For us, Easter Saturday sits between the devastating day of the cross on Good Friday, and the joy of the resurrection to come on Easter Day. I prefer the name “Resurrection Sunday” but perhaps that’s a discussion for another time!
For the friends of Jesus two thousand years ago, many of them were not ready or waiting for the resurrection at all. This day would have been a day of loss and grief for them. All of their hopes and dreams had been smashed. They had expected Jesus to evict the Romans and set Himself up as King. Quite the opposite had happened! Their Messiah had been lost.
Would they have started to doubt themselves? Would they have been asking one another – was this really the Christ after all? They had seen so many miracles and wonder works, yet they had not expected Him to die like a common criminal.
It may seem somewhat baffling to us that the disciples had not heard the words Jesus had spoken. In advance of these things, He had told them that it would happen. And even beyond His words, the Scriptures foretold it all. But I think we can forgive them for not seeing that in the prophecies of the Old Testament.
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Matthew 16:21 (NIVUK)
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve.
1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (NIVUK)
The verse above from the Gospel of Matthew shows that Jesus taught His disciples that He would die, and three days later rise to new life. Likewise, Paul (in hindsight of course) shares the same thing. Paul says however “according to the Scripture.” So the Old Testament must have predicted this in advance.
When reading Old Testament prophecies, we must understand that often they do not merely say “The Son of God will come, and His name will be Jesus, and after dying He will come back to life after three days…” That would be convenient for Bible scholars of course, but we must not forget the Old Testament was written by many people over hundreds of years. Despite this, it really is astonishingly coherent, and clearly shows the hand of the divine behind it.
The first place I want to point to is the lie – or rather death – of Jonah the prophet. Sometimes called “The Reluctant Prophet,” because he ran in the total opposite direction to where God was sending him, Jonah is a fascinating character.
You probably know his story from Sunday School, if you ever went, and may well be familiar with his being swallowed by a large fish or whale.
Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah 1:17 (NIVUK)
We see here that Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish. Reading on to Jonah 2, I think it is clear that Jonah actually died in the sea or sea creature. He talks about the abode of the dead, or “the pit” so it seems likely he did actually die. If not though, the point remains.
Bible prophecy is often pattern and not prediction. that means it establishes a pattern of events which will occur again in the future. Jonah’s three days and three nights of “death” are a pointer towards Christ’s own experience of three days in the grave.
Similarly, Abraham’s sacrificing of Isaac is another picture. I’ve spoken before about this passage from Genesis 22, and personally believe it is a prophecy acted out by Abraham of what God would one day do with His own Son Jesus.
We read in Genesis 22 that from the time when God gave the command for Isaac to be sacrificed, to the time Abraham arrived at Mount Moriah was precisely three days.
Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.
Genesis 22:3-4 (NIVUK)
In the Jewish mind, and so in Abraham’s mind, Isaac was essentially dead from the moment God had given the command. It was a three day journey, as we read above, until the events unfolded and Issac was returned to Abraham. So another son lost to “death” for three days.
There is more we could explore, but it would and should take an entire lifetime to examine the Old Testament and unveil the prophecies which spoke of Christ’s death and resurrection centuries in advance.
Many will tell you that you can’t prove God exists, or there is no evidence that the Bible is true, it’s just a personal matter of faith. Not true. A comprehensive study of God’s Word will show you that there is incontrovertible evidence of biblical truth. The more you study it, the more you will realise it is not only true, but the only real truth we can rely upon.
Jesus died for you. Three days later He rose from the dead. Many witnesses saw it. You don’t have the luxury to ignore it or deny it. So what will you do with this truth today?