Luke 18: 31 – 34 Jesus predicts his death a third time
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 and spit upon him; they will 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.
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Today’s passage speaks unmistakably of Jesus’ forthcoming death. We see how the prophecy is borne out by the events of Holy Week; Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane; the insults, and abuse of the Jewish ‘trial’; the handing over to the Romans; the flogging, crucifixion and death; and, ultimately, the resurrection.
“The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.”
Why didn’t the disciples understand? The words are clear enough. What blinded their eyes?
They had been expecting a glorious earthly kingdom. Jesus had taught them that this was wrong, but perhaps they still clung to the idea; it was, after all, the way the Jews had been thinking for centuries. The idea that their powerful leader was to be ignominiously executed would have been unthinkable.
Or maybe they had started to understand that the kingdom wasn’t military, it was more a moral kingdom. But if that were so, what would the crucifixion of the great teacher and moral exemplar mean? How would the small band of disciples cope without their leader?
Or perhaps they had a good idea by now that God’s kingdom is spiritual but couldn’t see how Jesus’ crucifixion could possibly be a victory?
Do we understand any better today than the disciples did during Jesus’ earthly ministry? Why did Jesus have to suffer such appalling torture and death?
The way this is most often explained to us nowadays is a doctrine referred to as Penal Substitution. God is holy and just, and by breaking his law all men deserve punishment of death. However, God spares us death, because he counts Jesus as guilty in our place. The crucifixion of Jesus takes the place of the crucifixion we deserve.
This doctrine dates from the Protestant reformation, and theologians like Calvin were largely responsible for it.
However, for the first thousand years of Christianity, the church explained why God became human by a doctrine called Christus Victor, or “Christ the victor.” This sees God as loving us despite our sin, and as our rescuer. He sends Jesus to redeem us from slavery and ransom us from evil, by defeating our enemies of sin, death, and the devil. Jesus then reigns victorious over the growing kingdom of God.
The theme is that by sinning we’ve both betrayed God and become victims of evil. However, God loves us even when we are his enemies, so much so that he willingly died to rescue us.
Whichever doctrine we believe, we are unlikely to have the full story in this life. Whichever doctrine is true, the price paid by Jesus was terrible. Today’s verses show us that he knew exactly what he was doing, and that he went to his death knowingly.
Thank you for loving us, and for sending Jesus to save us from sin and death. Please help us never to forget how costly our salvation was.
In Jesus’ name, Amen