And taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things; this saying was hid from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
Time and time again, Jesus’s disciples just don’t get it. “I will die,” Jesus says, “but will return on the third day.” And the disciples look at one another, scratching their heads, and say, “huh?”
It’s not like Jesus is talking in riddles. Sometimes he did, but sometimes he told them exactly what was going to happen. “I’m going to die.” Gasp! Shock!
“Not you,” Peter said. “I will protect you with my life.” Jesus may be human, but he can’t possibly die. He’s the Son of God, so he’s above such moral deeds, right?
Here’s the foundation for the disciples’ confusion: what we think, and what God thinks, doesn’t often line up. Even though Jesus plainly states “I’m coming back,” it doesn’t coincide with their preconceived notions of what death means. (Not that I can blame them.) Despite listening to Jesus’s sermons over three years, the disciples are still clueless human beings.
And that’s a beautiful thing. Because I—who don’t have the benefit of literally walking beside him—have that tendency, too. In the moment, a situation or a teaching doesn’t make sense. It’s like I’m constantly a child who needs direction, but don’t understand my parents’ teachings. So I do my own thing, which ultimately doesn’t work. And that just like the disciples, who later scatter in mass confusion when Jesus dies.
But hope is not lost for these clueless disciples. It gets better: Eventually, they get it.
Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. —John 20:8–9
This is their “ah ha!” moment. Jesus was dead, but Peter and John went to the tomb and saw… nothing. You can almost see the slow, steady grind of mental gears as they piece it together. It had been three days. The tomb was empty. Maybe… he came back?
Retrospect is a wonderful thing.
Consider the book of Isaiah. There are a lot of weird, confusing prophecies in there, some of which we understand now only after they’ve occurred: The pregnant virgin. The sacrificial Lamb. It’s so obvious now, but this had to be a whole lot of nonsense before Jesus came on the scene. And there’s even more in that book that’s still incomprehensible. The end times, visions of fiery judgement and a new Earth. We can speculate, but as far as I know, there hasn’t been any fiery judgement. Yet.
In the meantime, there’s a lot here, now, that we just don’t get. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as the end of the world. Like, why do we continue to make the same mistakes? Or waste time in the wrong job/relationship/situation? In those moments, we don’t see them as wrong. We think that job is the ideal, or that relationship will last forever. But once we get out of a situation, we’re not trapped by our own biased point of view. Perhaps we see it more like God does, from an omniscient perspective. Just like the disciples discovering the empty tomb, we understand what we’re seeing and wonder how in the world we missed it before.
That’s part of the learning process, and that’s God. A lot of Jesus’s preaching simply didn’t make sense, because He didn’t allow the disciples to understand it yet. If we’re born with the instinctive ability to never make a mistake, then we never learn. We’d never understand the wonder of “getting it,” or thank God for getting us out of an awkward or difficult situation. If the disciples immediately understood that Jesus was to return, there would be nothing amazing about His coming back. The learning process includes that time of hopeless, mass confusion. Because when it passes… the tomb is empty. Sometimes, we need to feel a little lost to appreciate what we’re being taught—and what we’ve been saved from.