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Hosea, prophet of mercy—chapter 21, Three Days and Three Nights

Dec 19, 2016

Hosea tells us that God was to come to Israel as a lion to tear the nation apart because of their refusal to do as they had promised in the covenant of Sinai. Even so, in Hosea 5:15 God was confident that they would turn to Him in their affliction, and this was to be a national resurrection from the dead.

Hosea 6:1, 2 puts words into Israel’s mouth, prophesying,

1 Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. 2 He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him.

The lion has torn, and the lion will heal, they say. Yet they were to remain dead for “two days” and then be raised up “on the third day.” This prophecy has three main applications of prophecy. First, it prophesied of Israel’s death and resurrection on a national scale, and in this case a “day” is as a thousand years (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8). Hence, Israel was to be “dead” more than 2,000 years. Israel was to be resurrected before 3,000 years had passed.

Application 1: National Fulfillment

Israel “died” officially when Samaria was taken by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. Hence, the year 2000 A.D. on our modern calendar was 2,720 years since Israel’s death. Hence, we are presently within the window of time of “the third day.” In fact, if we study this more precisely, we find that the year 1280 A.D. was 2,000 years since the fall of Samaria. Within a few years, in 1330, John Wycliffe was born. He was to become “the Morning Star of the Reformation,” the early dawn after the Dark Ages of biblical ignorance and superstitious religious practices.

Wycliffe translated the Bible into English, believing that every Christian ought to read the Bible for himself. The hand-written copies were distributed throughout England. It was a laborious task, because the printing press did not come into use for another century.

The third thousand-year “day,” when applied to the Israelites dispersed by the Assyrians, would be from 1280-2280 A.D. In this third day, these dispersed ex-Israelites had immigrated in all directions, but the main bulk of them had moved into Europe. So it is not surprising that Europe experienced a Renaissance of learning and technology which raised the nations from the dead, so to speak.

Application 2: The Overcomers’ Fulfillment

We believe that the first resurrection, which is prophesied in Revelation 20:4-6, will be fulfilled in this “third day” as well. The main window of opportunity, of course, is from 1280-2280 A.D. However, as we have now reached the time of the third day since the time of Christ, it seems logical, as many believe, that this resurrection is near.

On the feast of Trumpets, September 11-12, 1999, we reached the 2000th anniversary of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and that was the start of the third day from His birth. At Passover of 2033 A.D. we will reach the 2000th anniversary of Jesus’ death and resurrection to begin the third day from that event. I cannot make any specific claim or prediction about the precise timing of the resurrection from the dead, of course, but these dates mark the start of the third day from important events in the past.

Application 3: Jesus’ Resurrection

Because Jesus’ death and resurrection was designed to pay the price for Adam’s sin, Israel’s sin, and the sin of the world, it was necessary for Him to die and to be put in the grave until “the third day.” The amount of time He had to spend in the grave was set by Hosea’s prophecy to Israel, though it was effective for the whole world (1 John 2:2).

Here, however, we run into controversy and an apparent contradiction from Matthew 12:38-40, where we read,

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

It appears (if taken literally) that Jesus had to be in the grave a full three days (72 hours), and it is often argued that Jesus staked his entire legitimacy upon this sign. Such a claim, of course, is meant to add weight to this particular prophecy, as if to overwhelm the prophecy of Hosea, as well as twenty New Testament passages which are all based on Hosea 6:2. We have already quoted Hosea, but the New Testament passages are as follows (from the KJV):

1. Matthew 16:21, “be raised again the third day.”

2. Matthew 17:23, “the third day he shall be raised again.”

3. Matthew 20:19, “the third day he shall rise again.”

4. Matthew 26:61, “in three days.”

5. Matthew 27:40, “in three days.”

6. Matthew 27:64, “until the third day.”

7. Mark 9:31, “he shall rise the third day.”

8. Mark 10:34, “the third day he shall rise again.”

9. Mark 14:58, “within three days.”

10. Mark 15:29, “in three days.”

11. Luke 9:22, “be raised the third day.”

12. Luke 13:32, And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox [i.e., King Herod], ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal’.”

