In John's Gospel, after receiving Magdalene's report, the disciples are surprised when they reach the Empty Tomb because "They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead." Yet in the synoptic gospels we read:

From that time [the Mount of Transfiguration] on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21, see also Luke 9:22, Mark 8:21)

One way to reconcile John's report vs. that of the Synoptics is to emphasize the words "from Scripture," so that the disciples actually did know that Jesus would be raised from the dead, but they knew this from Jesus' teaching rather than from OT prophecies. But this explanation fails to account for their surprise. It seems the author's clear intent is to tell us that they were basically unaware of any teaching, whether from Jesus or scripture, that he would rise from the dead.

Is there a way to reconcile these accounts other than by focusing on the words "from Scripture?"

2 Answers 2


Not even the Apostles understood Jesus speaking clearly of His death.

Luke 18:31-34: Then Jesus took the Twelve aside and said to them, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything the prophets have written about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. 33 They will flog Him and kill Him, and on the third day He will rise again.” 34 But the disciples did not understand any of these things. The meaning was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend what He was saying.

It's not a stretch that they didn't understand the Scriptures, since they clearly didn't understand Jesus.

  • I accepted this answer because it cites Luke, which explains that "the meaning was hidden from them." I think this is right in terms of what the Bible teaches. But I confess that I struggle with it. It is hard for me to believe that men who spent years being taught by Jesus, and who even left their families to follow and be trained by him, would misunderstand him so basically. This is one of the reasons why I do not entirely reject the idea that is a teaching of the early church rather than of Jesus himself. Commented Dec 2, 2022 at 21:23

Just as you have noticed, the disciples did not understand the scriptures until the time after Jesus' resurrection. As for the quote from one of the synoptics, they basically did not understand what He was talking about. When Jesus warned the apostles about the false teaching of the Pharisees, they thought that He was talking about the bread leaven. On many occasions He had to explain to them the real meaning behind His parables. After the initial rebuke of Peter, they probably thought that Mat.16:21 was also a parable.

As a side note, “From that time” refers to Mat.16:18 and Jesus' wards about His resurrection.

  • I get the fact that they didn't understand the scriptures well. But the problem here is they apparently ignored what Jesus had taught them. I can't help but feel that if I were there, I would have remembered that he told me he was going to die and rise again after 3 days. Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 0:44
  • The story about the leaven shows us how silly they often were. After all, they were simple men. How could they understand Jesus if even Nicodemus and other teachers of the law did not? Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 1:21

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