“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures…” 
Thus wrote the apostle Paul, using the phrase, “according to the Scriptures” twice. Paul was clearly referring to the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures which were the only “Scriptures” the earliest church read. Today, ask almost any mature Christian for OT references to Jesus dying for our sins, and it may result in answers such as Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, the sacrificial system, Passover, etc. However, ask the same individuals for OT references which support Jesus rising on the third day, and perhaps some may answer with only one passage, Jesus’ sign of His resurrection – that of Jonah being in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights (Matt. 12:40). While that is true, there are numerous other Scriptures to which Paul is referring when he writes in 1 Cor 15, “(Messiah) rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”
While it is impossible to know with certainty what exact Scriptures Paul was referencing in the OT, it will be demonstrated in this essay that the anticipation and prediction of Messiah’s third day resurrection occurs in at least four OT passages: Gen. 3:15; Gen. 22:1-18; Hosea 6:1-3; and Exod. 19:1-24. This third-day motif begins in Genesis and continues in the law and the prophets. The motif seems to be mystically connected to these and other passages of Scripture in which the Messiah is anticipated, prefigured or suggested. So, what do the OT Scriptures reveal about Jesus being resurrected on the third day?
Prior to going through these passages, it would be helpful to provide some essential background. To begin, understanding what a motif is will be beneficial before proceeding further. A simple definition of motif can be, a recurring idea, feature, dominant theme, pattern or design especially in an artistic or literary work. Thus, in the OT, the reader should see a pattern or dominant theme running through the Old Testament. Next, does the OT even make references to bodily resurrections after physical death? For a list of these passages, see the endnote below.  Also as further background, it is significant to understand that the third day motif in the OT was even recognized by early second century Jewish scholars. C. Marvin Pate writes, “Jewish interpreters as far back as the Midrashim (second century AD in written texts but probably earlier in oral form) have claimed that the third day motif is used in the Old Testament for God’s deliverance of Israel or a righteous person.”  Another crucial factor to consider is Biblical interpretation. To respect the text and what God through His Spirit is saying, the reader must conform to the text, not force the text to conform to what the reader desires the text to mean. A trustworthy method of hermeneutics (the word, hermeneutics simply means a method of interpreting the Bible) is to interpret the OT the way Jesus instructed others to interpret it. Utilizing the method Jesus gave will be a reliable and trustworthy method for OT interpretation. His primary method as revealed in Scripture is that the OT reader must (absolutely must) read those OT Scriptures as they speak of Him. In fact, He said that plainly and clearly on at least three occasions (see Luke 24:25-27, 44-45; John 5:39). To further emphasize this point, after His resurrection, Jesus tells the two people on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 that to fail to interpret the OT without understanding all those Scriptures were written about Him, is to be: 1. Foolish; and 2. Slow to believe (Luke 24:25). Finally for our background sketch, Jesus Himself regularly made references to His life-giving, third day resurrection, both directly and mnemonically, that is, using language in an intentionally illustrative way of communication to help the listener remember. For example, He clearly and directly identified the sign of the OT prophet Jonah being in the belly of the fish for “three days and three nights” as a sign of His resurrection.  That phrase helps the listener (in a world where writing was used less than today) remember or memorize the point Jesus is getting across. Another example Jesus used was that He also referred to His body as a temple, claiming to raise it up in three days.  So convincingly did He speak this way, that even the Pharisees and chief priests were concerned something was going to happen after the third day (Matt. 27:63). One reference in particular Jesus made about death will help us transition to the goal of our purview of the OT Scriptures. Jesus strongly implied about Himself, if “a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies…it produces much grain.”  The inference here is clear – His coming death He vividly described as a seed, which would produce much fruit or life.
Genesis 3:15 & 1:11-13
Accordingly, where might one find a reference to seed, death and life in the OT? Certainly, one place to start is the beginning, in the Garden of Eden. After the fall of Adam and Eve into sin (and death), when God pronounces judgment on the serpent, a promise of a coming “Seed”  is made by our LORD. This reference is commonly accepted as a Messianic prophecy (the protoevangelium – the first declaration of the gospel in the Bible) which instills hope and life for humanity in the midst of a statement of God’s judgment against the serpent.
