Tuesday, June 6th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Mark 9". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ mark-9.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Mark 9". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
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‘And he said to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some here of those who stand by who will in no way taste of death until they see the Kingly Rule of God has come with power.” ’
The introductory ‘and He said to them’ separates this saying off from the earlier ones, and the presence of Scribes (Mark 9:14; Mark 9:30) suggests that they were now back in Galilee. The words were probably spoken only to His disciples. They have caused a great deal of discussion, especially in view of the parallel verse in Matthew. The basic question is, what did Jesus mean when He spoke of ‘the Kingly Rule of God’ being seen as having come with power’? In Matthew it reads, ‘until they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingly Rule’ (Matthew 16:28). Luke reads, ‘until they see the Kingly Rule of God’ (Luke 9:27). For He said that there were some there who would not die until they had seen it. Note especially that here the emphasis is on the coming of His Kingly Rule ‘with power’ which will occur in such a way that it will be for those who see it a past event (perfect tense), not on its future coming ‘in glory’ (Luke 8:38).
We can compare the words in Matthew 16:28 with Jesus’ words at His trial. In Matthew 26:64, in reply to the question as to whether He was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus said to Chief Priests, Scribes and Elders who were present,, ‘ From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power (i.e. God) and coming on the clouds of Heaven’ (compareMark 14:62; Mark 14:62). This must be interpreted in its context. It is clearly intended to have significance for His hearers, and to be understood by them in the light of their question, and of their own state of knowledge, and in their case their minds would immediately turn to Psalms 110:1 (quoted in Matthew 22:44), ‘You sit at my right hand’ and Daniel 7:12-13 ‘there came with the clouds of heaven one like a son of man’. ‘The right hand of power’ is a synonym for ‘the right hand of God’, ‘power’ being used, as was customary with the Jews, to avoid the use of the word ‘God’, which they sought to avoid. Here therefore Jesus speaks of His receiving Kingly Rule and their witnessing it (in its effects) as something shortly to happen (‘from now on, from the present time’).
Neither of these references would suggest to his listeners a leaving of and return to earth. Both would be seen as signifying that His claim was that He would be crowned as God’s chosen king, the latter after coming to the throne of God in Heaven, presumably in some kind of mystical experience. The ‘sitting at the right hand of God’ indicated His coronation and subsequent reign, and the ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’ represented a coming to the throne of God to receive everlasting dominion (Daniel 7:13-14). And Jesus told them that it was something that they would ‘see from the present time’, not necessarily literally with their eyes, but by seeing it manifested on earth. In other words His enthronement as king would be made apparent to them in what was in some way shortly to follow. Clearly then He spoke of His enthronement and its after effects as an event about to happen and to be evidenced on earth. Thus we must see Matthew 16:28, which uses similar language, in that light as well.
So ‘see the Son of Man coming in His Kingly Rule’ can be seen as connected with the idea of His enthronement at the right hand of God as He came before His Father ‘in the clouds of heaven’ (signifying a heavenly connection) and we should note that in Matthew it is later specifically stated by Jesus as having occurred at His resurrection, when He says ‘all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth’ resulting in the going out of the disciples to ‘disciple all nations’ (Matthew 28:18-19) and the building up of a new people of God. This would certainly be something that would be ‘seen’ by the leading Jewish authorities (Matthew 26:64) and also by the disciples (Matthew 16:28), apart of course from Judas.
Furthermore in Acts 2:34-36 Peter uses Psalms 110:1 ‘sit on My right hand’ to indicate the enthronement of Jesus as ‘both Lord and Messiah’ and directly connects it with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). As far as he was concerned, at Pentecost he ‘saw’ the Son of Man coming in His Kingly Power.
What then are we to make of the meaning of Mark 9:1 and its parallels? Firstly we should note that the emphasis is on the coming of God’s Kingly Rule (or in Matthew ‘His Kingly Rule’) in ‘power’ (dunamis) as something that will be experienced by some present while they are yet alive. There is no thought of the ‘glory’ which is elsewhere always emphasised when His final coming is baldly stated (Matthew 16:27; Matthew 19:28; Matthew 24:27; Matthew 24:30; Mark 8:38; Mark 10:37; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27).
Secondly we should remember that Jesus has spoken of the Kingly Rule of God as ‘drawing near’ and as something available to His hearers. For in response to the question as to when the Kingly Rule of God will come, He had said:
'b7 That it was ‘among or within them’ (Luke 17:21).
· That from the time of John the Baptiser ‘the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God is preached and every man presses (enters violently) into it’ (Luke 16:16; Matthew 11:12).
· That men were even then being made ‘disciples to the Kingly Rule of heaven’ (Matthew 13:52).
· That they must receive the Kingly Rule of God like a little child if they were to enter (Mark 10:15).
· That the good seed in the parable prior to the end were the ‘sons of the Kingly Rule’ (Matthew 13:38).
· And He had said, ‘if I by the Spirit of God cast out devils, then is the Kingly Rule of God come upon you” (Matthew 12:27).
Thus the Kingly Rule of God was to be seen as present at that time as well as being something which was to be experienced in the future at the end time. To Jesus, therefore, as a result of His coming, the Kingly Rule of God was an ever present reality, both in the present and in the future. Its revelation in power is not therefore necessarily the same thing as its revelation in glory.
Thirdly we should note that this word of Jesus is placed before the Transfiguration scene in each Gospel and connected with it specifically by a time reference e.g. ‘after six days’. Thus it was clearly seen as having some connection in some way with the Transfiguration.
In the light of what we have seen earlier it is probable therefore that we are to see it as fulfilled in three ways, each interconnected.
1). It found partial fulfilment in the Transfiguration. There the majesty and glory of the King, hidden from the world, was revealed, supported by those two pillars of God who represented the Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah, who had proclaimed His word and whose ministry and word He was to bring to fulfilment. The Kingly Rule of God was seen on the mountain in embryo with its manifested power and glory, for the Transfiguration foreshadowed both the resurrection and exaltation of Christ to God’s right hand brought about with power (Romans 1:4; Philippians 3:10) and His second coming in glory. Some see in this a sufficient fulfilment, for it was a unique and incredible experience for those who witnessed it, and indeed for us all. But against this is the fact that His talk of some not tasting death would be odd if He was talking about something that would occur within a week. On the other hand it can be argued that most of those who were there would taste of death without seeing the transfiguration.
2). It found further fulfilment when Jesus, having been raised to God’s right hand, appeared to His disciples to inform them that He had received from God ‘all authority -- in heaven and earth’ (Matthew 28:18) and was sending them out to ‘make disciples’ of the nations, with ‘signs’ (of power) following (Mark 16:15-18). Indeed He promised them that shortly they would receive ‘power (dunamis) from on High’ (Luke 24:49 compare Acts 1:8). The Kingly Rule of God would thus ‘come with power’.
3). It found its complete fulfilment when the King, having risen, sat down at God’s right hand (Acts 2:34-35) and received and poured out the Holy Spirit on God’s people at Pentecost (Acts 2:33). By this He empowered them to go out throughout the known world with ‘power’ (dunamis) (Acts 1:7-8; Acts 3:12; Acts 4:7; Acts 4:33; Acts 6:8), preaching the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God where He was proclaimed both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36), and performing ‘miracles’ (signs) before the people (Acts 4:16; Acts 4:22; Acts 6:8; Acts 8:6). Then indeed they did see the Kingly Rule of God ‘coming in power’ (see 1 Corinthians 4:19-20), and they saw through Stephen the Son of Man, having received His dominion, coming to manifest Himself in His Kingly Rule (Acts 7:56), just as He had similarly manifested Himself to the three. And all this confirmed by the fact that within forty years there appeared to be Christians everywhere.
To the objection that the verse says that only ‘some standing here’ would see it, we can point out that if the words were spoken to a crowd of any size it was always likely that quite a number would die before the event, as Judas certainly did before 2) and 3), and as James did before it reached out to the Gentiles (Acts 12:2). Thus all that Jesus was saying was that it would be delayed long enough for some to die before it occurred, but that others would be preserved in order to see its fulfilment. Thus it would certainly be within the lifetime of others. (In the case of the Transfiguration only some did see it). And the same applies with the outreach of the Kingly Rule of God to the nations.
But the words provide a further assurance, for in His previous words Jesus had been stressing not only that He must suffer, but that His disciples must also be ready to suffer, and even to face martyrdom. Here therefore He is giving assurance that that will in no way hinder the advance of the Kingly Rule of God. They must not think that the tasting of death by some of them will prevent its onward growth.
Jesus is Transfigured Before Peter, James and John and Reveals His Glory (9:1-8).
Having revealed to His disciples His coming glory, based on His coming suffering, Jesus will now completely open half-opened blind eyes so that they may see fully. It is one thing to be told of the glory that is coming, it is another to see it with one’s own eyes. In a sense what happens now is a preview of Jesus’ second coming.
There also seems little doubt that Jesus intended the scene now described to be looked on as to some extent paralleling Moses’ entry into the Mount to meet God in Exodus. There Moses went into the mountain after six days where He met with God, accompanied by his servant Joshua, and beheld in a cloud the glory of God, observed also by the favoured group of seventy who had gathered in the Mount and eaten before God (Exodus 24:1-2; Exodus 24:9-11; Exodus 24:13-18). But the thought is not so much of a new Moses as of a new ‘divine event’.
Here the three disciples are taken up into the Mount, but what they see there is Moses with Elijah, who behold the glory of Jesus. The inference is clear. Jesus is on the divine side of reality, and is fulfilling the Law and the prophets. The disciples would not understand this at the time, but later John would write, ‘And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Son of a Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14), while Peter would declare, ‘We were eyewitnesses of His majesty’ (2 Peter 1:16).
Analysis of 9:1-10.
a And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some here of those who stand by, who will in no way taste of death, until they see the Kingly Rule of God has come with power” (Mark 9:1).
b And after six days Jesus takes with Him Peter, and James, and John, and brings them up into a high mountain apart by themselves (Mark 9:2 a).
c And He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became glistering, exceedingly white, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them (Mark 9:2-3).
d And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus (Mark 9:4).
e And Peter answers and says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here” (Mark 9:5 a).
d “And let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah”, for he did not know what to answer, for they became grievously afraid (Mark 9:5-6).
c And there came a cloud overshadowing them, and there came a voice out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, hear you Him” (Mark 9:7).
b And suddenly looking round about, they saw no one any more, except Jesus only with themselves (Mark 9:8).
a And as they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, until the Son of man should have risen again from the dead, and they kept the saying, questioning among themselves what the rising again from the dead should mean (Mark 9:9-10).
Note that in ‘a’ some would not taste of death until they saw the Kingly Rule of God come with power, and in the parallel the three were not to tell anyone of what they had seen until the Son of Man was risen from the dead. In ‘b’ the three went into the mountain with Jesus, and in the parallel they look round and see Jesus only with themselves. In ‘c’ the transfigured Jesus is described in all His glory, and in the parallel the voice declares Him to be the Father’s beloved Son Who is to be listened to. In ‘d’ Elijah and Moses were talking with Jesus, and in the parallel Peter suggests making booths for all three so that they might live in them. Centrally in ‘e’ Peter declares that it was good for them to be there.
SECTION 3. Jesus’ Ministry Throughout Galilee and In The Surrounding Regions (4:35-9:32).
After the initial opening up of the story of Jesus with its continual emphasis on His unique authority, Who He was and what He had come to do (Mark 4:1-3), and the series of parables which have indicated how the Kingly Rule of God was to expand (Mark 4:1-34), Mark now indicates how this expansion continued to occur through the ministry of Jesus in Galilee and the surrounding regions. At the same time he continues to expand on the glory and authority of Jesus Christ Himself as revealed in His activities. This last which lead up to the disciples’ recognition that He is the Messiah (Mark 8:29-30), in His subsequently being revealed in glory on a mountain in the presence of Peter, James and John (Mark 9:2-8), and in Jesus reinterpretation of His Messiahship in terms of the suffering Son of Man (Mark 8:31; Mark 9:9; Mark 9:12; Mark 9:30-32).
The emphasis on the suffering Son of Man will be the final emphasis of this section (Mark 9:30-32), and must therefore be seen as one of its primary aims. In view of the power and authority that He constantly revealed, it must have seemed totally contradictory. But Mark makes quite clear that it was so. In the midst of His powerful activity Jesus constantly made clear that He had come to die.
Meanwhile Mark totally ignores any ministry of Jesus in Judaea, together with His regular visits to Jerusalem for the feasts (as described by John). These would undoubtedly have taken place. No pious Galilean Jew would have failed over a period of time to make regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the different feasts. But Mark rather wants the concentration on His ministry to be seen as taking place in Galilee, with Jerusalem seen as the place which will reject and crucify Him. He is thus concerned to present a full picture of the glory of Christ, while facing his readers and hearers up to the fact that it will finally result in suffering and death, although always as leading on to His resurrection.
