In his gospel record, Mark is telling a story at three levels simultaneously.
- There is the story of Jesus preaching, teaching and performing miracles for the masses (for example, the feeding of the 4000).
- He also describes the on-going confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders.
- Finally, there is teaching and training of His disciples in order to bring them to faith and eventually to a full understanding of His mission.
As we go from chapter to chapter we see Jesus working at each of these objectives. When we left off at the end of chapter 8, Jesus had brought His Apostles to the point where they acknowledged their belief in Him as the Messiah. In the closing verses He explained to them what being a disciple required of them.
In chapter 9 He will continue in the training mode, but will also begin to expand their understanding of who He is and the nature of His mission.
Teaching the Apostles — 9:1-50
Teaching on the Kingdom
And Jesus was saying to them, "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power."
- Mark 9:1
Jesus makes a prophecy, one that they did not understand at this point, but would realize later on. The prophecy was that some of them would actually see the kingdom come with power. The word Jesus used that is translated into the English word, "kingdom," meant "sovereignty or rule." The idea was that wherever God's rule was accepted and carried out, there existed the kingdom as well.
Using this definition we can say that the kingdom exists on earth wherever God's people are carrying out God's will. In Mark 9:7 Jesus will declare that God's will is that we believe and obey Jesus Christ, therefore the kingdom of God on earth is made up of those who believe and obey Jesus. These people we commonly refer to as the church, the church that belongs to Christ.
There have been three main ideas put forth to explain how this prophecy has been fulfilled:
- The kingdom will be established at the return of Jesus at the end of the world.
- This would not be possible since all the Apostles have already died and Jesus said that some would be alive to see this happen.
- The kingdom was established when the city of Jerusalem, along with the nation of Israel, were destroyed in 70 AD.
- The destruction of the city of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD by a Roman army was the judgment of God on the Jewish nation for having rejected their Messiah, not the beginning of anything. This was the fulfillment of a prophecy by Jesus (Matthew 24:1-44), but not the fulfillment of what He is saying here about the kingdom.
- The kingdom was established when Peter preached the gospel for the first time on Pentecost Sunday in Jerusalem after Jesus' ascension into heaven (Acts 2:1-42).
- All were alive except Judas.
- The power of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Apostles.
- God's will was being done by the fact that the gospel was being proclaimed.
- The church began here as 3000 were baptized and added to the church/kingdom.
- The Apostles saw all of this with their own eyes.
Jesus, in a prophecy, tells them that they will witness the beginning of the kingdom of God on earth, and they did on Pentecost Sunday when the church was established in Jerusalem as the result of Peter's preaching and the response of thousands of people.
Teaching on His Deity and Authority - vs. 2-8
Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them;
- Mark 9:2
Jesus brings His inner circle of three Apostles to the mountain where He will be transfigured. Jewish law required two witnesses to confirm a deed, Jesus brings three to witness this transformation.
The Greek word translated into the English word "transfigured" is "metamorphose." It meant that something or someone was changed into another form (i.e. a caterpillar into a butterfly). This word was used because not only was Jesus' appearance changed, but He Himself was changed. In Luke 9:29 the writer says that His face changed.
and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them.
- Mark 9:3
Mark reports that Jesus' clothing shone. Both Peter and John recall this experience in later writings (II Peter 1:16; Revelation 21:23). It is interesting to note that encounters with God involve light.
- Moses: his own face shone after speaking with God (Exodus 34:29-35).
- Paul: a light was around him when Jesus spoke to him (Acts 22:6).
- Matthew: Jesus' appearance at His resurrection was like lightening (Matthew 28:3).
What the Apostles saw was His divine nature shining through His flesh. Normally Jesus demonstrated His divinity through miracles and teaching; in this special case He allowed them to actually see a measure of His glorified nature.
Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus.