Both the seed reference which Jesus gives in John 12:24 and the Seed reference in Gen. 3:15 may not initially connect directly to a third day reference for the reader until one realizes the fact that in the creation narrative, this cycle of reproduction itself (death and life in a seed) begins with seed-bearing plants and trees which bear fruit originating on the third day of creation.  The significance of this third day is further magnified and contrasted in the broader context of Genesis 1. For God divides on Days 1 and 2 (i.e., light from darkness and the firmament from the waters). God does not call the first two days, “good.” On Day 3, rather than dividing, God gathers water, sets up a reproductive cycle and calls both “good.” This statement of “good” is significant. Prior to this reference, the only “good” thing was the light (1:4). So, Day 3 contains the next two references to God’s declaration, “it was good.” Thus far, the reader understands what is “good” is light (1:4), gathering the water (1:10) and the seed cycle of reproduction (1:12). This is simply remarkable. When read carefully along with Jesus’ statement in John 12:24, the learner can begin to see that the Creator is communicating a design and pattern that is “good,” and includes some intricate detail into His creation and literary work. Fresh new life begins on day three when the Spirit inspires Moses to introduce and emphasize seed-bearing plants which produce life after entering the ground and dying. Thus, Jesus’ statement about Him being a seed which will produce much grain and fruit takes on deeper meaning in the context of the creative day 3.
If the reader only had that piece of information, it would not be sufficient to directly connect to a third day resurrection. It is simply mystical. In other words, there seems to be, perhaps, some connection with Messiah and the gospel illustration of a Seed or seed entering the ground and bringing forth resurrected life and new fruit. Does the “goodness” of the third day hold significance?
Thinking about the promise of the Seed, the question then arises, from where will this promised “Seed” come? Later, in Genesis 15:1-4, the LORD God reveals Himself to childless Abraham and promises a son. While this son is not the promised Seed, a miracle does happen with this child’s birth after a long period of waiting. After Isaac is born (Gen. 21), God tells Abraham to sacrifice his “only son Isaac, whom you love” on a mountain in Moriah.  Abraham takes his son, Isaac, and others on a journey to Moriah. They arrive on the third day (Gen. 22:4). When the boy Isaac asks his father where the lamb is for sacrifice, Abraham in faith answers, “God will provide for Himself the lamb.”  Because of the statement in Hebrews 11, we know Messiah was prefigured in this text. Abraham believed “God was able to raise him [Isaac, the son of promise] up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”  The author of Genesis tells us that Abraham sees and presumably arrives at the place of sacrifice on the third day of his journey. As Abraham is about to slay Isaac, God intervenes and provides a ram  for the sacrifice instead.
Surely this would have been a deeply emotional event since as a father, Abraham had waited years for his son of promise. He is so deeply impacted by the substitutionary sacrifice that verse 14 records that he names the place, Yahweh Yireh (The-LORD-Will-Provide). God provided a ram in Isaac’s place on the third day, and Abraham called the name of the place, “The-Lord-Will-Provide.” Again, the third day motif is clearly connected with an anticipation and prediction of the future Lamb of God which God will provide, Messiah.
Adam Clarke in his commentary quotes Henry Ainsworth on this passage about the third day, “’As the number Seven,’ says Mr. Ainsworth, ‘is of especial use in Scripture because of the Sabbath day, Genesis 2:2, so Three is a mystical number because of Christ’s rising from the dead the third day…’”  The point here being that the passage in Genesis 22 is Messianic, and that passage is joined with a third day motif – both Isaac and Jesus would arise to life, “on the third day.” 
A third passage from the OT anticipating and predicting Messiah is found in the prophecy of Hosea. He writes insightfully, “Come, and let us return to the LORD; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up, (2) After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, That we may live in His sight!”  Scholars debate whether this passage is a direct prophetic reference to Messiah’s resurrection. In the last paragraph of chapter 27, Mark F. Rooker in The World and the Word writes that Hosea 6:2 “may possibly be a reference to Jesus’ resurrection if in fact the nation is a type of the Messiah and represented by Him (1 Cor 15:4).”  C. Marvin Pate quotes Craig A. Evans who is more definitive, “The allusion of this passage [Hos. 6:2] in all probability derives from Jesus himself and not from the evangelist or early tradents searching for a scriptural warrant [for Jesus’ resurrection].”  Pate states, “we concur” with Evans’ conclusion. The references to healing us, reviving us, raising us up on the third day in order to live with Him (eternal life) certainly seems (in our present hindsight view of history) to point to our Lord’s resurrection with a third day reference. Additionally in 6:3, the prophet alludes to His “going forth” being established “as the morning” which is indicative of a morning resurrection.