Analysis of 4:35-9:32.
Jesus leaves the regions around Capernaum (Mark 4:35).
a Sailing across the sea of Galilee alone with His disciples Jesus stills a mighty storm with His powerful word, while His disciples reveal their unbelief and ask, ‘Who is this?’ (Mark 4:35-41).
b He reveals His power over unclean spirits by healing a demoniac and commands the healed man to ‘go and tell’ (Mark 5:1-20).
c He reveals His power over uncleanness by healing a woman who is constantly losing life sustaining blood, thus making her ritually ‘unclean’, but above all over death by raising Jairus’ daughter. It is a manifestation of His glory to the three who have come apart with him to witness His glory and there are also two other witnesses to His glory (the child’s father and mother) (Mark 5:21-43).
d His own townsfolk do not know Who He is. He reveals His powerful words and mighty works so that His own townsfolk reveal their unbelief and ask ‘Where did this man get all this?’ (Mark 6:1-6 a).
e He sends out His disciples to teach and with authority over unclean spirits, and they reveal their faith and are successful (Mark 6:6-13).
f Herod executes John the Baptist, and offers his head on a dish, revealing the ways and the type of ‘food’ of the kingly rule of man on earth, while fearing his resurrection (Mark 6:14-29).
g The disciples return from their mission telling Him of the signs that they have accomplished and are called aside to be alone with Jesus. They are fulfilling the ministry that should have been the Pharisees had they but believed (Mark 6:30-32).
h Jesus feeds five thousand with five loaves and two fish, revealing the provision of heavenly food in the Kingly Rule of God on earth (Mark 6:33-44).
i Jesus walks to His disciples on the water, and they cry out in their unbelief and reveal their failure to hear and speak clearly because their hearts are hardened and they do not understand. They are spiritually deaf (Mark 6:45-52).
j The people gather to Him and He heals all who come to Him (Mark 6:53-56).
k Jesus challenges the Pharisees and Scribes with the fact that they pay more heed to tradition than to the word of God, and points out to the crowds that it is not outward things that defile a man but what is within the inner man (Mark 7:1-22).
j The Syro-phoenician woman comes to Him and He heals her stricken son (Mark 7:24-30).
i He heals the deaf and speech impaired man, a picture of the need of the disciples, and of Israel (Mark 7:31-37).
h He feeds the four thousand in Gentile territory and gives them bread from God’s table (Mark 8:1-10).
g The Pharisees reveal what is within them by seeking a sign, upsetting Jesus deeply and He declares that no sign will be given, which reveals why their ministry is barren so that they can have no part in His work (Mark 8:11-13).
f Jesus tells His disciples to beware of the leavened bread (the teaching) of the Pharisees and of Herod (or of the Herodians), and to hear and understand (Mark 8:14-21).
e The blind man’s eyes are gradually opened (Mark 8:22-26).
d The disciples do recognise Who Jesus is and learn that He must suffer. (They have learned from where He had ‘got all this’) (Mark 8:27 to Mark 9:1).
c Jesus is transfigured in such a way that His glory is revealed before the chosen three. The three come apart with Jesus and two other witnesses (Moses and Elijah) bear witness to His glory (Mark 9:2-13).
b The demon possessed boy is remarkably healed (Mark 9:14-29).
a The disciples are alone with Jesus and learn that spiritual storms lay ahead for Him and for themselves, receiving the fuller revelation of Who He is (Mark 9:30-32).
Jesus returns to Capernaum (Mark 9:33 a).
Note firstly how this whole section is sandwiched within visits to Capernaum, which had become a kind of headquarters for Jesus and His disciples. All therefore that takes place in this section radiates out from Capernaum. The section begins in ‘a’ with Jesus’ power revealed over nature in the stilling of the storm, while in the parallel Jesus tells His disciples of the ‘storm’ that yet awaits Him in the future to which He must submit. Nature He can control, but man must be allowed to perform his evil will to the utmost if mankind are to be saved. In ‘b’ He heals the demoniac, and in the parallel He heals the demon possessed boy. Both are extreme cases of possession. In ‘c’ He takes Peter, James and John apart and, in the presence of two witnesses (the girl’s father and mother), raises a young girl from the dead, revealing that He is the Lord of life, and in the parallel He takes Peter, James and John apart and is transfigured before them in the presence of two witnesses, Moses and Elijah, revealing that He is the Lord of glory. In both cases what has been seen is not to be spread abroad. In ‘d’ Jesus’ own townsfolk fail to recognise Him and ask ‘Where did this man get all this?’. while in the parallel His disciples do recognise Him and recognise where His power does come from, it is of God. In ‘e’ He sends out His disciples to teach and to have authority over unclean spirits, and they reveal their faith and their growing awareness, and are successful, and in the parallel we have the picture of the blind man whose eyes are gradually opened, a picture of what is happening to the disciples (it comes before the incident where the eyes of the disciples are known to have been opened when they confess His Messiahship). In ‘f’ Herod executes John the Baptist, and offers his head on a dish, revealing the ways and the type of ‘food’ offered under the kingly rule of man on earth, while in the parallel Jesus warns His disciples to beware of the leaven of Herod. In ‘g’ the disciples return from their mission telling Jesus of the signs that they have accomplished and are called aside to be alone with Jesus, while in the parallel the Pharisees are vainly looking for signs and He leaves them. In ‘h’ Jesus feeds five thousand Jewish believers with five loaves and two fish, revealing the provision of heavenly food in the Kingly Rule of God on earth, and in the parallel He feeds four thousand Jewish and Gentile believers with seven loaves and some fish, revealing the same. In ‘i’ Jesus walks to His disciples on the water, and in their unbelief they cry out and reveal their failure to hear and speak clearly, a result of the fact that their hearts are hardened so that they do not understand. They are spiritually deaf. And in the parallel a man who is deaf and stammering in his speech is healed. In ‘j’ the people gather to Him and He heals all who come to Him, and in the parallel the Syro-phoenician, typical of the Gentiles, comes to Him and He heals her daughter. Centrally in ‘k’ Jesus challenges the Pharisees and Scribes with the fact that they pay more heed to tradition than to the word of God, and points out to the crowds that it is not outward things that defile a man. It is what is within the inner man.
This larger section is divided up into smaller subsections of which the first is Mark 4:35 to Mark 6:6 a.
The Eyes of The Disciples Are Opened (8:22-9:33a).
Following on Jesus’ concern at the lack of understanding of the disciples we now learn how their eyes are gradually opened to see at least something of the truth. The subsection commences with the healing of a blind man in two stages, a picture of what is happening to the disciples, and moves on to the disciples’ recognition that Jesus is the Messiah. The consequence of this is that Jesus then begins to emphasise that His way is to be a way of suffering as the Son of Man, followed by His revelation in glory. And at the same time He gives to Peter, James and John a vision of that glory. It is necessary for them to know both sides of Who He is. From Mark’s viewpoint Jesus at last lays aside the veil that has covered His teaching, and reveals openly what lies ahead. It is a way of suffering and glory, resulting in final triumph. And it has been made possible by their recognition of Him as the Messiah.
Analysis of 8:22-9:33a.
He comes to Bethsaida (Mark 8:22)
a The blind man’s eyes are gradually opened (Mark 8:22-26)
b The disciples recognise Who Jesus is (Mark 8:27-30).
c They learn that He must suffer before His glory is revealed (Mark 8:31 to Mark 9:1).
d In the transfiguration His glory is revealed before the chosen three in the presence of Moses and Elijah (Mark 9:2-8).
c They learn that they must not tell others of what they have seen until after the resurrection and learn that Elijah has already come to restore all things, leading up to the suffering of the Son of Man and of Elijah himself (Mark 9:9-13).
b The demon possessed boy is remarkably healed revealing the uniqueness of Jesus. No other could do what He did (Mark 9:14-29).
a The disciples are alone with Jesus and learn that spiritual storms lay ahead for Him and for themselves. Their eyes are being gradually opened (Mark 9:30-32).
He returns to Capernaum (Mark 9:33 a).
Note that in ‘a’ the eyes of the blind man are gradually opened, and in the parallel Jesus opens the eyes of the disciples to what lies ahead. In ‘b’ the disciples, through Peter their spokesman, recognise that Jesus is the Messiah, and in the parallel they are made aware of His total uniqueness and authority. In ‘c’ they learn that He must suffer before His glory is revealed, and in the parallel they learn the same. Centrally in ‘d’ Jesus is transfigured and His glory is revealed.
‘And after six days Jesus takes with him Peter, and James and John, and brings them apart into a high mountain by themselves.’
‘After six days.’ Matthew follows Mark in this, and Luke has ‘about eight days after’ (his source probably included the day when Jesus spoke Mark 9:1 and the day of the Transfiguration itself, not just the six days in between). Thus all connect the Transfiguration with the previous verse (Mark 9:1 and parallels) by a time note. Such a time reference is rare in the Synoptics and Luke’s variation stresses that it was not just something retained in the tradition but was significant. So all wish to make the connection clear.
In the case of Matthew and Mark the six days may be seen as reflecting the six days that Moses waited before on the seventh day he went up to meet God in the cloud (Exodus 24:16), but if so Luke has blurred the point. But Peter (Mark’s source) and Matthew might have remembered how Jesus had emphasised the need to wait for six days for this very reason.
‘Peter, and James and John.’ These were the inner three and seemingly the recognised leadership and were privileged to be present at outstanding events. They were also witnesses to the raising from the dead of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:37) and to Jesus’ agonies in Gethsemane (Mark 14:33). The omission of the article before John demonstrates that he and his brother were seen very much as a pair, compare for this their joint name ‘sons of thunder’ (Mark 3:17).
‘Brings them apart into a high mountain by themselves.’ The mention of taking them with Him and going into a high mountain may have been in order to make a comparison with Moses, who took Joshua and went up into the mountain to meet with God where the glory of God was to be revealed (Exodus 24:13-18), after which the face of Moses shone with an unearthly glow (Exodus 34:29-35). But here is a greater than Moses, for it was Jesus Whose glory was revealed. Matthew does stress that His face shone like the sun (Matthew 17:2 compare Luke 9:29) but in this case it was with His own glory, not with a reflected glory. Elijah too was associated with a special revelation of God in the mount of God (1 Kings 19:8-12). Thus Jesus may be seen here as declaring that He was the new Moses, and the new Elijah, and as superseding and more glorious than them both (Mark 9:4; Mark 9:8). Compare how He supersedes and is more glorious than Jonah and Solomon who were both witnesses to the nations (Matthew 12:41-42).
The identity of the mountain is uncertain. The presence of Scribes when they came down (Mark 9:14; Mark 9:30) may suggest that they were now in Galilee which would emphasise the separation of Mark 9:1 and this incident from what went before.
‘And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became glistering, extremely white, in such a way that no launderer on earth can whiten them.’
A remarkable transformation of Jesus is described in terms which show that it was really indescribable. It was a vision of the glory of heaven and of absolute purity. They ‘beheld His glory’ (John 1:14) and were ‘eyewitnesses of His majesty’ (2 Peter 1:16). We are probably intended to see in this a preview of ‘the glory of His Father’ which would be revealed at His coming (Mark 8:38)?
‘Transfigured.’ The word indicates transformation (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18), a change in form. The description following is thus an attempt to portray the unportrayable, a revelation of heavenly glory and purity. Words had to be found to portray something that was totally unearthly. (Luke avoids the word, possibly because among the Gentiles, without a background of Jewish apocalyptic literature, it had associations with pagan mythology and magic). The point here is that the earthly Jesus was revealed in His usually hidden heavenly glory which transformed His mortal body.
‘Glistering.’ That is, shining and radiant. The word is used in LXX of the glittering of metals, especially as connected with supernatural events (Ezekiel 40:3; Daniel 10:6; also Ezekiel 21:10; Ezekiel 21:15; Ezekiel 21:28;). The idea here may be of the glory of the heavens. Matthew and Luke expand on it. Matthew adds ‘His face did shine as the sun’ (Matthew 17:2 compare Revelation 1:16; Revelation 10:1 also see Matthew 28:3; Daniel 10:6 where the picture is of lightning) while Luke says ‘the fashion of His countenance was altered’ (Mark 9:29). The clear idea is of One Who was of heaven and not of earth.
‘Extremely white.’ Exceedingly white, whiter than white, a white beyond imagination. It was a vision of total righteousness and purity (compare Daniel 7:9 of the Ancient of Days). We are reminded by it of Him Who sits in eternity, Whose name is Holy (Isaiah 57:15). And those who are purified by God will become so glistening white (Psalms 51:7; Isaiah 1:18), and in the end will be made like Him (1 John 3:1-2). White clothes are regularly the indication of a heavenly visitant (Mark 16:5; Matthew 28:3; John 20:12; Acts 1:10; Daniel 7:9; compare Revelation 4:4; Revelation 15:6).
