Why was Jesus in the grave for three days?




My 8 year old grandson asked me a question and I didn't know how to answer him. Maybe you can help. Why was Jesus dead 3 days before He rose? Why not 1 day or 2 days? And what did he do in that time, if anything? Thanks for your help. God bless you!

There are probably several answers that could be given, but I'm going to focus on one that your grandson will most likely understand. I'll give you a bit more detail that what he probably will want. Give him a straight forward answer and when he asks a few more questions, you should have the material you need to answer those questions as well.

When the Pharisees and Sadducees became upset with Jesus, they began to demand that Jesus prove that he was from God (Matthew 16:1-4; Mark 8:10-13). The thing was, Jesus had done an untold number of signs, many of them done right in front of the Pharisees. He had healed people, made paralyzed people walk again, drove out demons, and even restored dead people to life. But to the Pharisees and Sadducees, none of these signs were good enough. They demanded a sign that was more spectacular. Likely, even if Jesus gave them what they were demanding, even that would not be enough. They would come back and demand something even greater.

Thus Jesus sighed and refused their demand, "A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah" (Matthew 16:4). It is not that Jesus was going to stop doing miracles. Jesus was saying that the Jews would not recognize any of the signs that he would be doing and he wasn't going to give them anything that they would recognize, except there would be one that even they would be unable to ignore -- the sign of Jonah.

At another point in time, Jesus explained what this sign would be: "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 12:40).

The question is, why so long? The answer is simple. If it was shorter, people could claim that "Oh, Jesus just fainted and when he woke up, he walked away." It would be easy to say that for one day, but three days makes the claim sound awful lame. How does a person recover from a three-day faint with no care while lying in a tomb? By being in the grave for three days, God demonstrates to the world that Jesus was truly dead.

Why not longer? Well, the body begins to decay as soon as you die, but it takes several days before the decay becomes really severe. When Lazarus died and Jesus asked for the tomb to be opened, Lazarus' sister objected, "Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days" (John 11:39).

One of the prophecies about Jesus was that God would care for him. "For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption" (Psalm 16:10). "Sheol" is the Hebrew word for the grave. Thus, there was a promise to be kept that Jesus would not be buried so long that his body would decay. Three days is more than enough time to prove he was truly dead, but just short of the time for extensive decay.

Many people have looked at the evidence presented concerning Jesus' death and resurrection. There is no escaping the fact that Jesus died and three days later he arose and was seen alive. The evidence is too strong. Now, that doesn't stop people from still refusing to believe the evidence; there are people who will tell you that black is white just to be contrary. But honest people can't avoid the evidence. "Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (I Corinthians 15:1-4).

Where did Jesus go during those three days? Well, we know he told the one thief on the cross, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). Paradise is the part of the realm of the dead where good people go after dying. Thus, we know Jesus went to Paradise. Perhaps it was an opportunity for him to rest after all the difficulties he endured during his last few days on earth. But we can't really know because the Bible doesn't say.

See also:

Spirits in Prison
Questions and Answers regarding Jesus