Jesus stated that just as Jonah was inside the belly of the great fish so would Jesus spend 3 days and 3 nights inside the heart of the earth.
The Scribes and Pharisees ask for a Sign
Matthew 12:39-4039 But He answered and said to them, “An evil andadulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.40 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.
The phrase “sign of Jonah” was used by Jesus as a typological metaphor for His future crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Jesus answered with this expression when asked by the Pharisees for miraculous proof that He was indeed the Messiah.
The most common understanding that Jonah was alive in the belly of the fish has been used by Muslims to show that the Quranic narrative that Jesus did not die and resurrect is more valid than what the gospel states (see the video by Muslim apologist Zakir Naik). Jesus did not die but remained alive for the 3 days and 3 nights just as Jonah was alive in the belly of the fish.
A closer study of what the bible says about Jonah shows that there is no contradiction. Jonah did die and went to Sheol but was resurrected to life by God.
The article and videos provided below should help you to understand that what Jesus said is consistent with the experience of Jonah.
1. Article: Was Jonah dead or Alive in the Belly of the Fish
Was Jonah dead or alive in the belly of
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2. Slide presentation
CA103-22 The Sign of Jonah
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Annually, Christians celebrate “Good Friday” and on Sunday “Resurrection Sunday” or to some “Easter Sunday. Jesus referred to his death and resurrection as the “Sign of Jonah” (Matthew 12:39-41). Zakir Naik and the late Ahmad Deedat, both prominent apologists for Islam, often challenge the authenticity of the bible and questioned the death and resurrection of Jesus so as to affirm the narrative of the Quran that Jesus did not die (Q4:157-158). So they cited the discrepancy of the “three days and three nights”. Many Christians are unable to answer their challenge because we thought Jesus was crucified on “Good Friday” which the Church traditionally commemorates. Please see this link provided to give you a correct understanding of the timeline based on the gospel. Jesus is referred to as the “Passover Lamb” (Luke 22:7, 1Corinthian 5:7), so His death on the day of Passover (at that time, that is Wednesday)) makes more sense.