So Jesus is portrayed as the glorious Son of Man (Mark 8:38), and later as the even more glorious ‘only beloved Son of God’ (see Mark 9:7).
‘And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.’
The disciples may have remembered how Elijah and Moses had both previously gone up into a mountain to talk with God at special times when they were in God’s service on earth. Now it was Jesus Who had gone up into the mountain and here were Elijah and Moses also come to the mountain to speak with Him. Those who represented the Prophets and the Law, the sources of the word of God of the Old Testament, were acknowledging Jesus before chosen witnesses. This was the point Mark was seeking to get over to his readers. (Luke 9:31 tells us that they appeared in glory and spoke of His ‘exodus’ which He would accomplish at Jerusalem and in view of the presence of Moses we are justified in seeing in that term the deliverance of His people through suffering and death. But that was not Mark’s emphasis here).
Mark alone gives Elijah precedence (although the names are switched in the next verse). This may well have been because Elijah was the figure whose coming was constantly expected in 1st century Judaism (see Mark 9:11; John 1:21). And now he had come and had brought Moses with him, as two witnesses to the glory of Jesus. Here was evidence indeed of His Messiahship. But there may also be in mind here that Elijah and Moses were seen as figures who had never died. Elijah had been taken up into Heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11), and Moses had been ‘buried by God’ (Deuteronomy 34:6), and tradition had it that the angels had taken him up to God. Thus these two came directly from the presence of God to witness to Jesus, adding their twofold testimony to the angels elsewhere.
How did they know that it was Elijah and Moses? The answer may be that it was as a result of a spiritual awareness brought about by their appearance (Elijah may well have been dressed in his distinctive garb) and also surely from the conversation that they overheard. But just as God could bring up Samuel (1 Samuel 28:12-20), so He could bring up Moses and Elijah in recognisable form. It tells us nothing about the afterlife or the post-resurrection body. The resurrection had not yet taken place. The impact of this appearance no doubt influenced John in his depiction of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:0, spoken of in terms reminiscent of Moses and Elijah. Both had also been willing to offer up their lives for the people of God (Exodus 32:32; 1 Kings 19:2; 1 Kings 19:10; 1 Kings 19:14). Who better then to discuss Jesus’ ‘exodus’ (Luke 9:31).
The coming of Elijah had been prophesied by Malachi 4:5, and this expectation was very much alive in the hearts of the people of Israel (Mark 6:15; Mark 8:11; Mark 9:11), being continually present in their tradition. Even today at their Passover feasts they leave an empty seat for Elijah. It is quite possible that the disciples, having not fully grasped Jesus’ teaching that John the Baptiser was the coming Elijah, thought that this was Elijah now come, and what was more bringing with him Moses, and that Jesus had come up to welcome them.
‘And Peter answers and says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here (or ‘it is good that we are here’). And let us make three booths, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to answer for they were filled with a dread sense of awe (were dreadfully afraid).’
If anything confirms the genuineness of the account it is this. As always Peter could not keep quiet. James and John could watch in silent awe, but not Peter. And when he did speak it was with the vain babbling of a man overcome by an ‘out of this world’ experience. But he clearly did not see it as ‘out of this world’ or as a ‘vision’ because otherwise he would not have spoken of erecting three booths for them (out of branches and leaves). To him at least they were real live persons. How he must have cringed when he thought of what he had said later, and how typical of him that he did not attempt to hide the truth. No one would later have invented this of Peter (Mark excuses him with ‘he did not know how to respond to the situation’). And interestingly he called Jesus ‘Rabbi’ (‘my revered teacher’), the tender word by which he knew Him, another touch of authenticity. In the circumstances it was incongruous. Only Peter’s familiarity with Jesus could have produced it. He called Him that because he always called Him that. An inventor in such circumstances would have introduced ‘Lord’ or ‘Son of Man’. But there may well also be an indication here that Peter saw here three of the great teachers of Israel.
It may also be that there was relief in his words. His spirit had rebelled against the idea of the Master suffering, and it must have come home to him that now perhaps it would not be after all. With Moses and Elijah here things would be very different. Even the Scribes would see that. (How often we struggle within ourselves against what God has willed).
The idea behind the building of the booths would appear to be in order to keep Jesus’ two companions on earth for a while. He may have thought in terms of them being able to spend time with them, providing a foretaste of heaven, or even of what a testimony this would present to the Pharisees. And what a source of teaching for the world - Jesus, Moses and Elijah! It would be natural for him to think that now that Elijah had finally come, and had come with Moses, men would surely flock and believe.
(But they had not so flocked and believed when they were on earth. Nor on the whole did men permanently flock and believe under John the Baptiser and Jesus. Peter did not know men’s hearts as Jesus did. How like us he was. What we would give to have Moses and Elijah present with us, preaching in our churches. But we have God with us. What want we more? When men like them do come they will be treated summarily - Revelation 11:0).
‘And they were filled with a dread sense of awe and fear.’ We are so used to the Transfiguration scene that it may no longer fill us with awe. But if we pause for a moment and think about it perhaps the awe will overtake us. They had come up unsuspectingly into the mountain with Jesus and suddenly this immense change had taken place in Him, something brighter and more glorious than the sun in its splendour, together with a sense of extreme whiteness, of awful holiness and purity. And then two of the greatest men ever known, as far as the Jew was concerned, had appeared there with them talking with the glorified Jesus. No wonder it was all too much and turned Peter into a babbler. John would later say, ‘and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only son of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). But that was after later reflection.
We should note how often Mark speaks of Jesus followers being ‘afraid’ or ‘awestruck’. They were afraid when they realised how He had stilled the storm at a word (Mark 4:41). They were afraid when they saw Him walking on the water (Mark 6:50). They were afraid when they saw His glory here. They were afraid when He spoke to them of His coming suffering, death and resurrection (Mark 9:32). They would be afraid at the way that Jesus seemed to be pressing on towards Jerusalem (Mark 10:32). And the women would be afraid when they learned of His resurrection (Mark 16:8). All these were experiences which took them away from the ordinary, and from what they could understand. Their fear was a sign of how human and inadequate they were. But it was also a sign of their appreciation of what they saw or heard. They recognised that they were in the presence of the divine, and they were afraid and filled with awe.
‘And there came a cloud overshadowing them, and there came a voice from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”
The appearance of Moses and Elijah was followed by an overshadowing cloud which was testimony to the fact that God too had come to join the company (Exodus 19:9). It was once more a reminder of Moses in the mount of God (Exodus 24:18), but this time overshadowed Jesus, Moses and Elijah. This was their ‘booth’. They needed no other. And from the cloud came a voice to the disciples (compare Exodus 24:16; Psalms 99:7). And it made crystal clear to the three disciples the uniqueness of Jesus. For God testified to the fact that He was His ‘own beloved Son’, and that He was the One Who must above all be listened to. He was greater than Moses, He was greater than Elijah. In Him came the full truth about God. All other messengers had been superseded.
The idea that Jesus was the Father’s beloved Son had been emphasised after His baptism (Mark 1:11). It was apparent to the demon world (Mark 3:11; Mark 5:7). It is brought home to them here. It will be revealed in veiled form in the parable of the wicked tenants (Mark 12:6). And Rome acknowledges it at the cross (Mark 15:39). It runs like a golden cord through the narrative. This is God’s beloved Son.
‘A cloud overshadowing them.’ By the cloud God reveals His presence, yet veils it, and a cloud is regularly connected with the glory of God being revealed. (Exodus 19:9; Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 14:19; Exodus 14:24; Exodus 24:15-16; Exodus 33:9-10; Exodus 40:34-38; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Ezekiel 10:3-4). Here it is the glory of Jesus that is revealed and then veiled by the cloud. The implication of His divinity is unmistakable.
‘My beloved Son.’ See Mark 1:11. It would be some time before the full significance of this would dawn on the disciples, but from now on they had to recognise that He was like no other. He was truly the Messiah, but not only the Messiah, He had a unique relationship with the Father. ‘Beloved’ reflects the fact that Jesus was not adopted by God like the kings of Israel but was unique. It practically reflects the same idea as the ‘only begotten’ - it is used in LXX to indicate Abraham’s ‘only son’ and Jephthah’s ‘only daughter’ - but was especially suitable as distinguishing Jesus from the earlier Davidic kings, as the One Whom God essentially and uniquely loved, His only beloved Son, Whose relationship with God was like no other (compare Mark 12:6).
‘Listen to Him.’ Listen is a strong expression and means take notice and obey, for He is the ‘Prophet like Moses’ who was to come. It echoes Deuteronomy 18:15. (See Deuteronomy 18:15 with Deuteronomy 18:18-19). Moses and Elijah are not now required for He is the One Who is greater than all, and if men will not hear Him they will hear no one. The idea of the Prophet like to Moses was linked in 1st century Judaism with Messianic expectations.
‘And suddenly looking round about they saw no one any more except Jesus only with themselves.’
Then suddenly the cloud lifted and it was all over. All was back to normal. There were just themselves with Jesus only. And they now knew that with Jesus here Moses and Elijah were superfluous. But they had been there in order to testify to Jesus as heavenly witnesses, and that was important. The three would never see Jesus in quite the same way again.
Yet it is a testimony to the self-seeking of the human heart that one result of this experience would be for James and John to seek the highest place for themselves in their expectation of the coming kingdom (Mark 10:35-37). We can see their thinking. Now that Elijah and Moses had come and gone it was between them and Peter, and they wanted the place that Moses and Elijah had enjoyed for themselves. That was the lesson that they had learned from the transfiguration. They had still not grasped the idea that they were called to be servants and to serve. It would take the cross for them to realise that.
‘Except Jesus only.’ In Him they now knew they had everything for He was now unmistakably revealed as the glorious Messiah and the unique Son of God.
‘And as they were coming down from the mountain he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, except when the Son of Man should have risen again from the dead.’
Jesus now reminds them as they are coming down from the mountain of His coming death and resurrection and He charges them to tell no one what they have seen until after His resurrection from the dead has taken place. This should have brought home to them even more vividly that His death and resurrection were shortly to happen, and He will even back it up by re-emphasising it again in Mark 9:12. And we might think that if He could speak of His death and resurrection in such circumstances surely they would accept it and understand. But the fact is that there is no one so blind as a person who thinks that he understands and is satisfied with his own ideas, and the truth was that each of them was looking forward to his part in a physical kingdom on earth, and thinking those terms, and were prepared in the light of it to glide over the method by which it would be obtained. If Jesus was to die for the cause and then be brought back to life by God then so be it. But it was the kingdom that was important. They had dreams of glory, but it was mainly of glory for themselves. Thus they were unable to think prosaically. They just did not have an inkling that Jesus was talking about a simple arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection for the sins of the world. Their minds were filled with ‘kingdom’ ideas.
But this demonstrated how totally unable they were to get onto God’s wavelength. Indeed they must have wrestled in their own minds with how this new teaching about some form of ‘death and resurrection’ fitted in with what they had seen in the mountain and into their ideas. Did it mean that He was going to have an experience even more vivid and form-changing than the one that they had just seen, emerging from it with even more spectacular powers with which to defeat the Romans and establish Jerusalem as the centre of things? No wonder that they thought that they must secure their own positions early on. For if it was so it was clear from this that He would soon be establishing His kingdom with power, as He had just stated. And they wanted to make sure that they did not miss out. And the way to do this was to book their seats beforehand. Perhaps, indeed, they thought that that was why Jesus had let them see and hear what they had. Perhaps this was their commissioning for glory. But the last thing that they even considered was the truth, and that the reason why they had been given this experience was in order to strengthen an infant community of God’s new people after the shock of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. (It is salutary to think that one of these three witnesses would be obliterated by Satan (Acts 12:2), who would also make an attempt on a second (Acts 12:3-17). Only John would then have been left, and he would have been next).
‘He charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen.’ They themselves were confused and it was therefore wise that they said nothing until they understood it better. All kinds of wrong ideas might have been dreamed up, both by them and by others, if what had happened came out without the resurrection putting it in perspective.
‘Except when the Son of Man should have risen again from the dead.’ In this they again learned of His coming death and resurrection, although we learn here that they were still puzzled as to its meaning. They knew, of course, of the general resurrection taught by the Pharisees but this was clearly something different, an individual resurrection. But what did it mean? Perhaps they looked back to how Jesus had taken them in with Him to see the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and thought that He was indicating that the same was to happen to Him. They should have caught on, and of course later did, that the resurrection of the Son of Man was necessary in order for Him to come to the throne of the Father to receive everlasting dominion as in Daniel 7:0, (as Peter declares in Acts 2:0) and so that the Servant could share His spoils with the strong (Isaiah 53:10-12), and so that Israel might be revived (Hosea 12:1-2) through the death and coming alive again of the Servant (Isaiah 53:0).