While there are other third day motif passages in the OT,  the final Scripture this essay will highlight is Exodus 19 where the law was given to Moses and Israel at Mount Sinai. The contextual message of this chapter is rich in symbolism, comparisons and contrasts with Jesus’ resurrection and carries significant weight for the gospel. Tim Keller, when preaching a message on Exodus 19, establishes a very good argument that the gospel is found here at the giving of the law: 1. God’s undeserved grace (saving acts of the Lord – verse 4); 2. Response of obedience (v. 5a); and 3. Blessing of obedience (v. 5b-6a).  Keller quotes commentator, J. Alec Motyer, as writing, “The sequence of these central elements (in verses 4, 5 and 6) is extremely important for understanding the whole Bible. Nothing must ever be allowed to upset this formula.”  So, a crucial hermeneutical point should be made here: in light of Jesus being full of grace and truth (John 1:14, 17), at the very giving of the law which came through Moses, the gospel of grace is firmly established first (19:4).
Later in chapter 19, the third day motif appears four times in three verses (11, 15 and 16). The emphasis of the first three references is a warning to the people to “be ready” for the LORD who will “come down” upon Mount Sinai on the third day. The final third day reference (verse 16) begins a description of the glorious phenomena preceding the LORD’s appearance in verse 18. Amazingly, most commentators researched make no connection with a third day resurrection.  Yet on the third day God clearly demonstrated to both Israel in the OT and to His disciples in the NT a visible and powerful display of His glory – the holy untouchable God in a theophany warning His people to stay away when first coming down on the mountain, and then His incarnate Son arising out of the grave in glorious display to be seen while encouraging His people (like Thomas) to touch Him in faith. The similarities seem to be an amazing representation of the shared message of God’s grace and holiness contrasted between the two covenants. There are other mystical, glorious contrasts and similarities Matthew describes, which are a bit beyond our purview.  Whether the passage specifically points to a third day resurrection might be questioned. However, it greatly encourages this writer to see a glorious display in both testaments anticipating Messiah in the Old Testament and especially in connection with a third-day motif.
Even the writer of Hebrews follows the pattern of Jesus’ hermeneutical principle by exhorting “the Hebrews” (as well as any reader) with contrasts between Mount Sinai (which represents fear, darkness and death) and Mount Zion (which represents a festal gathering or assembly, heavenly descriptions, and “the city of the living God”) (Heb. 12:18-25).
Finally, as an aside, in one of his devotions Jonathan Cahn draws a special comparison between the sixth day (Friday), when the first Adam was created. The day of man. That first Adam sinned. His works from the curse would result in the ground producing thorns and thistles – which bring pain, suffering, division, broken relationships and blood. Similarly on what is now referred to as “Good Friday” (“good” because Jesus was reconciling the world to Himself) – the day the Son of Man was scourged, rejected and cursed – a twisted crown of thorns (symbolic of man’s twisted works) was placed as a mockery on the head of the Creator who created the first Adam.
Jesus said He did this for the joy which was set before Him. What kind of love and joy is this? To die for the worst of us? He bore our sin and shame for pagan, sinful humanity, for you. This Friday was the day the 2nd Adam is cursed so that He can bring reconciliation (that is the heart of the cross), joy, peace, unity, love and eternal life to all who will put their faith and trust in Him. The greatest news ever! That reconciliation is a gathering through the death of the Seed to reproduce life and fruit. That act is beautiful, perfect, pure love, and it demands a reciprocal response – believe Him completely, die to self and let those past beliefs go. Fully put your trust in Jesus and you will find peace, joy and security, along with eternal life. Jesus says He who believes in Me has passed from death to life! How can we ignore such a sacrifice? By His power in us we can love! By His power in us we can be conformed to Him to lay down our lives for others!
In summary, the third day motif pointing to the Messianic resurrection is revealed not only in the above four Old Testament passages, but in other less prominent OT Scriptures as well. The third day was descriptive of God’s “goodness” in saving His people. Jesus rose on that third day according to the Scriptures. He did not rise after three days as the Pharisees expected (see Appendix 1 below for a detailed explanation). That belief simply does not line up with the motif in the OT. In each of the four OT passages above, a message of God’s work through Messiah in the gospel is connected with the third day. While Israel arguably could not clearly see Messiah, could not clearly see the message of the gospel and certainly could not see mystical hints at a third-day resurrection as we see them in hindsight in the NT, the preponderance of the evidence from the OT anticipates and predicts the gift of God’s fantastic grace in the coming of Messiah – the sacrificial and powerful gift of our Father’s only Son and the gift of salvation and hope to humanity by the resurrection of Messiah on the third day, Sunday. May we reach out and see Messiah with believing eyes of faith. For without faith, no one will truly see or experience Jesus Christ who is our everlasting life.
 1 Cor. 15:3-4 (NKJV).
 Some reference the sparing of Isaac, Abraham’s son, from his sacrifice as a “resurrection” from certain death had God not intervened. This passage will be considered later in this essay.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26).
