Easter: Mark’s Lost Ending

easter06When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.  (Mark 16:1-8)

If you are like most people, your Bible has a note saying that the earliest manuscripts do not have verses 9-20 before the rest of the chapter.  What do you do with this?

There are two possibilities here.  The first is that Mark intended his Gospel to end at verse 8.  The additional verses are the attempt of later writers to correct what they saw as an abrupt and awkward ending.  This is possible; he may have intended to send a message to his audience.  “This is how these women reacted to the news that Jesus had risen.  What will you do with it?  Will you be afraid like them, or will you believe?”

Still, such an ending would have been a massive cliffhanger.  The Gospel would have ended without any appearance from the resurrected Jesus.  Considering the audience that Mark was addressing–a community of believers facing serious persecution for their faith–would Mark have really intended to end his Gospel that way, when seeing the resurrected Jesus, seeing that even death itself could not defeat Him, would have given them confidence to go out and face whatever may befall them.

The more likely possibility is that there is more to Mark’s Gospel, but this got lost over time and the additional verses are the attempt of later writers to reconstruct this lost ending.

But such a possibility would drive proponents of Biblical inerrancy completely and totally out of their minds.  What–you mean that a whole section of the Bible has dropped completely and totally off the face of the earth?  That would make the Bible a flawed book.  And we know that a perfect God cannot and would not give us anything less than a perfect Book.  If we cannot trust that the Bible is perfect, then we cannot trust anything that it says.  More to the point, we cannot trust that Jesus rose from the dead.

Wrong, people.

The whole point of the Bible is to point us to Jesus Christ.  Jesus said so himself:  “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  (John 5:39-40)

We don’t have a perfect Book because we don’t need a perfect Book.  What we have is exactly what we need–a book that points us to a perfect Savior.

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Good Friday: Mark Goes Minimalist

lent04A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.  (Mark 15:21-41)

Mark’s account of the death of Jesus starts with Simon of Cyrene assisting him with the cross.  All four of the Gospel accounts include this, but Mark adds one detail that the others pass over:  Simon of Cyrene is the father of Alexander and Rufus.

Why does Mark add this detail?  Because Alexander and Rufus were well-known in the community of believers to whom his Gospel was addressed.  More than likely, this Rufus is the same Rufus that Paul gives a shout-out to at the end of Romans (16:13).  Seeing the names of these two well-known members of their community in this scene would have put Mark’s audience right there in the middle of this story of Jesus’ suffering and death.  Recall that Mark’s audience is a community of believers in or near Rome that was facing intense persecution from the Roman empire for their faith.

When it comes to describing the death of Jesus, Mark only devotes four short sentences to it.  He does not go into any detail about what crucifixion is or what it means.  Mark has filled his Gospel account with seemingly insignificant details that establish its veracity, but here he goes all minimalist.

Why?  Because crucifixion is an excruciatingly ghastly affair.  (As a matter of fact, our word “excruciating” comes from the idea of crucifixion.)  If you’ve seen one crucifixion, you’ve seen the most horrible thing you will ever see for as long as you live, and you will wish to God that you had never seen it.

Crucifixion started at the time of Alexander the Great.  The Greeks of that time figured out that if you attach a person’s arms to a cross and let him hang there, he will be unable to breathe (because his legs will be hanging down, stretching his diaphragm and weighing it down) and he will be dead within an hour.  Attach weights to the person’s legs and he will be dead within fifteen minutes.

Along came the Romans, who figured out that if you nail the person’s ankles to the cross or put a wedge under his feet, he will be able to push up and breathe–not very well, but passably.  This stretches out the time of death to several hours, even days.  Days of sheer agony as he hangs there, immobilized as the sun beats down on him and his life drains away slowly  but surely.

Rome used crucifixion as a means to keep the message of its power in front of its people at all times.  Crucifixion was reserved only for the worst criminals and for rebels against Rome.  Crucifixions were held on well-traveled highways and at well-traveled bridges.  The message was clear:  Just try and do what these people did and see if you don’t end up like them.  People living in Roman occupied territories knew all the places in their area where crucifixions were held, and would go out of their way to avoid them.  Because once you’ve seen one crucifixion, you’ll wish to God you had never seen it.

Several centuries later, after the Roman empire–and with it, crucifixion–had passed out of existence, theologians would begin to talk about the Cross, about Jesus’ death and what it all meant.  But not Mark.  For him and anyone else living in that era, the pain was just too fresh.  So when Mark describes Jesus’ death, it is as if he says “They crucified him.  You’ve seen one of these before.  Let’s just not go there.”

