Why the Third Day? The Promise Of Resurrection In All Of Scripture

Why the Third Day? The Promise Of Resurrection In All Of Scripture

ABSTRACT: Jesus and his apostles claim that his resurrection on the third day was “according to the Scriptures.” The hope of the resurrection stretches back far beyond the empty tomb to the hopes and prophecies of God’s old-covenant people. At the same time, Jesus’s rising inaugurates God’s new creation in the present and points us to the day when all the tombs will be emptied — and God’s people will rise to meet their Lord with resurrected bodies.

We are nearly two decades into the twenty-first century, and Christians all over the world are still hoping in the resurrection. This hope is not new. We have longed for resurrection since God first awakened faith in the earliest Old Testament saints. Equally, resurrection also should have been dreaded by rebels who persist in their unbelief, for after resurrection comes the judgment.

Following the original creation of humanity, Jesus’s resurrection unto glory is the most decisive event in the history of mankind, for it brings the dawning of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and validates that those in Christ are no longer imprisoned under sin, the payment for which is death (Romans 6:231 Corinthians 15:17). The New Testament is clear that the Scriptures foresaw “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (Luke 24:46; cf. Luke 24:7John 20:9Acts 17:2–31 Corinthians 15:4) and that, “by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light” both to the Jews and the Gentiles (Acts 26:22–23). These statements raise the question: Where does the Old Testament anticipate the third-day resurrection? A close assessment of a number of New Testament texts that cite or allude to specific Old Testament texts gives us an initial clue how those living at the dawn of the new creation were seeing anticipations of the resurrection in their Bible.

New Testament Citations and Allusions of Old Testament Resurrection Texts1

In arguing against the Sadducees that the resurrection should be hoped in, Jesus stressed that God “is not God of the dead, but of the living,” as is clear when he identified himself to Moses at the burning bush as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Mark 12:26–27; cf. Exodus 3:6). Similarly, when asserting his God-given authority to judge, Jesus alluded to Daniel 12:2, declaring that “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28–29). Later, when defending himself before Felix in Caesarea, Paul alluded to the same Old Testament text when he claimed that those of the Way (i.e., Christians) have “hope in God . . . that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:14–15).

In Acts, both Peter and Paul identify that Psalm 16:10–11 foretold Christ’s resurrection (Acts 2:25–3113:34–35). After citing Psalm 16:10 that “you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption,” Peter stressed of David that “he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:2731). Paul speaks similarly, adding to Psalm 16:10 citations from Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 55:3:

We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.” Therefore he says also in another psalm, “You will not let your Holy One see corruption.” For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. (Acts 13:32–37)

Finally, 1 Corinthians 15:54–58 recalls both Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14 to stress for the church in Corinth the certainty of their hope for resurrection.

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Whereas Isaiah had declared that Yahweh would “swallow up death forever,” thus identifying him as the anticipated savior (Isaiah 25:8–9), the immediate context of God’s original queries through Hosea offered little hope: “Shall I ransom them [i.e., Ephraim] from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes” (Hosea 13:14).2 Such judgments would not remain forever, however, for he tore them that he could ultimately heal them (Hosea 6:1–2), moving them to seek Yahweh their God and David their king (Hosea 3:5) and healing their apostasy as they would find shelter under the shadow of their royal representative (Hosea 14:4–8). Thus, the sting of death would be overcome through the victory of our Lord Christ, just as Paul declared.

Potential Third-Day Resurrection Typologies in the Old Testament3

It is noteworthy that none of the above texts that the New Testament points to includes any mention of a third-day resurrection, yet both Jesus (Luke 24:46) and Paul (1 Corinthians 15:4) stress that the prediction of Christ’s being raised on the third day was “written” and was “in accordance with the Scriptures.” It seems likely, therefore, that we should look for typologies that foreshadow a third-day resurrection event, and when we broaden our perspective here, a number of further texts become possible sources for the New Testament claims. We will look at them by moving from back to front through the canon.

