Every year during Holy Week, Christians scratch their heads over questions about Jesus’ being raised “on the third day.” We look at our calendars and see that Sunday comes only two days after Friday. Elaborate schemes have been worked out to make the timing make more sense.
One neglected cultural detail suggests a simpler answer. Throughout the Bible, Jews counted time this way:
– Third day
What they call the “third day” we would call “the day after tomorrow.” It sounds surprising, but here are a couple examples:
When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it or on the day after, and anything left over until the third day shall be burned up with fire. (Leviticus 19:5-6)
The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day.” (Exodus 19:10-11)
The idea is not to count 24-hour time spans but to name successive days, including the day of an announcement, which was understood as the “first day.” If an announcement came towards the end of a day, the beginning of the “third day” could arrive not much more than 24 hours later.
Seen in this light, if Jesus died and was buried on Friday, it would be completely logical that Sunday would be seen as the “third day.”
Why was the “Third Day” so Significant?
Understanding how the Jews counted days solves one mystery for our logical, Greek-thinking brains. But another insight comes from looking at Jesus’ words about “the third day” more Hebraically.
In several places we hear Jesus talk about his death, but then how he’d be raised on “the third day.” He makes this prediction over and over. Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide thinks that he did so because of a motif that Jewish teachers had noted in their Scriptures that reminded them of a promise from Hosea:
Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him. (Hosea 6:1-2)
Hosea had rebuked the people of Israel for their sins, and they knew they were suffering from God’s punishment. But then the prophet invited them to return to the Lord, issuing a gracious promise that God’s forgiveness would soon come. Today might be a terrible day of his anger, but tomorrow would be better, and in not too long, life would seemingly begin again. This message gave them hope that even when God was angry, he desired to forgive.
When the rabbis looked back on the Scriptures in light of Hosea’s words, they noticed several places where the “third day” was when redemption came. They were not being woodenly literalistic in counting up days. They were not developing codes and prediction schemes. They were saying that scripturally, God’s forgiveness and redemption comes on “the third day,” poetically speaking.
Lapide writes that in Jewish thought,
“On the third day” has nothing to do with the date or the counting of time but contains for ears which are educated biblically a clear reference to God’s mercy and grace which is revealed after two days of affliction and death by way of redemption.
It made perfect sense to Jesus’ first Jewish followers that Christ would be raised to life “on the third day.”
* Genesis Rabbah 56. Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Minneapolis, Fortress: 1982), 91-93.
For more about this motif of “the third day,” see p 214-216 in Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus (Tverberg, Baker, 2018). It is part of a larger section called “Reading about the Messiah” (p 178-250) which discusses the distinctively Jewish, Hebraic way of reading the Bible that Jesus used to communicate his Messianic identity. Some of his boldest claims float right past us because we don’t know how he read his Scriptures, our Old Testament.
(Images: Raw Pixel, Dion Tavenier)
Original blog posted at ourrabbijesus.com. Re-posted here with permission.
Lois Tverberg holds a Ph.D in biology and was a college professor. While in a Bible study class she became interested in studying the Bible in it’s cultural context. Discovering the answers to head-scratching questions and sharing the “ah-hah” moments with others became a passion. She began learning Hebrew and Greek, studying in the land of Israel, and exploring recent scholarship on Jesus’ first-century Jewish world. Ultimately, she left a life in academia to devote herself full-time to teaching and writing on the topic, and now has been at it for almost twenty years. She has authored five books and also directs the En-Gedi Resource Center, an educational ministry.
Registration includes Saturday lunch. Our time together will include worship, teaching, and practical application via round-table discussion. You will receive materials to take home with you for ongoing study. Information here.
Women of the Word is an inter-denominational, inter-generational, and inter-cultural ministry dedicated to transforming lives into the image of Jesus through growing disciples taught by God’s Word and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We honor our elders, learning from them as they mentor us. We value and strengthen the middle-aged. We seek to reach the millennials and younger generations to encourage and mentor them in the ways of the Lord. Our prayer is that we honor God together. We welcome men to join us at Bible seminars such as “Through the Eyes of Jesus” and on our Amazing Israel Adventure trips.