Jesus taught that he would not die

Jesus did not die because Jonah did not die

To examine how Jonah is related to all of this, we have to study some background. When Jesus’ audience asked him to give them a sign, Jesus replied with the following:

(Mat 12:39-40)  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.

Critics argue that because Jesus compares his stay in the tomb to that of Jonah in the belly of the fish, and Jonah did not die, therefore Jesus was saying that he will not die in the tomb. And this miraculous survival would constitute a sign to them.

The sign of Jonah is meant to illustrate only one thing, that Jesus would only be in the tomb for three days, just like Jonah. In other words, he will leave the tomb after that time period. Therefore, the sign of Jonah is not intended to illustrate two things, that he will be in the tomb for that time period, and that he will be alive while in the tomb. (By the way, this is also the rule to be applied when we interpret Jesus’ parables. Even though the parable may be very long, Jesus says it to emphasis one or two main points. Scholars who try to make every word mean something often come up with strange interpretations that Jesus probably never intended to teach.)

Critics response

Critics argue that the time factor cannot be the illustration because Jesus was not in the tomb for a full three days and night. They rightly pointed out that even if you believe that Jesus died on the cross, records say that he died on a Friday afternoon and was raised on Sunday morning, so only three days and two nights. Therefore the time factor was not the item meant to be illustrated. Which leaves the only other thing to illustrate – ie Jesus did not die in the tomb.

Christian response

The answer to this is simply Jewish idiom. The phrase “three days and three nights” is a Jewish idiom. It does not mean 3 full days and nights or 72 hours (as we understand it to be in English). The words “3 days and 3 nights” can refer to a portion of 3 days (i.e. anything between 48 to 72 hours). This is the unique peculiarity of the Jewish language.

In Esther 4:15 ‑ 5:1, we read that Esther proclaimed a fast for 3 days and 3 nights, but completed the fast on the third day ie after only 2 nights. Likewise Jesus died on a Friday afternoon and was raised on the following Sunday morning but the Jews would still call it 3 days and 3 nights.

More proof of this is found in the reaction of the Jews after the death of Jesus. Instead of waiting till 3 full days and nights had passed, the Roman governor on the day after the crucifix­ion ordered that the tomb be made secure until the third day. If they had interpreted that Jesus would rise only after three full days and nights, they should only be concerned about guarding the tomb after the third day, not until the third day.

Matthew 27:63-64 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ {64} So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

Another reason why Jesus could not have taught that he would be alive in the tomb is because he would not contradict his other statements that he would die.

Matthew 17:22-23 When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. {23} They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.

Still further proof that Jesus was using a Jewish idiom and did not meant a full period of three days and three nights was when he gave another sign concerning his death and resurrection.

(John 2:18-22)  Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” {19} Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” {20} The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” {21} But the temple he had spoken of was his body. {22} After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Here Jesus simply said three days, to him perfectly in harmony with his other statement that he will be raised in “three days and three nights”.

Jesus did not die because he says he will be lifted up.

(John 3:14)  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,

Christian response

Firstly, there is no mention that Jesus will be lifted up alive. The verse just says that Jesus will be lifted up.

Here Jesus compares his being lifted up (ie on the cross) with the snake being lifted up in the time of Moses. In this case as well, one thing was meant to be illustrated, the fact that Jesus would be lifted up on a stake. If we stretch this and say that this can illustrate two things, then we must conclude that Jesus was teaching that he would not even be alive when he was being put on that cross. You see, the snake that Moses put up was made of brass. It never was alive when Moses lifted it in the stake.

Jesus could not have been crucified because he says that no one can take his life.

Jesus could not have been crucified said that no one takes his life.

(John 10:17-18 NIV)  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again. {18} No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Christian response

No one can take Jesus’ life unless he chooses to let them, which was exactly what he did.

(John 18:4-5 NIV)  Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” {5} “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said.

(Mat 26:52-54 NIV)  “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. {53} Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? {54} But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

Jesus could not have died because he had not reached out to the “other sheep” (meaning the non-Jews).

 (John 10:16)  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

Jesus told his people that the sheep of the house of Israel who dwelt in and around Judea were not the only sheep, and that he was sent by God not only to them but also to the other sheep of the same flock. 

Between the time of his promise and Crucifixion, he never left the land of Judea for anywhere else. The question is, if Jesus ascended to heaven eternally, did he break his promise that he would also attend to the “other sheep”. Since Jesus could not have broken his promise, therefore he could not have died on the cross and must have died at a later time after he had fulfilled this promise.

Jesus did not fulfill this promise before he ascended to heaven. But look closely at the verse for it did not say that Jesus will fulfill it before he ascends. In fact, Jesus is still fulfilling that promise now. Just before he ascended to heaven, Jesus gave these words to his disciples,

(Mat 28:19-20)  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, {20} and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus commissions his disciples to the task, promising that he will be with them to help them to complete the task.