Raised on the third day -- according to the Scriptures?
Below in an earlier post (see entry for 11 May) I mentioned how I had the opportunity to give a 'mini lecture' in Spanish at one of the local theological colleges, at the inviation of Ben (SIM colleague here in Arequipa).
As it was towards the tail-end of Ben's Christology lectures, and we were considering the resurrection of Jesus, I gave my short talk on 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, where Paul says that Jesus' resurrection took place on the third day, "according to the Scriptures":
For I handed on 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
then to the twelve...
One of the (many!) interesting things about this statement is that while we don't have too much trouble understanding how Jesus "died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures" (Isaiah 53 and not a few Psalms jump into mind right away), what about Jesus being "raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures"?
That's a little harder to crack (at least, for us sometimes wooden-headed Westerners). I mean, there are plenty of passages which clearly expect that the Christ will be raised from the dead (eg. see Isaiah 53 again... and not a few Psalms!). But can you think of an OT passage that tells us that the Christ will be raised on the third day?
Well, there are none (I know of) that teach this directly -- at least, in the manner to which we are accustomed! But once you go digging around, you find that "the third day" is a prominent idea in the OT -- in much the same vein as, for example, the number 40 (40 days and nights of the rain that brought Noah's flood, 40 years of the Israelites in the wilderness, etc.). So let me give you four examples:
1. In Genesis chapter 22, when Abraham is travelling to the mountain to offer up his son Isaac in sacrifice, it says in verse 4, "On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place in the distance."
2. In Exodus chapter 19, when the Israelites are preparing themselves to meet with God before Mount Sinai and receive the Ten Commandments, this seismic (no, really!) event happens "on the third day".
3. In Jonah chapter 1, at the end of the chapter, the text says that Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights. And according to chapter 2, it is when Jonah finally confesses his great confession that "salvation is from the Lord", on the third day, that immediately the fish vomits Jonah up onto dry land.
4. In Hosea chapter 6, we read this verse about the restoration of God's people: "He will revive us after two days, on the third day he will raise us, and we will live before him."
What can we understand from these OT passages (and there are others besides)? First, in each case it is a critical point in the salvation of God, in the story of the Scriptures, and the history of God's people. Second, there is a clear expectation that God's grand purpose, the salvation of God, will be realised on "the third day". That is the pattern which is being established here.
In the light of this, notice what Jesus says in Luke 13:31-32.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”
Did you see that? Jesus is tapping into this OT pattern which (like all patterns in the OT Scriptures) raises a keen expectation: that on the third day, God's grand purpose of salvation through Jesus will be completed.
And so, in this way, the resurrection of the Christ on the third day is "according to the Scriptures".
You see, it is important for us to realise, as readers of the Bible, that not only does the OT point to Jesus via direct promises of a coming King, and not only does it point to Jesus via direct prophecies about a coming King; it also points to him by the use of patterns. So, in the OT, we have patterns of priesthood, of sacrifice, of suffering kingship, of salvation coming through a child, and so on. (Can you think of any other OT patterns which the NT writers pick up on?)
And the great thing about patterns is that -- just like promises and prophecies -- they create expectation! I mean, what child (or adult, for that matter) listening to the story of the little red hen -- a story full of crafty repetition and creation of a pattern -- can fail to have their expectations raised? Because that is what patterns do.
It's the same with us as we read the OT. The attentive reader will notice not only the promises and prophecies that God will save through his coming King; the reader will also notice from the patterns key things about how God will do his great work of salvation, and how it will be shaped.
So, keep up with your attentive reading of the Scriptures!