- Mark 9:4
One of the main Jewish attacks against Christianity was that it could not be the fulfillment of the Jewish religion because it violated the Law (i.e. Jesus was hung on a tree, Deuteronomy 21:23) and the Prophets (i.e. The prophets had no mention of the Messiah coming from Galilee, John 7:41-43). The appearance of Moses (who gave the Law to the Jews) and Elijah (a major prophet respected by the Jewish nation) confirmed that Jesus' coming and the establishment of the kingdom (church) were in accordance with both the Law and Prophets. In his gospel (Luke 9:31) Luke says that Jesus, Moses and Elijah spoke of His impending crucifixion. This reinforces the idea that His death was according to both the Law and the Prophets.
5Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 6For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified.
- Mark 9:5-6
Peter does not know what to do because he is in awe of the heavenly vision before him. He says, "It is good for us to be here" meaning, this experience is as good as it gets, so he offers to build shelters (booths) for the three. Of course, this is foolish since they are heavenly beings, but he does not know what else to say. Some suggest that Peter wanted to build altars in order to worship the three, but the word for an altar to worship is different than the word for booths or shelters used in this passage.
7Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!" 8All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone.
- Mark 9:7-8
God's voice is present in a cloud and signifies that despite the appearances of Moses and Elijah, the Apostles are to obey only Jesus, His beloved Son.
This entire scene is a confirmation of Jesus' position over and in line with the Law and the Prophets which He perfectly embodied by taking on a human nature and coming to live, die and resurrect as the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the world.
Teaching About the Messiah
9As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead. 10They seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant. 11They asked Him, saying, "Why is it that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" 12And He said to them, "Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him."
- Mark 9:9-133
In verses 9 to13 we see that the Apostles are struggling to reconcile their concept of the Messiah with what Jesus is presently teaching them. The Old Testament said that a prophet like Elijah would come in advance of the Messiah, and they wondered if their vision of Elijah was the fulfillment of that prophecy (Malachi 4:5-6). Jesus confirms that the prophecy had already been fulfilled but not by this vision, rather by the appearance of John the Baptist. John was the prophet sent to prepare the way for the Messiah, and Jesus refers to the rejection and death that he suffered at the hands of Herod, a rejection and death that Jesus would also suffer in the near future.
The concept of the Messiah that the Jewish people had at that time was inaccurate and Jesus was trying to correct their misconceptions. Their vision of the Messiah was vastly different than what Jesus was teaching them and what the Old Testament actually said about this person. The term "messiah" meant "anointed one." In the Old Testament, priests and kings were the anointed ones (individuals who were selected or separated by God for special tasks). For example, Samson, Saul and David were all "anointed ones." When the New Testament was written in the Greek language, the term "Christ" was used for the word messiah or anointed one.
During the time when Jesus was on earth the people believed that a royal descendant of King David, the most dynamic and powerful of the Jewish kings, would come to save Israel from Roman domination, provide abundance and make Israel a ruling nation again. They firmly believed that the Messiah would bring peace and return Israel to its "glory" days.
Throughout history the Jewish people have had various ideas about their Messiah, even to this day. For example:
- Orthodox Jews: they are still waiting for an individual person to come as the Messiah.
- Conservative Jews: this group also believes in a personal Messiah to come.
- Reform Jews: these believe that the Jewish people, as a group, embody the notion of the Messiah and as such will eventually bring peace and a golden age of prosperity to the world where they will provide leadership. They also believe that their good works are a blessing to the world in this regard.
- Zionist movement: a political organization/view that believes that the land described in the Old Testament is theirs by divine right. This land was allotted to them in 1947 at the end of WWII with the help of Britain and other world powers.
Jesus was revealing Himself as the Messiah in line with the description of this person found in the Old Testament, the Messiah who would:
- Free them from sin and guilt.
- Regain for them the right to enter heaven and have a relationship with God.
- Provide a lasting peace of mind.
- Accomplish all of this, not through political or military means, but through His death on the cross and resurrection.
In the following section Jesus continues to slowly reveal His true identity to His chosen Apostles.
Teaching about Power
14When they came back to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. 15Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. 16And He asked them, "What are you discussing with them?" 17And one of the crowd answered Him, "Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; 18and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it." 19And He answered them and said, "O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!" 20They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. 21And He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. 22It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!" 23And Jesus said to him, "'If You can?' All things are possible to him who believes." 24Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, "I do believe; help my unbelief." 25When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again." 26After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, "He is dead!" 27But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up. 28When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, "Why could we not drive it out?" 29And He said to them, "This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer."
