Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.” But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said. (Luke 18:31-34 NASB)
Jesus predicted His coming death and resurrection several times in each Gospel. But in each case the disciples didn’t get it. Their understanding of what “Messiah” would be was cultural, driven by the lessons of the teachers of the day. And it was completely different from Jesus’ earthly ministry. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have this prediction right before Jesus enters Jerusalem. But there are some differences in Luke.
One of the things Luke has different is that Jesus says He will be handed over to “Gentiles”. The other two both say He will be delivered to “Chief Priests and Scribes”, and then handed over to the Gentiles. Luke leaves out the Jewish element here. Since the other two have Jewish audiences and Luke has a Gentile one, I’m guessing the audience had something to do with the difference.
But the other difference is the obfuscation verse missing from the other two in this account. In fact Luke includes this element in the second prediction found in Luke 9 as well. For Luke it was clear that the disciples were kept from understanding what Jesus was saying. In this passage here is how Luke makes that clear:
- The verb translated “understood” literally means to “send together”. It implies taking two things and connecting them in the mind. They didn’t do it. “Messiah” and “death” just weren’t two things they could bring together.
- The verb translated “hidden” is exactly that. This verb is a perfect passive participle, meaning the effect of the action happens to the subject (the disciples) and continues on into the indeterminable future. The concepts couldn’t be brought together because the connections were hidden from them, and continued that way even after the resurrection (at least for a short time after).
- The verb translated as “comprehend” is the basic Greek verb for ‘to know’. You know? They didn’t. But, of course, they were prevented (passive verb) from “knowing” because the connection between “Messiah” and “death” was hidden.
I think the point Luke was trying to make was that the disciples weren’t intellectual rodents. The question is left as to who or what hid the meaning. Was it God the Father, the One revealing to Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God? Or was it the culture that defined the Messiah as a religious/political figure? Or was it the desire of God that the cultural barriers would be insurmountable for them at that time? I’m not sure (and neither are you), but there are lots of opinions. Regardless, the disciples weren’t idiots for not getting it, they were “victims” of a sort. That’s different.
The lesson I learn here is that spiritual comprehension isn’t something my Master allows me to weigh. Luke was careful to point out that the disciples weren’t dull but were prevented from understanding. How about others to whom we relate the good news of Jesus? Are they dull or also victims of their culture/Creator? What about those in our congregations who continue to operate as if God requires sacrifice to remain appeased? What about those who give in order to receive more from their King? What about ministers who consider themselves more, volunteers who consider themselves less, or those who consider themselves exempt from service altogether?
It’s easy to point fingers, but Paul points out in Romans 12 that to each was given a measure of faith, and that we’re not to exceed that. For me personally, I am again confronted with forgiveness. I have a record of wrong to let go. I have someone I have judged, and honestly I don’t know what prevented them from understanding. Perhaps they were prevented by some design, perhaps by some of their own pain, perhaps it was me. It’s possible I contributed to the misunderstanding. I feel pain, a deep sense of betrayal. But is it possible for me to let that go? Is it beneficial to not regard the one who hurt me as my enemy but instead as one on whom my Master is working?
I’m seeing that my Master seeks to teach me through the others He brings into my life. So if I don’t let this resentment go, then I’m missing a lesson my Master has for me. But if I’m able to regard this person as one on whom my Master works, then he is like me, a project of our Creator. But I want vindication. That’s part of the problem. Vindication would validate me over him. I would “win”, and that would solve nothing really. So part of what I have to release is that desire for vindication, validation, and to win. Death to self becomes down and dirty, tangible and concrete, foolish and humbling. Dang it.
What do you learn from the confused disciples? What’s your view through the knothole?