Mark 10: 32 – 34 Jesus predicts his death a third time
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’
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“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way”
In John’s gospel we read that a previous visit to Jerusalem had ended with the authorities trying to stone Jesus. (John 10: 31 – 32) This latest visit was a walk into danger.
“The disciples were astonished”
What kind of anointed king moves against his enemies when he is still weak? Surely he should be building an army first? Why should they move from a place where they felt relatively safe, to one where the religious authorities knew Jesus and hated him?
Although Jesus had already spoken to them twice about his forthcoming death, the disciples were still astonished that Jesus planned to go into Jerusalem.
“Those who followed were afraid”
This was no play-acting. It was no bluff. It wasn’t symbolic teaching. Those who followed Jesus knew that they were going into real, deadly danger; and they were afraid.
It is against this backdrop that Jesus teaches them for the third time what is going to happen to him.
‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’
There is something odd about the grammar of this paragraph. The gospel writer suddenly changes the way Jesus speaks of himself. The words he puts into Jesus’ mouth are in the third person rather than the first person. That is to say Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man”, and “him”. By contrast, there are plenty of places in all the gospels where Jesus refers to himself in the first person: for example, “Truly I tell you,” (Mark 10: 29)
Why this change?
Well, it’s possible that the writer of Mark’s gospel wanted to stress that Jesus had repeatedly referred to himself as the Son of Man when talking about his death. In other words, he has paraphrased what Jesus said. That’s quite clumsy, though.
Perhaps it is more likely that Jesus deliberately spoke in this rather abstract way to put a distance between the horror of the reality and himself. We know from accounts of his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. (Mark 14: 32 – 42; Luke 22: 39 – 46: Matthew 26: 36 – 46) that he dreaded his coming ordeal.
Or, possibly most likely of all, he did it to shield the disciples from the personal impact of the knowledge. Referring to himself as the Son of Man allows the disciples to have doubt that the events are going to happen to Jesus the man. ‘Perhaps there is some other way of understanding this?’ they might have thought. If they had fully grasped the truth of what was about to happen, would they have stayed with Jesus? I wonder.
At all events, the words of this passage make me sharply aware that the disciples aren’t just characters in a story; they are living human beings, with hopes, ambitions, faith – and fear.
Thank you for the witness of the disciples. Thank you that despite their fear they stayed with Jesus long enough to do what you needed them to do. Please help me to copy their faithful service of Jesus.
In Jesus’ name, Amen