Q. I would like to know why Jesus was dead for three days and not one or five. Is there a symbolic reason for three days?
A. Several times the Jews had asked Jesus for a miraculous sign that would prove Him to be their Messiah. On one occasion He gave them this answer.
“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt. 12:39-40)
This established the duration of His death at three days but it also told them they wouldn’t know for sure the sign was valid until after they had put Him to death. His point was they should have known from their Scriptures that He was the one they were looking for, and shouldn’t have needed any more signs.