We are told by the Lord, through Paul, that Jesus rising on the third day was predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures (see 1 Cor. 15:4). Thus, we should be able to open the Old Testament (written hundreds of years before God entered humanity through Jesus) and find evidence of a third-day-resurrection.
I think this is found in many places. Sometimes it is explicit, such as Hosea 6:1-2:
“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
2 After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.
So we are told resurrection would happen a third day to Israel. But don’t miss Matthew 2:13-15 referencing Hosea (11:1) and pointing out that Israel itself is a type for Jesus. For more on this, see Who is Isaiah’s “Servant”?
This 3rd-day-resurrection may also be found in type/shadow, such as Jonah being in the belly of the fish 3 days before rising out of it: “as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth,” (Matt. 12:40).
Third Day Resurrection in Genesis and Exodus
Along these lines, in reading Genesis and Exodus, I’m blown away at all the references to significant events transpiring after three days, or on the third day:
- “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds…And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.” (Gen. 1:11-13) – here we see that the new life of vegetation springs up on the 3rd day (this later is referenced as a direct type of Jesus’ resurrection as fulfilled in the Feast of Firstfruits, see Lev. 23).
- “On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.” (Gen. 22:4) – note here that Abraham was offering up his one and only son whom he loved. He had him come alongside servants, and 3 days after he set out to sacrificially kill him, Isaac metaphorically resurrected (see Heb. 11:19 for direct reference to this)
- “Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks.” (Gen. 30:36) – here Laban wanted to space himself out a 3 day journey to prevent the possibility of Jacob killing him. Thus, 3 days speaks to a time period within the reach of death, but beyond 3 days speaks to life. Remarkable!
- “Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male.” (Gen. 34:25) – after circumcision (which is actually spoken of in Colossians 2 as a symbol of crucifixion–in that they both are the removal of the flesh), it is 3 days later that the wrong is “righted” and the enemy is vanquished. I grant that this was not right and proper for Simeon and Levi to do (cf. Gen. 49:5-7), but I still think God uses people doing wrong things to still point to principles of Christ’s death and resurrection (sometimes by similarity, sometimes by contrast).
- “Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer…Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials:” (Gen. 40:13, 20) — here, again, we have a remarkable outline of similarities between Jesus’ death and resurrection. Overall, I think Joseph is a powerful type for Jesus (betrayed by his brothers for silver, rejected by the Jews, going to a low point, but later exalted at the righthand of the King and a Savior to the world). But while Joseph is in prison, wrongly put in this low estate (as Jesus was on the cross), he has 2 by his side. 1 is demoted, and 1 is promoted (again, this is exactly like Jesus on the cross). And in Gen. 40 we read that the time the cupbearer has to wait before he is “resurrected” is 3 days.
- “The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.’” (Exod. 3:18; see also Exod. 5:3; 8:27) – this strikes me as so amazing. Here, God tells Israel that there complete separation from the oppression of Egypt is a matter of 3 days. Within 3 days they will still be close enough to Egypt that they could overpower. But 3 days provides the proper separation from the oppressor/death they were in. In the broader scale, as we know, Egypt does speak to sin/oppression/death just as the Passover Lamb frees them from this (as a sign of us leaving death into life on the basis of Jesus’ precious death and blood).
- “So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.” (Exod. 10:22-23) – 3 days of absolute darkness for Egypt, yet Israel saw this same event as light. In the same way, Jesus’ death was 3 days of death and darkness, yet a total triumph for people who receive His sacrifice as forgiveness of sins.
- “Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.” (Exod. 15:22) – water is needed for life. They went 3 days in a desert without it. And only after the 3 days do they get this precious life-sustaining water (which was initially bitter until God miraculously made it healthy).
- “and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people…Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations. On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.” (Exod. 19:11, 15-16) – lastly, note that 3 days they have separation from God, but on the 3rd day there would no longer be a separation from man and God. There would be a nearness that took 3 days to accomplish. Though you must receive Him on his terms. Similarly, after 3 days of death, God broke down our separation and can now come near to those who receive Him on his terms – via repentance and faith.