Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Does the OT predict that the Messiah
Would be resurrected on the third day? Pt. 4

Sam Shamoun

We now come to the final part of our discussion.

The Sign of Jonah

According to the Lord Jesus, the experience of Jonah is another prophecy by type and/or analogy which prefigured the death and resurrection of Christ:

“Then some of the experts in the law along with some Pharisees answered him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached to them – and now, something greater than Jonah is here!’” Matthew 12:38-41


“As the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, ‘This generation is a wicked generation; it looks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be a sign to this generation. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon – and now, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached to them – and now, something greater than Jonah is here!’” Luke 11:29-32

When we look at the circumstances surrounding Jonah’s “entombment” in the belly of a huge sea creature we can then see why Jesus appealed to this event as a fitting analogy to his own death and resurrection:

“The Lord sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish and said, ‘I called out to the Lord from my distress, and he answered me; from the belly of Sheol I cried out for help, and you heard my prayer. You threw me into the deep waters, into the middle of the sea; the ocean current engulfed me; all the mighty waves you sent swept over me. I thought I had been banished from your sight, that I would never again see your holy temple! Water engulfed me up to my neck; the deep ocean surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. I went down to the very bottoms of the mountains; the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever; but you brought me up from the Pit, O Lord, my God. When my life was ebbing away, I called out to the Lord, and my prayer came to your holy temple. Those who worship worthless idols forfeit the mercy that could be theirs. But as for me, I promise to offer a sacrifice to you with a public declaration of praise; I will surely do what I have promised. Salvation belongs to the Lord!’ Then the Lord commanded the fish and it disgorged Jonah on dry land.” Jonah 1:17-2:10

The words that Jonah employs to describe his experience are rather significant since he likens his sojourn in the fish’s belly to a person who has died and descended into Sheol (Gr. Hades) or the Pit where s/he lay as a prisoner within the gates of the netherworld. As the NET translators explain:

6sn Sheol was a name for the place of residence of the dead, the underworld (see Job 7:9-10; Isa 38:17-18). Jonah pictures himself in the belly of Sheol, its very center – in other words he is as good as dead. (*; *; bold emphasis ours)

29tn Heb “the earth.” The noun אֶרֶץ (’erets) usually refers to the “earth” but here refers to the “netherworld” (e.g., Job 10:21, 22; Ps 139:15; Isa 26:19; 44:23; BDB 76 s.v. אֶרֶץ 2.g). This is parallel to the related Akkadian term irsitu used in the phrase “the land of no return,” that is, the netherworld. This refers to the place of the dead (along with “belly of Sheol,” v. 2, and “the grave,” v. 6), which is sometimes described as having “gates” (Job 38:17; Ps 107:18). (Bold emphasis ours)

33sn Jonah pictures himself as being at the very gates of the netherworld (v. 6b) and now within the Pit itself (v. 6c). He is speaking rhetorically, for he had not actually died. His point is that he was as good as dead if God did not intervene immediately. See Pss 7:15; 30:3; 103:4; Ezek 19:3-4, 8. (Bold emphasis)

Hence, the depiction of Jonah’s deliverance serves as a perfect picture of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Just as Jonah was delivered from the power of Sheol after being there for three days (albeit in a figurative sense), so too was Jesus raised from there on the third day!

“Brothers, I can confidently speak to you about the patriarch David: He is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn an oath to him to seat one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing this in advance, he spoke concerning the resurrection of the Messiah: He was not left in Hades, and His flesh did not experience decay. God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this. Acts 2:29-32 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Jesus Christ – The Temple of the Living God

The final example which prefigures Jesus’ resurrection on the third has to do with the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, which had been destroyed by Nebuzaradan in 586 B.C.

"The elders of the Jews continued building and prospering, while at the same time Haggai the prophet and Zachariah the son of Iddo continued prophesying. They built and brought it to completion by the command of the God of Israel and by the command of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes (king of Persia). They finished this temple ON THE THIRD DAY of the month Adar, which is the sixth year of the reign of King Darius." Ezra 6:14-15

The commencement of the temple’s “raising” (rebuilding) took place on the third day of the month. Contrast this with what the Lord Jesus says concerning his physical body:

“Jesus replied, ‘Destroy THIS temple and IN THREE DAYS I will raise IT up again.’ Then the Jewish leaders said to him, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But Jesus was speaking about the temple OF HIS BODY. So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken." John 2:19-22

The physical body of Christ, which became the temple or dwelling place of God, was itself raised on the third day!

Concluding Remarks

It is apparent from our examination of the inspired Scriptures that Paul wasn’t misquoting anything when he wrote concerning the OT announcing beforehand that the Messiah would die for our sins and rise from the dead on the third day. The data which we presented in this series of articles conclusively shows that this blessed Apostle had a thorough understanding and command of the Hebrew Bible, much more so than the naysayers who erroneously accuse him of twisting the OT in order to prove that the prophets announced the resurrection of our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on the third day.

