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A. The first passion prediction and its lessons 8:31-9:29
In this section, Mark recorded Jesus’ first clear prediction of His passion (Mark 8:31), the disciples’ reaction to it (Mark 8:32-33), and several lessons on discipleship (Mark 8:34 to Mark 9:29).
2. The requirements of discipleship 8:34-9:1 (cf. Matthew 16:24-28; Luke 9:23-27)
Jesus now proceeded to explain to His disciples that suffering would not only be His destiny but theirs too.
This verse is the positive truth whereas Mark 8:38 expresses the negative. It concludes Jesus’ solemn warnings in this pericope on an encouraging note. Some standing in that mixed audience would not experience death before they saw a preview of the kingdom that the Son of Man would establish after He came in glory (Mark 8:38; cf. 2 Peter 1:16-19). Those individuals were Peter, James, and John (Mark 9:2-8).
This pericope should warn unbelievers and believers alike. It is also an encouragement to become a disciple of Jesus and to follow Him faithfully. The choice involves eternal loss or gain. This section would have been a special encouragement for Mark’s original readers who faced the choice of undergoing persecutions and trials for faithful commitment or abandoning their life of discipleship. Suffering and temporary loss would be Jesus’ portion, and that would also be the destiny of His disciples. However, His faithful followers would eventually experience glory and blessing, as He would.
Mark’s account is almost identical to Matthew’s here. He added that Jesus’ garments became whiter than any human launderer could make them. This reflects an eyewitness’s testimony if nothing else. Perhaps the reference to six days followed by revelation should recall Exodus 24:15-16. Moses was on Mt. Sinai for six days and then God revealed Himself on the seventh. This is the most precise date in Mark’s Gospel before the passion story. It also connects this fulfillment with Jesus’ prediction in Mark 9:1. In the Old Testament the glory of God was represented with bright light. Mark placed Elijah in the prominent position before Moses (Mark 9:4) probably because he was to be Messiah’s forerunner (Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5).
3. The Transfiguration 9:2-8 (cf. Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36)
This event not only fulfilled Jesus’ prediction in Mark 9:1, but it also confirmed what Peter had confessed in Mark 8:29. Despite Jesus’ coming death (Mark 8:31-32), it assured His disciples of eventual glory (Mark 8:38). Jesus had just finished addressing a wide audience (Mark 8:34). Now He spoke to a very narrow one (Mark 9:2).
"The transfiguration scene develops as a new ’Sinai’ theophany with Jesus as the central figure." [Note: Lane, p. 317.]
Mark explained Peter’s blunder in Mark 9:5 in Mark 9:6. He did it more fully than Luke did. Matthew did not give a reason for Peter’s words. Again Peter opposed Jesus’ sufferings and death, though he was not fully aware of what he was doing (cf. Mark 8:32). He evidently believed that Jesus was going to set up His kingdom immediately (cf. Acts 1:6).
A cloud frequently pictured God’s presence and protection in the Old Testament (e.g., Exodus 16:10; Exodus 19:9; Exodus 24:15-16; Exodus 33:1). The heavenly voice assured the disciples that even though the Jews would reject Jesus and the Romans would execute Him, He was still pleasing to the Father (cf. Mark 1:11). [Note: Plummer, p. 215.] It also helped these disciples understand Jesus’ superiority over the greatest of God’s former servants (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15; Psalms 2:7; Isaiah 42:1). They disappeared, but Jesus remained indicating the end of their ministries in contrast to Jesus’ continuing ministry. Listening to Jesus in the fullest sense means obeying Him.
This revelation should encourage every disciple of Jesus. The Son of Man’s humiliation will give way to His glorification. He will certainly return to earth and establish the kingdom that the biblical prophets predicted. The faithful disciple can anticipate a glorious future with Him as surely as the beloved Son could look forward to that kingdom (cf. Mark 8:35).
