THE DISCIPLES’ CONFUSION REVISITED

PMW 2020-026 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Article introduction

Recently I offered a series on the Disciples’ tendency to be confused at Jesus’ teaching (see March 6, 10, 13, 17 articles). I did this to show the Disciples’ confusion regarding certain issues in Jesus’ eschatological teaching. I was showing that they wrongly assumed that the end of the world/age would come in conjunction with the destruction of the temple.

We see this problem dramatically exhibited in the Olivet Discourse setting. For after Jesus prophesies the temple’s destruction (Matt. 24:2), the Disciples immediately show their confusion by their question: “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, and of the end of the age?’” (Matt. 24:3).

That they are confused is seen in several ways: (1) Through Jesus’ carefully structuring his Discourse to sort out the issues arising from their double-question (see my article: “Matthew 24:3 and Olivet’s Structure”). (2) Through Jesus’ using distinctive language, which is recorded only in Matthew’s version (e.g., parousia, Matt. 24:3, 27, 37, 39). And (3) Matthew’s distinctive wording of the Disciples’ question regarding “the end [sunteleias] of the age ” (24:23). Matthew’s version of the Discourse is extremely helpful in that it is by far most extensive and detailed record of the Olivet Discourse.

My series was explaining that the Disciples’ historical linkage of the temple’s destruction and “the end of the age” was mistaken. I was arguing that this should not surprise us since they so often were confused regarding Jesus’ teaching. I even noted that this is why Jesus did not commission them to “teach” (Matt. 10:1) until after his full ministry was concluded (Matt. 28:19). This was because they were not ready to teach others until they themselves had a full understanding of his mission.

And in that series we saw that during his ministry the Disciples even rebuked him for saying he was going to die (Matt. 16:16–23)! Even though this was the very goal of his incarnation (Matt. 1:21; 12:40; 16:21; 17:12, 22–23; 20:28; 26:28; John 12:31–32; cp. Heb. 10:5–7).
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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


But now I have received a:

Reader’s question

In this article I will pick up this theme of Disciple-confusion once more. I do this because a reader (David Morsillo) has asked an insightful question:

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)?

So now I must give:

My explanation

Thanks for visiting my site and for interacting with it. My four-part series involved a brief survey of the Disciples’ tendency to misunderstanding Jesus’ teaching — not a full psychological analysis. Thus, I only hit some of the leading evidence speaking directly to this matter. Unfortunately, the text that concerns you is Matthew 13, which does not provide further direct evidence.

Regarding the Kingdom Parables, which mentions “the end of the age” (Matt. 13:39, 40, 49): as you correctly point out, the Disciples do claim to have understood him (Matt. 13:51). That certainly is their claim. But the question now becomes: how much do they understand? And how does it impact my series point regarding their faulty eschatological understanding. Regarding this, please note the following:

First, the Disciples’ claim does not demonstrate that they finally understand all that Jesus is teaching.

We know this because after their affirmation in Matthew 13:51, they continue to misunderstand various issues. My series showed this in its third and fourth installments. For example, I pointed out their subsequent, continuing confusion in Matthew 14:25–31; 15:15–20, 32–39; 16:6–12, 21–22; and so forth.

Not only so, but in Mark’s version of the Kingdom Parables, Mark highlights their inability to understand him. And he shows Jesus’ frustration with them for this: “And He said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?’” (Mark 4:13). Then he explains the parables to them (v. 34).

Second, the Disciples’ claim only shows that they understand some of what Jesus is teaching.

My series did not argue that they understood nothing of what Jesus taught. In the second article I stated that they suffered from “frequent confusion.” This observation is important. Regarding the eschatological issue, the Disciples obviously understood that the world will one day end and that God’s judgment will be effected at that end, i.e., at “the end of the age” (Matt. 13:39, 40, 49). This would explain their statement in Matthew 13:51. They do not declare, “Now we understand all things that you have taught.”


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Third, the Disciples’ claim shows that they do not fully understand what Jesus is teaching.

Apparently they do not fully understand all that is involved in “the end of the age.” For later in Matthew 24:3 they associate the end of the temple with the end of history. But Jesus did not even mention the temple in his Kingdom Parables in Matthew 13. Yet in Matthew 24:3 the Disciples directly link the temple’s destruction with “the end of the age.”

Thus, due to their Jewish identity and religious heritage, they assumed that the end of history must come about in conjunction with the temple’s destruction. Even though Christ never taught such — in Matthew 13 or anywhere else. That is, they believe the temple must remain until the end of the world. In this, they held the same view as Philo, John of Gischala, and other devout Jews around that era (see “The Disciples’ Confusion at Olivet (2).”