Finally, note how Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.  Many have built a theology around this phrase, that in that moment God actually, literally forsook Jesus and turned His back on him.  It is as if the Trinity was literally ripped asunder in that moment.  It makes sense, kinda, sorta.  If Jesus had in that moment taken on all the sin in the world, then God in His holiness can’t stand to look at sin and He would have to turn His back on Jesus.  But what a view of God this leads to.  If God would turn His back on His own Son, then how much more should we who are so much less than him expect Him to turn His back on us if it suits Him.

Think about this.  If God had actually, literally forsaken Jesus when he was on the cross, then how could Jesus say a few minutes later, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46)?

Remember that in first century Israel every devout Jew knew the Old Testament backwards and forwards.  And they didn’t have chapters and verses–those are a relatively modern invention–so if they wanted to reference a familiar psalm they would say the first line.  That is what Jesus was doing here.  All he had to do was say the first line, and the rest of the psalm would come flooding back to the memory of any devout Jew who happened to be within earshot.  It is just like, in our day, saying “I have a dream”, or “I am not a crook”, or “We are the knights who say Ni”.

So any devout Jew who happened to hear Jesus say “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” would have immediately begun to recite the rest of Psalm 22 mentally, if not out loud.  For Jesus, this was his way of saying, “Look.  I am the fulfillment of this psalm.  I am the one to whom all of this points.”

Palm Sunday: Jesus Enters Jerusalem

lent04As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples,saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.  (Mark 11:1-11)

Those of you who are of a liturgical bent, or who grew up in churches of a liturgical bent, probably know all about Palm Sunday.  In many places it is a very celebratory affair, as people wave palm branches during the service in honor of the palm branches that were spread before Jesus as he entered Jerusalem.

Palm Sunday is something of an anomaly.  For five weeks we have been moving through Lent, a somber, reflective season of repentance and preparation to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection.  But from out of nowhere we get this festive celebration to break the mood.

Except that it doesn’t break the mood entirely.  At least not for us, who with the benefit of hindsight know what lies ahead in the days to come.  And not for Jesus, who knew exactly what he was heading into when he entered Jerusalem.

On some level Jesus must have reveled in the moment.  Part of him was probably soaking it all up, drinking in all of the adulation from the crowd who had gathered to see him in this moment.  And yet part of him was probably thinking, “These people just don’t get it.”

Because when all those people cried out “Hosanna!” (which translates into “Save”), they weren’t thinking “Save us from our sins.”  They were thinking “Save us from Rome!”

And yet Jesus had completely and totally different ideas about what he was going to do in Jerusalem.  He wasn’t coming to start a revolution.  He was coming to die.

There is a tie-in here, in that many liturgical churches burn the branches from Palm Sunday and use the ashes for the next year’s Ash Wednesday service.  These ashes serve to remind us of our mortality as we begin the Lenten journey.

Palm Sunday is great.  But we know that the story is about to take some very unexpected turns, and some very dark turns.  No one that day could have foreseen that in just a few days’ time the Messiah to whom they were singing praises would be hanging dead on a Roman cross.

Recommended Reading: Tim Gombis on Evangelicals and the Bible

Today I would like to direct your attention to a series of posts which is currently in progress at the blog of Tim Gombis.  Gombis is a professor of New Testament studies at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and he blogs at “Faith Improvised”.

In his current series of posts, he is taking a long, hard look at a recurring comment that he gets from students in his classes.  His big idea is that this comment indicates something that is warped in how evangelicals approach the Bible, and in this series he attempts to get at it and what its implications are.  The comment is “I’ve never heard this before!” and it comes in several variations.  One variant is “I’ve never heard this before.  What you’re saying isn’t biblical.”  This seldom comes from a posture of challenge, but rather from a sense of bewilderment and betrayal.  In the introductory post, Gombis speaks of his excitement at discovering new things in the study of Scripture and how this led him to become a New Testament professor, and reflects on the difference between this attitude and the attitude of bewilderment towards seeing new things in Scripture that he sees in so much of evangelicalism.

When I began teaching evangelical undergraduates, it wasn’t long before I heard a student say, “I’ve never heard this before.”  My first response was, “I know, and there’s so much more to discover!”

But then I heard another variation: “I’ve never heard this before.  What you’re saying isn’t biblical.”

I asked for clarification.  The student responded by saying, “well, I think there’s a verse somewhere that says something like . . . ,” proceeding to blend together three different passages with the chorus of a praise song.

I figured this sort of thing was just the arrogance of youth, but it began to happen regularly.  Just about three weeks into every semester, a student would raise his or her hand and say, “I’ve never heard this stuff before.”

I began to respond by saying, “you’re welcome!  You or your parents are paying me thousands of dollars to tell you things that you don’t know.  This is what we call ‘education’ and it sounds like I’m doing my job.”

It began to dawn on me, however, that there was something about evangelical culture that was making these students assume that if something was unfamiliar, it was unbiblical.

