What Scripture Predicted Jesus’ Resurrection the Third Day?

What Scripture Predicted Jesus’ Resurrection the Third Day? March 3, 2024

Empty Tomb With Shroud And Crucifixion At Sunrise – CREDIT: Risen Resurrection

One time when Jesus attended Passover at the temple, he got angry at those selling animals, made a whip, and drove them out, saying, “‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’ … The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’” (John 2.16, 18-19 NRSV). We are then informed, “But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (vv. 21-22). What scripture, not scriptures?

In 1 Corinthians 15.3-5, the apostle Paul provides the premiere New Testament text which defines “the gospel” (v. 1). He says in it, “For I handed off to you as of first importance what I in turn had received; that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” Twice Paul says “scriptures,” thus in the plural. Regarding Jesus dying for our sins, Paul especially could have had in mind Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. And regarding Jesus being raised from the dead on the third day, he could have been mindful of the several biblical narratives about events in the history of Israel which contain a mysterious, if not cryptic, third day motif (e.g., Genesis 22.4; Exodus 19.11; 2 Kings 20.5; Esther 5.1; cf. Hosea 6.2-3). Indeed, Jesus later said on two occasions—when he was challenged to provide a sign to verify that he was a true prophet of God—that he would be raised from the dead in three days just as Jonah was spewed out of the big fish’s mouth after that time period (Matthew 12.40; 16.4; cf. Jonah 1.17; 2.10). BTW, “three days (and three nights)” is a semitic idiom signifying “third day,” and this supports the church tradition that Jesus was crucified on Friday and raised on Sunday.

But there is a more direct biblical text—a prophesy written by King David—that Jesus’ early disciples seized upon as seemingly the foremost Bible text supporting their belief that Jesus was to be raised from the dead on the third day. In Acts 2.31 and 13.35, the apostles Peter and Paul quoted one text, Psalm 16.10, to support Jesus being raised, apparently on the third day. It says, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (ESV). Jews of antiquity, and other surrounding peoples, believed that deceased, human flesh did not begin to undergo corruption until the fourth day. Some of their burial practices were performed in accordance with this belief, such as the women going to Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning to repeat the application of spices to his corpse that had been performed right before its burial (Mark 16.1; Luke 24.1; John 19.40).

In conclusion, when the author of the Gospel of John relates that the early disciples of Jesus “believed the scripture” (John 2.22), that is, about Jesus speaking of his body as a temple and predicting he would arise from the dead “in three days” (v. 19), since the word “scripture” is singular it seems the one scripture he meant must have been Psalm 16.10 just as both Peter and Paul had later cited. And the Johannine author’s addition, that they believed “the word that Jesus had spoken,” seems to further associate that prophesy by Jesus with Psalm 16.10, as if Jesus himself had that text in mind. Regardless, we know that Jesus sometimes did so prophesy of his resurrection by having in mind Jonah being spit out of the fish, including the time period of three days or third day.

[For more about this subject, see my book The Third Day Bible Code (2006). As far as I know, it is the only book ever published that fully treats the Bible’s third day motif.]

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