What do these two gospel definitions, from Jesus and Paul, have in common?

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day…Luke 24: 45 – 46

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…1 Corinthians 15: 3 – 4

Both Jesus and Paul declare that the Scriptures, meaning the Old Testament, prophesied that the Christ would rise from the dead on “the third day”.

Yet this is a gospel mystery – nowhere in the Old Testament will you find a prophecy that states, in effect, “the coming Messiah will die and then rise from the dead on the third day.”

So we are presented with a paradox: there is no literal prophecy in the Old Testament about a third day resurrection, and yet both Jesus and Paul said Scripture teaches that doctrine. How does one make sense of this?

In order to make sense of it, one must grow in their understanding of Biblical prophecy. It is more than “prediction – fulfillment”, as in, someone says something will happen and then it happens. There is a mode of prophecy that is based on patterns. In the Bible, God over time repeats certain patterns to prepare one to receive a greater truth. This is known as typology (the study of types), and without understanding typology one will lack a certain depth in their Biblical comprehension. Here is an explanation of the mode from some Christian scholars:

Typology ought to be viewed as a subset of predictive prophecy, not in the sense of verbal predictions, but in the sense of predictions built on models/patterns that God himself has established, that become known gradually as later texts reinforce those patterns, with the goal of anticipating what comes later in Christ.1

Applying this concept of types and patterns to Scripture, one needs to look no further than the book of Jonah. Jonah has Messianic implications, not through predictive prophecy, but because of a type found in the first chapter. You may recall that Jonah was thrown into the sea for his sin. The Scripture says:

So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1: 15 – 17

Now there is nothing obviously prophetic in this passage. But the words of Christ give it significance.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” Matthew 12: 38 – 41

I am sure there are a great many Christians who have read Jesus’ words here and have understood the parallel – three days in the fish for Jonah and three days in the earth for Jesus. But it is more than a neat coincidence, and it would be my guess that many do not know Jesus is giving Jonah typological significance and that typology is not limited only to Jonah but has further applications in Biblical reading and interpretation.

It is true – the only way to understand the words of Jesus and Paul, when they say that the Scripture teaches a third day resurrection, is to understand the Old Testament types that point to a third day resurrection. And there are more than just in Jonah, although not many more. I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure none of the other third day types are pointed out by Jesus or the apostles, although there is a slight reference to one in the book of Hebrews. The other third day types can only be discerned after training the mind to look for such things and then reading through Scripture.

It is significant, I think, that the gospel definitions offered by Jesus and Paul, in Luke 24 and 1 Corinthians 15, cannot be fully understood without knowing how types function in Scripture. And since the Holy Spirit inspired the written word, and inspired the types to be documented, they are worth paying attention to, and it is a study worth undertaking.

Although theologians and Bible exegetes sometimes get nervous about typology, because they don’t want people turning everything in the Bible into a type, nevertheless it is a legitimate mode of Bible prophecy, and as in all things pertaining to Bible study, it ought to be done with care and with precision, and with respecting what the Holy Spirit is communicating through Scripture, not forcing what we think or feel upon the Holy Text.

1Gentry & Wellum. Kingdom Through Covenant, pg 103. Wheaton: Crossway. 2012. Print.


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