First, Jesus paralleled his own coming resurrection with Jonah’s resurrection-like deliverance from the belly of the fish: “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 12:40; cf. Jonah 1:17–2:10[2:1–11]).4 Jesus reads the Jonah story typologically, seeing it as both pointing to his exaltation through trial and clarifying how his resurrection would signal salvation through judgment.

Second, building off what was already noted, Hosea declared that the end of Israel’s exile would be like a resurrection after three days:

Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth. (Hosea 6:1–3)

Significantly, the prophets are clear that the Christ would represent Israel, bearing the people’s name and saving representatives from both Israel and the other nations (Isaiah 49:36). At the end of his book, Hosea himself appears to make this connection between the one and the many when he relates a plural people with a singular “Israel,” under whose shadow they will find refuge (Hosea 14:4–8 in the Hebrew, seen in the ESV footnotes; cf. Zechariah 3:7–9). Thus, in Christ’s resurrection on the third day, the true Israel in him rises to life.5

Third, Christ portrays his death as a baptism (Luke 12:50), and the New Testament authors portray the judgments of both the flood (1 Peter 3:20–21) and the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:2) as baptisms. Because the initial Passover sacrifice marks Israel’s birth as a nation, and because the parting of the Red Sea likely happened on the third day after this new creation, the great exodus event also may point typologically to Christ’s third-day resurrection.6 Significantly, on the mount of Jesus’s transfiguration, Moses and Elijah identified Jesus’s coming work in Jerusalem as an “exodus” (Luke 9:30–31, ESV = “departure”), thus signaling the fulfillment of the second exodus anticipated throughout the prophets (e.g., Isaiah 11:10–12:6Jeremiah 23:7–8Zephaniah 3:19–20).

Fourth, it was “on the third day” of his journey to sacrifice his son that Abraham promised his servants, “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you” (Genesis 22:4–5). Reflecting on this story, the writer of Hebrews declares of the Patriarch, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:19). Yahweh promised, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named” (Genesis 21:12), and this offspring, who was distinct from Isaac, would be the one who would multiply like the stars, who would possess his enemies’ gate, and who would be the channel of divine blessing to the nations (Genesis 22:17–18). Thus, the substitutionary sacrifice that saved Isaac’s life (Genesis 22:13) and the youth’s own deliverance pointed ahead to the greater offspring who would triumph only through great tribulation.

Fifth, the New Testament portrays both baptism (e.g., Romans 6:4–5Colossians 2:12) and sprouting seeds (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:35–38) as images of resurrection. As such, we may see the earliest anticipations of Jesus’s third-day resurrection in the fact that the first sprouts came forth out of the watery chaos on the third day following the original creation (Genesis 1:11–13).7

Other Old Testament Resurrection Texts8

Beyond the texts already cited, the Old Testament supplies a number of other anticipations or predictions of future resurrection. First, there are three examples of nonpermanent resurrections — that is, types of resuscitations wherein God temporarily revives a person who has recently died. Elijah, for example, brings to life the son of the widow from Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17–23), and the act validates his prophetic role (1 Kings 17:24). Similarly, God uses Elisha to restore the woman’s son in Shunem (2 Kings 4:18–37), and after Elisha dies, a man’s corpse is revived when it touches Elisha’s own corpse in a tomb (2 Kings 13:20–21). The author of Hebrews wrote that some prophets were agents of resurrection (Hebrews 11:35), thus identifying how all these Old Testament events foreshadow and give hope for the more ultimate resurrection that will include permanent glorified bodies.

Next, with Israel’s exile and following restoration in view, Yahweh declares through Moses, “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39; cf. 1 Samuel 2:62 Kings 5:7). Because “healing” always follows “wounding,” it is clear that God’s “making alive” after “killing” envisions the restoration blessing of resurrection following the curse of death. Kenneth Turner has noted that, by using words like perishdestroyannihilate, and the like, Moses in Deuteronomy portrays Israel’s exile as a “death,” by which the nation as Yahweh’s elect son and servant “loses her identity, history, and covenant relationship with Yahweh. Restoration from exile, then, is a resurrection from death to life.”9 And because Jesus Christ, as “Israel” the person, represents “Israel” the people (Isaiah 49:36), his bodily resurrection following his bearing the curse-judgment (Galatians 3:13) inaugurates the fulfillment of this promise.

