Where Is the Resurrection of Jesus Prophecy in the Old Testament?

Where Is the Resurrection of Jesus Prophecy in the Old Testament?

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There are prophecies the Messiah would be raised from the dead, but where is the resurrection of Jesus prophecy in the Old Testament? Is there an Old Testament prophecy of resurrection on the third day? Read or listen to this chapter from A Father Offers His Son for answers.

Psalm 16 is a messianic psalm, which means that even though David wrote it, we can read it as though Jesus is speaking. In verse 10, he says, “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” Peter quotes this verse in Acts 2:27, and Paul quotes it in Acts 13:35 as prophecies of Jesus’ resurrection. Isaiah 53:10 also prophesies of Jesus’ resurrection:

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.

Jesus did not have physical children (seed), but He has spiritual children. Isaiah says He will see these children after He has been killed—“bruised… put to grief… [made] an offering.” Jesus would die, but the Father would “prolong His days,” referring to His resurrection.

While most Christians know it was prophesied that Jesus would be raised from the dead on the third day, few Christians can find the prophecy in the Old Testament. Why is that? When Jesus fulfilled prophecies, the New Testament often quotes the Old Testament verse that contains the prophecy. For example:

  • Matthew 1:22-23 references Isaiah 7:14—“So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translates as, ‘God with us.’”
  • Matthew 2:5-6 references Micah 5:2—So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
  • In John 13:18, Jesus referenced Psalm 41:9—“I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’”

The difficulty with the resurrection is the New Testament does not quote any Old Testament verse identifying the prophecy that it would take place on the third day. Is it possible there is no such prophecy? No:

  • In Luke 24:46, Jesus said, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day.”
  • In 1 Corinthians 15:4, Paul said, “[Jesus] was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Jesus said, “It is written” in the Old Testament that He would “rise [on] the third day.” Paul said “the Scriptures” prophesied, not just that Jesus would be raised, but on “the third day.” Where is this prophecy? There are three possibilities.

Jonah Is a Resurrection of Jesus Prophecy in the Old Testament

The Book of Jonah was written about 760 BC. Almost eight centuries before Jesus was born, Jonah served as an amazing “sign” of His death, burial, and resurrection. When the religious leaders asked for a sign in Matthew 12:39-40, Jesus rebuked them saying:

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For 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.”

Jesus said Jonah served as a “sign” of His death, burial, and resurrection.

Jonah’s “Death”

Jonah 1:17 says: “The Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

The language takes our minds to the New Testament where the same words are used of Christ. Jonah “died” when the fish swallowed him.

Jonah’s Burial

He was “buried” while in the fish. The imagery in the verses is so strong you could almost wonder if Jonah is alive or dead. For example, Jonah 2:2 records:

And he said: “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.”

We would expect Jonah to say, “Out of the belly of the fish I cried,” but he said he was in Sheol. Sheol is not heaven or hell. Instead, it is the temporary abode of the dead until people are resurrected to their eternal homes in heaven or hell. The Greek New Testament parallel is Hades, which makes the typology with Jesus very strong because Jesus was in Hades while He was buried: “[David] spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:31). Continuing the burial imagery, Jonah 2:6 says:

“I went down to the moorings of the mountains;
The earth with its bars closed behind me forever;
Yet You have brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord, my God.”

You would expect Jonah to say the water closed behind him, but instead, he says, “the earth.” This is not the language of burial in the ocean. This is the language of burial in the ground. The pit is a synonym for Sheol and Hades, and Jonah expected to be “brought up,” or raised, from the pit. He looked forward to his resurrection, just like Jesus looked forward to His resurrection! Jesus said, “You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:27).

Jonah Was “Raised” on the Third Day

Jonah’s “resurrection” occurred in verse 10:

So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

When Jonah came out of the fish, he probably felt like he came back from the dead and was given new life. Like Jesus, Jonah was “buried” for three days and three nights, and he might serve as a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection on the third day.

Hosea Contains a Resurrection of Jesus Prophecy in the Old Testament

Hosea 5:14-6:2 records the second likely prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection on the third day. God speaks in Hosea 5:14-15:

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.
I will return again to My place
Till they acknowledge their offense.
Then they will seek My face;
In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.”

These words sound harsh, but they serve the beautiful purpose of turning Israel back to God. The people respond in Hosea 6:1-2:

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.

