If we're to believe the Gospels, Jesus explicitly and repeatedly told his disciples that he would be put to death, but would be raised on the third day (Mt 16:21-23, 17:22-23, 20:17-19; Mk 8:31-32; Lk 9:21-22, 18:31-33; Jn 14:18-20, 16:16-20). The disciples very much got the message, judging by their reported reactions (Mt 16:22, 17:23; Mk 8:33). But they sure didn't act that way after Jesus actually died.
- On Easter Sunday, a handful of disciples went to Joseph of Arimathea's new tomb. They were perplexed when they found the tomb empty (Mk 16:5; Lk 24:4; Jn 20:2, 9).
- Other disciples refused to believe the first reports of resurrection sightings (Mk 16:13; Lk 24:11; Jn 20:24-25).
- Mary Magdalene initially didn 't recognize Jesus when she encountered him. Neither did the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Jn 20:14; Lk 24:16).
- The disciples were downright terrified when they saw Jesus (Lk 24:5, 24:37; Mt 28:10).
These sure don't seem like the actions of people who had been told to expect Jesus to be raised from the dead. What's the deal?
It's an embarrassing inconsistency. The author of Luke's Gospel recognizes this and tries to explain it away: He claims that the disciples "understood nothing about all these things [i.e., Jesus's predictions]; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said" (Lk 18:34; see also 9:45).
I have a hard time buying that explanation. If Jesus really did foretell his resurrection, you would think at least some of the disciples would have been joyfully awaiting the event. It appears none of them did. Uneducated fishermen they might have been (certainly not all of them); even so, how could they not have grasped something as simple and stunning as "They're going to kill me, but on the third day I'll be raised."
In the words of Dr. Henry Lee, testifying as a DNA forensics expert for the defense at OJ Simpson's murder trial, "something not right here."
Habit may be part of it. The act of seeing is learned unconsciously as we are children. What we see is learned. When something new is presented to us, habit keeps us in the past, with the familiar. The act of seeing must become conscious and deliberate.
This is the fundamental task of prophecy: presenting the new and future for the first time... requiring the instruments already developed, but already being outdated.
This is especially difficult today when so many of us, as a result of simply growing up in the modern world, assume that perception is passive and depends for its accuracy on increased passivity. Exactly the opposite is the case.
Posted by: Mark | July 13, 2004 at 09:09 AM
Jesus also said that the disciples would have to wait until the paraclete (holy spirit) came and he would reveal to them all truth, (open their eyes). After pentecost the disciples sure didn't have any trouble realizing what had happened.
Posted by: bill | July 13, 2004 at 02:01 PM
Actually, Bill, according to John 16:12-13, what Jesus said was that the paraclete would guide the disciples into all truth. This suggests a journey, not a one-time event. I submit that this journey continues today, and will continue for the indefinite future. (Longer version here.)
Thanks for the comment.
Posted by: D. C. | July 13, 2004 at 02:39 PM
maybe they knew what God wanted them to know, when God wanted them to know it.
Posted by: redeemed | July 19, 2004 at 08:46 PM
This is hardly an outstanding anti-biblical proof text. The scriptures record that even the women who first saw him didn't recognize him - so really, none of the people who knew him did. You may not like the possible explanations, but I bet they may be more plausible than you think.
1. He May Have Looked Different
If they were at his crucifixion, and if it looked anything like Gibson's passion movie, he may have been all cleaned up after the resurrection. Perhaps their last memory of him only three days before was so present in their mind that they did not realize this was the same man. The scriptures do say "his visage was marred more than any man" - which may mean that he was so beaten and bloodied that they didn't think that this could be the same man. I mean, people that know me sometimes don't recognize me after I've shaved, for goodness sake. Heck, maybe Jesus got a shave ;)
2. Resurrection Was Beyond Belief
Despite the fact that he raised Lazarus from the dead, this type of thing was not common. In fact, it is outside of most people's concept of reality - I mean, even if someone told me, I might not look for it. They may have had a mental block of understandable disability to conceive of it actually coming to pass.
3. Psychological Trauma
I think the affects of trauma and fear can dim people's ability to cognitively function - they may have just been too freaked by what had gone on.
4. God Hid it From Them
Just like the gospel is considered "hidden to those who are perishing", as you noted, the true nature and timing of Jesus resurrection may have been out of their grasp until after it happened - it may seem obvious to us now what Jesus was saying regarding his death, but we have the benefit of hindsight - they did not. Besides, Jesus often talked to them in parables that they did not understand until later. This is probably a similar misunderstanding on their part.
Posted by: seeker | February 11, 2005 at 11:59 PM