Did Jesus Predict His Death? The Witness of Mark and John

Did Jesus Predict His Death? The Witness of Mark and John March 24, 2008

The Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John are viewed by many as having been written independently of one another. When they agree, it is potentially significant. They may disagree on whether Jesus predicted his resurrection in a way that could, at least in theory, be understood at the time, without the benefit of hindsight (more on that in a moment). But they agree on Jesus predicting his death – indeed, both have Jesus say three times that “the Son of Man must…” in connection with this.

Mark also adds Peter’s response to Jesus’ first such prediction: he rebukes him. Jesus then calls Peter “Satan” (Mark 8:31-33). It is unlikely that the church invented this story, but in order for it to be historical, Jesus must have predicted something that could have been controversial for Peter along these lines: death, suffering, rejection, or something of that sort at the very least. One can relate this as well to the vow at the last supper.

Mark plausibly situates the first passion prediction after John the Baptist had been killed, and immediately after it was mentioned that some thought Jesus was John the Baptist. As James Crossley pointed out in a comment on an earlier post of mine, there is nothing implausible about Jesus foreseeing death as at least a real possibility, in view of his mentor’s fate.

In light of this, John’s Gospel is revealing in some of its references to the resurrection. The temple saying is taken as a prediction of the resurrection, but only with the benefit of hindsight (John 2:19-22). And he mentions that on the Sunday after the crucifixion, John and Peter still had not understood from the Scriptures that Jesus would rise (John 20:9). Is the author not here acknowledging that the understanding that this was foreseen came from Scripture rather than from predictions that Jesus himself made?

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