One reference about Messiah: Ps. 16:10 (NKJV). “For You (God) will not leave my soul in Sheol [the abode of the dead], Nor will You allow Your Holy One [Messiah] to see [undergo] corruption.”
“But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave (Sheol), For He shall receive me. Selah (Ps. 49:15).
Two references about resurrection in general: Isa. 26:19 (NKJV). “Your dead shall live…they shall arise…the earth shall cast out the dead.” Dan. 12:2 (NKJV). “…many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
“For man goes to his eternal home. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit shall return to God who gave it” (Eccles. 12:5e, 7).
The prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones coming to life (Ezek. 37:1-10).
“I will ransom them from the power of the grave (Sheol); I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction…” (Hosea 13:14).
Additionally, both Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-22) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:32-35; 13:20-21) miraculously raise dead bodies.
Finally, some see Jonah’s release from the large fish to be a type of a resurrection to which Jesus also refers (Jonah 2:6).
 C. Marvin Pate, 40 Questions About the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2015), 343. See for example, “Palestinian Sandhedrin” 97A; “Babylonian Rosh Hashanah” 31A; “Palestinian Berakoth” 5.2; “Palestinian Sanhedrin” 11.6; “Midrash Rabbah” Esther 9.2 (on Esther 5:1); Genesis 56.1 (on Gen 22:4); Deuteronomy 7.6 (on Deut 26:12); Pirke de Rabbi Eleizer 51 (73b-74a).
 Matt. 12:39-40 (NKJV). It is worthy to note that Biblical scholars strongly debate whether Jesus was in the grave for 72 hours (i.e., a literal three days and three nights). C. Marvin Pate posits his answer in Question #38 in his book, 40 Questions. Additionally, Jonathan Cahn (a Messianic Jew and thus a believer in Christ who is from the tribe of Levi) provides various Biblical devotional insight in his popular book, The Book of Mysteries (see Day 47 and Day 124 amongst others). The three days / three nights controversy is addressed in Appendix 1 of this essay.
 John 2:19 (NKJV).
 John 12:24 (NKJV).
 Gen. 3:15 (NKJV).
 Gen. 1:11-13 (NKJV).
 Gen. 22:2 (NKJV). Jonathan Cahn in his insightful devotional book mentions that this is the first occurrence of the word “love” in the Bible. He also compares the requested sacrifice of Isaac, “whom you love” with the NT passage of God’s sacrifice of His Son, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” in John 3:16. Interestingly, the word, “love” is not used in the Garden of Eden, but first used in relation to the child of promise.
Jonathan Cahn, The Book of Mysteries (Charisma House Book Group: Lake Mary, FL, 2016), Day 79.
 Gen. 22:8 (NKJV).
 Heb. 11:19 (NKJV).
 It is important to note that to Abraham God provided a “ram” (Heb, “ʹayil” #H352), not a lamb. But in the future He would provide a “Lamb” for the sins of the world. This is significant as Abraham responded to Isaac’s question, “father…where is the lamb (or goat; Heb, “śey śȇy” #H7716) for a burnt offering?” Additionally, after the event happened on the third day, Abraham named the mountain, “The-Lord-Will-Provide,” not, “The-Lord-Has-(or Did) Provide” (past tense). Clearly, there was verbalized hope in yet a coming “lamb” to be a perfect sacrifice. Whether Abraham realized the significance or not of his naming of the mountain is inconsequential. The name he gave it became prophetic, as Mount Moriah eventually becomes Jerusalem where the “Lamb of God” was slain and sacrificed and then rose again the third day. In contrast, Abraham burned with fire the ram, perhaps prophetically picturing the ultimate conclusion of man’s imperfect offerings compared to God’s perfect Lamb which would give eternal life.
 Adam Clarke, “Genesis 22:4,” in Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Parson’s Technology, Inc., Electronic Edition STEP Files, 1999). Clarke includes additional significant comments by Ainsworth about the third day motif throughout the OT. Ainsworth’s entire comments are attached in Appendix 4 of this essay (below).
 There are other Messianic comparisons in the story of Genesis 22 including the fact that Abraham saddled a donkey, the very same animal on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Additionally, Abraham lays the wood for the sacrifice upon his son, Isaac, just as Jesus bore His own wooden cross on His back and carried it to His place of sacrifice. Surely, as Abraham raises the knife to kill his son, Isaac must be thinking why his father would forsake him like this. Similarly, as Jesus was nailed to the wooden cross, He cries out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” Finally, it is this place where Abraham offers Isaac that both Jews and Muslims claim is where the temple mount is today in Jerusalem.
 Hosea 6:1-2 (NKJV).
