What does Matthew 12:40 mean?
ESV: For just 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.
NIV: 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.
NASB: for just as JONAH WAS IN THE STOMACH OF THE SEA MONSTER FOR THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.
CSB: For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.
NLT: For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.
KJV: 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.
NKJV: 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.
Verse Commentary:
Some scribes and Pharisees have asked Jesus for a sign: demanding a supernatural miracle to prove that He is truly the Messiah. This is not a sincere request, since Jesus has very recently performed miracles (Matthew 12:9–13; 22), and critics attributed them to Satan (Matthew 12:24). These men are simply rejecting what evidence they see, then demanding more, in a never-ending cycle.

Jesus has flatly refused to humor their approach (Matthew 7:6). He has, however, promised them the sign of Jonah. In explaining what He means, Christ gives the first mention of His own death and resurrection as recorded by Matthew. Jonah was the Old Testament prophet told by God to go to the wicked city of Nineveh and preach against it (Jonah 1:1–2). He refused and ran in the opposite direction (Jonah 1:3–4). Jonah ended up being swallowed by a huge fish (Jonah 1:15–17), repenting from his disobedience, and then being deposited by the fish on dry land three days later (Jonah 2:10).

Jesus says a miracle with parallel elements will happen as part of His own ministry. He will spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Jesus doesn't mention the resurrection specifically, but He implies He will no longer be in the earth after three days.

Some have objected that Jesus was not truly buried for three days—as in a full 72 hours of time. However, Jewish people counted every part of a day as one day. In normal conversation, we often do the same today. Most likely, Jesus was buried on Friday before sundown, and left the tomb after sunrise on Sunday morning, the third day. Complaining that this doesn't match His prediction is to miss the miracle involved.
Verse Context:
Matthew 12:38–42 starts with a request from some of the scribes and Pharisees. They want Jesus to provide an on-demand miracle. Of course, Jesus has very recently performed two (Matthew 12:9–13; 22)! In other words, Jesus' critics are saying they want "different" miracles, which is just an excuse to reject what they've already seen. Christ responds by calling such an attitude evil and adulterous. Instead, they will only receive the sign of Jonah, whose experience in a sea creature is compared to how the Son of Man will be buried for three days. Those who correctly respond to God's call for repentance and submission will rightly condemn those who are obstinate and refuse to believe.
Chapter Summary:
Matthew 12 features confrontations between the Pharisees and Jesus over several issues. Among these are working on the Sabbath, healing on the Sabbath, and the source of His power to cast out demons. Jesus counters each argument and rebukes the Pharisees sharply for their obstinate unbelief. He even notes that those who maliciously ascribe His miracles to demons are unforgivable. He warns them, and the rest of their current generation, about the judgment to come. Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers and rejects their demand for another miracle. All they'll be promised is the sign of Jonah. The Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days. Jesus also states that all who do His Father's will are His family.
Chapter Context:
Matthew 11 depicted Jesus preaching and teaching after sending out His chosen disciples in pairs in chapter 10. Chapter 12 immediately picks up with more confrontation with the Pharisees. Jesus responds to those criticisms and rebukes their evil hearts as the source of their evil words. In the following chapter, Matthew will shift His focus onto Jesus' parables.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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