Friday, April 22, 2011

Heart of the Earth

Today is Good Friday. This is the day that many people celebrate as the day Jesus died. We know they’re wrong because of 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.” They’re off by one day. The only way for Jesus to be in the grave three days and three nights and then to rise on Sunday is for him to have died on Thursday. But I can’t help but wonder, why did Jesus use the phrase “heart of the earth” instead of saying, “the grave?” What is the heart of the earth?

Some people have taken this to mean that this is referring to the center of the earth and a great deal of the theory that Paradise and Hades were once together in the center of the earth hangs on this. I’m still not convinced one way or the other on that theory. I realize there are many verses that refer to the dead going down, but then we look at Elijah, who was taken up in a chariot of fire. For now, I’m just going to say that is one possibility, but I don’t think there’s anything about Matthew 12:40 that forces us to draw that conclusion.

When we look at the Greek, the word we translate as heart is the word kardia. You probably recognize that Greek root from high school. It means heart. There’s nothing hard about that. It is used many times in the New Testament and each time, other than this one, it appears to be talking about the thumping organ in your chest, but usually as a metaphor for our inner being. Once again, nothing hard about that, except the earth doesn’t have a thumping organ or inner thoughts. Heart of the earth must mean something else.

The word translated as earth is somewhat more interesting. Ge could mean, earth as in the whole earth, which is how we assume it to be if we take this verse to mean Jesus went to the center of the earth, where some have assumed Paradise to have been. But it can also mean land or ground. It appears to have all the same meanings that we use the word earth for today. So Jesus may not have been talking about planet earth, but the ground. With that understanding, it would make sense for us to say that rock is the heart of the earth. Dig down a few feet and you’ll find rock. Where did they lay Jesus’ body? In a tomb hewn from the rock and covered with a stone. So maybe that’s all Jesus meant when he used the phrase “heart of the earth.”

But why say “heart of the earth” instead of the “stone tomb”? If you were speaking and were drawing a link between Jonah being in the belly of the whale and Jesus being somewhere, it would flow better to use terminology that matches. Belly with heart. Whale with earth.