Did Jesus Err when He Spoke of Prophecies about His Resurrection?
Skeptics and Bible critics frequently accuse the Bible of containing discrepancies and contradictions that, if true, would militate against its being the inspired Word of God. One such instance centers on two passages in the New Testament that deal with Christ’s resurrection.
In Luke 24:46, Christ stated: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day.” Paul echoed Christ’s words when he spoke of the fact that Christ “was buried; and that He hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4). To the Christian, these verses represent the reason for our hope of life beyond this Earth, and sum up Christ’s earthly mission “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The greatest single declaration of love came when Jesus Christ endured the pain and torture of crucifixion and bore our iniquities. This also is the answer we are to offer “to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). To the critic of the Scriptures, however, the passages in Luke 24:46 and 1 Corinthians 15:4 represent a “sticking point” in regard to the harmony and unity of the Bible, and it is at this time when we need to step forward to provide answers to those who have asked us concerning our hope.
The question presented is this: Did Jesus err when He alluded to certain prophecies concerning His resurrection on the third day? This question centers on the phrases “thus it is written” and “according to the scriptures.” The critic asks where in the Scriptures the prediction of Christ’s third-day resurrection can be found? The fact is, there are no specific passages in the Old Testament that speak directly of the Lord’s resurrection on the “third day.” However, there are other options available to acquit the Lord of the charge of having erred.
(1) The prophet Hosea wrote: “After two days will He revive us: on the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live before Him (6:2). Although the passage does not speak specifically of the Messiah’s resurrection on the “third day” it could have reference to Christ. Two views on this verse are prevalent. In his commentary on the book of Hosea, Burton Coffman discussed both of them. (a) First, he suggested that the message of the verse was “viewed as the expectation of the people who supposed that their quick and easy repentance would result in their complete and immediate restoration” (1981, p. 110). This idea takes the words of the prophet as an “immediate application” to rectify the terrible situation in which the children of Israel once again found themselves. [The fact that they were facing God’s wrath and needed to repent is evident from chapter 5, verses 10 and 11: “I will pour my wrath upon them like water…because he was content to walk after man’s command.”] (b) This verse also could be seen, not as an immediate “revival” or “raising up” of the nation, but as a prophecy pointing to the “new life” found in Jesus Christ that would yet rise out of the old Israel (Coffman, p. 110). This concept evinces a “remote fulfillment” of Jesus’ death and resurrection on the third day, through which “we may live in His sight” (Hosea 6:2).
(2) Another possibility could be that Jesus, in referring to the Scriptures, was not referring to one particular passage, but was referencing the whole body of Old Testament prophecies about His suffering, death, burial, and resurrection. “The point of Jesus’ words is not that such-and-such a verse has now come true, but that the truth to which all of the Scriptures point has now been realized!” (Green, 1997, p. 857). As we examine chapter 24 of Luke, we twice see Jesus expound upon the Scriptures. Before teaching the apostles in Jerusalem, He told them that “all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). All through this section, Christ spoke of the Old Testament in its entirety, rather than referring to any specific passage. Thus, there is a contextual precedent, so that when Jesus stated “thus it is written,” it would be reasonable to associate this with the whole of the Scriptures pointing to His last days. When Jesus said that it was “necessary for the Christ to suffer,” He referred back to something Isaiah had predicted many years earlier.
He was despised, and rejected of men; man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:3-5).
Following His suffering and death, He was indeed “to rise from the dead” as can be seen from the prophecy in Psalm 16:8-10: “I have set Jehovah always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: My flesh also shall dwell in safety. For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption.”
(3) A further possibility in regard to the passage in 1 Corinthians could be that Paul, while writing to the church at Corinth, was referring to the works written by some of his contemporaries, in particular Matthew or Luke’s gospel account(s). Some might wonder how this could be, since in that day and age, travel and communication were by foot or animal, and thus were very slow. It is not possible to speak with dogmatism about the exact dates of the circulation of the some of the New Testament books, but we do have a precedent for this type of reference within Scripture. Actually, we have this exact scenario between Paul and the gospel according to Luke—in the first epistle the apostle wrote to Timothy. In it, Paul, after discussing the qualifications of elders, quoted Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7, and referred to both verses as “Scripture” (1 Timothy 5:18). Another example where a contemporary’s work is considered Scripture can be found in 2 Peter 3:15-16. Here, Peter acknowledged that Paul’s wisdom was given to him by God, and further classified Paul’s epistles as possessing the same kind of inspiration as the “other scriptures.” Thus, Paul could have been referring back to Luke, or he could have been speaking of Matthew 12:40, where Jesus compared His time in the tomb with Jonah’s “three days and three nights in the belly of the fish.”
Each of the suggestions offered above represents a viable option as a response to the critic’s suggestion that the passages in Luke 24:46 and 1 Corinthians 15:4 represents some kind of “discrepancy” within the biblical text.
Coffman, James Burton (1990), The Minor Prophets—Hosea, Obadiah, and Micah (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).
Green, Joel B. (1997), The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).