It is written:
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,”. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
Here, we are told by the Apostle Paul that Jesus arose from the dead “the third day according to the Scriptures.”
Yet in the Old Testament, there are no specific passages which claim that the Messiah would arise from the dead on the third day.
How then are we to understand this passage?
Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, the number “three” came to have a special figurative meaning, symbolizing life out of death. Brown has written:
“In fact, when we study the Tanakh, we see that the third day is often the day of completion and climax—and so it was with the Messiah’s death and resurrection! We should first look at some prophecies that make reference to restoration—or rescue from death—on the third day. • Hosea 6: 1-2 states, “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.” This is a word given to Israel as a whole, but the sequence is there: full restoration on the third day! 352 • According to Genesis 22: 4, it was on the third day that Abraham arrived at Mount Moriah and prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac—that important event known in later Rabbinic tradition as the Akedah, “the binding (of Isaac)”—an event seen as a Messianic foreshadowing by the rabbis (see above, 4.1). In similar fashion, the Letter to the Hebrews notes, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (Heb. 11: 19)—and this took place on the third day. • This was the time set for the miraculous healing of King Hezekiah, who as a son of David serves as somewhat of a Messianic prototype (cf. also b. Sanhedrin 94a, 98a): “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD’ ” (2 Kings 20: 5; cf. also v. 8). • Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days (a deathlike experience, to be sure!—cf. Jonah 2: 1-9) before being spit out on dry land, and hence saved from his watery tomb (Jonah 1: 17; 2: 10). Jesus himself makes reference to this event in the context of his death and resurrection (see, e.g., Matt. 12: 40). Elsewhere in the Tanakh, it is striking to see how often the third day has special significance: • God told the children of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai to be ready for the third day “because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people” (Exod. 19: 10). • After calling the people to fast for three days for divine intervention to save her Jewish people from annihilation, on the third day, Esther stood before the king and appealed for mercy (Esther 5: 1). • The building of the Second Temple was completed on the third day of the month of Adar (Ezra 6: 15). • On the third day after Joseph interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners—both of whose dreams included a symbolic “three”—one of the men was hung and the other man restored to his former position (Gen. 40: 1-23). • Sacrifices left until the third day could no longer be eaten but were to be wholly consumed by the altar’s flames (Lev. 7: 17-18; 19: 6-7). • It was on the third day—and in the third battle—that the Israelites defeated their Benjamite brothers in battle (see Judges 20, esp. 20: 30). • After three days the Israelites crossed the Jordan—by the miraculous intervention of God (Josh. 1: 11; 3: 2). 353 Based on this biblical data, the German biblical scholar Roland Gradwohl argued that “‘ three days’ is a stereotyped phrase used bv the Old Testament in describing a situation when something will be fulfilled or completed within a useful and reasonable time…. The ‘third day’ is used to describe the moment when an event attains its climax.” 354 Another German scholar, K. Lehmann, wrote an entire volume on the subject of resurrection on the third day, pointing to passages such as Exodus 19: 11, 16; Genesis 22: 4; 2 Kings 20: 5; Esther 5: 1; Hosea 6: 2 (all cited above) as evidence that the third day was associated with special divine activity, something that caught the attention of the ancient rabbis as well. 355 These insights, coupled with some key verses about restoration, salvation, or rescue from death on the third day, give Paul the right to say that the Messiah rose from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures. There would have been no day more suitable than this, from the viewpoint of the Word of God. 356”. (Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections To Jesus Volume Three: Messianic Prophecy Objections, 181-183 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)