Jesus came offering Himself as Messiah to the Jewish people. The coming Messiah, as prophesied in the Old Testament, was a coming king who would establish a kingdom that would last forever — and the Jews knew that very well (from Ezekiel, Isaiah 9:7, Daniel 2:44, Daniel 7:27, and others). Jesus’ disciples had come to accept Him as Messiah, as shown by the immediate context of His first teaching of His death, which is Peter’s declaration that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
But then Jesus began telling His disciples that He is going to suffer and die, and they are (justifiably) horrified, because if He is truly the Messiah, He is going to set up an everlasting kingdom, and He can’t do that if He is dead! That’s why Peter takes Christ aside and rebukes Him, as though Jesus got something wrong. Jesus however, reprimands Peter for this misunderstanding, saying that Peter is thinking only from an earthly perspective, not a godly one. Jesus later takes Peter, James and John up a mountain where they witness His transfiguration, which serves to reinforce their faith in Him. The disciples though, did not fully understand these things (John 20:9) until after His resurrection and appearance to them. Different disciples apparently understood and believed at different times (John 20:25), but it does seem clear that they all understood by Pentecost, and Peter’s sermon of Acts 2.
Why exactly did the disciples have such a hard time understanding Christ’s mission on earth? To us it seems so obvious. Where did this confusion come from? We’ll dwell on this more in the next post.