Matthew 17:22-27 (AD 29)
At this point in the story, Jesus was less than a year from being crucified, and this was the second prediction of his own death in a matter of (most likely) days or weeks (see Matthew 16:21-28). That first time, Peter had gotten angry with Jesus for talking of his own death. He ignored the second part of the sentence, when Jesus predicted his resurrection.
What happened this time?
Jesus: “[I will]…be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill [me], and on the third day [I] will be raised to life.”
Disciples: “filled with grief”
Obviously Jesus led with the bad news, just as the gospel itself starts with bad news. But reading these verses you’re almost waiting for Peter to jump in with ‘TIME OUT! TIME OUT! ‘Raised to life…?????’
Predicting his own death could have been seen as pessimistic, but not unrealistic. They knew the leaders wanted him dead, and that attempts had already been made on his life…but being raised again? They didn’t even hear it. It seems they took the first half of what he said at face value, and believed it utterly, but simply didn’t believe the second thing he said, or dismissed it as metaphorical. Either way, it wasn’t worthy of further enquiry, apparently.
We see a lot of misquoted Bible verses these days, with the popularity of memes providing another hurdle to Biblical understanding. Often those memes involve appropriating promises made to other people, in other circumstances, about different things that what is being claimed, but here the disciples were making the opposite error. They heard a prophecy that spoke of the terrible followed by the amazing, and all they heard was the terrible. That’s all they heard the first time, and that’s all they heard this time.
It reminds me of Judas Iscariot who, overcome with guilt, killed himself for betraying Jesus. And Paul’s words in his second letter to the Corinthians, when he mentioned that “worldly sorrow [for sin] leads to death”, but “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
We have a capacity to hear only bad news, and to allow it to plunge us into despair, ignoring God’s promises and, if we’re Christians, ignoring his relationship with us. Countless people suffer in this way, especially perhaps those brought up in religious circles where they are told unceasingly of their own awfulness, but sparingly if ever about God’s grace. Too many times I have spoken with people who have come to understand that they’ve fallen down the mineshaft of sin, and are gamely trying to climb out. That’s an effort that can only be sustained for very short periods before a crushing sense of doom. And so it is with those whose response to sin is to try and be good.
Don’t interrupt God speaking to you through his word, cutting off the ends of sentences to depress or delude yourself with the first half of everything he says. Best case is you miss half the good, worst case is you find yourself absent from God forever.
Let Jesus finish his sentence.