Resulting Comments - What Of The Return of Elijah? (9:9-13).
What they had seen had stirred their thinking and they now asked Jesus on the way down from the mountain about the anticipated coming of Elijah. That is what they had been taught from childhood on the authority of the Scribes. Why then had Elijah not come?
a And they asked Him, saying, “How is it that the Scribes say that Elijah must first come?” (Mark 9:11)
b And He said to them, “Elijah indeed does come first, and restores all things” (Mark 9:12 a).
c “And how is it written of the Son of man, ‘That He should suffer many things and be set at nought?’ ” (Mark 9:12 b).
b But I say to you, that Elijah is come (Mark 9:13 a).
a And they have also done to him whatever they would, even as it is written of him (Mark 9:13 b).
Note that in ‘a’ the Scribes (from the Scriptures - Malachi 4:5) say that Elijah must first come, and in the parallel they have treated him badly, also as the Scriptures have said. In ‘b Jesus confirms that Elijah would indeed come first, and in the parallel confirms that he has already come (in the person of John the Baptiser). Centrally in ‘c’ He refers to what the Scriptures have said about the Son of Man, and how He too is to be ill-treated and set at nought.
‘And they kept the saying, questioning among themselves what the rising again from the dead should mean.’
So they kept what they had seen to themselves, and when alone discussed what exactly Jesus had meant when He spoke of rising again from the dead, and what it could possibly mean. But they no doubt thought that hopefully it was a long time ahead.
‘And they asked him saying, “The scribes say that Elijah must first come?”
The question may suggest that they were disappointed by the fact that Elijah had come and yet had not remained and revealed himself to the world. It was commonly taught that his coming must precede that of the Messiah. Why then had he not stayed? Or were the scribes wrong?
‘And he said to them, ‘Elijah it is true comes first, and restores all things, and how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be set at nought (‘treated with contempt’)? But I say to you that Elijah is come, and they have also done to him whatever they willed, even as it is written of him.” ’
Jesus confirmed that Elijah was in fact to come first ‘to restore all things’ (Malachi 3:5-6). In that the scribes were right. But then He explains what ‘restore all things’, which was probably a stereotyped saying about the coming of Elijah, meant. If, He asked, ‘restore all things’ meant all being put right, how could it be written of the Son of Man who was to follow Elijah that He should suffer and be treated with contempt, and be set at naught? A suffering Messiah must surely be introduced by a suffering Elijah. Thus ‘restore all things’ could not mean total restoration. It had to mean that Elijah’s work was the beginning of the restoration.
This reference to suffering has in mind Isaiah 50:6-7 and Isaiah 53:0 (where Isaiah 53:3 contains the same verb for ‘treated with contempt’ in some Greek versions). That was where God’s suffering Servant is described. And also possibly in mind was Psalms 22:0 which spoke of the sufferings of the Davidic king prior to the manifestation to the poor of God’s Kingly Rule (Psalms 22:26-28). Added to that it was necessary to take into account ‘the anointed one’ (Messiah) who was to be cut off and would have nothing, as prophesied by Daniel 9:26.
So what did ‘restore all things’ promise? The answer is clearly that he was to lay a firm and solid foundation for the establishing of the Kingly Rule of God. He was to bring Israel to a point where the King could come, turning the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, turning the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the righteous and to make ready for the Lord a prepared people (Malachi 4:6; Luke 1:17). And that John had accomplished.
‘But I say to you that Elijah is come, and they have also done to him whatever they willed, even as it is written of him.’ Jesus then confirmed that Elijah had in fact come, in the person of John the Baptiser. And they had done to him what they wanted, just as it is written that the Elijah of old was treated (1 Kings 19:2; 1 Kings 19:10). Scripture was being repeated. It had already revealed how an Elijah who came was treated. And here it was again.
There was, of course, a restoring under John the Baptiser, but it was the restoring of those in Israel who were open to faith, as with the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18) and not of the whole of Israel (see Romans 11:0). It was the restoring of those reserved within the purposes of God
The reference to fulfilled Scripture is interesting. It sees the lives of Elijah and John the Baptiser as combined in one. The Scripture referring to one is here seen as also fulfilled in the other, for John is the Elijah who was to come. That is he was engaging in Elijah’s continuing ministry and fulfilling his function. Elijah had stood up against a king and his notoriously sinful wife in spite of the danger to his life, and so now had John. Both had been persecuted by kings. Both had been concerned for righteousness. Both had been in danger of their lives. And it is saying that Elijah continued to be treated in the same way now that he had ‘come again’ in John the Baptiser. And in John’s case they had not only sought his life, they had taken it.
Note. Jesus was quite clear that John the Baptiser was the fulfilment of the prophecies about Elijah. He had already said this to the crowds at the time that John the Baptiser had sent messages to Him seeking confirmation of Who He really was (Matthew 11:2-15). John had originally had no doubts of Who Jesus was, but he was clearly perplexed that he should be in prison in such dreadful conditions if the Messiah had come. He still received news, and heard about His powerful ministry. But where was the promised deliverance? It reminds us that John himself did not fully understand what God’s future purposes were, and that he, like his ‘namesake’ Elijah, could temporarily lose faith and begin to doubt (1 Kings 19:4). In both cases a word from God was all that was needed to put them right.
Jesus had told the crowds who John the Baptiser really was. He was equal to the greatest of all prophets, including Elijah, prior to the coming of the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 11:11). He was the final great pre-Kingly Rule prophet (Mark 11:13). Indeed ‘if you are willing to receive it this is Elijah who is to come’, and then He declared that those with truly spiritual ears would recognise that this was so (Mark 11:14-15). In all ages there are those who are unwilling to receive it, but Jesus’ statements were unequivocal. Elijah had again essentially come. No further fulfilment was required. His preparatory work had been accomplished in fulfilment of Scripture. While the ‘two witnesses’ at the end of time will be similar in power to Elijah neither is called Elijah for they were under the Kingly Rule of God, and Elijah’s purpose had been completed when that Kingly Rule first became established in the ministry of Jesus.
(End of note).
‘And when they came to the disciples they saw a great crowd about them, and scribes questioning with them.’
The fact that scribes were there suggests that this took place somewhere in Northern Galilee, from where they would ‘pass through Galilee’ (Mark 9:30) to Capernaum. The Scribes would have limited authority outside Galilee. It is not impossible, however, that they had travelled further North although less likely. From this point of view we can ignore the time references. ‘And He said’ in Mark 9:1 has divided this episode from what happened at Caesarea Philippi, so that we have no time reference as to when that was. The time reference in Mark 9:2 simply links back to Mark 9:1. But even were we to relate the incidents the six days mentioned would have given them time to get back to Galilee. We thus do not know on which ‘high mountain’ this took place. The lack of article may suggest that there only two or three scribes present. They were probably suggesting that the disciples were using the wrong methods for exorcising spirits and taking the opportunity of drawing the crowds attention to their failure. Note that now that Jesus had returned to Galilee the crowds had gathered once more.
‘They came --- they saw.’ Some important manuscripts have the singular ‘He’. The latter is very possible, placing the emphasis on the presence of the Unique One. But the point is probably that the three, having been in the mountain and seen the certainty of the glory of Jesus, had now descended and together with Him saw a scene of doubt, need and despair.
The Casting Out of the Deaf And Dumb Spirit (9:14-29).
This incident provides a fitting climax to this section of the Gospel. It is the final example of Jesus acting to cast out evil spirits. That was a work in which He was involved from the beginning (Mark 1:23-27) and had become a permanent aspect of His ministry (Mark 1:32; Mark 1:34; Mark 3:11; Mark 3:22-30; Mark 5:1-20) and of the ministry of His disciples (Mark 6:7). Now at the end of His Galilean ministry He faces a final challenge. In the chiasmus of the section from Mark 4:35 to Mark 9:33 a it parallels the healing of the Gadarene demoniac, and this is very fitting for both cases presented peculiar characteristics. Both represented unusually difficult cases. It is doubtful if the disciples would have been able to cope with the Gadarene demoniac, and they were certainly unable to cope with the unclean spirit here. The Gadarene demons tried to prevent Jesus’ success by weight of numbers, the unclean spirit here did it by being deaf and dumb so that it could not be ‘attacked’, and had thus prevented the disciples from being successful. The Gadarene demons destroyed their host swine in water, the unclean spirit here had constantly tried to destroy its host in the same way, although up to this point had failed (Mark 9:22). Thus we must not underestimate the authority that Jesus reveals here. But it was an indicator that no demon, however astute, could resist His awesome power. It was a fitting finale to His revelation as the Messiah and His transfiguration on the mountain.
The passage also brings out the limitations of the disciples. They had been given authority over unclean spirits (Mark 6:7) but here they had come across a case in which they had failed miserably. They could not cope with the subtlety of this unclean spirit. Their failure was, however, a salutary lesson, for as the later evidence reveals, they were beginning to feel a little superior to others. Considering what was happening in their lives it was not surprising. Their being sent out to preach in order to pass on the teaching of Jesus, the ability bestowed on them by Jesus to heal and cast out evil spirits, and the respect that would be paid to them by the masses who came to hear Jesus would be enough to cause many a person to feel inordinately proud. It was something that had to be tempered by careful warnings. And there is no better warning than the kind of failure that they suffered here.
On descending from the mountain Jesus and his three disciples found that a man had brought along his son who was possessed by a dumb spirit, and that none of the disciples had been able to cast it out. It was clearly a more powerful spirit than they had previously dealt with. Indeed we note how Jesus had to bid it not to return (Mark 9:25). But Jesus cast it out permanently and demonstrated once again His unique power and authority. The account is very vivid and suggests an eyewitness to the final stages of the ministry, which we need have no doubt was Peter.
Analysis of 9:14-29.
a And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd about them, and Scribes questioning with them (Mark 9:14).
b And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Him, were greatly amazed, and running to Him saluted Him, and He asked them, “What do you question with them?” (Mark 9:15-16).
c And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought to You my son, who has a dumb spirit” (Mark 9:17).
d And wherever it takes him, it dashes him down, and he foams, and grinds his teeth, and pines away, and I spoke to Your disciples that they should cast it out, and they could not” (Mark 9:18).
e And He answers them and says, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me” (Mark 9:19)..
f And they brought him to Him, and when he saw Him, immediately the spirit tore him grievously, and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming (Mark 9:20).
e And He asked his father, “How long time is it since this has come to him?” And he said, “From a child” (Mark 9:21).
d “And often it has cast him both into the fire and into the waters, to destroy him, but if You can do anything, have compassion on us, and help us” (Mark 9:22).
c And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes”. Immediately the father of the child cried out, and said, “I believe, you help my unbelief” (Mark 9:23-24).
b And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to him, “You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and enter no more into him”, and having cried out, and torn him much, he came out, and the boy became as one dead, insomuch that the majority said, “He is dead”. But Jesus took him by the hand, and raised him up, and he arose (Mark 9:25-27).
a And when He was come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “How is it that we could not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing, except by prayer” (Mark 9:28-29).
Note that in ‘a’ the disciples were being questioned because of their failure, and in the parallel they question Jesus because of His success. In ‘b’ the crowd run together and welcome Him, and are amazed, and in the parallel the crowd run together and see Him heal the boy, and we are left to imagine that they are amCommentary on The Gospel of Mark (Mark 9:5)
‘And immediately all the crowd when they saw him were greatly amazed, and running to him greeted him.’
It is quite likely that the disciples had told the crowd that Jesus had gone up into the mountain and would be there for some time, as had Moses when he went into a mountain to meet with God. So the idea had probably become quite settled in their minds that they would not see Jesus for quite a while, and they were no doubt disappointed by the fact, especially as the failure of the disciples accentuated it. Thus they were quite taken by surprise at seeing Jesus approaching and were ‘amazed’ that He had arrived at such an opportune time, and ran to meet Him. They clearly had confidence that He would be able to do something.
The idea that there was a glow on the face of Jesus, other than the glow that was always there, is not likely, for there is no mention of it and the case is quite different from that of Moses. In the mount Jesus’ glory had been His own glory which He usually veiled in His human body, not a reflection of a glory that He had beheld. Had there been any truth in the idea it would surely have been mentioned by at least one of the writers. And it would have been contrary to His policy of veiledness.
‘And he asked them, “What did you question with them?’
From Mark 9:14 we would see this as meaning that He asked the Scribes who had come with the crowd what they had been challenging His disciples about. However the fact that one of the crowd answers might suggest a question directed at the crowds with the Scribes seen as part of them, and the crowd seen as part of the questioning of the disciples through their leaders.
‘And one of the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought to you my son, who has a dumb spirit, and wherever it takes him it dashes him down and he groans and grinds his teeth and is thoroughly exhausted, and I spoke to your disciples that they should cast it out, and they could not.”
