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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Mark 3

 

 

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Verse 1-2

This event happened on a different Sabbath than the one just described in Mark 2:23-28 (cf. Luke 6:6). The location of the synagogue is unimportant. The Pharisees continued to watch Jesus to accuse Him ( Mark 2:23; Mark 3:6). Rather than honestly evaluating His claims, most of them looked for an opportunity to discredit Him. Here they found an opportunity to charge Him with a capital offense in Israel, namely, Sabbath violation ( Exodus 31:14-17).


Verses 1-6

Healing on the Sabbath3:1-6 (cf. Matthew 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11)

The following incident demonstrated Jesus" sovereign authority over the Sabbath. This is the last in this series of conflict accounts in this part of this Gospel (cf. ch12). It provides the climax in this section of Mark"s narrative.


Verse 3-4

Rather than avoiding a conflict, Jesus provoked one. He did so to teach His critics a lesson. His question raised the issue of Sabbath observance from the level of what was legal to the level of what was moral. For Jesus not to heal the man would have been a violation of God"s purpose for the Sabbath, namely, to bring blessing to people. Moreover by healing the man Jesus was doing good whereas the Pharisees were doing evil on the Sabbath by trying to trap Him. Mark alone wrote that the critics kept quiet, probably to clarify their guilt.


Verse 5

Vainly Jesus "looked around" for someone who would respond to His question (cf. Mark 3:34; Mark 5:32; Mark 10:23; Mark 11:11). This expression is unique to the second Gospel. Evidently Peter remembered Jesus" looks around and communicated these to Mark as significant indications of His looking for the proper response from people.

This is the only place in the New Testament where a writer explicitly stated that Jesus was angry. This was a case of righteous indignation in the presence of unrepentant evil. This is also the only account of this miracle that records Jesus" compassion for the objects of His anger. The tenses of the Greek verbs indicate that Jesus was angry momentarily (aorist tense), but His attitude of compassion was persistent (present tense). References to Jesus" emotions are peculiar to Mark"s Gospel. They show His humanity.

"Jesus" action was perfectly consistent with His love and mercy. As a true Prayer of Manasseh , Jesus experienced normal human emotions, among them anger as well as grief at obstinate sin. In His reaction to the sullen refusal of the Pharisees to respond to the truth, the incarnate Christ revealed the character of our holy God." [Note: Hiebert, p81.]

"Their opposition rested on a fundamental misunderstanding-an inability, or refusal, to see that Jesus was God"s eschatological agent and that his sovereign freedom with regard to law and custom sprang from that fact." [Note: D. E. Nineham, Saint Mark , p110.]

Since Jesus did not use anything but His word to heal the Prayer of Manasseh , His enemies could not charge Him with performing work on the Sabbath. Jesus" beneficent creative work on this occasion recalls His work in creating the cosmos ( Genesis 1). The Pharisees should have made the connection and worshipped Jesus as God.

"Thus when Jesus as Son of Man declares himself to be master of the Sabbath ... he presumes the very authority by which the Sabbath was instituted by the Creator.

"This sovereign disposition toward the Sabbath is typical of Jesus" challenges to the rabbinic tradition as a whole. Such challenges are found primarily at the outset and conclusion of Mark , as if to signify that from beginning to end the antidote to the "leaven of the Pharisees" ( Mark 8:15) is the exousia [authority] of Jesus. He violates laws of purity by touching and cleansing a leper ( Mark 1:40-45) and by association with sinners and tax collectors ( Mark 2:13-17). He places in question the issue of purification by violating food prohibitions in fasting ( Mark 2:18-22) and by eating with unwashed hands ( Mark 7:1-23). He contravenes marriage laws in his teaching on divorce ( Mark 10:1-12), and he openly denounces the scribes ( Mark 12:38-40). In the question on the son of David he tacitly assumes supremacy over Israel"s greatest king who, according to 2 Samuel 7:14, would be the progenitor of the Messiah ( Mark 12:35-37)." [Note: Edwards, p225.]


