John loves to use misunderstanding in his gospel to demonstrate the gap between what people thought Jesus was talking about and what he was actually talking about. This is never more true than in his confrontation with the Jewish leaders after he had cleared the temple of profiteers. “The Jews:” “Tell us on what authority you just kicked all those people out of the temple.” Jesus: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [One can imagine Christ’s opponents huddling together and saying, “Did he just say what we thought he said? Has he been smoking peyote?”].
John clarifies for us. His opponents thought he was talking about the actual temple, but Jesus was really talking about his body. It was a misunderstanding between what Christ said and what he actually meant. Notice that Jesus is content not to clarify matters for them, or for the disciples for that matter. As John makes clear, they do not understand what he means any better than the Jews, until after Christ’s resurrection. At this point Jesus is merely laying a lot of groundwork that will not bear fruit until after he is raised from the dead, as John takes pains to point out directly: When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken (vs. 22).
One of the takeaways as I thought through the implications of misunderstanding here is that we need to be very careful that we don’t misunderstand Jesus. The Jews who opposed Christ were the most biblically literate people in society at the time, they had read and knew (and in many cases memorized) the Tanakh (the Old Testament), but when they were confronted by the shoals of understanding what Christ meant when he spoke, they inevitably ran aground when it clashed with their understanding of what the Bible was teaching. They were wrong.
Which means, dear
one thousands of readers, that you and I must bring with us a small dollop [okay in my case a massive dose] of humility when we approach the Scriptures. Just because we think that we know what they mean doesn’t necessarily mean that we actually do.
May we be avid students of the Scriptures, but may we bring humility along with us so that the Holy Spirit can upset our preconceived notions of what Christianity should be. It’s easy to come to the text of the Scriptures and make them say what we want them to say; it’s not so easy to have our presumptions upset, overturned, and battered, in discovering that what we thought we always knew was not what is really there.
My other takeaway is that Christ is making a huge point here, which “the Jews” never do understand, and his own disciples do not understand until after the resurrection. G. Campbell Morgan puts it this way: “In effect he said; “The sign of My authority will be My cross and resurrection.”
“Do you want a sign?” Jesus asks the Jews. “I will give you one: My cross and resurrection, that is all the sign that you need.” His Jewish opponents would completely miss it. His disciples would miss it also, until they saw the empty tomb. How beautifully John recounts what happened there:
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead (John 20. 6-9).
The empty tomb is the fundamental fact of the Christian faith. If Christ rose again, everything has changed. If he did not, you are still in your sins, and so am I.