In today’s Gospel reading, Luke 24:35-48, the risen Jesus tells His disciples, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day…” Several times throughout the Gospels Jesus refers to rising from the dead three days after His crucifixion. Saint Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, says, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that He was buried; that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” What Scriptures tell us about the Messiah being raised from the dead on the third day? I will answer the question.
Because this is a post, I will keep my response very simple and brief. Some of the following is discussed in my dissertation, The Septuagintal Isaian Use of Nomos in the Lukan Presentation Narrative, published by ProQuest.
First, numerous Old Testament Biblical passages prophesy the coming of the Messiah—sometimes, more specifically, the Davidic Servant Messiah–and some foretell or imply His bodily resurrection, e.g., Psalm 16, in which the dead Messiah will emerge uncorrupt from Sheol.
Second, Isaiah refers to this individual Messiah as “Israel” (e.g., Isaiah 49), the ideal representation of Israel the nation, Who will restore its tribes. In Isaiah, the Messiah, Israel, is not to be confused with the wayward nation, Israel, although He represents what it has been called to be.
Third, in Daniel 9:24-27, “the Anointed One, the Ruler,” will come but then will be “cut off.” Chronologically, the time of His coming and demise seem to harmonize well with the time of the birth, ministry, crucifixion, and death of Christ.
Fourth, Hosea prophesies Israel’s restoration from the exile through atonement, in which the tribes of Israel will be raised up on the third day:
I will go back to my place until they present a sin-offering for their guilt and seek My presence. In their affliction, they shall look for Me: “Come, let us return to the Lord, for it is He who has rent, but He will heal us; He has struck us, but He will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days; on the third day He will raise us up, to live in His presence.” (Hosea 5:15-6:1-2)
Earlier in Hosea (3:5), the prophet specifies that upon Israel’s return to God, they will seek the Davidic Messiah, the royal representative of Israel. Since the Messiah is an Israelite among the tribes of Israel, and is responsible for their restoration, He also is risen on the third day. Importantly, His resurrection would be understood literally because of the earlier Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah’s personal bodily resurrection. Hosea 6 also resonates the imagery depicted in Psalm 16 of the risen Davidic Messiah’s life and joy in the presence of God.
Isaiah, a near-contemporary of Hosea, prophesied the Servant Messiah’s (Israel’s) atonement: ’’the Lord laid upon Him the guilt of us all…He gives His life as an offering for sin…their guilt He shall bear” (Isaiah 53). Moreover, as Israel, the nation’s representative, He raises up the tribes (Isaiah 49). Hence, viewing Isaiah in conjunction with Hosea, the Messiah redeems the nation’s guilt through His own atoning death and restores the children of Israel through His resurrection on the third day. The atonement and restoration, effected by the Messiah, are inseparable. This makes sense because the Scriptures prophesy both the atoning death and resurrection of the Messiah, and this corresponds to the redemption following the dispersion/exile, and the restoration of the tribes of Israel, both effected by the Messiah Who represents Israel.
Fifth, Jesus insists not only that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, but also that He is the new Jonah, the sign of whom He gives: “Just as Jonah was in the belly of the sea monster three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights” (Matthew 12:40). (Jesus also refers to the repentance of the Ninevites as a sign.) As Jonah returned from Sheol, the abode of the dead (Jonah 2:2), so too Jesus will return from the dead. Jesus’ self-identification as the new Jonah, along with His own resurrection, corroborates His fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy of Israel’s restoration made possible by the Messiah’s resurrection on the third day.
Mark Koehne teaches moral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology. Programs.