 Eugene Merrill, Mark F. Rooker and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (B&H Publishing Group: Nashville, TN, 2011), Chapter 27, Kindle location 14845.
 Pate, 40 Questions, 345.
 Other interesting Messianic references also occur about the resurrection and the third day. A search for the phrase, “third day” in the Old Testament reveals more than thirty references each in the KJV and NKJV. New Testament references are listed in Appendix 2 and Appendix 3 of this essay. OT examples of this include:
Genesis 42:18 Joseph releases his brothers from prison on the third day.
Joshua 1:11 “Pass through the camp and command the people, saying, ‘Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you will cross over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess.’”
2 Kings 20:5 “Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord.”
Esther 4:16; 5:1 “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shusan and fast for me; nether eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (5:1) “Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, across from the king’s house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house.” Esther is requesting corporate fasting for three days – either night OR day. This is not 72 hours. Additionally, she went in to the king on the third day. In other words, she didn’t wait until 72 hours was complete.
 Tim Keller, On the Mountain: The Terrifying and Beckoning God 2012 TGC Women’s Conference. Published March 24, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rACtcpKA2vk, (accessed March 3, 2019).
 Keller, On the Mountain, 13:35 min mark.
 Richard Patterson, in a paper on the third day motif, categorizes the third day phrase in Exodus 19 under the heading, “Special Spiritual Activity.” He describes the motif as pointing to “actions and matters that take place on a spiritual dimension,” as well as “distinctive” and “unique” things pointing to “important things to follow.”
Richard Patterson and Michael Travers, The Third Day Motif, https://bible.org/seriespage/3-use-three-bible (accessed April 16, 2019), Article 3, under heading “Special Spiritual Activity.”
 These are listed in Appendix 5 in this essay (below).
Cahn, Jonathan. The Book of Mysteries. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House Book Group. 2016.
Clarke, Adam. “Genesis 22:4.” Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Old Testament, Electronic Ed. STEP Files, for Parsons Technology, Inc., QuickVerse, 1999.
Craig, William Lane. Jonah & Jesus: Three Days and Nights? YouTube Channel: drcraigvideos published March 24, 2017. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83ajEwGrJaw
The Holy Bible, New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983.
Keller, Tim. On the Mountain: The Terrifying and Beckoning God. 2012 TGC Women’s Conference. Published March 24, 2014. Accessed March 3, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rACtcpKA2vk.
Kostenberger, Andreas J. and Patterson, Richard D. For the Love of God’s Word, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications. 2015.
Merrill, Eugene; Rooker, Mark F.; Grisanti, Michael A. The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament. B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, 2011.
Pate, C. Marvin. 40 Questions About the Historical Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2015.
Patterson, Richard, and Travers, Michael. “Article 3.” The Third Day Motif. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://bible.org/seriespage/3-use-three-bible.
Are the “Three Days and Three Nights” Referred to by Jesus to be Understood as 72 Hours?
There are a few significant factors we need to consider when interpreting any Scripture:
1. We must approach God’s word carefully, humbly and respectfully. Kostenberger and Patterson explain it this way, “There is therefore an important ethical dimension in [Biblical] interpretation. We should engage in interpretation responsibly, displaying respect for the text and its author. The ‘golden rule’ of interpretation requires that we extend the same courtesy to any text or author that we would want others to extend to our statements or writings (Matt 7:21). This calls for respect not only for the intentions of the human authors of Scripture but ultimately for God who chose to reveal himself through the Bible by his Holy Spirit.”
2. We need to know (at least a little) something about “the third day” as presented in both the Old and New Testaments (see Scriptures in Appendices 2 and 3).
3. We need to know something about the Jewish mindset and Hebrew language before interpreting the passage.
4. We need to utilize a literal hermeneutic interpretation of Scripture. A “literal hermeneutic” simply means, “that a biblical text is to be interpreted according to the ‘plain meaning’ conveyed by its grammatical construction and historical context. The literal meaning is held to correspond to the intention of the authors.” This interpretation seeks to respect the author’s and Spirit’s intent of the passage under review.
5. Finally, there is a blessing when utilizing these steps. Jesus clearly stated that truth sets a person free (John 8:32). Will we permit and submit to allowing the Bible interpreting the Bible? Or will we put our own western, American or 21st century views and reckoning into the Scripture as we read it? We must read it as the Spirit intended it.