Jesus again commanded secrecy (cf. Mark 1:34; Mark 1:43-44; Mark 3:11-12; Mark 5:43; Mark 7:36; Mark 8:30). William Wrede developed the view that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah and that the early church originated that idea. [Note: William Wrede, The Messianic Secret.] Mark, he argued, invented incidents in which Jesus commanded secrecy about His messiahship to resolve this contradiction. Most conservative scholars have rejected this theory because the evidence for Jesus’ messiahship is pervasive in all the Gospels.
If the multitudes heard about this demonstration of Jesus’ glory, it would only fuel the fires of popular messianic expectation that created pressure for Jesus to depart from God’s will. This is the last command to maintain secrecy in this Gospel. It is also the only one with a time limit. The people the disciples would tell the transfiguration story to would only understand it after Jesus arose from the dead. With His resurrection behind them, they could appreciate the fact that He would return in glory to establish the messianic kingdom.
4. The coming of Elijah 9:9-13 (cf. Matthew 17:9-13)
The appearance of Elijah on the mountain led to a discussion of his role as Messiah’s forerunner. This conversation developed as the disciples followed Jesus down the mountain.
The Old Testament taught a resurrection of the dead (Psalms 16; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; cf. John 11:24), but the disciples could not harmonize that revelation with Jesus’ statement that He would rise three days after He died (Mark 8:31). The whole idea of Messiah dying was incomprehensible to them.
Rather than asking for clarification about the resurrection issue, the disciples raised questions about the larger problem of Messiah dying. If Jesus was the Messiah and He would die, what did the scribes’ teaching about Elijah being the forerunner of Messiah mean (Malachi 3:1-4; Malachi 4:5-6)? They taught that he would turn the hearts of the people back to God (cf. Malachi 4:6), but Elijah had not appeared and most of the people had not repented.
Jesus affirmed the scribes’ interpretation of the prophecy about Elijah. He went on to explain that that interpretation did not invalidate what He had just predicted about His own sufferings and shameful rejection (Psalms 22; Isa_52:13 to Isa_53:12).
The disciples thought Elijah still had to come, but Jesus explained that he had come. His enemies had done to him what the Old Testament recorded. Jesus was speaking of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:13). The Old Testament passage to which Jesus referred was 1 Kings 19:1-3; 1 Kings 19:10. There Ahab, and especially Jezebel, swore to kill Elijah. They "wished" to execute him. This is exactly what "King" Herod Antipas, and especially Herodias, really did to John the Baptist. Now we see why Mark recorded the story of John’s death (Mark 6:17-29). It was to show that John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecies about Elijah coming.
"In this case Scripture had foretold the future not by prophecy but by a type. The fate intended for Elijah (I Kings xix. 2, 10) had overtaken John." [Note: Swete, p. 194.]
Evidently Mark did not mention John the Baptist as the fulfillment of this prophecy, as Matthew did, because his identity is obvious to the careful reader. The fulfillment was not complete, however, because someone will come in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the way before Messiah’s second coming (Malachi 4:5; cf. Revelation 11).
This discussion clarified for the disciples and for Mark’s readers how Jesus’ messiahship harmonized with Old Testament prophecy that seems to contradict it. Disciples of Jesus must have no doubts about His being the Son of Man, especially since they can anticipate testing through suffering for their faith. The importance of strong faith comes through in the next incident that Mark narrated.
Mark did not explain the reason for the crowd’s great amazement (Gr. exethambethesan) at seeing Jesus. Since Jesus had forbidden Peter, James, and John from speaking about the Transfiguration it is unlikely that some glorious afterglow caused the crowd’s reaction. Probably the nine disciples’ failure to cast out the demon followed by Jesus’ personal appearance produced their extreme response (cf. Mark 10:32).
5. The exorcism of an epileptic boy 9:14-29 (cf. Matthew 17:14-20; Luke 9:37-43a)
This is the last exorcism that Mark recorded. His narration of this story includes more detail than either Matthew or Luke’s. The disciples’ lack of glory in this story contrasts with Jesus’ glory in the Transfiguration.
Perhaps Mark alone recorded Jesus’ question to stress His humanity. The result of the demons’ activity again shows their destructive purpose (cf. Mark 5:1-5). Jesus had given His disciples power to cast out demons (Mark 3:15), and they had done so successfully earlier (Mark 6:13). This boy showed the symptoms of epilepsy because of the demons’ affliction.
