Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 17:22-23

Jesus Again Foretells Death, Resurrection

22 As they were gathering[a] in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.

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Matthew 17 records glorious, dramatic, emotional events: the Transfiguration, Jesus’s explanation that what happened to John the Baptist will happen to Him, the angry commotion before He healed the boy with the demon and now, a third mention of His upcoming suffering and resurrection.

In particular, imagine Peter, James’s and John’s emotions and thought processes during this time. They saw divine majesty, received confirmation of Jesus’s imminent death, then saw Him perform a creative miracle and, once more, heard Him speak of death. It must have been a day of extreme highs and lows. They had much to witness and understand.

Matthew records that Jesus spoke of His death three times in a short space of time. The first mention is Matthew 16:21-23, which is the most familiar passage for most of us (emphases mine):

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord![e] This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance[f] to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

The second time was after the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:10-13):

10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

Today’s verses contain the third mention. Jesus wants the disciples to anticipate what is coming, even if they are unable to fully grasp how horrible and how glorious those three days will be.

Jesus spoke of His fate in a passive way. He would be delivered — handed over — to men (verse 22) who will kill Him. Then, three days later, He would be raised from the dead (verse 23) — by God the Father.

If they had understood what He was saying, they would have been alarmed yet comforted. Instead, they were ‘greatly distressed’ (verse 23). Three crucial words went into one ear and out the other: ‘the third day’.

How often does this happen to us? Someone says, ‘Listen to me, because this is important’. We receive their instruction or advice, but a portion of it goes unheeded, perhaps because we are anxious or preoccupied. Later, that person comes back to say that we did not do what they said. They repeat what they said before, we then grasp the whole message and respond, ‘Thanks. I missed that the first time.’

So, the words ‘the third day’ have not registered with the disciples. Matthew Henry explains that, had they heard and understood the message fully:

This was an encouragement, not only to him, but to his disciples for if he rise the third day, his absence from them will not be long, and his return to them will be glorious.

They did not feel as if they could ask Jesus for an explanation this time lest they run the risk of a rebuke similar to Peter’s. They remained sorrowful.

John MacArthur explains:

When Jesus said He was going to die, that’s all they heard. It may well have been very much like Martha when Jesus in John 11 came to Bethany and they said Lazarus is dead, he’s been dead for four days, by now his body stinketh, and all of this. And Jesus said he’ll rise. And Martha said, “I know he’ll rise in the last day at the resurrection, what I’m concerned about is now.” And it may well have been that that’s where the disciples were. They were somewhere in Daniel 12 thinking about the fact that when Jesus said He would rise again, that sure, everybody’s going to rise someday when there’s that great resurrection. And so they missed the third day, or they didn’t understand what the third day meant or what kind of a day. So all they heard was that He was going to die. And you can imagine that three out of the twelve who had come down off the mount of transfiguration seen the resplendent glory of Jesus Christ, now they come down, they see Him use His power to heal this demoniac and they’re on cloud nine and all of a sudden now He says to them I’m going to die. And that’s all they need to hear and they’re back in the despondence of their despair. And so they’re in great despair.

The Book of Daniel attracts a fringe group of Christians unduly interested in the end times. The same are also putting more emphasis on Revelation than on the gospels and letters instructing us on leading a Christian life. The two books are similar in drama and imagery.

Note Daniel 12:8-9:

I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, “O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end.

That indicates we should not obsess over the end times. Read, study and understand — then move on: ‘Go your way, Daniel’.

In closing, these are the verses in Daniel 12 to which MacArthur referred regarding the disciples’ and Martha’s understanding of the resurrection:

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above;[a] and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

It is only after Jesus’s death and resurrection take place that the disciples are able to look back and understand what Jesus was telling them. MacArthur explains:

And that’s important, you see, because if He got killed and they didn’t know it was coming, and they didn’t know it was in the plan, they might look back and say, “Boy, that must have been a strange thing for God to have to deal with…never intended that.” So the Lord just tells them it’s going to happen, tells them it’s going to happen, tells them it’s going to happen. They don’t understand. When it happens, they understand, they look back and say, “Oh, that was the plan.”

Next time: Matthew 17:24-27

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