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Matthew 20:17-19 meaning

As Jesus and His disciples are about to go to Jerusalem, He pulls them aside to remind them about His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection which will take place soon after they arrive.

The parallel gospel accounts of Matthew 20:17-19 are found in Mark 10:32-34, Luke 18:31-34.

The end of Jesus's earthly ministry was drawing to a close. And He knew it. Before He went up to Jerusalem where He would be put to death and then resurrected to life again, He took the twelve disciples aside (v 17). He wished to be alone with them so He could prepare them for these terrible and spectacular events.

He started off saying Behold to get their attention. He informed them we are going up to Jerusalem (v 18). The city of Jerusalem was twenty or more miles west from the region of "Judea beyond the Jordan," also called "Perea," which may have been where Jesus was with His disciples as He told them these things (Matthew 19:1). It would have typically taken several days to make the up-hill journey from Perea.

The other place they might have been was the city of Jericho, located in eastern Judea (Matthew 20:29) which was between Perea and the capital city. Jerusalem was the cultural epicenter of Jewish life. It was where the kings of old ruled. It was site of the Temple, where God's presence had been located on earth. And it was the seat of political power of the entire region. It was the headquarters of the Sadducees and Romans.

This is the first and only time that Matthew records Jesus visiting Jerusalem, but according to Luke and John, He had been to Jerusalem on several previous occasions (Luke 2:41, John 2:13, 5:1, 7:10, 10:22). The Law of Moses required every Jewish male to attend the festivals (Exodus 23:15-16).

"Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD."
(Exodus 23:17)

God specified that once Israel entered the land, He would appoint a place for them to gather.

"But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come."
(Deuteronomy 12:5)

Initially the place designated by God to gather meant the tabernacle, which was located in Shiloh (Joshua 18:1). But later it meant the Temple located in Jerusalem. The disciples would likely have assumed that the main reason that they were going to Jerusalem at this time was to follow the Law and spend the Passover in God's city.

Because Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law of Moses, He would have come up to Jerusalem many times throughout His life. A possible reason why Matthew does not mention these additional visits is because his narrative focuses on the Messianic mission of Jesus's life. The arrival of the Messiah King into His capital city of Jerusalem was a hope that deeply resonated within the hearts of Jews. Perhaps Matthew did not wish to minimize this greatly anticipated and glorious scene for his intended audience.

Jesus reminded the twelve what would happen to the Son of Man in Jerusalem after they arrived. In Jesus's time, the phrase, the Son of Man, had multiple meanings. It was a common expression that could mean "some guy," but it also was a term that referred to the Messiah, as used in Daniel 7:13. Here Jesus is using it as a way to describe what must happen to Himself as the Messiah. By this point the disciples knew that Jesus was God's Messiah and the Son of Man (Matthew 16:16).

Jesus said three things would happen to Him when they were in Jerusalem.

The first thing was the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes (v 18). Jesus was not only foretelling His disciples that He would be arrested, but that He would be delivered to His enemies. To deliver here means to bring or supply. This deliverance does not explicitly specify betrayal, but it vaguely suggests it. Judas Iscariot was the disciple who betrayed Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50). The Sadducees and Pharisees were the chief priests and scribes (v 18) that Jesus would be delivered to (Matthew 26:47). They despised Jesus and His teachings so much that they plotted to kill Him (Matthew 26:3-4).

The second thing was the chief priest and scribes would hand the Son of Man over to the Gentiles who would mock, scourge, and crucify Him (v 19). The Sadducees and Pharisees did not have authority from Rome to kill Jesus themselves (Matthew 26:5). But they could convince the Romans who had the political authority to kill Him. After their secretive tribunal condemned the Son of Man to death, they handed Him over to the Romans. These Gentiles ruthlessly mocked Jesus as King of the Jews (Matthew 27:27-31). They flogged and scourged the skin off His back (Mark 15:15). And they crucified Him (Matthew 27:33-50).

But the third thing Jesus reminded His disciples would take place was that on the third day after these terrible events occurred, the Son of Man will be raised up (v 19). Jesus came back to life three days after He was killed (Matthew 28:1-10).

Jesus had previously spoken about these events. Throughout His ministry Jesus had alluded to His death and resurrection (Matthew 12:39-40, 16:4). And He had specifically told His disciples on previous occasions that many of these things would happen to Him (Matthew 16:21, 17:12, 17:22-23). The likely reason for Jesus reminding His disciples of these events at this particular occasion, was to notify them that the warnings He had been sharing with them for some time were going to happen soon. In effect, He was telling His disciples, this is the time when I will be killed. It will happen on this trip to Jerusalem.

But Luke revealed that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was trying to tell them.

"But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said."
(Luke 18:34)

That something can be so plainly stated, yet so misunderstood, ought to be an encouragement to all of us. If the twelve disciples did not understand plain speech, then we should expect that there will be things in our lives that take time for us to understand. Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit that leads us into real understanding (Luke 12:12, John 14:26).

It is also worth noting the humility of the disciples. This is a wholly unflattering depiction of themselves. But it demonstrates that in time, they fully comprehended and embraced Jesus's definition of greatness. In doing so, they are able to fully disclose to us their weaknesses and failures, that we might learn as they learned.

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