The Resurrection: "Of First Importance"

Day 5 of 7 • This day’s reading



The next thing that Paul lays out that happened in the gospel is that Jesus was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. 

First, note that Jesus’ resurrection slides into Paul’s chronology as simply and matter-of-factly as Jesus’ death and burial. In Paul’s reasoning there is no special category for the resurrection, as if it weren’t an established historical fact just like Jesus’ death and burial. Paul does not understand Jesus’ resurrection to be a metaphor, or a pseudo-mystical experience, or a state of mind. Many in the world don’t know what to make of the resurrection, because surely, surely, they assume, Paul and the other writers of Scripture couldn’t have meant that Jesus’ dead body was made alive again. But that’s exactly what Paul means. Very simply, very plainly, Jesus was dead, and then he was buried, and then he was raised to life.

Next, note that his resurrection, like his death, was “in accordance with the scriptures.” Again, this phrase means “in line with the expectations of the Old Testament.” It doesn’t mean that there’s one specific verse in the Old Testament that explicitly says, “the Messiah will die, then on the third day he will rise again.” There is no such chapter and verse in the Old Testament, and for some that’s problematic, because their expectation is that Old Testament prophecy works in this wooden, mechanistic way, where a prophet gives a specific prediction about a specific event, with no context or meaning for his own generation. But that’s not how prophecy in the Old Testament works.

Prophesy in the Old Testament is more like foreshadowing in a movie. The Old Testament tells a story of God and his interactions with his people and their king, and every movement of the story builds the anticipation for the perfect king, the final king, the king who would rule and reign over God’s people forever. That King would also become God’s appointed sacrifice, the lamb who would be slain before being vindicated in resurrection and assuming his eternal throne. Jesus himself read the Old Testament this way, and expected his followers to do the same. Jesus clearly expected that we would see in the Old Testament a foreshadowing of his death and resurrection. So Paul stands in good company when he says that Jesus’ resurrection was “in accordance with the Scriptures.”