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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 29, 2016
Jesus and His disciples are in the region of Caesarea Philippi which is north of the Sea of Galilee on the southwest slopes of Mount Hermon. Jesus had retreated there after an extensive ministry in the region of Galilee and encountering strong opposition from the Pharisees and Sadducees that had come up from Jerusalem. It is while they are there that Jesus asks His disciples what the people were saying about His identity. They told Him that there were various ideas such as John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or some other prophet. Jesus then asked them what they thought. Peter answered on behalf of all of them, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” They had been traveling with Jesus for about three years and heard His teaching and saw His many miracles, but this was not a conclusion they came to on their own for Jesus told Peter, “Blessed are you , Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you , but My Father who is in heaven.”
We will never successfully argue someone into faith in Christ. Others had heard Jesus’ teachings and seen His miracles, but came to various wrong conclusions. What was true then is still true today except that it is even more difficult since Jesus is not physically walking the earth at present teaching and performing miracles. An individual comes to the truth when the Holy Spirit reveals it to them and quickens them to believe it. Each of the Gospel accounts present the truth about Jesus and each has a slightly different emphasis in the effort to communicate those truths as effectively as possible to their intended readers. In a similar way, it is our responsibility to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ as effectively as we can, but we must leave the results in God’s hands. It is the Father that draws a person to the Son, and it is the Holy Spirit that enlightens and makes alive a soul that was dead in trespasses and sin.
Jesus went on to tell Peter that he would be a central figure as Christ would build His church. A fact proved out in the early chapters of Acts. (See: The Church that Jesus Builds) This would have been a high point in Peter’s life up to that time, but only a short while later, Peter would change his focus back to the interests of man instead of God. Jesus revealed what would happen to Him when they got to Jerusalem where He would suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, then be murdered, and finally, He would be raised from the dead. As I pointed out in last week’s sermon, they were expecting the Messiah to be a victorious king, not a suffering servant. Peter seems to have missed the promise of the resurrection on the third day, and he rejected the idea that Jesus would suffer and be killed so much so that he even rebuked Jesus for it while claiming he would not let it happen. Jesus gave Peter a much deserved stern rebuke for being a spokesman for Satan and becoming a stumbling block, a temptation to avoid the suffering that would come in Jerusalem.
Jesus used this opportunity to teach Peter, the rest of the disciples and the crowd that was present about what it meant to follow Him. The kingdom of God is about God’s interests and not man’s. It requires following Jesus in a whole hearted sacrifical manner. Jesus told them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” This is nothing less than considering your own life as dead and your only reason for continued existence is to serve Jesus.
That is radical because it is totally against man’s natural desires, but it is also the only reasonable way to live. Why? Because as Jesus points out, anyone that lives for the present and what they can gain for themselves will find in the end that their life was a waste. You do not take any of it with you. When you die, all your stuff will be left behind, and even fame, if you are remembered at all, will not make any difference to you. There is nothing in this life that is as valuable as your soul, so yielding your life in the present for eternal purposes is much wiser, and in the end gives meaning for the present and eternity. (See: Setting Your Interest on the Things of God)
Jesus concluded His instruction to His disciples with a confirmation about the promise of a future where what they had been expecting would occur, and that sets up the scene for what will happen in our passage for study this morning in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9. First, look again at Matthew 16:27-28 with me first.
“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
Jesus was going to Jerusalem to suffer and be murdered, but then He would be raised from the dead and return one day in the glory that the Old Testament had foretold. Despite the hundreds and hundreds of prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the coming of Messiah, there was little to no understanding among the people that He would come twice. The Jewish interpreters of the Scriptures rationalized and spiritualized away the references to a suffering redeemer. Now Jesus was explaining that there would be two separate comings of the Messiah. His present coming was as a humble servant suffering on behalf of sinful man, but His second coming will be as divine king with His army of angels to conquer and judge.
The reality of Jesus’ promised return is a hope that prods the Christian to live more for the glory of God and less for his own glory. It produces not only a greater striving for personal holiness, but also a greater focus on seeking to win those still entrapped in sin so that they are forgiven and not justly judged for their evil deeds and condemned.
This promise of the disciples having a future with Jesus is so certain that He prophesied that some of those standing there with Him would see the “Son of Man coming in His kingdom” before they would “taste death.”