Verse 6

This verse is the climax of this whole confrontation section ( Mark 2:1 to Mark 3:6). Faced with the most convincing arguments and actions about Jesus" deity, the Pharisees chose to reject them. Furthermore instead of simply leaving Jesus alone they took steps to kill Him. As the gospel story unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that Jesus" enemies opposed Him because He constituted a threat to their authority. That motivation is evident here, too, because the Herodians were supporters of Roman authority over Palestine. Together the Pharisees and the Herodians "feared he might be an unsettling political influence in Palestine." [Note: Wessel, p640.] These two groups had little in common except their common enemy, Jesus.

This is Mark"s first explicit reference to Jesus" death. Jesus" enemies had decided to destroy Him. They only needed to plan how. In spite of their objections to Jesus working on the Sabbath, they did not mind plotting His death on that day. His words and works, from their viewpoint, undermined their whole approach to the Law, their piety, and their actions.

This decision of Jesus" enemies to kill Him constitutes a turning point in Mark"s narrative. It is a benchmark that affected Jesus" ministry from then on.


Verse 7

III. THE SERVANT"S LATER GALILEAN MINISTRY3:7-6:6A

There are some structural similarities between Mark 1:14 to Mark 3:6 and Mark 3:7 to Mark 6:6 a in Mark"s story. The beginnings and endings of these two sections are similar. The first section describes Jesus" ministry in Galilee before the religious leaders determined to kill Him, and the second shows His ministry after that decision. That decision is the basis for the division of Jesus" Galilean ministry into an earlier and a later stage.


Verse 7-8

The sea to which Jesus withdrew was the Sea of Galilee. He went there rather than to the areas farther south where it would have been easier for His enemies to harass Him. Jesus withdrew because of the religious leaders" plot to kill Him ( Matthew 12:15).

Mark put the disciples in the emphatic first position in the Greek text. They shared Jesus" breach with the religious leaders. They would be the objects of His preparation for future ministry because of Jesus" coming death.

Mark described many people coming to Jesus from all over Jewish Palestine. Jerusalem was in Judea to the south. Idumea, named only here in the New Testament, was the old Edomite territory southeast of Judea. People also came from the east side of the Jordan River (Perea and the Decapolis) and from the Mediterranean coast to the northwest. It is interesting that these locations form something of an outline of this Gospel. Jesus first ministered in Galilee (chs1-6), then in Tyre, Sidon, and the Decapolis (ch7), and finally in Jerusalem (chs10-16). [Note: Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark , p79.] Notably absent were people from Samaria, the land of Jewish iconoclasts who separated from the other Jews.


Verses 7-12

1. Jesus" ministry to the multitudes3:7-12 (cf. Matthew 12:15-21)

This pericope introduces Jesus" continuing ministry in Galilee following the religious leaders" decision to kill Him (cf. Mark 1:14-15; Mark 2:13). It provides much more detail than the parallel account in Matthew.


Verses 7-19

A. The broadening of Jesus" ministry3:7-19

This section is similar to Mark 1:14-20 in that it records a general description of Jesus" ministry ( Mark 3:7-12) and His calling of more disciples ( Mark 3:13-19).


Verse 9-10

Jesus addressed the crowds from a little boat (Gr. ploiarion, not a fishing boat) on the lake when the crowds pressed too heavily upon Him. Apparently the disciples kept this little boat handy whenever Jesus spoke to the crowds from the shore. If He needed to step back from them, He would have a place of retreat. Mark probably mentioned this detail to stress the large numbers of people who followed Jesus. It also shows Jesus" willingness to adapt His presentation to the needs of His audience. Perhaps "the big fisherman," Peter, was responsible for this notation.

The multitudes seemed to have little interest in worshipping Jesus as God, but they were eager to receive the physical benefits of His ministry. These benefits Jesus graciously bestowed on them.


