Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
—Matthew 20:17-19, NIV
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
—Mark 10:32-34, NIV
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. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”
The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.
—Luke 18:31-34, NIV
In these passages, Jesus takes the Twelve aside and tells them that He will be handed over to the Roman authorities, who will mock Him, mistreat Him, and spit on Him, after which they will whip Him and kill Him. Then, He will rise again on the third day. But the Twelve did not understand what He was saying.
How did Jesus know in advance what was going to happen? Well, we might better ask how He could not have known. Beginning at the tender age of twelve (Luke 2:49), He went around preaching that He was God’s Son, which in contemporary legal terms made Him the equal of God. This, as we have seen in encounters with the Pharisees, had blasphemous ramifications. Jesus was too much of a good listener for that one to have slipped Him by. Jesus was also aware that they were plotting to bring charges against Him. If they did that, the penalty under the Law was death; but the Sanhedrin could not legally carry out a death penalty under the Roman occupation: the case had to be referred to the Roman governor who had the right to retry the case. So Jesus could figure out that He would be tried and found guilty and then, as was legally necessary, “handed over to the gentiles” in the person of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Jesus felt that Pilate, who was unprincipled and amoral, but sensitive to political reality (we know through secular history and Jesus knew first-hand that Pilate had acquired his office through political conniving), would easily be persuaded to approve the death penalty. The rest of what Jesus said followed logically, because it was the way that capital prisoners were treated in those days.
Except, of course, the bit about “rising again on the third day.” That one apparently whizzed right by the disciples’ ears, probably because it followed on the heels of a lot of other assertions which they deemed unlikely or preposterous anyway. After everything was over, they would remember that He had said it in advance, and that would enhance their reverence for Him.
What I am saying is that it didn’t take any special powers for Jesus to see the obvious, that His message about Himself would be controversial, what form the religious controversy would take, what political consequences it would have and what the ultimate outcome would be.
So why didn’t the Twelve see this as well? Why didn’t they understand what was to be?
Well, simply because they misread the situation. The probably didn’t feel that Jesus’ enemies would be successful in bringing charges against Him. They had associated with Him very closely and they knew Him for what He was; they were blinded by that intimacy. They knew that many Pharisees tended to side with Jesus on many issues; after all, some had come to warn Him of the pending danger in a passage we studied not long ago. They also knew that there were two strong supporters of Jesus on the Sanhedrin, the body that would have try Jesus if He were accused (they were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus), so they didn’t think it was realistic to suppose that a verdict would be handed down against Jesus even in the event of a trial. They also knew that the charge against Jesus (blasphemy) was a capital charge, which the Sanhedrin was powerless to carry out. And they also knew that the Roman government had a hands-off religion policy, even granting special exemptions for Jews. So they felt is was highly unlikely that Pilate, the Roman governor, would condone an execution for a purely religious offense.
I notice in the gospel of John that Judas doesn’t flinch when Jesus announces him as the betrayer, which leads me to believe that Judas deliberately betrayed Jesus in a vain attempt to end the controversy by bringing the situation to what he hoped would be an irresolvable head. Maybe Judas figured that Jesus would be exonerated by the Sanhedrin, or that the Sanhedrin would be deadlocked; in either case Jesus would be safe. Or perhaps the Sanhedrin would find Him guilty, but Pilate would refuse to get involved, in which case Jesus would be safe also. When everything finally did turn to glue and worked out as Jesus had said, Judas’ deep remorse suggests that he realized that he had grossly miscalculated; that he had attempted to be wiser than Jesus and to manipulate Jesus out of His dilemma, but ensnared himself in treachery.
To often when we read passages like this, we assume that Jesus had some magical knowledge of future events and the disciples didn’t. We think that Judas was unqualifiedly evil. As we see, Jesus did not need to use any divine powers of foreknowledge to know what was going to happen, nor was it impossible for the disciples to know in advance what was going on. It also could be that Judas had good intentions but a disastrously unsuccessful way of carrying them out.
Well, whatever the case was, we can draw this lesson: If the disciples had been paying closer attention to Jesus and if they had looked at things from His perspective, they would have understood His warnings, they would not have been surprised by developments, and they would have been spared much grief and pain.
Sounds like advice we could take today.