The Three Days of Jonah, Jesus and Paul
There seems to be a connection between Jonah and Saul of Tarsus. Both were nationalistic zealots. Both thought they deserved the grace of God. Both were called to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles; and both had to be dealt with in an extraordinary manner. Jonah was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth prior to being sent to the Gentiles. Saul of Tarsus was three days in the depths of darkness prior to being sent to the Gentiles. Thomas Peck put it this way:
During these three days Saul was in the belly of hell as Jonah was in the fishâ€™s belly. In the agony occasionedÂ by conviction of sin, in preparation to become the apostle to the Gentiles. Compare the history of Jonah, who before the three days, could not be induced to preach to the Gentile Ninevites. A Jew, under any circumstances needed an extraordinary providence to make him a missionary to the Gentiles.
Is this a legitimately intended biblico-theological observation? We have to first consider the explicit typology employed by our Lord in Matthew 12. There we read, "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Jesus likened His death and resurrection to the typical death and resurrection of Jonah. In a typological manner Jonah died, was buried and raised back to life again. After he was spit out of the fish he went to the Gentiles. Jesus died, was buried and rose again. After He was spit out of the tomb He went to the Gentiles. Like Jonah, Saul of Tarsus died (spiritually), was buried and raised up a new creation. This was on account of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. After he was raise to life with Christ he went to the Gentiles.
It would certainly appear that the three days of darkness for Saul was prefigured by the three days of Jonah in the darkness of the fish's belly--reminiscent of the three days of suffering for Christ in the heart of the earth. Darkness was the second most severe plague that Egypt experienced, and it was a covenant curse promised to Israel if they broke the covenant stipulations. The curse and plague of thick darkness fell on Christ as "He was made a curse for us.." on the cross. Saul would have known the implications of the darkness sent on Egypt and threatened to Israel. He would have known that they were a small taste of the outer darkness of Sheol. Jesus had taught that hell was "outer darkness." The blindness of Saul was a picture of the judgment that all men deserve, but, because the Savior experienced that judgment in His place at Calvary, it became the necessary step to life with Christ. Saul of Tarsus died with Christ, was buried with Him, and rose again to newness of life with his Savior. After the scales fell off his eyes, Saul went and immediately preached Christ in the synagogues of Damascus.
Editorial note: It may be moving into the realm of the allegorical and speculative, but it may be that the reference to "something like fish's scales" falling from Saul's eyes is linked to the fact that Jonah was in the belly of a fish. The great question that is yet to be answered is, "Why does Luke tell us that 'something like scales fell from his eyes?'"