Living in the midst of exile, Ezekiel envisioned the fulfillment of Yahweh’s Mosaic predictions of the people’s resurrection. Whereas covenant obedience could have led to life (Leviticus 18:5Ezekiel 20:111321), Israel’s covenant rebellion had resulted in the nation’s exilic death, so that God portrays them as dried up bones filling a field (Ezekiel 37:1; cf. Jeremiah 8:1–2). Nevertheless, Yahweh promises, “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:5), and the result was that God resupplied them human form, breathed into them the breath of life, “and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army” (Ezekiel 37:10). The vision anticipated how God would “raise you from your graves,” putting “my Spirit within you,” resulting in life and making his people his temple (Ezekiel 37:13–14; cf. 36:27). Thus, “My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezekiel 37:27; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:16).

Earlier, building off his claim that Yahweh would “swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:8; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:54), Isaiah declared, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” (Isaiah 26:19). The means for this awakening and exultation is then unpacked in the fourth servant song. The prophet first highlights the servant-person’s resurrection when he identifies his seeing offspring after his substitutionary sacrifice: “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10). We then hear Yahweh declare, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11). Because Yahweh declared his servant-person righteous (cf. Isaiah 50:8), this righteous one would be able to bear the sins of many in death, and through his victorious resurrection all those in him — his spiritual progeny — would be declared righteous. Yahweh’s servant person was “Israel” (Isaiah 49:3), and “in the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory” (Isaiah 45:25).

Beyond Psalms 2:7 and 16:9–11, noted above (cf. Acts 2:25–3113:32–35), the Psalter includes a number of other pointers to resurrection. For example, in Psalm 22, the very one forsaken of God and afflicted to the point of death (Psalm 22:1–21[2–22]) promises to proclaim God’s name to his brothers (Psalm 22:22[23]), which implies resurrection (cf. Matthew 28:10Romans 8:29Hebrews 2:12). Furthermore, we are told that before the Lord “shall bow all who go down to the dust,” which highlights a future beyond the grave for those who die (Psalm 22:29[30]). The sons of Korah end Psalm 48 with the testimony of the faithful that God “will guide us beyond death” (ESV footnote). They then assert in Psalm 49 that the proud “are appointed for Sheol” but that “the upright [ones] shall rule over them in the morning” (Psalm 49:14[15]). With the voice of the royal representative, they declare, “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Psalm 49:15[16]). At the very least, such assertions point to a spiritual resurrection. Similarly, in Psalm 71, the psalmist points to life after death when he writes, “You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again” (Psalm 71:20). Two psalms later, Asaph contrasts the terrifying end of the proud (Psalm 73:17–22) with God’s commitment to bring the humble to glory and to be their strength and portion forever (Psalm 73:24–26).

Finally, both Job and the Preacher in Ecclesiastes point to the hope of resurrection. Job questions, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14). He seems to answer in the affirmative, for he then states, “All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come.” And again, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25–26). We also learn that at the end of Job’s trial-filled life, which included the death of his ten children (Job 1:218–19), he had another “seven sons and three daughters” (Job 42:13). But because we are told earlier that “the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10), the text may imply the spiritual resurrection of his earlier kids, similar to the way Jesus spoke of Yahweh’s declaring, “I am the God of Abraham” — not “of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32).10

The Preacher was convinced that death would come to all, both those who are good and those who are evil (Ecclesiastes 9:2–3), and that “there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing” (Ecclesiastes 7:15). Nevertheless, “Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him” (Ecclesiastes 8:12). The Preacher was certain in a future hope beyond the grave for the righteous.

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