The Third Day

The Third Day Series: Part 5 – Esther

We previously established our method for identifying types of the third day resurrection:

  1. We read an Old Testament passage with a keyword such as “third day” or “three days”.
  2. We stop, knowing that such a keyword may be pointing to a prophetic foreshadow of Christ’s resurrection.
  3. We examine the passage and see if it qualifies as a type.

Applying this method when reading through Scripture, we would stop at a certain point in the book of Esther. The summary of Esther’s story is that she was a Jew who ascended to the position of queen of Persia, by God’s providence. When a plot to kill the Jews came to her knowledge, she was in a position as queen to approach the king, foil the plot, save her people, and keep the Messianic hope alive.

Even though she was queen, it was not without risk that she approached the king to try to save her people, for the custom of the land was that the king was never approached without him first summoning the person who approached. Here is what Esther said about the custom:

“All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that for any man or woman who comes to the king to the inner court who is not summoned, he has but one law, that he be put to death, unless the king holds out to him the golden scepter so that he may live. And I have not been summoned to come to the king for these thirty days.” Esther 4: 11

Despite the law, Esther decided to risk her own life and approach the king without a summons, to try to save the Jews. But, before she approached the king, she requested a fast of the Jews.

“Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4: 16

After this fast, she approached the king.

“Now it came about on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace in front of the king’s rooms, and the king was sitting on his royal throne in the throne room, opposite the entrance to the palace. When the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight; and the king extended to Esther the golden scepter which was in his hand. So Esther came near and touched the top of the scepter. Then the king said to her, “What is troubling you, Queen Esther? And what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be given to you.” Esther 5: 1 – 3

Those familiar with the story know that Esther was able to successfully arrange for the preservation of her people, by making the king aware of Haman’s plot. As we ponder these events in Esther’s life, the three day fast and her third day audience with the king, we can draw parallels between her account and that of Christ’s resurrection.

Event in Esther New Testament Parallel
Haman plotted to kill the Jews Satan plotted to kill all humanity by successfully tempting Adam and Eve to sin
The plot became known to Esther God knew that Adam and Eve sinned against Him and that all humanity had now become condemned
Esther, as queen, was in a position to intercede on behalf of her people Christ, as Son of God and the Messianic King, was in a position to intercede on behalf of His people
For three days, there was mystery as to whether Esther would be killed or granted life by the king For three days, there was mystery as to whether Christ would rise from the dead
On the third day, the king granted Esther life On the third day, Christ was raised from the dead
Because of the third day, Esther successfully interceded for her people Because of the third day, Christ successfully interceded for His people

Just like the account of Elijah and Elisha that we previously looked at, these parallels are sufficient to conclude that the account of Esther and the three day fast are a type of Christ’s third day resurrection. This places Esther on our growing list of major Old Testament figures who were involved in a spectacular circumstance involving a three day span of time.

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.

The Third Day Series: Part 2 – Jonah

We are attempting to understand how Jesus and Paul could say that the Old Testament prophesied a third day resurrection, when in fact there is not one direct statement in the Old Testament that says something like “the Messiah will die and rise on the third day.” Thankfully, we have the words of Jesus to shed light on the mystery.

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.” Matthew 12: 38 – 40

A very interesting thing happened in this encounter with the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus took the book of Jonah, which had nothing to do with messianic prophecy, and He made it messianic. How could Jesus do such a thing? Isn’t that an incorrect way to interpret the Bible, to take Scripture out of context to prove a point?

The reason Jesus could say what He said is because He was speaking of “signs.” To use another word, Jesus was speaking of “patterns.” The scribes and Pharisees would certainly agree that Jonah was a prophet of God. And they would agree that Jonah was put into the sea monster for three days and three nights by the will of God, for that is what Jonah’s book clearly states.

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: 17
Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land. Jonah 2: 10

So Jesus compared Himself to Jonah. Just as Jonah was God’s prophet, Jesus was too. Just as Jonah was appointed by God to be in the fish, so too will God appoint Jesus to be in the earth. And just as Jonah came out of the fish on the third day, so too will Jesus come out of the earth on the third day. Jesus used Jonah as a pattern to support the credibility of His own ministry. God established a pattern in Jonah, and God will culminate or fulfill the pattern in Jesus. This is what Jesus was communicating to the Pharisees and scribes, and it is what is being communicated to us by Matthew as we read what he recorded about Christ.

If we can understand how Jesus applied Jonah to Himself, then we are well on our way to understanding how other Old Testament passages can be applied to Christ and His third day resurrection.

The Third Day Series: Part 1 – Introduction

Jesus was crucified and died on Passover. On the third day after His death, He rose from the dead by His own power. In doing so, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy that He gave prior to His crucifixion, which is recorded in the gospel of Matthew:

…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)

So “the third day” in Christianity refers to Resurrection Sunday (which is commonly known as Easter). But why did Jesus rise on the third day? Why didn’t Jesus predict He would be raised on the second or fourth day? Surely anyone rising from the dead by their own power would be an amazing thing, why does it matter what day it happened?

The words of Jesus and Paul tell us that the third day is not arbitrary, and that Jesus could have not risen from the dead on the second day or on the fourth day. Why not? Because of Old Testament prophecy written hundreds of years before Jesus was born.

…and He (Jesus) said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day…” (Luke 24: 46)
For I (Paul) 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)

In the New Testament quotes above, both Jesus and Paul indicate that the Old Testament speaks of a third day resurrection by the Messiah. In other words, before the foundation of the world, God determined that Jesus would rise from the dead three days after His death, and God ensured the event was prophesied in the Old Testament writings. But one of the great mysteries is this – there is no literal predictive prophecy that links the third day to the Messiah. There is nothing in the Old Testament that essentially says “the coming Messiah will die and rise on the third day.” So what were Jesus and Paul talking about, and in what way does the Old Testament foreshadow Jesus’ third day resurrection?

To shed light on this mystery is the hope of this new blog series.