The unbelieving generation included the father and the crowd. The nine disciples could not exorcize the demon because of their weak faith (cf. Mark 9:29). Jesus’ first rhetorical question expressed frustration that His presence with them had not resulted in greater faith (cf. Mark 4:40; Mark 6:50; Mark 6:52; Mark 8:17-21). His second question reveals the heavy load that their unbelief placed on Him (cf. Mark 3:5; Mark 8:12).
Mark’s unique record of Jesus’ question shows His compassion. Demons had afflicted the boy for several years. Evidently the failure of the nine disciples weakened the father’s confidence in Jesus to help his son.
The father thought the crucial question was whether Jesus could heal the boy. Jesus explained that it was really whether the father believed that Jesus could heal him. This pinpointed the father’s understanding of who Jesus was. The issue was not how strongly the father believed Jesus would heal his son. This is an important distinction. Modern "faith healers" usually stress the amount of trust that the person coming for help has rather than the object of that trust. Later Jesus revealed that the disciples’ failure to heal the boy resulted from lack of trust in Him too (Mark 9:29).
"One who has faith will set no limits to the power of God." [Note: Rawlinson, p. 124.]
"But the faith that has such mighty results will submit to the will of God in making its petitions. Faith-prompted prayer asks in harmony with the will of God." [Note: Hiebert, p. 223. Cf. John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24; and 1 John 5:11-15.]
The father voiced his confidence in Jesus, imperfect as it was, and asked Jesus to strengthen his faith.
"He declares that he believes and yet acknowledges himself to have unbelief. These two statements may appear to contradict each other but there is none of us that does not experience both of them in himself." [Note: Calvin, 2:325.]
He was an unbelieving believer, namely, a believer whose faith was weak.
Jesus acted quickly to avoid greater publicity.
". . . the accumulation of the vocabulary of death and resurrection in Mark 9:26-27, and the parallelism with the narrative of the raising of Jairus’ daughter [Mark 5:39-42], suggest that Mark wished to allude to a death and resurrection. The dethroning of Satan is always a reversal of death and an affirmation of life." [Note: Lane, p. 334.]
Evidently the nine disciples were ineffective because they believed that the power to cast out demons that Jesus had given them was now inherent in themselves. It was not. It was still God’s power, and it came directly from Him. Therefore they needed to acknowledge their dependence on Him for power to be successful. Jesus’ prayer life reflected even His dependence on the Father. Some cases require more spiritual power than others, and some demons are stronger than others (Matthew 12:45). Probably later copyists added "and fasting" because fasting often accompanied earnest prayer in the early church, as it did in Israel.
This incident taught the disciples that they needed to serve God in constant conscious dependence on Him that expresses itself in prayer. Prayer is a discipline that reminds disciples of and expresses their dependence on God. It also reinforced their belief in Jesus as the Messiah who can defeat Satan and so is worthy of glory, as the Transfiguration witnessed.
Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee was over. He wanted to pass through that area without further distractions from the multitudes.
B. The second passion prediction and its lessons 9:30-10:31
For a second time, Jesus told His disciples of His coming death and resurrection (cf. Mark 8:31), and again they failed to understand what He meant (cf. Mark 8:32-33). Jesus responded by teaching them additional lessons on discipleship (cf. Mark 8:34 to Mark 9:29).
1. The second major prophecy of Jesus’ passion 9:30-32 (cf. Matthew 17:22-23; Luke 9:43-45)
Jesus and the disciples probably left the region of Caesarea Philippi and Mt. Hermon, or wherever they were now, and proceeded farther south toward Jerusalem through Galilee. In view of what lay ahead in Jerusalem, Jesus again prepared them by telling them that He would suffer execution and experience resurrection.
Jesus was concentrating on teaching His disciples during this phase of His ministry. Here He revealed to them for the first time that someone would deliver Him up or hand Him over (Gr. paradidotai) to His enemies. Ultimately God did this, but Judas was the human agent that brought His will to pass. Probably there is an intended contrast between "Son of Man" and "men" in this verse.