Let’s first look at the language Jesus used in the New Testament. Jesus used various literary devices to get His point across or to make things easy to remember for an oral audience. Only a few examples of these literary devices are listed below:
A. Similie (uses “like” or “as”): Matt 24:27 “For as the lightning comes from the east to the west…”
B. Metaphor – Matt 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth…” The 7 “I AM” statements in John.
C. Synecdoche – part is substituted for the whole. For example, Matt 6:11 “Give us this day, our daily bread.” We’re not praying just for bread, but our daily provisions of food or other things. In Rom 10:15 Paul wrote, “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news…” It is not just the evangelists’ literal feet that are beautiful.
D. Idioms – are a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words. For example, “sleep” is an idiom used in the Bible for death; “breathing his last” is used as an idiom for dying in Acts 5:5. Another example is Malachi 1:2-3 God “hates” Esau, but loves Jacob. Perhaps the idea of “hate” here is an idiom. It is difficult to say with 100% accuracy in this example. Idioms are not to be interpreted literally.
E. Exaggeration – Jesus often used exaggeration to make a teaching point – “gouging out” your eye for lusting. Matt 26:52 “all (see next paragraph for a brief discussion on the word, “all”) who take up the sword will perish by the sword.” Is that 100%? It is exaggerated for effect. It helps people remember. Jesus says, for example, in Mark 13:1-2 “…not one stone will be left on another” (referring to the coming destruction of the temple), does that literally mean not one stone? It probably means “utter destruction.” How else would you say it? “99.6% of this temple will be destroyed.” Jesus seems to be using exaggeration to get His point across.
Another more challenging reference is when the word, “all” is used. Does the word “all” always literally mean 100% all? Luke 2:1 “all the world be registered.” That simply could not be taken literally – “all” the world? It was a literary device used by Luke to refer to only the Roman world. Or, Matt 2:3; 3:5 “all of Jerusalem was troubled…” does not mean every last citizen in Jerusalem was troubled. On the other hand, the word, “all” certainly can literally mean in some contexts, 100% all.
There are other literary devices used not only in the gospels but throughout the Bible. The parables themselves are a fascinating study.
Second, let’s consider how the Old Testament Hebrew language uses the third day. There is a clear pattern of God’s victory and release for His people on the third day. In this paper we have been reviewing a third day motif in the Old Testament. An interpreter should look at all the phrases in the Old Testament where “third day” is found. How is the motif and language used? As stated above in the paper (prior to footnote #3) Jewish interpreters are aware of a third day motif. It is clear that on the third day freedom, healing, release from prison, and victory are part of God’s story. According to Jewish writing and thought, a rigid 72 hours did not need to be completed prior to God’s deliverance, healing or victory. That assumption of third day continues into the New Testament.
Finally, Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, follows these steps above. He has a concise but sufficient answer for this question. His answer can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83ajEwGrJaw. Points are summarized below. I have added words for clarity and set my words off with brackets [ ].
“Obviously, there were not 3 days and 3 nights between Friday and Sunday morning [as we reckon time]. This [phrase, “three days and three nights] is an idiom in Jewish language that is variously expressed. Sometimes [the Bible] will say, “Jesus rose after three days.” More often it will say that Jesus rose, “on the third day.” And in Jewish reckoning the day begins at sundown at 6 o’clock. So, if Jesus is placed in the tomb on Friday afternoon before sundown, before 6, and then He was in the grave on Saturday. Then rose sometime after 6 pm on Saturday or Sunday morning, that [resurrection] is on the third day according to Jewish reckoning. Indeed, if Jesus were interred at 4 o’clock on Friday and raised at 7 o’clock Saturday night, the Jew would say He was raised on the third day.”
“So, these expressions are simply Jewish idioms which are drawn from the Old Testament expressing the time of Jesus’ resurrection. I think it is an indirect reference to the time of the women’s visit. It was on the third day, after the crucifixion, that the women came and found the tomb empty. So, naturally, the resurrection itself came to be dated on the third day [Luke 24:21 clarifies Sunday as “the third day”]. It’s simply an idiom to pick up the Jonah story, that Jesus like Jonah was in the ground for three days and three nights. It shouldn’t be pressed for literality. It’s an idiom. The use of the third day motif is a theologically significant motif. When you look at how that phrase is used in the OT, again and again, it’s on the third day that God delivers Israel from distress. The third day is God’s deliverance and victor. So, calling the date of the resurrection “on the third day” is a way of saying this is God’s day of deliverance and victory.
In conclusion, it is difficult to see how the “three days and three nights” can be taken literally with the overwhelming evidence of the third day motif in the OT, as well as the overwhelming descriptors carrying over into the New Testament, “on the third day,” “within three days,” “in three days” or similar language, and finally, the abundance of literary devices Jesus used in the gospels. Jesus often spoke in such language that even the disciples grew weary of it and asked Him to speak plainly (Matt. 13:10; John 16:25, 29). So, the “three days and three nights” in Matt 12 does not literally mean 72 hours. Given our research, not only does the phrase mean parts of three days, but that one phrase interpreted literally as 72 hours makes numerous other passages difficult to interpret (Luke 24:21 and any passage which states “on the third day” or “the third day”).
