April 6: Mark 9:31-32 (concluded)

Mark 9:31-32, concluded

“…and they will kill him off, and, (hav)ing been killed off, after three days, he will stand up (again).”

This is the second part of the second Passion-prediction (Mk 9:31). The first part (cf. the previous note) emphasized the betrayal of Jesus (the Son of Man), by which he is “given along” into the custody of the authorities (“into the hands of men”). Here, in the second part, Jesus tells his disciples what will happen once he “given over” to the authorities. The declaration restates the climactic portion of the first prediction (8:31), presenting, in summary form, a message of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Lukan version omits this portion, but the Matthean version includes it (17:23a), utilizing the same wording as in the first prediction, and differing slightly from Mark:

“…and they will kill him off, and, on the third day, he will rise (up again).”

The context of this second Passion-prediction makes clear that the ruling authorities (“hands of men”) will be responsible for putting Jesus to death (vb a)poketei/nw, “kill off”). A comparison with the first prediction indicates that it is primarily the Jewish authorities (the Council in Jerusalem) who are in view here. Jesus will be “given over” (by Judas) into their hands, and it is they who will make the principal determination that he is deserving of death.

All three Gospels record the disciples’ reaction to this announcement, and the considerable variation in how this is expressed suggests that this portion of the tradition was not so well-fixed as the saying itself. The basic Synoptic form is probably best represented by Mark:

“And they did not know the (meaning of his) utterance, and they were afraid to ask him about (it).” (Mk 9:32)

Luke follows this, expanding the Markan/Synoptic wording somewhat (additions in italics below):

“But they did not know the (meaning of) this utterance, and it had been covered along (away) from them, (so) that they could not perceive it, and they were afraid to ask him about this utterance.” (9:45)

Luke uses the perfect passive participle parakekalumme/non, which is rather difficult to translate literally in English. The compound verb parakalu/ptw means “cover along[side]”, or (more simply) “cover over”. The perfect passive participle, in literal translation, would be “it had been being covered over”, but this is quite awkward in English, and requires a simpler rendering, “it had been covered over”. The passive here is best explained as an example of the “divine passive” (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. God has intentionally “covered over” the meaning of Jesus’ words for the disciples, so that they cannot perceive (vb ai)sqa/nomai) it clearly.

How should we interpret the disciples’ lack of understanding? It is hard to see how they could have misunderstood the basic prediction—viz., that Jesus would be handed over the authorities and put to death. Peter’s reaction (omitted by Luke) to the first prediction suggests that he it understood its meaning well enough. This leaves several possibilities:

    • They did not understand why Jesus, as the Messiah, would have to suffer and die
    • They did not understand the true significance of his suffering and death
    • It was the idea of his death and resurrection, in particular, that was kept hidden (by God) from their understanding; cp. a similar sort of misunderstanding in the Johannine Lazarus episode (11:11-16), and, with regard to Jesus’ own death and resurrection, cf. Jn 2:19-22.

Keep in mind that Luke has omitted mention of the resurrection in his version of the prediction, so it is effectively hidden from the disciples here (though it is included in his version of the first prediction). The shortened version of this prediction, if original, would have been rather difficult to understand.

Interestingly, Matthew records a different, and very simple reaction by the disciples:

“And they were extremely sorrowful” (Matt 17:23b)

This suggests that their focus was on Jesus’ impending death, and they seem not to have grasped the significance of his subsequent resurrection.

In the next note, we will turn our attention to the third (and final) Passion-prediction.

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