The Resurrection of Christ in Prophecy

The Resurrection of Christ in Prophecy

“Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.” —Psalm 16:10

“[David] seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell,
neither His flesh did see corruption.”
—Acts 2:31

With reference to His future resurrection from the dead, the Lord Jesus declared in the presence of His enemies: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:18–21); and on another occasion: “As Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:38–40).  From the Gospel according to St. Matthew, we learn that Jesus told His disciples: “The Son of Man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify Him; and the third day He shall rise again” (20:18–19); and: “After I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee” (26:32).  The statements of Christ regarding His resurrection that the disciples heard were more clear and direct than those heard by His enemies.  However, when “the third day” came, none of Jesus’ disciples were expecting to see Him alive again—being so disheartened and dejected after His crucifixion (Luke 24:17–21).  Even after He had appeared to some of His followers, those who had not yet seen Him refused to believe that He had risen from the dead (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:11).  And while the disciples did not take to heart what Jesus had previously told them concerning His resurrection, His enemies showed that they remembered His words.  “The chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, ‘Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while He was yet alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’  Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away and say unto the people, ‘He is risen from the dead!’  So the last error shall be worse than the first.’  Pilate said unto them, ‘Ye have a watch; go your way; make it as sure as ye can.’  So they went and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone and setting a watch” (Matthew 27:62–66).


The reason why the disciples did not remember—or even understand (Mark 9:9–10, 31–32)—what Jesus’ enemies did was that they were being spiritually blinded by the devil and their own sinful flesh to what Christ had so clearly foretold about His suffering, death, and resurrection.  “Then [Jesus] took unto Him the twelve and said unto them, ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished.  For He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked and spitefully entreated and spitted on; and they shall scourge Him and put Him to death; and the third day He shall rise again.’  And they understood none of these things; and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:31–34).  Though the Lord forthrightly told them that He would rise again on the third day, the disciples remained ignorant of what He was saying.  Sadly, even the clearest expressions of God’s Word are sometimes not understood by people.  The “foolish heart” of the ungodly is “darkened” even to the evidence of God in nature (Romans 1:18ff.) and “hardened” against His Word (John 12:40; Romans 10:18; etc.); and even  Christians, because of the opposition of their sinful flesh, are often “fools and slow of heart to believe” what has been revealed in the Scriptures (Luke 24:25a).

Now if the disciples themselves had not acted so foolishly but had readily believed “all that the prophets [had] spoken” (Luke 24:25b), then they would have known and expected that Jesus would rise again even if He had never spoken of His resurrection during His earthly ministry.  It had been foretold in an Old Testament prophecy recorded in Psalm 16:10, where the pre-incarnate Messiah declares: “Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.”  In these words, recorded by inspiration through the pen of the Prophet David, God the Son addresses God the Father, testifying that the Father would not let the Son remain dead in the grave, nor would He give His body over to any decay during its brief (three day) sojourn in death.  That the Father would not let His Son remain dead in the grave was clear evidence of the fact that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross had been accepted for the “justification” (forgiveness) of mankind (Romans 4:25) and that the Son had indeed “abolished death” (II Timothy 1:10).  The prophecy of Psalm 16:10 is cited and applied directly to the resurrection of Christ both by the Apostle Peter (Acts 2:27–32) and the Apostle Paul (Acts 13:35–37).

After pointing out the guilt of the Jews in crucifying and killing their Savior, telling them: “Ye have taken [Him], and by wicked hands have crucified and slain,” Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, states that “God hath raised [Him] up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be holden of it” (Acts 2:23–24).  He then quotes Psalm 16:8–11 (Acts 2:25–28), focusing specifically on the prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection in verse 10 and emphasizing the point that, although the Prophet David was the one who had penned these words, he was not speaking about himself, but Christ was speaking through him.  This is why Peter stresses the fact that David died and that his body remained dead in the grave, saying: “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.  Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, He would raise up Christ to sit on His throne; he, seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell, neither His flesh did see corruption.  This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:29–32).

