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The Third Day

The Jews were not the last ones to refer to this time period. Three times it reappears in Luke’s final chapter (and not in any of the other gospel parallels). The angel reminded the women of what Jesus Himself had said, that on the third day He would rise again (Luke 24:7); the two disciples on the Emmaus road must have had this in mind when they said to the unrecognized Jesus, “It is now the third day since this happened” (v. 21). In one of His very last appearances Jesus directed the attention of His disciples to this theme when, opening their understanding, He said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (v. 46). Twice again does this appear in the early records of the apostolic church. Peter, in preaching in the house of Cornelius, affirmed that it was this Jesus whom “God raised him on the third day” (Acts 10:40); and in the ch. on the Resurrection by Paul is a statement of great significance, that Christ “was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:4). See Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s statement clearly declares that the OT Scriptures somehow predicted not simply that Christ would rise again, but that this resurrection would take place “on the third day.” Possibly the most specific reference that Paul had in mind was the confidence of the remnant in Israel, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (Hosea 6:2). The great scholar of Oxford, Dr. Pusey, does not exaggerate when he says,

The resurrection of Christ and our resurrection in Him and in His resurrection could not be more plainly foretold....The two days and the third day have nothing in history to correspond with them except that in which they are fulfilled, when Christ, rising on the third day from the grave, raised with Him the whole human race.

There are other passages of Scripture, however, that bear upon this subject, and in looking at them, one should remember the words of the great church historian, Philip Schaff, that “The Biblical symbolism of numbers is worthy of more serious attention than it has received in English theology” (in Lange’s Commentary on Matthew, p. 183). Is not the very first occurrence of the word in the Bible—and generally first occurrences of basic words in the Bible have great meaning—relevant to the subject, for it is on “the third day” (Gen 1:9-13) that biological life first appeared. Also in Genesis, in the story of Joseph, there is a release from prison on the third day (40:12, 13), and, actually, when Joseph’s brothers were released from prison after three days, Joseph said to them on the third day, “Do this and you will live” (42:17, 18). Notice how often this matter of life is vital in these three-day passages. The reference to Jonah’s experience in the belly of the great fish for a period of three days is well-known to all Bible students, because of our Lord’s reference to it (Jonah 1:17).


For an early treatment of this subject, see a book published anonymously in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1866, Triads of Scripture. The most detailed study is by W. M. Smith, in the Sunday School Times, for March 24 and 31, April 7, and July 14, 1928.