Regardless of these notes, literary devices do NOTHING to compromise the validity and truth of the Bible as God-inspired. In fact, God’s creativity and poetic use of language in places in the Bible accentuates His abilities to hide truth, create a literary masterpiece, and sovereignly bring His words to pass, all while glorifying Himself.
New Testament References to “Three Days”
The phrase “three days” occurs 17 times in these verses in the NKJV and 19 times in KJV (KJV adds two passages in Revelation chapter 11:9, 11 which refer to the two witnesses).
1. Matt 12:40 “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
2. Matt 15:32 referring to the multitudes being without food.
3. Matt 26:61 “…and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’””
4. Matt 27:40 “…and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.””
5. Matt 27:63 “saying [to Pilate], “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’”
6. Mark 8:2 referring to the multitudes being without food.
7. Mark 8:31 “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.”
8. Mark 14:58 “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.’””
9. Mark 15:29 “And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days,”
10. Luke 2:46 after three days Jesus as a child was in the temple.
11. John 2:19 “Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.””
12. John 2:20 “Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
13. – 17. The remaining five references are in Acts and have nothing to do with the resurrection.
New Testament References to the “Third Day”
“The third day” is a phrase used in the New Testament especially of Jesus’ death and resurrection. A search of the New Testament for the phrase, “third day” reveals 16 passages each in KJV and NKJV. All but two of the 16 passages in the NT refer to Jesus’ resurrection on the third day. One other one (John 2:1) refers to a wedding day in Cana of Galilee where Jesus’ first miracle occurred, turning the water into wine. It can be argued that this specific “third day” miracle was also a precursor to His third day resurrection when joy would be brought to the full and Jesus would inaugurate His wedding with the Church body.
1. Matt 16:21 “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”
2. Matt 17:23 “…and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful.”
3. Matt 20:19 “…and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.”
4. Matt 27:64 “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.”
5. Mark 9:31 “For He taught His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.””
6. Mark 10:34 ““…and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.””
7. Luke 9:22 “…saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”
8. Luke 13:32 “And He said to them, “Go, tell that fox [Herod], ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’”
9. Luke 18:33 “They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
10. Luke 24:7 “…saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”
11. Luke 24:21 “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today (Sunday) is the third day since these things happened.”
12. Luke 24:46 “Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day,”
13. John 2:1-4 “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.””
14. Acts (written by Luke) 10:40 “Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly,”
15. Acts 27:19 refers to Paul’s shipwreck.
16. 1 Cor 15:4 “…and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,”
The Third Day
“As the number Seven,” says Mr. Ainsworth, “is of especial use in Scripture because of the Sabbath day, Genesis 2:2, so Three is a mystical number because of Christ’s rising from the dead the third day, Matthew 17:23; 1 Corinthians 15:4; as he was crucified the third hour after noon, Mark 15:25: and Isaac, as he was a figure of Christ, in being the only son of his father, and not spared but offered for a sacrifice, Romans 8:32, so in sundry particulars he resembled our Lord: the third day Isaac was to be offered up, so it was the third day in which Christ also was to be perfected, Luke 13:32; Isaac carried the wood for the burnt-offering, Genesis 22:6, so Christ carried the tree whereon he died, John 19:17; the binding of Isaac, Genesis 21:9, was also typical, so Christ was bound, Matthew 27:2. “In the following remarkable cases this number also occurs. Moses desired to go three days’ journey in the wilderness to sacrifice, Exodus 5:3; and they traveled three days in it before they found water, Exodus 15:22; and three days’ journey the ark of the covenant went before them, to search out a resting place, Numbers 10:33; by the third day the people were to be ready to receive God’s law, Exodus 19:11; and after three days to pass over Jordan into Canaan, Joshua 1:14; the third day Esther put on the apparel of the kingdom, Esther 5:1; on the third day Hezekiah, being recovered from his illness, went up to the house of the Lord, 2 Kings 20:5; on the third day, the prophet said, God will raise us up and we shall live before him, Hosea 6:2; and on the third day, as well as on the seventh, the unclean person was to purify himself, Numbers 19:12: with many other memorable things which the Scripture speaks concerning the third day, and not without mystery. See Genesis 40:12, 13; 42:17, 18; Jonah 1:17; Joshua 2:16; unto which we may add a Jew’s testimony in Bereshith Rabba, in a comment on this place: There are many Three Days mentioned in the Holy Scripture, of which one is the resurrection of the Messiah.”—Ainsworth.