13. Luke 18:33, “the third day he shall rise again.”

14. Luke 24:7, “the third day he shall rise again.”

15. Luke 24:21, “today is the third day.”

16. Luke 24:46, “to rise from the dead the third day.”

17. John 2:19, “in three days I will raise it up.”

18. John 2:20, “in three days.”

19. Acts 10:40, “raised up the third day.”

20. 1 Corinthians 15:4, “rose again the third day.”

The main question is whether we ought to interpret twenty statements about “the third day” to conform to our Western understanding of “three days and three nights,” or if we should interpret “three days and three nights” as an idiom so that it conforms to the twenty statements about “the third day.”

Under normal circumstances, we ought to view the single exception as the idiom and make it conform to the twenty plain statements. As we will see shortly, this was how the early church viewed it.

Hebrew thought patterns included the first day of an event in the count of days. For example, in Leviticus 7:16, 17, the meat of a sacrifice had to be eaten by the third day.

16 But if the sacrifice of his offering is a votive or a freewill offering, it shall be eaten on the day that he offers his sacrifice, and on the next day what is left of it may be eaten; 17 but what is left over from the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day shall be burned with fire.

This law of sacrifice actually prophesies of Christ, who came as the ultimate Sacrifice for sin. Burning the leftovers on the third day turned the meat into smoke, which was thought to ascend to God’s nostrils as a “sweet savor,” or aroma. Hence, Jesus ascended on the third day as well.

Jesus died in mid-afternoon of the Preparation Day for Passover, when all the lambs were being killed that year. He was hastily buried before sundown, because sundown marked the time of the Sabbath (Luke 23:54). He spent the Sabbath day in the grave, and then He was raised from the dead on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9; Luke 24:1).

The great earthquake which rolled the stone away from the tomb, occurred while it was yet dark, while Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were on their way to the tomb with spices to embalm the body of Jesus (Matthew 28:1, 2). Jesus had to be raised prior to the waving of the sheaf of barley in the temple later that morning, because the high priest marked the moment of Jesus’ ascension to be presented as the first-born Son to the Father.

Hence, Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day, the first being the day that He actually died. It did not have to be a full 72-hours, as we think of it in our Western mindset. This was how the early church fathers interpreted it, including Ignatius of Antioch, who was a long-time disciple of the apostle John. He wrote a number of letters that give us some useful information on this subject. In chapter nine of his letter to the Trallians, he writes,

“On the day of the preparation [Friday], then, at the third hour, He received the sentence from Pilate, the Father permitting that to happen; at the sixth hour He was crucified; at the ninth hour He gave up the ghost; and before sunset He was buried. During the Sabbath [Saturday], He continued under the earth in the tomb in which Joseph of Arimathea had laid Him. At the dawning of the Lord's Day [Sunday] He arose from the dead, according to what was spoken by Himself, 'As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man also be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.' The day of the preparation, then, comprises the passion; the Sabbath embraces the burial; the Lord's Day contains the resurrection.”

From this we see that Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, and a Jewish Christian, interpreted “three days and three nights” to mean “the third day” from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. He saw no contradiction in the fact that Jesus was raised on the third day from His crucifixion, rather than after 72 hours that comprise a literal three days and three nights. He understood three days and three nights to be a Hebrew idiom meaning continuous time, day and night (with no breaks), and that this expression did not contradict the many other places where Jesus said that He would be raised on the third day.

Further, since Ignatius was a long-time disciple of the apostle John, it is highly unlikely that he would have contradicted John’s teaching. Those who interpret the gospel of John in a way that contradicts the other three gospels stand on shaky ground.

This Hebrew expression was mentioned in the story of Esther, where her uncle, Mordecai, asked her to fast “three days, night or day” (Esther 4:16 KJV). She actually ended her fast “on the third day” (Esther 5:1).

Therefore, it is my conclusion that Jesus was raised on the morning of the third day and that this was the way that the prophecy in Hosea 6:2 applied to Him.


This is part 23 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Hosea." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Hosea


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Dr. Stephen Jones


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