- Jesus rose from the dead. This is the primary point. In one sense, we could say the entire Gospel of Mark is written to bring us to this one, primary, climactic point. Jesus truly died. Jesus was truly buried. Jesus truly rose from the dead. This is shown by the empty tomb (6), the words of the angel (5-7) and the appearances of Jesus (9-14).
- The disciples are moved from unbelief (11, 13, 14) to faith. This is an incredible transformation in these fearful men who had misunderstood and rejected Christ’s teaching for the entire three years of His earthly ministry.
- The disciples become the Apostles (15), and, in obedience to Christ, “went forth, and preached everywhere” and the great signs of verses 17 and 18 were done by them, “confirming the word” (20).
- Christ ascends into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father (19).
January 28, 2018
The Gospel of Mark
A Year in the New Testament
The Gospel According to Mark
General Remarks on Mark’s Gospel
Many scholars believe Mark was the first Gospel written, and that its unknown author, along with the other Gospel writers, based his work on an earlier document, which they call “Q.” The early Church, however, believed Matthew was the first Gospel, that it was written by the Apostle Matthew, and recorded his inspired report of the things he personally heard and saw during his three years as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mark’s Gospel came later, and, according to many early writers, was written as Mark recorded the remembrances of the Apostle Peter. Thus, the Gospel According to Mark is really the Gospel according to Peter. As one of the inner circle of disciples, and a leading figure in the New Testament, it is no surprise that, along with his two Epistles, the New Testament contains a record of the life and ministry of Christ written under Peter’s direction.
The Gospel of Mark has several characteristics. First, like the other Gospels, Mark follows a theological, rather than chronological format, because its purpose is to encourage us to believe in, and follow Christ, rather than give a chronological account of the life of Christ. Dr. William Hendriksen calls this the “topical” arrangement. Second, like Peter, the Gospel of Mark moves quickly and emphasises action. In this way, the Gospel lets Christ’s words and actions speak for themselves. The Gospel shows Christ healing the sick, communing with the Father, and rising from the grave. These are things only God can do, therefore, Peter expects his readers to draw the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah and God with us. Third, Mark emphasises Christ’s desire not to be publicly announced as the Messiah by people who do not understand the nature and work of the Messiah. He often tells people not to tell others who healed them, or worked miracles. This is probably due to the widespread misunderstanding of the Messiah that prevailed in Christ’s time. He was expected to be a military leader, like Joshua, Samson, and David, who would organise Israel into an army to drive the Romans out of the land. If people hear that He is the Messiah, they will rally to Him to start a war, not to hear the Gospel. Therefore, He often desires not to emphasise the title of Messiah until He has time to explain more about the nature and ministry of the Messiah, which is most fully given through the great work of Redemption by the blood of the cross.
Mark does not follow Matthew’s example of giving detailed genealogies of Christ, or even recounting the story of His birth. He moves straight to the witness of the Old Testament (2), making the bold statement that the Christ and His ministry are the fulfillment of prophecy. Even John the Baptist, the first prophet to arrive in Israel in 400 years, is the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah 40:3, and has been sent to prepare the way for the Christ. He is “The voice of one crying in the wilderness Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” Repentance from sin and turning to holiness and Godliness as a way of life are major parts of John’s message (4), and they are the essence of the way Israel is to prepare the way of the Lord. The baptism of John is a symbol of this preparation, and of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, into which the Messiah will baptize His people.
A second emphasis of John’s message is that the Messiah, so long awaited and prayed for, whose sandals John is not fit to tie, and who will baptize with the Holy Ghost, is here and ready to be revealed. This can only mean the world is entering the time of fulfillment. The promises of the Old Testament are beginning to be fulfilled right before the eyes of the people John is baptizing. It is difficult to state the impact and importance of this message, but it is not lost on the people. Verse 5 says “all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem” went to John to be baptized and confess their sins.
Thus, two points have been made. First The Messiah is ready to be revealed. Two, He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. In verses 9-11, a third point is made: Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. His identity is confirmed first by John at His baptism, and, second, by the Holy Spirit descending upon Him. It is further confirmed in the words from Heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Christ begins His mission immediately (12). He goes into the wilderness to meet the devil in the combat of spiritual warfare. He defeats Satan by resisting temptation, and He destroys the works of the devil by casting out demons, healing the sick and preaching/teaching about the Person and purpose of God.
His message is shocking. It is also joyfully Good News. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (15). The Lord is saying that the era in which the Old Testament promises begin to be fulfilled is at hand. It is here. It has arrived. The promise of the Saviour, the promise of a New Covenant, the promise that the Gentiles will be invited into the Kingdom, and the promise of the just and righteous reign of the Prince of Peace, have begun to be fulfilled on this planet. Therefore, repent. Turn from your sins and self-centered lives. Turn to God and His ways as your way of life and the habit of your thoughts. Believe the Gospel, which is the Good News that the era has begun, and let your belief shape your life.
The radical newness of the New Covenant is seen when Christ returns to Galilee and calls fishermen to become His disciples (16-20). We would expect Him to go to the Temple and train the Priests and Pharisees to follow Him. But Christ calls not the Doctors of the Law or the Jerusalem elite. The time of their ministry is passed. He goes to the fishermen, and there, beside Galilee, He begins to mentor the men He will entrust with the task of founding the Church and proclaiming His life and message.
He announces His mission to the fishermen in verse 38: He has come to preach the Gospel. It is noteworthy that Christ absolutely refuses to be limited to the position of a mere healer (35-39). Yes, He does much healing in His short ministry, but physical healing is a sign of His identity, rather than the essence of His work. Physical healing shows the Divine power of Christ. Casting out demons shows His Divine authority and victory over evil. But preaching the Good News is His primary work, until, in three, short years, He goes to the cross.
Our Lord returns to Capernaum, a small city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He is probably in the home of Peter when a crowd gathers around the house (2). At first, people are invited into the house, but, the house is not large enough to contain them all, so they collect around the door, and, probably, in the street.
There is no doubt that they have come for healing. Word of His actions in the synagogue, the previous healings at Peter’s home, and the cleansing of the leper, all of which happened in Capernaum, have spread rapidly in the little city. Now that He is back, people flock to Him wanting to be healed, too. Instead of healing, our Lord begins to preach to them. There is much they do not know about God and the Christ, and most of what they “know” is wrong. Our Lord lovingly desires to correct their errors, but few of the hearers allow His words to have any real effect in their lives. They are there for healing, and they want Him to get on with it.
By now the crowd is so large, most of the people cannot get close to Him. Four men, carrying a paralysed man, climb onto the roof and remove the tiles to lower their friend to the floor in front of Jesus (4). The result is amazing, for, in addition to healing the man, our Lord says, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (5). This is important for several reasons. First, Jesus is intentionally de-emphasising the physical healing aspect of the miracle. He uses the healing to signify something far more important; the forgiveness of sins, which is a kind of Biblical short-hand for complete reconciliation with God. Second, Jesus is identifying His real mission. He came to receive sinners. He came to forgive sins. He came to reconcile people to God. Third, Jesus is claiming to be God. The scribes are correct when they say only God can forgive sins (7). To claim such power is to claim to be God. So Jesus equates the healing and the forgiveness. He says it doesn’t matter if He says your sins are forgiven, or get up and walk. They equate to the same thing. The physical healing is a sign of the spiritual healing. In fact, the healing of this man is done so the witnesses can hear Christ’s claim to have the power to forgive sin (10).
Jesus leaves Peter’s house to walk by the Sea of Galilee. He sees Levi the son of Alpheus, “sitting at the receipt of custom” (14). Levi is Matthew, the tax collector for the Romans. Our Lord says to Matthew, “Follow me, and he arose and followed Him.” Matthew’s life will never be the same. From now on his life revolves around Jesus. He seems to just walk away from a high paying job, to gain the riches of treasures in Heaven. He will become an Apostle, forever remembered as the author of the New Testament book that bears his name.
Matthew seems to have invited the Lord and His disciples to his home (15). It is not known how long Christ remains with him, but, during His stay, Matthew invites some of his publican (tax collector) friends to a meal. He probably wants his friends to meet and follow the Lord, as he is. But the scribes and Pharisees, who are already joining forces to oppose Jesus, are horrified that the Lord associates with “publicans and sinners” (16). The scribes and Pharisees consider the publicans traitors to Israel and to God because they collect taxes from the Jews for the Romans. If Jesus is the Messiah, He has, in their minds, come to make war on the Romans, and their Jewish sympathisers. Instead of making war, Jesus is eating with them, as though they are friends. The Messiah, according to the scribes and Pharisees, would never do that. Therefore, Jesus must be an imposter.
But Christ says He has come for sinners (17). As a physician tends the sick, He tends the sin sickened souls of sinners. If you are well, you have no need of a physician, and if you are completely righteous and free of sin, you have no need of Christ. If you are sick you need a physician, and if you are a sinner, in need of mercy when you stand before God, you need a Saviour. Christ is is that Saviour, He came for you.
The Pharisees are offended because Jesus and His disciples do not follow their fasting rules (18-22). Jesus’ answer does not negate the practice of fasting. He will even chide the disciples for not fasting enough, when they are unable to cast a demon out of a boy (Mark 9:29). But Jesus is making important points here.
First His disciples are not required to keep the same fasting schedule as the Pharisees. There is good in joining other believers in times of mutual prayer and fasting, and Jesus is not negating that. He is simply saying that the fact that His disciples do not keep the same fasting schedule as the Pharisees, does not mean they are sinning. Second, Jesus is saying the time when He is physically on the earth is a unique time in history. It is something like a wedding, a time of feasting, rather than fasting. Third, Christ is negating the man made rules of the Pharisees, which have a strangle hold on the people and faith of Israel at that time. He is going to burst their religion the way new wine would burst old wineskins. The Kingdom of God is even going to burst out of Israel and permeate the world. People of all races and nations will come into it.
Verses 23-28 record yet another accusation from the Pharisees. Jesus and His disciples are picking and eating grain that is lawfully set aside for travelers and the poor. The Pharisees are angry because they are doing it on the Sabbath. Jesus’s point is not that the Sabbath is no longer binding upon people. It is that He, as the Creator, and the source of the Law, has the authority to tell the Pharisees what it means. He is saying, God gave Scripture, and it means what God wants it to mean, not what you want it to mean. Since Jesus is God, He has authority to interpret Scripture to the Pharisees. They do not have authority to interpret it to Him. Like the Pharisees, we sometimes try to reverse this too, don’t we?
Many believe Church membership and attendance is optional, but the words of Scripture contradict such thinking. Aside from His assertions that the Church is the body of Christ, to which God gives pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11-13), and statements that He will build His Church (Mt. 16:18), our Lord Himself sets an example of faithful attendance in the synagogue. Luke 4:16 records: “as his custom [life rule and habit] was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day.” Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to forsake the assembling (worship services of the Church) of ourselves together. Thus, chapter 3 opens with Christ going to the synagogue, saying, “and he entered again into the synagogue” (1).
While in the synagogue a serious question arises; “is it lawful to do good on the sabbath? (4). The question arises because a man with an illness that has caused one of his hands to “wither” is present, and the Pharisees are watching to see if Jesus will heal him on the Sabbath. According to their view, healing is work, and work on the Sabbath is forbidden.
Christ’s question, in verse 4 is both an accusation against the Pharisee’s false interpretation of the Bible, and an explanation of the true meaning of the Sabbath. He is saying it is lawful, meaning, permitted in Scripture, to do good on the Sabbath. He is also saying that refusing to help the man is a violation of the spirit and meaning of the Sabbath, which is to be a day of rest, worship, and works that are necessary and good. Is it more in keeping with God’s intent for the Sabbath to make the man suffer on the Sabbath, or to heal him? That is the real issue Christ puts before the Pharisees.
The Pharisees refuse to answer. Their refusal is not due to a lack of understanding that Jesus’ words and intent are absolutely true to the nature and will of God, and the meaning of the Sabbath. They refuse to answer because their hearts are so hardened against Christ they will not yield to truth, even in the House of God, even from the mouth of the Son of God. Their obstinance is so terrible, they would rather see a man suffer than admit their error. Christ’s response is wonderful. He heals the man, of course, but He is also “grieved for the hardness of their hearts” (5).
Verse 6 is an important point in Mark’s Gospel. The Pharisees arose in the era of Greek domination of Israel (332-167 B.C.). At that time, many Jews were incorporating Greek customs and modes of dress into their culture, and were supplanting Biblical theology and worship with Greek philosophy and pagan religion. Some, in misguided attempts to be “culturally relevant,” and keep the Jewish faith alive, were transforming it into a pagan cult. The Pharisees bravely withstood the Hellenisation of Israel’s faith and culture. Attempting to help Jews understand how to be Jews, they turned to the long commentary on the Law, which was begun during the time of the Babylonian Captivity in 586 B.C. This commentary includes many suggestions about what Jews should and should not do. Within a few generations, their commentaries had replaced the Bible, and their suggestions had become hardened into rules, which replaced the Law of God. In Christ’s time, the Pharisees share the popular view that the Messiah will be a military leader who will organise Israel into an army to drive the Romans out of their land.
