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In any case, Jesus in Matthew 12:40 reportedly taught, “For as Jonah was three
days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days
and three nights in the heart of the earth.” This simple verse opens the gates to a
relatively uncharted territory of thought. “Three days and three nights” must be assumed
to mean exactly what it says, for otherwise it wouldn’t have been stated with such clarity.
However, if we believe the Bible, Jesus spent only one day and two nights—Friday night,
Saturday day and Saturday night—in the sepulcher following the alleged crucifixion.
Does this pose a difficulty? We should think so, because the above quote is Jesus’
response to the request for a sign, to which he reportedly answered, “An evil and
adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great
fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”
(Matthew 12:38­40). The above, “No sign will be given to it except …” declares, in no
uncertain terms, that this is the only sign Jesus offers. Not the healing of the lepers, not
the curing of the blind, not the raising of the dead. Not the feeding of the masses, not the
walking on water, not the calming of the storm. No … no sign would be given but the
sign of Jonah.  Many Christians base faith on something they perceive to be a miracle, whether
written in the Bible, attributed to saints, or borne of personal experience. And yet, Jesus
strikingly isolates the sign of Jonah as the only sign to be given. Not the weeping statues,
not the visions of Mary, not the faith healing. Not the speaking in tongues, not the
exorcising of spirits, not the receiving of the Holy Ghost. Just the sign of Jonah. That’s
all. Those who adopt different signs must realize that, according to the Bible, they do so
against the teaching of Jesus. And considering the emphasis he placed on the sign of
Jonah, we should examine it.
The Bible tells us that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, which explains why the
Jews were under pressure to expedite his death, along with that of the two criminals
crucified with him. Friday sunset ushers in the Jewish Sabbath, for the Hebraic calendar
is lunar, which means their days end at sunset. Hence, Friday sunset heralds the
beginning of Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. The problem facing the Jews was that Jewish
law forbade leaving dead bodies hanging overnight (either on a cross or on gallows—
Deuteronomy 21:22­23), but also forbade taking the bodies down and burying them on
the Sabbath. It was an Old Testament Catch­22. Had any of the crucified died on the Sabbath, the Jews could neither leave the corpse nor bury it. The only practical solution
was to speed the death of the condemned, and this is why the Roman soldiers were sent to
break their legs.
The rapidity by which crucifixion kills depends not only upon the individual’s
fortitude, which is unpredictable, but also upon his physical strength.  Most crosses were
constructed with a small seat or a wood block for the feet, to partially bear the victim’s
weight in order to prolong the torture. In Jesus’ case, Christian tradition has it that his feet
were nailed to the cross. The reason for this brutality is that the condemned would be
forced to support his weight on impaled feet, greatly compounding the agony. However,
the Romans would often expedite death by breaking the victims’ legs. With no means of
supporting his body, the crucified would hang with his body weight suspended on
outstretched arms, which fatigues the respiratory muscles. Eventually, the victim would
no longer be able to draw his breath. The mechanism of death, therefore, is slow
asphyxiation—slower still in individuals with greater endurance and the will to live.
The Bible records that the Roman soldiers were sent to break the legs of the
condemned, but upon their arrival, they found Jesus already dead. Subsequently, he was
removed from the cross and placed in the sepulcher. When? Late Friday afternoon, prior
to sunset.
Sunday morning, before sunrise, Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb, having
rested on the Sabbath in accordance with the law (Luke 23:56 and John 20:1), and found
the tomb empty. She is told that Christ is risen (Matthew 28:6, Mark 16:6, Luke 24:6).
The arithmetic works out to one night (Friday sunset to Saturday sunrise), plus one day
(Saturday sunrise to sunset), plus one night (Saturday sunset to slightly before Sunday sunrise). Grand total? Two nights and one day—a far cry from the “three days and three
nights” referenced in Jesus’ “sign of Jonah.” Once again, a person either has to admit that
the evidence doesn’t add up, or rewrite the rules of mathematics.
One more piece of this scriptural puzzle deserves consideration. The quote, “For
as Jonah …” (or, as per the New Revised Standard Version, “For just as Jonah …”)
compares the state of Jesus with that of Jonah. Even schoolchildren know that Jonah was
alive from the time his comrades reduced the ship’s ballast by the measure of his weight,
to the somewhat rough moment of regurgitation onto the sandy shore. Since Jonah was
alive throughout the entire ordeal, a person could speculate that Jesus, “just as Jonah …”
was alive throughout as well. It is worth noting that when the tomb was visited on
Sunday morning, each of the gospels describes Jesus as “risen,” which is hardly
surprising given the fact that cold rock slabs, unlike warm, wave­suppressed waterbeds,
don’t exactly invite a person to punch the snooze button and sleep in. What is missing
from the Bible, however, is the statement that Jesus was resurrected. Jesus reportedly
said, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the
world and go to the Father” (John 16:28). But how is that different from any of us? And
where does Jesus say he would die and be resurrected in the process? The word
“resurrected” is nowhere to be found. “Risen from the dead” is mentioned a handful of
times, but never by Jesus himself. And notably, many second and third century Christians
believed Jesus didn’t die. 178
This may not change anyone’s way of thinking, but it should at least illustrate the
reasonable viewpoints that result from assigning priority to the recorded words of Jesus
over those of others. The Islamic understanding is one such viewpoint—one which affirms the prophethood of Jesus while pointing out that his scriptural teachings not only
discredit many elements of established ”Christian” doctrine, but reinforce Islamic
ideology as well.



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