However, in our modern way of speaking about time, Jesus was not in the grave for three days and three nights. This duration would be equivalent to 72 hours of time (i.e., three full days). It is unlikely that Jesus was in the tomb for even 40 hours! It is beyond the scope of this lesson to address this subject in detail, but I believe it can be established that Jesus died on a Friday afternoon and was buried around 4 P.M. He rose from the dead sometime early Sunday morning (before 8 A.M.). Thus, He spent some of Friday in the grave, all of Saturday, and some of Sunday. Why then did Jesus state that He would spend three days and nights in the grave? The answer is simple. The people in that age counted any portion of a day or night as a full day (i.e., one day and one night). Although some have labored to find a contradiction in this passage, a careful consideration of other Scriptures clearly illustrates how the Hebrew people counted any part of a day or night as an entire day and night. It cannot be denied that this way of considering time is unusual from our perspective. Nevertheless, that is how they spoke about time in that era, and we must understand this point when we read the text. Please study the following passages on your own for proof of this truth: Esther 4:16-5:1; Genesis 42:17,18; I Kings 12:5,12; Matthew 16:21; 27:63,64; Mark 8:31; Acts 10:3,9,23,24,30. The time claim Jesus made to the people in His day was completely consistent with the way they spoke of time in the era.
As we move on in the text, Jesus declared that a large fish swallowed Jonah. Although it is not revealed what type of fish this was, Jesus' mentioning of the account gives credence to the historical accuracy of the event. This was not some fictional story--it actually happened! Consequently, if one cannot trust the story of Jonah, then he cannot trust Jesus (who spoke about Jonah as a character who existed historically)! To genuinely trust Jesus is to believe the story of Jonah. The two stand or fall together.
According to Jesus, the Ninevite people to whom Jonah reluctantly preached would "rise up in the judgment" and "condemn" Jesus' contemporaries. Why? Because the ones to whom Jesus spoke, although they were unresponsive and stubborn, had greater privileges and opportunities to repent than the Ninevites did (cf. Matt. 11:20-24). The people of Ninevah repented because of Jonah's preaching (as Jonah 3 describes), yet Jesus' generation would not repent even though Christ, who was "greater than Jonah", had been preaching and performing many miracles in their midst!
In Matthew 12:42, Jesus referred to the "queen of the South" (I Kings 10:1-13). This example reinforces the point that Jesus made concerning Jonah and the people of Ninevah. In spite of the dangers and inconveniences of travel in her day, the queen of Sheba came a very long way to be taught by Solomon. The Jews in the first century, however, rejected the teaching of the Son of God, even though He was greater than Solomon in every good way and brought the teaching to them!