". . . in a fallen world men had become so hostile to God that when, as the culmination of his plans for their salvation, he sent to them the Man, their Saviour and ultimate model, they regarded and treated him as their worst enemy. Men and the Son of Man stood on opposite sides in God’s eschatological battle against the powers of evil." [Note: Plummer, p. 222.]
Mark recorded Jesus saying that He would rise of His own power (active voice). Matthew said Jesus spoke of being raised (passive voice, Matthew 17:23). Probably Jesus said both things in the course of His teaching. This verse probably summarizes instruction that Jesus gave the disciples as they walked. [Note: Bruce, 1:404.]
The disciples did not understand because God withheld understanding from them (Luke 9:45). Initially God may appear to have been working at cross purposes with Himself revealing through Jesus and concealing by hardening the disciples’ hearts. The solution seems to be that God was working with the disciples as He had worked with the multitudes through Jesus’ parables. If so, the disciples’ ignorance was a result of divine blindness that their unbelief produced. Their willingness to remain in ignorance and not ask Jesus to clarify His statement is the evidence of their unbelief. Mark implied that all they gained from this revelation was a sense of sorrow (Matthew 17:23). Similarly we manifest a form of unbelief when we fail to seek clarification of biblical revelation that we find confusing.
Jesus returned to Capernaum evidently after several months of absence. This was His last recorded activity there. Rather than discussing Jesus’ coming death and resurrection the disciples had been arguing about their own futures in the kingdom. Their silence was probably a result of shame.
The desire for greatness 9:33-37 (cf. Matthew 18:1-5; Luke 9:46-48)
2. The pitfalls of discipleship 9:33-50
Jesus next taught His disciples lessons dealing with the dangers that threatened their effectiveness as His disciples. These were the desire for greatness, the folly of a sectarian attitude, and failure in self-discipline. They would suffer as He would. Moreover their suffering would threaten their unity with Jesus and with one another.
"Jesus warned against the spirit of elitism that can exist within a ministry team and between ministry teams. The answer to elitism from within is to have a servant’s heart, and the answer to elitism toward outsiders is to recognize the unity of the family of God that transcends smaller groups of ministry." [Note: Bailey, p. 84.]
By seating Himself, Jesus assumed the traditional position of a rabbi. He taught them that greatness in His kingdom depends on sacrificial service. All three synoptic evangelists recorded His words, indicating the importance of this lesson.
"The spirit of service is the passport to eminence in the Kingdom of God, for it is the spirit of the Master Who Himself became diakonos panton ["servant of all"]." [Note: Swete, p. 205.]
The Greek word for servant, diakonos, describes someone who serves willingly. It does not describe the servile status of such a person, which doulos (slave) suggests. The desire to excel need not be unspiritual (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1). However it must include willingness to put the welfare of others before selfish interests. [Note: See Santos, pp. 20-23, 25.]
A child was the least significant person in Jewish and in Greco-Roman culture. [Note: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "pais," by Albrecht Oepke, 5:639-52.] By using a child as His object lesson, Jesus was saying that service involves caring about people, even insignificant people such as children. The same Aramaic word means both "child" and "servant." [Note: Lane, p. 340.]
"Jesus was one of the first ever to see how essentially precious any person is, particularly a young child. A concern for children was not invented by the welfare state: it goes back to the teaching of Jesus." [Note: Moule, p. 75.]
Jesus proceeded to compare the humblest of His disciples to the child (cf. Mark 9:42). This was the focus of Jesus’ teaching that Matthew recorded (cf. Matthew 18:3-14).
This is the only place where the synoptic writers mentioned John speaking out alone. John spoke for the other disciples in the house (Mark 9:33).