In the last few years, though, I’ve heard this comment from other evangelicals in other settings.  It seldom comes from a posture of challenge, but from some sense of betrayal.  A person lamented to me recently, “I’ve never heard this before.  I’ve been in an evangelical church my whole life and this has never been taught.”

I’m currently teaching a course in a non-evangelical setting.  The responses I’ve gotten have been telling.  I’ve heard, “this is so interesting,” and “thank you, I’m really enjoying this and learning a lot.”

Only one person has said to me, “I’ve never heard this before.”  You guessed it—an evangelical.

What strikes me as odd is that the very thing I have come to associate with studying the Bible—the excitement of discovery—is the very thing that somehow frustrates the evangelicals I’ve been teaching.

Like I said, I think this indicates that there’s something warped about how evangelicals regard the Bible.

In the second post, Gombis reflects on the evangelical posture of attentive submission to Scripture, and how this posture has been corrupted by misplaced priorities in contemporary evangelicalism, especially the culture wars.  When you take on a culture war mindset, it is easy to slip into a posture where it’s us against all those godless liberals out there.  We have the truth, and they don’t.  They are attacking the Bible, and it is up to us to defend it and expose their nefarious schemes.  It is then easy to fool yourself into thinking that you already know the Bible and that no further learning is necessary.  Such a posture is inappropriate, because the Bible was never intended to be used as a weapon against others.  Instead, we are the objects of its exposing and transforming work.  We are to love others as we sit under Scripture and allow ourselves to be transformed by it.

In the third post, Gombis uses a comment from a student who felt badly about not being more conversant on what the Bible says about Jesus’ humanity as a jumping-off point.  The attitude toward Bible study that is prevalent in evangelicalism today is that you must learn all you can about Scripture in order to get equipped to make an impact in the world.  This means getting all the knowledge you can, mastering all the facts so that you are prepared to respond to every argument with all the right answers.  If that is our attitude toward Scripture, then it is no surprise that people are uneasy when they find out that there are things they do not know.  The implication is that their preparation is lacking and that they will therefore be ineffective in facing the world’s challenges.  But learning the Bible is a lifelong process.  We never attain complete mastery of the subject matter.  That is not the point–the point instead is that the process of lifelong learning from Scripture transforms us into a different kind of people who know God more faithfully and love and serve others more creatively.  This only happens over time.

More posts are coming next week, so be sure to keep tracking with him.

Lent Week 4: The Healing of a Boy With an Evil Spirit

lent04When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.  Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground.  He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid.  I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?  Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him.  When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion.  He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered.  “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him.  But if you can do something, take pity on us and help us.”

” ‘If you can’?” said Jesus.  “Everything is possible for him who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe: help me overcome my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit.  “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out.  The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.”  But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

–Mark 9:14-29

Here we have an example of Jesus casting out a demon.  Whereas Matthew emphasized Jesus’ teachings and Luke emphasized Jesus’ healings, Mark emphasized the casting out of demons.  This is because he was concerned with showing Jesus as establishing the Kingdom of God.  By casting out demons Jesus was visibly demonstrating his authority over all spiritual forces, showing that the kingdom of this world was over and a new kingdom was beginning.  Such an emphasis would surely have had traction with the believers in Mark’s community, presumably in and around Rome, who were dealing with intense persecution for their non-acceptance of the claims of Roman power and who would be buoyed by the news that the evil powers of this world were defeated in Christ.

A point to notice here:  Every time Jesus performs a healing or exorcism, he always places the people who witness it under strict orders to not tell anyone about it.  This is largely because he does not want to attract attention for the wrong reasons.  At this point in the story he is already having to take a detour to avoid a region where the people were determined to make him king by force and where others were just as strongly opposed to him.  Jesus is determined to not be the Messiah that everyone thinks he should be, and no one thinks that the Messiah should die on a cross.  Yet Jesus is intentionally moving toward that, and he is resolutely avoiding any path to glory that bypasses the cross.  For this reason, he remains hush-hush about his identity as the Son of God until the time for the cross has come.  So here, when it becomes clear that a crowd is gathering to see what is going on, he goes on and heals the boy and gets out of there.

Another point here:  In verse 19 Jesus laments “O unbelieving generation…how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?”  Notice the exasperation with the disciples’ lack of faith that drips through here.  We believe in a Jesus who is fully human and fully divine, but does our view of Jesus have room for a Jesus who feels this level of exasperation at not being fully understood by those closest to him?

Lent Week 3: Jesus Predicts His Death

lent04Last week we looked at the Transfiguration and at a conversation Jesus had with his disciples immediately afterward.  (Mark places it immediately after the Transfiguration; in real life it may or may not have happened immediately after.  Remember that the Gospel writers all had other priorities besides strict chronological accuracy as we in the 21st century understand it.)  In this conversation Jesus commands the disciples to not say anything about what they just saw until after he has risen from the dead.  Tucked in here is the implication that Jesus will die.  A few verses later Jesus says that “the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected” (Mark 9:12).

