Jesus Prophesies Concerning His Resurrection (Revisited)

Title: Jesus Prophesies Concerning His Resurrection (Revisited)
Text: Matthew 12:40, 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-19, 26:32; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22, 24:6-8; John 2:19-22
Time: April 8th, 2015

Last time I stated that I believe the disciples weren’t thinking about the resurrection after Jesus was arrested, tried, crucified and buried. What prompted my comments on the subject was the made-for-television mini-series “A.D. The Bible Continues” on NBC, that depicted the disciples and Mary the mother of Jesus discussing the prophecy of Jesus about him rising from the dead after three days. They were hiding in Jerusalem in the days that followed the death of Christ and talking between themselves. Some seemed to remember and believe the resurrection prophecy, while others couldn’t believe it. Clearly the TV presentation depicts the disciples keenly aware of the third day prophecy. But as I stated before, the Bible actually doesn’t present things as if the disciples had this in mind at all. It depicts them rather as discouraged and defeated, without hope. Now I can understand why the writers, directors and producers of the TV program might want to show the disciples anticipating the prophecy of Jesus rising from the dead after three days, because after all, the gospel accounts are full of the Lord repeating the prophecy over and over in the course of his ministry. So why wouldn’t the disciples remember and hope in the prophecy of resurrection? It seems logical that they would. But the problem once again is that the Bible doesn’t say anything about them hoping in the resurrection after Christ died. Does the Bible need to say anything about it? Can’t we just assume they did pay attention to it and move on? Not really, at least, to be faithful to the New Testament accounts. If they were full of faith in the prophecy of Jesus to rising to life after three days the gospel accounts probably would have said so. But why wouldn’t they remember and believe the prophecy, especially since it was repeated over and over again by Jesus? Maybe because the arrest, torture and crucifixion of Christ was so horrible, so terrible that it took all their faith out of them. After all, the Messiah, the Lord, the Savior had been taken and killed by the Jews and the Romans. To the disciples way of thinking that wasn’t supposed to happen. So if that happened when it wasn’t supposed to happen of the Messiah, to their way of thinking, they might have given up all hope in anything else happening as they might hope or expect, including the resurrection prophecy. But these are issues that need to be explored further. That’s why I’d like to take a whole message and look at the gospel reference to the resurrection prophecy spoken by Jesus, starting in Matthew, and then Mark, Luke and finally John. As we’ll see, Jesus told his disciples many times he’d die and rise to life afterwards. They heard him, but did it really sink in. That’s the question we must face today.

First, there are the resurrection prophecies in Matthew. Matthew 12:40, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” 16: 21, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teacher of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 17:9, “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’” 17:22-23, “When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief.” 20:18-19, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life.’” 26:32, “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” As we can see from this first gospel account, Jesus repeated the resurrection prophecy again and again in different contexts, at different times. It says that Jesus “explained to his disciples” the prophecy. After one occasion when Jesus repeated that he would suffer and die and then rise again, the disciples were filled with grief – which might be a clue as to why they probably weren’t holding out hope for resurrection after Jesus died – they were filled with grief, not joy. You’d think that if they had heard Jesus entirely they might rejoice at the hope of resurrection. But no, they were obviously thinking of the suffering and death part of what Jesus told them. Clearly, they were not hearing the whole prophecy, specifically the resurrection part. That might be an important point to remember concerning the whole issue, especially in light of no direct evidence that they were in any sense encouraged or hopeful between Christ’s death and Easter morning. If they were so filled with grief just hearing about the suffering and death Jesus would face, how much worse were they grieving seeing that Jesus actually experienced it? The bad evidently overwhelmed any good. They weren’t able take away anything positive from the death of Jesus. Their grief so overshadowed anything positive that they could think of. The resurrection prophecy must have seemed like a pipe dream to them. That’s one possible explanation.

Second, there’s the resurrection prophecy in Mark. Mark 8:31, “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Again we see clear evidence that the disciples heard Jesus prophesy about his death, burial and resurrection. It says he “spoke plainly about this,” to them. So there is no doubt they heard it. But once again, we see no evidence that the resurrection part registered with them. Peter immediately jumps in and focuses on the negative aspect of the prophecy, the death part, and rebukes Jesus for talking about such an awful thing. But why, if Peter heard about the resurrection, didn’t he rejoice and have a grateful heart about the positive ending of the prophecy? Why didn’t he talk about that rather than the negative aspect of it? It’s as if the disciples, including Peter, didn’t even hear the resurrection part, because if they did, they completely ignored it, which is very strange. Might rising from the dead been a little too strange a concept for them? But didn’t Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead? Did he raise others from the dead in the course of his ministry? Yes. So then why did the disciples act so dull in respect to the prophecy concerning Christ’s own resurrection? Again, it might have been inconceivable that the Messiah Jesus would ever have to rise up to life, because to the typical Jewish way of thinking, a captured and crucified Messiah just didn’t compute. So if they were skeptical of the negative or death part of the prophecy, they probably disbelieved the resurrection part of it as well. It’s hard for us to think like Jews in the first century, but I imagine to the Jews looking for the Messiah, and especially Jews who thought they had found him, the thought that the Messiah would actually die before restoring the nation of Israel is totally inconceivable. Therefore, since to their way of thinking Jesus couldn’t die before accomplishing the reestablishment of Israel, obviously, then he wouldn’t need to rise to life. It might have been that the disciples simply didn’t take Jesus seriously, or maybe they thought he was being a little too negative, or painting a worse case scenario to prepare them for what could happen, not what would happen with certainty. Remember, we’re trying to get into the minds of the disciples and it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s hard to tell what they were thinking. It’s hard to tell exactly what Judas was thinking when he betrayed Jesus, so also it’s hard to tell what the disciples were thinking when Jesus was prophesying his death and resurrection. Obviously it wasn’t fully registering with them, as is evidenced by Peter’s negative reaction when the last thing Jesus prophesied was positive (resurrection).

