Jesus Didn't Predict His Death: Studies in Mark, Pt. 44

I don’t like starting posts off negatively or with a complaint but I think the one to follow is warranted: If you’re going to write a commentary, don’t do it just to do it. If you’re going to write a commentary be creative. If you’re going to write a commentary, add new insights to the field. If you’re planning on writing a commentary, quit saying what everyone else has already said. Not that every idea has to be new but honestly, say something worthwhile that is the product of your own thinking, studying and imagining!

Okay, I’m done with that rant. I feel that it was warranted because when I read through commentaries on Mark, they all seem to be saying the same exact things. Not only does it feel like I’ve wasted my money on these books when this happens, it is just boring and redundant. I wonder if there are any scholars out there with anything new to say about Mark’s Gospel? Thank God for social-science scholars, they seem to be the only ones!

Here’s one example of what I’m getting at: In reading through commentaries on Mk., every single one of them makes this statement or offers this heading “Jesus predicts His passion”. For one, I’m not so convinced that Jesus is emphasizing His passion. I think He’s emphasizing that the crucifixion has to happen only so He can be raised. He’s emphasizing the resurrection. Furthermore, I don’t think Mark was attempting (at all) to portray Jesus as “predicting” His passion.

“Predicting” is a very poor choice of words here. For starters, Mark tells us in 3.6 that after Jesus had ticked the religious leaders off, they (the Pharisees) went to find the Herodians to plot to kill Jesus. This is at the beginning of Mark’s story!!! In Matthew, where the same set of events are portrayed, it is made even more explicit that Jesus is made aware that they are plotting to kill Him (see Mt. 12). Here’s my point: It’s not fair to suggest—after we are already told by Mark that Jesus is aware of the plotting—that Jesus was “predicting” His death. How can we say He’s “predicting” it if He’s made aware of the plot ahead of time? This is akin to me finding out that some corporation is going to hire me, then after finding this out, saying that they are going to hire me. That is not me “predicting” getting hired; it is simply acknowledging what is going to happen.

Just as well, in Mk. 10.32-4, we find some other clues that inform us that Jesus was not “predicting” His passion. The verses lay it out this way: 1) He told them what was going to happen, 2) Going to Jerusalem—this is not a prediction but a statement of what He’s going to make happen, 3) The Son of Man will be delivered, 4) To the Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law, 5) They will condemn Him to death, 6) They will hand Him over to the Gentiles, 7) Who will mock Him 8) spit on Him, 9) flog Him, 10) kill Him, and 11) He will be raised.

Now, all of these things do happen in chapters 14-6 of Mark’s account. However, if Jesus was “predicting”, He didn’t do a great job. Why? Because His predictions, as told in Mk. 14-6, follow a different order than what is found in Mk. 10.32-4. We would think that if Jesus were “predicting”, He would at least get the order of things right.

Just as well, in context, one need not resort to “prediction” to make sense of these passages. What I mean is that most people in antiquity knew the process of capital punishment via crucifixion. In general, the process described a lot of the things found in Mk. 10.32-4. Commentators have pointed out that Jesus’ “prediction” here is more detailed than His others. Well, they are right that this account (not prediction) is more detailed. I mean, He’s already spoken of the events twice and the disciples don’t get the point. Perhaps Jesus senses that to drive the point home, He has to get graphic. He does just that.

Whenever the people would have heard Him say what He did in Mk. 10.32-4, it would have become very real. Why? Because they all knew these were “real” elements of a crucifixion. They all knew what this type of capital punishment entailed. In this sense, if Jesus was “predicting”, then so was the whole crowd or crew of disciples “foreseeing”. But that’s not what’s going on. To give a practical example, imagine someone being condemned to capital punishment today. If I asked you to write an account of that persons last hours on earth, most accounts would contain most, if not all, of these elements: You will eat your last meal, you will see your loved ones, you will be chained, you will be walked down the hall, you will enter a windowed-room, you will be strapped down, your face will be covered, you will be injected, you will shake, you will die, you will be taken to the morgue for examination, you will be buried, etc.

Now, if I were to say that to anyone, even an inmate, I would not be “predicting” the future and nobody would think I was. Why? Because everyone already knows what happens. It was the same in Jesus’ context. Everyone knew how crucifixions went down. This method of punishment lasted around a thousand years, 5-600 before Jesus and about 300-350 after Jesus. This form of punishment was nothing novel; everyone was aware of it.

It is not tenable to continue putting misleading headings in our Bibles (see the NIV for example) or our commentaries. Jesus did not predict His death. He was told He was going to die and He kept telling His disciples, even though it never really sank in with them. In Jesus’ day, everyone understood the process of crucifixion so, when Jesus said what He did, it was nothing out of the ordinary and nobody would have thought He was predicting. He was simply stating the facts and everybody knew that, even His followers whose concerns were elsewhere at the time.

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