One of the curious features of the Gospel narratives is that, though they are replete with references to Old Testament passages which are thought to be fulfilled, even ‘accomplished’, by Jesus Christ, and these instances are thought to legitimize the claim that Jesus was indeed the eschatologically anticipated Messiah, yet when it comes to prophetic passages which foretell Jesus’ death and rising on the third day, the Gospels are conspicuously silent. Despite this silence, it is difficult to read the New Testament without getting the impression that there are some such passages in the Old Testament – (the Gospel authors, among others, mention their existence almost as though they are common knowledge, but one eventually gets the impression that none are quoted because the Apostles are bluffing, since they know that Jesus said so and all the rest of them say so, but nobody has found any yet). The New Testament unambiguously reflects the conviction that Jesus’ death and resurrection on the third day was ‘according to the scriptures’ (Luke 24:44).
Of course, there is one obvious allusion to this event which Jesus himself constantly makes references to: Jonah in the belly of the whale, who, after three days (on the third day) was thrown-up back unto the earth from the deep (Matthew 12:40). However, apart from this one wonders where exactly Jesus or the Gospel writers got the idea that there was some scriptural precedent for the resurrection event.
Another passage which has always struck me as hiding analogously the same prophetic connotation is in the Deuterocanonical collection of scripture which is recognized by the Catholic, Orthodox and other non-Protestant traditions; a passage from Esther. It comes in what is typically called ‘Addition D’ to Esther, and it reads as follows:
On the third day, when she ended her prayer, she took off the garments in which she had worshipped, and arrayed herself in splendid attire.
~ Esther 15:1 (NRSV)
Keeping in mind the redemptive merit of this action (that it moved the king and judge to spare a life – or possibly ‘lives’) the passage can begin to be read just as significantly as Jonah’s episode of being brought low under the waters, and then returning to the surface of the world among the living. I am convinced both that this passage in Esther does have this prophetic connotation, and that, if it does, then it follows that one can begin to interpret Esther on a peculiarly Messianic level which opens the entire work up to the exegetical hermeneutic of classical Christian Christology.