In my last post, I discussed what the Bible says about hell, and I would like to continue that subject by addressing one traditional view that holds that Jesus went down to hell and that it is in the center of the earth. This is based in large part on Matthew 12:40, which says, “For just 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.”
There are two major Scriptural problems with this view. First, Jesus died on the day before the Sabbath, or Friday at the ninth hour, and He rose again on Sunday morning. That is not even close to three days and three nights. Second, nowhere in the Bible does it say that the dead go down to the heart of the earth. The Old Testament says that the dead go down to Sheol, and the New Testament calls it Hades, but the context indicates that the Bible is referring to the grave.
The Lord’s Prayer says, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,” (KJV) so the earth is not synonymous with the grave. Other than Matthew 12:40, the only times the Bible ever mentions the "heart of the earth" in any translation are Isaiah 19:24 and Isaiah 24:13, and each time it pertains to something happening to the living on the earth.
However, John 14:30 gives us a hint at what Matthew 12:40 means, where Jesus calls Satan the ruler of this world and says that he had no power over Him. Jesus was able to walk right through hostile crowds and nobody could harm Him until Thursday in the Garden of Gethsemane. Until then, Satan, the ruler of the world, could do nothing to Jesus because He was without sin. It is sin that gives Satan power over us.
But on Thursday Jesus became sin for us. "For He has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor 5:21). That is when Judas betrayed Him with a kiss, and the flogging began. Like Jonah was inside a whale, Jesus was at the mercy (or rather lack thereof) of Satan, who gave Him his absolute worst. Satan reigned for three days and three nights, which is the amount of time that the redemption took. The flogging was an important part of it: “He was wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5). So when Jesus was in the heart of the earth He was under the power of Satan, the ruler of the earth.
Whenever Jesus prophesied about His redemption, He always included the rejection, betrayal, being delivered into the hands of men, the suffering, etc., that which led up to His death. He never mentioned His death in isolation. (Matthew 16:21, Matthew 17:22, Matthew 20:18, Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, Mark 10:34, Luke 9:22, Luke 18:31, Luke 24:7.) So His full redemption took three days and three nights, but He died and rose again on the third day.
The redemption of Christ was also prophesied through typology in the creation story. The text says that God finished His work of creation on the sixth day and He rested on the seventh day. St. Augustine says about the creation account, "On the seventh day God’s rest is emphasized as something conveying a mystic meaning." Exodus 20:11 ties this rest to the Sabbath: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."
Holy week is the week when God did His work of re-creating. “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). On Friday (the sixth day), He declared, “It is finished!” He rested in the grave throughout the Sabbath, and He rose again before dawn on the first day of the week. This symbolizes a new beginning that will culminate in new heavens and a new earth where death and evil will forever be a thing of the past.