Sometimes Jesus tells us things we cant understand, at least not yet. Someday we will. Someday we will look back, and it will all fit together. But not now. Now, frankly, what He said doesnt make any sense at all. This raises an obvious question: Why would Jesus tell us something were not capable of understanding? Why wouldnt He wait until weve matured sufficiently? Yet we need only read through the gospels and watch for examples of Jesus telling people things that made no sense to them, to see how often He did it. This is clearly one of the ways He deals with people. He will tell us deep things long before were able to understand them. In fact, it seems most of us spend a lifetime trying to understand even the most basic truths we were taught as children or new believers.
As we watch Jesus address these religious leaders in the temple courtyard, we hear Him answer their challenge to prove His authority from God with a statement that is startling. Its an I cant believe He just said that kind of a statement. How could He possibly expect them to understand? And indeed they didnt. They thought He was out of His mind and later used that very statement to convict Him at His trial (Mt 26:59-62). But He wasnt out of His mind; He was being incredibly merciful. He was planting a seed of truth in the heart of His executioners with the hope that after it all happened they would remember His words and believe and be saved, and it may have worked with two of them (Jn 19:38-39). As we read this passage we need to understand what happened and why, because Jesus still tells people things they dont understand
at least, not yet.
Confronting the religious leaders (Jn 2:13-22)
At that moment Jesus words meant nothing to these religious leaders, but two years later those words would become a powerful prophetic witness. That group of men would destroy His body, but three days later He would come back to life, and they would have the testimony of their own guards to prove it (Mt 27:62-66; 28:11-15). The strange words He spoke were actually a parable whose meaning would be revealed in the future. If any of the leaders had the integrity to acknowledge His resurrection after it happened, they would remember that He had told them that they would kill him and He would rise in three days. Amazingly He was planting a seed in their hearts in an attempt to save any one of them who might then have the eyes to see or the ears to hear. That these leaders still remembered this statement by the time of the crucifixion and resurrection is unquestionable (Mt 26:61, 27:40, Mk 14:58; 15:29). These very words became the initial charge against Him at His trial, and by that time they knew exactly what the parable meant (Mt 27:63).
I will raise it up
They asked for a sign, so Jesus prophesied to them about His physical body. He told them that the sign they were asking for would come in the future. They would kill Him, but in three days He would come back to life. That would prove to them His true identity.
By saying about His body I will raise it up, Jesus was not denying the fact that the Father would be the One who resurrected His corpse (Ro 8:11; 2Co 4:14; Gal 1:1) or that the Holy Spirit would be the agent by which He would do this, but He was declaring an authority only Gods divine Son could possess. He would make the same statement when describing Himself as the Good Shepherd. He said, I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father (Jn 10:17-18). We have no real knowledge of where Jesus spirit spent those three days while His body lay in the tomb, but as Gods divine Son He was not asleep. And He may well have participated in His own resurrection, and so it was an authority granted directly to Him by the Father. The point He is making by this statement is to say He was not a victim. No one would take His life from Him; He would give it freely. And death had no power to hold Him in its grip. He would choose to submit to death for three days in order to fulfill the prophecies, but then He would simply walk back into His dead body and by the power of the Holy Spirit that dead body would explode into resurrection-life.
Watching Jesus disciples (v22)
John admits that he and the other disciples only remembered and believed these words after Jesus rose from the dead. They didnt understand what He was saying either. In fact, it appears they missed most of the important things He said. These sorts of statements are scattered throughout the gospels:
So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken (Jn 2:22).
Jesus answered and said to him, What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter (Jn 13:7).
For as yet (looking into the empty tomb) they did not understand the Scripture that He must rise from the dead (Jn 20:9).
Time and again they didnt understand, but it wasnt because they couldnt understand. Jesus clearly hoped for more from them. There were moments when He showed real frustration at their lack of insight, saying things like this:
Why are you still afraid? Do you still have no faith? (Mk 4:40).
You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I put up with you? (Mt 17:17).
O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory? (Lk 24:25-26).
Their minds were clouded by fear, incomplete and distorted teachings about the Messiah and a lack of faith. Even Abraham had been able to believe that God could resurrect the dead (Ro 4:17-20; Heb 11:17-19), but not Jesus own disciples until He stood in front of them and they could touch Him. Their struggle to understand Jesus is comforting in a way. It helps us understand our own.
A profound truth
Now lets apply this to ourselves. How often has God said something to you or me that we didnt understand when we first heard it? Havent we frequently been as perplexed as those standing in that temple courtyard? When the Lord speaks a promise to our heart or we read a challenging truth in the Bible, dont we act just like His disciples? Actually, what spiritual truth could we name that we could say we now fully understand (salvation, baptism with the Holy Spirit, the resurrection, healing, prayer, forgiveness
)? Dont we merely have a partial understanding of the deep things of God, at best? So if Jesus were to wait for us to mature to the point where we could fully understand Him before He taught us something, Hed never be able to teach us anything. What were seeing at work here is a profound truth: Jesus teaches us the principles of Gods kingdom before were able to understand them.
Here are a few reasons why:
1) He makes known to His friends all things that He has heard from the Father (Jn 15:15), whether were mature enough to believe what He tells us or not. He begins to do this the moment were saved.
2) He tells us truths before we need them so that when we need them they will be there to guide us. In effect, He plants a seed in our hearts so that after it happens the Holy Spirit can remind us of what He said and invite us to believe. He does this even when He knows well reject it at first.
3) He tells us difficult things we dont want to hear, so we refuse to understand them until circumstances force us to face reality.
4) He tells us things too great for us because its possible for us to obey things we dont understand, and be blessed. Comprehension is not necessary, obedience is. Hes opening a door for us to be blessed even while were still immature and ignorant.
5) He shows us signposts so that when we pass one in the future well know were on the right path. Well remember: He said this would happen.
6) His words have a creative power. Hes able to speak things into existence (Rev 4:11). So when He promises us something, He doesnt just foresee and describe what will happen in the future, He actually announces what He is going to do in and through us, and His very words set in motion those realities.
How should we respond to truth we dont understand?
1) Accept what God says as true even though we dont understand it. This requires humility and submission, but it protects us from throwing away our blessing or becoming deceived. This is the key to rapid growth.
2) Ask God to give us the faith to believe what He says. Faith is usually the result of a process rather than an instantaneous gift. We usually learn it only when we desperately need it, but if were spiritually hungry we can let Him grow our faith step by step, now.
3) Watch for examples of where this trust has taken place in the lives of others. Talk to people who are further along than we are. Ask them how did they learn this truth. Remember, we can learn from others and save ourselves from going through some hard lessons.
4) Beware the leaven of the Pharisees (Mt 16:6-12). Avoid religious explanations that teach us to stop expecting miracles.
5) And finally, remember this: were all going through the same process; were all still learning.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now [we] know in part, but then [we] will know fully just as [we] have been fully known (1Co 13:9-10, 12).
1) Can you think of a verse of Scripture that made no sense to you when you first heard it? What passage was it? How did you react at the time? Do you have a deeper understanding now? Where did that understanding come from?
2) Have you ever tried to tell someone about something God showed you, but when you shared it with them they didnt understand at all? Why do you think they couldnt understand it? Why do you think you could?