Jonah Bible Study Chapter 1:17 Jonah, Jesus & the third day

Bible Studies in Book of Jonah

Jonah Chapter 1:17 Lesson - Jonah, Jesus & the third day

by I Gordon

Jonah 1:17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.


When we left our friend Jonah last time, he was treading water. Well, for a while anyway. That lasted until the time that a God-appointed great fish came and swallowed him whole. We read in our text above that Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Three days and three nights... That, I'm sure you will agree, is an interesting period of time. It is this number 'three' that I want to explore in this study today. It will be a different type of study but one that is profitable, I hope. It is one that will span the Bible and hopefully show more of God's amazing book. Let's start with how this passage in Jonah relates to Jesus.

Jesus and the sign of Jonah

Matthew 12:38-41 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you." (39) He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (40) For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (41) The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. 

The Jews always wanted to see a sign from Jesus to prove that He was the Messiah. Jesus of course had performed countless miracles up until this point that clearly proved the claims He was making about Himself. But for the hard-hearted Pharisees and Jewish leaders it was never enough. Things came to a head in Mathew 12. Having 'blasphemed the Holy Spirit' Jesus clearly tells them that the only sign He will give them from now on is the 'sign of the prophet Jonah'. This sign, Jesus tells them, involves the Son of Man being in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights just as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights. That is the only sign He will give to this wicked generation. So let me ask you... what is the sign of Jonah? What actually does this sign involve? The sign of Jonah is one of death and resurrection. Specifically it involves going down into the place of death and finding new life on the third day. Jonah went down into the belly of the great fish and was there for three days and nights before being delivered and coming forth from this place of certain death (in normal circumstances!) In the same manner, the only sign Jesus would give is that of His resurrection. He would go down into the place of death and remain there for three days and three nights  [1]  before coming forth in resurrection life!

So what scripture spoke of the three days?

Now Paul writes in 1 Cor. 15:4 concerning Jesus:

1 Corinthians 15:4 '...that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...' 

So here is a question for you. What scriptures did Paul or those in Corinth have at this time? That's right, the Old Testament scriptures. The New Testament wasn't formed yet. So the second question is 'what Old Testament scriptures spoke about Jesus being raised on the third day?' There must be some for Paul says that Jesus was raised on the third day according to the scriptures. So what scriptures are they? Can you think of any Messianic prophecies that spoke of the resurrection occurring on the third day? Believe me... it is an interesting question to explore! And that is what we shall do. In doing so we should bear in mind that the Jewish mind interpreted the scriptures somewhat differently that what most do today. The Jewish mind looked for repeated patterns of events throughout scripture (a method of interpretation called 'Midrash'). Let's apply this concerning the resurrection on the third day (the sign of Jonah) and see what patterns the Old Testament scriptures held.

The number three and its connection to resurrection

Firstly, let's look at this number three and see if it is related to resurrection and new life. The first ever mention of 'three' or 'third' goes right back to Genesis 1:13. It was on this third day of creation that land emerged from the waters that covered it and life first appeared on the earth in the form of trees, plants, seeds etc. So it was the start of new life on planet earth on the third day.

What about an actual resurrection?Can you think of the first mention of a resurrection in the Old Testament? There are actually three resurrections in the Old Testament (1 Kings 17:21-22, 2 Kings 4:32-36, 2 Kings 13:21). The first mention of a resurrection involved the prophet Elijah where we see the number three strangely related to resurrection. We read:

1 Kings 17:20-22 Then he cried out to the LORD, "O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?" (21)  Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times  and cried to the LORD, "O LORD my God, let this boy's life return to him!" (22)  The LORD heard Elijah's cry, and the boy's life returned to him, and he lived.  

Just as there were three resurrections in the Old Testament, you also find that there were three resurrections in the ministry of Jesus. They were the son of the widow at Nain (Luke 7:15), Jairus' daughter (Luke 8:49-45) and of course Lazarus (John 11:43-44). In the book of Acts, there are also three accounts of resurrection. In Acts 9:40 Peter raised Tabitha; Paul himself 'might' have been raised  [2]  (Acts 14:19-20) and Paul's resurrection of Eutychus (after he fell asleep listening to Paul preach on and on and on! and fell, strangely, from the third floor) in Acts 20:9-12.

What about the 'third day' specifically? Is it significant? 

The 'third day' is highly significant. There are a number of key stories that involve this phrase and teach us something more concerning new life and resurrection. Sometimes they are pointing to the resurrection of Jesus on the third day. Sometimes they are pointing to the resurrection and new life at the end of the age that occurs in the third day (where one day is like one thousand years) since Jesus' resurrection. The first story involves the father of the Jewish faith... Abraham himself!

