The artistry that The Gospel According to Matthew was written with continues to amaze me. This book isn’t just some guy’s feeble attempt to record the things that he saw. No, Matthew wasn’t a hack writer. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, and by actually walking with Jesus and learning from His brilliance, Matthew put together a masterpiece that, like any truly great story, instills perspective and sparks insight; always pointing us to the true Christ.
Coming out of the Advent season and Christmas, when we celebrated the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, we now turn our eyes very purposefully toward Jerusalem, the cross, and the resurrection of Christ our King. Matthew’s Gospel leads us well in that direction. Therefore, we will be keeping pace with the story in Matthew as we are led through the seasons of Lent, the Passion of Christ, and Resurrection Sunday.
In our current series, Revealing Christ, we are taking a closer look at Matthew 15:29 – 17:23, where Peter confessed Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of God,” and Peter, James, and John witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. This coming Sunday we will encounter the first of three times when Jesus foretold both His death and resurrection to His disciples, and it is to these three occasions that I’d like to look forward to for a moment.
3 Times Jesus Foretold His Death & Resurrection
We come across the first foretelling in Matthew 16:21 (ESV) where it says:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21 ESV)
Matthew sets this passage apart by introducing it with the phrase “From that time.” You may remember the use of this phrase earlier in the book when Matthew uses it to emphasize the beginning and direction of Jesus’ ministry, citing His core message; “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV). Likewise, Matthew uses the phrase here to draw our attention to the direction Jesus’ ministry is now headed.
Just before this passage Jesus asked His disciples who people were saying He was. When Jesus pushed further and asks who the disciples believed He was, Peter answered “You are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV).
It was right after that confession that Jesus let the disciples in on the rest of the plan and what it really meant for Him to be the Christ. This foretelling of His own death and resurrection served to help them see Him as Christ rightly, because to confess Him as Christ and deny Him the cross would be to have misguided expectations.
Peter, of course, rebuked Jesus saying “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22 ESV). It’s a stunning turn of conversation really, and I can totally relate to Peter’s reaction. I can’t help but think of the scene in Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Susan and Lucy walk with Aslan through the woods in the night, holding his mane and falling in love with him, only to find that they were walking with him to the Stone Table. That place where they later watched from afar as the White Witch and her army tortured and killed him. Of course Peter and the disciples would be devastated by the news that Jesus delivered. Nevertheless, Jesus turned their eyes toward the cross so that they could begin to understand what it truly meant for Him to be who they said they believed He was.
There is good news beyond the death of Jesus, although it seemingly went unnoticed by Peter, and it is that Jesus would be raised from the dead. A cross that killed Jesus and was the end of the story would have rendered Jesus to not be the Christ at all. Whereas, death defeated reveals Him to be the true and better King; the suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah.
Matthew intentionally tells the rest of the story under the shadow of the cross of Christ, which of course is cast by the light of His glorious resurrection. We not only read the recorded exchange between Jesus and His disciples, but as we read the story our eyes too are turned toward the cross and resurrection. Matthew engages us in the story so that we can make the confession along with Peter, that Jesus is the Christ, as our attention turns toward the acts of Jesus that have made that a reality for us.
A second time, in Matthew 17, Jesus foretold of His own death and resurrection. Certainly, Matthew could have left this out, especially after writing the sort of blanket statement of “From this time on” in the first scene. However, Matthew goes on to tell of two more scenes when Jesus revealed these things to His disciples. These stories act to pull the audience in so that we can feel the momentum building as the story begins to roll more directly towards the cross.
In this second instance, a few of the disciples had actually just witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus and heard the voice of the Father saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (Matt. 17:5 ESV). This foretelling in its context reveals, at the least, the motivation of Jesus to live and die in total submission to His Father’s will, trusting that His purposes and mission are best. This is accented to some extent by the scene between the transfiguration and this foretelling where Jesus presses in on the disciples “little faith.”
Notice, there was no rebuttal this time, only distress, and as Matthew’s story transitions immediately to a new scene after this passage we should feel the weight of the necessary pause at the end of this passage in Matthew 17:22-23 (ESV):
As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.
Lastly, the drama of this ultimate of redemption stories is heightened with the third occasion of Jesus’ foretelling of His death and resurrection. It is found in Matthew 20:17-19 (ESV) and reads:
And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
Jesus and His disciples have left Galilee and hit the road toward Jerusalem. So far, concerning these foretellings, there hadn’t been a real timeline put forth or much in the way of details. Jesus hadn’t told them the when or where of His death and resurrection, just that it was coming, that it was necessary, and that He was devoted to the mission. Here, Jesus let them in on the where and roughly the when. The time for these events would be near when they reached their destination, Jerusalem, to which they were already on their way.
To add fuel to the fire, Jesus also revealed other details. In part, this demonstration of His foreknowledge says mounds about His divinity, and Matthew is certainly illustrating that for his audience. However, Jesus wasn’t just showboating His God skills here, He was giving His disciples insight into the reality that was about to take place. Not only would Jesus be betrayed and killed, but it would be ugly, and there would be beating, blood, and a crucifixion.
To be honest, I don’t know how you keep your feet moving toward Jerusalem at the hearing of such shocking news. No half-hearted belief would do. You’d have to truly believe that Jesus is who He said He is, that His is the only way to true life, and that it is absolutely worth pushing through the mess to get enjoy the beauty.
Moving Forward Together
When we reach this third passage at Redemption Church, as we make our way through Matthew, we will be beginning to observe Lent together. We don’t usually do a lot in the way of observing Lent here, but as Advent is to Christmas so Lent is to the Passion of Christ and Resurrection Sunday. It is a time of preparation, and we will be encouraging us all to walk through that season with some intentionality; knowing that at the end of the road there is a bloody cross and our Saviour, who rose from the grave and is God with us.
It is my hope that as we spend a few weeks between Christmas and Lent, these few passages will help draw our gaze intently toward the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. As we see Jesus more clearly as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, may we see that for any of that to be true He had to go the way of the cross.
As we seek Christ together we will surely hear His call for us to follow Him, to submit everything, to take up our cross and come and die. May we prepare ourselves on purpose then to answer the call for His glory and our joy as we find that there is plentiful grace and redemption for us all as we lean into the brokenness and mess that lies before us.