Since the original prophecy in Psalm 16:10 and Peter’s reference to it in Acts 2:27, 31 were both inspired by the Holy Ghost, both of these references are equally authoritative.  An examination of these verses in their original languages (Hebrew in the Old Testament and Greek in the New Testament) reveals some interesting points that are not obvious in our English translation.  Particularly in the first phrase, where Jesus says to His heavenly Father: “Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell,” the words translated as “soul” — vp,n< [neh • fesh] in the Hebrew, and yuchv [psee • chay] in the Greek—are used in this context with reference to “life” itself (as in such passages as Genesis 9:4–5 and Matthew 10:39).  And the words translated as “hell” — l/av] [sheh • ohl] in the Hebrew and a{dh~ [hah • dace] in the Greek — are here used not with reference to the eternal abode of the damned, but with reference to “the realm of the dead” (Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament), or “the grave (Genesis 37:35).  So the phrase, “Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell,” was a poetic way of prophesying that the Messiah would not remain dead — His body and soul would not remain separated from each other in the state of death.  Consequently, this is not a reference to Christ’s triumphant decent into hell in demonstration of His victory over His enemies, but rather to the period of time that Jesus’ body lay dead in the grave.  Remember that His decent into hell occurred after the Lord had already been made alive again or “quickened” (I Peter 3:18–19; see Catechism question 150).

In the second phrase of the prophecy, “neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption”, the Old English use of the word “suffer” here means to “allow” or “permit,” such as when Jesus says: “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not” (Mark 10:14).  However, a more literal translation of the Hebrew word in Psalm 16:10, @Teti [tih • tain], and the Greek word in Acts 2:27, dwvsei~ [doh • sace], would be to “give.”  The inspired statement, “neither wilt Thou suffer [give] Thine Holy One to see corruption,” presents an amazing fact about the body of Christ as it lay lifeless in the grave—the decomposition that normally starts right away when oxygenated blood is no longer being pumped through the body did not take place in Jesus’ dead body.  Now this certainly does not mean that Jesus’ body was not a true human body just because it did not decay as a human body normally does after death.  However, the fact that His body saw no corruption in the grave does highlight a unique feature of Jesus’ human nature, namely, His sinlessness—being completely free from original sin (Luke 1:35) and committing no actual sins in any thoughts, desires, words, or deeds (I Peter 2:22).  Temporal death and postmortem decay are direct consequences of sin; they are facets of the punishment that was brought upon Adam, Eve, and all of their descendants, with Christ as the only exception.  Following his disobedience, Adam was told by the Lord: “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19).  Because Jesus was sinless, His human nature was not subject to temporal death; yet, for the sake of our redemption, “He laid down His life for us” (I John 3:16).  Mentioning both His upcoming death and resurrection, Jesus said: “I am the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.  …I lay down My life, that I might take it again.  No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again (John 10:11, 17–18).  Thus our Savior Jesus Christ truly died; and His dead body lay in the grave from sundown on Good Friday to Easter Sunday morning.  Yet, in fulfillment of David’s prophecy, His dead body was preserved from even the slightest rot or decay.  Indeed, as the Apostle Paul testified concerning Christ: “He, whom God raised again, saw no corruption” (Acts 13:37).

Unlike Jesus, all of us are thoroughly infected with sin and are spiritually depraved from our mother’s womb; so when we depart this earthly life, our bodies will “see corruption” —they will rot, decay, decompose, and return to dust.  But even though our dead bodies will have a much different experience in the grave than Christ’s dead body (Job 19:26a, 27b), His triumphant resurrection is a precise foreshadowing of our own resurrection from the dead.  “Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the firstfruits of them that slept.  For since by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:20–22).  Consequently, the corruption that awaits our bodies in the grave will be completely undone in the resurrection on the Last Day; and “in Christ” we shall have victory over both death and the grave“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible; and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’  O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law.  But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (I Corinthians 15:51–57).

Thus the resurrection of Christ is not only a fine example of Old Testament prophecy finding fulfillment in the New Testament, nor is it merely a point of historical interest concerning our Savior’s personal victory over death, but it has direct application to our own future triumph over the grave.  Anticipating the glorious resurrection of all the believers on the Last Day, “we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Philippians 3:20–21).  On that day of Christ’s return, the glorified bodies of all those who died in the Lord will be reunited with their souls (Job 19:25–27) and brought into the eternal inheritance (I Peter 1:4) purchased for us by His precious blood (Hebrews 9:12, 15).  The verse that comes right after the Old Testament prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection directs us to consider the endless joy that will be ours in the presence of God in heaven.  There we read: “In Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11).  God grant this salvation to us all, for Jesus’ sake!

Hallelujah!  Jesus lives!
He is now the Living One!
From the gloomy house of death
forth the Conqueror has gone,
Bright Forerunner to the skies
of His people, yet to rise.

Jesus lives!  And thus, my soul,
life eternal waits for thee.
Joined to Him, thy living Head,
where He is, thou, too, shalt be.
With Himself, at His right hand,
Victor over death shalt stand.

(TLH 188, vv. 1 and 4)

P. E. B.