MATTHEW 20:17-19
Pp Mark 10:32-34, Luke 18:31-34

All three Gospel writers place this third direct proclamation of Jesus’ death to the disciples (the fourth such prediction if Mtw 17:12 is taken into consideration but this is normally bracketed as it was given to just the inner three disciples comprising Peter, John and James) after the story of the rich young ruler, though it’s Matthew alone who’s taken the time and space to record the parable of the labourers in the vineyard to explain Jesus’ saying about the first being last and the last first (Mtw 20:1-16), a saying which is only duplicated as the conclusion to Mark’s record of the incident (Mark 10:31).

I have previously dealt with this passage in a comparison of the passages in which Jesus predicts His death and resurrection on a previous web page and the reader should consult these notes. I noted there, however, that this passage presents the greatest detail of what was about to happen and is the first place where the method of execution is specified by Jesus.

Crucifixion was a specifically Roman form of punishment which was not allowed to be inflicted on Roman citizens. Indeed, the Jews seem to have removed such a form of execution from their arsenal of punishments for Sanhedrin 7:1 speaks of the court of the Sanhedrin as only having the power

‘ inflict four kinds of death penalty: stoning, burning, beheading and strangling’

Even in this record, however, we should note that, although the Jewish writings inform us as to what they might do, such a legislative power over the life of a man seems to have been withdrawn from them under direct Roman rule (John 18:31) and the death penalty, although it could be pronounced, had to be enforced by the authority of those over their nation.

There are also unique events apart from the mention of the crucifixion which are specified by Jesus here which haven’t been mentioned in the first two predictions - and neither in the previous parallel passages in both Mark and Luke. Here He specifies that it’s the Jewish religious leaders who will condemn Him to death (previously, He’s only referred to them as causing Him to ‘suffer many things’ - Mtw 16:21. Matmor comments that the verb used infers that there will be ‘the exercise of judicial power’ rather than it being thought of simply as an unlawful ‘lynching’), that they will also be the ones who will deliver Him over into the hands of the Gentiles and that He will be humiliated through mocking and scourging which will ultimately result in His crucifixion - something which, at that time, only the Gentiles could have inflicted legally.

Therefore, as both the Jew and Gentile are guilty of having a hand in the process which ultimately put Jesus on the cross, it’s the entire world and not just the Jew who stands as having rejected the Creator of the universe.

The Jew is, perhaps, more culpable simply because the nation knew that He was coming and had specific predictions as to what He was going to do in their midst, but even the Gentile should have clearly been able to see that justice should have been upheld and that Jesus was so much a reflection of how each man knew they should live on the earth that they are implicated fully and have no cause to claim innocence as Pilate did (Mtw 27:24). Even though the Jew has illogically been the subject of repeated persecution throughout the Church age simply because the label of ‘murderer of Christ’ has been placed upon them, the reader who accepts what the Gospels actually have to say on the matter has to conclude that the entire world is guilty and not just the Jewish people - if everyone stands condemned, therefore, no one has any right over another to label them as responsible for Jesus’ death without dealing with their own guilt first and allowing themselves to be executed.

Perhaps the reason for such a detailed pronouncement is the fact that Jesus is now commencing His final journey upto and into Jerusalem and the time of ministry in the area of Judea beyond the Jordan must now have drawn to a close (Mtw 19:1-2). From here on in until the beginning of Matthew chapter 21, Jesus is travelling west and deals with situations which confront Him on the way rather than being settled into a specific location where people knew He would be in order that the sick might be brought to Him there.

Matmor notes that the verb used which speaks of them ‘going up’ to Jerusalem

‘ often used of going up to the capital. Jerusalem was, of course, on high ground’

but this isn’t quite accurate. While it’s true that Jerusalem is sited on a high mountain, it’s actually the lowest summit of the mountains which surround it so that one could, in some respects, think of the final journey as being a descent into the city.

However, ancient Jerusalem was well protected by natural valleys about its peak so that the pilgrim must necessarily descend into the valley before ascending up and into the city - in this way, one always went ‘up’ to Jerusalem. But, being the centre of the worship of YHWH, it would have also naturally have been referred to as the highest of the high places, the point at which all the service of God culminated and had its perfect expression.

Although the disciples would, no doubt, have expected the journeying to be a time of great rejoicing and in anticipation of what great event might transpire as they approached and entered the city - perhaps even thinking of Jesus coming into the Kingdom and beginning to rule from there as they expected the Messiah to do (the following incident of Mtw 20:20-28 seems to presuppose the belief that a visible Kingdom was about to be established) - their minds must have been thrown into turmoil and bewilderment even though Luke records for us that they failed to comprehend what exactly it was that Jesus was talking about (Luke 18:34).

This lack of understanding seems to refer to the entire speech as I noted on the previously cited web page. I wrote there that

‘Even though they heard the words being spoken, it appears that their minds could not comprehend what exactly it was that was to take place - even though they had done previously in Caesarea Philippi (Mtw 16:21-22). Perhaps it’s better to see in both of Luke’s statements [the other being Luke 9:45] the meaning that the disciples didn’t perceive why these things should happen at all even though they clearly heard the words that were declaring their Master’s death’

I also noted there that the words which are attributed to the disciples’ reasoning by Lukmor should be followed which have them thinking

‘He cannot mean that He will literally die and rise. This must be something like the dying in order to live that He demands of us’

and so, although they hear the words they can’t understand their meaning simply because their minds are caught up with their own concept of what the Messiah should do. Therefore, when they finally approach Jerusalem, all this is put to one side and they join rather with the crowds (Luke 19:37) who are going absolutely bananas (spiritual term).

It’s only Mark 10:32 which records for us that the incident took place when Jesus was walking ahead of the band of disciples and had the crowds in tow who were cowering behind Him, recorded as being afraid. This fear is unlikely to have been a reverence for Jesus who was ahead and may well have been more centred in what was awaiting them when they came to the city outskirts, for the procession with Jesus at the head seemed to be more an open confrontation of the powers that ruled over them than a peaceful journeying to celebrate the Passover.

It was while this procession was taking place that Jesus took the twelve disciples to one side and spoke to them the prediction - something which may well have justified the fear that they were experiencing but it was still that which wasn’t fully comprehended.

I close this web page with a simple table which gives comparisons of the three main predictions of the crucifixion to show similarities and future Scriptures where the predictions were fulfilled. As can be immediately seen by looking at the right hand column which lists the details of our present passage, the information given is very full and represents the most detailed prediction of what was about to transpire in Jerusalem in Matthew’s Gospel.

Mtw 16:21 Mtw 17:22-23 Mtw 20:18-19
Must go to Jerusalem   Are going to Jerusalem
  Delivered into the hands of men Delivered to the chief priests and scribes - John 18:3,13,24
They will deliver Him to the Gentiles - Mtw 27:1, John 19:30
    The chief priests and scribes will condemn Him to death - Mark 26:66, 27:1
Suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes - Mtw 26:67-68 (the Sanhedrin) Mtw 17:12 also speaks of Jesus suffering at the hands of men He will be mocked - Mtw 27:27-31, John 19:2-3
He will be scourged - Mtw 27:26, John 19:1
Be killed Men will kill Him He will be crucified - Mtw 27:35, John 19:16
Third day be raised Third day be raised Third day be raised - Mtw 28:6, Luke 24:34