30From there they went out and began to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know about it. 31For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, "The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later." 32But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.
33They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, "What were you discussing on the way?" 34But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. 35Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." 36Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, 37"Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me."
38John said to Him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us." 39But Jesus said, "Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. 40For he who is not against us is for us. 41For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.
42"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 44[where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] 45If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, 46[where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] 47If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.49"For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."
- Mark 9:14-50
This passage begins with a miracle and ends with Jesus commenting on the source of spiritual power.
The story of the miracle is as follows:
- A man brings his demon possessed boy for healing to the Apostles, while a crowd gathers to observe.
- They fail to heal him and begin a dispute with the scribes.
- Jesus returns at this point along with the three Apostles who had been with Him on the mountain.
- He discusses the situation with the boy's father and grieves over everyone's lack of faith to which the boy's father utters his desperate cry, "I believe, help my disbelief."
- The Lord casts out the spirit and heals the boy, and then confers with the Apostles about the incident.
- The key question they ask Him afterward is, "Why could the Apostles not cast out the demon?"
Jesus provides three reasons why they failed to heal this boy:
1. The father lacked faith
- The father did not bring the boy to Jesus because of his faith in Him. His actions were based on the need to seek relief for his son's suffering. He was willing to try anything, even the followers of the young rabbi (Jesus) everyone was talking about.
- After the Apostles failed to cast out the demon, he asked if Jesus could do it, revealing his doubt.
- The obstacle to the healing was not the illness itself but the weakness of the father's faith. He needed to acknowledge his own need first (the need to grow in faith) before Jesus could deal with the child's need.
Jesus did not require people to believe in Him in order to perform miracles (e.g. feeding of the 5000, Mark 6:30-44). However, in this case He wanted to minister to both the boy and his father. Had the Apostles healed the boy, the father would have left without believing. Jesus first led the man to confess his own need and not only the need of his child. In this way both would be blessed because of their faith in Jesus confirmed by the miraculous healing.
2. Lack of prayer
The Apostles believed in Jesus, but unlike Him they were not totally guided by God's will. Jesus worked miracles according to God's will, not according to the need of the moment or pressure from the crowd.
Jesus said to them that this demon would only come out by fasting and prayer. He did not mean that a certain type prayer would affect this demon in a particular way. He was explaining that prayer with fasting would enable them to discern God's will more clearly, and in doing so they might have known what to do when it came to this situation (i.e. they might have been given the insight concerning the father's need before ministering to the boy).
3. Lack of humility
The last section in the chapter sees Jesus teaching them about the key events about to take place which would signal the end of His mission on earth, His death and resurrection. They clearly showed that they did not understand what was to happen and the reason they lacked understanding, and the power that this insight would give them, was because of their pride. Jesus reveals that they have been discussing who was the greatest and who had the highest position among them. Perhaps the three that had witnessed His transfiguration were feeling superior after their experience on the mountain. Jesus teaches them that those who are great in His kingdom have the innocence of a child, the heart of a servant and the holy lifestyle of an obedient disciple.
Sex, Money, Power — 10:1-52
This next chapter contains additional teaching that deals with the more practical issues of sex, money, power and how the "religious" people of that time misunderstood these things.
1Getting up, He went from there to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan; crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them. 2Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. 3And He answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you?" 4They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away." 5But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. 7For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, 8and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." 10In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. 11And He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; 12and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery."
- Mark 10:1-12
At that time many rabbis taught that the repeated breaking up of marriages for any and all reasons was acceptable if one followed the legal procedures for divorce. Because of this teaching, many Jewish men (Jewish women could not legally initiate a divorce) were using this legal excuse to cover their sexual lust and lack of commitment towards their marriage partners. For example, when a man grew tired of his wife or desired someone else, he would simply divorce her using any excuse (i.e. didn't like her cooking, she didn't please him sexually, etc.) and marry another woman claiming complete innocence since he had acted according to the law
Jesus taught that God was the one who made the original law that governed marriage and that His laws superseded man's laws. Sex was created to be expressed by a man and woman within the union of marriage and marriage was a lifetime commitment. It could only be broken legally by death or the sexual infidelity of one of the partners (Matthew 19:9).
