Christ’s Resurrection and the Old Testament? (Pt. 2)

Last time we looked at how the early church understood the resurrection of Christ as a fulfillment of particular OT Scriptures, especially David’s “prophecy” in Psalm 16. But one or two references to the something as big as the resurrection of the Messiah might leave us scratching our heads as to why such an event wasn’t predicted to the same degree as other important details about the Christ. This brings us to our second question: “Can the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection “fulfill Scripture” in a broader, big picture kind of way – independent of explicit predictions?”

One of the mistakes many Christians and sceptics alike make when it comes to Jesus’s “fulfillment of prophecy/Scriptures/promises” is to look for the wrong kind of background (eg; “predictions”) and the wrong kind of fulfillment (i.e. literal, undeniable characteristics or deeds that respond precisely to specific predictions). I mentioned in one of my pre-Christmas posts that atheists often get excited by the fact that Matthew says Jesus fulfilled the Scripture “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” Some contend that Matthew and Christians who believe him are moronic, because Mary’s son was named Jesus – a name they likely think has no prophecy in the Old Testament connected with it (something I’d actually contest – but that one’s for another day!). Using this approach, Jesus can only fulfil Scripture if He was literally called Immanuel by His parents, in the synagogue and the marketplace etc; This misses Matthew’s point entirely, which is that Jesus should be considered Immanuel, because He is in fact God dwelling with us.

What has all of that got to do with the resurrection? Well a lot. If we limit ourselves to explicit predictions of the Messiah’s resurrection in the OT, we’ll come up short. God deliberately kept this truth relatively concealed until it happened and only the resurrected Jesus Himself and the Holy Spirit could help the disciples understand its connection to the Scriptures, even after the fact. But the resurrection can be in accordance with the Scriptures if it occurred to fulfill or embody some of the grand themes or passages of the Old Testament.

King David
King David

I mentioned in closing the last post, that one such fulfillment which Paul seemed to recognise was that God could not leave the Messiah dead if He were to fulfill the promises made to Christ’s ancestor David. Jesus had been crucified and buried and so if the resurrection had not occurred, one or more realities would be true. There was the unthinkable possibility that God neglected to fulfill His promises. There was the almost as unlikely possibility that the Davidic promises recorded in Scripture didn’t mean what they plainly seemed to mean (though this is not to say people could not be confused on what some of them would look like in reality). Or the final possibility is that Jesus died without receiving the fullness of the promises because He was not the Messiah. The disciples had every reason to believe that Jesus had really risen from the dead and therefore none of these things were seriously in doubt at the point they witnessed the risen Christ and heard Him explain the connection between Himself and the Scriptures. The resurrection therefore fulfils Scripture by being a mechanism by which God fulfils His promises to David (and therefore to Israel and even to Abraham by extension). This is no less substantial than if the resurrection seemed to occur in narrower, precise fulfilment of a range of resurrection-specific prophecies.

Another way the resurrection of Christ can fulfil Scriptures is through typology and embodiment. To borrow from the Christmas story again, when Joseph brings Jesus back from their sojourn in Egypt, Matthew says it fulfilled Hosea’s prophecy “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Matt 2:15, Hosea 11:1). The original prophecy in context was about Israel, without any explicit Messianic overtones. But when Jesus came, He embodied what Israel (as the people of God) were supposed to be in covenant with God. He therefore fulfils Hosea 11 not because the prophet intentionally spoke of the Messiah, but because Jesus was the true Son of God and in a sense the true Israel.

Exodus   The Exodus [1]

Sticking with Hosea, I mentioned in the last post that Jesus’ resurrection “on the third day” might have been related somehow to Hosea 6:2 “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” If this is correct, it isn’t because Hosea was deliberately and specifically predicting the resurrection of the Messiah. Rather it would be because Jesus stands in relation to God on behalf of His covenant people and God fulfilled this prophecy about giving His people life on the third day by raising our representative up on the third day after His death.

Jonah sculpture [2]

When it comes to a connection between the resurrection and something like Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the giant fish, it’s slightly different. Jesus didn’t mean Jonah’s original readers should have deduced that the Messiah would die and lie in the ground for a number of days, before escaping death like Jonah did. Here it’s better to understand that certain people and events in the Old Testament had experiences and characteristics that in hindsight can be seen as “types” of the Messiah and His life. In citing Jonah’s stay in the fish’s belly, Jesus was effectively using a well known OT figure to illustrate what would happen to Him, and hint at the fact He’d live again after His “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Thus Jesus’ death and resurrection would be like the “sign of Jonah” – a sign which people would either recognise and respond in repentance or fail to recognise and be condemned by.

So hopefully this helps us see how Jesus could fulfil the Scriptures through His resurrection in a broader, even grander sense than what is often conceived as the fulfilment of prophecy. But in the final post I’ll look at the question of whether there could be a few passages that hint at the resurrection of Christ, which we might be prone to miss.

[1] Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing “Biblical illustration of Book of Exodus Chapter 13″ CC BY-SA 3.0 wikimedia commons.
[2] Sargis Babayan “Jonah the Prophet” CC BY-SA 3.0 wikimedia commons.


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