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What a difference three days make

Dear Fellow worker,

Have you ever wondered why the resurrection took place specifically on “the third day”? In 1 Corinthians 15:3,4 Paul states that he delivered to the Corinthians “first” that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures
Although the Greek word translated “first” in this verse can indicate nothing more than “first” in a chronological sequence it often means much more than that, which is why a number of English Bible translations render it as “of first importance”. That being so, Paul’s statement raises two important questions: first, where does it say in the Tanakh that Messiah would rise on “the third day” and, secondly, why should “the third day” be of “first importance”?

In answer to the first question, Jesus’ statement in Matthew 12:40 might spring to mind: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”. However, when Paul “reasoned” from the Scriptures with the Corinthian Jews (Acts 18:4), it may well be that one of the main texts he had in mind was Hosea 6:1-2. At the end of Hosea 5, God threatened a terrifying judgement on his people because of their unfaithfulness: “I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear them and go away; I will take them away, and no one shall rescue.” Immediately following this prediction of judgement, chapter six begins: “Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.”

But how does that relate to the resurrection of the Messiah? First of all it sets resurrection in a framework of three days but, more than that, when we read the Gospels we see in the life of Jesus a kind of replay of Israel’s history. For example, like Israel, Jesus was God’s “firstborn” and as Israel was called out of Egypt, so was Jesus. As the Israelites were tested in the wilderness for forty years, Jesus was tested in the desert for forty days.

Israel was “torn” and “stricken” but Isaiah assures them (63:9) that “in all their affliction He was afflicted” and that “the Angel of His Presence saved them”. In the events surrounding the cross, Israel’s Saviour was “stricken” for their transgressions (Isaiah 53:8). Little wonder then that the cross was of “first importance” in Paul’s preaching but what is so significant about the third day?

The answer, I think, is to be found in the Fourth Gospel. John’s account of the life of the Messiah commences with the opening words of the Greek version of Genesis, En archee, “In the beginning…” and explains that “the Word” which created the world in Genesis 1 was the Son of God. According to John, the final word spoken by the Son, after he completed his earthly work was Tetelestai! “It is finished!” (19:30) the Greek word used in Genesis 2:1-2 when God “finished” his creative work.

Just as the Word “finished” the creation of the heaven and earth in six days and then rested, so also, he “finished” his new creation toward the end of the sixth day. He then rested on the Sabbath day and rose from the dead on the first day of a new week as “the second Adam”, the head of God’s new creation.

This must surely be why Paul emphasises “the third day”. The Lord came into the world to recreate the cosmos, to give new birth to his people and bestow on them new and abundant life, and he did it within a framework reminiscent of the way in which he brought the first creation into being. Messiah’s resurrection after the Sabbath, at the commencement of a new week, announced a new creation, a new beginning for his people Israel.

Israel’s hope is inextricably bound up with Messiah’s rising from the dead, and their resurrection is through his resurrection. When Israel returns to their God through the Messiah who was “stricken” for their transgressions (Isaiah 53:8), he will “revive” them that they may “live in His sight”.

Little wonder then that this was of “first importance” in Paul’s preaching to the Jewish people, and it must always be at the forefront of our own proclamation.

Yours for the salvation of Israel,

Mike Moore

This article appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of the Herald


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