A voice in the crowd answered Him. The voice was that of a father who had brought his possessed son seeking Jesus, and on not finding Him had probably been assured by the disciples that they could cast the spirit out. This is a sign of authenticity. No one would later invent the story of the failure of the disciples, especially after their previous success (Mark 6:13; compare Luke 10:17).
‘A dumb spirit.’ Probably one that hid its presence by not speaking. It may also have made the boy dumb, but there is no indication of the fact. The actual description is somewhat similar to epilepsy but there is no question that had it been simply epilepsy or else the disciples would have been able to heal him. They had no doubt healed many epileptics. But here they were dealing with more than epilepsy, something that was beyond them, and in fact the details do suggest experiences deeper than epilepsy.
‘Is thoroughly exhausted.’ The usual meaning of the word is ‘withered’ or ‘dried up’ (Mark 3:1; Mark 4:6; Mark 5:29; Mark 11:20). The unclean spirit was draining him of his very life.
‘And he answers them, “Oh unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you, how long shall I put up with you. Bring him to me.” ’
Jesus goes immediately to the root of the whole problem, unbelief, man’s lack in his attitude towards God. The ‘unbelieving’ here especially has in mind the disciples, and their failure to cast out the evil spirit, but only as a part of the larger whole, an unbelieving people. In His faith He stood out from them like a sore thumb. Unbelief was specifically connected with that generation because in the main it rejected Jesus present among them, but now even in the chosen few that unbelief was accentuated, because they too lacked full faith.
Yet the disciples had expected to succeed. They had had the faith to try, and were surprised that they had not succeeded. In what then lay their lack of faith? For they had certainly still failed. Perhaps previous success had made them overconfident. They had perhaps begun to have faith in their own powers rather than in the authority of Jesus, for it was because of ‘their little faith’ (Matthew 17:20) that they failed. But Jesus does not say so. His point will rather be that this was an unusually difficult case and that the problem lay in the fact that they were not sufficiently in touch with the Father to be aware of what was involved and to react accordingly. They were still essentially beginners in the ‘discerning of spirits’.
As we shall see the story contains a contrast of faiths. The faith of the disciples that had possibly become stale and was failing through lack of sufficient prayer and communion with God. The faith of the father whose faith was weak but persisting. The faith of the crowds was limited to a mild hope and expectation. It was the faith of Jesus which was strong and unfailing because grounded in His union and continual fellowship with the Father.
‘How long shall I be with you?” A hint of deity. As the heavenly One He was among them for a time, but then He would return to heaven (John 3:13). He was conscious that His time on earth as a man was short, and He was finding living in an unbelieving world very difficult.
‘How long shall I put up with you?’ Their unbelief wearied Him and hurt Him deeply, especially that of the disciples. It was so inexcusable. How could they not trust the Father? These few brief words reveal how much it continually cost Him to be in an unbelieving world. There is expressed here the confidence of One in Whom there was no weakness or lack of faith, and Who was finding it wearisome to bear the weakness and unbelief of others. It was not an easy path that He trod.
‘Bring him to me.’ But Jesus had no doubt about His own success because He knew that His total faith was in the Father. So Hew commanded that the young man be brought to Him.
‘And they brought him to him. And when he saw him immediately the spirit tore him grievously, and he fell on the ground and wallowed foaming.’
They went to fetch the boy who was being kept apart, probably under guard. And as soon as he saw Jesus (Luke brings out that it was while the boy was approaching), the effect of seeing Him was to disturb the dumb spirit which immediately expressed its dismay by an acute attack on the boy. But we note that it did not cry out, for it was a ‘dumb’ spirit. Mere epilepsy alone would not have caused such an effect for naturally speaking there was nothing about Jesus which would produce an epileptic fit and the boy himself would not necessarily have known Jesus. And had it been only epilepsy Jesus would have dealt with it differently. Rather He was aware that there was a powerful spirit possessing the boy and that it was deeply disturbed. It had cause to be, for it knew that here was One Whom it could not resist or deceive.
As the boy approached Jesus it would appear that the crowd did not at first follow, leaving it to a few of their number to take the young man to Jesus.. They may well have been afraid to come too close to the situation until they were sure Jesus had it well under control. They were aware that what was being dealt with was very powerful. Or perhaps the disciples had asked them to give Jesus some room. But it seems that they watched at a distance to see what would happen. This gave Jesus space in which to ascertain the full situation.
‘And he asked his father, “How long is it since this has come to him?” And he said, “From a child. And it has often thrown him both into fires and into waters to destroy him. But if you can do anything have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus asked the history of the possession. This could help Him to determine what He was dealing with. Then the father revealed his despair. He had seen his son collapse on fires and fall into water as a result of his attacks, experiences which had damaged him and put him in danger of losing his life. The father was desperate. Note the attempts of the spirit to destroy its host. It was similar to the legion of spirits who destroyed their pig hosts, although we do not know why it was.
‘If you can do anything.’ The father was in torment. He had come with hopes high to these famed followers of Jesus, seeing in them a last desperate chance, but they had been able to do nothing. And his hopes had faded. The question was, could Jesus do any better? If He could, let Him show pity to the man’s need and the need of his son.
‘And Jesus said to him, “If you can? All things are possible to him who believes.” ’.
The probable text is ‘to ’ei dune’ making the ‘if you can’ a noun equivalent. Jesus was saying, “you have said ‘if you can’. But to him who believes (what I can do) all things are possible.’ The strength of the argument is not that if the man has sufficient faith the boy can be healed, but that if the man has sufficient faith in Jesus Himself then he can be. And it was necessary for him to have faith in Jesus. He must put aside his doubt and place full confidence in Him. For Jesus is concerned that the man should be faced up with his response, not only to God but to Jesus Himself. (The man’s reply demonstrates that he saw that it was his own faith that was in question).
Alternately Jesus may be pointing out to the man that he need not have doubts for all things are possible to Him because He, Jesus, truly believes. There is not question of ‘if’. Let him rest on that. Certainly in the remainder of the passage the emphasis is on the faith or lack of faith of the healer. But if so the man either misunderstood Him or else reacted to the words and applied them to himself as well.
‘Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe. You help my unbelief.”
The man’s response was immediate and significant. He recognised that he was dependent on Jesus. And he accepted that his own faith was weak. But he was desperate. And he was beginning to believe that Jesus could do something. His statement was a paradox and yet true in the experience of us all. He had a weak, wavering faith that was reaching out and yet was aware of how much it was lacking. He knew that it needed strength from the Master for his faith to blossom. So he put the onus on the One Who never fails to ensure that the faith of those who trust in Him is sufficient. (‘Look,’ Mark is saying, ‘here is One Who can actually ensure faith in men’).
‘And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to him, “You dumb and deaf spirit, I (emphatic) command you, come out of him and do not enter him any more”.’
The man’s loud cry seemingly stimulated the crowd who had been hanging back, and they sensed that something was about to happen, so they hurried over to where the small group were talking around the boy. This made Jesus act quickly. He commanded the spirit to leave the boy and to leave him alone for ever. Note the emphatic ‘I’. It had been able to resist His disciples but it had no choice with Him.
‘You dumb and deaf spirit.’ The spirit was dumb and had previously refused to hear when the disciples had spoken to it in the name of Jesus. It had deliberately made itself deaf as a safeguard against being affected. But Jesus recognised it for what it was and His authority broke through its subterfuge. It could not be deaf to Him. It was no longer just facing the power of the Name, it was facing the One behind the power of the Name Who would brook no refusal.
‘ I command you.” The ‘I’ is emphatic. This was no mere exorcist that the spirit was pitting its wits against, it was the One Who was Lord over all. It was the Lord of glory Who had been revealed in the mountain. Its deafness was of no use against the authority and voice of the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. These others had commanded and it had not heeded them, protected by its wall of deafness. But now a voice spoke through its deafness that it had to obey.
‘Come out of him and enter into him no more.’ This was the first time that we know of that Jesus had to command a spirit not to return (but compare Matthew 12:45; Luke 11:26). It suggested a spirit of great power. And yet it had no alternative but to obey now that it faced the Master of the world.
‘And having cried out, and convulsed him greatly, it came out, and the child became as a dead person, insomuch that the great majority (or even ‘all’) said, “He is dead”.’
The dumb spirit was so affected that it found voice. Its dumbness and deafness had been part of its defence against intrusion. Now, however, it ‘cried out’. And as it came out it made one last attempt for a kind of victory. It would kill its host. Its exit was with such great disturbance that the young man lay as if dead, so much so that a great many, if not all, said that he was dead. (We note here how Mark clearly distinguishes between death and seeming death. How much more effective to have said that the boy was dead. But both Peter and Mark were honest witnesses. The boy looked dead, but they were not sure and so they said nothing).
‘But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him up. And he arose.’
Whatever the boy’s condition it did not matter, for Jesus was there. ‘He took him by the hand.’ Compare Mark 1:31; Mark 5:41. ‘And raised him up, and he arose.’ Compare Mark 5:41-42. What He began He finished. And because Jesus was there the man’s weak faith in Him proved sufficient and the boy’s life began anew.
‘And he arose.’ Once again we have a picture of the resurrection, for it was a picture also of what could happen to the world if only they would believe. They could be delivered from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18).
‘And when he had come into the house his disciples asked him privately, saying, “We could not cast it out.” And he said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing, except by prayer.”
It was always going to happen that the disciples would want to know why they had failed, and they were clearly very disappointed. They had had sufficient faith not to expect to fail. We have here a reminder of the fact that ‘faith’ means more than just believing. It involves relationship with God. . But it is emphasised here to bring out the contrast between Jesus Himself and the disciples. He, on the mountain top, in full fellowship with God and revealing the glory of God in Himself, and they below, ineffective because they were not close enough to God. The disciples were not all-powerful, but Jesus was. He alone of all miracle workers and exorcists never failed when people came to Him for help. Jesus will later promise them that they will share this wonderful union with Him and the Father through the Holy Spirit (John 14:18-20; John 14:23; John 15:7).
“This kind can come out by nothing, except by prayer.” We need not doubt that the disciples had prayed, and it is clear that this is not to be taken simply at face value, because Jesus had not prayed, at least not openly. What Jesus meant was that in order to deal with such a powerful and deceitful spirit it was necessary to be in complete union with the Father by a life in which continual prayer was paramount. It was because they were not so in touch with the Father that their faith was too small in this particular case. But for Jesus there had been no problem. He was always in close touch with the Father.
‘And they went out from there and passed through Galilee, and he would not that any man should know it. For he taught his disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is delivered up into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed after three days he will rise again.” ’
Jesus seems at last to have been successful in avoiding the crowds in Galilee. He took great precautions to ensure that He could teach His disciples undisturbed, probably by using lesser known routes. He knew it was very necessary. For He was aware that events were approaching which would throw them into total confusion and leave them feeling totally bereft. Thus He was laying the foundation so that when the time came, and they had passed through the tumult and tribulation, they would understand how it all fitted into the purposes of God. There are no grounds for suggesting that the secrecy was through fear of Herod.
“The Son of Man is delivered up into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed after three days he will rise again.” It is clear that He spent a good amount of time expanding on these words for He had many days in which to teach them. But these words sum up the essence of His message. Notice the tenses. What He described was already determined in the mind of God.
‘The Son of Man is delivered up into the hands of men.’ The Son of Man, God’s chosen One, is delivered up by God into men’s hands. Who can grasp the enormity of it? He Who was truly Man as God had intended man to be, and Who had the mind of God and walked in full obedience to God, He Who was the purest, kindest, most compassionate being who ever lived, is to be ‘handed over’ to the wild beasts (as in Daniel 7:0). What a paradox. He was shortly to come on the clouds of heaven into the presence of God, but first He must be humiliated and treated as evilly as a man can treat his fellow, and with total disdain. Man was to be allowed to have his day in which he could reveal how evil he had become. And there was no limit to the evils he would reveal. Some would not take a direct hand in it, but they would approve of what was done, or at least not protest against it. And let us make no mistake about it, had we been in their situation most of us would have been part of it. They are now about to be ‘partakers in the blood’ of One Who is more than a Prophet (compare Matthew 23:30; Matthew 23:32) but it was very necessary if life was to be made available (John 6:53-58)
Let us note what Jesus said. He was not to be delivered into the hands of Satan but into the hands of men. Satan’s evil influence would undoubtedly be behind it (John 13:2; John 13:27), and through what was done Satan was to be totally defeated (probably to his great surprise), but it was man who was to be the prime instigator.
‘Delivered up.’ The verb is used of Judas’ betrayal in Mark 3:19. Jesus would be handed over from one to another. Betrayed by Judas, handed over by the Sanhedrin, passed on to the mocking soldiers by Pilate, and by Herod Antipas, and finally handed over to Pilate to be sentenced to be crucified. They all had a hand in it. ‘Against your holy Servant Jesus, Whom You did anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together’ (Acts 4:27). But finally it was God Who would deliver Him up. Without that no one could have done anything.
