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Bible Commentaries
Mark 9

Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & RomansWatson's Expositions

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Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

2 Jesus is transfigured.

11 He instructeth his disciples concerning the coming of Elias:

14 casteth forth a dumb and deaf spirit:

30 foretelleth his death and resurrection:

33 exhorteth his disciples to humility:

38 bidding them not to prohibit such as be not against them, nor to give offence to any of the faithful.

Verse 1

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

There be some of them that stand here. — See notes on Matthew 16:28.

Verse 2

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Was transfigured, &c. — See notes on Matthew 17:1-4.

Verse 11

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Elias must first come, &c. — See notes on Matthew 17:10-12.

Verses 14-24

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And when he came to his disciples. — That is, to the body of the disciples, those whom he had not taken with him to the scene of the transfiguration, as he did Peter, James, and John. He found them with a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them, perplexing them with objections and difficult inquiries, and especially exulting over them, that they had not been able to cast out a devil from a youth who had been brought to them during the absence of Christ. On this account, see the notes on Matthew 17:14-18. St. Mark adds to the relation several striking and affecting particulars; as 1. That as soon as the people beheld him approaching they were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him. There is a considerable difficulty in explaining what it was in the appearance of Christ which amazed the people. That, as they were generally friendly to him and displeased with the carping disputings of the scribes with his disciples during his absence, they should be greatly elevated with joy at seeing him so opportunely approach, is very rational; because they knew well how soon he would silence all these inimical men, as he had often silenced them before, to the great joy of the honest-minded multitudes. But this amazement was an emotion which neither in kind nor degree answers to that expressed by the word εκθαμβεομαι , which denotes the highest degree of astonishment not unmingled with fear or awe. It is therefore probable that there was something of unusual dignity and majesty in the air and mien of our Lord so lately descended from the mountain on which he had been transfigured, which impressed with astonishment and awe those who ran to salute him.

That some rays of the glory remained upon his face, as upon the face of Moses after he had been with God on the mount, is an ingenious and not an improbable conjecture of several commentators both ancient and modern. — Certain it is, there was something visible and exceedingly impressive in his aspect; but, whatever it might be, it was probably laid aside before he joined the promiscuous throng and confronted the scribes, as no farther allusion is made to 2:2. The case of the possessed youth is also set forth with additional circumstance. He was not only “lunatic,” that is to say, epileptic, and “sore vexed,” as stated by St. Matthew, but also dumb; and, being torn, convulsed, and thrown down by the evil spirit, he foamed, gnashed with his teeth; and, by reason of these various torments, he pined or wasted away. This too was stated by the father to have been the unhappy case of his son from a child, παιδιοθεν ; not exactly from infancy, but from boyhood.

3. St. Mark draws the picture of the father in a most affecting manner. He had brought his afflicted child to Jesus, having, no doubt, heard of his fame; but, finding him absent, he had applied to the disciples, and they could not cast him out: either they had attempted and failed, or, what is more probable, for want of faith to encounter so fearful a spirit, (see the notes on Matthew 17:14-20,) would not make the attempt, and so confessed their inability. This was a bitter disappointment to the father, and served also to shake his faith in the Master of these weak disciples. Hence after having pathetically described the case of the youth, he says doubtfully, yet imploringly, If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us. The powerful struggle between faith and unbelief in the mind of this poor man is artlessly but most affectingly portrayed. Jesus had said, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth; and straightway the father of the child CRIED OUT, and said, WITH TEARS, Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief; that is, increase my faith, by supplying its defects, and removing the doubts which I confess intrude against my better convictions and wishes. He knew so much of Christ that he felt that it was most reasonable in him to exercise an entire trust in his power and goodness; yet the length of time his son had been possessed, the powerful and fearful character of the evil spirit, and the failure of Christ’s disciples to cast him out, had rendered the exercise of that entire faith an act of great difficulty. He, however, manfully struggles, and casts himself upon the compassion of Him who “despises not the day of small things;” and his prayer is heard.

Verses 25-27

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

He rebuked. — He reproved the malice of the devil, and, with an authority which that foul spirit dared not to resist, he charged him both to come out, and, probably for the greater comfort of the afflicted parent, to enter no more into him. He was suffered indeed to exert great power over him before he came out; the object of which was both to show the fearful malignity of these apostate and wholly abandoned spirits, and to render the miracle more illustrious before the multitude, especially as the scribes had availed themselves of the weakness of the disciples to depreciate the power of their Master. But the mischief inflicted by Satan was soon repaired: in this terrible parting struggle he had left the youth as one dead; so that many said, He is dead; but Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

Verse 28

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Why could not we cast him out? — See notes on Matthew 17:19-21. The reason why the disciples could not cast out the demon was, that they wanted faith in Christ. Here is a grand distinction between the servant and the master. Our Lord’s power of working miracles is never attributed to his faith: the reason is, that he looked to no higher a power than his own Divinity in essential union with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But had he been a mere man, faith in another and a higher power would have been as necessary to his effecting a miracle as to his disciples. What then can explain the fact that faith was every thing to them, nothing to him, in precisely similar acts? Nothing can explain it but the doctrine that they were men, and he more than man.

