I want to ask you a question: How did Jesus know he would be raised on the third day?
Matthew tells us that there came a point in Jesus’ ministry where he “began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matt 16:21; cf. Mt 12:40; Lk 24:21, 46; Jn 2:19; 1Co 15:3, 4).
This seems like a peculiar detail. It’s one thing to say you will die and rise again. It’s quite another to specify that your resurrection will be on the third day. Why this detail? And furthermore, how did Jesus come to this very specific knowledge about a third day resurrection?
THREE POSSIBLE ANSWERS
There are a few possible answers to this question.
1. Miraculous Revelation. The Father could have miraculously revealed this information to Jesus. There seem to be times in Jesus ministry where he knows what people are thinking (e.g. Jn 6:61). And the presumption is that, in those cases, the Father revealed this information supernaturally.
2. Random Choice. Another possible answer is to assert that Jesus picked the number three at random. Maybe it was because God is a trinity. Or maybe the number three was Jesus’ favorite number.
3. The Old Testament. A third possible answer suggests that Jesus gained this knowledge through careful study of the Old Testament itself. That is, through patterns and predictions, Jesus discerned from the text that he would be raised on the third day.
THE OLD TESTAMENT SAYS WHAT?
Of the three options above, I want to suggest option three. In fact, Jesus makes this clear. After appearing to disciples on the beach, he eats some fish in their presence, demonstrating that he is indeed risen from the dead. And then he says this:
“This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day‘” (Lk 24:44-46).
So Jesus makes it clear that the OT scriptures wrote about a third day resurrection? He references the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. This corresponds with the Jewish threefold division of the OT into Law, Prophets, and Writings. In other words, Jesus was saying the whole OT bears witness to a third day resurrection.
It seems the apostle Paul agreed with Jesus’ reading of the OT. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 Paul says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
I hope to explore these issues very soon. But I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Question: If there are no explicit predictions, where do you think Jesus might have seen a third day resurrection in the OT?