Spoiler Alert! Reading the Gospels from Back to Front

I can’t tell you how many times in the past couple of months I’ve been […]

Todd Brewer / 5.22.12

I can’t tell you how many times in the past couple of months I’ve been in a conversation with friends talking about The Wire when the threat of a “spoiler alert” intrusively rears its head. This happens mostly out of necessity; I have previously learned of the death of a much-beloved character when my friend inadvertently let out an ill-timed sigh of nostalgia.

But despite this obsession over spoilers, it seems that new research suggests that spoilers might actually make the viewing/reading experience better, rather than worse. Rather than spoiling the ending, knowing what will happen actually builds interest and anticipation while paradoxically not spoiling the surprise.

All this makes me wonder, how does this new information on spoilers affect our reading of the Gospels and Jesus’ own passion predictions? Occurring three times in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus provides very detailed predictions concerning his impending death in Jerusalem. These quite literally give away the ending halfway through the story. Often these claims are read somewhat superficially as demonstrations of Jesus’ divine omniscience; he knows everything that will happen ahead of time. While obviously true, this overlooks that Jesus’ predictions occur within narratives which are meant to be read continuously from start to finish.

But do these predictions ruin the reading experience? Having discovered that Jesus dies and is raised again, how many readers only finish half of the book? I suspect very few. Instead, these “spoilers” build anticipation concerning what will happen in Jerusalem when Jesus arrives. Though Jesus performs many miracles and amazes the crowds with his teaching, the reader is informed where it is all heading.

We hate spoilers, wishing to maintain our naivety and experience the surprise of discovery. But the Gospels all resist this straightforward retelling of Jesus’ ministry and place the cross/resurrection at the center of their narrative as the focal point of Jesus’ life.

Especially in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ repeated passion predictions make it impossible to read the gospels without Jesus’ crucifixion in view. Everything about Jesus’ life is to be understood with Jesus’ end in view. The shadow of the cross hangs over the narrative, coloring everything with a somber, but hopeful hue. The events of his life are not disjointed occurrences amid the random meaninglessness of history, but find their significances as steps on Jesus’ way to the cross. Jesus may initially seem to be just another teacher or miracle worker, but in truth he one who gives his life as a ransom for the many.

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