Evidently the exorcist was a believer in Jesus though not one of the Twelve or possibly not even one who spent much time following Jesus around. He evidently commanded demons to leave the people they afflicted by using Jesus’ name. The Twelve apparently did not mind that this man claimed Jesus’ authority to exorcize demons. They objected to his actions because Jesus had not commissioned him to do so as He had the Twelve (Mark 3:14-15). Perhaps his success and the recent failure of the nine disciples irritated them further. In view of what Jesus had just said about receiving little children, John wondered if the Twelve had done right in rebuking the man. They had tried to protect Jesus’ honor by rebuking him (cf. Numbers 11:26-29).
"It is striking . . . that after each of the three major prophecies of the passion the evangelist inserts the response of one of the three disciple who were closest to Jesus: Peter (Ch. Mark 8:32 f.), John (Ch. Mark 9:38), and James, with John (Ch. Mark 10:35-37). Mark shows in this way that even the most privileged of the disciples failed to understand what the passion signified for their life and mission." [Note: Lane, p. 342.]
The folly of a sectarian attitude 9:38-42 (cf. Matthew 18:6-7; Luke 9:49-50)
Jesus did not mind that the man was casting out demons by invoking His name. Since the man had such respect for Jesus he would not speak against Him soon. By casting out demons he showed that he was not against Jesus. Jesus expressed the opposite truth in Matthew 12:30: "He who is not with me is against me." There is no neutral ground regarding one’s orientation to Jesus. Jesus’ point was that the disciples should not view the exorcist as an antagonist just because he was not part of their group. He was doing God’s will and would not oppose them.
The connecting idea with what precedes is the "name." Not only would the exorcist receive God’s blessing, but anyone who does anything to help another person using even the name of a disciple of Jesus would receive His reward. This help extends to the almost insignificant act of giving a cup of cold water to some thirsty person. This act was much less helpful than delivering from demonic affliction.
This is one of the rare occasions when Jesus used the title "Messiah" of Himself. His use of it here makes the lesson even more forceful. The person giving the cup of cold water might have only a superficial understanding of Jesus. Nonetheless if that person offered simple hospitality to one of Jesus’ disciples because he was a disciple of "Messiah" that one would receive God’s blessing.
This verse gives the other side of the idea just expressed. Anyone who discouraged a disciple of Jesus from following Him faithfully could expect severe treatment from God. Probably Jesus used the little child present to illustrate a childlike disciple (Mark 9:36-37; cf. Matthew 18:3-14). Jesus referred to a large donkey-driven millstone (Gr. mylos onikos), not a small one that people turned by hand (Gr. mylos). The Romans had so drowned some insurrectionists in Galilee (cf. Acts 5:37), and a group of the Galileans had so dealt with some of Herod’s supporters. [Note: Ibid., p. 346; Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum 1:67; Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 14:15:10.] The disciples had probably heard about these events.
"This brief incident stands as a firm rebuke to the spirit of sectarianism. It condemns that exclusive attitude which insists that only those who carry on their work in harmony with our own views and practices can be accepted as really doing God’s work. If they demonstrate that they are on God’s side in the war with Satan, even though their views may be imperfect, they must not be condemned for such work or regarded with abhorrence." [Note: Hiebert, p. 231.]
John evidently learned this lesson well as evidenced by the frequent references to loving one another that appear in his writings.
Jesus compared the members of the human body to the agents of sinful activities. He did not want His disciples to perform physical surgery but spiritual surgery to excise the sin within us. The language is hyperbolic, but Jesus described real sins. The threefold repetition highlights the importance of the warning (cf. Romans 6:12-13).
"It was not a Palestinian custom to refer to an abstract activity but to the specific member of the body which is responsible for it. For this reason Jesus speaks of the offending hand, foot and eye, all members which have highly important functions to fulfill." [Note: Lane, pp. 347-48.]
"As a surgeon does not hesitate to cut off a gangrenous hand to save a life, so evil and destructive practices, though precious to us as a very part of our lives, must be sacrificed to save the soul [person]." [Note: Hiebert, p. 232.]