Verses 30-31

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And passed through Galilee, &c. — See notes on Matthew 17:22-23.

Verse 33

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

What was it that ye disputed, &c. — See notes on Matthew 18:1, &c.

Verses 36-37

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And he took a child, &c. — This was teaching by action and the lesson was twofold; first to the disciples, that their character ought, in simplicity and freedom from ambition, to be like that of a child; second, that to receive persons of this childlike disposition, the true followers of a lowly Master, would be accompanied by the highest spiritual benefit: such persons, by receiving Christ’s servants as such, and out of respect of their relation to him, their resemblance to him, and the work assigned to them by him, would receive both Christ and him that sent him into the world, even the Father; which not only means that they would show respect both to the Son and to the Father, but that they should be raised into communion with each, and receive those benefits which, in the economy of our redemption, respectively they bestow upon true believers, — the Father being the FOUNTAIN of all blessings, and the Son the GRAND MEDIUM through which his abounding grace flows to man. This is, as St. John expresses it, to have “the Father and the Son.” But although this is doubtless the primary and chief sense of this emblematical action, and the words of Christ which it called forth, the whole transaction shows the interest our Lord took in children, and bears a FAVOURABLE ASPECT upon infant baptism.

Verses 38-40

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And John answered, &c. — These words appear to have interrupted our Lord’s discourse, which is renewed again at verse 41. The man who was casting out devils was a believer in Christ. This is clear from his adjuring the devils in the name of Christ, that is, in dependence on his power, and under his authority. That the same miraculous powers which had been given to the twelve, and to the seventy disciples, had been communicated to him, was also clear from the effects produced. But he followed not with them; that is, he was not of the company that immediately attended upon Christ, and to whom John probably thought that the authority to cast out devils in the name of Christ properly belonged. Yet perhaps he had not been called thus immediately to follow Christ; and it is clear that it was not the will of Christ to restrict the communication of miraculous powers to those who did. Grotius and others have thought that, though well inclined to Christ, he was not “a full believer.” There is, however, no proof of his deficiency in this respect more than this, that he did not follow Christ as the apostles and the seventy. But that this was a fault, since he openly confessed Christ, cannot be proved; and therefore it is not conclusive against his being “a full believer,” of which the presumption lies the other way. The fact seems to be that John, like many since, thought that authority to cast out devils in the name of Christ must come in one particular way; but Christ showed that he was bound to no order at all, and that he was so far from making that his only rule, he had conferred as rich a degree of spiritual gifts upon a believer who followed not with the rest, and who especially had not had the same call into the apostolic and evangelical ministry as those whom Christ had chosen.

Forbid him not, therefore, says our Lord, to the too forward John: for there is no man that can do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me; that can easily bring himself to speak evil of me; meaning that such a one could not be an enemy, but a friend. It is therefore added, For he that is not against us, is on our part. Such a man could not be against them, because he was engaged in the same work of casting out devils, and honouring the name of Christ as the world’s Redeemer from the tyranny of Satan; but, as urging on the same designs of mercy to mankind, he was for them. Alas! that this important sentiment has been so disregarded among the different sects of Christians. Even those who have been successfully promoting the salvation of men through Christ, have often been haughtily forbidden, because the order and manner of their calling was different from others. Men would restrain their Master to one rule, and refuse to acknowledge his Spirit where a diversity appears in his operations. Thus blind mortals attempt to limit the Holy One of Israel, and tacitly confess like John, until better instructed, that they would rather the devils were let alone to torment and destroy men, than that they should be cast out in any other manner than their own. Let us, however, recollect that, as there is a common Christianity, so there is a COMMON CAUSE among true Christians; and whoever promotes it is not against us, but on our part, if our side be indeed the side of Christ. We are therefore to encourage his work, and not coldly, much less proudly, hinder it; and we are to esteem him also, as well as those that follow with us, “very highly in love for his work’s sake.” If only the devils are cast out in the name of Jesus, let us rejoice, and thereby show that our love to the common Christianity surmounts the petty attachments of mere party and sectarian feeling.

Verse 41

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

For whosoever shall give you a cup, &c. — Here the discourse, broken off at verse 37, is resumed. See note on Matthew 10:42, where the phrase is similar, though the occasion is different; for our Lord often repeated the same weighty sayings on different occasions.

