Third Day Resurrection Prophecies

 

Nowhere in the Old Testament or Tenakh can be found a prophecy predicting the Messiah would rise from the dead after three days. Only in the Gospels can these prophecies be found, all belonging exclusively to Jesus of Nazareth.

Psalms 22 describes a death wholly consistent with the horrors of Roman crucifixion a 1000 years later. Zechariah 12:10 distinctly predicts the Messiah would be killed. Isaiah 52-53 describes the death of the Servant of God who would be despised, suffer greatly, be judged, killed and live again. What isn’t stated is how long the Servant would be dead before he would live again.

First of the third-day Resurrection predictions by Jesus occurred in Caesarea Philippi early in his 3-year ministry.[1] Up to this point, Jesus had been in Galilee giving amazing sermons interspersed with performing miracles of healing incurable diseases and birth defects; casting our demons; and raising the dead. To his Disciples, it didn’t get much better than this.

Word of these miraculous events got back to the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem who began watching and listening to Jesus. According to Mark, Jesus openly prophesied that he would be rejected by the Jewish leaders, killed and then rise again after three days:[2]

MK 8:31-32 “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” (NKJV)

Peter took Jesus aside and said, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”[3] Seeing that Peter’s comment came straight from Satan, Jesus responded directly, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”[4]

While in Galilee Jesus gave another third-day Resurrection prophecies.[5] Healing and casting out demons, the crowds had been amazed at everything Jesus was doing, but the Disciples were warned by Jesus that their jubilation was only temporary:

MK 9:31 “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” (NASB)

Reaction to the prophecy this time “greatly distressed” the Disciples. They seemed to be focused only on the prediction their teacher and miracle worker would be killed, but not about the prediction he would rise from the dead.[6] Nevertheless, the Disciples were afraid to ask Jesus about the true meaning of the prophecy.[7]

Midway through his ministry, Jesus quoted Jonah 1:17 to liken himself to Jonah’s situation when the prophet was swallowed by a large sea creature. Jesus equated his own death and Resurrection to Jonah being inside its belly for “three days and three nights.”

MT 12:40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. (NRSV)

Many religion experts believe the reference to three days and three nights are based, in part, on the Jewish reckoning for a day that begins at sunset and on the Genesis description where a night and a day equaled one day.  A day assumes the concept of three days as a whole – not literally including the nights, too.

Corroborating the Jonah view, the other three-day prophecies by Jesus do not include any reference to nights. Day one, Jesus died and was buried in a tomb; day two, he was still in the tomb; day three, he was still in the tomb until sunrise when he arose.[8]

Nearing the end of his three-year ministry, it was just days before entering Jerusalem for the last time at the Festival of the Passover. Luke’s account reports how Jesus again predicted his death, this time providing more specific details.

Jesus foretold that the Jews would hand him over to the Gentiles when he would be mocked, spat on, scourged, and killed in fulfillment of the written prophecies:[9]

LK 18:31 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” (NRSV)

It was a three-fold, inconceivable scenario. Not so much that the Jewish leadership wanted to eliminate their arch nemesis because such a prediction would not be a shocking revelation.

Gentles killing Jesus at the behest of the Jews was an incomprehensible concept since the Romans and the Jews reviled each other. Moreover, it was the seeming impossibility of rising from the dead, especially three days later.

Shortly before his arrest on Mount Gethsemane, Jesus made one last indirect prophetic reference of his Resurrection to his Disciples. He foretold to them, “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”[10]

Matthew uniquely reports the incident between the Jewish leadership and Pilate that took place the day after Jesus was buried. It is obvious that the author of Matthew had an  insider source to the Jewish Council in order to obtain this exclusive information.

Jewish leadership approached Pilate to explain their concern about the burial of Jesus and tried to convince him it was a problem requiring his assistance. To do so, an unpleasant concession had to be made – the Jewish leaders had to acknowledge that Jesus did, in fact, predict he would rise from the dead saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’[11]

Next, the Jewish leadership had to convince Pilate of the possible risk of the Disciples stealing the body in an effort to falsely claim fulfillment of his predictions of rising from the dead on the third day:

“Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”(NKJV)[12]

Lastly, they wanted to convince Pilate this was a short-term problem only wanting “the tomb be made secure until the third day” confirming their recognition that a Resurrection would occur on the “third day” by Jewish reckoning. Pilate conceded saying “…make it as secure as you know how.”[13]

One other seemingly ambiguous point was cleared up by the Jewish leadership by acknowledging the Resurrection prediction. They understood the “Son of Man” references in the Resurrection prophecies were about Jesus himself, no one else.

Only Jesus of Nazareth foretold multiple times he would rise from dead on the third day, unique from any other Messiah prophecy. Were these Resurrection prophecies fulfilled by Jesus rising from the dead the third day?

 

Updated February 29, 2024.

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REFERENCES:

[1] Matthew 16:13, 21,; Mark 8:27, 31. CR Luke 9:18.  “Third Prophecy of the Passion.” The Good News. photo. 2021. <https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-h0pVwogCw_Y/YEAFtTQQv-I/AAAAAAAAQo0/G4rEW9MEHKA0esRitHNcD4xqv9t9dHA3QCLcBGAsYHQ/s441/OIP.jpg
[2] Matthew 3-15; Mark 1-8; Luke 4-9.
[3] Matthew 16:22. NKJV.
[4] Mark 8:33. NJKV.
[5] Matthew 17:22; Mark 9:30. CR Matthew 17:22-23; Luke 9:44.
[6] Matthew 17:23.
[7] Luke 9:45.
[8] Genesis 1:5; Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:20. BibleHub. “Commentaries.” n.d. <https://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/12-40.htm>  “yown <03117> NetBible.org. Hebrew text. n.d. <https://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=03117> “H3117.” Lexiconcordance.com. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/hebrew/3117.html>
[9] Matthew 20:18-19; Mark 10:33-34; Luke 18:31-33.
[10] Matthew 26:32. NASB.
[11] Matthew 27:63. NKJV.
[12] Matthew 27:64.
[13] Matthew 27:64-65. NKJV.