Christ in the Grave Three Days and Three Nights.

Jesus Himself made the statement that He would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40 - 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.) According to "tradition and practice" the church holds that Christ was crucified on Friday and then raised from the grave early Sunday morning. This would make Him in the grave only two nights. The Jewish Sabbath began Friday at sunset and ended at sunset on the Sabbath (Saturday). Because of this Sabbath, the church has supposed our Lord was crucified on Friday. However, we learn from the Old Testament that there were other Jewish Sabbaths - Sabbaths of feasts and Sabbaths of years.


John 19:14 - And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! This verse indicates that the Jews, during the week of Christ's crucifixion, were observing a Passover Sabbath, which, no doubt, fell on Friday of that week.


Mark 15:42 - And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, this tells us that Christ's crucifixion took place on the day before the Sabbath. This was not Friday - the day before the weekly Sabbath, but Thursday - the day before the Passover Sabbath.


Just as Christ predicted, He was in the grave three days and three nights!


He Descended Into Hell

If Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, this would have included not only His tasting death for every man (Hebrews 2:9 - But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.), for the wages of sin is death, but it would have included His descending into hell, the place where all sinners deserve to go. The Apostles' Creed states it this way: "He descended into hell." Scripture gives us some hints to show that in hell Christ was conscious after His death on the cross and that His performance in hell was an important part of His earthly ministry. Peter, mentions the crucified Christ in Acts 2:24 - Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. Two things are implied in this verse:

  1. that death exerted "pains"
  2. that something called "death" tried so hard to hold Him that God Himself had to intervene.


Clearly there was a titanic struggle going on those three days and three nights in the grave. During this awful battle, several things took place. There was punishment for our sins. Christ took on Himself the guilt of the human race, including its worst crimes. In God's sight, Christ was "made sin." His whole being reeked with our sin. That sin had to be punished. Punishment for sin required more than physical death. If punishment consisted merely of separating spirit from body, which physical death does, then Christ could have almost instantly revived after three o'clock that awful afternoon and sped back to His Father. Punishment for sin follows physical death.


I Peter 3:18,19 - 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; This verse indicates He carried on activities which show He was alive and fully aware of His mission there. And, as He predicted, He was "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth," not just in the garden tomb (Matthew 12:40).


If punishment for sin is not mere physical death, what is it? Christ received the same type of punishment the rich man in Luke 16 experienced, cut off from God and godly men, abandoned to the torments of bell fire, and gloated over by Satan. It is the horror awaiting every Christ rejecter. When Jesus said in the garden, "if it be possible for this cup to pass . . . " (Mark 14:35,36 - And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. Thus it was the prospect of what went beyond his unspeakable death - the spikes, the nakedness, the sun's heat, the flies, the spitting, the jeering, the wracking of His body in hideous pain. It was the horrible, black anguish of the coming guilt of our sins and the fear of His Father's rejection. Surely this was the bitterest drop in the cup. He who had seen from before the foundation of the world what awaited any spirit delivered to "him who has the power of death, that is the devil," knew full well the horror that lurked for Him the moment He passed through "the gates of Hades."


Something of the gloating spirit that animated all Hades as Jesus descended may be guessed at from His parable of the vineyard where wicked servants, having killed a succession of prophets, said to each other, "This is the heir. Come, let us kill Him and take His inheritance" (Matthew 21:38 - But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.). Surely this is what Satan had in mind. If somehow he could incarcerate Jesus, then the earth's inheritance would be his. Every sinner is Satan's prey; here is Christ - with all our sins, and in Satan's sight the greatest sinner of all, forsaken by God and assigned to "taste of death for every man." Satan determined His punishment would be full measure.


Scripture does not tell us what "the pains of death" were like, but it does say that God "loosed" them. Hell's handcuffs were snapped on Christ, its gates clanged shut behind Him. For over four thousand years no sinful human soul had ever escaped that prison. The "gulf" was "fixed" too deep and wide for any transition (Luke 16:25,26 - 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.).

Try to imagine what this time in Hell would be like. How like all eternity it would seem! Perhaps in the spiritual realm time loses all meaning, for "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years." What would three days be like?


Here was Christ - all alone. "I looked, and there was none to help, and I wondered that there was none to uphold" (Isaiah 63:5 - And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me.). No angel was there, except hell's angels. For the first time in all eternity the Son of God was alone. Yet not entirely.


The Holy Spirit was still with Him. It was "through the eternal Spirit" that He "offered Himself without blemish unto God" (Hebrews 9:14 - How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?) It was this faithful Companion who plumbed with Christ the depths of Hell. He empowered the Savior's arm for combat, and the outcome is described as follows in Colossians 2:14,15 - Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. These principalities are infernal, not heavenly. They represent Satan's most potent warriors. Christ took them on in their own den and despoiled them-He stripped them, threw them down, and left them impotent. These evil beings are immobilized, not annihilated. Christ subjected them with His God-given power. Philippians 2:9,10 - Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.


Christ also bruised Satan's head. The promise given in Eden was fulfilled (Genesis 3:15 - And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.) The "serpent" that bruised Christ's "heel" was crushed by the heel. I John 3:8 - He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Hebrews 2:14 - Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. It was the three days and nights of invisible combat in hell that "brought to nought" Satan's power over humanity. Satan must live to witness the absolute triumph of Christ over all creation.


Hell's bars and gates had defied the ages, taking all and releasing none. Job had known their awful impregnability - Job 10:21 - Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death. But now these gates, which Christ declared would be no obstacle to His church, gave way to the One who is mentioned in Psalm 107:16 - For he hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder. Christ also seized the keys of death and of hell. Revelation 1:18 - I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.


Having descended into the lower parts of the earth and becoming the Victor, Christ now begins to make His exit "leading captivity captive" (Ephesians 4:8-11 - 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.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.)


What does the expression "captivity captive" mean? The key to our understanding this expression is the phrase "wherefore he saith" (vs. 8). Whenever an expression such as this occurs, it has reference to something said in the Old Testament. It is used in connection with an enemy capturing a people. When Jaban, king of Canaan, and Sisera, his captain, oppressed Israel for twenty years, Jaban and Sisera became "captivity" and Israel became "captive." Deborah, as judge of Israel, led Israel to victory, and Jaban and Sisera-"captivity," were led "captive." The enemy is "captivity." Read Judges 4:1-5:12. When Christ defeated the devil and spoiled principalities, He led "captivity" (the devil) "captive!" He is now the Victor - "captivity."


Some would suggest that Hades (hell - Sheol) was in two compartments. One for those who died in their sins, and the other for the Old Testament saints who had died in faith (Luke 16:22-26 - 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.) The compartment for saints is sometimes referred to as "Abraham's bosom." When Christ ascended up on high (Ephesians 4:8 - Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.), the "captivity" He led, so they say, were these Old Testament saints who were then taken to heaven to be with Himself - their faith being rewarded with the same victory that is ours (Hebrews 11:39,40 - And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.)



Up from the Grave He Arose

1. Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,

waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!



Up from the grave he arose;

with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;

he arose a victor from the dark domain,

and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.

He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!


2. Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,

vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!



3. Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;

he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!


Words by: Robert Lowry