The Herodians are Jews with ties and sympathies with the Romans. They like the Roman culture and religion, which sought to perpetuate Greek culture and religion. They want the Jews to become more Roman and less Jewish. They do not want a Messiah to deliver them from Rome.
Naturally, the Pharisees and the Herodians are ideological and political enemies, each accusing the other of perverting the Bible and distorting the Hebrew faith. But, in verse 6, these two factions unite in a common cause, to destroy Jesus. Their hate of Him is bigger than their hate of each other, and they are willing to compromise their most cherished and defining beliefs to do it.
After the encounter in the synagogue, Christ returns to the sea shore (7), where He first called the fishermen to become fishers of men. Due to His fame as a healer, and the spreading belief that He is the promised Messiah, people from Galilee (northern Israel) and Judea (southern Israel) are joined by people from Tyre and Sidon, which are Gentile cities on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Idumea is on the southern coast of the Dead Sea; beyond the Jordan refers to the land on the eastern side of the Jordan River (8). Verse 7 calls these people “a great multitude,” and verse 9 says Jesus gets into a small ship and moves far enough away from the shore to prevent being thronged, but close enough to be heard. During this time, the Lord continues to heal and cast out devils.
Verses 13-19 record the ordination of the twelve. These men will spend the next three years following Jesus and memorising His life and teachings. After Christ’s resurrection and ascension into Heaven, they, except Judas Iscariot, will be in charge of preaching Christ’s message and organising His Church. Theirs is a critically important calling, and our Lord spends the night in prayer before setting them aside for this work (Lk. 6:12-13).
During their three years with Christ they will have authority from Christ to preach and to heal, and to cast out devils. In other words, they will be doing as Christ Himself is doing, though under His direction.
The multitudes return in the morning. The press of the crowds, and the task of ministering to their many needs, is so great Christ and His disciples don’t even have time to eat. His meat is to do the will of His Father (Jn. 4:34).
Mark returns to the opposition Christ faces for His ministry. He recalls, first, that Jesus’ “friends” come to lay hands on Him, meaning to force Him to stop preaching and healing. Their identity is unknown. Perhaps they are simply people who knew Him in Nazareth. Perhaps they are people who were close to Him. Whoever they are, they are convinced Christ is “beside himself” (21), meaning, crazy. Remember that, when Christ returned to Nazareth, the people rejected Him (Mk. 6:4). They were offended by His claim to be the Son of God and the fulfillment of Scripture. Now His claims are not just made in Nazareth, but in all Israel, so they decide to stop Him by force.
Verses 22-30 record the arrival of a group of scribes from Jerusalem. It is a natural and right duty of the priests to investigate the actions and teachings of a person doing what Jesus does. They are the shepherds of Israel, charged with the responsibility of teaching the Scriptures, and leading the people in the ways of God. Therefore, they need to know whether Jesus is true to the Bible, or is another of the many false Messiahs who populate Israel at this time. But these men seem to have come with a different mission. They have come to oppose Christ, not to see if He is teaching and doing the Scriptures. Their accusation that Christ has a demon, and casts out demons by the power of the prince of devils (22), is not the result of their investigation of Him, it is the heart of their mission. They came there to say it. They are there to oppose and discredit Him, and ultimately, to kill Him, not seek or speak truth.
Jesus calls them to Him for a public confrontation. His words to them show the folly of their accusation. Why would Satan cast out devils? Wouldn’t Satan’s purpose be better served by causing more demons to enter people? And if Satan is fighting other demons, then his divided house will be easy to conquer. He “cannot stand, but “hath an end” (26). Another will enter Satan’s house and take his things from him.
That is exactly what Christ is doing. He is entering Satan’s house and taking away the souls and lives Satan has stolen and imprisoned there. Therefore, Jesus is not on Satan’s side; He is breaking into Satan’s house and taking back what the devil has stolen from Him.
Thus, Mark 3 shows a growing opposition to Christ. It begins with a a few challenges by members of the establishment, who are occasionally joined by the working class. It coalesces into a formal decision to destroy Him by the elites in both parties. Even His own “family opposes Him, and we are shocked to see Mary on the side of the opposition. She knows of Jesus’ miraculous conception. She heard the angel’s announcement that she would bear a son, and she saw the shepherds and wise men come to worship Him. She saw Him grow to manhood in a very troubled world, facing the same situations and temptations as other children, yet without sin. She knows He is the Messiah. But, even Mary is allowed to have doubts and fears, and, giving in to them, she comes to take Jesus home.
Our Lord uses this opportunity to describe the true family of God. “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (35).
One of the great issues that trouble people reading this chapter is the identity of the unforgivable sin in verse 29. Notice that our Lord speaks of it in conjunction with the scribes calling Him Satan, and saying His works are done for the devil and by the devil’s power. It is this ascribing the work of God to the devil, that is unforgivable. To state it in its most basic form, it is rejecting Christ.
God, in His mercy, has issued a general invitation to all people to come to Him. He knows we are sinners, yet He promises to forgive our sins, and to give us blessings and graces beyond our ability to imagine. His invitation comes through nature and the Bible as the Holy Spirit calls our attention to it, and enables us to understand it. Those who call His work mythology, lies, or, evil, are committing terrible sin. They are saying the Holy Spirit’s works are false. They are calling God a liar and a devil. If they die in this sin, they will answer for it when they face God on Judgement Day.
Our Lord is on the shore of Galilee near Capernaum, where He has been preaching and healing for some time. It is not surprising that His ministry attracts large crowds, and that He sometimes gets into a boat and goes a short distance away from the shore to keep from being thronged by people eager to touch Him or otherwise seek healing (Mk. 2:13, Mk. 3:9). It is a strategy that has worked well for Him in the past, and which He uses again in this chapter (1). His sermon consists of parables, some of which He will repeat in the course of His ministry.
It may be significant that the Parable of the Sower follows the accounts of opposition to Christ in chapter 3. Here, in chapter 4, Christ is surrounded by people wanting to hear His words, but how many of them will truly hear and receive His teaching? Perhaps many of them are like the Pharisees and Herodians, or like the “friends” and “brethren” in chapter 3. They will hear, but not believe, or may even openly oppose Him.
Thus, our Lord tells the Parable of the Sower, in which the same good seed yields different results in different kinds of soil. Most of the soils produce no real results. The seed they receive is smothered by weeds and thorns, eaten by birds, or withers and dies in the heat.
Jesus is making a terrifying but important point: people hearing the Gospel are like those soils receiving the seed. It will never take root in some people. It will take root and sprout in others, who will appear to have faith for a while, but fall back into unbelief when facing trouble, or turn away from Christ to embrace worldliness and sin. Only a few will be good soil in which the Gospel takes root and yields the fruit of Biblical faith and life. There is, then, an unspoken, but very real question in this parable; what kind of soil are you?
The short parable of the Candle (21-22) expands the theme that those who truly receive Christ’s words are changed by them. In the Parable of the Sower, they bear good fruit. In the parable of the candle, they give light, meaning, they believe the Gospel and live accordingly. We could say, candles act like candles, and Christians act like Christians. Candles give light; Christians live Godly, righteous, and sober lives to the glory of God. Thus, the Parable of the Sower is about hearing the word of Christ, and the Parable of the Candle is about doing what His words teach.
The parables are followed by an admonition to pay attention to His word (23-25). “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” We could paraphrase this as, if you have the capacity to hear His words, listen to them well. Pay attention. Give heed to them as the most important words you will ever hear. They are the words of life. The same message is repeated in verse 24; “Take heed what ye hear.” Again the meaning is, heed the words of Christ. Be mindful of the way you hear them. Carelessness about hearing makes you as the poor soils in verses 3-8, and like a candle placed under a basket or bed, where it gives no light. It is to be as the people in chapter 3, who hear, but oppose His Gospel. The way you hear determines how you spend eternity. The ‘measure ye mete” (24) refers to the judgement you make of His Gospel, and your reaction to it. If your measure says it is foolish and irrelevant, you will dismiss it from your mind and life. If your measure says it is truth and life, you will make a serious, life-attempt to live by it, and to trust in it as the word of life and the way to God.
As you measure the word, God measures you (24). This means, as you respond to the word, God responds to you, and gives you more of what you have. If you have skepticism and opposition to the word, you will have more skepticism and opposition to it. If you have faith and obedience, you will have more faith and obedience. You will grow more and more into the way you measure and respond to the word. Thus, a person who feeds his mind on sin and doubt will grow into more sin and doubt. A person who feeds his mind on the word of God will grow more and more into Godliness and faith.
Christ returns to the image of seeds and soils in the stories of the field (26-29) and mustard seed (30-32). Here, those who receive and do the word of Christ are pictured as being part of a great body of believers, which is the Kingdom of God. It will seem to those in the Kingdom, or, Church, that its numbers are very small and weak compared to those of the scoffers and enemies who reject the word. But Christ pictures a great harvest of souls, and a Church that becomes the greatest plant in the garden.
In the Parable of the Field, (26-29) the seed of the Gospel is planted and nourished by God’s mysterious Providence. From the small beginning of the seed, sprouts a fragile blade, like a blade of grass. From the blade grows the ear, which develops into the full corn, or, what we would call, the head of grain. Still nourished and protected by God, it continues growing toward maturity, when, in the fulness of time, it becomes a great harvest, and God’s people are taken to their eternal home.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed shows the Church growing to a great plant from a tiny seed. From the small, and seemingly impossible beginning of a promise to fallen Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15), to a baby in a manger who grows into a Man executed on a cross, the Church spreads its Gospel of Christ into all the world and becomes a shelter and a resting place to the sin wearied souls of those who hear and do the word of Christ.
When evening arrives our Lord ends the sermon (35). He has an appointment on the other side of sea. In the country of the Gadarenes, a man roams among the tombs in misery. Our Lord is going to meet him, and to change his life.
On the way, He has a lesson for the disciples. A storm arises, and the waves threaten to sink the boat. The fearful disciples call to Christ, who is sleeping in the back part of the boat (38). Their cry has been echoed by untold numbers of people: “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” His actions are simple. He rises and speaks to the wind and the waves, “Peace, be still.” The result is astonishing. A “great calm” descends on both the wind and the waves. Now He says to the disciples, “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?”
There are two messages here. The first is answered in the disciples’ question; “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Whom do the wind and sea obey? Who has power to command them? Only their Creator. Only God. If Christ has power to command them, Christ is God. Second, trust God. If it is in God’s plan to see them safely to the shores of the Gadarenes, He will do so, storm or no storm. If it is His intention to take them to Heaven by drowning them in the sea, then even the calmest weather and the smoothest sea can claim them. Therefore, “why are ye so fearful?” The answer is simple, “ye have no faith.”
Chapter 5 records three of the countless tragic stories of the misery of sin and the true condition of life in a world where Satan roams like a lion, seeking whom he may devour. The happiness Satan promised in the Garden was a lie. The death and misery God warned of are obviously true. Here is proof. A man lives among the graves in such torment he often causes serious harm to himself. He is so wild with torment, even chains and shackles cannot hold him. Why? He is so controlled by the demons his condition is called demonic possession. How sad his life is. How much he misses of the normal joys of life. How he must agonize in the night, consumed in an inner anguish we cannot imagine and he can neither understand nor assuage. We can picture him crying out in the night, gashing himself in desperate attempts to distract his mind and soul from the horrible inner pain he feels. Yet nothing can relieve his pain, until Jesus comes to him. Jesus knows his problem. Jesus has the power to make the man whole. Jesus can drive the demons out, and restore the man to mental, physical, and spiritual health, and He does.
It is notable that the disciples have no real understanding of Christ yet. Thus, they say to one another, “What manner of man is this” when He stills the storm (Mk. 4:41). But the legion of devils that control the man know exactly who He is. They bow before Him, as though in worship (6) even while resisting Him (7). The Master of the sea is also Master of the demons. He is mightier than a legion (3,000-6,000) of demons. At His command they depart and are consigned to the swine, which are driven so wild by their presence, they run into the sea and drown.
Now the story changes. The man is whole. He is clean right down to his soul. We would say he is saved. The agony, the fear, the uncontrollable horror is gone forever. But the people in the village are unhappy and fearful. Perhaps it is because their hogs drowned in the sea. Whatever the reason, they do not bow to Christ or worship Him as they ought. They do not give thanks, or rejoice that the man is now well and whole. Instead, they demand that Christ leave their land. (17). What an opportunity they are missing. They could receive the same peace and wholeness the demoniac has. Instead they choose to remain in sin.
