If you were asked to summarize the gospel in one sentence, which passage might you choose? My guess is any shortlist of candidates would have to include 1 Corinthians 15:3–5.

The gospel, Paul says in those iconic verses, is “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.” Fundamentally, the gospel is the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in fulfillment of Scripture. It is more than that, of course, but not less.

Famously, however, there is a problem. It is relatively easy to identify passages pointing to the suffering and death of Christ for sins. The four Gospels invoke plenty of them, as do Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, and Zechariah 12:10–14. But what does Paul have in mind when he says that Jesus “was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”? Is there a verse hidden somewhere in the Hebrew Bible that predicts as much?

Even my study Bible is perplexed. Usually overflowing with cross references, the only Old Testament text it suggests here is Hosea 6:2 (“on the third day he will restore us”), which appears to be talking about Israel as a whole. There are clear proof texts for the Crucifixion, like Isaiah 53, but no equivalent for the Resurrection, let alone resurrection on the third day.

Yet this is not because the idea of rising to new life on the third day is nowhere in Scripture. In fact, it’s everywhere in Scripture. Seeing how and why this is can teach us how to read the Bible more attentively—which, more often than not, means listening for refrains and echoes in a symphony rather than Googling phrases for an exact match.

Scripture’s first example of life rising from the ground on the third day appears in the opening chapter of Genesis. On day three, the land brings forth plants and fruit trees, and they carry seed “according to their kinds” (Gen. 1:12), with the capacity to continue producing life in subsequent generations.

From that point on, the rising to life of God’s life-giving “seed” on the third day becomes a pattern. Isaac, the son destined for death on Mount Moriah, is raised on the third day (Gen. 22:1–14). So is King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:5). So is Jonah (Jonah 1:17). Joseph’s brothers are released from the threat of death on the third day (Gen. 42:18), as is Pharaoh’s cupbearer (40:20–21). Israel, dying of thirst in the wilderness, finds life-giving water on the third day (Ex. 15:22–25). And on arrival at Sinai, the people are told to “be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down” (19:11). Queen Esther, with the Jewish people under sentence of death, enters the king’s presence on the third day, finds favor with him, and brings her nation from death into life (Esther 5:1).

So when Hosea talks about Israel being raised up on the third day, he is not plucking a random number out of nowhere. He is reflecting a well-established theme originating in the Bible’s first chapter. As Hosea says,

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. (Hos. 6:1–2)

This is exactly what happened on Easter Sunday. Christ was not merely raised; he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He is the fruit tree with the capacity to bring new life according to his kind. He is the one and only Son, destined for death and then returned to his Father well and truly alive, having proved how deep the Father’s love really is. He is the new Jonah, vomited out of the depths after three days to preach forgiveness to the Gentiles. He is the new Esther, turning his people’s fortunes upside down by interceding in the heavenly throne room, finding favor with the King, conquering their enemies, and ultimately giving them rest.

On the third day, promised Hosea, God will restore us so that we may live in his presence. Now he has. So we can.

Andrew Wilson is teaching pastor at King’s Church London and the author of Remaking the World.

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Spirited Life
Spirited Life is a collision between biblical reflection and charismatic practice, aiming to make people happier in God.
Andrew Wilson
Andrew Wilson is teaching pastor at King's Church London and author most recently of Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship (Zondervan). Follow him on Twitter @AJWTheology.
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