Introduction to “He Was Raised on the Third Day According to the Scriptures”

Jesus taught that the entire OT was about him. The OT provides several typological glimpses of Christ. One of these typological glimpses of Christ in the OT is seen in the theme of the “third day” which repeatedly manifests itself in situations where God’s creation or people are delivered from some sort of bondage and brought to new life on the third day. This “third day” theme allowed Jesus and the NT authors to speak confidently of the resurrection on the third day. In fact, Jesus and Paul spoke of the necessity of the resurrection on the third day in the same way as they spoke of the resurrection itself. Just as God had prophesied the resurrection of Christ, he had also typologically foretold the resurrection of Christ on the third day.

In the fourth century, Hilary of Poitiers celebrated the confidence which Christians enjoy since Christ’s resurrection is according to the Scriptures when he wrote that the phrase “according to the Scriptures,” which refers to the prophetic witness of the OT, is “the safeguard of reverence against the attack of the adversary, so to understand the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as it was written of Him.”[1] This is in stark contrast to Udo Schnelle who wrote, “das Alte Testament von Jesus Christus schweigt” (the Old Testament is silent about Jesus Christ).[2]

The NT writers’ confidence arose from belief in Scripture as inspired of God and the belief that the OT was fulfilled by Christ who recapitulated the events of the OT.  Abner Chou argued that the OT prophets connected their writings with Christ in two ways: 1) “they understood the storyline of Scripture has Christotelicity” and 2) they “weave together individual chains of texts and motifs that link with Christ.”[3] The OT and the NT were both viewed as being from God, about Jesus, and through the Spirit

One of these “chains of texts” which fits in the Christotelicity of the OT is the theme of the third day. The third day theme is repeated in the NT as well. Jesus promised his resurrection after three days (Jn. 2:18).  On the road to Emmaus, Jesus said: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (Lk. 24:46). The angel guarding the empty tomb included the third day as an important element of the resurrection when he said, “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Lk. 24:3). Paul affirmed what was likely an ancient Christian creedal statement or hymn when he wrote that “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4).

A lengthy study of the expectation of the resurrection on the third day seems to be appropriate. This study will focus on the third day (ימים שלשת, ביום השלישי) theme in the OT which prepared OT readers for Jesus’ resurrection on the third day. In this way, there is a theological theme of the third day which leads OT readers to expect Jesus’ resurrection on the third day. While there may not be an explicit reference to a third day resurrection of the Messiah,[4] the typological theme is prominent enough that an expectation for God to fulfill his promises and deliver his Son from death on the third day would have developed among careful readers who were saturated with the OT.[5]

The fact that there is no clear prophecy of the third day resurrection should not dismiss the concept. Typology, though dismissed by some modern exegetes, was recognized by Jesus and other NT writers. Therefore, typology cannot be dismissed. As DeRouchie said the prophets “may have seen only the acorn, with little grasp of how glorious the oak would be that you and I now visualize. And at still other times, they may not have even recognized that the person, event, or institution they were recounting foreshadowed a greater antitype.”[6] The typological nature of the OT, as it was interpreted by the NT writers and Christian interpreters for centuries, is essential to understand why both Jesus and Paul affirmed that it was necessary for Christ to be “raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”[7]

 

 

  [1] Hilary of Poitiers, “On the Trinity,” in St. Hilary of Poitiers, John of Damascus, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. E. W. Watson et al., vol. 9a, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1899), 201.

[2] Udo Schnelle. Theologie des Neuen Testaments. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007) 40.

[3]Abner Chou, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2018), 220.

  [4] 2 Kings 20:5, Hosea 6:2, and Jonah 1:17 would be among the passages most often cited as prophecies of Jesus’ resurrection on the third day.

    [5] Karl Lehmann took a similar approach in his work Auferweckt am dritten Tag nach der Schrift (2nd ed.; Freiberg: Herder, 1969), 176-181, 262-290.

[6] Jason DeRouchie How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament. (Philipsburg: P&R, 2017), 421.

[7] Typological interpretation once dominated the exegetical landscape. The rise of the Enlightenment cast typological interpretation aside. Hans Frei demonstrated how enlightenment era focus on historical and text criticism led to typological interpretations to be seen as “preposterous” ( Hans W. Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Hermeneutics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974, 7). Frei argued that “Figural reading, concerned as it was with the unity of the Bible, found its closest successor in an enterprise called biblical theology, which sought to establish the unity of religious meaning across the gap of historical and cultural differences” (8). This could be seen as true among some evangelical scholars.

 

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