On multiple occasions, Jesus clarified that his resurrection would be on “the third day” (see Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; also John 2:19). When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the gospel tradition, he said that Jesus was “raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4).
Paul taught that if you looked in “the Scriptures” (for Paul, the Old Testament), you would discern a “third day” expectation for Jesus’ deliverance. How does he conclude such a thing? And when Jesus spoke about his future resurrection, he said it “must” be on the third day (Matt. 16:21). Why must it be on that day and no other? Why the third day rather than the first or fourth? Why not death followed by resurrection a few hours later?
The expectation of Third Day Deliverance was probably not linked to only one Old Testament text but to an overall pattern of incredible third-day events. For instance:
- Isaac was delivered from being sacrificed on the “third day” (Gen. 22:9)
- Joseph released his brothers on the third day (Gen. 42:17-18)
- God came down to meet Moses on Mount Sinai on the “third day” (Exod. 19:11)
- When Joshua rallied the people to enter the promised land, he said the conquest would begin in “three days” (Josh. 1:11; 3:2)
- After Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, he was delivered (Jonah 1:17)
- In Hosea, the people said, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up” (Hos. 6:2)
- Hezekiah, the king of Judah, was healed from his sickness on the third day (2 Kgs. 20:5-6)
- Esther successfully interceded for the Jews on the “third day” (Esth. 4:16)
There are more examples that could be cited, but the above events establish the point that some major Old Testament stories were specifically associated with “three days” or on the “third day.” In fact, there are multiple examples of Third Day Deliverance stories where a character is delivered from sickness or death!
The resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate biblical example of a Third Day Deliverance.
See an excellent article by Stephen Dempster titled “From Slight Peg to Cornerstone to Capstone: The Resurrection of Christ on ‘The Third Day’ According to the Scriptures” (Westminster Theological Journal 76.2 : 371-410). And Jim Hamilton has traced a cluster of third-day passages on his blog.