So, we had a “mini-crisis” in our small group Bible study recently. We were looking at the question of how Jesus fulfills prophecy in the New Testament. Someone read from Luke 24:45-46:
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead”(ESV)
Then, the question came: “Does anyone have a reference for this prophecy given in the Old Testament?”
Pages started to rattle. Folks were hunting for a cross-reference. Someone looks around the room for a concordance. Others were pulling out their iPhones to ask the “Almighty All-Knowning Google” for the answer. Whew, boy. I was in trouble.
You see, I’m like, uh, the small group leader. Not only that. I got a seminary degree. Yet, I was completely stumped. All that theological mumbo-jumbo and graduate school $$$ and I was busted. I tried to mutter something spiritual and intelligent sounding. It was not really working. Folks were looking at me like, “Nice try, no dice, buddy”. I was thinking that Professor Hagner back in seminary was watching, peering over the top of his glasses down at me. Sweat was pouring down my brow. The room was uncomfortably warm. I was glad I had my day job. Perhaps I could have tried to sneak out the backdoor…. Whoops. That would not have been good…. We were meeting at our house.
OK. I am exaggerating quite a bit. We have a wonderful small group, after all. But it is a great question: Where in the Old Testament do you find the prophecy where Jesus says He will rise again from the dead on the third day? Well, unfortunately, you might be searching a long, long, long time for a specific verse…..
I have been blogging on this topic on Veracity a few times recently. The problem with prophecy sometimes is that Christians often look for a strict, one-for-one literal match for prophecy given in the Old Testament that is being fulfilled in the New Testament (or beyond). Sure, you can still get this to a degree, but I am contending that this is not how prophecy in the Bible really works overall. If you look back at Luke 24:45-46, you will see that Jesus is opening up the disciples’ minds to understand not just one prooftext verse, but rather, the “Scriptures” as a whole. The Resurrection had recently happened and now Jesus has appeared before His stunned disciples, and He is now trying to help them make sense of what is going on.
Jesus is showing His disciples from the entire Old Testament that there is a general theme being woven in and out of the literal text. But if you just look at it trying to find that one knock-out verse to deliver to your skeptical neighbor, you might become a little frustrated. Instead, you have to sink yourself into the “strange new world of the Bible”, as Swiss theologian Karl Barth once said. Immerse yourself into the stories of the Old Testament and then you will see the warp and woof of the Scriptural message pointing to what Jesus is all about.
This is why the study of typology in the Bible is so important. Much of what we read in the Old Testament has a symbolic meaning that references something fulfilled by Jesus in the New Testament. But it often involves finding a thread from here and a thread from there. It takes some thinking “outside of the box” for it to all come together.
Jonah as a Type of Israel: Son of Man as Type (or Anti-Type) of Jonah
For example, Jesus makes a connection between the Old Testament prophet Jonah and the Son of Man in Luke 11:29-32. Here is verse 30: “For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation” (NIV).
Just as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and nights, so will Jesus’ burial be associated with three days. The exact chronology of the “three” days and nights is not the point. The point is that Ninevah was in rebellion. Jonah was sent to preach to Ninevah about repentance. Jonah rejected his mission but he had to undergo a death-and-resurrection-like experience with the fish to purify him and the purpose for which he was sent. Jonah’s mission was afterwards accomplished. Ninevah repented. Ninevah was saved.
Compare this to the nation of Israel. Now consider that the prophet Jonah is a type representing Israel: All of humanity is in rebellion to God. Israel would call all of the nations to repentance and be a blessing to them. But time and time again in the Old Testament, Israel rejected that mission. Jesus, as the Son of Man, comes along and undergoes death-and-resurrection to purify Israel, as He Himself properly speaking is an antitype of Israel. An antitype is just the opposite of a type. Where both Israel and Jonah were disobedient, though Jonah begrudgingly finally came through in the end, Jesus was never disobedient at all. As the antitype of Israel, it is only through Jesus’ death-and-resurrection that His mission is accomplished, bringing the Gospel to all of the nations. Jesus does that which Israel, because of her disobedience, was unable to do.
Do you want to dig more into the prophecy of Jesus about his suffering, death and resurrection in three days? Look here.
Lest you think that all prophecy in the Old Testament with respect to its fulfillment by Jesus Christ in the New Testament is hard to get at, you can peruse the Internet to find any number of lists connecting Old Testament prophecy to Jesus. Here someone has found 44 prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. Here someone has found 351 prophecies fulfilled by Jesus! You may or may not be convinced by all of the connections presented in these lists, but as you do your own research and survey the evidence yourself, you should be able to find the DNA of Jesus imprinted all over the pages of the Old Testament. Just do not get hung up on seeing if and how every single specific reference hangs together for you. It is the general tenor, flow, and orientation of Scripture as a whole that should stand out as most important.