Jesus knew the details of his death long before he was crucified. Consider the following specifics, which Jesus shared with his disciples before they arrived in Jerusalem:
For he [i.e., the Son of Man] will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise. (Luke 18:32-33)
Notice the precision of Jesus’ advance knowledge. He knew there would be mocking and shameful treatment; that someone would spit in his face; that the whip would tear his back to shreds; that he would be crucified. Jesus even knew that he would rise again on the third day.
How? How did Jesus know these details, all of which came to pass? What is the explanation of his prescience?
Some will answer, incredulously, “Well, of course Jesus knew these details! He was God in the flesh! He knew everything!” It’s true that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God, who possessed startling prophetic insight through the Spirit. But that’s not the best answer in this case. Listen to the explanation that Jesus himself gives for his foreknowledge:
And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” (Luke 18:31, emphasis mine)
Jesus knew the details of his death because he had read the Bible.
Jesus knew the Bible. He had heard and read and memorized the Scriptures all his life. His self-understanding and God-appointed mission had come into focus through the word of God. The details of Jesus’ death were known to him not solely because he was the second person of the Trinity, but because he had read them in the Bible.
1. Jesus knew he would be crucified.
He had read of the bronze serpent lifted on a pole and knew it was a prophetic type of his own death (Numbers 21:9; John 3:14-15). He knew, as a curse-bearer, that he would be hanged on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23).
2. Jesus knew he would be killed by the Gentiles.
He had read the prophecy of David: “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:16-18; see Matthew 15:22-28 for a clear indication that Jesus understood the metaphor of dogs to include Gentiles).
3. Jesus knew he would be mocked, spit upon, and flogged.
He had read Isaiah’s prophecy: “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).
4. Jesus knew he would be raised from the dead.
He had read David’s prophecy: “My flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:9-10; see also 30:3; 49:7-15; 68:20).
He had read Daniel’s prophecy: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).
He had read Isaiah’s prophecy: “When his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:10-11; see also 26:19).
5. Jesus knew he would rise on the third day.
He had read of Jonah being three days and nights in the belly of a great fish, and understood this to be a prophetic type of his own death and resurrection (Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:40).
He had read Hosea’s prophecy: “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (Hosea 6:1-2; see also 13:14).
Jesus knew the details of his death because he had read the Bible.
That’s neat, but what does it mean for us? To begin with, it means that we can trust the Bible. All that was written about the Son of Man was indeed accomplished. The prophecies came to pass. We can confidently build our lives and stake our eternal future on every word God has spoken.
Additionally, it means that we must learn to read the Bible the way Jesus did. Jesus understood that the Bible was speaking of him. We go astray in interpretation when our dominant impulse is to understand every verse in light of ourselves. Following Jesus’ own method of interpretation, we must first understand how Scripture finds its fulfillment in him. Only then can we make accurate application to our own lives. In other words, a sound interpretive path isn’t BIBLE VERSE(S) ► US. Rather, it’s BIBLE VERSE(S) ► FULFILLMENT IN JESUS ► US.
Finally, it means that one way of getting close to Jesus is to read the Old Testament. Read the New Testament too, by all means! But don’t minimize the value of the Old Testament in getting to know Jesus. After all, the Hebrew Scriptures were Jesus’ Bible. As Christopher Wright thrillingly puts it, you can be aware of this every time you open the Old Testament:
These are the words [Jesus] read. These were the stories he knew. These were the songs he sang. These were the depths of wisdom and revelation and prophecy that shaped his whole view of ‘life, the universe and everything’. This is where he found his insights into the mind of his Father God. Above all, this is where he found the shape of his own identity and the goal of his own mission. In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus.
The Old Testament may be a surprising place to come close to the heart of Jesus, but it is a sure place.
The promise was clear:
For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong. (Joshua 17:18)
But the people faltered:
And the LORD was with Judah, and they took possession of the hill country, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots. (Judges 1:19)
One of the reasons we compromise when tempted is that not compromising feels too hard. We don’t want to work at overcoming temptation, if by work we mean anything other than tossing up a God-help-me prayer, followed by hoping that the enticement evaporates immediately. Judah likely made the same error when seeking to drive out the inhabitants of the plain: Those iron chariots are too hard to deal with.
The Lord would have propelled Judah to victory had they trusted his promise and pressed hard. Let’s learn from their mistake.
Is this passage about mantises? Because it could be about men:
The mating rites of mantises are well known: a chemical produced in the head of the male insect says, in effect, “No, don’t go near her, you fool, she’ll eat you alive.” At the same time a chemical in his abdomen says, “Yes, by all means, now and forever yes.” While the male is making up what passes for his mind, the female tips the balance in her favor by eating his head. (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 59)
The rest is downhill from there, unless, of course, you’re the female mantis. She won’t stop until the male has been utterly devoured.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death…. And now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep your way from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed. (Proverbs 5:3-5, 7-11)
Heavenly Father, empower me and the men in my church – empower all men reading this post who bear the name of Christ – to put to death our lust and to walk in your light. Fill us with your Holy Spirit, who frees us from abdomen-thinking and gives us self-control. Train us in love to treat older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, and all women as persons rather than objects. Thank you for your gospel, in which you have washed us, sanctified us, and justified us. We want to honor you today as clean men who know how not to lose their heads. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Context is important. If you hear a woman screaming in the hospital, it makes all the difference whether she is in an oncology unit or Labor and Delivery. Failure to consider context in that moment will inevitably lead to a misinterpretation of reality. Both are screams of pain, but one is of death and the other of life.
Likewise, we need to consider context every time we pick up our Bible. Correct interpretation of truth is at stake. Is this your approach to the Bible?
When you use the encyclopedia you simply turn to the entry you are interested in, say “Asparagus.” The fact that the entry before “Asparagus” was on “Asps” (cobras) and the one after it was on “Aspartame” (an artificial sweetener) is irrelevant. In fact, you don’t even look at them, unless you get bored with reading about asparagus.
Imagine reading a novel in the same way: you open the book up halfway through, and read the third paragraph down. Try it if you like. We can guarantee it won’t make much sense. You don’t know who the characters are or how the plot is unfolding; you have no idea what is going on. That is why we read a novel from beginning to end.
(HT: Unashamed Workman)
The Bible isn’t exactly like a novel. But it is much more like a novel than an encyclopedia. If we are to interpret the Bible accurately, we will need to understand the difference. Being aware of the context surrounding the verse(s) under consideration will often make or break our interpretation.
So the next time you pick up God’s word, remember. Remember that the text you are reading is part of a larger section (almost always); that section is contributing to an overarching point being made in the book (e.g., all the sections of Mark’s Gospel are telling the good news of Jesus as “the Son of God” [1:1]); and that book is located somewhere in the grand biblical storyline of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation.
Sometimes you can grasp the context with little effort. Other times further reading and reflection will be required. At all times the effort is necessary.
Understanding the verse(s) you are reading within the context of the entire Bible won’t make you an infallible interpreter, but it will make you a better one.
(Photo: Georgiana Design)
What a joy to discover Ola Gjeilo (pronounced Yay-lo)! Where have I been? Seven Eight is a remarkable piece written in 7/8 time. Try to count it! The song consists of three tracks, each one played by Ola and laid on top of each other.