Many have said that this must refer to Jesus’ second coming, but that produces a dilemma since it is an undisputed fact that all the disciples have died. Others have said that it refers to Jesus’ resurrection, but that produces a problem with how the resurrection fits with Jesus’ “coming in His kingdom“? Add to this problem that all the disciples except Judas Iscariot saw Jesus after His resurrection. That does not fit very well with Jesus’ prophecy that only “some” of them would see Him.
What was Jesus referring to? The answer becomes obvious if the context is kept in view. Too often incorrect interpretation is made simply because it is isolated from the flow of the text and the overall purpose of the writer. Matthew is writing to Jews to show that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Mark is writing to Romans to show that Jesus is the Son of God who is a servant. Luke is writing an historical and chronological account of Jesus, the perfect man, who came to seek and save sinful men. It is also important to remember that you must examine the original languages for nuances of meaning often missed in a translation. In all three gospel accounts, this prophecy is immediately followed by Jesus’ transfiguration.
Fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy has several requirements. First, only some of the disciples would be involved. Only three of them are present at Jesus’ transfiguration. Second, they would see this event before they “taste death,” which implies that it will not prevent them from dying. These three disciples saw the transfiguration, but that did not prevent them from dying in the years that followed. Third, Matthew states they would see “the Son of Man coming in His kingdom,” and the word translated “kingdom” here (basileiva / basileia) primarily refers to the “being,” “nature” and “state” of the king, and so speak of His dignity and power as well as His dominion. Matthew’s word choice for what happens at the transfiguration fits well his presentation of Jesus as the Messiah. Fourth, Mark phrases this slightly differently stating they would “see the kingdom of God after it has come in power.” That fits his emphasis on Jesus as the powerful Son of God who had come to serve, and that power is revealed in the transfiguration. The transfiguration of Jesus that immediately follows fulfills this prophecy.
Matthew 17:1-2, “And six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.” Mark’s description is “His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them.”
Luke generalizes the time as “some eight days after these saying,” which is roughly equivalent to us saying, “about a week later.” Both Matthew and Mark are precise that what happens next is six days later. This precision could be an allusion to a previous event in Israel’s history such as Exodus 24:16 in which the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai for six days and on the seventh He called Moses up to speak with Him. It is now the seventh day from when Jesus gave His prophecy, and He takes three of His disciples, Peter, James and John up onto a high mountain.
The mountain is not specifically identified other than it is a high mountain and they are by themselves. The traditional view has identified this as Mt. Tabor, but it does not fit the description. First, it is located southwest of the Sea of Galilee in the plain of Megiddo which is a long distance from Caesarea Philippi and not on a route that Jesus would have taken to Jerusalem. Second, it is only about 1,700 feet in elevation, so it is not a high mountain. Third, there was a fortress on it, so it would have been difficult for Jesus and the disciples to be alone.
The more probable location of where they went is somewhere on Mount Hermon. First, Caesarea Philippi is located on its southwest slope, so they had easy access to it. It is high reaching 9,236 feet with many peaks on its southwest extension that are over 7,600 feet. Third, it is a large mountain, so there were plenty of places Jesus could have been alone with the disciples.
Why take Peter, James and John? Jesus wanted eyewitness to what was about to happen for the Old Testament Law demanded that the truth be established in the mouths of two or three witnesses (Deut. 19:15). James was the first Apostle to be martyred so we do not have a written record from him, but Peter and John both refer to this event in their writings (2 Peter 1:16-17; John 1:14). The gospel writers would have gotten their information from one of these three disciples. The text does not tell us why these particular three men, but we do know that Peter, James and John made up an inner circle of disciples that Jesus often gave more instruction to and accompanied Jesus to things the others did not (The Garden of Gethsemane – Matthew 26; the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead – Mark 5; etc.).
What did they behold? They saw Jesus transfigured before them. The word here is metamorfovw / metamorphoõ from which we get metamorphosis. Jesus is radically changed before them so that His form of appearance displays the glory of His majesty. This is an attestation that Jesus is God. His face “shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.” That is very similar to the glory of the Lord described in many Old Testament passages. For example, in Exodus 33 the Lord had to put Moses in a cleft of a rock and cover him with His hand as His glory passed by and Moses only saw the after glow of it, but even so, it was so bright that it made Moses’ face shine for a long time afterward. It fits the description of the shikinah glory that filled the temple when it was dedicated to the Lord in 2 Chronicles 7:2 which was so great that none of the priests could enter it. The glory that Jesus had here is similar to the description of the glory of the Lord in Ezekiel 1 and Habakkuk 3.