Verse 11-12

As before, Jesus continued to exorcize demons. He also continued to forbid them to reveal His identity. This would have encouraged the people to associate the title "Son of God" with the physical aspects of Jesus" ministry almost exclusively (cf. Mark 1:34). Moreover Jesus thereby retained more control over His self-revelation and the progress of His mission. Perhaps He also did not want the people to associate Him with these demons.

The idea that Jesus silenced the demons because they sought to control Him by using His name and thereby gaining power over Him seems improbable to me. [Note: Cf. Lane, p130.] While conflict with demonic forces is definitely a theme in Mark"s Gospel, the demons had no real power over Jesus simply because they knew His name. This was a pagan superstition.

"The earliest confession of the Sonship seems to have come from evil spirits, who knew Jesus better than he was known by His own disciples." [Note: Henry B. Swete, The Gospel According to St. Mark , p57.]


Verse 13

The exact location of this incident is uncertain. It was probably somewhere in Galilee since this whole section describes Jesus" ministry there ( Mark 1:14 to Mark 6:6 a). Jesus first called His disciples to join Him. Then from that larger group He selected12as apostles ( Luke 6:13). Evidently Jesus selected12for leadership over Israel"s12tribes during His messianic reign ( Matthew 19:28). In view of Israel"s rejection of Jesus, they became the nucleus of the church, which the New Testament never refers to as the "new Israel." This is a term that covenant theologians have applied to the church that has created serious confusion in the minds of many Bible students.

". . . from a mountaintop, an imagery reminiscent of Yahweh"s summons to Moses on Mount Sinai ( Exodus 19:20), Jesus sovereignly summons the Twelve into a new community ( Mark 3:13-19) and to a mission that is founded on a relationship with himself ("in order that they might be with him," Mark 3:14). He confers his authority on the Twelve and sends them out with dominion over demons ( Mark 6:7-13) and with freedom from the tradition of the elders ( Mark 7:5-13)." [Note: Edwards, p224.]

"In Mark"s story world, the mountain connotes nearness to God and is therefore a place of divine-human communication and encounter. Atop a mountain, Jesus prays ( Mark 6:46), is transfigured by God ( Mark 9:2-8), and foretells the future ( Mark 13:3-5)." [Note: Kingsbury, p93.]

Mark stressed that Jesus initiated this appointment, and the Twelve voluntarily responded (cf. Exodus 19:20). Perhaps he did this to remind his readers that God had chosen them as disciples; they had not sought this privilege. The response of these initial disciples provided a good example for all succeeding followers of Jesus.


Verses 13-19

2. Jesus" selection of12disciples3:13-19 (cf. Luke 6:12-16)

Jesus" selection of12disciples constituted an important advance in His ministry. These men would be the primary beneficiaries of His training for leadership to carry out His mission. The plot to take His life made the training of disciples imperative.


Verse 14-15

"The Twelve" became a technical term for this group of disciples. Some early manuscripts add "whom also He named apostles" (cf. NIV). This was probably not in Mark"s original Gospel. Probably a scribe inserted it having read Luke 6:13, the parallel passage, though some disagree. [Note: E.g, Christopher W. Skinner, ""Whom He Also Named Apostles": A Textual Problem in Mark 3:14 ," Bibliotheca Sacra161:643 (July-September2004):322-29.]

Jesus appointed these disciples for a twofold purpose: to be with Him, and to preach. The order is significant.

"Fellowship with Him must precede preaching about Him." [Note: George Williams, The Student"s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, p734.]

Jesus also gave these disciples the ability to cast out demons along with preaching. The miracles would convince many of their hearers that God had sent them as His spokesmen. Mark probably mentioned exorcisms because this was the greatest demonstration of the disciples" authority, not the only one. This Gospel documents Jesus" training of the Twelve in these two basic areas particularly: being with Jesus and preaching.


Verses 16-19

The following table shows the12disciples as they appear in the four lists that the Holy Spirit has given us in Scripture.

Matthew 10:2-4

Mark 3:16-19

Luke 6:14-16

Acts 1:13

1.