We can easily apply this to modern people. The story of Jesus dying for our sins is almost universally known in the world. Yet the vast majority of people reject or ignore it. Bibles abound, but lay unread, even in Christian homes. Christians are woefully ignorant of the basic teachings of the Bible. The heavens and all creation bear witness to the presence and grace of God. Yet people ignore their message, and the Gospel of Christ becomes just another part of the world’s background noise. The word has gone out. Jesus stands before us all, as surely as if He stands before us in the flesh, but people implore Him to leave. And He does.
The former demoniac leaves, too. He goes to Decapolis on the northeastern shore of Galilee. There he tells of the great thing Jesus did for him, and there, men marvel (20).
The second story begins when Jesus and the disciples return to Capernaum. A crowd gathers as people see Him approaching (21), in which are a woman with an issue of blood, and Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue. Jairus enjoys a position of influence and leadership in the community, which probably includes great financial advantages. Yet, his life is not free of the cares and sorrows of life, including death. We may say to ourselves, “Soul thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (Lk. 12:19). But the sorrows of life will touch us all, regardless of wealth or poverty.
Jairus is also a man of faith. Not all ministers are. Many Priests and Pharisees of the time of Christ are hypocrites who use their position for personal gain (Mt. 24:26), with little or no regard for God (Mt 24:28). Even today the Church has many wolves in sheeps’ clothing, who gather great crowds and become very wealthy by fleecing the flock, but offer gimmicks and emotional manipulation rather than the word of God. Jairus beseeches Christ to come to his house and lay hands on his daughter, the solemn posture of giving and receiving prayers for healing. He believes Christ can, and will heal her.
Jesus does not need to be physically present to heal the girl, but He goes with Jairus because He intends to raise the girl from death. He will be present there so Jairus and His disciples will know it is He who raises her, and that He has power to raise the dead.
“Much people followed Him and thronged Him” (24). Many, probably most of them are sick, or seeking to convince Christ to heal one of their friends and loved ones. It is notable that Christ did not heal everyone during His earthly ministry. He works all things according to the council of His own will and for His own purpose. Sometimes that includes healing. Some times it does not. We have the duty of trusting Him, and believing the promise that He works all things for our good (Rom. 8:28). But real healing is coming for all His people. In a very real way, the ones recorded in Scripture picture the complete healing of body and soul in that glorious new world at the end of time. All of our sorrows will be behind us, all our sinfulness will be gone, and we will dwell in health and peace forever.
The woman with an issue of blood is another story of the misery of life in a fallen world. A continuous flow lasting twelve years has depleted her physically, financially, and emotionally, without giving relief. In addition, her condition makes her unclean, which we can readily understand in a time and place without modern hygiene products. Being unclean is also a spiritual condition, which makes her unable to participate in the religious life of the synagogue and Temple. She is essentially excluded from the people of God, and, therefore, from God Himself. Yet she is healed by simply touching the hem of Christ’s garment.
Verse 30 makes it seem like Jesus does not know who touched Him. He is thronged with people (24), and it is probable that many touch Him as they attempt to get His attention and help. But there is a difference in this woman’s touch. Hers is the touch of faith. Hers is a desire to be both healed and made whole (34). Hers is a desire to be enabled to take her place in the synagogue and Temple, in the public worship of God, and in the daily life of God’s people. Hers is the touch that cries for restoration to God. Does Jesus really know who touched Him? Yes. He allows it to happen because it demonstrates His power, His mercy, and His ability to restore a person’s soul. Everyone now knows she is whole because Jesus has made her so.
As He speaks to the woman, people come to Jairus and inform him that his daughter has died. While they know Jesus can heal the sick, they probably have no knowledge that He can raise the dead. Therefore, they say to Jairus, “why troublest thou the Master any further?” But Jesus says to him, “Be not afraid, only believe.” At this point, He bids the crowd not to follow Him to the house. He takes only Jairus, Peter, James, and John (37).
At the house He is confronted with the tumult of mourners weeping loudly, according to the custom of the time. His words, “the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth” cause the people to laugh Him to scorn (39, 40). This is the healer? This is the one who claims to speak for God? And He doesn’t even know death when He sees it? Yet their scorn makes an important point. The girl really is dead She is not asleep as we define it. But she is asleep as Jesus defines it. She is waiting for the resurrection. At His gracious command, her life returns to her body and she rises from the death bed, even eating the food Jesus commands she be given. She truly was dead. She truly is alive.
Christ has power to lay down His life, and power to take it up again, and He has power to give life to those whose lives have been taken in death. He who rose from the grave also has the power to raise us from the death of sin to new and everlasting life. Therefore, His words to Jarius also comfort us: “Be not afraid, only believe” (Mk. 5:36). Those might be words worth memorising.
Here, again, the Lord tells the people to tell no one about the raising (43). Jesus makes Himself known under His own terms and in His own way. Some things must wait until the time is right.
“They were offended at Him” (3). It is surprising to see how many are offended at Christ. The Priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Gaderenes, and many of the common people take offense at His words, and His actions. Of all of the offended, two groups are most obvious and most surprising.
First is the Jerusalem elite, comprised of the Priests, scribes, and Pharisees. They are the shepherds of Israel, and the servants in the House of God. They have years of Bible study behind them. They should easily recognise the Messiah and welcome Him into the city and their hearts. Instead, they unite against Him. He is a threat to their power, their wealth, and security. He exposes their sin, their abuse of the House of God, and their abuse of the people of God in their pursuit of money and power. If they admit that He is the Messiah, they will have to repent of their sins, and give up their lucrative corruption. Therefore, they oppose Him.
Second is the people of His own country (1), which Luke 4:16 tells us is Nazareth. These are the people who knew Him as a “child.” They know His family. They watched Him grow into manhood. They probably always thought there was something strange about Him, for a person without sin would stand out, even among God’s chosen people. We would expect the people of His home country to welcome Him with open arms, for He has been doing signs and wonders throughout Galilee, and “there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all” (Lk. 4:14, 15). This One who has healed so many, stilled the sea, and raised the dead has come home. Maybe He will heal and bless them as He has others. That is the response We would expect from them. Instead, they scoff. Instead, they reject. They are offended.
Luke describes the homecoming in more detail. After His sermon in the synagogue, the people are filled with wrath. They “rose up and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereupon the city was built, that they might cast him down headlong” (Lk. 4:28, 29).
It is no wonder He did no mighty, work there (5, 6), or that He left Nazareth to preach in other places (6), eventually returning again to Capernaum (Lk. 4:31).
Verses 14-19 record the commissioning of the twelve. There, they were ordained to be sent out in chapter 3, but in chapter 6 He actually sends them out to minister in Galilee. It is significant that they are sent out so soon after the attempt to kill Him in Nazareth. It will require great faith from the disciples, who seem to have spent some of the time in Capernaum at the business of fishing while Jesus continued to preach and heal. Now they are again being called from their nets and comfortable incomes, to risk everything preaching the message to repent (12, 13) because the Messiah has come. But they do go, and we might say their mission is a success, for many demons are cast out, and many sick are healed, and the Gospel is proclaimed (20).
News of Christ spreads rapidly through Israel. More than a hundred miles south of Capernaum, Herod hears of Him and believes He is John the Baptist risen from the dead (14). What thoughts might fill the mind of this man who executed John, and ordered the death of countless babies when the wise men came seeking the King of the Jews (Mt. 2:16)? Does he fear John is that King of the Jews, miraculously raised from the dead? Does he fear John will come for him, take his throne, and execute him? Or is his mind clouded by a guilty conscience? Whatever his thoughts, the Gospel accounts show him to be a man of deeply troubled mind over John.
Herod has every right to be troubled. Besides the murder of children, he caused the execution of a man who committed no crime, and probably counseled Herod to repent of the sin of taking his brother’s wife. Herod heard John gladly, knowing he was a just and holy man (20). Yet, he imprisoned John, and finally executed him (27).
The apostles return and report what has happened during their mission (30). Meanwhile, large crowds come to Christ every day. Most seem to want healing, but some may want to hear His teaching. They are so numerous, and their need is so great, that Christ and the apostles are so busy ministering to them they do not even have time to eat (31). Our Lord takes the disciples by boat to a desert place to rest, but the people, seeing where He is going, follow along the shore, probably calling out to Him and pleading for healing. Our Lord is deeply moved by their need (34). They are like sheep without a shepherd, so the Good Shepherd turns to the shore and begins again to teach them many things.
As evening approaches, our Lord’s compassion moves to the physical need of the people (34-44). They are in a desert place (35), and Jesus is preparing to send the disciples on to the other side of Bethsaida, while He removes to a secluded place to pray (45, 46). The people had come to this place by walking along the shore of Galilee as they followed Jesus and the disciples in the boat. They were probably several miles from Capernaum, and the hungry people need food. More than food, they need to begin to understand more about this Man they have come to hear, and from whom many seek healing. Feeding five thousand men with women and children is no small task, even with a large staff and truckloads of provisions. But Jesus has only twelve men, five loaves, and two fishes. The loaves and fish are a small boy’s lunch. They are more like small biscuits than loaves of bread, and the fish are probably about the size of sardines. One of the primary points of the story is that the loaves and fish are completely inadequate to feed the people. Another point is that the disciples have no power to feed them. By God’s grace, the ministers of His Church are enabled to feed the flock, but it is not they who create the food or enable the sheep to eat. It is the Holy Spirit who actually feeds the sheep, and it is Christ who is their food. The ministers carry the food to the people, as the disciples carried the fish and bread to the multitude. Let every minister remember that it is not his knowledge, skill, or abilities that save souls, build churches, or edify Christians. It is the Lord working through them that accomplishes these things.
The story, then, is a revelation of the creative power of Christ. This is no ordinary man. This is the One who made the world. By Him light and stars and seas and land were created. It is He who gave life to the creatures, and to the dust that became Adam and Eve. “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Jn. 1:3, 4). As Bishop Ryle wrote in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, “it is plain that the hand of Him who made the world out of nothing was present on this occasion. None but He who at the first created all things, and sent down manna in the desert, could thus have spread a table in the wilderness.” The Bishop continues with a practical conclusion:
“It becomes all true Christians to store up facts like these in their minds, and to remember them in time of need. We live in the midst of an evil world, and see few with us, and many against us. We carry within us a weak heart, too ready at any moment to turn aside from the right way. We have near us, at every moment, a busy devil, watching continually for our halting, and seeking to lead us into temptation. Where shall we turn for comfort? What shall keep faith alive, and preserve us from sinking in despair? There is only one answer. We must look to Jesus. We must think on His almighty power, and His wonders of old time. We must call to mind how He can create food for His people out of nothing, and supply the want of those who follow Him, even in the wilderness. And as we think on these thoughts, we must remember that this Jesus still lives, never changes, and is on our side.”
It has been a busy day for the Lord and His disciples, but He has one more lesson for the twelve (45-52). Sending them by boat to Bethsaida, He, Himself remains on the land and retires to a quiet place to pray. From His vantage point, He can see the disciples rowing hard, for the wind is against them, as though the water and the wind are trying to push them back to the shore. We do not know what distance separates them from Christ, nor how rough the waves and wind are. We do know they are no obstacle to Christ, who seeing the disciples’ plight, comes to them, walking calmly on the water.
He would have passed them (48), as they cower in fear at the sight of Him. They thought they were seeing a ghost, and Matthew tells us they cried out. Hear His words; “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (50). They have already seen that the wind and sea obey Him. Today they have seen Him feed multitudes with minutia. Now they see Him walk upon the waves.
Their reaction is given in verses 51 and 52. They are sore amazed. They are completely shocked. Why? because they considered not the miracle of the loaves. They do not understand its meaning, or what it reveals about Christ. Therefore they do not understand how He is able to walk on the water.
Pharisees and scribes have made the long journey from Jerusalem to an area of northern Galilee known as Gennesaret, where Jesus is preaching and healing (6:53-56, 7:1). We do not know why they have come; we do know they immediately find fault with Christ and the disciples for eating bread with “unwashen, hands” (2). The Pharisees believe this makes the disciples unclean meaning unfit to eat with others, or to participate in the social and religious life of Israel until the uncleanness is removed by an elaborate ceremony of ritual washing. The Pharisees perform the ceremony, the disciples do not. Therefore, the Pharisees consider themselves clean, and the disciples unclean. Their question also implicates Christ. If His disciples are unclean, He is, too. Therefore He cannot be the Messiah.
