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.
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.
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.
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.