Simon Peter

Simon Peter

Simon Peter

Peter

2.

Andrew

James

Andrew

John

3.

James

John

James

James

4.

John

Andrew

John

Andrew

5.

Philip

Philip

Philip

Philip

6.

Bartholomew

Bartholomew

Bartholomew

Thomas

7.

Thomas

Matthew

Matthew

Bartholomew

8.

Matthew

Thomas

Thomas

Matthew

9.

James , son of Alphaeus

James , son of Alphaeus

James , son of Alphaeus

James , son of Alphaeus

10.

Thaddaeus

Thaddaeus

Judas, son or brother of James

Judas, son or brother of James

11.

Simon the Cananaean

Simon the Cananaean

Simon the Zealot

Simon the Zealot

12.

Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot

All four lists contain three groups of four names each. The same individuals head each group, though there is variation within each group. Probably these groups constituted ministry teams that broke up into pairs when the Twelve preached apart from Jesus ( Mark 6:7).

Mark never used the double name "Simon Peter." Peter ("Rocky") was Simon"s second given name, his nickname. All the lists place Peter first, and they all put Judas Iscariot last, except for the Acts list that omits him. "Boanerges" is a Hebrew word, but why Jesus called James and John "sons of thunder" is unknown. Perhaps they had an impetuous nature (cf. Mark 9:38; Luke 9:54).

Bartholomew is not really a name but a patronym meaning "son of Talmai (Ptolemy)." He may have had another name, but the disciples consistently referred to him as Bartholomew. Matthew"s other name was Levi.

James the son of Alphaeus was James the Less (or little, Mark 15:40). Thaddaeus and Judas, the son or brother of James , may have been the same person. Likewise Simon the Cananaean was the same person as Simon the Zealot, "Cananaean" being the Aramaic form of "Zealot." The Zealots were a later political party bent on the overthrow of the Roman government, so it is unlikely that Simon was a member of this party. Probably the name "zealot" referred to Simon"s personality, not his political affiliation. "Iscariot" is a name of origin, but the exact location of Judas" hometown is uncertain, though many believe it was a town in Judea named Kerioth. "Iscariot" means "man of Kerioth." [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, 1962ed, s.v. "Judas Iscariot," by R. P. Martin.]

"It was a strange group of men our Lord chose to be his disciples. Four of them were fishermen, one a hated tax collector, another a member of a radical and violent political party [?]. Of six of them we know practically nothing. All were laymen. There was not a preacher or an expert in the Scriptures in the lot. Yet it was with these men that Jesus established his church and disseminated his Good News to the end of the earth." [Note: Wessel, p643.]


Verse 20-21

The plan of Jesus" family3:20-21

The picture the writer painted was of Jesus and his disciples in a house in Capernaum. Jews wanting healing or some other favor from Jesus barged right in the door. There were so many of them that Jesus could not even eat a meal much less get some needed rest. The house was completely full of seekers. Probably more people thronged around outside the building trying to get in the doors and windows. The Servant of the Lord was constantly at work serving.

Jesus" family members heard about His extreme busyness. The Greek term translated "His own people" (NASB, lit. "those with Him") is an idiom meaning His family members, not just His friends. [Note: J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, pp478-79.] They felt concern for His health. Perhaps they worried that He was not eating properly. They may even have concluded that His overworked condition had affected His mental stability. They decided to come to Capernaum from Nazareth and take charge of Him for His own good. The Greek word kratesai ("take custody" or "take charge") elsewhere describes arresting someone (cf. Mark 6:17; Mark 12:12; Mark 14:1; Mark 14:44; Mark 14:46; Mark 14:49; Mark 14:51). Thus it appears that the best of intentions motivated Jesus" family. However they misread the evidence. He was not too busy nor was He out of His mind (cf. Acts 26:24; 2 Corinthians 5:13). He was simply carrying out His Father"s will. Sometimes those who have concern for a disciple"s welfare apply pressure to depart from God"s will. This constitutes opposition, not assistance. Some readers of Mark"s story who suffer persecution from family members for following Jesus can identify.