If anything, Paul’s statements actually show the great insight he had of the Hebrew Scriptures by the grace of God since the third day is rather significant in the OT. As the renowned Messianic Jewish Scholar Dr. Michael L. Brown explains:

“Paul's exact words are: 'For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on third day according to the Scriptures…' (1 Cor. 15:3-4). As a Jew schooled in the Scriptures from his childhood, Paul was not thinking of just one passage but of several passages that pointed to the Messiah's resurrection on the third day. And remember: Paul was not trying to 'pull a fast one' on anybody! And no one had pulled a fast one on him either. This is the tradition he received, and if someone taught him something that was not in his Bible, he would have known it immediately. 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!
  • 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 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 to assemble 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).

“Based on this biblical data, the German biblical scholar Roland Gradwohl argued that ‘“three days” is a stereotyped phrase used by 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.’ 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. These insights, coupled with some key verses about restoration, salvation, or rescue from death on the third day, gave 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.” (Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections [Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 2003], Volume Three, 4.38. Paul claimed that the Hebrew Scriptures prophesied the resurrection of the Messiah on the third day. Nowhere in our Bible is such a prophecy found., pp. 181-184)

And here is the reference from the Talmud concerning Hezekiah and the Messiah, which Brown alluded to:

R. Giddal said in Rab's name: The Jews are destined to eat [their fill] in the days of the Messiah. R. Joseph demurred: is this not obvious; who else then should eat — Hilek and Bilek? — This was said in opposition to R. Hillel, who maintained that there will be no Messiah for Israel, since they have already enjoyed him during the reign of Hezekiah.

Rab said: The world was created only on David's account. Samuel said: On Moses’ account; R. Johanan said: For the sake of the Messiah. What is his [the Messiah's] name? — The School of R. Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh come. The School of R. Yannai said: His name is Yinnon, for it is written, His name shall endure for ever: e'er the sun was, his name is Yinnon. The School of R. Haninah maintained: His name is Haninah, as it is written, Where I will not give you Haninah. Others say: His name is Menahem the son of Hezekiah, for it is written, Because Menahem ['the comforter'], that would relieve my soul, is far. The Rabbis said: His name is 'the leper scholar,' as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.

R. Nahman said: if he [the Messiah] is of those living [to day], it might be one like myself, as it is written, And their nobles shall be of themselves, and their governors shall proceed from the midst of them. Rab said: if he is of the living, it would be our holy Master; if of the dead, it would have been Daniel the most desirable man. Rab Judah said in Rab's name: The Holy One, blessed be He, will raise up another David for us, as it is written, But they shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them: not 'I raised up', but 'I will raise up' is said. R. Papa said to Abaye: But it is written, And my servant David shall be their prince [nasi] for ever? — E.g., an emperor and a viceroy. (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 98a; bold emphasis ours)

With the foregoing in perspective, it is time for the enemies of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to call it quits and give up their attacks on this blessed servant of God since they are only exposing their utter ignorance (as well their hatred) of the Holy Bible. Their venomous slander of this appointed vessel of the risen Lord Jesus only shows that they have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to the historical and cultural contexts of the biblical writers.

The Muslims need to come to grips with reality and accept the fact that whereas there is overwhelming evidence that Paul was a legitimate Apostle who was appointed and approved by the true God, there is no good evidence that Muhammad was a true prophet. On the contrary, the evidence overwhelmingly points to Muhammad being a false messenger and one of the antichrists that Christ and his blessed followers such as the Apostle Paul warned against.

Unless otherwise noted, all biblical references were taken from the NET Bible.

Recommended Reading

The following articles deal with Messianic prophecy and with the Jewish principles of biblical exegesis. Some of these articles also refute the objections raised by Muslim polemicists against the messianic understanding of specific OT prophecies such as Isaiah 53.

We also highly recommend the following series of books by Dr. Michael L. Brown, since they address and thoroughly refute all of the major anti-missionary Jewish objections to Jesus:

Answering Jewish Objections To Jesus

Volume 1 – General and Historical Objections
Volume 2 – Theological Objections
Volume 3 – Messianic and Prophecy Objections
Volume 4 – New Testament Objections
Volume 5 – Traditional Jewish Objections

Volume 3 deals extensively with the alleged responses against messianic prophecies such as Isaiah 53, as well as a host of other objections often leveled against Christianity and the New Testament. These books can be ordered from AskDrBrown, which is Brown’s ministry website, or any local bookstore.

Another book which is a must read is William Webster's Behold Your King: Prophetic Proofs That Jesus Is the Messiah, Christian Resources, June 2003, which can be purchased here.

This book is a goldmine of prophetic, rabbinic and historical evidences demonstrating the inspiration and the textual reliability of the Holy Bible.