - a term used to reference the seven annual Sabbaths from the regular weekly Sabbath days. -- Source: http://www.ucg.org/doctrinal-beliefs/jesus-wasnt-crucified-friday-or-resurrected-sunday/ The Gospels tell us that on the evening before Jesus was condemned and crucified, He kept the Passover with His disciples (Matthew 26:19-20; Mark 14:16-17; Luke 22:13-15). This means He was crucified on the Passover day. Leviticus 23, which lists God's festivals, tells us that on the day after the Passover a separate festival, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, begins (verses 5-6). The first day of this Feast is "a holy convocation" on which "no customary work" is to be done (verse 7). This day is the first of God's annual Sabbaths. This is the "high day" of which John wrote. Several Bible commentaries, encyclopedias and dictionaries note that John is referring to an annual Sabbath here rather than the regular weekly Sabbath day. Passover began at sundown and ended the following day at sundown, when this annual Sabbath began. Jesus kept the Passover with His disciples, then was arrested later that night. After daybreak the next day He was questioned before Pontius Pilate, crucified, then hurriedly entombed just before the next sunset when the "high day," the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, began. Leviticus 23 tells us the order and timing of these days, and the Gospels confirm the order of events as they unfolded. Jesus crucified on Wednesday, not Friday. Several computer software programs exist that enable us to calculate when the Passover and God's other festivals fall in any given year. Those programs show that in A.D. 31, the year of these events, the Passover meal was eaten on Tuesday night and Wednesday sundown marked the beginning of the "high day," the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
One aspect that we are failing to look at is the timeline of other events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection. Mk. 16:1 tells us that the women who were there bought spices to anoint Jesus' body after the Sabbath had past. Luke 23:56 tells us that after they bought and prepared the spices, they rested on the Sabbath. They could not have bought the spices after the Sabbath had passed, and also rested on the Sabbath without there being 2 Sabbaths during that week. One was the High Holy Day (Thursday) and the other was the weekly Sabbath (Saturday). This scriptural timeline makes it impossible for Jesus to have been crucified on Friday. As stated in the UCG account, "When we consider the details in all four gospel accounts, the picture is clear. Jesus was crucified and entombed late on Wednesday afternoon,just before a Sabbath began at sunset. However, that was a High Day Sabbath, lasting from Wednesday sunset to Thursday sunset that week, rather than the regular weekly Sabbath, lasting from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. He remained in the tomb from Wednesday sunset until Saturday sunset, when He rose from the dead." We can be assured that the length of His entombment that Jesus gave as proof that He was the Messiah was exactly as long as He foretold. Jesus rose precisely three days and three nights after He was placed in the tomb."
Jesus was crucified on friday which is the preparation day for the jews. on that day when jesus died on the cross, it became dark like night and again the light came back (according to Genesis 1:3 & 1:5 sunrise - sunset - sunrise is one day). So friday morning sunrise till darkness/sunset (when jesus died) till sunrise (again light came back) is one day, and from that sunrise (or light came) till evening and morning of the sabbath (sunrise on sabbath) is second day, and from sabbath sunrise - sunset - sunrise (i.e., sunday morning sunrise is) the third day. Which jesus fulfilled that he will rise by the third day.
I will try to address the question "How was Jesus in the earth for three days and three nights?" that was merged with this other question. There is a simple misunderstanding about the “three days and three nights” time period (Matt 12:40). It is commonly believed that the “heart of the earth” must be the grave; however that cannot be found in the Bible. The term “heart of the earth” is only in Matthew 12, and nowhere else in Scripture. The phrase “in the earth” however, appears 66 times in the King James Bible, and none of these refers to the grave. I’m going to start from the premise that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, the preparation day (John 19:31; Luke 23:54-56) and was raised on a Sunday (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1) - that’s why in our days we celebrate the Good Friday (on Fridays) and the Easter Sunday (on Sundays). Jesus never said He would be in the grave “three days and three nights” or that it would be three 24-hour segments, but rather, His suffering would occur over a period of three days and three nights (Matt 12:40). The term “in the heart of the earth,” simple means that Jesus would be in the grip of the enemy over a period of three days and three nights -Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night. In other words, in Matthew 12:40, the Lord is telling His disciples that just as Jonah was captive in the belly of a great fish, so the Son of Man would be in the clutches of the world. And that makes perfect sense knowing that for three days and nights Jonah was not in the grave. In addition, Jesus was laid in an above ground tomb cut in stone, according with the Jewish tradition, not buried six feet under (Luke 23:53). In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed an intense prayer of surrender three times. On that Thursday evening, Jesus prayed sweating drops of blood (Luke 22:42-44). From that moment on, Christ had surrender His will in order to fulfill His destiny as guilt-bearer for our sins. He was in “the heart of the earth,” or in “the depths of the world.”
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