‘And they will kill him.’ The method of His death was not yet known. This statement is a remarkable proof of the genuineness of the narrative, and the care taken to preserve the exact words of Jesus. Had it been known at the time that this was said that He would be crucified it would surely have been stated. It demonstrates that it was not an invention of a later day. What is equally remarkable is that neither Mark or Luke alter the wording, when they could have done so on translation grounds. (Matthew possibly succumbs to the temptation in Matthew 20:19, which he could in fact have justified as an interpretive translation from the Aramaic, but as by then Jesus was aware that He would be ‘delivered to the Gentiles’ He would have good grounds for recognising that He would be crucified, and may well have said so). But the fact of it was certain. He was to die as was promised to the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:0.
Jesus may well in fact originally have expected to be stoned for blasphemy. One or two attempts would certainly be made to do that (John 8:59; John 10:31). It would seem that He knew that He must die, but at this stage not how that death would take place. Later He would become aware of that as well (John 12:32-33).
‘And when he is killed after three days he will rise again.’ Compare Mark 8:31. Disaster will be followed by triumph. Not for one moment are we to be allowed to think that God will be defeated. His death will be followed immediately by resurrection in the short but complete period determined by God. Death would be defeated and God would triumph (Isaiah 53:12). How clearly the disciples were given preparation for what was to be, and how totally unprepared they were, simply because they did not believe Him.
The Third Prediction of His Death and Resurrection (9:30-32).
This is basically the third prediction that Jesus makes about His coming death and resurrection, compare Mark 8:31; Mark 9:9; Mark 9:11. From this point on He will be going forward to His death.
Jesus Arrives Back In Capernaum After Predicting What Is To Happen To Him (9:30-33a).
We now come to the close of the section outlining Jesus’ Galilean ministry as recorded by Mark (Mark 4:35 to Mark 9:33 a). Having left the region round about Capernaum in Mark 4:35, and after having had many experiences, and having done many wonderful things, and having made a number of revelations about Himself, Jesus now returns to Capernaum for the last time. He will not see it again. During this section Jesus has been putting all His efforts into proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God, and into preparing His disciples for what lies ahead, especially emphasising, as He does now for the third time, that He has come to suffer and die, and then rise again. Now, from this point on, the fulfilment of His prophecies will begin as He commences His journey to Jerusalem to die. It will be noted that the whole section began with a sense of awe (Mark 4:41) and now it ends with a sense of awe (Mark 9:32), a fitting preparation for the final words in His Gospel where the women will also be filled with awe at the news of His resurrection. The point is that what is being described is something beyond man’s understanding.
a And they went out from there, and passed through Galilee, and He would not that any man should know it (Mark 9:30).
b For He taught His disciples, and said to them (Mark 9:31 a).
c “The Son of man is delivered up into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and when He is killed, after three days He will rise again” (Mark 9:31 b).
b But they understood not the saying, and were afraid to ask Him (Mark 9:32).
a And they came to Capernaum (Mark 9:33 a).
Note that in ‘a’ He passes through Galilee, and in the parallel He comes to Capernaum (for the last time). In ‘b He teaches His disciples, and in the parallel they do not understand Him. Centrally in ‘c’ we are told what they did not understand.
‘But they did not understand the saying and were afraid to ask him.’
They did not understand because they did not want to. They were afraid to ask Him because they did not want what He was saying to be confirmed. How much easier it would have been for them in the end if they had been willing to believe. But men do not easily give up their cherished ideas even if they are wrong. How often we are like them. The way of God is too hard for us, so we convince ourselves that there is another way. But often there is not.
‘And they came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing in the way?” But they did not answer for they had disputed with one another who was the greatest.’
Having arrived back in Capernaum they no doubt went to Peter’s house. They little realised that this was the last time that Jesus would be there. And, as they were settling in, a few of them were a little disconcerted when Jesus asked them what they had been talking about on their journey. The reason for their hesitation was because they had been arguing as to who was the greatest. This does not necessarily mean that each thought that he was, but rather that they had different opinions as to who were the most important in the group, and where each stood in order of importance.
The way this is depicted is devastating. After what Jesus had told them there was surely only one thing they should have been discussing. Jesus had said He was being delivered by God into men’s hands. That He was going to be killed. And all that they could think of was as to who of them was to be the greatest. Perhaps they believed that the rising from the dead meant that rising bodily He would come back again and establish His Kingly Rule by acts of divine power, by the spectacular. (They were, of course, both right and wrong. The idea which Jesus had conveyed was right, it was their concept of it that was wrong). But what mattered to them was not that, but what they were going to gain from it. They were not discussing how it would benefit the world. They were discussing how it would benefit themselves. After all He had said to them in Caesarea Philippi they still thought mainly in terms of what status they could achieve. And that is at the heart of the thoughts of a large number of people in the church today. Their question is, ‘What reward will we get? What status will we achieve?’ And that is why supposed men of God are constantly jostling for position, and seeing themselves as on a higher level than others, rather than recognising their own relative unimportance and being sufficiently burdened for the need of he world.
‘They did not answer.’ Their discussion had seemed reasonable enough among themselves but instinctively they recognised in their hearts that Jesus would not be pleased about it. They knew that Jesus did not look at things like they did even before He said anything. How wise we would be if we learned to bring before the Lord our desires for position and importance and were then prepared to listen to what He had to say about it. For we would hear His voice saying, ‘he that would be first shall be last of all.’ And we would then be made to ask, is that really what we are seeking, to choose to be last? Who chooses to be last? Jesus says, My true servants do.
It is interesting in passing to notice that this reminds us that as they went along, with Jesus leading the way, they regularly discussed various matters between themselves. They had had much to discuss.
The Lesson Of True Greatness (9:33-37).
We are suddenly introduced here to a sad situation that Jesus had tried to guard against, but which was probably inevitable. The disciples were beginning to get too high an opinion of themselves. They were beginning to think in terms of their own greatness. After all, were they not the intimate servants and colleagues of the coming Messiah? Were they not acting ‘in His Name’? As far as they were concerned the only question now was how they stood as compared with each other. When Jesus did seize power which of them would take the most important positions and be held in the highest esteem? But this stands in stark contrast with the attitude of the One Who had come to serve and to Give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). They were asking, ‘how far can we climb?’ Jesus was asking, how far can I go down in order to save men? (Philippians 2:5-11). And He illustrates this firstly through a little child. True Messianic service, He stresses, is found in assisting the weak and lowly.
a And when He was in the house He asked them, “What were you discussing in the way?” But they did not answer for they had disputed with one another who was the greatest (Mark 9:33-34).
b And He sat down and called the twelve, and He says to them, “If any man would be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
a And He took a little child and set him in the midst of them, and taking him in His arms He said to them, “Whoever shall receive one of such little children in My Name, receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me” (Mark 9:36-37).
Note that in ‘a’ the disciples are concerned about who is the greatest, and in the parallel Jesus brings out who is really the greatest, the one who receives little children in His Name, for by doing so they receive both Him and His Father. Centrally in ‘b’ He points out that to come first in the Kingly Rule of God it is necessary to seek to be the last and to be the servant of all.
Jesus Begins His Final Journey to Jerusalem On The Road To The Cross and Spends Much Time in Teaching His Disciples And Disputing With His Enemies In Readiness For That Event, For He Is Giving His Life As A Ransom For Many (9:33-12:44).
Having returned to Capernaum Jesus now has His face set towards Jerusalem, and in Mark 9:33-50 He will lay the foundation by pointing out the fact that all must look to and respond to His Name, and the dangers inherent in not doing so. Then He will advance into Judaea, and by Mark 10:32 His journey to Jerusalem is clearly well under way. He will, of course, continue to prepare His disciples for what lies ahead, but it does not mean that He will neglect seekers. Crowds will still gather to hear Him and He will minister to them (Mark 10:1). And then once He reaches Jerusalem and enters in triumph (Mark 11:1-17) the opposition will become loud and clear as He refutes and puts to flight His opponents (Mark 11:27 to Mark 12:44). But He is well aware that their rejection of Him can only mean one thing. They will determine to put Him to death (Mark 11:18).
Analysis of 9:33-12:44. Jesus’ Ministry from Capernaum to Jerusalem.
a The disciples are caught out discussing which of them is the greatest, and learn that those who would be greatest must be the servant of all, being receptive even of little children in His Name (Mark 9:33-37).
b They must receive those whose successful activity in His Name proves their genuineness even though they do not directly follow them (Mark 9:38-40).
c One who gives a cup of cold water to a disciple because he bears the Name of the Messiah will not lose his reward (Mark 9:41).
d Jesus describes those who are especially displeasing to God. It is those who cause others who believe in Jesus to sin, and He emphasises the necessity of avoiding such behaviour at whatever cost, for such people are bound for Gehenna (Mark 9:42-50).
e Jesus speaks about marriage and divorce. Faithfulness in marriage is a creation ordinance binding in this world and must be restored (Mark 10:1-12).
f Those who do not receive the Kingly Rule of God like a little child will not enter it. The example is given of the rich young man, and the danger of riches, which must be put completely at God’s service, is emphasised (Mark 10:13-31).
g Jesus will be rejected, arrested, sentenced and executed, but will rise again (Mark 10:32-34).
h God’s servants prove to be self-seeking. First James and John, and then all the disciples, reveal that their motives concerning the Kingly Rule of God are wrong, and learn that they should be true servants like the Son of Man Who came to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 9:35-45).
i Jesus heals a blind man who recognises Him as the son of David and reveals His authority by entering Jerusalem on an asses’ colt, where the crowds also hail Him as the son of David, but Jerusalem is blind to His true worth (Mark 10:46 to Mark 11:10).
j Jesus looks round the Temple, and then looks at the fig tree (a symbol of the Temple) and declares it fruitless. No one will ever eat fruit of it again (Mark 11:11-14).
k Jesus cleanses the Temple because it is meant to be a House of Prayer for all nations, and arouses the hostility of the Chief Priests (Mark 11:15-19).
j The fig tree is found to be withered and Jesus speaks of casting a mountain into the sea, symbolic of judgment on Jerusalem which has ceased to fulfil its purpose (Mark 11:20-26).
i Jesus is asked concerning His authority and demonstrates the hypocrisy of the question by demonstrating the blindness of the Sanhedrin concerning John the Baptiser (Mark 11:27-33).
h The parable concerning the false servants who are blind to the truth and who fail to render their due and therefore kill the son because they do not want to submit to him (Mark 12:1-11).
g The stone which the builders rejected will be made the chief cornerstone. They try to arrest Jesus, but fail (Mark 12:12).
f The question of payment of tribute raises the question of the need to give to God what is His and of the right use of riches (Mark 12:13-17).
e Jesus is challenged on a matter concerning marriage. In the resurrection world there is no marriage (Mark 12:18-27).
d Jesus describes those who are totally pleasing to God because they love God and their neighbour. People who see and respond to this enter the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 12:28-34).
c Jesus cites a Psalm of David in order to demonstrate that the Messiah is David’s lord (Mark 12:35-37).
b They are to beware of those who make much of themselves and put on a pretence of piety (Mark 12:38-40).
a The widow who gives her all, even though it be a pittance, gives more than all who give bountifully from their riches (Mark 12:41-44).
Note that in ‘a’ it is those who are humble in His Name who are the greatest, and in the parallel the widow who gives two small coins is the greatest giver. In ‘b’ they must receive all who genuinely operate in His Name and in the parallel they are to beware of those who instead make much of themselves. In ‘c’ even to give a cup of cold water in the Name of the Messiah will be rewarded, and in the parallel the Messiah is seen to be David’s Lord. In ‘d’ those who cause little ones who believe in Him to sin will receive the greatest condemnation and enter Gehenna, while in the parallel those who truly love God and their neighbour will enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven. In ‘e’ marriage is reinstated on earth, and in the parallel it does not take place in Heaven. In ‘f’ response to God must come before wealth, and in the parallel men must give what is due to God. In ‘g’ Jesus declares that He will be rejected, arrested, sentenced and executed, but will rise again, and in the parallel the stone which the builders rejected is to be made the chief cornerstone and an attempt is made to arrest Him which fails. But their intent is clear. In ‘h’ the eyes of the disciples need to be opened to what their true responsibilities are and to Who He is, and in the parable the wicked tenants also fail to recognise their responsibilities and are blind to Who He is. In ‘i’ Jesus reveals His authority by riding into Jerusalem on an asses’ colt, and in the parallel He is questioned concerning that authority and rebuts His questioners. In ‘j’ Jesus looks round the Temple, and then at the fig tree, and recognises that both are fruitless, and in the parallel the fruitless fig tree has withered and the mountain will be cast into the sea. Centrally in ‘k’ the Lord suddenly comes to His Temple. He cleanses the Temple in order that it might be a house of prayer.
