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Discipleship: Incomprehension versus Memory

(Translated by Carlos Enrique Espinosa)

How many times, as we look back on the past, have we heard ourselves say, “Now I understand”? We have all gone through such experiences, not understanding some words and facts at the outset. Given time…sometimes after a long, long time, the experience makes sense, as if we have a revelation.

The words are the same, the facts are unchanged, but with the passage of time the experience starts to take on new meaning, and it occupies a significant place in our lives. Those words, those isolated events that may not have meaning at first—along with many others that occur throughout life—form a chain of events. As we look back, we can draw a line in which each word and event takes its proper place. Everything fits.

After the death and resurrection of their Master, the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth—better prepared to understand his mission because he had chosen them— began to remember Jesus. His words, his deeds, and what the disciples did not understand at the time, began to come back to their memories. Jesus walking on water, the five loaves and two fishes he used to feed thousands of people…the death and resurrection of Jesus…it was then, with these memories, that the disciples begin to fit together the pieces of the puzzle.

The Gospel of John, the last of the Gospels and probably the testament of the last of the disciples alive, is an exercise in memory, a reflection on what had happened. In this Gospel, we find more evidence that the disciples needed to remember their past with Jesus to understand what had been incomprehensible.

The book of signs—John’s Gospel describes as signs (semeia) those acts of Jesus that the Synoptic Gospels call miracles (dynameis)—shows that from the very start the disciples needed to remember:

His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ Then the Jews demanded of him:

‘What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’

Jesus answered them:

‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ (John 2:17–19 NIV)

A few days earlier, in Cana of Galilee, Jesus had transformed water into “wine-blood” using jars used for purification. This was the first of Jesus’ signs—like the first of the ten “signs” of Moses before the king of Egypt—which was to turn water into blood. A few days later, during the Passover feast, Jesus “purified” the temple at Jerusalem. The disciples needed to remember a few words: “They recalled…that it is written.”

After reporting signs of Jesus, the Gospel of John begins a new section: the book of glory. This section also states from the beginning that the disciples needed to remember:


‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Blessed is the King of Israel!’

Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written:

‘Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion;

see, your king is coming,

seated on a donkey’s colt’

At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him.… (John 12:13–16 NIV)

A few days before, in Bethany, Jesus had resurrected Lazarus. This was the last of the series of seven signs (or miracles) that the Gospel of John recounts, like the last of the “signs” Moses gave to Pharaoh in Egypt, which was to preserve the life of Israel’s firstborn males.

Jesus returned to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, this time triumphant. The disciples again remembered: “They recalled that this was written.”

When we go back to recall, words and facts, and ultimately history and our own lives, become clear. At birth, we are like a book of blank sheets—physically and spiritually—that the ups and downs of our lives will fill. Only at the end of life, well into our journey, will it be possible for us to see the whole picture. That’s when we will know better who we are or who we have been.

Only at the end of Jesus’ story were the disciples in a position to know the meaning of events related to Jesus’ life and who he really was:

Why do you look for the living among the dead?

He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’

Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:5–8 NIV)

Only at the end of his life was it possible for the disciples to begin to understand Jesus’ accomplishments. Today, we need to be mindful that our understanding of who Jesus was continues to unfold—just as with any historical event. The Roman Empire, the French Revolution, and the 1929 stock market crash continue to challenge those who seek understanding of the past. Much of human history is concealed, which leaves us with partial sketches of the past. Only at the end will it be possible for us to understand the their ultimate meaning.

For Wolfhart Pannenberg—who is aligned with the new quest for the historical Jesus, a reaction against the period called by some authors of “no quest,” whose head was Rudolf Bultmann—God is revealed in the events of history, but he may not be fully known until human history ends. The resurrection of Christ is the anticipation of the end of time, gives full meaning to history, and therefore is the final and definite revelation of God.

Jürgen Moltmann goes further. Although the resurrection of Christ participated in and confirmed in advance God’s promise, it doest not exhaust the promise, but takes us to the future. This future opens to the Parousia of Christ, when we will see the ultimate realization of God’s promise. Although the glorious ascension of Jesus realizes the promise of God’s justice, this will not be fulfilled in its entirety until all are resurrected from the dead, just as Jesus was.

Until the resurrection of Christ, the disciples could not have set out on the path to understand him more fully. This understanding has been growing throughout the history of the church. We are participating in and enhancing it as we await the fulfillment of history, when the final revelation of God will take place.

The meaning of events is revealed after they take place. For that reason, we lack comprehension until we reach the end of history. Meanwhile, by faith, we recognize that God’s acts in the course of history reveal something about him.


Charpentier, Etienne. Cristo ha resucitado [Christ has risen]. Estella (Navarra): Verbo Divino, 1983. (Cuadernos bíblicos, 4).

Moltmann, Jürgen. Teología de la esperanza [Theology of hope]. Salamanca: Sígueme, 1968.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Fundamentos de Cristología [Fundamentals on Christology]. Salamanca: Sígueme, 1974.

Ramon-Carles Gelabert is a physician and founding member of the Adventist Association of University Students of Spain (AEGUAE), whose publishing arm Aula7activa runs Café Hispano in partnership with Adventist Forum/ Spectrum. He currently lives in Barcelona, Spain, where he writes on theology, health, science, and religion.

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