When push came to shove, the death of Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t much different from the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
For hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the Jewish prophets had told of the impending arrival of a messiah — a savior for a people that had long been enslaved and persecuted. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the prophets had described not only the arrival of the messiah, but went to great length to detail exactly how he would arrive.
Probably because they were expecting their messiah to be a mighty warrior instead of a meek newborn baby, they weren’t looking for Jesus to be born to a virgin mother in a manger in Bethlehem — even though Isaiah had written 700 years earlier that “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,” and even though Micah had written that Bethlehem would produce the messiah, and even though various prophets had written that he would be of the lineage of King David, and of the tribe of Judah. And so the king of the Jews was born in relative obscurity.
Around 33 years later, Jesus of Nazareth was arrested, put on trial, convicted and sentenced to death for angering the Jewish priests and leaders by saying things like “I and the father are one,” and “I am the way and the truth and the life,” and “No one can come to the father except through me.” And then he was executed in the manner the Romans reserved for the vilest offenders — crucifixion.
Jesus had told his disciples and followers on several occasions that he would not only be killed for his teachings, but that he would rise again on the third day. He said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” He said, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” According to Matthew, he spent the last six months before his crucifixion telling his disciples that he would be killed, and that he would be raised again on the third day. His prophesies of his own resurrection were so well known that the same Jewish leaders who had him killed had his tomb sealed and a guard placed at the door, believing they could prevent the disciples from stealing his body by doing so.
Yet, on the third day after Joseph of Arimathea cut down his body and prepared it for burial, no one was looking for his resurrection — not even those closest to him. They had seen him heal the sick, they had seen him raise the dead, but it turned out that they still didn’t have enough faith to believe he’d actually return from the grave. Mary, the mother of Jesus, knew better than anyone that her son was exactly who he claimed to be, because she had experienced the miracle of immaculate conception. Yet, on that third morning, she was headed to the tomb with Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. And they weren’t looking for a resurrected savior. They were carrying burial spices — because the sabbath had finally ended and they were finally free to properly care for Jesus’s dead body. They weren’t looking for an empty tomb. They fully expected to find Jesus’s lifeless body inside.
The birth of Jesus was well-prophesied, yet no one was expecting it. They weren’t looking for him.
The resurrection of Jesus was well-prophesied, yet no one was expecting it. They weren’t looking for him.
And as Jesus ascended into heaven, the angels had another prophecy for the disciples who stood looking mournfully towards the sky: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as yet have seen him go into heaven.” The disciples, the Apostle Paul and all the early Christians expected Jesus’s return in their lifetime. But Jesus himself said, “Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only . . . For in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” Two thousand years later, those final prophesies remain unfulfilled.
And they aren’t looking for him.