Matthew 12:40 states, “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.” Matthew’s comparison links Jesus’ death and burial with Jonah being swallowed by the fish. But the similarities don’t end here: in light of Matthew’s knowledge of Hebrew, this verse also alludes to Jesus’ resurrection being anticipated in the Book of Jonah.
Although written in Greek, Matthew’s Gospel reflects knowledge of Jesus’ Hebrew name, Yeshua (ישוע). In Matt 1:21, the Gospel provides a Hebrew wordplay to show that Jesus’ name relates to his mission to “save” his people. The Greek reads, “You will call his name Jesus (Ἰησοῦν) for he will save (σώσει) his people from their sins.” While the Greek words for “Jesus” and “save” have no linguistic relationship, the Hebrew words share the same root; in Hebrew the verse would read: “You will call his name Yeshua (ישוע) for he will save (yoshia; יושיע) his people from their sins”—in Hebrew, Jesus’ name indicates his mission of salvation.
With the knowledge that Yeshua’s name comes from the Hebrew word for “salvation” (yeshuah; ישועה), notice Jonah’s final words before the fish vomits him out: “Salvation (yeshuatah; ישועתה) is the Lord’s!” (Jon 2:9). Jonah’s last word before God “resurrects” him from the fish is linguistically related to Jesus’ name in Hebrew. Therefore, Matt 12:40 not only highlights the similarities with Jonah in relation to Jesus’ death; the verse also recalls the relationship between Jesus’ name and Jonah’s words right before he emerges from his own certain death. Just as God raises Jonah after his recognition that “salvation is the Lord’s,” God raises Jesus—the one whose very name proclaims, “The Lord saves!”