One of the most famous questions ever asked in American history is that attributed to Tennessee Senator Howard Baker in the midst of the Nixon investigations: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” That question is often slightly morphed in many situations as a bottom line sort of inquiry to clearly understand an event and to assign either guilt or innocence.
This is actually a good question for us to ask in Bible study, “What did particular characters of Scripture know, and when did they know it?” It is easy for us to especially read too much understanding back into a biblical account, and that is because we know the outcome. This is a challenge for historians as well – to not read the inevitabilities of an event we know as accomplished back into the minds of the participants before it all unfolded. I see this all the time as people discuss the Battle of Antietam – with folks attributing way more clarity of the pending battle into the minds of either General McClellan or General Lee. It just looks so obvious … to us!
Today we look at the three passages where Jesus told the disciples that he was going to die, yet be also raised to life again. Christ was very specific on the third occasion, saying that he would rise again on the third day. That is VERY precise! So why are the disciples such dopes about the entire passion narrative?
We should read into this a divine element of them being prevented by God from clearly understanding. The words of Jesus were then later remembered after the death and resurrection, as the disciples at that point clearly understood that the Savior had indeed spoken of this explicitly. That may be all the answer we need.
But let’s try to drop into the sandals of the disciples for a moment. They are travelling around with Jesus for quite some time. They have witnessed incredible things: miracles galore, and even resurrections from the dead. Their ears have heard teachings about the coming kingdom, and they were believing that he was indeed the king. Though opposition was regular, clearly Jesus had the greater power. The disciples perceived themselves as on a winning team.
Projecting out into the future on the other side of the return of Jesus Christ and the consummation of the grand end-times events, it is imaginable that Christian people will look back at us in our Nikes and Rebooks and wonder why we were such dopes. Why in the world could we not better see and anticipate the approach of Christ’s return? Why could we not see and understand the degradation of the material world and have a more profound sense of the time when Christ returned?
Even so, though we don’t know those details that are yet future, we live in a wonderful time of an advanced knowledge of God’s big story. We are so privileged to have the entire, completed Word of God. In it we know the entire account of the unfolding, redemptive work of Christ. We are able to see how it relates in great detail to the Old Testament systems of worship and atonement.
We are richly blessed by the knowledge we possess.
Luke 9:21 – Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
Luke 9:43 – While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 44 “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” 45 But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.
Luke 18:31 – Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”
34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.