Month: April 2014

The Third Day Series: Part 4 – Elijah and Elisha

In our prior two studies on Jonah and Abraham/Isaac, we relied upon New Testament passages to validate a typological interpretation of the Old Testament texts. But what if there is no New Testament reference? Can an Old Testament passage still be interpreted as a type of the third day resurrection?

Given the limited New Testament references to third day prophecies, and the fact that both Jesus and Paul indicate the third day is an Old Testament prophetic theme, I think we have to answer “yes”, it is okay to interpret an Old Testament passage as a type of the third day resurrection, even without a clear New Testament reference.

So how do we do this?

If we can identify an Old Testament account that references the third day, or a three day interval, and if we can draw parallels between that account and Jesus’ death and third day resurrection, then we can conclude that the passage functions as a type. If we do this carefully and soberly, we are doing no more to the text than what Jesus did when interpreting Jonah. With this in mind, let us look at the prophet Elijah, when he was taken up into heaven and his ministry bequeathed to Elisha.

As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw Elijah no more…Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho opposite him saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him and bowed themselves to the ground before him. They said to him, “Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men, please let them go and search for your master; perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him on some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.” But when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men; and they searched three days but did not find him. They returned to him while he was staying at Jericho; and he said to them, “Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go’?” 2 Kings 2: 11 – 12, 15 – 18

In this text there is a reference to a three day search for Elijah; the three day interval is our first clue that perhaps the passage is a third day type. But we must be able to draw parallels between this account and the account of Christ, similar to how Jesus compared Himself to Jonah. Consider the following:

Old Testament Event New Testament Parallel
1 The day of Elijah’s ascension into heaven was ordained by God The day of Christ’s death was ordained by God
2 Elisha was told in advance that Elijah would be taken up into heaven The disciples were told in advance that Jesus would be crucified and rise on the third day
3 Not believing God’s word, fifty men searched for Elijah for three days Not believing Jesus’ word, the disciples did not expect an empty tomb on the third day
4 In accordance with God’s word, Elijah was not found In accordance with God’s word, Jesus rose from the dead

It turns out we are able to draw reasonable parallels between the account of Elijah/Elisha and Jesus’ death/resurrection. Even though there is no New Testament passage that supports this interpretation, the parallels we have drawn are safe. Is there anything wrong with pointing out that God ordained the day of Elijah’s ascension, just as He ordained the day of Christ’s death? Is there anything wrong with pointing out prophets in Elisha’s day did not believe that Elijah was taken up, and comparing that to the disciples’ lack of faith in Jesus’ promise to rise from the dead?

To become even more sure that this passage is a type, let us look at, in a little more detail, the parallels between the three day search for Elijah and the third day resurrection of Christ. In the Old Testament account, God’s word was given ahead of time to Elisha, that Elijah would be taken to heaven.

Then the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?” And he said, “Yes, I know; be still.” 2 Kings 2: 3
The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho approached Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be still.” 2 Kings 2: 5

Even though this event was prophesied in advance, there were those who did not believe, and so fifty men were sent to conduct a three day search for Elijah. When their search ended in failure, Elisha essentially said “I told you so,” and it was on the third day that God’s word was vindicated. This is similar to what happened with Jesus and the disciples. Jesus told them in advance about His crucifixion, and they did not believe, even after the women reported Jesus had risen.

…Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” Matthew 17: 22
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'”…She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping. When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it. Mark 16: 1 – 7, 10 – 11

When Jesus appeared to the disciples on the day of His resurrection, God’s word was vindicated, and prophecy was fulfilled. In both the Old Testament and New Testament accounts, God’s word was proven true on the third day, and this is the thrust of the type. God performed a miracle in taking Elijah to heaven, and the fifty men did not believe until the third day. God performed a miracle in raising Jesus from the dead, and the disciples did not believe until the third day, when Jesus appeared to them.

So our typological interpretation of this text is justified. There is no new doctrine being purported, there is nothing outrageous being claimed. We have simply demonstrated parallels between the two accounts, similar to what Jesus did with Jonah and the author of Hebrews did with Isaac.

The Third Day Series: Part 3 – Abraham and Isaac

Typology is the study of types, and what we are doing is studying the Old Testament types that point to Jesus and His third day resurrection. The author of Hebrews tells us that the account of Abraham, when he was asked to kill Isaac, is a type of the resurrection.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. Hebrews 11: 17 – 19

The author of Hebrews points out what many overlook when pondering God’s command to kill Isaac. Prior to that command, prior to God asking Abraham to slay the son of promise, God had told Abraham that through Isaac his descendants would be named. This promise came when Abraham was concerned about the enmity between Hagar and Sarah.

Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. Therefore she said to Abraham, “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. Genesis 21: 9 – 12

This promise was given to Abraham in advance of the command to kill Isaac. Therefore, when God asked Abraham to kill Isaac, Abraham was confronted with a divinely ordained paradox. How could God ask him to kill Isaac prior to Isaac bearing children? Abraham determined, as we learn from Hebrews, that God could raise Isaac from the dead. Is there really any other solution to the paradox? If indeed God allowed Abraham to kill Isaac, then God would have to raise Isaac from the dead in order for him to have children. So this is a foreshadow of the resurrection from the dead.

But what about a three day interval? Hebrews speaks of Abraham and Isaac as a type of the resurrection of Christ, but not as a type of the third day resurrection. To understand where the three day interval comes into play, we must go to the text in Genesis and look at the details in more depth.

Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” Genesis 22: 1 – 5

The text says that Abraham departed in the morning to the place where he would kill Isaac, and on the third day arrived at the destination. To make sense of this, we must understand that in the faithful mind of Abraham, he had determined to kill his son upon the command from God. So as far as Abraham was concerned, Isaac was dead. In fact, Isaac was dead to Abraham, so to speak, during the entire three day journey to Moriah. But on the third day, when they ascended the mountain, when Abraham was prevented from killing Isaac by the cry of the angel, when the plan of God was revealed and Abraham learned Isaac was not to die, at that moment on the third day Isaac was figuratively resurrected in the mind of Abraham. Abraham at that moment knew his son would remain alive and a literal resurrection was not needed, although in his heart he was prepared for God to do such a thing.

It is in this way, then, that the story of the binding of Isaac points ahead to the Messiah and His own binding upon a cross, and subsequent resurrection – on the third day.