Unfortunately, the Pharisees do not understand the meaning behind the Old Testament laws of clean and unclean. Uncleanness symbolises an inner condition and need in all people which makes us unfit to be in God’s presence, or to expect blessings or benefits from Him. We call this uncleanness, “sin.” All people are sinners, therefore, all need spiritual cleansing, which can only be accomplished by God Himself, and which is only be symbolised in the ceremonial washings so diligently practiced by the Pharisees.
Christ makes the point that ceremonial washings cannot really make a person clean. He illustrates this with the fact that the Pharisees negate the moral Law with their tradition of Corban (11-13) By this man made tradition, a person essentially wills his estate to the synagogue or a Pharisaical school or institution. In this way, the donor keeps and controls the money and property during his lifetime. But, because it technically belongs to the institution, the man is not allowed to give it away by such things as caring for sick or aging parents. In this way, the Pharisees break the obvious commandment to honour parents, while keeping the man made tradition of Corban. And they look like they are doing a good thing. Thus, though they are diligent about outward cleanness, they are still inwardly unclean. Our Lord says the Pharisees are like the people to whom Isaiah wrote, “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heat is far from me” (Is. 29:13).
We note in this chapter, that part of those who claim to be God’s people, and who are most diligent about religion, have lost sight of the heart and soul of real faith in God. We could say, those who want to appear to be the most diligent about keeping the Law are the most ignorant of its meaning, and most openly disobedient to its intent.
It is possible to be like the Pharisees, even today. Going through the forms of worship without knowledge or concern for their inward meaning, and living life your way instead of His way, are nothing more than modern Phariseeism. Going to Church, Communion, Confirmation, and Prayers, giving to God only what we are comfortable giving, and serving Him on our own terms instead of His, repeats the sins and errors of the Pharisees. This raises a question. Why bother with half-hearted Christianity? Why bother being a Christian only as long as it is comfortable, emotionally pleasing, and personally convenient? Christ condemned this in the Pharisees, is there any reason to believe He does not condemn it in us today? He who told us to take up our crosses and follow Him, demands much more than comfortable Christianity. It seems we should let our religion be real, or not bother with it at all.
Our Master expounds upon this principle as He calls the people to gather around Him and teaches about what really makes people clean or unclean in the eyes of God (14-23). The essence and conclusion of this teaching is found in 20-23. “All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (23).
Christ travels northwest from Gennesaret into Gentile territory near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It would seem, from verse 24, that He seeks a time of rest, and, perhaps, time to give more instruction to His disciples. Some of the early Church Fathers suggest He is going to a place where the Pharisees will not follow. But His presence is known by the local people, as the Bible shows by the words, “he could not be hid” (24).
It is worth noting that Tyre and Sidon are Canaanite cities, and their people have been enemies of Israel from ancient times. They are part of the tribes Israel was told to drive out of the land when they came from Egypt. But, in this passage, Christ not only goes into their territory, He also ministers and heals one of them by casting a demon out of a child (29).
Some early writers saw in this event the equality of men and women before God. Both are equally guilty sinners, and both are equally forgiven and saved if they come by faith in Christ. This is a sharp contrast to the second class status of women in the Roman world of that era, and which still persists in many areas today. It is the Bible that gives us our view of the God given rights of all people. It is the Bible that tells us women and men are partners rather than servants and masters. Apart from the Bible, the world would never have reached this conclusion.
The early Church also recognised this act of mercy as a sign of the universal scope of the Gospel. The door of Heaven is open to people of all nations, all races, young and old, male and female. Jew and Gentile. Syrophenicians, Roman centurions, and Gaderene demoniacs are welcomed into His grace and Kingdom as surely as the eastern wisemen were welcomed to His cradle. Very soon the Ethiopian will be baptized into Christ, the Holy Spirit will come to Gentile believers in the house of Cornelius, and and Paul will become the Apostle to the Gentiles. The angle spoke truly when he said to the Judean shepherds, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”
Leaving the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, our Lord continues to lead the disciples through Gentile territory along the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. He comes to the midst of Decapolis (31), an area once held by the tribe of Manasseh, but largely Gentile in the time of Christ. Our Lord probably makes the long journey through Gentile lands for the same reasons He left Galilee for Tyre and Sidon; to be away from the crowds, rest and pray, and give special time to the instruction of the disciples. He comes to the eastern coast of the sea, possibly south of the land of the Gadarenes where He healed the demoniac. From here, He returns to Galilee near Capernaum (Mt. 15:29-31), where He is met by great crowds, including a person who can neither hear nor speak (32-37).
Again our Lord’s merciful heart opens to the plight of the person, and heals him completely. Why does He put His fingers in the man’s ears, spit, and touch his tongue? Many have attempted to explain these actions, yet they remain somewhat of a mystery, and many find His actions distasteful. Yet we talk about being washed in His blood, and call the elements of the Lord’s Supper His body and blood. Yes, this is symbolic language, but very graphic, which many have found distasteful through the years. Those with faith however, would gladly have Christ’s fingers in their ears and on their tongues. It is not said that Christ’s spit touched the man, though in chapter 8:23 He actually spits on the eyes of a blind man. Would it not be better to be spit on by the Lord than adored by the devil? Is not the sovereign Lord of all creation also sovereign in the ways He offers His grace and healing? There is no malice in our Lord’s action here, but there is an unspoken question to those who read of this miracle: are we humble and trusting enough to receive God’s mercy as He gives it, or must it come to us only through our own ideas of propriety?
The witnesses do not seem to be appalled by Christ’s actions. Instead they are astonished because, in their minds, “He hath done all things well’ (37).
“In those days” (1) refers to the time after Christ’s return to Galilee from the Gentile lands. News of His return draws vast crowds, and many stay in the area for an extended time to hear His word, or in the hope that He might heal them or their loved ones (1-3). Thus, our Lord again feeds the multitude with seemingly insufficient supplies (1-9). This is not a different version of the feeding of the five-thousand. It is an entirely different event and another “teachable moment” for the disciples. They will remember this event when they are opposed by the rich and powerful. They will remind the small and persecuted Church of it in the days ahead. Its place in the Bible will call the Church’s attention to it until the Lord’s return, and even through eternity. In a way, the fish and loaves are like the Church; small, and seemingly very inadequate for the task to which it is called. The Gospel, so despised by the world, also seems weak and small when the Romans are breaking down your door, or the lions are circling you in the Colosseum. How can such a story and twelve men ever hope to cover the world, save souls, or affect the moral and spiritual climate of this corrupt and fallen world? It is only possible if this Jesus of Nazareth is able to empower His Church and make His Gospel effective for the accomplishment of His purpose. If He feeds multitudes with minnows and crowds with crackers, we are invited to believe He can also save our souls and change the world.
The healing of the blind man is similar to, but different from the healing in Mark 7. It should not surprise us that similar events happen in different times and places during our Lord’s ministry, or that He sometimes repeats sermons and parables. Many modern pastors repeat sermons and stories, why should not our Lord repeat the words given directly to Him by the Father? Please read the comments on Mark 7:37-37 for more discussion of our Lord’s sovereignty in healing.
Our Lord now returns to the lands of the Gentiles. Caesarea Philippi is an area north and slightly east of the Sea of Galilee. In the Old Testament, the area was allotted to the tribe of Dan, but, under Roman rule, it houses mainly Gentiles. A palace and pagan Temple dominate its main city, which is also the area’s centre of Roman government and military forces. Our Lord seems to spend an extended amount of time traveling through its towns and villages with the disciples. He does not seem to use the time for preaching and healing missions. Instead He seems to spend it teaching His disciples, gradually leading them to the discussion and questions of verses 27-33; “Whom do men say that I am?” and, “whom say ye that I am?”
“But whom say ye that I am?” is the most important question that can be asked of a human being. The Lord has posed it to the disciples only after much time and effort of revealing Himself by signs and miracles, and by His public teaching and private instructional times with them, such as this one in Caesarea Philippi. Yet millions through the ages dismiss Christ as a hoax or fairy tale without giving serious consideration to His claims, or examining the writings of His disciples in the New Testament. A question of such eternal significance is worthy of more thought and meditation.
Peter, addressing us through Mark, was one of the disciples; a beneficiary of Christ’s teaching, and an eyewitness of the events recorded in the Gospel of Mark. In addition, Peter left a prosperous business and died a martyrs’ death for preaching the Gospel we are now reading. It certainly seems that he believes what Mark records, and wants us to believe it, too. In Peter’s mind, his answer is the only correct one, “Thou art the Christ” (29).
Peter does not yet understand very much about Christ, as we see in verse 32, where he begins to rebuke the Lord for saying He will be crucified and rise again (31). But He does understand that this Man of Nazareth is the Messiah, and even with his limited understanding he is more faithful to Christ than many who have much greater knowledge of the Saviour and His work.
Matthew’s record of this event gives a fuller account of this conversation, including Peter’s words, “the Son of the living God.” “Son” does not mean Jesus began to exist at some point, or that He was born or created in some mysterious way at a distinct moment in time. Nor does it mean Jesus is a God, similar to, but entirely distinct from the Father. It means there is unity and harmony within God, who is one God in three Persons. It is impossible for human intelligence to understand this, and attempts to explain it usually cause more problems than they solve. The Anglican Articles of Religion state it as clearly as can be done.
“There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
Matthew also records more of Christ’s words to Peter, including the statements about building His Church upon this rock and the keys to the Kingdom. Discussion of these remarks are found in the comments on Matthew 16.
Mark does not include statements about building the Church on the rock, but their omission speaks volumes. If Peter is being made the first pope, and he alone is given the Keys to the Kingdom, surely he would have Mark include that commission. In fact, we would expect more details about it, not less, and certainly we would not expect its complete omission. But, instead of claiming the office of pope and head of the Church, Peter has Mark include his mistaken idea about the Messiah, and our Lord’s rebuke of him. Thus, verses 30-33 show Jesus telling the disciples about His forthcoming death.
It is significant that Christ now calls Peter, “Satan.” Peter’s rebuke is an attempt to tell Jesus how to be the Messiah. He is instructing God how to be God. Like most of the Jews of his time, Peter wants the Messiah to be a military leader, using Divine power to drive away the Romans and make Israel the eternal world superpower. Therefore, he attempts to induce the Lord to stop talking about about His death, and start talking about His victory over the Romans. Our Lord hears, in Peter’s words, the same temptations He heard from the mouth of Satan in the wilderness; the temptation to avoid the cross and become the worldly, popular Messiah the Jews hope and pray for. No wonder He says, “Get thee behind me, Satan.”
As in the desert, the Lord rejects this temptation. He turns Peter’s words into an opportunity to instruct His followers about the kind of Messiah He is, and the kind of disciples they must be if they truly want to follow Him. They must take up their crosses and follow Him. The world, which they wanted Him to give to them in a miraculous display of Messianic power, is worthless compared to the Kingdom of God He has come to build, and the worldly trinkets they so desire are worthless compared to their souls which Jesus came to save.
Verse 1 is actually part of Jesus’ teaching in Mk. 8:31-38. It is a plain assertion that some of the disciples will still be alive to see “the Kingdom of God come with power.” Many of the early Christian writers believed this to be a promise that some of the disciples will witness the Transfiguration as an encouragement and help to their faith. “He shows and reveals this,” meaning the prediction of the Transfiguration, “that they should not grieve any more, either over their own death, or over that of their Lord,” wrote Archbishop John Chrysostom (349-407). Bishop J. C. Ryle agreed, saying, after teaching that following Christ will cost some people their lives, our Lord “takes the edge off His ‘hard sayings’ by promising a sight of glory… to some of those who heard Him. And in the history of the transfiguration… we see that promise fulfilled” (Expository Thoughts on Mark). In this way the Apostles are comforted by the promise that the Kingdom of God is coming (8:38), and they will see at least a glimpse of it, in spite of Christ’s crucifixion predicted in 8:31, even if they lose their lives in the service of Christ. Some ancient writers refer these words to a prediction of the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, which collapsed the Temple system, and is called Christ coming to Jerusalem in the clouds (Mk. 13:26, Rev. 1:7), and which some early Fathers recognised as something like a preview of the Lord’s Second Coming and end of the world.
The promise obviously looks to our Lord’s resurrection, which has been part of His teaching, and which prompted Peter’s rebuke, (8:31, 32). It also includes the coming of the Holy Spirit, whose advent fulfills prophecies about the last days (Acts 2:16-20), and in whom the Church receives power (Acts. 1:8). Only three saw the Transfiguration, but all of them lived to see the other events, except Judas Iscariot. The Lord’s words are literally fulfilled.
