The resurrection of the Messiah was well established in the Hebrew prophetic scriptures long before the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Prophecies of David and Isaiah
The most straight forward and best known of the resurrection prophecies is the one penned by David in Psalm 16:10, written a thousand years before the birth of Jesus: “For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.”
On the Day of Pentecost, when Peter preached the first Gospel sermon, he boldly asserted that God had raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:24). He then explained that God had performed this miraculous deed in fulfillment of David’s prophecy in Psalm 16. In fact, he quoted the words of David in detail as contained in Psalm 16:8-11. Years later, Paul did the same thing when he spoke to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia. Like Peter, he declared that God had raised Jesus from the dead in fulfillment of Psalm 16:10 (Acts 13: 33-35).
The resurrection of the Messiah is strongly inferred in another of David’s psalms — namely Psalm 22. The first eighteen verses of this incredible psalm describe the suffering of the Messiah in vivid detail, even mentioning the nature of His death: “They pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22:16). Then, in verses 19-21, the suffering Savior prays for deliverance “from the lion’s mouth” (a metaphor for Satan). This desperate prayer is then followed immediately in verses 22-24 by a hymn of praise in which the Messiah thanks God for hearing His prayer and delivering Him. The resurrection of the Messiah is clearly inferred between the ending of the prayer in verse 21 and the beginning of the praise song in verse 22.
The resurrection is spoken of more pointedly in Isaiah’s famous “Suffering Savior” passage in Isaiah 53. After prophesying that the Savior would suffer for our sins and then be “cut off out of the land of the living,” Isaiah states that He “will see His offspring” and that God the Father will “prolong His days” (Isaiah 53:5, 8 & 10). Isaiah proceeds to reaffirm the promise of the resurrection in different words: “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see light and be satisfied . . .” (Isaiah 53:11).
The Prophecies of Jesus
But prophecies of the resurrection are not confined to the Old Testament. The New Testament contains many of them in the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps the earliest one is recorded in John 2 which tells the story of Jesus’ first visit to Jerusalem after the inauguration of His ministry. The Jews asked Him for a sign to prove that He was the Messiah. Jesus responded with a startling statement: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The Jews thought He was talking about Herod’s Temple, but John says, “He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21). And John adds an interesting observation: “When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22).
Later, in His Good Shepherd discourse recorded in John 10, Jesus stated that the day would come when He would lay down His life on His own initiative. But, He immediately asserted that just as He would lay down His life on His own authority, He had the authority to “take it up again” (John 10:17-18).
At the tomb of Lazarus, right before Jesus demonstrated His power over death by raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus said to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies” (John 11:25).
Many times throughout His ministry, Jesus spoke privately to His disciples about His death and resurrection. For example, right after Peter’s famous confession of Jesus as the Son of God, we are told that “from that time, Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matthew 16:21 and Mark 8:31).
In Matthew’s gospel it is revealed that immediately after His Transfiguration, Jesus told His disciples that they should not share the experience with anyone until after He was raised from the dead (Matthew 17:9). Mark relates the same story in his gospel, but he adds that the disciples “seized upon that statement [that He would be raised from the dead], discussing with one another what rising from the dead might mean” (Mark 9:9-10). It appears that the disciples never fully comprehended the meaning of Jesus’ prophecies about His resurrection until after the resurrection had actually occurred.
Even though the disciples always seemed to be bewildered by statements about His resurrection, Jesus continued to make the claim to them that He would be killed and then resurrected on the third day (Matthew 17:22-23; 20:18-19; 26:31-32; Mark 10:32-34; and Luke 18:31-33).
In speaking of His resurrection, Jesus often resorted to the use of a powerful symbolic prophecy. He called it the “sign of Jonah.” When the Jews would ask Him for a sign (that is, a miracle) to prove that He was the Messiah, he would respond by saying, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 16:4). On at least one occasion, He defined exactly what he meant by this rather enigmatic expression: “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).
The resurrection is also symbolically portrayed in the life of Joseph. His brothers betrayed him just as Jesus was betrayed by His Jewish brethren. Joseph’s brothers then threw him in a pit and told his father that he was dead. Jesus actually died at the hands of His brethren. But Joseph was rescued from the pit in a symbolic resurrection that pointed to the actual resurrection of the Messiah. Later, Joseph presented himself to his brothers, and they received him as their savior, just as Jesus will one day reappear when the Jewish people are willing to look upon Him who they have pierced and cry out, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Zechariah 12:10 and Matthew 22:39).
One of the most beautiful and moving portrayals of the resurrection in symbolic prophecy can be found in the life of Abraham when he was told by God to sacrifice his precious son, Isaac. As Abraham was ready to plunge the knife into his son, an angel restrained him, and his son’s life was given back to him as a symbol of the Messiah’s resurrection. The writer of Hebrews recognized the symbolism of this story when he wrote: “He [Abraham] considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him [Isaac] back as a type” (Hebrews 11:19).
The Fact of the Resurrection
These prophecies were fulfilled when Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. His triumph over the grave certifies that He was who He said He was — namely, the Son of God (Acts 13:33).
Jesus has overcome death, the great enemy that is feared by all mankind (Hebrews 2:15). He has therefore been given authority over both death (the body) and Hades (the spirit). Jesus Himself proclaimed this great truth to John on the island of Patmos: “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18).
One day soon Jesus will appear in the heavens. He will bring with Him the spirits of those who have died with their faith placed in Him. He will resurrect their bodies in a great miracle of restoration, and then He will reunite their spirits with their bodies, giving them glorified bodies that will be perfect and immortal (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 51-54).