Friday, January 24, 2014

Mailbag: Why didn't Jesus' Followers Understand, but His Enemies Did?

James asks, “Hi Randy, Regarding Matt's gospel and its mention of the guard at the tomb, one thing that I don't quite get is why it is that the disciples didn't understand that Jesus was predicting His own resurrection but yet His enemies did understand what He was predicting. What's the best way of tackling that "problem"?”

Randy responds:

Hi James. :) I do agree that, on first surface-level look, that it appears to be a problem. However, I actually think such a detail counts for its historicity. Why? Well, because it's an embarrassing detail. That the heroes/leaders of Christianity (the apostles) would be shown as utterly ignorant as to what was going on paints them nearly as fools! On the other hand, the villains of the story, the ones who, if the story were invented, likely would have been portrayed as bumbling idiots, instead understood precisely what was being claimed. How embarrassing!

As to why this was the case, consider the respective backgrounds of the two camps involved. The Sanhedrin, made fools by Jesus on more than one occasion, did not believe he was the Messiah, yet understood he claimed to be Messiah. The disciples, on the other hand, readily embraced his being Messiah. There was no concept, in first-century Judaism, of a dying and rising Messiah. Jesus often spoke in parables or sayings hard to be understood, given the Judaic, hyper-legalistic background of the culture. The disciples expected their Messiah to take down Rome and rule in his kingdom. Thus, whatever Messiah's predictions may have been, they assumed it would result only in triumph, not death; it would result in a kingdom, not a cross. On the other hand, the Sanhedrin, looking to get Jesus on charges of blasphemy, was all too happy to take Jesus at his word, believing he wasn't the Messiah. Of course, they didn't believe he was going to rise, but they definitely had incentive to understand him plainly.

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