Verses 42-47

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Offend one of these little ones, &c. — See the notes on Matthew 18:6-9.

Verse 48

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Where their worm dieth not, &c. — These words are similar to Isaiah 66:24; but even there they may be used as a proverbial description of hopeless and utter destruction, and so there may be no application of them by our Lord, except as the expression was well known as proverbial. — Bishop Lowth and others think the allusion in Isaiah is to the valley of Hinnom, where the idolatrous Jews made their children to pass through the fire to Moloch. Josiah desecrated or defiled it; and it was the custom to keep fires perpetually burning there to consume the filth and offal of the city. See note on Matthew 5:22. This might, indeed, explain the allusion to unquenchable fire, but not that to the worm that dieth not; and the notion of Lowth that this valley was also a common burying place, and so furnished the image of the ever gnawing worm, as well as that of the everlasting fire, is without sufficient proof. In so polluted a place the Jews were unlikely to bury their dead. The passage occurs indeed in Isaiah, before any such use was made of the valley as burning the refuse of the city. It appears therefore to have been a highly metaphorical mode of expressing the highest penalties of the Divine justice upon guilty nations and individuals. As the worm itself dies not, but destroys that it feeds upon, and as a fire unquenched consumes that upon which it kindles, so when temporal judgments are expressed by this phrase, the utter destruction of persons, cities, and nations, appears to be intended; but when it refers to a future state, and the subject of punishment is, in itself, or by Divine appointment, immortal, the idea is heightened to its utmost terror; their worm of reflection and remorse ever gnaws; and the fire, which represents the severity of accumulated judgments, is never quenched. Three times here does this most mild and gracious Teacher repeat this awful commination against those who refuse to put away those sins which offend them, that is, cause them to stumble and fall. And though the excision of them may appear like cutting off a hand or foot, or plucking out an eye, yet the necessity is laid upon us: we must deny ourselves and mortify our sins, or be exposed to this fearful, this ever enduring misery. See notes on Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 18:8-9.

Verses 49-50

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

For every one shall be salted with fire, &c. — On this difficult passage the opinions of commentators have greatly differed. It is unnecessary to notice many absurd and some mischievous interpretations, which carry their own refutation: those which have the greatest plausibility are the following. It is necessary, however, to state previously, that, although the Codex Bezæ wants the first clause of this verse, and some other MSS. omit the second, yet the evidence of the genuineness of the whole verse from the agreement of the best MSS. and ancient versions is decisive. The first opinion regards these words as wholly unconnected with the preceding remarks on the punishment of the wicked; and as expressing the fiery persecutions to which Christians would be exposed. A second is, that πας , every one, respects all Christians, whether persecuted or not; and that the sense is, every true believer is purified by the afflictions and trials of life, in the same manner (και being used for ως ) as every sacrifice is salted with salt. A third is, that believers were to be salted or prepared by the apostles, for the fire of God’s altar, (πυρι being here taken in the dative case,) that is, to become through their ministry a holy sacrifice to God. A fourth urges that γαρ connects the words chiefly with the preceding verse, and therefore that the words salted with fire, can refer only to the wicked, to them whose “worm dieth not,” &c.; γαρ for every one of these shall be salted with fire; as if it had been, πας γαρ αυτων . In this case, the idea of endless torments suggested by the unquenchable fire of the preceding verse is supposed to be carried on and heightened by the strong figure of being salted, that is, seasoned with fire itself, so as to be rendered inconsumable by it. The fifth view, and that which has been perhaps most generally received, regards the two clauses of the verse as standing in opposition to each other; the first expressing the fearful doom of the wicked as victims to Divine justice, to be salted with fire, which shall endure for ever; but every acceptable sacrifice, — under which real Christians are supposed to be represented, — as being salted with another kind of salt, namely, the Divine grace, which purifies the soul. These are all the opinions on this subject worth noticing, the others being either modifications of some one of these, or founded upon emendatory and uncertain criticism.

For the true interpretation of this passage it is to be remarked, that the discourse was addressed to the apostles alone. Our Lord had reproved them for their ambition, by setting a child in the midst, and taking him in his arms in token of his special regard; he had farther declared his affection to such of his childlike followers, by assuring them that whoso received one of such children received him; he had reproved John for forbidding a good man who followed not with them from casting out devils in his name; he had, in returning from this digression to the former subject, declared that the most severe punishment would follow the offending, or making to stumble, one of these little ones that believe in me: having guarded others against offending, or causing to stumble and fall, the least of his disciples, he warns the apostles lest they should be stumbling blocks to themselves, enjoining upon them the utmost purity, exhorting them to renounce every sin by entire and rigid self-mortification, which he compares to the cutting off a hand or a foot, or the plucking out of an eye; and this entire renunciation of evil, this universal purity, he enforces upon them by the awful doctrine, that, failing of it, they could not enter into life, but should inevitably be cast into unquenchable fire. But in what follows he continues the same address to the apostles, and still enforces the same subject, their entire purification from sin to God, which he illustrates from the offering of salt with sacrifices.

