In describing the resurrection of our Lord the Apostle Paul was inspired to write:…he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures ( 1 Cor. 15:4b). Obviously there must be some place in the Old Testament where Christ’s resurrection on the third day is predicted. Not only does Paul mention this third day prediction in the above text, but this prophecy was considered to be so important that the Nicene Creed describes Christ’s “third day” resurrection as occurring “according to the Scriptures.”
For many the undiscovered Old Testament prediction of Christ’s “third day” resurrection remains an enigma. Such people of God simply believe that it must be somewhere in the Old Testament, because Saint Paul could not be wrong.
Consider now a likely solution. Roman Catholic theologian Robert J. Daly wrote in his book Christian Sacrifice (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1978), 184: “The enigmatic ‘in accordance with the scriptures’ of 1 Cor. 15,4, therefore, refers directly not to the resurrection but to the theologically laden technical term ‘on the third day’…”
Further investigation reveals that the formula on the third day [or, in three days] often introduced wondrous events and turning points in Old Testament history. For instance, God’s Old Testament people considered the account of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac to be pivotal. As Abraham and Isaac walked to the place of sacrifice—the place where ultimately the Temple would be built—Moses explains, “On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.” (Gen. 22:4). On the third day—a climactic event!
Similarly when God prepared the children of Israel to hear the Ten Commandments from Sinai, Moses directed the people to prepare for two days to hear God’s voice. Then: “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.” (Ex. 19:16). On the third day—a climactic event!
See also Exodus 5:1-3; Numbers 10:33; 2 Kings 20:5; Ezra 6:15; Esther 5:1. Note that these and other “third day” events are seen as critical in the survival of the Jews and thus in the fulfillment of the promise of the Christ. Jesus also used this third-day climactic event language: “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.” (Luke 13:32)
The prophet Hosea seems to clinch this “third day” theory: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and 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 before him.” (Hosea 4:1,2). These verses could almost stand alone as proof of the “third day” climactic-event language. Additionally they poetically describe a victorious “resurrection” on the third day, and, consistent with Hosea’s writings, these verses could also be presenting the people of Israel as a picture of the coming Christ (See Hos. 11:1.).
These “third day” events are seen as glorious, powerful, pivotal, and often salvific! Now, apply these descriptions to the grand finale of third-day climactic events: Christ’s resurrection! In accordance with the Scriptures—with God’s ordained Old Testament pattern—Christ rose on THE climactic third day!