"Hell" translates the Greek word gehenna, the transliteration of the Hebrew phrase ge hinnom (lit. "Valley of Hinnom"). This valley, just south of Jerusalem, is where apostate Jews formerly offered human sacrifices to the pagan god Molech (cf. Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5-6; Jeremiah 32:35). King Josiah terminated this practice and converted the site into a city dump where rubbish burned constantly (2 Kings 23:10). The fire never went out at gehenna and the worms that fed on the garbage never died. Unquenchable fire must be eternal. [Note: Lenski, p. 408.] External fire and internal worms are Old Testament pictures of destruction (cf. Isaiah 66:24). Thus gehenna became a picture of the place of eternal punishment (Enoch 27:2; 90:26), not annihilation. [Note: See Robert A. Peterson, "Does the Bible Teach Annihilationism?" Bibliotheca Sacra 156:621 (January-March 1999):13-27.] The word gehenna appears 12 times in the New Testament, and in all but one of these occurrences Jesus spoke it (i.e., James 3:6).
Disciples should take prompt and decisive action against anything that might lead them away from their allegiance to Jesus. Physical temptations come through the hands (what we do), the feet (where we go), and the eyes (what we see) primarily. Disciples who are believers will suffer the loss of rewards in the kingdom if they do not exercise self-discipline. Disciples who are unbelievers will experience eternal damnation if they fail to do so.
Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46 are absent in important early manuscripts. Probably scribes added them later to fill out the parallelism in the passage. They repeat Mark 9:48.
Failure in self-discipline 9:43-50 (cf. Matthew 18:8-14)
Jesus’ proceeded to elaborate on the importance of disciples dealing radically with sin in their lives. He had just warned about leading other disciples astray. Now He cautioned against being led astray oneself.
"Seducing simple souls is disastrously easy work; but still more easy is seducing oneself, by letting the body lead the spirit astray." [Note: Plummer, p. 226.]
This verse evidently alludes to Leviticus 2:13 (cf. Exodus 30:35; Ezekiel 43:24). The "everyone" in view could refer to unbelievers who enter hell. Unbelievers are the immediate antecedent of this verse. As salt preserves food, so God will preserve them forever in torment.
A second possibility is that "everyone" refers to believers living in a hostile world. Jesus’ believing disciples were those to whom He addressed these words. As the Old Testament priests salted the animal sacrifices, so God will season His living sacrifices with fiery trials to purify their faith (cf. 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 4:12). [Note: Hiebert, p. 234; Lane, p. 349; Lenski, pp. 410-11; Cranfield, pp. 315-16; Taylor, p. 413; Cole, p. 224.]
A third interpretation is that "everyone" refers to every person, unbelievers and believers alike. God will subject everyone to fiery trials. He does this to believers and unbelievers alike during their earthly lives (James 1:1-18). He will also do this to believers’ works when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ (cf. Matthew 25:14-46; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). He will do this to unbelievers when they stand before Him at the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). This seems to me to be the best interpretation. It takes "everyone" literally and is consistent with other revelation. The point is that everyone should realize that divine testing is an inevitable part of life. [Note: H. A. W. Meyer, "Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Gospels of Mark and Luke," in Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, pp. 120-23, listed 15 different interpretations.]
Since this verse appears only in Mark it must have had special significance for the original readers. If they were Roman Christians, it would have encouraged them to realize that the fires of persecution were part of their calling. Everyone will experience trials (cf. James 1:1-18). We sometimes say that into every life a little rain must fall. We could change that a little and say that into every life a little salt of testing must fall.
Jesus continued to use salt as a figure for testing. He said that tests from God, as salt on food, are good for us. Salt preserves food, prevents decay, and enhances flavor. The trials that God allows people to experience should have similar beneficial effects on them (cf. James 1:2-4). However if salt becomes bland, it will not achieve its desired results (cf. Matthew 5:13). Likewise if God’s trials lose their bite-if we become insensible and unresponsive to the self-discipline that He is seeking to teach us, by hardening our hearts-these trials can cease to benefit us. Therefore we must have salt in ourselves, namely, accept the trials that God sends us that demand self-discipline rather than rejecting them. Furthermore we must live peacefully with one another rather than becoming sectarian (Mark 9:38) or self-seeking (Mark 9:34).
This command concludes this section of instruction that deals with the enemies of disciple fidelity (Mark 9:33-50).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Mark 9". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28