The Transfiguration of Christ (2-13) is surely the fullest revelation of the deity and glory of Christ prior to the resurrection. His robes, which are probably the drab everyday clothing of a working man, suddenly shine with miraculous whiteness that far exceeds the ability of a human cleaner to produce. Elias (Elijah) and Moses miraculously appear and speak with the Lord (4). This is no casual conversation between equals. The Prophet and the Lawgiver address the Lord reverently, yet their presence is clearly for the purpose of confirming Christ’s mission, for Luke 9:31 tells us they “spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” The voice from the cloud, which can only be the voice of the Father, also encourages and confirms the Lord. “This is my beloved Son: hear him” says the Father (7).
These things are also done for the benefit of Peter, James, and John (2). They are done in their presence to confirm their faith in Christ as the Messiah, and to let them know they are to “hear him.” These words must have had a special effect on Peter, who had recently attempted to instruct Christ (8:32). They also reach down to our time and remind us to “hear him.” We are often preoccupied with talking to God. Our prayers and worship consist of telling God our problems and asking for blessings We forget to listen. We forget to look into the Bible, and there to hear the Word of God addressing us. That is why we so often confuse our own feelings and desires with directions from God. Sometimes we need to stop talking and open the Bible.
Let us not leave the record of the Transfiguration without also recognising in it a glimpse of the future glory of Christ’s people. Moses and Elijah have long been dead when our Lord is transfigured, yet they live. Luke 9:31 says they “appeared in glory,” indicating a condition of existence only possible to those who have passed into the very presence of God in Heaven. They are at peace. They no longer suffer temptation, no longer suffer illness or death, no longer suffer doubts and fears. The peace of God lives in them in fulness and perfection.
They speak to Christ, though not as equals. Surely there is great reverence in their demeanor. Yet there is also great confidence in His grace and good will toward them.
Their appearance is a great help to the faith of the disciples. Moses died. Elijah died. Yet, they live in glory. If that is so, the disciples, and all true Christians, can trust Christ to receive them “into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:11) when they, and we, lay down the tabernacle of this flesh.
But the appearance of Elijah and Moses does more than give us hope to face death. It gives us hope to face life. God is with us, and that gives life meaning and purpose. It means we can bear our burdens, with God’s help, but it also means we can enjoy its blessings. It gives a special contentment to life, and even joy. Life is good because God is with us. He makes us to lie down in green pastures, leads us beside the still waters, and restores our souls. We are at peace because we know all things work together for our good.
We can well understand the disciples’ fear (6), at this miraculous event. Peter’s confusion about the relationship of the two prophets to the Lord Jesus Christ, coupled with his fear, leads him to want to build tabernacles for Moses, Elijah, and Christ. This would have the effect of either elevating Elijah and Moses to equality with Christ, or demoting Christ to equality with them. The Father’s words from the cloud show the truth: “This is my beloved Son: hear him” (7). Luke tells us that when the “voice was past, Jesus was found alone” (Lk. 9:36). As the voice spoke, the disciples fell on their faces in the position of bowing to God in prayer. When they “lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only” (Mt. 17:6-8). The meaning is that Peter’s erroneous statement is countered by the truth of the word of God. Thus, after hearing the voice, and seeing only Christ left on the mountain, they understand that God is saying Jesus is unique, the Son of God in a way they do not yet understand. They will understand it one day, after the Son of man is risen from the dead (9).
“Son of man” is a Messianic title, and shows Christ returning to His teaching about His rapidly approaching death. The disciples, following behind Him are quietly asking one another what the rising from the dead means. The appearance of Elijah on the mount seems to trigger a question about his coming to prepare the way of the Lord. Christ’s words in verses 12 and 13 refer to John the Baptist. In him, Elijah has returned, and died at the command of a corrupt ruler.
The mountain top experience is over, and Mark plunges us back into the realities of life in this fallen world, where Christ and His disciples are immediately confronted by demonic forces and human need. It is an ugly scene. A demon possessed child is surrounded by jeering scribes and a curious crowd. A desperate father begs for deliverance as the embarrassed disciples vainly order the demon to leave. The disciples are veteran exorcists by now. They have even been sent on missions through Galilee during which they preached, healed, and cast out many demons. But this demon is able to resist the combined efforts of nine disciples. Why? Our Lord’s words contain a stinging rebuke as well as an explanation. “This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting” (29).
This is a surprising statement because the disciples are in close and constant proximity to Christ. He undoubtedly leads them in the liturgical daily prayers observed by the Jewish people of that time. Fasting, also, would be be an important and regular part of their lives, led by Christ, and following His example. Perhaps the disciples are not really praying or fasting. Perhaps they are merely mechanically following the daily pattern without putting their hearts into the meaning and intent of the prayers or the fasting. It is easy to become like the Pharisees, just going through the motions without engaging the mind or heart. Let us beware of their leaven. Perhaps our Lord is also saying the daily circles of prayers and fasts are not the end of the life of faith; perhaps they are only the beginning. Our Lord Himself sometimes withdrew from the crowds and the disciples to pray. Do we need less prayer than He?
At this point in February, we are either in, or rapidly approaching Lent. Many will fast during this time. Some will fast because they think they are sharing the sufferings of Christ. Others fast only to keep a long and honoured tradition. Still others consider fasting a work of penance, as though doing it causes God to forgive sin. In reality, fasting is about self-discipline. It is about mastering the body and its passions, in order to bring ourselves more fully under the control of God. Thus, the truest form of fasting is fasting from sin and fasting from self. There is also a sense in which fasting is a time of turning away from the world to devote more time to prayer and worship. Dispensing with some of the routine of cooking, eating, and cleaning, frees more time to seek God.
The father of the boy has come seeking Christ. He must have heard of the miracles Christ has done, including casting out demons, and he has come to beseech the Master to have mercy on his son. But when he finds the disciples, Christ is not there. Boldly, the nine attempt to cast out the devil, and vain are their attempts. The scribes mock them. The life of the boy is unchanged.
When the man sees Christ he confesses to having faith, after all, faith is what brought him to Christ. He also realises he does not have the kind of faith Jesus speaks of in verse 23. Few do. The holiest among the race of Adam are strange mixtures of faith and doubt. Therefor, if his son’s deliverance depends on the father’s faith, his son will never be free. That is the point Jesus is making. Yes, all things are possible to those who believe, but very, very few have such faith. Moses’ faith wavered when Egypt did not free Israel after his first speech to Pharaoh. Elijah’s faith wavered when Jezebel sought his life. Paul confessed his continuing battle with temptation, and great people of faith down through the ages are seen to falter and fail like the rest of us. Thus, like the father in this story, we have to cast ourselves on the Lord’s grace. We need to pray as he prayed in verse 24, “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.” We need to know that it is not our faith that accomplishes the defeat of Satan or the deliverance of our souls. God alone accomplishes these things.
Verse 30 shows the Lord still with His disciples in a state of semi-seclusion that began when He moved into the Gentile areas (7:24). He does this to give Himself and them a chance to rest, and to devote more time to instructing the disciples in the doctrines and practices they will have charge of after His passion. Thus limiting His public teaching and signs, He gives His time to the disciples, and to the prayer and fasting He rebuked them for neglecting in 9:29. It is natural that He teaches about His own death and resurrection (30-31). He has shown His glory on the mountain, and He has delivered the child from the devil, but these are mere signs and foretastes of that great work by which He takes the sin of His people upon himself, and bears the wrath of God in His own flesh for us. That is the great work He has come into the world to do.
The words in verse 31 are a statement about His teaching, not a transcript of it. It is probable that our Lord spends much time talking about this important event, though not so much that the disciples would be enabled to have a full understanding of it yet. Other passages of Scripture show Him teaching about the atonement, saying He came to give His life as the ransom for many (Mk 10:45). It is also likely that He discussed the words of the Baptist with the twelve, for two of John’s followers became disciples of Jesus (Jn 1:37), and John taught boldly and plainly about the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). The disciples would have wanted Christ to expound the Baptist’s words much more fully. But, verse 32 shows that, even at this late hour in our Lord’s time on earth, the twelve are almost entirely devoid of any real understanding of Christ or His mission. The full understanding will not come to them until the great work of Redemption has been accomplished on the cross, and the Holy Spirit comes in fulness upon the Church. Thus, still expecting Christ to raise an army and give peace and prosperity to Israel, the disciples seem to easily pass from His prediction of His suffering to disputing about who among them will be the greatest in Jerusalem after the war against the Gentiles.
Our Lord gently shows that His Kingdom is different from worldly empires, like Rome. His is a Kingdom of the Spirit, and those in His Kingdom are servants, rather than lords, of one another. A young child is shown as an example of this. He owns no property, holds no position of power, and has no authority in the home. Everything that comes to him is given by his parents out of their love for him. The same is true of those in the Church of Christ. We are members of it because God has graciously allowed us into it. We came to Him orphans, and He adopted us into His family. We came to Him dirty, and He washed us clean in His blood. We came to Him hungry, and He feeds us with the Bread of Life. We came to him naked, and He dressed us in the glory of His righteousness, all because He desires to be gracious unto us. No one has anything to give unto Him. All are equally recipients of His free gifts. Argue not, then, about greatness or positions of power. Instead, serve one another in love, and receive His gifts as a child receives the care of his parents.
At this point in God’s work with humanity, Israel, still functions as the Kingdom and Church of God. That is why the disciples, and Christ Himself, are fully participating members of it and careful to keep the Old Testament moral and ceremonial laws. Thus we read of Christ’s circumcision, presentation in the Temple, habit of attending the synagogue, and keeping the many feasts and fasts of the Old Testament. Many of the Jewish Church’s people have recognised and believed in their Messiah. His miracles and exorcisms, combined with His teaching, have brought them to Him in genuine, though Old Testament faith. One of these Old Testament saints, now following the Messiah casts out demons in the name of the Jesus. The disciples are shocked at this, because the man is unknown to them.
It is important to recognise that the man is not unknown to God, nor is he a maverick believer, unattached to the visible Church. He is “on our part” (40). He is a Jew and an Old Testament saint, as all believers in Christ are, at this point, with the exception of a few Gentiles, like the wise men and the Syro-phenician woman. But even such Gentiles are moving toward the Jewish Church as they seek Israel’s Messiah and the crumbs which fall from the children’s table.
Many today, noting the distinction between the visible church and the invisible Church, have adopted the erroneous belief that the visible Church is optional. This idea is constantly refuted by the Bible. Every book of the Old Testament is written to Israel. Every book of the New Testament is written to the Church, and, often, to a particular congregation. To be excluded from Israel or the formal, organised New Testament Church is the same as being excluded from God. Please consider this carefully, especially if you are one of the many who has voluntarily excluded yourself from God by willful neglect of His Church. Christ always expects His people to be part of His visible Church.
Our Lord also speaks of those who are supportive of the Church by giving a cup of cold water (41). Some early writers, such as Augustine considered such people to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit and being called to faith in Christ. Thus, the warnings about offending them could refer to putting stumbling blocks in their way to Christ. Augustine also refers to the very real problems of corruption in the visible Church, which causes Christians to despair of it, and the world to despise it. Such things are offenses to the little ones Christ came to save, and are such grave sins the offenders would be better off to be drowned in the sea than commit them. By such corruption, those who claim to be Christians show they are not. Their religion is like that of the Pharisees and Sadducees, rather than the pure religion of Christ. Our Lord warns us to put away such impurities of doctrine and practice, using graphic language, as cutting off hands and plucking out eyes rather than clinging to sin and error and lose our souls. He compares such Christians, and churches, to salt that has lost its saltiness (50) which in other places, He says is good for nothing but to be trampled under the feet of men. Strong words.
Our Lord now begins His journey toward Jerusalem and the cross. In verse 1, He leaves “thence,” meaning Galilee, where He has conducted most of His ministry. His journey takes Him down the east side of the Jordan, where He stops for a while just across the river from the ancient city of Jericho. There our Lord continues to teach and heal the people. The area He stops in is called Perea in the time of Christ, but in earlier times it belonged to the Hebrew tribe of Gad. Prior to that it belonged to the Moabites, who were relatives of the Hebrews through Lot’s elder daughter, who gave birth to Moab. Israel camped on the plains of Moab prior to entering Canaan. It was in Moab that Moses was allowed to see into the Promised Land, and in Moab that he died and was buried. Ruth, a direct ancestor of David and Jesus, was from Moab.
In Perea, the Jewish leaders have no power to abduct Christ, but they can, and do, harass Him. Verses 2-12 record a visit from Jerusalem Pharisees with a question about divorce. This is no innocent question by people seeking truth. This is an attack on Christ by His enemies. They have come to discredit Him in the hope of turning the crowds away from Him. Mark says they are, “tempting him” (2). This event is also reported by Matthew in 19:3-10, therefore, some of the comments on the passage in Matthew are repeated here.