 Genesis 22:1-4 Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. (2) Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." (4) On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 

God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son as a test. Clearly this whole event is a type of what God the Father would have to do in giving Jesus over, His only begotten Son, to be a sacrifice for our sin. The interesting point to this story is that having come to the place designated (Mount Moriah - the same region as Jesus would be later crucified) and with Isaac as good as dead in Abraham's eyes, it was specifically on the third day that Isaac was allowed to go free. Scripture reveals that'  Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.' (Heb.11:19)  And this happened on the third day!

Crossing the Jordan

Joshua 1:10-11 Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, (11) "Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, saying, 'Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you are to cross this Jordan , to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you, to possess it.'" 

When the children of Israel came to the Promised Land they had to first pause and prepare. Crossing the Jordan would be the dividing line between leaving their old life in the wilderness behind and entering into the new life in the Promised Land. It was a monumental time in the life of this nation. And it would happen in three days! This is no coincidence. The Jordan River speaks of death and resurrection. Death to what they were as they go down into the river, and resurrection to new life as they come out. It again is another type in countless patterns that God has put in His word that point to the resurrection of His Son still to come!

Esther comes before the King!

Esther 5:1-2 Now it  came about on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes  and stood in the inner court of the king's palace in front of the king's rooms, and the king was sitting on his royal throne in the throne room, opposite the entrance to the palace. (2) When the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight; and the king extended to Esther the golden scepter which was in his hand. So Esther came near and touched the top of the scepter. 

Hopefully you remember the story of Esther. A decree had been passed which called for the Jews to be killed. Esther, who was Jewish herself, had risen to be Queen and was called upon by Mordecai to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people before the Medo-Persian king. To come before the king uncalled could mean death as Esther herself had earlier declared saying 'If I perish, I perish'. So she asked the Jews to fast for three days and on the third day she put on her royal robes and came before the king! The law called for her death with such an act but the grace and mercy of the king could annul that. And so it was that she found grace on the third day! Here is another picture in scripture that teaches of death and resurrection on the third day. This example points to the grace which the bride of Christ will experience, following the resurrection on the famous third day where the law was annulled and favor with the king was obtained.

An extension of life for a king

2 Kings 20:1-6 In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amos came to him and said to him, "Thus says the LORD, 'Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.'" (2) Then he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, (3) 'Remember now, O LORD, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. (4) Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, (5) "Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, "I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you.  On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. (6) "I will add fifteen years to your life  , and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David's sake."'" 

The prophet Isaiah was sent to King Hezekiah to tell him to put his house in order for he is about to die. Hezekiah cries out to the Lord for His mercy, reminding Him how he has served Him with a whole heart and in response the Lord sends Isaiah back to Hezekiah to tell him some good news! The Lord will heal Hezekiah and add 15 years to his life. When will this happen? On the third day! On the third day Hezekiah has to go to the house of the Lord to receive his healing and the extension on his life. In like manner most thought that Jesus' life was over as well when He was in the tomb. It is fair to say that not many come back from the dead! But on the third day He rose and His life extended forevermore!

Third day scriptures concerning the end time resurrection / new life still to come 

As mentioned earlier, some of the references to events 'on the third day' relate to the end of the age. I believe that God is working to a timetable that sees the third day (third millennium) since the resurrection of Christ as the day of rest when Jesus reigns in peace and justice from Jerusalem in His Messianic Kingdom.

Let's look at some examples of this...

God came down on the third day

Exodus 19:10-11 And the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow.  Have them wash their clothes (11) and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down  on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 

In the days of Moses, the people had to wash their clothes and be ready for God to come down from Heaven onto Mount Sinai on the third day. So it will be with the return of Jesus,we need to be found ready, wearing the garments of salvation that He provides, this is critical!

Matthew 22:11-13 But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. (12) 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless. (13) Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' 

Those invited unto the wedding supper/feast

When Jesus returns, His reign will start by judging and separating the people from the nations (not his bride!) into two groups - the sheep and the goats (according to Mathew 25:31-46). The 'sheep' will be allowed to go into His kingdom and participate in the wedding feast at the beginning of Jesus' Messianic reign. One example of this is given in the book of Genesis during the life of Joseph.

Genesis 40:16-22 When the chief baker saw that he had interpreted favorably, he said to Joseph, "I also saw in my dream, and behold, there were three baskets of white bread on my head; (17) and in the top basket there were some of all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, and the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head." (18) Then Joseph answered and said, "  This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days  ; (19) within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head from you and will hang you on a tree, and the birds will eat your flesh off you." (20) Thus it came about on the third day , which was Pharaoh's birthday;  that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. (21)  He restored the chief cupbearer to his office, and he put the cup into Pharaoh's hand; (22) but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had interpreted to them.  

This is an interesting, and sobering, story. The king, Pharaoh, was having a feast for his servants (just as Jesus' kingdom will start with the wedding feast), and so Pharaoh judges his two servants that were placed in prison. One, the chief cupbearer, is released from prison and is allowed to enter into the feast. The other, the chief baker, is condemned to die. All this happens, according to Joseph, on the third day! So it will be when Jesus returns on the third day (third millennium I believe). There will be a judgment and some will be raised and restored into true life in His kingdom while others will be condemned.