The glory of Jesus was not the only evidence of Jesus being the Messiah. There was also the witness of Moses and Elijah described in Matthew 17:3, “And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.” Luke 9:31 adds they were “appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
Luke 9:32 also adds an interesting comment, “Now Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him.” Apparently, either the three disciples were tired afer hiking up the mountain and took naps, or God induced them to sleep through part of Jesus’ transfiguration and His conversation with Moses and Elijah. In either case, they finally wake up to see Jesus in a glorified state talking with Moses and Elijah and they hear part of the conversation.
Moses and Elijah were not there just to shoot the breeze. They were talking with Jesus about His coming “departure” from Jerusalem. “Departure” is e”xodoV / exodus and refers to Jesus’ coming death and resurrection at Jerusalem. Jesus would depart from this life, but He would also “exodus” from the grave which would lead believers out of the bondage of sin. Moses and Elijah had come to talk with Jesus about what Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem which gives further confirmation that what Jesus had said would come true.
Why Moses and Elijah? Why not some other Old Testament figure such as David, Daniel, Abraham, Samuel or another prophet. Again there is not a specific answer in the text, but we do know that Moses stands out as the giver of the Law and Elijah stands out as one of if not the greatest prophet. Together they are fitting representatives of the Old Testament Law and the Prophets, and their presence with Jesus and talking with Him about the coming events in Jerusalem given further validation that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Son of God and Son of Man who came to seek and save the lost.
Luke 9:33 explains that as Moses and Elijah were leaving, Peter begins to respond to what he was seeing. Matthew 17:4 records, “And Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Jesus does not give Peter an answer to his suggestion. Why? Because, Luke 9:33 states, Peter spoke, “not realizing what he was saying.” Mark 9:6 comments that Peter did not know what to answer because the disciples were terrified. Peter was awake, but he was still
responding before thinking. Though Peter had added the words, “if you wish,” his main thought was still setting out to accomplish his own plans rather than the Lord’s.
Why would Peter suggest such an idea anyway? Two reasons may have prompted this idea. The first is that Leviticus 23 called on the people to yearly celebrate the feast of Booths or Tabernacles. This required that everyone build a small booth or tabernacle out of branches and boughs and live in them for seven days as a conmemoration of the children of Israel being in the wilderness after they left Egypt. It was a memorial to God preserving them through that period of time. It would not be long before the Feast of booths would be celebrated, so it may have already been on Peter’s mind. Second, the prophet Zechariah predicted that during the Millennium when “the Lord will be king over all the earth,” (Zech. 14:9) one of the activities that will take place will be the celebration of the Feast of Booths by all nations.
Peter could have easily merged these ideas together and thought this could be the beginning of what he had been hoping for. The kingdom would soon be ushered in. He could think of nothing better than celebrating the feast of Tabernacles there on that Mountain with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. But Peter was wrong. The kingdom was coming, but not in the way that he was envisioning it. Moses and Elijah left, and Jesus was still going to Jerusalem to die. Peter’s suggestion was ignored and instead another witness to Jesus being the Messiah was given.
Matthew 17:5, “While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him!’”
In calling Jesus, “His beloved Son,” God the Father declares His relationship of divine love to the one who is of identical nature and essence with Himself. Jesus is the Messiah, Immanuel, God in human flesh. There can be no greater witness to this than God the Father Himself, and that is who declares it here.
This was very similar to what occurred when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist when a voice out of heaven said almost identically the same thing. The bright cloud being reminiscent of God’s presence with the children of Israel during the wilderness wanderings when His presence was demonstrated by a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud by day. Out of that bright cloud the voice of God the Father commended Jesus and called on the disciples there to listen to Him. The only answer to Peter’s suggestion is essentially, “Peter, quit talking and listen to Jesus.” If Jesus says He is going to Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise again, then that is what is going to happen. If He says to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him, then that is what you should do.
That admonition to listen to Jesus applies to us as much as it did to Peter. Last week we talked about denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following Jesus. Those that listen to Him will do that. Those that do not obey the command of God will not. How have you done this past week? Have you consciously thought about considering yourself dead and living only for Christ? Or was the effect of last week’s sermon only a passing emotion? I hope it is not for the very purpose of your existence and the only hope you have for both this life and for eternity is bound up in listening and following what Jesus says.