The apostles professed to CONSECRATE themselves to Christ, to OFFER themselves to his service; but as under the law all offerings were to be accompanied with salt, — the striking and well understood emblem in eastern countries of SINCERITY and GOOD FAITH in covenant engagements, and hence called in the very passage alluded to Leviticus 2:13, “the salt of the covenant of thy God,” — so their devoting themselves to Christ demanded that perfect sincerity and purity which could not consist with the sparing and retaining any sin whatever; and the sincerity and good faith with which they renounced all sin was as the offering of salt with the sacrifice. This appears to be the connection; and the particle γαρ must therefore be considered as connecting these words, not with the verse next preceding, but with the whole argument of the preceding verses; and the πας is to be applied to every one of the apostles: for, that in the first instance they are spoken of, and that the salting refers to the principle and operation of Divine grace in them, made plain by what follows, Salt is good; where our Lord means the very salt of which he had before been speaking, that with which every sacrifice should be salted. To which he also adds, Have salt, in yourselves, and, with reference to their dispute which should be greatest, have peace one with another. So clear is it that, throughout the whole of this disputed passage, the apostles were addressed, and they first and chiefly, whatever lessons may be consequentially taught by it to ministers and Christians generally; and if so, then the only point to be considered is, whether the first clause for every one shall be salted with fire, may not refer to the punishment of a false apostle, or a bad minister, although the next clause, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt, must be considered as a figurative application of the rites of ancient sacrifice, to express the entire consecration of the faithful disciples to Christ, as by “a covenant of salt.” On this question it may be observed that the never ending punishment of the faithless had been with such reiteration, explicitness, and emphasis already three times, or rather six times, uttered in the preceding verses, that it is improbable that the same subject should be again stated in the garb of metaphor as being “salted with fire.”

2. That to suppose our Lord, in the same verse, to speak of being salted with the fire of hell, and salted with Divine grace, is an exceedingly harsh interpretation: for although he often uses the same terms in a sentence, or in successive sentences, in different or even contrasted senses, yet there is always some observable relation of degree or contrariety arising out of the terms or the nature of the subject; but here no such relation appears, and we shall not find an instance of such a use of words by our Lord in senses so violently different and disconnected. But 3. The terms being all manifestly sacrificial, an easy interpretation is afforded to the whole, without supposing any such violent transition in the meaning of the terms used: For every one shall be salted, by an entire integrity and sincerity, WITH THE FIRE of that altar on which you devote yourselves, AS every sacrifice in the temple shall be salted with salt; the emblem of the sincerity and integrity in which it is offered. Here πυρι is taken in the dative case, as 2 Peter 3:7, πυρι τηρουμενοι , reserved for the fire; and και takes the sense of ως , which is not unfrequent.

At the same time, the order in which these distinct ideas rose in the mind of our Lord may be probably traced. The “unquenchable fire” of hell, of which he had been just speaking, might easily associate itself with another unquenchable fire, that which was kept ever burning through all generations on the altar of burnt-offering in the temple. Still farther, the punishment of wicked apostate Christians might naturally be considered as the immolation of victims to Divine justice, and forcibly suggest the striking contrast of that great act of grace by which true apostles and disciples were allowed to offer themselves to God upon the altar of the Christian temple, and to present themselves a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, to God; but the acceptableness of which depends, as in the ancient offerings, upon the salt offered with it, that is, upon the entire simplicity and fidelity with which we give our whole selves to Christ and to his service, making no reserves and tolerating no sin. In this way, indeed, the admonitory contrast, so forcibly dwelt upon by some commentators, is brought out and impressed upon us; not by separating the two clauses of verse 46 into distinct and opposite senses, but by opposing the false disciple, who refuses to cut off his right hand, or foot, or eye, that is, wholly and universally to mortify his corruptions, and is cast into hell, a victim to incensed and eternal justice; and the faithful disciple, he who enters, into “a covenant of salt” with Christ, that is, who engages himself to him in purity and fidelity, and who is offered upon the altar, a sacrifice of sweet-smelling savour, in all he thinks, and speaks, and does, “acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” In this view, it is very true that we must be sacrifices either to GRACE or to JUSTICE. Let us not falter then in our choice, but cut off whatever might cause us to stumble, and fall into this unquenchable fire.

If the salt have lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it? — See notes on Matthew 5:13.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Mark 9". "Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Romans". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwc/mark-9.html.
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