13And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. 14But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, "Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." 16And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.
- Mark 10:13-16
Blessing the children that approached Him immediately after this teaching not only confirmed the primary purpose of marriage but also indicated the attitude that one needed to have in receiving His teachings on this and other subjects. Innocent children trusted and obeyed without rebellion or hypocrisy, attitudes that were sorely missing among the Jewish leaders who challenged Him at every opportunity.
17As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 18And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You know the commandments, 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" 20And he said to Him, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up." 21Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." 22But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.
23And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" 24The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 26They were even more astonished and said to Him, "Then who can be saved?" 27Looking at them, Jesus said, "With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God."
28Peter began to say to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You." 29Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, 30but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last, first."
32They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were fearful. And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him, 33saying, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. 34They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again."
- Mark 10:17-34
The Jews equated wealth with blessings. In their opinion a man was rich because he was favored by God, and conversely the poor and weak were this way because of sin. The rich young ruler who asks Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life was just this sort of person. He was blessed with wealth and a good position, and was seen as a moral and law abiding citizen. Yet, there was something missing in his life, something his wealth or personal conduct could not obtain. His question to Jesus revealed that he lacked assurance of his personal salvation. In His response, Jesus shows this man that his attachment to wealth was the obstacle to the hope of salvation he sought after. When he turns away from Jesus this fact is made obvious.
Jesus uses this opportunity to reveal that both rich and poor are in need of salvation, and the rich are at a disadvantage in this pursuit because of their attachment to wealth. The Apostles are amazed thinking that if the rich have a hard time being saved, how could the poor then be saved? Jesus reassures them that God had the power to save both rich and poor.
Peter responds to this with the comment that they, the Apostles, have become poor to follow Jesus. The unspoken point he makes is that they have done what Jesus asked of the rich young ruler but have not yet received any earthly reward (how they envisioned salvation). Jesus tells them that His disciples are rewarded here on earth with a new family (the church), more precious blessings (spiritual wealth like peace, joy, hope, etc. to various degrees), and in the end, eternal life in the world to come. All of these are things that earthly treasure could not buy. After saying this He reminds them once again of His suffering, death and resurrection to come, the things that He will have to give up in order to purchase these blessings on their behalf.
35James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You." 36And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" 37They said to Him, "Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory." 38But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" 39They said to Him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
41Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. 42Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
46Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. 47When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" 48Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" 49And Jesus stopped and said, "Call him here." So they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you." 50Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus. 51And answering him, Jesus said, "What do you want Me to do for you?" And the blind man said to Him, "Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!" 52And Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road.
- Mark 10:35-52
The mother of James and John (mentioned in Matthew 20:20-28) brings up an ongoing dispute among Jesus' disciples. She asks to have Jesus give her sons the highest positions in the kingdom. The fact that the other Apostles are upset shows that they still see the kingdom as an earthly, political structure with the possibility of them having "positions" of prestige and authority in it. Jesus dispels these ideas in two ways:
- He describes the kingdom as a community of people who are as innocent as children and where the highest position is one of service. There is never any competition or prestige among slaves. All are equally under bondage to their master whom they serve. Lest there be any complaining or resentment Jesus uses His own life and ministry as an example. His kingdom is not of or like the ones in this world. The rewards are different and so are the relationships and activities. We are, He teaches, saved in order to serve in the kingdom.
- The healing of the blind man, called Bartimaeus, summarizes this teaching on the nature of those in the kingdom. This blind person was rejected by society, had no money other than what he received as a beggar. He was not pitied or respected because when he cried out for help, he was roughly told to be quiet. And yet, despite all of this, Jesus healed him and in doing so restored him to normal life among his people. Bartimaeus was last of all, but because he believed and cried out in humility, he became one of the first to enter the kingdom and experience God's mercy and power.