The words about being “[raised] on the third day” take our minds to Christ. Although these verses discuss Israel, the complete fulfillment is in Jesus. He is the ideal Israel according to Isaiah 49:3:

And He said to me,
“You are My Servant, O Israel,
In Whom I will be glorified.”

Israel: God’s Son

Israel is also called God’s son:

  • Exodus 4:22—“Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn.”’”
  • Hosea 11:1—“When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.”

The New Testament shows these verses about Israel serve as prophecies of Jesus. Matthew 2:14-15 quotes Hosea 11:1:

When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

These verses about Israel look forward to Christ. That is also the case with Hosea 6:2, which goes beyond Israel’s rebirth to Christ’s resurrection. First Peter 1:10–11 loosely says, “all the prophets testified of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.” They might not have been aware of the future reality of their words, but they are fulfilled in Christ. Regarding “He will raise us up,” Adam Clarke said, “These words are supposed to refer to the resurrection of our Lord. The original, yekimenu, has been translated, ‘He will raise him up.’”[i] The words “may live in His sight” are like Isaiah 53:10, which says, “He shall prolong His days.”

The Veil and Jesus’ Body Torn

The context wonderfully supports Jesus being in view. The words, “I will tear… He has torn” look to Christ’s body “torn” on the cross. When He died, “the veil of the temple was torn in two” (Matthew 27:51). Hebrews 10:20 says we have access to God “by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh.” The veil was a picture of Christ’s body that when “torn” gave us access to God. The words “He has stricken” point to Christ Who was “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4).

The words, “He will revive us… He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight,” are a suitable prophecy because Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). There is a close relationship between Jesus and His people, who are called “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27). The resurrection of His body is their resurrection: “We shall be [united together with Him] in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:5).

Isaac Is a Resurrection of Jesus Prophecy in the Old Testament

Genesis 22:4—Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off.

Genesis 22 is one of the most unique types in the Old Testament because while others foreshadow Christ’s death or resurrection, Abraham and Isaac foreshadow Christ’s death and resurrection, with a confirmation in the New Testament:

  • Hebrews 11:17 prefigures Christ’s sacrifice through Isaac.
  • Hebrews 11:19 prefigures Christ’s resurrection through Isaac.

Genesis 22:4 is not only referring to the day Abraham arrived at Moriah. The verse also identifies the day Abraham received Isaac back from the dead. Hebrews 11:17 says:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son

Twice it says Isaac was “offered up,” drawing a parallel between him and Jesus Who was “offered up for our sins” (Romans 4:25). Second, Isaac is given the same title as Jesus: “only begotten son.” Hebrews 11:18 says:

Of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called”…

This quote from Genesis 21:12 identifies Isaac as the promised son Abraham’s descendants would come from, as opposed to Ishmael. Hebrews 11:19 says:

Concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.

The words “raise him up, even from the dead,” create the imagery that Isaac was resurrected. When Abraham received the command to sacrifice Isaac, he was so committed to obeying; it was as though Isaac died to him. This was the first day. Abraham reached Mount Moriah “on the third day.” He ascended the mountain to sacrifice his son, and when the Angel of the Lord stopped him, it was as though he “received [Isaac]” back from the dead. This occurred “in a figurative sense,” because Isaac did not physically die.

The Greek word for “figurative” is parabolē, which is related to our English word “parallel.” It means, “a placing of one thing by the side of another, juxtaposition.” Of the fifty times the word occurs in the New Testament, forty-six times it is translated as “parable.” Jesus’ parables were physical stories placed alongside spiritual realities. The physical story of Abraham and Isaac illustrated the spiritual reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection on the third day.

[i] Earle, Ralph. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible – Abridged. Word Publishing 1997. p. 712.


The text in this post is from A Father Offers His Son: The True and Greater Sacrifice Revealed Through Abraham and Isaac, and the audio is from the accompanying audiobook. I am praying God uses the book and audiobook to exalt Christ and strengthen people’s relationships with Him!

14 Responses

  1. Hello my Brother,
    Wishing you are doing well. Don’t forget that our Lord is always praying at any time for us. Challenge is just a test.

  2. Thank you. The article as well as the comments are enlightening! Jesus is the very Word itself – He is the Word. He places great importance on every jot and tittle, and by each word jot and tittle he reveals Himself to us who study the Word. So it makes perfect sense that the whole, taken together, is the prophecy of suffering and resurrection in triumph.