Matthew 17:6 reveals the reaction of Peter, James and John to hearing the voice of God coming out of the cloud. 6 “And when the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were much afraid.” They were no different from anyone who finds himself in the presence of God when His majesty is on display. Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” Daniel described himself as falling with his face to the ground having no strength left in himself and his natural color turning to a deathly pallor. That is the reaction of men when they come into the presence of the glory of God. Peter, James and John were no different. Our text says they “fell on their faces and were much afraid.”
One of the wonderful things about following Jesus is that He is so considerate of our frailty as shown in Matthew 17:7, “And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, ‘Arise, and do not be afraid.” There are many things that can frighten us such what we do not understand, things that are more powerful than us, and at times even the presence of God. The good news is that we do not need to be afraid and that when we are, there is someone there to comfort us. 1 John 4:18 states, “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” The disciples were afraid and Jesus comforted them. When we are afraid, the love of Jesus comforts us for it is perfect and was proven at the cross of Calvary. Considering the direction of our State and nation, there is much about the future that would terrify us if we did not have comfort in Jesus and His revelation of truth which reminds us what life is actually about and calls on us to follow Him. We do not have to understand everything nor do we need to be able to control what will happen in the future. We just need to follow the directions that Jesus gives us and let Him take care of our destiny.
Matthew 17:8, “and lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus Himself alone.” They had been so frightened that they had fallen down and closed their eyes. With Jesus comforting them, they gain courage to open their eyes again, and only Jesus is left, and apparently no longer in His glorified state.
Matthew 17:9 tells us that “as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’” This directive is similar what Jesus gave to other people about various miracles He had performed, but this time Jesus also directs when the story of what they had seen could be told – after He had risen from the dead. Jesus will not enter Jerusalem for another six months and He does not want to precipitate events before that time. The people have already tried to force Him to be king once after the feeding of the five thousand. The news of such an event as this could easily set off again a movement to try to make Him king. Jesus does want the story to be told, but not until the right time after He had fulfilled His purpose in coming to be mankind’s substitute sacrifice for sin and to conquer death. Then the story would clarify His purpose. He did not come to conquer Rome. He came to conquer sin and death. Luke 9:36 tells that they did keep silent about this event and did not report it during those days.
As they continue down the mountain, the disciples are still perplexed. It is hard to think differently after being taught a mixture of truth and error all your life. They did believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they were having a hard time accepting the idea that He had come to suffer and die, and as Mark 9:10 points out, they were “discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant.” They had seen Jesus raise other people from the dead, but they still did not understand it. Their confusion was made greater because they could not fit all the pieces together. One of those pieces was the prophecy concerning the coming of Elijah to prepare the way for Messiah. Matthew 17:10 and Mark 9:11 record they asked Jesus about it saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
The Scribes interpreted Malachi 3:1 & 4:5-6 as a prophecy that Elijah the prophet would return to prepare the way for Messiah. If that was true, how could Jesus be the Messiah if Elijah had not yet come and prepared the way?
Mark 9:12-13 records more of Jesus’s answer to them. 12 And He said to them, “Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 “But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.”
Jesus confirms that the prophecies of Malachi will be fulfilled and Elijah would come “before the great and terrible day of the LORD.” That day was still in the future for them and for us, but before that day comes, Elijah will come for “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”
Elijah will come, but future events were more complex than that, for with a question Jesus points out the prophecies that the Son of Man would suffer many things and be treated with contempt. Those prophecies, such as Isaiah 53, were usually not included in the discussions people would have about the coming of Messiah because they did not fit the desired scenario of Jesus coming to conquer their enemies and re-establish the kingdom of Israel. That is still true among Jews even today.
Jesus now gives an explanation of its fulfillment. He states in Matthew 17:12, “But I say to you, that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going-to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.
The disciples should have already understood the answer to their question about Elijah, because Matthew 11 records that Jesus had already told them that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1. Luke 1 also records that the angel told Zacharias that John would “be filled with the Holy Spirit . . . and go before the [Messiah] in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” John the Baptist would fulfill Malachi 4:6. Now they finally understand John’s fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Elijah. Jesus uses this occasion to stress again that He would suffer at the hands of the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem the same way John the Baptist had suffered.
The transfiguration gives additional testimony to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus shined with the glory of God. Moses and Elijah both gave testimony to it. Then the voice of God coming out of the bright cloud proclaimed it, and John the Baptist prepared the way for Him in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.