It is on the third day that Israel will live in His presence! 

Hosea 5:15-6:3 Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me." (6:1) Come let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. (2) After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us that we may live in his presence. (3) Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth." 

Here is avery interesting passage. God is speaking at the start of it.He says that He will return to His place UNTIL they (Israel) acknowledge their guilt... and in their misery they will earnestly seek me! This was the word of the Lord Jesus to the nation of Israel (Mathew 23:36-39). In Hosea chapter 6 we have the nation of Israel responding. They say 'come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us but He will heal us.' They go on to say that they will be revived AFTER two days and that on the THIRD day He will restore us and we will live in His presence! That is remarkable because this is what we are heading into right now. There is an unrelenting pressure coming upon the nation of Israel... the time of Jacob's trouble is close. But it will be a time that is used of God to get that nation to seek and call out for their Messiah Jesus once again. And He will come! He will return! He will heal and revive them and in the third day (the Messianic Kingdom) they will live in His presence. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear!

On the third day there will be a wedding!

John 2:1-10 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, (2) and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. (3) When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine.'... (7) Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. (8) Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, (9) and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside (10) and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." 

Everyone likes a good wedding! But this wedding had something very memorable. At this wedding Jesus performed His first miracle of changing the water into wine. I'm sure this was a day that was talked about for some time! Well, we are still talking about it today! But there is more than just a literal wedding going on here. It is also a picture, a type, of what is to come. Wine in the Bible often speaks of joy and this wedding is a reminder of the joy that will occur when the true ultimate wedding takes place - the wedding of Jesus and His bride, the church!

Revelation 19:7-9 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory--- For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. (8) Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) (9) Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!' And he added, "These are the true words of God."

The wedding of the Lamb, like this wedding at Cana, will also occur 'on the third day'. And, as is written above, 'blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'On that day, like at the wedding at Cana, it will be said that He has saved His best for last!

Conclusion - It is on the third day that Jesus would reach His goal 

Luke 13:31-32 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you." (32) He replied, "Go tell that fox, 'I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.

Finally, I'll draw to your attention this scripture from Luke 13. According to the Pharisees Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Jesus' response was that He will carry on His healing ministry for the next two days and then on the third day He would reach His goal. This probably had a literal meaning at that time but it is also interesting in connection to what we have seen about the third day scriptures in general. With these in mind we see that Jesus would carry on healing humanity before finally reaching His goal on the third day which is His return and the establishment of His Messianic Kingdom. That is the 'third day' goal and it shall all come to pass.

So I hope you have seen something new in these 'third day' passages. These passages span the entire length of the Bible and they are not a coincidence. They are put there by the hand of God. Look up 'four' days or 'five' days etc. and you will not find the same pattern. But the 'third day' passages consistently speak, through many stories, of the resurrection and return of Jesus Christ. Whether it is from the life of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Hezekiah, Esther or our good friend Jonah... it matters not. It is a consistent message that all points to the ultimate being - the Lord Jesus!

[1] ↩  Just as a side note, this is one of the reasons I don't believe in a Friday crucifixion. Some say that Jesus only had to be three days in the place of death and that the Jews counted any part of the day, as a day. Thus, they say that part of Friday, all of Saturday and part of Sunday constitute the three days. Now it is true that part of the day qualifies for the whole day. But note that Jesus didn't just say He would be in the heart of the earth for three days. He specifically said: '  The Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.'  Did you see that? Well, how could you miss it! I put it in bold type! Three days AND three nights! And there is no way you can fit three days and three nights into a Friday crucifixion and a Sunday resurrection before dawn. So for this, and other reasons, I believe in a Thursday crucifixion. Having died shortly after 3pm in the afternoon (and with a Jewish day starting at sundown in the they had the night and then the day following the Genesis model - thus the 'days' went from 6am to 6pm and the 'nights' 6pm to 6am) this would allow for the following days - part of Thursday, all of Friday, all of Saturday. And the following nights: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Being raised before dawn on the Sunday morning (Mark 16:2) the timing of the three days and three nights fits with a Thursday crucifixion.

[2] ↩  We don't know if Paul was actually dead or just looked like he was dead. Either way something miraculous happened because he was stoned and then his body was dragged out of the city... and that isn't something you don't bounce back from the same day so that you can walk back into the city and carry on your ministry!

J Vernon McGee is one who thinks it was a resurrection writing:
 'They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city "supposing he had been dead." Do you think he was dead? I'll tell you what I think. I think he was dead. Later Paul writes of the experience he had: "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows) such a one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (2Cor.12:2-4). Who was that man? It was Paul himself. "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure" (2Cor.12:7). I don't think that crowd left him there half dead; I think they left him dead. I believe that God raised him from the dead.