  3. Here is a more extensive explanation of my previous comment:

    ‘All three of these days, the fourteenth, the fifteenth, and the sixteenth are called festivals by Philo. The fourteenth is called Pascha and begins at noon until evening. The fifteenth is a holy day and is the first day of unleavened bread. These days are called the Paschal feast, and the day following the fifteenth is also a festival when the sheaf of first fruits is brought to the altar. (Philo, Special Laws II, xxvii–xxvix)’

    These three days help us to understand this Scripture by the apostle Paul, ‘For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, how 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.’ (1 Cor.15:3-4).

    That is to say, that Jesus was crucified on the 14th day in the Passover week when the Passover lambs were slain in the Temple. Jesus was buried on the 15th day, which was the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, which was a holy Sabbath day. On the 16th day, the ‘morrow’ after this holy Sabbath day, the sheaf of firstfruits was waved in the Temple; on this day, Jesus was raised from the dead.

    These days originate from the following Scriptures of Leviticus 23: “In the first month on the fourteenth of the month, toward evening [between the two evenings] is passover to the Lord.” ‘And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to the Lord; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day a holy convocation shall be to you; any servile work you shall not do.” “…then you shall bring the sheaf of the first of your harvest unto the priest. And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for your acceptance; on the morrow after the rest day [the first day] the priest shall wave it.” (Lev.23:5; 6-7; 13-14, Joseph Magil Hebrew version)

    Earlier in the same letter to the church of Corinth, the apostle Paul writes of the fourteenth and fifthteenth days: “For Christ our Passover lamb was sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with the old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Cor.5:7-8).The apostle Paul speaks of the 16th day in this same epistle to the church of Corinth: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruit of the ones having fallen asleep.” (1 Cor.15:20)

    1. Hello again Thomas,
      Thank you for explaining in greater detail.

      I’m sorry, but I’m not familiar with Philo, you mentioned in your previous, as well.

      You did a fantastic job concisely explaining how each of these feasts, Passover, Unleavened bread, and Firstfruits look forward to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. If you’d like to listen to the sermons I preached on this, please let me know. God bless!

  4. To understand the third day one must read what the apostle Paul writes, “he was crucified according to scripture, was buried, and raised again the third day.” The 14th day was the Passover, the 15th day was the first day of unleavened bread and is a Sabbath holy day, the 16th day is the waving of the firstfruit in the temple. Jesus was crucified on Passover, buried on the 15th day, and rose again on the 16th day, the third day as the firstfruit from the dead. The first two days are recorded in the gospels, the third day is explained by the apostle Paul as being the firstfruit from the dead. These three days are outlined in Lev.23 as well in the writings of Philo, the first century Jew of the Torah.

    1. Hello Thomas,
      A few years ago I preached on the seven feasts in Leviticus 23. It was a blessing for me. I taught that each of the feasts look forward to Christ, including in the ways you described. In particular, the Passover looked forward to Christ as our Passover Lamb, that he was buried during Unleavened Bread, and that he was the Firstfruits of the resurrection. If you are saying that the first three feasts also serve as a prophecy of Christ being raised on the third day, I agree with you. Thank you for sharing this!

  5. Bravo, Scott. Very astute typological interpretations of a difficult context: his burial and resurrection. Both Jesus and Paul clearly state these matters as prophesied. So, if they are anywhere, these are the passages. Jonah clearly, through Jesus’s own words. Good work!!

  6. Sorry, I have to agree with Roger. The fact is that there is no specific scripture that discusses the Christ suffering and being raised on the third day. However, when you take all of the Messianic prophesies and put them together, especially the ones specifically mentioned by Jesus (i.e.- Jonah), it makes it clear that the Christ would be crucified (Isaiah), be entombed three days, etc. That is what Jesus is saying in Luke 24:46; it’s the combination of scriptures, not just one. The references you give to Genesis and Hosea are, as Roger says, a real stretch. But I sure give you credit for trying!

    1. T.K. Paoli,
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      There is no difficulty finding versus prophesying the Messiah would die. You said a combination of scriptures (versus one scripture) make clear that he would be raised on the third day. Can you please Tell me what verses you are referring to, because you believe the verses I mentioned are a stretch?

    1. Roger,
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      If I understand you it sounds like you think some of the prophecies are a stretch? Can you let me know specifically what didn’t sit well with you?


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