In 1 Corinthians 15:4, the Bible says that Jesus’ resurrection was “according to the Scriptures.” But what Scriptures? Many scholars have neglected or ignored this question. Others claim that the New Testament authors just read Jesus’ resurrection into Old Testament Scriptures when it wasn’t really there. Neither of these options is acceptable. The New Testament says the resurrection of Christ on the third day was according to the Scriptures. If there are no Old Testament Scriptures that speak of Jesus’ resurrection, then we must seriously question the trustworthiness of the New Testament itself.
The Old Testament does prophecy the resurrection of Christ in several places. One of the most prominent is the 16th Psalm. Psalm 16:9-10, “Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely.For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay,” was cited by Peter during his sermon in Acts 2 and by Paul in Acts 13:34-36 as a prophetic promise of Jesus’ resurrection. The prophet here described two important things for our study: 1) what would happen—the individual spoken of would not be left in Sheol and his flesh would not decay, and 2) to whom it would happen—the individual was described as “the holy one.” When these two declarations are seen together, the prophet’s message is seen to be about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
What Would Happen?
The prophet here declared that the individual spoken of would not be “abandoned to Sheol” and his “flesh dwells secure.” Both those things could be taken as poetic hyperbole, but it seems that it would claim too much. God’s people are not promised to escape death. God did promise to defeat death through Christ and ultimately free his people from death through Christ. So, this verse at least speaks of the resurrection hope in general.
But this verse isn’t just about the resurrection in general. Notice that the prophet mentioned the physical body of the individual twice: “my flesh also dwells secure” and that he “would not see corruption.” This demands a resurrection from the dead within a few days of death. Otherwise the flesh would not be secure, instead it would be “corrupted.” So, this individual is promised a resurrection within a few days before his flesh decayed.
Who is the Holy One?
The prophet promised that these things would happen to “the holy one.” This description, “the holy one,” must refer to Christ.And at its full value, as both Peter and Paul insisted (Acts 2:29ff.; 13:34–37), this language is too strong even for David’s hope of his own resurrection. Only ‘he whom God raised up saw no corruption’.
So when the Psalmist wrote that “the holy one would not see corruption,” the reader should understand that this Messianic figure would have a real body, that this Messiah would die, and that the Messiah’s body would not be corrupted but instead would be raised again to experience “the ways of life (Ps. 16:11). This description in Psalm 16:10 fits perfectly with the description of Jesus in the New Testament. He is the Messiah. He was fully divine and fully human (Jn. 1:1-4, 14). He died and was raised from the dead on the third day (Matt. 28).
Psalm 16:10 points to Jesus as the Holy One who died and was raised again before his flesh was corrupted on the third day. In the fourth century, Augustine wrote,
Who but He that rose again the third day could say his flesh had rested in this hope; that His soul, not being left in hell, but speedily returning to it, should revive it, that it should not be corrupted as corpses are wont to be, which they can in no wise say of David the prophet and king?
Peter preached this Psalm as a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection. Bible readers today should see Psalm 16:10 as a prophecy of Christ’s resurrection as well. There is no one else who has fulfilled this prophecy and Jesus’ death and resurrection fits Psalm 16:10 too well for it not to be a prophecy of those events.
New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update(La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ps 16:9–10.
The Hebrew word is “חֲ֝סִידְךָ֗” and means “the faithful one.” All are called to faithfulness. Some are even described as faithful “חֲ֝סִידְךָ֗”. But Christ is “the faithful One” above all others. So, in this way, the reader is to perceive both the promise to believers that God will raise them, and the penultimate meaning of Christ as the faithful One who is raised and gives hope to the faithful that they will be raised by his own resurrection.
Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 103.
Augustine of Hippo, “The City of God,” in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Marcus Dods, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 356.