You might describe Michael Packard as a very fortunate man. Michael, a commercial lobster diver, was out in the waters of Cape Cod in America when he was snatched up by a humpback whale. The whale held on to him underwater for about 30 seconds until surfacing and spitting him out. Michael considers himself fortunate to be alive. Speaking to the press he said “all of a sudden I felt this huge bump, and everything went dark”. He thought he had been attacked by a shark but then realised he could not feel any teeth and he wasn’t in any pain. “Then I realised, I’m in a whale’s mouth … and he’s trying to swallow me,” he said. “And I thought to myself OK, this is it – I’m finally – I’m gonna die.” His thoughts went to his wife and children.
What a terrifying experience, and you wonder how he lived to tell the tale. At least one news source has likened Michael’s experience to the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale, which everyone knows about even if they don’t know the background details. The thing is, Jonah was never swallowed by a whale, and couldn’t have been so I understand. Whales are not capable of doing such a thing and would have no desire to do so. Whales are passive creatures and they don’t have the type of teeth that would devour flesh and bone. The Bible in fact says that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish. Jesus knew this story to be true and referred to it but the word he used in the language of that time was ‘sea monster’. What that sea monster was we don’t know and we don’t see such things today, but that’s not to say they didn’t exist in Jonah’s day. I’ll leave that thought there for your consideration.
I’m more interested in why Jesus mentioned Jonah. He wasn’t bothered about correcting our misunderstanding about whales, big fish and sea monsters. What he actually said was, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish (sea monster), so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (1) Whale, big fish, sea monster, whatever you want to call it, how horrific was it for Jonah to spend three days alive in the belly of this creature. To all intents and purposes he was dead, and considered so by the sailors he had previously been with, but after three days he was alive again. That’s the picture Jesus was presenting. Before his death had taken place he was saying that he would be buried for three days and three nights, and no longer.
That, of course, is exactly what happened. Jesus was crucified, removed from the cross and buried in the tomb of a man called Joseph of Arimathea. For fear that his disciples might steal him away the tomb was securely sealed by a combination of a big rock and the official seal of Caesar. Whoever broke Caesar’s seal was worthy of death. A guard of soldiers was also placed on duty to guard the tomb, but to no avail. After three days Jesus was alive and out of the tomb. The stone had been rolled away, not because he had to move it to escape the tomb, but for the world to see that the tomb was empty and Jesus was no longer there.
Jesus is the eternal Son of God and death was not capable of holding on to him like it does everyone else. However, he chose to experience death for those three days before he rose back to life. Death can never have him again, it’s defeated, and those who have faith in him will also never experience an ongoing, everlasting death. Yes, we die now as our bodies waste away but that’s just temporary. When Jesus returns to earth he will raise from the dead all those who believe in him. They will be given new spiritual bodies that cannot die, or see decay. These new bodies are fit for eternity and that’s where Christians will be spending their future.
The Bible says, “we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”” (2)
- Matthew 12:40
- 1 Corinthians 15:51-54