Then, as now, people were self-centered, and had a difficult time making themselves love their spouses after the first excitement of hormones wore off. Therefore, divorce was common, and many people went from marriage to marriage. Think of the woman at the well in John 4:18. If Jesus speaks against divorce, He will certainly alienate many such people. If He does not speak against it He will be guilty of breaking the teachings of Scripture.
Undeterred, our Lord gives the truth about marriage; one man and one woman for life. That is God’s view of marriage, and it is as immutable as God Himself. Furthermore, He declares that marrying a divorced woman is adultery. In other words, in God’s eyes, she is still married to her first husband. The same is true of a divorced man, though our Lord deals here only with the woman due to the nature of the question He is answering. Matthew gives Christ’s words that divorce is allowed in cases of fornication, and both Matthew and Mark record that God only allows it then because of the hardness of people’s hearts. But God’s plan for marriage has always been, and always remains, one man for one woman for life.
Jesus blessing the children teaches an important lesson; children are never too young to learn of the Saviour’s love, never too young to learn to love and worship Him, never too young to be counted as part of the family and Church of God. “Suffer the little children” means to allow them to come to Jesus.
Our Lord adds another teaching here. “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein” (15). Some people combining this with Christ’s words in verse 14, “of such is the kingdom of God,” believe Christ is teaching that we will all become small children in Heaven. But Christ is actually teaching us that we must accept the gift of Heaven as a child accepts the care and love of his parents. Jesus has in mind a very young child, unable to care for itself, and unable to earn the necessities of life. It is completely dependent on the love and free gifts of its parents. We are in the same situation regarding the Kingdom of Heaven, which we sometimes call, salvation. We cannot earn it for ourselves, or work our way into it. Spiritually, we are as helpless as newborn babies, and if we are going to have any part in Heaven, it must come to as as the gift of God.
In verse 17, Jesus has ended the teaching session, and has resumed His journey. While He is walking, a young man who is called a ruler in Luke 18:18, runs to Him and kneels before Him asking, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” He is probably a member of the Sanhedrin, which directs the practice of Jewish faith during the time of Christ. Nicodemus is a member of that body, and is called a ruler of the Jews in John 3:1. It would be natural for such people to seek out Jesus at this point, for He is teaching and ministering on the east side of the Jordan River, very near Judea and Jerusalem. The young ruler does not seem to oppose Jesus, yet he has the Pharisaical self-righteous attitude about him, and his words could be viewed as a challenge to Jesus.
Jesus’ words in verse 18, “there is none good but one; that is, God,” must have made a startling impression on the disciples, for Matthew and Mark quote them word for word, and Luke’s account is almost word for word. It is clear that our Lord’s words are a direct challenge to the Pharisaical view of righteousness by law keeping. Yet the man states boldly, “All these things have I observed from my youth.” So Jesus shows him that his perceived righteousness is imaginary. The true test of righteousness is what Jesus calls the first and great commandment, to love God with all thy heart, soul, and mind. But this man loves his wealth and possessions far more than he loves God. Thus, when told to sell all “he went away grieved” (22). By this, the man is shown to be a sinner after all, for he loves his possessions and comforts more than he loves God.
Verses 23-26 reveal the stronghold earthly possessions often have over people. The rich young ruler probably considers them God’s reward for being righteous, but Jesus says they are heavy burdens that literally keep people from entering the Kingdom of God. Like this man, we are prone to value our possessions over God.
It seems to Peter, then, that no one can be saved, and Christ makes the very profound statement, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible” (27). In other words, it is impossible for any of us to save ourselves. Not only can we not atone for our sins, but we cannot make ourselves want to love God more than our possessions or ourselves. Only God can save us. Only God can change our hearts and cause us to seek Him in Biblical faith. The reassurance Christ gives to the disciples is that they will be saved. They have given up family, home, possessions, and all else to follow Jesus. Their faith is in Him. And Jesus promises that He will give them eternal life (28-31).
In verse 32, our Lord and His disciples have crossed the Jordan and are on the road to Jericho. They have probably crossed Jordan at the same place the ancient tribes of Israel crossed on their march to Jericho. In that day, Joshua, whose name means, “saviour,” took the children of Israel across the river, with the priests and the Ark of the Covenant leading the way. On this day, Jesus, whose name is Saviour, leads a throng of people (46) bound for Jerusalem and Passover. This Saviour is the fulfillment of the Law, the Prophets, the Temple, and everything symbolised in the Ark. In a very few days, He will give His life on the cross. When that happens, the fulfilled Old Covenant will pass away, and the New Covenant in His blood will come into being.
How appropriate that our Lord chooses this particular time to teach the disciples about His suffering (32-34). How sad, that, once again, the undiscerning disciples miss His point, and attempt to secure positions of wealth and power for themselves in what they believe will be an earthly kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital (35-42). Our Master again turns their desire into a time to teach about the meaning of being His disciple (36-45).
How glib James and John are in their misunderstanding of the meaning of Christ’s question in verse 38. They think His cup and baptism refer to battles against Roman foes, through which they are confident they will live. Thus, they do not request to survive the war. They request the most prominent places of influence and wealth in Jerusalem after the victory over Rome. Jesus asks if they can drink of His cup and be baptized with His baptism. He refers to His cross and death, but the disciples don’t know this, in spite of what Christ has just said about what will happen to Him in Jerusalem. “We can,” they assert with all the confidence of ignorance.
If they understood Jesus’ words, they would tremble with fear when He answers, “Ye shall indeed” (39). Most of the Apostles were tortured to death for the cause of Christ. The exceptions were, Judas, who hanged himself, Paul, who was beheaded, and John, who died in peace at more than a hundred years of age. But even John endured years of exile in a cave on the island of Patmos, and Paul’s suffering for the Gospel of Christ is well known.
After saying their request is not His to grant (40), and seeing the displeasure of the other disciples (41), our Lord again reminds the twelve that position in His Kingdom is different from that in worldly empires. In the Kingdom of Christ, it is defined by service, not lordship. Even He, the Son of man, the Messiah, who is a far greater Personage than they know at the moment, “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (45).
Still following the route of the ancient Hebrews into the Promised Land, The Saviour passes through Jericho, where the blind son of Timaeus sits by the road begging. It seems odd, but many in the crowd tell the blind man to be quiet (48). It is as though they don’t want Jesus to bother with Timaeus. Maybe they just don’t care about his plight. Maybe they think they have no use for a blind man in the revolution they are convinced Christ plans to begin in Jerusalem.
But to Jesus, Bartimaeus is exactly the kind of person He wants, because he is the kind of person who knows he needs Christ. He is quite different from the young rich man, whose confidence in his own righteousness and wealth turns him away from following Christ. Timaeus knows he has nothing. He has no money, and he probably believes his blindness is punishment for sin, so he has no delusions of self-righteousness. More importantly, Timaeus wants what Jesus offers. “Lord, that I might receive my sight” (51). To Timaeus, that means forgiveness of sin and restoration to God as well as restoration of sight. The crowds and disciples want a revolution. The rich young man wanted congratulations for his righteousness. Bartimaeus wants forgiveness, and follows Jesus in the way.
Blindness is the condition of all people apart from Christ. We are blind to the things of God until the Spirit heals our souls and enables us to see our need of Christ and His provision for our souls. In the same way, following Jesus in the way means more than walking with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. It means to become His disciple. It is to be turned to God as our Saviour and God. It is to be saved.
The Mount of Olives brings to mind so many events in the life and ministry of Christ. A little more than half a mile east of Jerusalem, it affords a view of the Temple and the holy city that has thrilled the hearts of countless pilgrims. It is here that our Lord spends much time in this final week before His execution. Here He begins the Triumphal Entry. Here He gives the well-beloved Olivet Discourse. Here He sweats drops of blood as He prays in Gethsemane. Here Judas betrays Him with a kiss. Here His enemies bind Him and lead Him away to His trial and death. Here He ascends into Heaven as a cloud receives Him.
Coming from the Jordan River, the road to Jerusalem runs from Jericho through the villages of Bethany and Bethphage, then to the top of the Mount, and from there to Jerusalem itself. This is how our Lord comes to be here at the opening of chapter 11.
Before we look further at the Triumphal Entry, recorded in verses 1-11, let us attempt to put the events of the coming week in order, primarily using Dr. John Broadus' Harmony of the Gospels and Dr. William Hendriksen’s commentary, The Gospel of Mark.
Friday, Christ and the disciples arrive in Bethany, where they spend the evening and Sabbath. Bethany is the home of Simon the leper, and of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. Our Lord seems to have visited both homes during this time.
Saturday is the Sabbath, and Christ seems to remain in Bethany rather than celebrate the Sabbath in Jerusalem. We can only wonder about His thoughts as He undoubtedly attends the synagogue service in Bethany. That evening, in the home of Simon the leper, Mary anoints Christ with perfume.
Sunday, He travels to the Mount of Olives and makes His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. He inspects the Temple, then returns to Bethany.
Monday, He drives the vendors out of the Temple in the event known as Cleansing the Temple.
Tuesday, He returns to the Temple and spends the day teaching the people and confronting the religious leaders.
Wednesday, The Gospels record no events. Perhaps the Lord is in Bethany, or on the Mount of Olives praying. Some believe Judas arranges to betray Christ on this day.
Thursday, Christ celebrates Passover in Jerusalem with His disciples, then goes to Gethsemane to pray until His arrest and trial. He spends the night being falsely accused and harangued by the religious leaders in a vain attempt to find a reason to have Him executed.
Friday, Christ is brought before Pilate, where He is found innocent, yet, condemned. He endures the horrible torture of the crucifixion, dies for our sins, and is buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
Saturday, Christ’s body lies in the tomb while the disciples cower in upper room.
Sunday, the women are first to arrive at the tomb and learn the news; Christ is risen.
The Gospel of Mark reports these events as they fit the theological truth the writer is emphasising, not in the chronological oder in which they occurred. Dr. Hendriksen addresses this in the remarks on Mt. 21:11-22 of his commentary on The Gospel of Matthew, page 773:
“That the Gospel writers were not mere copyists but independent authors, each using his own method, appears very clearly in the present instance. Since part of the Fig Tree story occurred on Monday and part on Tuesday (Mark 11:11, 12, 19, 20), with the cleansing of the Temple taking place (on Monday) between these two parts, it is clear this story could be handled in two ways: a. chronologically or b. topically. Mark follows the first method, describing the first part of the Fig Tree story, the part that took place on Monday morning, in 11:12-14; then, the cleansing of the temple, later that same day, in 11:15-19, and finally, the second part of the Fig Tree story, the part that happened on Tuesday morning, in 11:20-24. Matthew, on the other hand, uses the second method. He wishes to tell the entire story all at once, and in one connected and uninterrupted account. In doing this he does not come into real conflict with Mark, for his (Matthew’s) time indications are very indefinite. For example, he says, “Now in the morning” (21:18), but does not indicate which morning. He does not say, “on the following day” (as he does in 27:62). Also, when he begins to report on the second part of the Fig Tree story he simply says, “and when the disciples saw it…” (21:20). He does not indicate on what day this conversation between Jesus and His disciples took place. It is Mark who makes it very clear that what Matthew says in 21:18, 29 occurred on Monday; and what Matthew says in 21:20-22, on Tuesday. Each of these two methods, (chronological and topical ) has its merits. The combination of the two is something to be thankful for.”
Overlooking Jerusalem (1), the Saviour reveals His glory and knowledge in a way that rivals His signs and wonders in Galilee. A colt is tethered near the city gate (2). It is untrained, and has never been ridden, yet our Lord sends His disciples into the city to bring it to Him. How does our Lord know this? Either He has prearranged it, or He knows it through the same power by which He raised the dead, calmed the sea and was Transfigured on another mount in Galilee. The event is recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and it is clear they believe it is a revelation of Christ’s power and supernatural knowledge. The disciples embark on their mission, and, finding all things as Christ foretold, even the question from the people in Jerusalem (5), they bring the colt to the Master. An ordinary man would need to spend much time and effort getting this colt to accept a rider, but the animal seems to accept Christ willingly. An animal recognises his Lord, though men do not.
Our Lord rides into the city amid the joyful cheers of the Galileans, who have come for Passover. In their minds, this is the sign that the revolution has begun. He has no army, but many of them would gladly rally to Him, believing that He, who can raise the dead, can also give them victory over the Romans, and bring them through the battle unharmed. Their cheers in verse 10 are voiced because this is what they believe is happening. They have no thoughts about sin and redemption. They certainly have no idea the Messiah will die at Roman hands, at the insistence of their own priests and leaders. Though the religious leaders have opposed Christ, the people expect Him to remove and depose them after the war is won. The people will be angry when He refuses to lead a revolution, and devastated when He dies, thinking they have been fooled again, and followed yet another false christ.
