by Matthew W. Bassford
Luke 18-19 chronicles the high point of Jesus’ ministry. He is on His way to Jerusalem, surrounded by an exultant crowd. According to Luke 19:11, the throngs believed that “the kingdom of God was going to appear right away.” In other words, they anticipated that when Jesus came to Jerusalem, He would set Himself up at King David II and begin the glorious work of booting the Romans out of Jewish territory (and possibly even making the Jews the overlords of the Romans!).
It is in the midst of this euphoria that Jesus does something very strange. According to Luke 18:31-34, at the peak of His earthly popularity, He pulls the Twelve aside and reveals something to them that He doesn’t want the crowds to hear. Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem isn’t going to end with triumph over the chief priests and Gentiles. Instead, it is going to end with their triumph over Him. They are going to take Him, humiliate Him, and kill Him. After that, He is going to rise from the dead.
Not surprisingly, Luke tells us that this does not compute. The Twelve don’t understand it, not the humiliation and death part, and not the resurrection part. Why should it have? It fit into their preconceptions about as well as a fur coat fits into a PETA meeting.
Nonetheless, it is extremely important that Jesus predicted both His death and His resurrection. Not even a skeptic has much reason to doubt that He did so. The gospels report that He did so on three separate occasions, and Matthew 27:62-64 reveals that even the Sanhedrin has heard the story. Indeed, they ask Pilate to post the guard at Jesus’ tomb to keep His disciples from helping the fulfillment along themselves.
As Gary Habermas points out in The Case for the Resurrection, these predictions provide vital context for understanding the significance of the risen Christ. We have seen before that the evidence for the resurrection is quite good, even if we take a minimalist approach to the Scriptural witness.
However, merely accepting the resurrection accounts still leaves us adrift. If I were to die and rise from the dead three days later, that wouldn’t be any reason to build a religion around me. It simply would be a weird, inexplicable thing.
Jesus’ predictions provide the necessary explanation. It’s one thing to rise from the dead. It’s another thing to claim to be God, predict that you will rise from the dead, and then do so. The claims by themselves are lunacy; the resurrection by itself is incomprehensible. However, claim plus resurrection equals proof that Jesus is the Son of God. Here as elsewhere, the word gives us all the reason we need to believe.