‘And he sat down and called the twelve, and he says to them, “If any man would be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” ’
The words of the few clearly disturbed Him. He recognised that there were strong feelings among them about their own greatness, and that this probably applied to all the twelve, so He called the twelve together and ‘sat down’ to teach them as a Rabbi would sit down to teach his pupils (or simply perhaps because He was tired). Then He explained what true greatness consisted of. It consisted of taking the lower place, indeed seeking the last place. It consisted in serving others (see Mark 10:43-44; Matthew 20:25-27; Matthew 23:10-12). It consisted in counting others better than themselves (Philippians 2:3).
But the point, of course, was that such an attitude had to be genuine. If they merely did it to be ‘humble’ it would be no good. The truly great man does not make a show of being humble, he is humble because he knows the truth about himself. (Today the one who insists on washing other people’s feet is often not as humble as the one who allows it to be done, unless of course there is some genuine need for the feet to be washed. It is so often only outward show. Nothing is worse than ostentation. In those days people washed men’s feet because it was necessary and because it was the task of a servant, not in order to achieve greatness).
Matthew tell us that at some point the disciples asked, “Who then is greatest under the Kingly Rule of God?” (Matthew 18:1). And in Matthew that had led on to similar sayings to those that follow in Mark 9:36.
‘And he took a little child and set him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms he said to them, “Whoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” ’
Some argue that the connection between this verse and the last is obscure. But it is not really so. Jesus was adept at dealing with questions by unusual methods to bring home the truth. He had made His statement about what true greatness consisted of and now he looked around for a way of illustrating it. A few words about greatness could pass by unnoticed but an apt illustration would speak volumes.
Not one of the disciples who had been speaking of greatness had thought in terms of thereby helping little children. Indeed when at another time certain mothers sought to bring their children to Jesus the disciples would try to turn them away. They did not have the heart of a shepherd. They thought that Jesus had more important things to deal with! All their thoughts were on their own importance. But Jesus here took a little child who was standing by, probably almost unnoticed by the disciples, and receiving him in His arms He quietly said, ‘look, true greatness consists in things like looking after little children like this, and guiding them aright’. For each little child represents an opportunity to serve Jesus. To receive them is to receive Jesus. And not one of the disciples would have argued about the importance of properly receiving Jesus.
The Old Testament constantly laid stress on the importance of teaching little children. This was the duty of every Israelite and Jew. (Compare Exodus 12:26-27; Exodus 13:8, Exodus 13:14; Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 6:20-25; Deuteronomy 11:19; Deuteronomy 32:7) and it was considered so important that it immediately followed the ‘first great commandment’, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:5-6). But so often it got overlooked because men were too busy.
So Jesus did not argue about who would be the greatest. Rather He sought to stress that what mattered was men’s attitude of heart. He sought to stress what was truly great. Those who were truly great heeded God’s commands and ensured that little children were taught. They cast out evil spirits with no thought of preferment (Mark 9:38). They gave cups of cold water to those who followed the Messiah (Mark 9:41). So He took up a little child and spoke about him. Many would consider a little child unimportant in the order of things, said Jesus, but if someone receives that child in the name of Christ, He is receiving Christ, and not only is he receiving Christ but he is also receiving the One Who sent Him. He is doing a great thing. He is dealing with what is really important without regard for his own position or how men see him. That is the true measure of greatness. It is such a man who is truly great.
The principle would appear to be twofold. Firstly that what seems unimportant to men is extremely important to God, especially the care of believing children for whom He has special concern (Mark 9:42). Every child offers an opportunity of receiving Christ and receiving God, because they offer an opportunity of humble service in His name. Furthermore the right teaching of these little children will be the safeguard of the future. So the truly great will not be too important to receive them and give them time. And secondly that the smallest thing done for Christ and for love of Him is extremely important (see Mark 9:41, and compare Mark 12:41-44), while larger things, if not genuinely done for Him, lose their importance. For the truth is that what men consider important, and see as contributing to their own importance, is often not very important at all in the final scheme of things. Indeed those who seek importance often merely demonstrate that they are unimportant. It is not just a question of getting children to ‘make a decision’. What matters is carefully bringing them up to know the truth. Very often this is left to mothers. How important mothers are in the scheme of things (1 Timothy 2:15). We almost take it for granted, but this is the very foundation of the Kingly Rule of God.
The idea that lies behind Mark 9:37 is the Jewish shaliach (agent, representative). A man’s agent is as himself. Thus little children, especially those of godly parents, are seen to be God’s agents and as such are His representatives and present real opportunity for serving Him.
‘He took a little child.’ Probably some relative of Peter’s, who knew them all and would possibly be hanging around wanting to be with the men, but of whom little notice was being taken. ‘Taking him in his arms.’ A personal touch, found only in Mark, suggesting an eyewitness who remembered exactly what happened, and bringing out that Jesus had time for all.
‘Whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him Who sent Me.’ Here we see the claim of His special status, that He was sent by the Father, an idea common in John, and distinctly stated here (compare Mark 12:6 see also Matthew 15:24; Luke 4:18; Luke 4:43; John 3:17; John 4:34; John 5:23; John 5:30; John 5:36; John 5:38; John 6:29; John 6:38-44; John 6:57 and often). And that to receive Him was to receive the Father, a further stress on His unique status.
‘John said to him, “Teacher, we saw one casting out devils in your name, and we forbade him because he did not follow us.’
We are reminded here that the disciples did not just rigidly always remain with Jesus. They were given errands to fulfil and they at times went out preaching (we would probably be wrong to assume that they only made two such ventures). Perhaps it was on one such mission that they met the man described. And on that occasion John and at least one other (‘we’) had bridled at the fact that this man dared to exercise the prerogative which they saw as given to the Apostles. Indeed they had forbidden him. Who was he that he should do so? What right had he to so exalt himself? But Jesus will now tell them that they should have realised that the success of the man’s attempts revealed that he was a genuine believer whom God was blessing, (and perhaps underneath John was even himself uneasily conscious of the fact).
John’s attitude revealed his limited viewpoint. Instead of seeing that the man’s success showed that God was with him (which he should have done for Jesus regularly used that as an argument) and giving glory to God Who worked in such remarkable ways, he had been offended because the man dared to use Jesus’ name without being a regular disciple. He did not at that time have the openheartedness that would one day be his. (What a different case this was from certain Jewish exorcists and especially the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16) There they were using Jesus name as a magical formula not out of a deep belief in Him).
‘We forbade him.’ Here was a man of a different ‘denomination’. John thought he was presumptious, even blasphemous, and had no right to work in Jesus’ name. He was not ‘one of us’. How often through history these words and Jesus’ wise reply have been ignored. Churches have become wrapped up in themselves and have begun to think that they were the only ones with the truth, and to enforce their own authority. They revealed thereby not their desire for the truth, which is many faceted, but their desire for their own greatness and importance, and their unwillingness to be true servants of Christ. They wanted to be the masters. But Jesus here made clear that when a man sought to please God, even if he was outside the ‘gathering’ (the congregation, the church), and God blessed his work, it was evidence that God was with him and he should not therefore be halted in his work for God.
‘Because he did not follow us.’ The exact wording is unsure but the meaning is clear. He was not a recognised ‘follower’. The early authorities are divided between ‘who did not follow us’ and ‘because he did not follow us’. Compare Luke 9:50 which may suggest the latter was by assimilation. But notice the ‘us’. There is already a hint in this of a feeling of superiority.
The Jewish Exorcist Who Acted In His Name (9:38-41).
Talk about greatness and of those who do things ‘in the name of Jesus’ seems to have stirred John’s mind to consider something that had happened in the past that may well have been on his conscience, and he took this opportunity to seek to justify himself. Possibly he thought he would be commended for his action. But he had done exactly the opposite of what Jesus was talking about.
a John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw one casting out devils in Your name, and we forbade him because he did not follow us” (Mark 9:38).
b But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him. For there is no man who will do a work of power in My name and be able quickly to speak evil of Me” (Mark 9:38-40).
c “For he who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).
b “For whoever will give you a cup of water to drink ‘because you are Messiah’s’ (Mark 9:41 a).
a “Truly I tell you he will assuredly not lose his reward” (Mark 9:41).
Note that in ‘a’ John had forbidden doing good in His name, while in the parallel such a person would gain a reward from God. In ‘b’ they must not forbid those who genuinely act in His Name, and in the parallel he refers to one who does do a genuine act in His Name. Central in ‘c’ is the fact that he who is not against us is for us.
Once again the idea is of those who act in Jesus’ Name. In these cases it was someone who was seeking to relieve the needs of others with no concern for greatness or recognition. Their heart s were right towards Jesus and towards God, and they should therefore be encouraged.
‘But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him. For there is no man who will do a work of power in my name and be able quickly to speak evil of me. For he who is not against us is for us.” ’
Jesus recognised immediately that the man’s success was sufficient proof that the man’s heart was right and that God was with him. Such a man clearly believed in Jesus and His words and had responded to them. He had a high view of Jesus. Thus he would not criticise Jesus or run Him down but would gladly use any opportunity that arose out of his activity to point men to Jesus. Jesus could only encourage such activity, as He had encouraged the Gadarene ex-demoniac.
As already mentioned we can contrast with this Acts 19:13-17 where men did what seems on the surface to be the same, but they were simply using Jesus’ name as an exorcist’s tool. They did it for their own benefit rather than to glorify God. There they were unsuccessful and discovered that Jesus’ name was not to be trifled with. Such use of sacred names by exorcists occurred widely. They did not always mean that the exorcist gave much credence to the one whose name they used, and there are many examples from Egyptian papyri. The use of Jewish sacred names was quite popular. The Jews with their mysterious religion and mysterious invisible God were often seen as harbouring mysterious powers. One such papyrus contained the formula, “I adjure you by Jesus the God of the Hebrews” a most interesting combination by some who were clearly somewhat hazy about distinctions.
Compare also Matthew 7:22 which suggests that many did wrongly seek to use the name of Jesus and were even at times successful in His name, possibly because of psychological healing, without necessarily being true men of God. But Jesus was prepared to give such men the benefit of the doubt, as He did with Judas, and would not forbid them. However, He did warn them not to be complacent, and that in the end their genuineness would be judged by God. To have acted in His name is not the same as to be truly His.
‘A work of power.’ The Greek is literally ‘a power’.
‘For he who is not against us is for us.’ This does not mean that anyone who was not antagonistic was necessarily to be seen as a supporter and that what mattered was tolerance. Many were apathetically neutral and would not come under the description of supporter. Jesus would not describe them as ‘for Him’. What Jesus was saying was that where men were active in seeking to serve God, as this man was, they would, at times, be required to take up an attitude towards Jesus, and those who did not oppose Him or attack Him but defended His ministry thereby demonstrated that they were for Him and His work, even if they did not follow Him directly (compare Numbers 11:26-29). Jesus welcomed all who were truly for God.
Elsewhere at a different time He would say what seems the opposite, ‘He who is not with me is against me’ (Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23). But there He was indicating that to refuse to make some response to Jesus and His teaching and to remain in apathetic neutrality to Him thereby demonstrated the attitude of one who was opposing the will and call of God. On the other hand the man spoken of here in Mark was actually showing that He was ‘for’ Jesus, and was being very active in being so. There was nothing neutral about him.
“For whoever will give you a cup of water to drink ‘because you are Messiah’s’, truly I tell you he will assuredly not lose his reward.”
This follows on from Mark 9:40 being an example of one who was ‘for us’ as shown by his action. The mention of Jesus as Messiah is startling and unexpected and indicates that these words were given in private teaching to the disciples. They had acknowledged His Messiahship and He did want them to know that He was the Messiah but without overemphasising it. We can compare the similar but differing statement in Matthew 10:42 in a different context. There the cup of water was seen as given to them in a ministry during His lifetime because they were disciples of Jesus. Here in Mark it is the giving to them of a cup of water when they engaged in their future ministry of proclaiming Jesus as Messiah. But the idea is the same in both cases.
The action of giving a cup of water is similar to that of the woman who gave her pittance (Mark 12:41-44). Tiny it may have been but it was vitally important to her. And it was vitally important to God. So small a gift in the eyes of men. So huge in the eyes of God. She was truly great. But note the reason for the giving of the cup of water. It was given by someone who could not do much but wanted to show their love for Christ, possibly even sometimes in a hostile environment where they could have been severely mishandled for it. What mattered was the size of the love in that person’s heart for God which prompted the action, not the size of the gift.
‘Because you are Messiah’s.’ A rare use of the term by Jesus, Who only ever used it indirectly while on Jewish territory (compare Matthew 23:8. See also Matthew 22:42; Mark 12:35; Luke 20:41, which are parallel sayings to each other). But there is no reason why Jesus should not have used it in such a context when reassuring His disciples indirectly that in spite of all He was saying about His death and resurrection He really was the Messiah. And it acknowledged that one day men would indeed see them as followers of the true Messiah, but not yet. This is the only place in the Gospels and Acts where ‘Christ’ is used without the article. It is not here a proper name but indicating Messianic connection.
