Part of Paul’s Gospel message in 1 Corinthians 15 is the phrase “that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Have you ever wondered what Scriptures Paul had in mind?
When it comes to Jesus’ death, many rightly think of OT passages like Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. But when you look for OT references about Jesus’ resurrection, they are much more scarce and obscure. The first two passages that we will look at are debated among theologians as to whether or not they speak of Jesus’ resurrection, but the next three are much clearer. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Two Debatable Passages
On the Third Day
“After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (Hosea 6:2).
Here Hosea is praying that God would restore Israel as a nation. The phrases “after two days” and “on the third day” simply denote a short period of time. For many Christians, the phrase “on the third day he will raise us up” seems to be a near perfect parallel to Jesus’ resurrection.
But many commentators seemed to be divided on this. Some think this refers to Jesus’ resurrection while others take this as dealing solely with Israel. The original context of the passage doesn’t seem to be Messianic, but the biggest problem I have is that no one references this passage in the NT. If Hosea was speaking about the Resurrection, I would think that the NT writers would be quoting this passage all over the place!
The phrase “on the third day” also occurs in 2 Kings 20:5, where God relays to Hezekiah that he will be healed from his sickness: “…I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord”
However, I don’t find any place in the NT where 2 Kings 20:5 is connected to Jesus’ resurrection either. So for these reasons, Hosea 6:2 would at best be a “shadowy” reference to Jesus’ resurrection.
Prolong His Days
Perhaps no OT passage speaks more clearly of Jesus’ death than Isaiah 53. Yet some commentators believe that Isaiah 53 also contains a reference to Jesus’ resurrection, specifically in verses 10-12:
“Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
After reading this passage carefully, I would agree that a resurrection is at least hinted at here. The phrase “he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors” clearly points to this individual’s death. This passage also connects this individual’s death with bearing the sin of others.
But this individual doesn’t seem to stay dead. He sees his offspring, his days are prolonged, he receives a portion from God and he divides his spoils with others. Even though no NT writer correlates this passage with Jesus’ resurrection, other phrases from Isaiah 53:10-12 appear in the NT including “numbered with the transgressors” (Luke 22:37) and “bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28).
Once again we are left with uncertainty here. I think this passage probably applies to Jesus’ resurrection, but I am not certain at the moment. With that said, there are three OT passages that I am more confident about.
Three Definite Passages
Jonah and the Big Fish
The Gospels record Jesus predicting his death and resurrection on a few occasions, but there is one passage where Jesus directly correlates his resurrection to a story in the OT. In Matthew 12:40, Jesus says,
“For just 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.’”
Here Jesus speaks of the familiar story of Jonah, specifically this verse:
“Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17).
Jonah’s prayer in chapter two has many parallels to Jesus’ death and resurrection, including the phrase “you brought up my life from the pit.” Jesus’ comparison is abundantly clear: just as Jonah was in the fish for three days and three nights, Jesus will be in the grave. And just as Jonah came out of the fish after three days, so shall Jesus come out of the grave. Jesus saw the story of Jonah as a foreshadowing of his death and resurrection.
The Holy One and Corruption
In Acts 2:24-32, Peter quotes Psalm 16 in reference to Jesus’ resurrection. Here is the passage in its entirety:
“God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”
This is the most explicit reference to Jesus’ resurrection in the OT. According to Peter, David could not have been speaking about himself in Psalm 16. Why? Because David’s body remained in his tomb and certainly experienced corruption by the time of Peter’s sermon! Also, David knew that God would fulfill His promise of giving His kingdom to one of David’s descendants.
In Psalm 16, David was acting as a prophet, predicting that Jesus would rise from the dead. David foresaw that when Jesus died, God wouldn’t abandon Him to Hades. David also foresaw that Jesus’ body would never experience corruption because God would raise Him from the dead!
The Blessings of David
Paul also applies Psalm 16 to Jesus’ resurrection in Acts 13. In verse 34, Paul says this:
“And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David’”.
The verse referenced here is Isaiah 55:3, and it is an easy one to miss. This may not seem like much, but the phrase “blessings of David” is loaded with meaning. It refers to the covenant that God made with David in 2 Samuel 7. Part of this covenant includes the following:
“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13).
This covenant was fulfilled in the person of Christ. Jesus came as the offspring of David and His kingdom was established forever after His death and resurrection. Paul recognized that God’s covenant could only be fulfilled in Christ because He is the only one to rise from the dead to live forevermore!
Does the Old Testament Predict Jesus’ Resurrection?
In short, yes it does. Hosea 6 and Isaiah 53 possibly allude to the Resurrection, but are inconclusive. However, there are three definite references to Jesus’ resurrection. First, Jesus saw the story of Jonah as a foreshadowing of his death and resurrection. Second, Peter and Paul explicitly state that David predicted the Resurrection in Psalm 16. Finally, Paul believed that Isaiah 55:3 pointed to the Resurrection because the Resurrected Christ and His kingdom will endure forever.
What are your thoughts on this? Are there other Old Testament passages that predict Jesus’ resurrection? Comment below!