total darkness is defined simply as the complete absence of light. when exposed to such sensory deficiencies, like in a cavern, the other senses become more aware. achieving the absolute lack of light is difficult above ground due to celestial luminescence and the glow of a city skyline. Wwe had visited The Lost Sea in Sweetwater, Tennessee. after climbing down into the earth, they led us to a large cavern and extinguished all light. the absence of light was utterly evident as the walls around us disappeared, and it was impossible to see your hand right in front of your eyes.
in Matthew 12:40, Jesus makes this announcement, “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” (KJV, Tyndale 1987). Jesus spoke to scribes and Pharisees who were asking Him for a sign. this quote replied to those questioning Him. Jesus told them that they would not get a sign, except for the sign of the prophet Jonas (Jonah). it was an evil and adulterous generation that sought signs, but salvation would proceed after an experience that lasted three days and three nights.
God instructed Jonah to proclaim the destruction of Nineveh. these were cruel people, and Jonah was frightened to undertake such a journey and mission. in the running away from the task God had given him, Jonah’s boat was overtaken by a great storm, and Jonah was forced overboard. the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, and there he spent three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17).
in Jonah chapter two, we find Jonah’s prayer that led to God providing relief from his imprisonment. it would be hard to comprehend and describe the experience of being inside a whale in the deep of the sea. the smells that he must have encountered! perhaps he felt the pressure of the deep affected his body. for certain, deep in the waters, there was sure to be separation from the light inside this fish. within hours of being swallowed, Jonah’s other senses began to compensate. the gooey inside walls of the anatomy of the fish to his touch. the sounds of water rushing in as the animal fed and swam through incredible encounters with like beings and creatures only seen from such depths. the taste of a mixture of the salty sea and the creature’s stomach fluids splashing across his lips lessen my appetite to think of it. the distinct smell of decay and bodily gases to Jonah’s heightened senses would bring instant nausea (too graphic?). with the total absence of light, any sound, anything that brushed his leg, would bring panic and fear to his heart.
amid Jonah’s predicament, he turned toward the Lord and His holy temple. he said, “I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). three days and three nights, Jonah suffered inside this watery tomb until he could no longer fight against himself or the Lord. the Bible continues in verse 10, saying that the Lord spoke to the fish and Jonah was vomited out upon the dry ground. one night could have sufficed. a few hours may have been enough. as we read the remainder of Jonah’s story, he preached destruction while walking through the city. watching Jonah come forth from a great fish would have been divinely and widely accepted by these fish-worshippers. the people of Nineveh repented, and God spared them. this about-face made Jonah angry for looking like a fool, but in his admission, while in the whale, Jonah said, “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy” (Jonah 2:8). in his disgust for these people, he could not bring himself to share the mercy available from God to those that would humble themselves before Him.
Jesus spoke to the sign-seekers and reminded them of this story. the scribe and Pharisees would not have understood the reference and maybe began to look for a whale to swim by. Jesus was about to experience separation from light. on the cross, He cried, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) this statement was made before he gave up the ghost and died upon the cross. Jesus felt the separation of His deity from the sacrifice of His flesh while taking on the sins of humanity. He died as the sacrifice for all people, for all time, and was placed in a cave in the earth.
in this borrowed tomb, the victory over darkness was achieved. Jesus spent three days in the earth and was resurrected from the mouth of this cavern. very few, if any, realized the significance of such an entrance until after the Holy Ghost had opened their understanding. through Jesus’ resurrection, He obtained power over the grave as the “firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:18). the Holy Ghost would heighten our spiritual senses to overcome the darkness. total darkness was absolved to the point where “the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Revelation 21:23).
Jesus’ reference to Jonas in Matthew had nothing to do with fish. He referred to a similar length in the deep. mercy was Jesus’ anthem. His dissertation could have been rewritten to read, just like Jonas, I come with a message for this perverse generation. if you turn to repentance, the light will shine upon your face, and mercy shall be extended. in Matthew 12:41, Jesus mentioned that the “men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation.” they witnessed a substantial miracle and responded accordingly to the appeal of the hour. the time has come for us to respond, in the judgment of “so great a cloud of witnesses” and “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1b-2). Jonah was angry at so great a revival. Jesus longs to restore relationship and “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10).