Verses 20-34

B. The increasing rejection of Jesus and its result3:20-4:34

As Jesus" ministry expanded, so did rejection of Him as God"s anointed servant. Mark documented the increasing rejection that Jesus experienced ( Mark 3:20-35) and then explained that Jesus taught the multitudes in parables as a result ( Mark 4:1-34).


Verses 20-35

1. The increasing rejection of Jesus3:20-35

Mark again returned to the opposition theme (cf. Mark 2:1 to Mark 3:6). He directed his readers back and forth between Jesus" acceptance on a superficial level by the multitudes, His disciples" growing commitment to Him, and the increasing hostility of the religious leaders. This structural pattern highlights the contrasts between the three groups.

In this section Mark used a chiastic structure to show two different kinds of opposition that Jesus faced, which many of His disciples have faced as well. He used this "sandwich" structure elsewhere too (cf. Mark 5:21-43; Mark 6:7-31; Mark 11:12-26; Mark 14:1-11; Mark 14:27-52). It focuses attention on the central part of the section (chiasm), in this case the serious charge that Satan controlled Jesus.

A The opposition of family Mark 3:20-21

B The opposition of enemies Mark 3:22-30

A" The opposition of family Mark 3:31-35


Verse 22

While well-meaning family opponents were coming from Nazareth, which lay to the west, hostile adversaries were moving up from Jerusalem to the south. The scribes (teachers of the law) who constituted an official delegation had concluded that Satan possessed Jesus and gave Him power to exorcize demons. They viewed Jesus as being allied with Satan.

"In the Greek, the name is always Beelzeboul; the familiar "Beelzebub" is from the [Latin] Vulgate. Some view the name as a derisive corruption of the title of the god of Ekron, Baal-zebub, "the lord of flies," to make it mean the lord of dung. More probably it means lord of the dwelling, that Isaiah , the dwelling of the evil spirits. This agrees with the reference to "the strong man"s house" in Mark 3:27, as well as Christ"s comment in Matthew 10:25, that as "the master of the house," He has been called Beelzebub." [Note: Hiebert, p92.]


Verses 22-30

The unbelief of Jesus" enemies3:22-30 (cf. Matthew 12:22-37; Luke 11:14-26)

Evidently it was between the time that Jesus" family left Nazareth to take custody of Him and the time they arrived in Capernaum ( Mark 3:31) that this incident occurred. Mark"s account is shorter than Matthew"s and stresses the nature of the mounting hostility of the religious leaders.


Verses 23-27

Jesus replied to the charge against Him with parables (cf. Matthew 12:29; Luke 11:21-22). That Isaiah , He used comparisons. He pointed out that it was illogical for Him to cast out Satan"s agents if He was one of Satan"s agents. Satan would then be working against himself. Moreover since Jesus was really destroying Satan"s work, He must be stronger than Satan ( Mark 3:27).

"It may be enough to say that Mark 3:22-27 declares Jesus" ministry, without specifying the "when," to reflect the eschatological defeat of Satan as seen in his exorcisms." [Note: Guelich, p177.]

"Jesus occasionally avoids indictment by talking in riddles." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, p85.]


Verses 28-30

Jesus followed up His refutation with a solemn warning. The words "truly I say to you" or "I tell you the truth" occur13times in this Gospel, always on Jesus" lips. This phrase occurs30 times in Matthew , six times in Luke , and25 times in John where the "truly" is always double. It denotes that Jesus was speaking out of His own authority. A comparable expression in the Old Testament Isaiah , "As I live, says the Lord."

"His use of "Amen" to introduce and endorse his own words is without analogy in the whole of Jewish literature and in the remainder of the NT. ... "Amen" denotes that his words are reliable and true because he is totally committed to do and speak the will of God. As such, the Amen-formulation is not only a highly significant characteristic of Jesus" speech, but a Christological affirmation: Jesus is the true witness of God." [Note: Lane, p144.]