‘He will assuredly not lose his reward.’ Nothing that we do for God passes by unnoticed. In contrast much of what we claim is done for God is done for our own self-gratification. There will be no reward for that (Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5).
“And whoever shall cause one of these little ones (or ‘low ones’) who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he was thrown into the sea.”
This may well have continued on from the previous words. Jesus was in Peter’s home and had sat down and at least one child had approached Him and had been taken up into His arms. Having answered John’s question He might well have turned back and indicated the child and continued in this vein. The act of causing a child, or any young believer, who believes in Christ to stumble is in deliberate contrast to the one who gives the cup of water to a follower of the Messiah. The one is a small act with great results in heaven, the other again seemingly a small act but with devastating results for the perpetrator.
Again the emphasis is on the importance of ‘little’ things. These young children who believed in Jesus were of such great importance to God that to cause them to stumble spiritually was to commit the greatest of sins. Wars and politics could go on and God would stand by and let men destroy themselves. But let them touch but one of these children who believed in Him and God would notice immediately. How careful we must be when around such little children.
But the word ‘mikros’ may mean ‘humble ones’ rather than ‘little ones. In this case the one who gave the cup of water may be specifically in mind and the thought may be of the value of the lowest and least important of Christ’s followers. For those who think themselves important to behave or speak in such a way that they cause humble believers to stumble, proving that they themselves were salt which had lost its savour, would be a scandal indeed and would result in the worst of fates, for it is the humble who are the important ones to God.
‘Cause to stumble.’ By some act, word or behaviour that affected their faith in God lead them into sin and error.
‘A great millstone.’ This is speaking of the huge stones that ground the corn in the village mill, far too huge to hang around a man’s neck. No one could have even lifted them. But God could. It was of course deliberate humour and exaggeration. But it would certainly have made sure that the man sank rapidly to the deepest depths. And this is preferable to what would happen to the one who causes others to stumble.
So the argument about greatness has resulted in revealing that true greatness is expressed by recognising what is really important to God and acting accordingly. Thus the giving of a cup of cold water to a servant of Christ, the nurturing of a believing child’s faith, these are acts of true greatness. But to be busy fighting for position and arguing about greatness, or seeking to evidence it by behaviour, could well cause a little child to stumble. Then let such beware lest they receive the condemnation due.
A Warning Against Causing Those Who Believe In Him To Stumble (9:42-50).
Having spoken of what acting in His Name regularly involved, Jesus now gives a warning to those who act against His Name. Not all these sayings may necessarily have been delivered at this point in time (see Mark 9:49-50), but Mark includes them here because he is at present concentrating on Jesus’ teaching of His disciples. He considered this to be a convenient place to give examples of that teaching. Alternately they may have occurred in teaching given during the remainder of the day and cited accordingly. But they may not be a continual sermon and some consider that parts are not directly connected with what has gone before, although linked by keywords. If that be so they are more generally illustrative of the teaching of Jesus. But they can in fact be seen as connecting up as we see below.
Similar phrases are found in the Gospels elsewhere in varying contexts, but this should not surprise us. Like most preachers Jesus would deliberately repeat important lessons in slightly different ways time and again, and some would remember them better from one context and some from another.
a “And whoever shall cause one of these little ones (or ‘low ones’) who believe in me to stumble” (Mark 9:42 a).
b “It would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he was thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42 b).
c “And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is good for you to enter into life maimed rather than having two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43).
d “And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is good for you to enter into life lame rather than having two feet to be cast into Gehenna” (Mark 9:44).
c “And if your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out. It is good for you to enter under the Kingly Rule of God with one eye rather than having two eyes to be cast into Gehenna, where the maggot does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:45).
b “For everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:46).
a “Salt is good. But if the salt has lost its saltness with what will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another” (Mark 9:47).
Note that in ‘a’ reference is to those who should be salt in the world but instead cause believers to stumble, and in the parallel they are like salt which has lost its savour. In ‘b’ is an example of what would be better for such than the actual punishment that they will face, and in the parallel they will be salted with fire. Three examples are then given of what to do if a part of you causes you to stumble, although only in the central one is Gehenna not followed by an amplifying statement.
“And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is good for you to enter into life maimed rather than having two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is good for you to enter into life lame rather than having two feet to be cast into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out. It is good for you to enter under the Kingly Rule of God with one eye rather than having two eyes to be cast into Gehenna, where the maggot does not die and the fire is not quenched.”
The idea of causing others to stumble leads on to the idea of what causes men themselves to stumble. We must note here first that there is no suggestion that this decapitation should be done by others as a punishment. The mutilations carried out in the name of Allah have no connection with the ideas of Jesus of of the Father. They result from cruel and heartless men misusing the word of God. And yet they think themselves righteous in doing it. How evil men are. How blind to the truth about God. Jesus was simply here talking of extreme actions which men themselves should in theory apply to themselves if there was no alternative. He was really saying vividly, ‘you must go to any lengths to prevent sin’.
‘If your hand causes you to stumble.’ The man whose hands are uncontrollable, whether through petty stealing, or through groping a woman who does not want the attention, or in any other sinful purpose, has hands that cause him to stumble. But Jesus did not really expect such a man to cut his hand off. He knew well enough that that would not solve the problem. What He was saying was that that man should be willing to take any drastic action that would enable him to control his behaviour. Although indeed, if there were no other alternative losing the hand would certainly be better than having to enter Gehenna. But Jesus knew well enough that cutting the hand off would not be the answer, for He had already declared that evil came from the heart of man (Mark 7:20). The man would be just as evil without his hand. To deal with sin he would have to cut his heart out. The same applied also with respect to both foot and eye, and the sins that relate to both. The wandering feet that take men into sinful places. The wandering eye that tempts to indulging in sin. All are to be dealt with severely.
‘Cut it off -- cast it out.’ Be decisive with sin, says Jesus. Do not play with it but treat it for what it is, destructive and harmful and to be got rid of at all costs lest it finally result in judgment. This was the kind of deliberate exaggeration often favoured by Jesus in order to bring home His point. Jesus had no time for a faith that did not result in a changed life and a changed attitude to sin.
‘To enter into life.’ This is the opposite of going to Gehenna. It is to enjoy that eternal life that Jesus offered to men (Mark 10:17; Mark 10:30), life under the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 9:47).
‘To go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.’ The picture of Ge-henna was based on ‘the valley of Hinnom’ (ge Hinnom). This valley outside Jerusalem was the rubbish dump of Jerusalem where there were continually burning fires, and where continually devouring maggots consumed the rubbish. It was a sight men preferred not to look at. The bodies of executed criminals were often tossed there to expose them to shame and to be rid of them, and there they burned and there the maggots and the scavengers gradually disposed of them. But it was the continuous activity of the maggots, which could not be chased away or avoided, which illustrated the inevitability of judgment.
The idea was used in Isaiah 66:24 to depict the end of the wicked. Those who inherited the new heaven and the new earth would ‘go out and look on the carcasses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their maggot will not die, nor shall their fire be quenched, but they will be an abhorring to all flesh.’ It was the picture of an eternal Gehenna based on the Valley of Hinnom.
Thus Jesus was here warning men to consider their end, pictured in terms of the undying maggots and the unquenched fire which would be the guarantee of the certainty of man’s final judgment. The idea is not of conscious suffering but of being totally shamed. Compare Daniel 12:2, ‘everlasting contempt’.
“For everyone shall be salted with fire.”
There are a number of questions to be asked about this small, rather enigmatic, phrase. Firstly as to whether this is to be seen as continuing the thoughts which have preceded it, secondly as to what is meant by being ‘salted’, thirdly as to who are involved in ‘everyone’, and fourthly as to what being ‘salted with fire’ adds to the equation.
We will first consider what it might mean to be salted. There is no doubt that to the ancients salt could be seen as a preservative, in which case ‘being ‘salted’ might be seen as signifying being treated in order to be preserved. The fire would then here indicate the purifying fires of persecution and tribulation (see Mark 10:30; John 15:20; John 16:2) which would purify the righteous (see Romans 5:1-5; Hebrews 12:4-11; Jas 1:2 ; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 4:12). But this interpretation by itself assumes that the saying is a semi-independent one, for it does not specifically connect it up with what has gone before.
However, it was also recognised in those days that where ground had been salted nothing could grow in it, and the picture here might well, in the light of the context, have Deuteronomy 29:23 in mind. There salt and fire are closely connected, so that the result is seen to be that nothing grows in the land that has been salted and subjected to burning, and the picture is connected by Moses with the area around the Dead Sea, where the salt lands themselves were equally seen as places lacking in life (see Ezekiel 47:11). Thus as an alternative to the picture of preservation we have the picture of ‘salting’ as something that results in barrenness and death, something which is also then connected up with the idea of destructive fire. Taking this view the verse would be carrying on the theme of judgment and Gehenna, emphasising its inevitability for all who sinned.
‘Everyone’ may here be seen as referring to ‘everyone who has caused others to stumble’, in which case again we may see this as referring to the inevitability of their judgment, which would fit well with what has gone before. (Another suggestion has been for the cauterising of their wounds with fire, although the latter must be seen as very unlikely and does not really fit the illustration).
Alternatively ‘everyone’ may be seen as indicating ‘all men’ with the idea that in one way or another this is what will happen to all men. It might then be seen as including the ideas of on the one hand preservation and purifying through suffering, and on the other destruction through destructive fire, the case varying with the recipient. But this entails it as being seen as a fairly sudden break with what has gone before, although in view of the verse that follows a good case could be put for that.
Some, however, have seen in it a reference to salt as used in sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13), with the idea that all believers are to become a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God and ever faithful to the covenant. This would certainly tie in with the fact that salt was connected with covenants, so that people could speak of ‘the salt of the covenant’.
A good number of ancient manuscripts are restricted to the phrase as we have cited it, which is probably the original wording, but some few add a further phrase, although even then they differ in the wording of the phrase, which suggests that they are explanatory additions. One rendering is ‘and every sacrifice will be salted with salt.’ In this case they saw Jesus’ words as connected with Leviticus 2:13. There sacrifices are salted with salt, that is, salt is offered with them because it is a preservative and thus it symbolised the preserving element of the covenant. It is there called ‘the salt of the covenant’, thus tying in with the idea of preservation through faithful endurance. But the differences in the manuscripts confirm that this is an addition intended to make clear something that was otherwise not clear, so that we would be unwise to see it as decisive.
A third group of manuscripts have an abbreviation of the two clauses combined. But these additions would again all seem to be explanatory, and to be an attempt from other Scripture to explain and expand on words that were found difficult. They could be seen as indicating that as men offered up themselves as a sacrifice to Christ (Romans 12:1) they would endure chastening and tribulation which would purify their lives and cause the covenant to endure. The essential thought is the same as the last alternative above.
All in all, however, it would seem best to see it as continuing the theme of the passage and as pointing to certain and inevitable judgment, especially in the light of Deuteronomy 29:23, with the thought that all who sin against others will finally be ‘salted with fire’ (be made barren and fruitless by the fires of judgment and only fit for destruction).
“Salt is good. But if the salt has lost its saltness with what will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another.”
Jesus then replies to the possible objection which could be raised that salt is good. The connection between this verse and the last is ‘salted’ and ‘salt’. But here there is a definite connection with the thought of God’s people as being salt, and here it is its purifying quality that is in mind. Compare ‘You are the salt of the world’ in Matthew 5:13. Salt was used for preserving and was vital in the ancient world to prevent the putrefaction of food. Thus the idea here is that the people of God are to act as a preservative of righteousness in the world as they love God with all their being and their neighbour as themselves. Such salt is good.
But if the salt loses its saltiness, (as has happened to the one who begins to cause little believers to stumble, it loses its usefulness. How can its saltiness then be restored? The answer expected is, it cannot. It is therefore essential that those who are salt retain their saltiness by a life of trust and obedience, and by dealing violently with sin. And the central nature of that saltiness will be found in their participation in and response to the good news of the Kingly Rule of God now present among them (compare Luke 11:28).
The idea of salt that has lost its saltiness may well have come from knowledge of the salty area around the Dead Sea where deposits which seemed similar to the salt deposits had no saltiness. Although such deposits seemed to be salt it was a waste of time collecting it for it was not salty, while even blocks which were salty could lose their saltiness if something drained the actual salt away.
‘Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another.’ Thus He adjured them to retain their saltiness. By retaining their saltiness and remaining firmly established in the covenant and under the Kingly Rule of God, by walking in trust and obedience, they will then ensure that they live at peace with one another. This picture aptly ends a section which began with the disciples arguing about rank. It indicates that if they truly live under the Kingly Rule of God position and precedence will be unimportant, and instead all will be in harmony. What will matter will be purity and peace.