THE DISCIPLES’ CONFUSION AT OLIVET (4)

PMW 2020-021 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

This is the fourth and final installment in a series highlighting the tendency for the Disciples to confuse Jesus’ teaching. This is relevant to a study of the Olivet Discourse in that the very question that prompts the Discourse is rooted in the Disciples’ confusion.

In their question, the dull Disciples assume that the temple’s destruction would occur at the end of the world. That is, they believe it cannot happen until the parousia which occurs at “the end of the age”:

“As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming [Gk. parousia], and of the end of the age?’” (Matt. 24:3)

I ended our last study in Matthew 16. Moving along, we notice that shortly after the Matthew 16 events, we have the dramatic Transfiguration episode (Matt. 17:1–8). But though Peter recently declared Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16) and though he saw Jesus gloriously transfigured before them (Matt. 17:2–3), he nevertheless asks to make three tabernacles, one for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (Matt. 17:4). God immediately rebukes him, declaring “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Matt. 17:5). Peter did not understand what was happening before his very eyes. He effectively put Moses and Elijah on an equal footing with Jesus.

At Matt. 17:12–13 the disciples only slowly understand what Jesus had taught them earlier, despite his being the best teacher in history. In these verses they finally realize that John the Baptist fulfills the Elijah-prophecy from Malachi. But Jesus had already taught this earlier in Matt. 11:14. They are only slowly beginning to understand him. As Warren Carter (Matthew and the Margins, p. 353) notes: Matt. 17:9 “shows their growing understanding which will secure their post-Easter proclamation.” Jesus does not commission the disciples to “teach” until he has finished his three-year ministry of careful instructiion (Matt. 28:18–20). They proclaim the kingdom’s presence, heal, and cast out demons, but they are not commanded to teach until the end of his ministry (Matt. 10:1). This is due to their constant misunderstandings.

In Matt. 17:14–16a, we read of a man who brings his son to the Disciples for healing. Even though Jesus had commissioned them to do such (Matt. 10:1), they are unable to do so (v. 16b). Jesus rebukes them as representative of the entire generation: “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.’ And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once” (Matt. 17:17–18).


Special Eschatology Studies (3 MP3 downloads)
by Ken Gentry
Includes: (1) Radio interview on the Beast and Daniel 9: WMCA Radio (New York). (2) “The Beast is an Eighth,” a study on the tricky verse Rev 17:11 that is sometimes used to rebut the Neronic date for the writing of Revelation. (3) “The New Creation in Rev 21,” which presents a picture of the glory of the Christian faith as the spiritual phase of the New Creation that anticipates the consummate New Creation. See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


Then when the Disciples ask him in private why they could not drive out the demon (v. 19), he said it was “because of the littleness of your faith” (v. 20). They have an inadequate understanding of their calling to perform miracles, which evidenciesa misunderstanding of the glorious nature of their giftedness by Christ (Matt. 10:1).

In Matt. 17:22–23a Jesus informs them once again that he must die. But when they hear this, they are “deeply grieved” (v. 23b). They hear the “must die” part but do not understand that this is his God-ordained mission (i.e., he “must” die). And they wholly overlook the stated promise of his resurrection (v. 23a), thereby misunderstanding all that he is saying.

Then in Matt. 18:1, despite all of Jesus’ teaching beforehand, the Disciples ask him: “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Clearly, they are misunderstanding his teaching on the kingdom and their role in it. They do not understand his calling to self-denial (Matt. 16:24). He even explains that they must become humble like a child (Matt. 18:3–4). This is not so that they might enjoy kingdom greatness, but so that they might enter the kingdom (v. 3). They desire status, contrary to Jesus’ calling to humility.

Then in Matt. 18:15 Jesus immediately explains that a brother who sins against another must be sought out and restored rather than written-off as lesser in status. They clearly misunderstand the nature of true discipleship, which Jesus constantly teaches.

Then in Matt. 18:21 Peter seeks to know how many times he must forgive a fellow believer: must we do so seven times? He is looking for limits on forgiveness rather than offering full forgiveness such as Jesus teaches. Therefore, “Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (v. 22). Effectively he is telling him there is no limit on forgiveness. Peter has not understood Jesus’ preceding call to seek the restoration of a sinful brother (v. 15). He does not understand kingdom values and their practical relevance for community life.

In Matt. 19:3–9 the Pharisees challenge him on his view of divorce. Upon hearing Jesus’ response, the Disciples are startled and declare: “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry” (v. 10). This is obviously not Jesus’ point; they terribly misunderstand him. For Jesus had just taught that marriage was ordained by God in the beginning (vv. 4–6). Therefore, he challenges them: “He who is able to accept this, let him accept it” (v. 12). At this juncture they are not accepting this; they are not understanding Christ.

In Matt. 19:13a, some parents brought their children to Jesus that he might bless them, but “the disciples rebuked them” (v. 13b). Jesus then rebukes the Disciples and basically reformulates his earlier statement (18:1–5) on childlikeness, commanding them to reverse their misguided action: “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom belongs to such as these” (v. 14). They do not understand the nature of the kingdom he has been preaching.

Then in Matt. 19:16–22 we read of Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Ruler. When the young man turns away, Jesus says it is “hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom” (vv. 23–24). In reaction to this, the Disciples are “astonished” and ask desperately, “Then who can be saved?” (v. 25). Clearly they are not understanding Jesus’ teaching.

Then in Matt. 19: 27a, with a clear sense of pride, Peter responds by proclaiming that the Disciples’ have left all to follow him. But he thinks it is appropriate to ask Jesus about their reward for such noble service: “what then will there be for us?” (v. 27b). This shows a continuing misunderstanding of the kingdom: Jesus did not teach that we are to see what we can get from the kingdom. Peter has totally forgotten Jesus’ call to self-denial (Matt. 16:24; cp. 10:38).

