The Nicene Creed
The Third Day
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures
The Apostle Paul said it best, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). It is the resurrection of our Lord and Savior that won the victory. As much as we like to preach the cross (and we should—1 Corinthians 2:2), the cross would be entirely meaningless without the resurrection. Moreover, it is his resurrection that ensures ours (1 Corinthians 15:17).
The Creed makes mention that he rose again “in accordance with the Scriptures,” meaning the Old Testament. The writers of the Gospels were ever showing where Christ fulfilled prophecy, and the resurrection is no exception. When Christ met two of his disciples after his resurrection, he chided them that they did not understand that the Christ must first suffer before “enter[ing] his glory.” And then “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27). So let us rehearse some of these Old Testament passages which prophesied his resurrection.
1) Jesus himself referred to the Prophet Jonah as foreshadowing his resurrection, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:38-42). 2) The Church always considered this word from Hosea 6:1-2 as prophesying the resurrection: “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.” 3) Isaiah 53 does not only speak of our Lord’s passion, for “when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (53:10). 4) The Apostle Peter was certain that David referred to the Messiah in Psalm 16:10 where he says, “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (also Acts 2:22-36). 5) The Church has also considered the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the “Valley of Dry Bones” as an implicit prophecy of our Lord’s resurrection.
These are just a few. I would have loved to hear how all the Old Testament preaches the death and resurrection of our Savior on that road to Emmaus. We must learn to see Christ on every page of the Bible; it’s all about him.
Something we must ever bear in mind is that until our Lord returns, he is the only one to have risen bodily from the dead. This is the teaching of the New Testament. Speaking of the order of those who will be resurrected, Paul writes, “Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming all who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:23). And in another place, Paul writes, “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
This might confuse some who are also aware that the Apostle says to the Philippians that “to depart and be with Christ…is far better” (1:23); and, in another place, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). The key here is “away from the body.” Indeed, when we die, our souls go to their respective places—either to be with the Lord or apart from him. But that is not the same as the resurrection of our bodies which happens at our Lord’s return—which means that there is what theologians call the “intermediate state” in which our souls are in Paradise without our bodies (Luke 23:43). The souls of the wicked go to Hades. Interestingly, Revelation tells us that in the Day of Judgment, “Death and Hades [will be] thrown into the lake of fire” (20:14), the lake of fire being what we usually think of as “hell.” At any rate, hades, understood as the intermediate place of the unrighteous dead, will one day be cast into the “lake of fire,” or hell, itself (Greek: gehenna). Revelation 21:1-22:5 then speaks of the New Heaven and New Earth which shall then become the everlasting abode of the righteous.
But until our Lord’s return, only he has risen—which speaks to his preeminence. We often speak of the “resurrection of Lazarus” and others but we really shouldn’t. To be exact, these were “resuscitated,” meaning that they were alive, died, then came back to life in this world. To sum, their souls returned to their earthly bodies—in which bodies they later died again, though their deaths are not recorded (i.e., Lazarus isn’t still walking around).
But our Lord was not merely resuscitated—his soul did not return to a merely earthly body but to a resurrected body. Oh, it was his body and his flesh and blood (Luke 24:36-42), but such flesh and blood that was no longer under the dominion of nature but of the Spirit. Hence, in his risen body, Jesus could “appear” in a room where the door was locked (John 20:19) or even disappear (Luke 24:31). And this is the kind of body we shall have; therefore, “Comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).