Third, there’s the resurrection prophecy in Luke. Luke 9:22, “And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed an don the third day be raised to life.’” 24:6-8, “He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.” Now this last verse is clearly spoken after the resurrection by the angels at the empty tomb, but they quote Jesus prophesying before and about his death, burial and resurrection. The angels call the disciples back to remembrance, and then it says, “Then they remembered his words.” The key word in that sentence is “then” – then they remembered, as in before they didn’t remember, as in during the dark, bleak days between the crucifixion and Easter morning they didn’t remember the prophecy of resurrection. But now, after the resurrection announcement by the angels they remembered. Now we might want to stop and ask ourselves again, “Why didn’t they remember the complete prophecy?” Surely they remembered the part where Jesus foretold his suffering and death because it happened just as he said. Wouldn’t they have also, at the same time, remembered the resurrection part of the prophecy? Evidently not. Or else they remembered it but didn’t or couldn’t entertain it seriously in light of the traumatic loss they had suffered over the past days. We need to keep in mind that these disciples had given up everything for Jesus. They had left their families, their livelihoods, they regular normal lives to travel with Jesus for three whole years. They had centered their very lives around the Messiah Jesus – and now he was gone, and not just gone, but captured, tortured and crucified. They were in no mood to look for the positive aspects of the passing events. They were in no mind to believe anything positive, even some prophecy of resurrection. Clearly they didn’t take it seriously under the immediate circumstances. At that point they were probably worried for their own lives and how to escape Jerusalem without being detected, arrested or possibly executed as associates of Jesus. Now the TV program series “A.D. The Bible Continues” shows some of the disciples hopeful of the resurrection, in fulfillment of the prophecy by Jesus, but in light of the gospel records that depiction of things is questionable. It’s possible, but probably unlikely. The disciples seem to show no evidence of hope or further faith in Jesus. For all or most of them it was over, finished. They were probably counting their losses and getting ready to go.

Fourth, finally, there’s the resurrection prophecy in John. John 2:19-22, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” Again, this verse explains that after the resurrection it all made sense to the disciples, which implies that before the resurrection it didn’t all make sense to them. In other words, the part of about the resurrection was just too much for them to comprehend or take in or fully absorb. Repeatedly during his ministry, if we recall, Jesus accused the disciples of being spiritually dull. Maybe this explains why they couldn’t grasp the prophecy about the resurrection. Another consideration we might take into account. We know all about resurrection because it’s spelled out in the New Testament and we hear about it every Lord’s Supper in church and on Easter Sunday. But the disciples were all new to all this. Yes, they had seen Jesus perform miracles, but thinking in terms of Jesus needing himself a miracle of resurrection was still strange to them. Evidently it never ever did make sense until after the fact, after the resurrection. We’ve already examined a number of verses that speak to the disciples’ slowness to understand and believe in Christ’s resurrection. And other verse indicate that not only were they slow to believe in resurrection, they weren’t even necessarily looking for it to happen, or hoping that it would happen, or even thinking about it at all. They were thinking about other things. Only after the fact did they remember and everything made sense to them. We can criticize the disciples from afar today, but how many spiritual truths might we be missing at this very moment that future generations – if the Lord hasn’t returned by then – will look back on us and say, “How could they have missed it; why were they so spiritually slow?” Another possibility is that the disciples were simply in overload; they were simply overloaded with too many things to think and feel at the time. This is a real possibility. A lot of pretty serious and heavy things occurred in a relatively short two to three day period, and it’s very possible that the disciples were close to the breaking point, mentally and spiritually. Judas committed suicide in his stress. While not going to that extreme, Peter must have been grieved greatly over his denial of the Lord, as well as the others feeling guilty for either fleeing or keeping their distance out of fear. There were so many things going on it’s possible they simply didn’t have the capacity to think in terms of hoping in resurrection, or whether they could at that time even recall prophecy of Jesus. So it’s entirely understandable that the disciples, although they had heard of resurrection, weren’t counting on it happening in the case of Jesus, and why when Jesus appeared to them alive they were truly amazed and rejoiced. It totally caught them off guard! That’s my understanding of how things happened.

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