The Olivet Discourse Made Easy


Olivet Discourse Made Easy (by Ken Gentry)

Verse-by-verse analysis of Christ’s teaching on Jerusalem’s destruction in Matt 24. Shows the great tribulation is past, having occurred in AD 70, and is distinct from the Second Advent at the end of history.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


In Matt. 20:20–28, James and John (“the sons of Zebedee, v. 20; cp. 4:21) accompany their mother as she asks that her sons be seated on the right and left hand of Jesus in the kingdom (v. 21). Jesus replies to their mother — and the men themselves: “You [plural] do not know what you [plural] are asking. Are you [plural] able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” To which “they” respond that they can (v. 22).

The request of these two brothers infuriates the other ten Disciples (Matt. 20:24). Once again we see the Disciples interested in their status in the kingdom. This shows a radical misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching about the character of both the kingdom itself and discipleship life in the kingdom. He compares their attitude to the Gentiles (v. 25). So he corrects their misunderstanding, noting that the one who “wishes to be great among you shall be your servant” (v. 26; cp. v. 27).

In Matt. 21:18–22, the Disciples witness Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree and its immediate withering (v. 19). The Disciples are surprised and amazed at this (v. 20). Once again they do not understand the authority and power of Christ, the Son of the Living God (cf. Matt. 8:27).

In Matt. 26:6–13, we have the report of the woman at Behany anointing Jesus with expensive perfume (v. 7). But the Disciples become “indignant” and complain: “Why this waste”? (v. 8). Jesus rebukes them for bothering this woman who was anointing him for burial (vv. 10, 12). They do not understand his coming death and the need to prepare for it, though the woman does. And this is despite Jesus giving the Disciples four prophecies regarding his coming death (Matt. 16:21; 17:22–23; 20:17–19) — with one of them in the context of this woman’s action (26:1–2)!

On and on I could go. Clearly, the Disciples have a constant tendency to misunderstand Christ’s teaching. Consequently, we should not be surprised that they misunderstand the relationship of the destruction of the temple to the Final Judgment, as their question indicates (Matt. 24:3). Despite the Disciples’ confused question, Jesus divides the question and organizes his response in two stages, the destruction of the temple in AD 70 and Final Judgment at the end of the age.


JESUS, MATTHEW, AND OLIVET
I am currently researching a commentary on Matthew 21–25, the literary context of the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s perspective. My research will demonstrate that Matthew’s presentation demands that the Olivet Discourse refer to AD 70 (Matt. 24:3–35) as an event that anticipates the Final Judgment at the Second Advent (Matt. 24:36–25:46). This will explode the myth that Jesus was a Jewish sage focusing only on Israel. The commentary will be about 250 pages in length.

If you would like to support me in my research, I invite you to consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to my research and writing ministry: GoodBirth Ministries. Your help is much appreciated!


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5 thoughts on “THE DISCIPLES’ CONFUSION AT OLIVET (4)

  1. Dawn Korotko March 17, 2020 at 8:48 am

    I have a request – reading thru your list, I am reminded of two areas where I struggle to fully understand what is going on and why. 1) The Transfiguration – I have read many articles and books on this but it still seems to me strange. I understand the importance of the location and the implications of that but it seems a huge event with only minor impact. 2) When Jesus encountered the rich, young ruler who asked him what he lacked, there is the comment “Jesus looked at him and loved him”. I’ve yet to read anything that answers why that was necessary to include in the event.
    I do not expect you to answer both of my concerns 🙂 I was just wondering if you could point me to some works/books that could provide a true, biblical reason for them.

    Many thanks!

  2. Kenneth Gentry March 17, 2020 at 9:29 am

    Both of these events are included in the Gospel record because they have important lessons to teach.

    (1) The Transfiguration is given to show the disciples the great glory of Christ so that they might “hear him” (obey him) as God’s beloved Son (Matt. 17:5). This is necessary because the disciples are continually confused about Christ and his teaching (as I am noting in this series). Not only is the Transfiguration mentioned in all three Synoptic Gospels, but it is mentioned by Peter in 2 Peter 1:17-18 as an argument for the integrity of God’s word (2 Peter. 1:19-20).

    (2) The Rich Young Ruler is an example of people only half-heartedly wanting to follow Christ. This fits with Jesus’ Parable of the Soils, which speaks of different responses to his preaching. This particular example warns of the dangers of wealth, when it is loved more than Christ. The commentary by R. T. France on Matthew would be helpful.

  3. kristafal March 17, 2020 at 11:06 am

    Dear Ken,
    I appreciated this four part series on the disciples’ confusion. It ought to be humbling, I think, to us all who now have Christ’s Word in completed canonical form (Gen-Rev). If the disciples who walked with the Lord and literally sat at His feet had moments of confusion regarding His teaching on various matters of life (including eschatology), then it doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch of the imagination that we too suffer from the same handicap at times. This should be a cautionary lesson as we seek to understand what God has given to us in knowing Him and as we seek to share with others His truth. As per usual thanks for the valuable lesson.

    In Christ,
    Kristafal

  4. David March 18, 2020 at 8:31 pm

    Thank you for this series. I found it interesting though, that you seemed to skip Matthew 13 where (among others) Jesus gives the parables of the weeds (36-43) and net (47-50) – both of which mention the end of the age and where in verse 51 Jesus asks his disciples “Have you understood all these things?” and “They said to him “Yes.”

    What are we to make of their answer and Jesus’ response (52)?

  5. Kenneth Gentry March 19, 2020 at 11:54 am

    Thanks for your question. I will answer it in an article to be published on April 3, 2020.

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