The concept of “three” with its three step process of beginning, middle, and end is natural to life itself. The above study has noted the wide use of the number three in the literatures of the ancient world as well as its appearance in selected literature of the later western world. The Scriptures also often present items in groups of three, whether in groups of people, things, or time periods such as a day, a month, or a year. The biblical authors call particular attention to the third month and third year as a time in which significant happenings or spiritual activity took place.
The concept of “three” also appears as a stylistic literary pattern as noted in the case of Hosea. Indeed, many biblical writers presented things in a threefold way with special emphasis on completeness or as a climactic step, which though complete in itself anticipated further ramifications or results.
This study has demonstrated the use of the third day as a special literary motif, which though not necessarily setting aside any conventional meaning nonetheless carried with it special implications be it the conveyance of special information/instruction, the importance of the day as completing a designated period of waiting to be followed by an expected decision or activity, or as a day of special—even spiritual—activity including the necessity of purity or healing.52
Perhaps it is not too much to suggest that conventional, literal meaning and rhetorical use find their union and harmony in God’s providential activity. Berkhof appropriately defines providence as “that continued exercise of the divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.”53 Thus many specific acts in connection with three days or the third day may well owe their occasion to a divine design, which provided a rhetorical pattern that was to prepare and alert those familiar with God’s revelation for the culmination to which the motif pointed. This is especially true of the third day as expressing spiritual activity.
Indeed, most importantly spiritual activity was to find its culmination in the resurrection of the long-awaited Messiah, a fact rehearsed again and again by Jesus and realized in His own resurrection on the third day. In a distinct sense Christ’s resurrection not only stands as a historical fact but Jesus’ use of the third day motif to call attention to it conveyed the assurance of a completed redemptive act.
Yet the fact of a completed redemption carries with it an expectation of more to follow. For because of Christ’s resurrection on the third day, full provision for personal salvation for all who through repentance and faith accept Christ as Savior and Lord has been made (Acts 3:26; 5:31-32; 1 Cor 15:50-57; 1 Pet 1:3). Moreover, Christ’s resurrection challenges the believer to live in the conscious appropriation of His resurrection power, which stands available to him. For the resurrected Christ has taken up His abode in the Christian in vital, spiritual, organic union with Himself (Gal 2:20). This reality should result in genuine godliness and holy living by each believer (Col 3:1-4). The truth of the resurrection on the third day also gives a further challenge:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again… . And all this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:14-15, 18-19).
52 The importance of these same scriptural nuances to literature based upon scriptural texts and themes has been demonstrated in the case of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
53 L.Berkhof, Systematic Theology (4th rev. and enlarged edition; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 160. Berkhof points out further (168) that God’s providence extends even to “things seemingly accidental or insignificant.” Notable scriptural examples of this truth may be seen in Solomon’s observations such as: “The LORD works out everything for his own ends” (Prov 16:4); “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Prov 16:9); and “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Prov 16:31).