"In light of the context this [sin] refers to an attitude (not an isolated act or utterance) of defiant hostility toward God that rejects His saving power toward Prayer of Manasseh , expressed in the spirit-empowered person and work of Jesus. It is one"s preference for darkness even though he has been exposed to light (cf. John 3:19). Such a persistent attitude of willful unbelief can harden into a condition in which repentance and forgiveness, both mediated by God"s Spirit, become impossible. This person is guilty (enochos, "liable to, in the grasp") of an eternal sin (sing, the ultimate sin because it remains forever unforgiven; cf. Matthew 12:32). Judas Iscariot (cf. Mark 3:29; Mark 14:43-46) proved the reality of these words." [Note: Grassmick, p117.]

We should not focus so exclusively on the exception to forgiveness that we fail to appreciate the breadth of forgiveness that Jesus offered here. "All sins" means all classes and types of sins, not all sins without exception. Jesus was not teaching universalism, the theory that everyone will go to heaven. Blasphemy is a type of sin, namely, speech that is hostile, malicious, injurious, and derogatory of God. This was the type of sin the scribes were committing.

The scribes came perilously close to committing an unpardonable sin because they attributed the power of Jesus" exorcisms to Satan rather than to the Holy Spirit (cf. Mark 1:11-12).

"Having rejected the testimony of the Father, the Song of Solomon , and now the Spirit"s miraculous authentication, nothing more could be done for the salvation of those religious leaders." [Note: Bailey, p74.]

"Those who most particularly should heed the warning of this verse today are the theological teachers and the official leaders of the churches." [Note: Cranfield, p148.]

This saying of Jesus has caused many people great anxiety throughout the history of the church. Many have wondered if they have committed the unpardonable sin. Concern that one may have committed it is a good indication that one probably has not. The way to avoid committing the unpardonable sin is to believe the testimony that the Holy Spirit has given about Jesus in Scripture, namely, that He is the Christ (i.e, the divine Messiah, cf. 1 John 5:1).


Verse 31

Mary, along with Jesus" half-brothers, finally arrived from Nazareth (cf. Mark 3:20-21). By inserting Jesus" conflict with the scribes in this story Mark heightened the readers" suspense about the results of Jesus" conflict with His family. Perhaps the house where Jesus was was so full of people that His family could not get in but had to send word to Him that they had arrived. This approach reflects normal family relationships. Jesus" mother and brothers were not being rude but were expecting that Jesus would acknowledge their presence by respectfully coming out to meet them. They wanted to talk to Him privately and to restrain His activity.


Verses 31-35

The interference of Jesus" family3:31-35 (cf. Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 8:19-21)


Verses 32-34

The multitude sitting around Jesus evidently consisted of a group of His disciples ( Mark 3:34). Jesus" question focused on the quality of relationship with Himself. He meant, Who are the sort of people who are my family? Again Jesus looked around, but this time affectionately (cf. Mark 3:5). He identified His disciples as those closest to Him. This would have been a startling statement to Jesus" hearers because the Jews valued natural family relationships highly. Jesus was not repudiating family relationships (cf. Mark 7:10-13). He was teaching the priority of spiritual over natural relationships.


Verse 35

Those who do God"s will, not just those who profess discipleship, constitute Jesus" spiritual family. The terms "brother and sister and mother" are figurative. "Father" is absent because Jesus had only one spiritual Father. His spiritual mothers were those believing female disciples who sustained Him in motherly ways. Jesus claimed the authority to redefine motherhood and sibling relationships according to doing God"s will rather than blood lineage (cf. Mark 6:1-6). [Note: Edwards, p224.]

This pericope should be a great encouragement to any disciple who is suffering persecution for his or her faith. Such disciples were Mark"s original readers. Some disciples suffer broken family relationships and even ostracism because of their commitment to do God"s will. Some experience intense opposition from unbelievers who try to make their good works look bad. One reward for such sacrifices is intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Mark 3:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/mark-3.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, September 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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