The Lord rides to the very gate of the Temple and enters in. He sees the commercialism in the court of the Gentiles, which has left them with no place in the Temple. He sees also the corruption and cheating of the pilgrims by the merchants, done with the compliance of the priests. After His inspection of the Temple, He “went out unto Bethany with the twelve” (11). There it seems He spends the night in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The evening’s events are reported in John 12:1-11.
“And on the morrow” (12) takes us to Monday morning. Christ has left Bethany, withering the fig tree as He enters into the city and makes His way to the Temple. He will explain the meaning of the tree when He enters Jerusalem again on Tuesday.
The Temple has become anything but a house of prayer. The Court of the Gentiles, which is the place for Gentiles to seek and worship God, has been turned into a noisy, smelly market place, with all the arguing and haggling for which such places are known. People are buying and selling sheep for the Temple sacrifices and the Passover meal. The money changers are exchanging Roman currency for the Jewish money required for offerings in the Temple. These merchants make exorbitant profits, and the priests, especially the High Priest, seem to share the take. Thus Jesus says they have turned God’s House of Prayer into a “Den of Thieves” (17). Worship, Godliness, and the needs of God’s people seem to be completely forgotten by those whose life calling is to lead and minister such things. They have devoted themselves to the god of mammon, and used their positions of trust and service to enrich themselves and fleece the flock.
We have never seen Christ as angry as we see Him this day in the Temple. Verses 15-17 describe a scene of Divine wrath. Crashing tables, scattering coins, stampeding sheep, and fleeing doves mingle with the angry shouts of merchants fleeing in all directions before the fury of this Man from Galilee who passes through their midst like a consuming fire.
The Messiah leaves Jerusalem after cleansing the Temple, but returns early Tuesday morning. Entering the city, the disciples note that the fig tree has withered to the roots. Many writers, ancient and modern, have noted similarities between the tree and the spiritual condition of Israel in that day. Like the fig tree’s abundant leaves, it looks as though Israel should bear much fruit of Godliness. The Temple and the sacrifices are functioning, Passover and the other feasts and fasts are observed, and the rules and regulations of the Pharisees are observed to the smallest detail. But these are mere show when not accompanied by the fruit of true faith, the commitment of really keeping the Covenant God made with Israel, and without loving God with all their heart, mind, and soul, and their neighbours as themselves. Therefore Israel is an unprofitable tree, and worthy of God’s wrath and curse.
Looking through history, we see the same has happened in the New Testament Church many times, including our own day. Heresy, and hypocrisy abound, and many “churches” and “pastors” seem to be more concerned about keeping up with cultural trends and serving mammon than God. Let us, also consider the fig tree.
Peter’s remark and the questions of the other disciples appear to be caused by the fact that our Lord’s pronouncement of the withering of the fig tree happened so quickly, and even that it happened at all. Christ uses their questions to teach about faith and prayer (20-26). He seems to be making the same point He made speaking to the father of the demon possessed boy in Mk 9:23; “if thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”
Obviously God is not promising to perform to our commands or grant our every wish like a great Genie in a Bible. Otherwise, how would He grant the prayers for rain by farmers in a drought parched land, and prayers by people in that same land asking for fair weather for their weekend outing? The Lord’s words express “a general confidence in God’s power, wisdom and good will towards believers,” as Bishop Ryle reminds us. More than that, they speak of the power of God responding to the needs of His people, especially in the work of trusting Him to answer our prayers for faith and power to believe and preach the Gospel of Christ in this dark world, which often opposes and persecutes us. By His power, the prayer of faith will be answered, the mountains of evil shall be cast into the sea, and the things we desire of God and His Kingdom shall be ours.
We are warned that we must forgive those who sin against us. The unforgiving person shows he knows not the forgiveness of God.
Our Lord is confronted by the Jerusalem elites again, when He enters Jerusalem. It is Tuesday, and our Lord’s public ministry will end before sundown on Friday. Therefore, He deems it necessary to confound and embarrass the hypocritical Jerusalem crowd in the very midst of the crowded Temple. There is no self-justification in their question, which seems to indicate they really know He is right to cleanse the Temple and teach His message. They simply ask where He thinks He gets the authority to do it, and to challenge their authority and the practices they have allowed to flourish in the Temple.
Jesus asks them if John’s baptism was from heaven or man. He is asking if John’s ministry was true. Did he truly come from God? Did he really come to prepare the way of the Lord? Or was he an imposter and a false prophet, who anointed himself to proclaim a message he made up?
The priests realise they have lost this confrontation. If they say John was of God they condemn themselves for not obeying his message, and for not receiving the Messiah as John identified Him. If they say John was not of God they will anger the people, who are already anxious to start trouble with the Romans, and would probably love to begin by killing those who have turned the House Prayer into a Den of Thieves. Thus, they refuse to answer. But our Lord answers them in verse 33. “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
It still Tuesday, and Christ is still in the Temple. He has just exposed the ignorance of the priests and scribes in the brief dispute over His authority and John the Baptist (11:27-33). He continues to show the emptiness of their faith and their absolute dedication to preserving their own wealth and power at any cost, including the life of this outsider from Galilee. The Parable of the Vineyard (1-9), followed by His Statement about the stone which the builders rejected (10, 11) is part of His continuing revelation of their unGodliness. The vineyard has two layers of meaning. First, it is Israel and the Temple. Second, on a deeper level, it is the Covenant of God, which includes the Temple but also includes the Law and all the things of God given in the Old Testament. The Priests are stewards of these things and shepherds of Israel. As servants in the House of God, they take the offerings of the people to Him, and bring His word to the people. Their function can be compared to that of servants in the palace of a great king.
Christ’s parable refers to them as husbandmen in a vineyard, which is put into their hands in a contract, or Covenant. The husbandman are much more than labourers. They are highly skilled and knowledgeable about raising grapes and making wine. Given charge of the vineyard, they have certain obligations. They work the vineyard, make and sell the wine, and owe the owner (God) a certain share of the profits. They also enjoy many benefits. They make their living from it, and can improve their income by hard and faithful work that produces good grapes and good wine. The Priests make their living serving in the Temple, and God does not cheat them out of their portion. But He does demand faithfulness on their part.
When the owner’s servants, which represent the prophets, come from the owner to receive his due, the husbandmen beat and kill them (2-5). The Priests will easily recall Elijah and Jeremiah as prophets who were “shamefully handled,” and our Lord, reminds them of Zechariah, “whom ye slew between the Temple and the altar” in Mt. 23:35. Weeping over the coming fall of Jerusalem, He calls the city, “thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee” (Mt. 23:37).
Rather than repenting of their wickedness, the husbandmen even kill the owner’s son. This is an obvious reference to the crucifixion of Jesus, which these very Priests and scribes intend to do as soon as possible (Mk. 12:12).
“What, shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others” (9). Ancient writers understood these words to refer to the fall of Jerusalem, and with it, the Old Testament system of Temple and sacrifices which are fulfilled in the cross of Christ. Augustine also includes all of humanity in the reference, making the unjust husbandmen represent all who enjoy the blessings of God, but reject God Himself. The “others’ unto whom the vineyard is given, are the Apostles and clergy of the New Testament Church, and to the Church itself. As both the vineyard, and the husbandmen, all members of the Church are keepers and trustees of the things of God given in the Bible. Bishop Ryle, agreeing with the ancients wrote in his commentary on this passage:
“These verses before us contain an historical parable. The history of the Jewish nation, from the day that Israel left Egypt down to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, is here set before us as in a glass.”
God called and blessed Israel, giving them His Law and Covenant. He gave them the Temple and the sacrifices and the land of Canaan, where they were to be His people and serve Him in love, as He would be their God and bless them in love. But the people of Israel never quite gave themselves to the Covenant. Their history is a story of rebellion and sin. Yes. there are times of revival, but even they are only partial. Never do we see an Israel united in true faith and Godliness. Instead they kill the prophets and stone those God sends to call them back to Him.
The history of Israel is also the history of grace. God in His mercy endures with patience and love the many sins of His people, always calling them back to Him, always preserving them, even in times of chastisement. But the day is coming when the Kingdom will be taken from them. The Temple and the sacrifices will be ended. The Priests and Pharisees, so proud in their self-righteousness, and so disdainful of true holiness, will no longer have charge of the vineyard. As the promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Christ, the administration of the New Israel passes from the Priests and Pharisees to the Apostles, clergy, and members of the Church.
There is a sense in which this parable also applies to the Church. Her leaders often fail, and even live in open sin and denial of the basic doctrines of Scripture. Sometimes those in denial separate from the Church to form their own bodies. Our history is full of such heresies, and they continue even in our own time. Sometimes the leaders of the Church, like the Priests and Pharisees, are the ones who deny the faith and bless sin. In such cases, the true believers have been forced to leave the ties of friendship and sacred memories to reform the Church in new bodies. Truly our Lord is no respecter of persons, and He will give the vineyard to “others” when the husbandmen fail in their duties.
The Priests and scribes are angry about the parable and desire to “lay hold on Him,” meaning to do violence to Him 12. Why are they angry? Because. “they knew that he has spoken the parable against them.” They know they are the husbandmen, Jesus is the rejected stone, and they are the builders.
In verse 12, the Priests and scribes “went their way,” but in verse 13, “they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians to catch him in his words.” American elections often include televised “debates” between the candidates, which are conducted by a supposedly nutral moderator. But the moderators often do more participating than moderating, attempting to help candidates they support, and hinder those they oppose. One of their favourite tricks is an attempt to catch their opponents in their words through “gotcha” moderating. This is what is happening in the Temple as the Pharisees come to debate Jesus. They already have their “gotcha” question. After their phony pretense at showing respect to Christ, they launch their missile. “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”
These men are not really seeking Christ’s answer. They already have their minds made up. The Pharisees believe in a separate and free Israel, with as few dealings with the Roman/Gentile world as possible. The Herodians like the Romans and want Israel to be more like them in her political and religious practices. These two parties usually oppose each other, but have come together to try to defeat Christ. Thus they show they have more in common than their apparent differences suggest. They are “insiders.” They are in the positions of wealth and power, and they are more interested in keeping them than following their party lines. Therefore, they are more than willing to join forces against this outsider, for, if His ideas are really acted upon by the people of Israel, their wealth and power will disappear.
They believe their question will divide the people and cause them to stop listening to Jesus. If He says it is lawful to give tribute to Caesar, the group that follows Him in hope that He will start a revolution against Rome, which would seem to align with the goals of the Pharisees, will leave Him. If He says it is not lawful, He seems to oppose the Herodians, and their supporters will leave Him. At the very least, they hope His followers will argue over the issue, and both will leave Him. Divide and conquer. They may even hope the disruption between Christ’s followers will bring Roman intervention, possibly crucifying the Outsider, and a good number of His followers, and putting an end to the trouble and the trouble maker.
Our Lord’s answer is well known (17). To render unto Caesar is to honour government in its rightful duties, but not allow it to ascend to God’s place. To render unto God is to give Him absolute and supreme allegiance.
Next, the Sadducees come to Him (18). Their question is part of a united, orchestrated attempt to discredit Christ and divide His followers. We can almost see and hear them plotting together, perhaps in the palace of the High Priest, who should be one of Christ’s most devoted disciples. All of the religious experts and Doctors of Theology should be raptly attending the Saviour’s words as devout and loving servants of God. Instead, they oppose God, and trample the good of the people under their filthy feet. But do not judge them too harshly, for we do not know we would not have done the same if we had been in their place.
Their question is absurd, and they know it. Whose wife will this theoretical woman be in the resurrection? First let it be said the Sadducees don’t believe in a resurrection. Second, let it be said Jesus knows this, and knows what they are attempting to do. Third, let it be said Jesus knows the Scripture, and they do not (24).
Our Lord believes in the resurrection; ours as well as His. He boldly states, “when they shall rise from the dead” (25) referring to all people. This will be accomplished by the power of God (24), which is yet another thing Christ knows and the Sadducees do not. We see in verse 25 one of the few Biblical glimpses of our new and Heavenly existence. We will be like the angels, and we will not given in marriage.
The meaning of verses 26 and 27 is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive. They died thousands of years ago, yet they live with God in a condition that resembles that of the angels. Our Lord’s logic is: God is the God of the living. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob live.
