The “Third Day” in Prophecy

Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
The “Third Day” in Prophecy
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Paul says that Christ was resurrected “on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4).* Where is that prophecy in the Old Testament?

Paul does not provide the biblical text he used. In fact, in the New Testament discussions of Jesus’ resurrection on the third day, we hardly find an explicit reference to a biblical text. We will summarize the use of the “third day” in the New Testament, as well as some of the answers given to your question, and suggest a possible solution.


This phrase is found almost exclusively in the Gospels, primarily on the lips of Jesus. He would “be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (Matt. 12:40); He would die and “be raised up on the third day” (Matt.16:21; 17:23; Luke 9:22); “on the third day He will be raised up” (Matt. 20:19); “the third day He will rise” (Luke 18:33; 24:7). The Jewish leaders knew about Jesus’ prediction that “after three days” He would rise again (Matt. 27:63). When Jesus stated, “So it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day” (Luke 24:46), He was declaring that His resurrection on the third day was a fulfillment of prophecy. Clearly the fulfillment on the third day according to the Scriptures was central to His message.


Some have suggested that in 1 Corinthians 15:4 the phrase “according to the Scriptures” applies only to the resurrection and not to “on the third day.” This is possible, but does not explain Luke 24:46. The search for passages has led others to identify Hosea 6:2 as a prediction of the resurrection on the third day (“He will raise us up on the third day”). This is possible, but this passage is not explicitly associated with Jesus’ resurrection in the New Testament. Jonah 1:17 has also been mentioned, particularly since it is referenced by Jesus in connection to the phrase “on the third day” (Matt. 12:40). Others have noticed that numerous passages in the Old Testament mention important salvific events taking place on the third day (e.g., Gen. 22:4 [free from death on third day]; Ex. 19:16 [a theophany on the third day]; 2 Kings. 20:5, 6 [the king as a type of Christ]; Hosea 6:2). They have concluded that these passages collectively contain a prophecy pointing to Jesus’ resurrection as God’s ultimate salvific event on the third day. This is another good possibility. Finally, there is the suggestion that the offering of the firstfruits on the third day after the offering of the Passover lamb (Lev. 23:11) pointed typologically to the resurrection of Christ on the third day. Unfortunately here the third day is not explicitly mentioned in the passage, although it is clearly implied.


The previous discussion shows that we cannot be dogmatic in selecting a particular passage as the specific prediction of the resurrection of Christ on the third day. I will identify what I consider to be the two best options. The first one is Jonah 1:17. Why? According to Jesus the three-days-experience of Jonah in the realm of death was a sign pointing, as a typological prediction, to His resurrection on the third day (Matt. 12:40). This, combined with the typology of the offering of the firstfruits three days after the Passover sacrifice, representing the resurrection of Jesus after His self-sacrifice on Passover day, provide two solid predictions for the resurrection of Jesus on the third day.

* Bible quotations in this article are from The New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ángel Manuel Rodríguez