The Gospel Writer, Matthew, Contrasts and Compares Similar Events Between the Giving of the Law and the Resurrection
Matthew intentionally uses various descriptions throughout his gospel to show that Jesus is fulfilling Moses as “the new Moses.” These descriptions between Matthew’s gospel account of the resurrection and the giving of the law are not accidental, but rather are part of Matthew’s intention to support his idea that Jesus is the new Moses. This subject is better covered in, 40 Questions about The Historical Jesus by C. Marvin Pate, p.267 (see question #28 – “What Is the Main Message of Matthew about Jesus?”). Below are some the comparisons between Exodus 19 and Matthew’s resurrection account.
Exodus 19:11 “And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mt Sinai in the sight of all the people.” Now this was strange because in the Ancient Near East (ANE) every city of significant size had a ziggurat (pyramids with steps) in the city in which the pagan priest would climb the stairs to the top of the ziggurat to offer sacrifices and earn favor with the gods. A demonstration of the works of man to sacrifice, appease and call out to pagan gods.
Mt. Sinai is a ziggurat in the wilderness where Moses went up, but God came down. In all other religions, mankind goes up to earn favor with pagan gods, but here the one true God warns Moses and the people He is coming down.
1. A. Giving of the Law – Exodus 19:11, 20 Then the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain on the third day in the sight of all the people.
1.B. Resurrection – the LORD was crucified and seen by all and then arose and was seen by people on the third day (Luke 24:19, 21).
2.A. Law – Exodus 19:12, 23 “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.'” When the law came down, it set boundaries and brought death with it. “Set bounds around the mountain!”
2.B. Resurrection – Before Jesus was raised from the dead, men made the tomb secure, sealed the stone (setting boundaries) and set the guard (Matt 27:66). When Jesus arose, He conquered our enemy (death) once and for all! It was Roman guards who became like dead men (Matt 28:4). After Jesus arose, dead people arose from their graves (Matt 27:52) and liberty and freedom from death and sin came (Gal 5:1, 13).
3.A. Law – Exodus 19:13 “Not a hand shall touch him (the person that touches the mountain in any way), but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow, whether man or beast, he shall not live.”
3.B. Resurrection – When Mary was crying in the garden at the tomb, the risen Jesus spoke to her!!! When considering the holiness of God contrasted through the lens of the law, this is amazing! “Mary!” She had such an intimate relationship with Jesus, she recognized His voice immediately! “Rabboni!” She saw the risen Christ in the Garden by the tomb when Jesus (probably politely and gently) told Mary not to cling to Him for He had not yet ascended to His Father. (John 20:15-16) “And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’ [which is contrasted to the natural fear in Exodus and when seeing a risen Jesus] And they came and held Him by the feet (contrast that to not touching the base of the mountain) and worshiped Him” (Matt 28:9). Jesus allowed the touching (He told Thomas to put his hand in His side and do it while believing). We can now approach God! What great, awesome and joyful news!
4.A. Law – Exodus 19:10, 14 “Then the LORD said Moses, ‘Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes.'” v. 14 “Then Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes.”
4. B. Resurrection – At the resurrection, the clothing of the descended angel was “as white as snow” (Matt 28:3). The fine linen (clean and bright) is given (a gift) to the saints. “The linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:8). This linen is imputed righteous works (“which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” – Eph 2:10b) as a result of grace through faith for the saints, not our own doing. It’s one reason the church at Sardis has filthy garments, because their works were not perfect (i.e. they trusted in their own works and obedience to the law), thus dirtying the clean and bright (righteous robes) of Jesus Christ. Jesus warns these people in His church who “defile their garments” with self-effort law and obedience instead of obeying from a heart of love from Him (1 John 4:19-21) to, “Repent! and you shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” The only way to be worthy is to be counted worthy by God. These in Sardis have a name that they’re alive, but they are about to die because they trust their obedience more than trusting Jesus Christ. Repent! He who overcomes (the self and its Pharisaical works of the law which Paul said was like dung – Phil 3:7-8), that overcomer SHALL (no stronger legal term than that) be clothed in white garments.” (Rev 3:1-5)
5.A. Law – Exodus 19:16 “Then it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.”
5.B. Resurrection – The giving of the law brought death and FEAR. While there was fear by the disciples at the tomb, the perfect love of Jesus Christ casts out fear (1 John 4:18). The angels and Jesus commanded the women and disciples to REJOICE!!! Matthew describes the descended angel’s countenance as “like lightning.”