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Was Jesus Ignorant of Old Testament Prophecy?

By Kyle Pope

One of our brethren recently heard a radio program on which an atheist quoted Luke 24:46 to try and suggest that Jesus was ignorant of Old Testament prophecy. The text reads—“Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day’” (Luke 24:46, NKJV).* The atheist argued that the Old Testament never refers to resurrection on the third day.

     The context of the passage explains why Jesus would emphasize His resurrection on the third day. First, when the women find the tomb empty one of the angels at the tomb quotes Jesus’ prediction that he would rise on the third day (Luke 24:7). Later, that same day, when Jesus appears to the two on the road to Emmaus they refer to the fact that “today is the third day since these things happened” (Luke 24:21). Jesus then explains to them during this encounter that Moses and the Prophets had foretold that the Christ would suffer these things (Luke 24:25-27).

     The statement in question also occurs later on the same day, when Jesus appears to the eleven (Luke 24:36). Verse 44 states - “Then He said to them, ‘These [are] the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and [the] Prophets and [the] Psalms concerning Me.’” (Luke 24:44). Again, on this occasion, He explains Scripture to them. Throughout these encounters Jesus is emphasizing two things: 1. What He had said would happen, and 2. What the Old Testament had said about Him.

     Since it was the third day He naturally stresses that His resurrection on the third day was what He had said would happen. Verse 46 may reflect this same fact. As He explains Scriptures which concerned the suffering and resurrection of the Christ, He points out that it was the very day those things were being fulfilled - the third day.

     On the other hand, if Jesus is referring to the Old Testament Scripture in His reference to the the third day it is important to realize that “fulfillment” of Scripture doesn’t always mean a prediction accomplished. For example, Isaiah 7:14 is a prediction that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Jesus’ life accomplishes this prediction. Yet some prophecies are a matter of Old Testament events which prefigure the life of Jesus. For example, a number of statements which the New Testament applies to Jesus directly referred to the Psalmist in the Old Testament but also describe aspects of Jesus’ life (see Psalm 2:7; 22:1; 69:9). In this sense the resurrection of Jesus on the third day is mentioned in the Old Testament. The deliverance of Jonah after three days in the belly of the fish is “fulfilled” in Jesus. Jesus declares this Himself - “For 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 12:40).


* Some manuscripts do not have the phrase “and thus it was necessary,” as is reflected in some translations (e.g. ASV, NASB, NIV).

Pope, Kyle. "Was Jesus Ignorant of Old Testament Prophecy?" Biblical Insights 3.9 (September 2003): 9.  

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