MOST Christians are acquainted with the Old Testament prophecies concerning the birth and ministry of Christ. Not so much has been said about the prophecies of His resurrection. Yet Christ Himself emphasized His fulfillment of prophecy in rising "the third day." During His first visit with the disciples after His resurrection He said, "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day" (Luke 24: 46). The apostle Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, also refers to this in these words, "He rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4). But where do we find this prophecy in the Old Testament? Jesus said, "It is written." But where is it written?
Passover a Reminder
To help the Israelites understand the plan of salvation and to prepare the world for the great event of Calvary, God directed Moses to build a very special tabernacle, or sanctuary, and gave him instructions regarding a yearly round of services that were typical in nature, "a shadow of things to come" (Col. 2:17), prophetic of the life, death, resurrection, and ministry of Christ. In the spring there was the Passover, a reminder of Israel's exodus from Egypt, and yet pointing forward to the great sacrifice of Christ that would free mankind from the slavery of sin and save him from eternal death. Paul says, "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. 5:7).
The Passover lamb was chosen on the tenth day of the first month. It was sacrificed on the fourteenth (Ex. 12:3, 6). The next day was kept as a special yearly sabbath, one of a number of sabbaths that were "shadows of things to come." These were yearly sabbaths and given to Israel "beside the sabbaths of the Lord" (Lev. 23:4, 5, 11, 38). Then on the sixteenth the offering of the first fruits took place, which, according to Paul, typified the resurrection of Christ. "Now," he says, "is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15:20). Again he says, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming" (1 Cor. 15:22, 23).
So here it is—the symbolic prophecy portraying the death and resurrection of Christ! His death to be the day before the Sabbath, on the fourteenth, His resurrection on "the third day," the day after the Sabbath, on the sixteenth, "Christ our passover," "Christ the firstfruits." The prophecy was exactly fulfilled! The Gospel of Mark says the day of Christ's crucifixion "was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath" (chap. 15:42). And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun" (chap. 16:1, 2). And then in the ninth verse we read, "Jesus was risen early the first day of the week." Literally translated this verse reads, "Now having risen early the first day of the week." (There is no Wednesday crucifixion or Sabbath afternoon resurrection here in Mark as a few would like to believe.) Christ died the day before the Sabbath and arose the day after the Sabbath, on "the third day."
Matthew says, "In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake" (chap. 28:1, 2). How fitting that the earth should quake as the angel rolls back the stone at the door of Christ's tomb and the Saviour steps forth triumphant over death!
Some have tried to find something in the fact that Matthew uses the plural of the Greek word for Sabbath. Those who know the idiosyncrasies of the Greek word sabbaton could never agree that this indicates two Sabbaths had passed since the crucifixion of Christ. If Matthew used the plural intentionally it could only have meant that the ceremonial sabbath and the weekly Sabbath ended together just before the first day of the week. There is nothing here to support a Wednesday crucifixion. "In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn," et cetera, is unthinkable if one was on the fifth day and one on the seventh. How far men will go to prove a pet idea!
The Gospel of Luke is, if possible, more plain. Here we are told the women returned home from the crucifixion as "the sabbath drew on" to keep the Sabbath day "according to the commandment," and then returned early the first day of the week to the tomb (chaps. 23:54-56; 24:1).
Jesus knew well the meaning of the Passover. We read: "From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day" (Matt. 16:21). Repeatedly Christ said He would rise the third day (Matt. 17:22, 23; 20:19; Mark 9:31; 10:34; Luke 9:20-22; 18:31-33; 24:6, 7, 46).
Two places, where Christ is not quoted directly, we find "after three days" (Matt. 27:63-65; Mark 8:31), with, however, obviously the same meaning as the other texts, for the Pharisees asked that "the sepulchre be made sure until the third day" (Matt. 27:64). (The Greek meta translated "after" does not have the exact meaning of our word "after" but is translated according to the context.)
In the Heart of the Earth
There are some well-meaning individuals who, recalling what Jesus said about Jonah being in the fish three days and three nights, et cetera (chap. 12:38-40), feel that we must somehow believe Christ was in the tomb seventy-two full hours. Yet this contradicts the prophecy of the Passover with its offering of the first fruits. It contradicts the many statements of Christ that He must rise again the third day. And it contradicts the facts as related in the Gospels. Therefore it cannot be right.
What, then, shall we do with this expression "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth"? Some have suggested Jesus was including His experience of being betrayed, His mock trial and death, et cetera, for Jerusalem was indeed considered the "heart" or hub of the Jewish world. This at least does not contradict the passages we have already considered. However, we should point out that the people of Christ's time were not accustomed to thinking as we do. If three days were involved, even though only portions of the first and third days were involved, they thought of it as three days. This is illustrated in other passages of Scripture. Take for example Esther 4:16: "Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish."
"Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the king's house" (chap. 5:1). Another example is found in 2 Chronicles 10:5: "And he said unto them, Come again unto me after three days." "So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king bade, saying, Come again to me on the third day" (verse 12).
You see, to the Jews "after three days" meant "on the third day," or after the third day had arrived. Why try to put English interpretation on a Jewish idiom?
We must endeavor to understand the words of Jesus the way Jesus intended we should, and the way the disciples understood them. Jesus talked the language of the common people.
Let us look again at the record in Luke: "And that day [the day Jesus was crucified] was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment" (chap. 23:54-56).
This was undoubtedly the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments. The women returned from the crucifixion, prepared what spices and ointments they could hastily gather before the Sabbath and then "rested the sabbath day according to the commandment." After the Sabbath they probably added to what spices they had been able to get together on Friday. (Many think the story in Mark indicates this.) And then early in the morning they came to the tomb. (But those who say
Mark is talking about a Sabbath on the fifth day and Luke about the seventh-day Sabbath would have us believe the women let Friday go by doing nothing for their Lord! Unthinkable. The story in Mark and Luke is so plain!) Only one Sabbath day is involved here. But that Sabbath day was a very special day. "That sabbath day was an high day" (John 19:31), because it was both Passover Sabbath and weekly Sabbath, says the apostle John, a "great" (Megale) day. For centuries the church in the East, where the Sabbath was kept longer than in the 'West, continued to call the Sabbath they kept in remembrance of this, " 'the Great Sabbath' " (Joseph Bingham, quoted in Richard Lewis, The Protestant Dilemma, Pacific Press, p. 67).
Only One Sabbath
It is well to notice that the Gospels, written about thirty years after the resurrection, say nothing about the first day being holy. (Luke was not converted until fifteen years after the resurrection.) The Gospels picture the closest friends and disciples of Jesus keeping the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments. There is only one Sabbath in the New Testament. Centuries later the hatreds referred to in Acts 18:2 and Revelation 12:17 brought about a change and fulfilled the prophecies of Daniel 7:25 and 2 Thessalonians 2:4.
We have already noticed that Mark tells us Christ was resurrected early Sunday morning. Luke says the "men" "in shining garments" told those who came "he is not here, but is risen," and reminded them how Christ had said He would rise again "the third day" (Luke 24:6, 7). Later the same day, in conversation with Jesus, two of His disciples said, "To day [the first day of the week] is the third day" (verse 21). But they found it hard to believe Jesus was resurrected. "Then he said unto them, 0 fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken" (verse 25). And that night in the upper room He again reminded them, "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day" (verse 46). How plain the facts! And Jesus confirms them! How wonderfully the prophecy of the Passover has been fulfilled!
After all this has been said some will say, "Was not Christ supposed to die in the 'midst of the week'?" Not in the middle of a seven-day week. The prophecy referred to is in Daniel nine. These are, as the Revised Standard Version clearly says, "weeks of years" (Dan. 9:24; see also Eze. 4:6). It was sixty-nine weeks of years from the decree of Ezra 7:13 to the baptism of Jesus (Messiah means "Anointed," and Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism) (Matt. 3:16, 17; Acts 10:37, 38). After preaching, teaching, and healing for three and one half years Jesus was crucified in the midst of the seventieth "week of years," on the preparation day, the day before the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments.
As Christ uttered His last words, the priest at the Temple was about to take the life of the paschal lamb. There was sudden terror and confusion. The great "veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent" (Matt. 27:51). The paschal lamb escaped the hands of the priest. "Type has met antitype in the death of God's Son."—The Desire of Ages, p. 757. He who came to do the will of God caused the "sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings" to cease (Heb. 10:10-12). He took "away the first," to "establish the second," for we are "sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." "After he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever," Christ rose "the third day," to become the executor of His last will and testament, the new, the everlasting covenant, sealed with His own blood on Calvary (Heb. 9:15, 16; Matt. 26:28).
"Having [such] an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised)" (Heb. 10:21-23). He kept His word; He arose "the third day."
NOTE: Those who say the calendar makes the fourteenth of the first month of the Jewish year to fall on a Wednesday are not using the calendar of Christ's time. No man living today can say with finality this is how the calendar of Christ's day was. Too many variable factors enter into it. Some are:
- The calendar was altered from time to time so that the barley harvest would come at the right time for the waving of the first fruits on the sixteenth. Of course, it had to be planted in the right time of the moon for this too. Established then was the idea of planting at the right time of the moon.
- The new moon was established by watchers and could easily be off a little.—SD A Bible Students' Source Book, art. 370.
- The calendar was arranged so that a festival would not come on Friday or Sunday. See SDA Bible Students' Source Book, art. 369. Also see art. 371 and 372.
Other "emergencies could prolong or shorten the year. All this was true until some time in the fifth century A.D