Understanding Jonah…

October 31, 2009


What did Jesus mean when he said:

“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)?



First we come to the statement that Jesus made in Matthew 12:40; what was Jesus referring to when he said the Son of man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth? The first thing we need to point out is that Jesus is making a connection in this verse back to the book of Jonah, and more specifically to Jonah himself.  We read in Jonah 2:2:

And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.” (Jonah 2:2)

Basically Christ is saying that Jonah was a shadow or a type of Himself.  A type is a sign or signal of what was to come.  Jesus was saying that what happened to Jonah was a sign of what would happen to Him.



We’ve already looked at Jonah 2:2, however, as we examine it closer we see that Jonah is describing being in hell.  We must first look at the word ‘hell’ to gain a proper understanding of these passages. The word hell is mentioned 54 times in our Bible and in the Old Testament it is translated hell from the Hebrew word sheol; in the New Testament there are three Greek words that are translated hell. Hades is mentioned 10 times in the New Testament and is always translated hell;  hades is the Greek equivalent of sheol. A basic definition for sheol/hades is ‘the place of the departed dead.’ We also have the Greek word geenna which is translated hell 12 times in the N.T and its basic definition would be: ‘eternal place of punishment for the unbelieving’. There also is the greek word tartaroo, it is found only one place in the N.T. in 1 Peter 2:4 and is synonomous with geenna (hell). May I make the observation at this juncture that when we think of the word ‘hell’ we generally view it as the ‘eternal place of punishment for the unbelieving’, however, with more careful study we see that there is more to the word hell than meets the eye.



At this time we will focus on the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek word hades to try to get a biblical understanding of its definition.  As I mentioned earlier, sheol/hades (hell) is the ‘place of the departed dead’. In order to get the clearest picture/definition of what sheol/hades is let’s examine what Jesus himself said concerning it:

“ There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” (Luke 16:19-29)

We have laid before us a description of the place for the departed dead at the time Jesus spake these words.  Take notice that Lazurus and the rich man went to the same general place;  they could see each other and talk with one another, however, remaining separate. Lazarus  was in rest and comfort and the rich man was tormented in flame. This place hades was essentially divided into two compartments: one for the unbelieving dead, and one for the saved dead. On the saved side we have joy, rest and comfort in Abraham’s bosom; on the other side we have the lost in torment.



Right now all those that have died and have not trusted God by faith are in sheol/hades.  Hell as most of us understand it (geenna, tartaroo) is not at all filled with lost people. They are in ‘hell’ (sheol/hades) awaiting judgment:

“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: (Hebrews 9:27)

The unbelieving dead are being held in ‘hell’ (hades/sheol) until the Great White Throne judgment described in Revelation chapter 20:

“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:11-14)

Notice the phrase ‘hell delivered up the dead which were in them:” This is describing sheol/hades delivering lost men to be judged and then to be thrown into hell (geenna/tartaroo)


The dead that have trusted in Christ (saved) are with Him in heaven right now:

“We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8)

However, as we examine scripture we see that before the dispensation of grace (church age) all the saved dead went to hell (sheol/hades). They were in rest and comfort in ‘Abraham’s bosom’ and were in paradise. This is why Jesus does not tell the thief on the cross that today he would be with Christ in heaven, but rather paradise:

“And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”(Luke 23:43)

Why couldn’t men of faith like David, Joseph and Daniel go to heaven when they died? The simple answer to that question is that their sin had not been atoned for! Christ was yet to shed His blood at Calvary. Sure they had offered sacrifices which pictured Christ’s work on the cross and most likely took part in many offerings to ‘cover’ their sin; only the perfect shed blood of Christ Jesus could ‘wash’ away their sin.



Having laid the groundwork, we can now finally begin to answer the question in which we set out to answer “What was Jesus talking about in Matthew 12:40?” At Calvary, after Jesus gave up the ghost on the cross His body was laid in a tomb, but his soul descended into hell (sheol/hades). We know this from scripture as the psalmist says:

”For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (Psalms 16:10)

You may be asking at this point, ‘How are you sure this is referring to Christ?’ We can be certain from scripture that this is referring to Christ as Peter in the N.T. leaves out all questions by quoting Psalm 16 in relation to Jesus:

“Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.” (Acts 2:30-31)

Therefore, according to this scripture, Christ descended into hell, but came back from this place at the time of the resurrection. Why did Christ descend into hell after He died? When Jesus cried ‘It is finished’ and all the prophecies were fulfilled and all the world’s sin had been paid for He immediately went down to hell to proclaim the good news;, sin had been defeated! Peter testified of this:

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” (1 Peter 3:18-20)

Paul also testifies of this:

“Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.  (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)” (Ephesians 4:8-10)

After Jesus’ resurrection ‘he led captivity captive’ and the saved division of hell (sheol/hades) was emptied! No change occurred in the lost division of hell; the lost will remain there until the judgment (Revelation 20:11-14).



Are you being faithful to God and His Word?  Why don’t we dig a little deeper… are you being faithful with the right heart attitude?

Hast thou considered my servant Job? 

When asked the question, ‘Why does God allow the righteous to suffer?’, we often look to the book of  Job for answers.  Job is an excellent example of how to endure trials that God seems to allow for no rhyme or reason. In chapters 1 and 2 we read that Job faced unimaginable hardships.  Although he lost his possessions, children, and was inflicted with sores and boils, he never cursed God.  He remained faithful in the worst of times. 

 In chapters 3-37 we read of Job’s conversations with Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. In looking closely at Job’s responses to the ‘wisdom’ of his friends, it is apparent that Job was proud and boastful in his faithfulness to God.  In Job 29:14, Job says, “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgement was as a robe and a diadem.”  There is no doubt that what Job had to say about himself was true, but God’s word tells us in Proverbs 27:2, “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth.”  Job felt the need to ‘toot his own horn’ to his friends concerning his own righteousness. 

In chapters 28-31 we find that Job used the personal pronouns , “I”,  “me” and “my” over 200 times.  Why did God include this part of the book of Job in His Word? Perhaps to allow us to see that even though Job was obedient, his wrong attitude was not bringing glory to God.  This is why God spoke to him out of the whirlwind in chapter 38; to humble him by asking some simple yet powerful questions. “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding…” (Job 38:4).

According to Job 42:6, Job examined himself and hated what he saw. His repentance soon followed.  As a result, the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning.” (Job 42:12).

A thorough self-examination will often be enough for a change of heart and will not require the Lord’s chastening.  Notice what 1 Corinthians 11:31 and 32 says: “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”


Are we guilty of doing the right things and saying the correct words, yet having a boastful and proud spirit?  Let’s examine ourselves and do away with giving glory to our own flesh. Instead, let us glory in Christ’s finished work on the cross.