Hopefully, this answers your basic question about my skipping Matthew 13:51. But now I have a:

Final observation

My reader also presents a question about Matthew 13:52, which immediately follows upon the Disciples’ claim to understand. Note its context:

“Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes.” And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” (Matt. 13:51–52)

This logion about “a head of a household” bringing out new treasures is ultimately saying: “Listen to my teaching. I am bringing out new observations on God’s kingdom that are not held by Israel’s current scribes” (cp. Matt. 9:16–17). We must understand that a “scribe” is a literate man who professionally writes and keeps records, and who therefore is able to publicly read and teach God’s written word (Matt. 23:2).

Jesus states this while he is rejecting Israel’s own “scribes and Pharisees” who are “hypocrites” (Matt. 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). Israel’s scribes confuse matters, effectively condemning people to hell (Matt. 23:13, 15, 33). But he will soon be sending out his own scribes with his correct views of God’s new covenant kingdom. But these scribes will be rejected by Israel’s scribes: “behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city” (Matt. 23:34).

Interestingly, Matthew is unique in recording this among the other Gospel writers. This seems to be a veiled reference to himself and his own work in writing the Gospel. Of course, it also covers all other inspired Christian writers such as Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and others. They will be presenting the “new covenant” (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 8:8, 13; 9:15; 12:24) which effects a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), wherein will be established a “new man” (the merger of Jew and Gentile into one body, Eph. 2:15). They will declare the “new and living way” to God (Heb. 10:20; cp. John 14:6) and a “new Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2).

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11 thoughts on “THE DISCIPLES’ CONFUSION REVISITED

  1. rapazoe April 4, 2020 at 12:54 am

    the disciples are not confused at all ….
    they are just asking Jesus for the sequence of events that Jesus has just outlined.
    they are particulary interested in the return of Jesus and the last day / that day / the day etc … ie Day7
    as all Jews were and are looking for the last day … day of Rest … Day of the Lord … Lords Day … day 7
    christians are also now looking for the “last day” … day of resurrection … day of blessing … day of salvation.
    hallalelia

    rapazoe – april 2020

  2. Jeremy Jacobs April 5, 2020 at 9:14 pm

    This short series on the disciples confusion has been very helpful. It explains a lot. Thanks

  3. Young theologue April 5, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    This was a helpful study. Thanks for the series on the disciples and how they were confused. We do see that a lot. Even at the ascension when they should have known better (Acts 1:6-7). Keep up the good work.

  4. Bill B. April 5, 2020 at 10:05 pm

    I like your site. Especially your articles on preterism. I had been confused about Matthew 24:3 and how we should understand the disciples’ question. You have shown how they had been confused so often. Their confusion provided me with helpful insights into this verse. Thanks.

  5. Peter Wesley (Australia) April 6, 2020 at 7:07 am

    Very interesting studies on the disciples and how they misunderstood Jesus so often. We certainly do see that characteristic in the gospels. This helps me to understand the olivet discourse much better. I hope you will write more on Matthew 24.

  6. Mary Klepper April 6, 2020 at 7:25 am

    Thanks for this series. I had not thought of this. It does seem that they were confused and that Jesus was warning them not to let others confuse them in the future. It all fits!

  7. Alan Carrington (England) April 6, 2020 at 9:08 am

    I really like studying Matthew 24. Your articles have been helpful. I also like your book on it. You do make it “Easy.” I look forward to the Olivet books you are currently working out. God bless!

  8. Steve B. April 6, 2020 at 9:10 am

    You are dead wrong. The disciples were inspired by God and wrote the New Testament . They could not have been mistaken. They knew exactly what they were asking and they were right to ask it. The destruction of the temple was the second coming and final judgment. All continues now as is forever. I am not going to read this site again.

  9. W. Culbertson April 6, 2020 at 10:16 am

    Good work. As always. I think I can better understand Matthew 24 with these thoughts in mind. The disciples even were confused about Jesus saying he would die! How could they miss such an important message?

  10. Larry Faust April 6, 2020 at 11:23 am

    Wow! Excellent articles. I learned a lot. Thanks for posting them. I enjoy studying the Olivet discourse not only because it was something important that Jesus taught but because it is something too often confused by modern Christians. I am ordering several copies of your book the Olivet Discourse Made Easy to distribute to my Christian friends.

  11. George Johnson (Austin, Tex.) April 7, 2020 at 6:45 am

    All I have to say is “Wow!” Great insights! Very helpful.

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