We know the event had a lasting effect on Peter and John for they write about it many years later. The fulfillment of this prophecy confirms both the prophecy of what would happen to Jesus when He got to Jerusalem including suffering, dying and rising from the dead, and His prophecy of His coming again in judgment which is still future. What effect has Jesus had on you? Are you ready for His coming?
You cannot _____someone into faith in Christ; you can only proclaim the gospel and leave it in God’s hands
You can be used by God as long as your mind is set on ____________________instead of your own
To be a ________________of Jesus you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him
Your soul is ______________, therefore it is more valuable than anything the world has to offer
Jesus was explaining that there would be _________separate comings of the Messiah, a fact they had missed
Jesus’ promised return prods the Christian to live in _______and be more focused on proclaiming the gospel
Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 17:28 is not about His second coming – _________His disciples have died
This prophecy is not about His resurrection – _______His disciples except Judas saw the resurrected Jesus
Context shows it is Jesus’ ___________which immediately follows it. A) Only three disciples were there
- B) They would see it ________”tasting death.” C) Kingdom (basileiva / basileia) = dignity / power of king
Luke generalizes the time while Matthew & Mark are very ______________
It is an unspecified high mountain – Not Mt. Tabor which is only ____ ft., a long distance away & populated
Mt Hermon is close, has multiple ___________7,600-9,236 ft., many areas are unpopulated
Peter, James and John are there as ______________- Deuteronomy 19:15. Peter and John both write about it
Jesus is transformed (metamorfovw / metamorpho ) with an appearance displaying the ______of His majesty
Moses and Elijah were appearing in glory and _______________with Jesus
Peter, James and John had been asleep, but are now wide ____________to see what was happening
Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus about His e”xodoV / exodus – _____________death and resurrection
Moses is the giver of the Law and Elijah stands out as one of if not the greatest ______________
Peter suggests making three tabernacles, but Jesus does not answer him because Peter is not thinking ______
Peter was probably ______________the Feast of Tabernacles with millennial prophecy of Zechariah 14:9
The Kingdom was coming, but not in the way that Peter was ________________it
God the Father ________His relationship & pleasure in Jesus who is of identical nature & essence with Him
This was very similar to what occurred when Jesus was ___________by John the Baptist – Matthew 3:13-17
Out of the cloud the ______________of the Father commended Jesus and told the disciples to listen to Him
Every Christian is to be careful to ___________to Jesus – heed His instructions and commands
There are many things that can frighten us, but Jesus’ love comforts and ________________us – 1 John 4:18
Matthew 17:8 – After Jesus encouraged them, they opened their ___________and Moses & Elijah were gone
Matthew 17:9 – Jesus does not want them to tell others about this event _________the proper time
The disciples are __________not understanding the resurrection of the prophecy that Elijah must come first
Jesus confirms that the prophecy of Malachi 3:1 & 4:5-6 would be fulfilled, but future events were _______
Messiah would ___________first (Isaiah 53), and Elijah had come, though he was not recognized
The transfiguration gives further testimony to Jesus’ identity as the _______________
The fulfillment of the immediate prophecy gives ______________to the fulfillment of prophecy still future
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times glory is mentioned. Talk with your parents about how the fulfillment of this prophecy gives confidence of Jesus’ future return.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Where was Jesus and His disciples? What did Jesus commend Peter for? What did Jesus rebuke Peter for? What does it mean to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus? What effect should the hope of Jesus’ return have on the Christian? Why can’t the prophecy in Matthew 16:28 refer to either Jesus’ second coming or to His resurrection? How do we know this prophecy refers to the transfiguration? What is the most likely mountain for this to have taken place? Why did Jesus take Peter, James and John? What changed when Jesus was transfigured? What other Scripture passages described the glory of the Lord in similar ways? Why did Moses & Elijah appear? What did they talk to Jesus about? Why would Peter want to build three tabernacles? Did Peter know what he was talking about? Explain. What was the witness of the Father concerning Jesus? At what other times did something similar occur? What was the effect of this on the disciples? How did Jesus comfort / encourage them? How does Jesus comfort / encourage you? Why didn’t Jesus want the disciples to tell others about what had happened? When would be the proper time for them to speak about it? What was the disciples confusion about the resurrection and the prophecy concerning Elijah? What should they have they already known about John the Baptist fulfilling the role of Elijah in Jesus’ first coming? Why didn’t they understand the prophecies that Messiah would have to suffer?
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