Jesus doesn’t come out and explicitly say here that he will die.  But a few verses later he does:

They left that place and passed through Galilee.  Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples.  He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.  They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”  But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.  (Mark 9:30-32)

This is the second of three places in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus predicts his death.  The first came in the previous chapter:

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.  He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter.  “Get behind me, Satan!” he said.  “You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.”  (Mark 8:31-33)

And the third comes a chapter after that:

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.  Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.  “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law.  They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him.  Three days later he will rise.”  (Mark 10:32-34)

Three times in three consecutive chapters Jesus predicts that he will die.  The first comes immediately after Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ.  The second comes after Jesus is dramatically revealed as the Son of God through the Transfiguration and the healing of a demon-possessed boy.  In both these instances, Jesus is revealed or confessed as God’s Son, and Mark wants his readers to place this in the context of what must happen to him: namely, that as God’s Son, he must suffer and die and then rise from the dead.  The first is an indirect quote; the second is a direct quote consisting of a terse couple of sentences.

The third is much different from the other two.  It happens as Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem.  Jesus has just told a rich young ruler who wanted to follow him to go sell everything he has and give it to the poor, and exclaimed how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.  To which the disciples exclaimed, “Who then can be saved?”  (Mark 10:26) The whole group is still astonished and afraid, when apparently from out of nowhere Jesus comes out and predicts his death.  This time he is much more direct, and Mark has him spell out in much more explicit detail what is going to happen to him.

What we have here is a pattern of increasing directness and explicitness in Jesus’ predictions of his death, as he and the disciples get closer to Jerusalem.  The shadow of the cross lies squarely across their path, and it looms ever larger the closer they get to Jerusalem.  Mark wants us to see this.  This is something that has to happen, and Jesus is walking intentionally towards it.  He is going in with his eyes wide open, knowing full well what is about to happen.  The disciples don’t get this, because the idea of a Messiah who suffers and dies goes against everything they were taught to believe, and because they have no framework at all to process the idea of someone rising from the dead.

Lent Week 2: The Transfiguration

lent04This week we move to the Transfiguration.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone.  There he was transfigured before them.  His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.  And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud:  “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

He replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things.  Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?  But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.”

–Mark 9:2-13

Jesus goes up a mountain with his three closest disciples, and there is joined by Moses and Elijah.  Moses, representative of the Law, and Elijah, representative of the Prophets.  For Jesus is the one to whom both the Law and the Prophets point.

A couple of things here:  Moses is now in the Promised Land.  He died on Mount Nebo, just outside the Promised Land, without ever setting foot there.  Yet now, here he is.  All his desires to reach the Promised Land have now been fulfilled in Jesus.

Peter’s response:  Why in the world would he say such a thing?  Commentators have read all sorts of interesting explanations into his words, but the best thing, I think, is to just go with what the next verse says.  He was afraid, and he just didn’t know what to say.  So the first thing that popped out of his mouth was the thing about the three shelters.  But really, if you had just seen your teacher turn bright white and start talking to an apparition of Moses and Elijah, would you have come up with anything better?

Up until this point, Jesus had commanded people who saw him do miracles to not say anything about him.  Now, he gets specific:  Don’t say anything until after he has risen from the dead.  Earlier, Jesus had told his disciples that he would die.  Now he tells them not to say anything about what they just saw until after he had risen.  He did not want the word of this to get out until it could be understood in light of his dying and rising from the dead.

In the next verse it says that the disciples discussed among themselves what “rising from the dead” meant.  Cut them some slack.  We know what Jesus meant here, only by virtue of 2,000 years hindsight.  The disciples had no such thing.  They had never seen a resurrection.  They had no conception that anyone could come back from the dead.  They lived in a culture that had no conception of heaven or hell; once you were dead, you were dead and that was it.  Old Testament Jews believed in Sheol as a sort of holding area for the souls of the dead, but that was the extent of their knowledge or belief in the afterlife.

And then we segue right into the discussion of Elijah.  Here the disciples are referencing a verse at the end of Malachi:  “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.  He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”  (Malachi 4:5-6) They had just seen Jesus announced as the promised Son of God, so why had they not seen Elijah beforehand?  Jesus explains that Elijah has come, in a cryptic reference to John the Baptist, whose ministry was very much like that of Elijah.

The linkage here:  Elijah prophesied against a weak king and his evil consort (Ahab and Jezebel).  He was driven to the desert by Jezebel’s threats against him.  John the Baptist, a type of Elijah, prophesied against a weak king and his evil consort (Herod and Herodias).  Herodias did to John the Baptist the very things Jezebel threatened against Elijah.  And finally, a short time later, Jesus himself would suffer and be rejected to the point of dying on a cross.