“For he was teaching his disciples and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after he is killed, he will rise three days later.’ But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask him.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever missed something obvious? I mean, glaringly obvious. Like a large box in the middle of an empty room obvious. Sometimes we struggled to see what is right in front of us. The reasons for this are many. It could be we were distracted by something else. It could be we were just not paying attention to our surroundings at all. It could be that we just flat out missed it. Whatever the reason, though, discovering our obliviousness is always a little embarrassing. This is especially true when everyone around us caught what we missed. The feeling is abated a bit when aw hole group of people missed something, but it’s still pretty embarrassing. With this in mind, the disciples had to look back on experiences like this one with absolute mortification. Their ability to miss what seems like it should have been painfully obvious, though, gives us reason for confidence in something very important. Let’s talk about it.
It’s hard to imagine how Jesus could have been any clearer about what was going to happen to Him with His disciples. This was the second time now He had told them directly what was coming. Their lack of understanding is really hard for us to get our minds around. I mean, what was there to not understand about what Jesus said? Perhaps they weren’t clear on who exactly the “Son of Man” was, but He had used that title for Himself enough times they really shouldn’t have had any doubts about it. Beyond that? I’m going to be betrayed, killed, and then rise three days later. Nothing confusing there at all.
The reason for this, though, is that we have a category for what Jesus said and the disciples didn’t. There were, in fact, several things working against their understanding. For starters, in the thinking of the day, Jesus wasn’t going to die. Period. Jesus was the Messiah and the Messiah wasn’t going to die. That was that. Many other guys claiming to be the Messiah had died. Rome had crucified many of them. It had gotten to the point that when Rome crucified a guy who claimed to be the Messiah, that was the surest evidence available that his claims were false. The real guy wasn’t going to die, especially at the hands of Rome. He was going to lead the people of Israel to overthrow their Roman oppressors once and for all.
Another thing working against the disciples’ understanding Jesus was the way He spoke about resurrection. While there was a general Jewish belief in a resurrection of the righteous, this was coming at the end of days when the Messiah would reign after His grand victory over the forces of darkness. The idea that there would be some kind of a resurrection coming before then didn’t compute. That wasn’t something anyone had ever talked about before.
The combined impact of all of this is that the disciples didn’t have a category for understanding what Jesus said. This is going to sound funny to even try and say, but we can’t imagine trying to understand something we can’t imagine. The disciples couldn’t imagine the resurrection, let alone the death of their Lord. There was simply no category for it in their minds. Jesus was speaking to them quite plainly. They understood each of His words individually. They even understood the sentences they combined to make. But they couldn’t understand what those sentences meant. There was a giant box sitting in the middle of an otherwise empty room, but they didn’t have a category of boxes being in the middle of empty rooms and so they just couldn’t see it. Jesus was doing something new and it went beyond their limited processing capacity.
King Solomon was right in Ecclesiastes when he said that there is nothing new under the sun. We don’t think up new things. Not really. We simply take ideas already long conceived and reconceive them in different ways. The outcome may be something that seems entirely novel, but it is built on a foundation that already existed. Consider the iPhone when Apple first introduced it in 2007. It changed the world in more ways than we can imagine. It changed how we do almost everything we do. The smart phone generally, but the iPhone in particular, has become a truly ubiquitous part of the daily life of most of the world. More people own a smart phone than own a toothbrush. But while it was novel, it wasn’t really new. It simply combined a host of things that already existed and reconceived them into a single package. It took a host of superlatively creative and bright minds to build, but their genius was in taking what already was and putting it together in a new way.
Nothing is truly new under the sun. Except the resurrection. That was new. Truly new. And so the disciples couldn’t imagine it. They heard words spoken plainly and clearly to them, and they just didn’t compute.
Let’s get right down to what this means for us right now. This total and utter confusion on the part of the disciples even up through the moment they laid their eyes on the empty tomb means they couldn’t have made it up. The resurrection is not just a good story the disciples used to jump start the movement Jesus had started but which died when He did. It couldn’t be. Until the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus standing before them with their own two eyes, and felt the wounds in His hands and side with their own two hands, they didn’t believe it. They couldn’t. And because they couldn’t have made it up but reported it consistently and clearly anyway our best response is to believe them. Jesus rose from the dead. There’s just no other explanation that makes any sense. Have confidence, friends. You serve a risen Lord and Savior.