Verses 28-34 relate the story of one scribe who recognises the wisdom and Scriptural truth in Christ’s words. He is also bold enough to say so in the presence of other scribes, and whatever members of the Jerusalem elite remain within the Temple. Our Lord gently and approvingly says to him. “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” This seems to have at least two meanings. First, and most obvious, some people are in the Kingdom of God, and others are not. Second, the vast majority of the Jewish religious leaders are not. Three, this scribe is not. Perhaps he will enter it after the Saviour completes the Redeeming work of the cross and resurrection. Perhaps he will be one of those added to the Church on Pentecost. Perhaps he will come to Christ at a later date. But, perhaps not. Perhaps this is his last chance, and he misses it and dies in his sin. In this case, “not far from” would also be, not close enough. It would be, not in.
Christ in the Old Testament is the topic of our Lord’s teaching in verses 35-37. It is a point our Lord makes in other places, also. “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.” “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me” (John 5:39 and 46, respectively). Coming to His disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:27, the Risen Lord, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures, the things concerning himself.” In these verses, our Lord makes the important point that the Scriptures are all about Him. From Moses (Genesis,through Deuteronomy) to Malachi, the Old Testament foretells and prefigures Christ. Israel understood this. They knew Psalm 2 could only really be fulfilled by the Messiah. They knew the same about Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 53. Unfortunately, they do not recognise the One who fulfills them when He stands before them in His Temple.
These are the points Christ makes in verses 35-37. The Bible is about Him. Thus David refers to the Messiah as “Lord” (36, 37). David was the king of Israel when he wrote these words. Through him, God had graciously given Israel peace, and brought him recognition as the ruler of a major power in the eastern Mediterranean area. Such a sovereign would not call a son “Lord.” But he would call the Messiah, “Lord.”
Christ is telling the Priests and people, and especially, the disciples, they don’t understand that He is the one David wrote of. He is the son of David only in the sense that His human line traces to David. But He is far greater than David, and, in another sense, can never be David’s son, for He is the Son of God, and David calls Him Lord.
The hypocrisy of the scribes is described in 38-40. Their “faith” is all pretense. They are careful about the mechanics of the ceremonial laws and the Pharisaic additions to it. Thus they wear long prayer shawls, the kind that have pockets and tassels to hold written Scripture verses, and remind them of the prayers and daily readings in the Temple and synagogues (38), which they perform to the letter, making, “long prayers.”
At the same time they devour widow’s houses (40). The exact means by which these men rob widows is unknown. But, whatever the means, they use their positions of leadership and power to gain money and security for themselves through dishonest dealings, even with the poorest and most needy people of Israel. Teaching the Bible is an honourable profession, and a life devoted to its study and teaching is a great privilege and a great benefit to the people of God. God Himself ordained that Israel would have Priests, and that they would teach the Scriptures. God Himself ordained that the New Testament Church would have pastors and teachers, who would devote themselves to shepherding God’s flock and teaching the Bible. Receiving a reasonable living for this work is also ordained of God. There was a portion for the Priest in many of the Old Testament sacrifices, and 1 Corinthians, after quoting the law forbidding muzzling oxen as they tread out the grain, and applying that to the financial obligations of the Church to its ministers (1 Cor, 9:1-13), says in 9:14, “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”
But the scribes are not merely living of their task of teaching the Scriptures. They are using their position to extort money from people, and, since the people with the least power and voice in any culture are the easiest targets, widows, whom the scribes should defend with their lives, become their victims. The result of their theft, probably using the courts and the laws to steal “legally,” is not just damnation, but greater damnation. Their eternal destiny will be worse than that of those who never knew the Saviour or the Law.
The greed and hypocrisy of the scribes is contrasted with the humble, self-giving attitude of the widow in 41-44. The scribes are among the wealthy, and give large offerings in a great show of pretended devotion to God. Jesus says, they give out of their abundance. Their gifts are large, but they will not miss the money. This woman is poor. Her gift will require her to forgo luxuries, and, possibly, necessities (44). Thus, she gives out of her want. According to Jesus, God loves her mites more than all the abundance of the rich. She has, in fact, given more than all the others combined (43).
The thirteenth chapter of Mark has been called the “little apocalypse.” As the Rev’d Dr. Alan Cole wrote in his commentary on Mark in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, it gives the “Gospel core of that which is amplified in the book of Revelation.” It is not surprising, then, that, like Revelation, this chapter has been interpreted in a variety of ways, even in the early Church.
Most of the early Christian writers were concerned with defending the faith against heresies, and holding the Church together in the Apostolic doctrines, rather than expounding the Scriptures. Therefore, though they recognised the obvious application to Jerusalem, their understanding of Mark 13, and its corresponding passages in Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Revelation 1-11 was affected by the growing influence of heresies and divisions in the Church. This is especially true after A.D. 70, and the fall of Jerusalem. By the early second century we see clearly formed “schools” or views and methods of Biblical interpretation. The Alexandrian school was one of the most influential. Located in Alexandria, Egypt, it attempted to reconcile the New Testament with Greek philosophy. One of its most famous and influential teachers was Origen. He was a tireless writer and scholar, but, like all of us, he also had his faults. He adopted, and helped popularise the allegorical method of New Testament interpretation, which minimizes the clear and literal teaching of the Scriptures for what he believed was the higher and more important allegorical meaning. The problem with his method is the difficulty of finding the higher meaning. How do we know we have found it, and what prevents us from allegorising the Bible so much we simply make it say whatever we want? For example, the abomination of desolation in Mark 13:14, refers to the Roman destruction of the Temple. Origen, however, following the allegorical method, saw it as the Church following the words of the anti-christ in place of the word of God. In his defense, preaching false doctrines in the Church is an abomination of desolation, because it destroys the Church of God. But that is an application of Mk. 13:14, not the meaning of it. Origen’s method of allegorising Scripture became very popular in the second century A.D. It influenced many of the post apostolic writers, and it continued to gain popularity until the Reformation called the Church back to the original intent and meaning of the Bible.
In spite of the divisions, orthodox Christianity retained the belief that Mark 13, and corresponding passages refer first to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. It also recognises that, at some point, these works show Christ protecting His Church and overcoming those who oppose and persecute it, beyond the fall of Jerusalem, until, in His Second Coming, He finally defeats all enemies and establishes His Kingdom in all its fullness, forever.
The question is, at what point does the focus change from Jerusalem to the Second Coming, and, in what way is the destruction of Jerusalem being used by our Lord to foreshadow the Second Coming, as He uses the destruction of the Temple in Daniel to foreshadow the destruction of Herod’s Temple?
The comments on Matthew 23 and 24 give a fuller statement of the events leading up to Christ’s words in Mark 13, and our Lord’s intent as He speaks these words. But there remains a certain mystery about the Second Coming that reminds the Church to be in a condition of always being ready for it, and always looking for it. We do not know the day or hour (32, 35), and we must always watch, lest He come and find us sleeping (36. 37). The false christs such as Simon Bar Kochba, who continually attempted to lead Israel into war with Rome, promising victory and worldly peace, are always present. They change their wording and their methods, but they still promise to end of all our troubles and give world peace and prosperity if we adopt their political systems, join their cults, participate in their protests and riots, and vote them into political office and power. The wars and rumours of wars also continue, as do the false doctrines and divisions both inside and outside of the Church. Our Lord is telling us not to be fooled by these things, or believe they are they signs that He has returned, or that His Return is near. His words are calls to faith and faithfulness throughout the longs ages until the Return. They remind us that He, not the false messiahs, will restore all things and establish the kingdom of true justice and peace.
It is Tuesday evening, two days before Passover and two days before the crucifixion. In Jerusalem, the chief priests and scribes are plotting to secretly kidnap and murder Christ. But how can they capture Jesus when He is always surrounded by people who will fight to protect Him? Tomorrow, Wednesday, Judas will unexpectedly solve their problem by promising to deliver Him to them, for the price of thirty pieces of silver (10, 11).
Verses 3-9 look back to the previous Saturday evening, when Jesus and the disciples ate in the home of Simon the leper. It has been noted in the comments on Mark 11 that Mark uses the topical, rather than chronological method in his Gospel. This seems to fit the action oriented mind of Peter. Mark probably places the event here because we are in the part of the Gospel story where our Lord is preparing for the crucifixion, and this event, which occurred four days ago, is anointing Jesus’ body for burial (Mt. 26:6-13 and Jn, 12:1-8).
The woman is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (Jn. 12:1, 2). The ointment is thought to be perfume made from a Himalayan plant, which cost more than a year’s wages. Judas complains that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor, but John 12:6 notes that Judas does not care about the poor. He is a thief, who, keeping the purse for Jesus and the other disciples, could have stolen some of the money (Jn. 12:6).
Mary pours the entire bottle on Christ, starting at His head and going to His feet. When Judas, and others, criticise her, Jesus reprimands them, saying the poor are always with them. In other words, they can help the poor any time, but haven’t, so don’t criticise Mary. Then He adds words that must have shocked and confused this group of zealots, who expect to follow Jesus into Jerusalem and rid Israel of the Romans; “she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying” (8).
The actions and words of the scribes and Priests as Christ confronts and confounds them in the Temple on Tuesday, suggest that Judas’ pact of betrayal has not been made at that time. It does appear to be in place as Jesus enters the city for the Passover feast on Thursday. Thus, we conclude Judas probably makes the agreement in a secret visit to Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Verse 12 takes us to Thursday, “the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover.” This annual ceremony commemorates the plague that finally convinced the pharaoh to release the Hebrew slaves (Ex. 12). It is a time of holy remembrance, meditation, and prayer. A lamb without blemish is sacrificed and eaten with bitter herbs. In Egypt, its blood was smeared on the door frame of the homes of the Hebrew slaves. When the death angel saw the blood, He passed over the home. When He came to a house not marked by the blood, He took the firstborn of the house in death. The pharaoh’s son died in that plague, which broke the pharaoh’s sinful will to keep the Hebrews in bondage. Israel left Egypt free.
Jesus keeps the Passover in an upper room, thought by many to belong to Mark’s family. It is a solemn assembly. The eleven, remembering that the first Passover brought Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, probably believe this Passover will begin her deliverance from Rome. Judas is contemplating his betrayal of Christ, and the money he will receive. Jesus is contemplating the things He wants to say to the disciples before His enemies take Him in Gethsemane. Meanwhile, the pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast are wondering if Jesus is the One, and this is the beginning of their deliverance from Rome.
Our Lord turns Passover into what is commonly called, “The Lord’s Supper.” It is Thursday evening when they gather for the meal, which follows a well known and much honoured liturgy. The head of the family brakes the unleavened bread into two pieces, and places them on plates, laying one aside to be eaten after the meal. He now raises the other piece and says, “This is the bread of misery which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All that are hungry, come and eat; all that are needy, come, keep the Passover.” After the bread is passed and eaten, the cup is raised and the liturgical prayers are said. The cup is raised a second time and Psalms 113-118 are sung. The cup is raised a third time, another liturgical prayer is said, and the cup is passed to each person for a drink. After this comes the meal itself, ending with the bread that had been set aside at the beginning of the ceremony. This is followed by the final cup of wine, the cup after the supper (Luke 22:20). A fuller explanation of the Passover meal can be found in Alfred Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.
We easily see that our Lord uses the liturgy of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt to inaugurate the liturgy of our deliverance from the eternal slavery of sin. Taking the bread and the cup at the end of the Passover meal, He tells His people they represent His body and blood, and are to be taken in remembrance of His death on the cross as the sacrifice for or sins.
The disciples, who once boasted they had left everything for Christ, and are willing to die in His service, are now told by their Master they will be scattered like a flock of frightened sheep (27-31). Peter denies this loudly and boldly, and the others all agree. Our Lord, of course, is correct. The disciples flee, and He faces the cross alone.
Verse 26 records that they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. On this mount is a garden called Gethsemane, where our Lord retires to pray before He suffers. We may never know or understand the tremendous battle taking place in the heart of Christ as He kneels in prayer in Gethsemane. The sorrow that makes this One, who has resolutely set His face toward the cross, say, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death,” must be a sorrow we cannot imagine. Is this the sorrow of God over all the destruction and death caused by human sin? That is probably part of it. Is it grief for the vast numbers of humanity, who will continue in sin and blindly follow blind guides into the pit of hell? That, too, is probably part of it. Is it the human side of the GODMAN recoiling in fear and horror at the cross and death He faces? That is probably part of it. Christ, like the rest of us, lived by faith, and His faith is being tested in the garden, even as it was in the wilderness temptations. We can be sure the devil is at work here, tempting Him to forgo the cross, appealing to the human side of the GODMAN in an attempt to prevent the atonement for sin and destroy the Son of God. What a victory it would be for evil to turn the Second Person of the Trinity to sin.
Most of Christ’s sorrow is probably founded on the knowledge that He will face the wrath of God for all the sins of humanity. He, the sinless One will take our sins on Himself, as if they are His own. What degradation and humiliation this is for Him. He will suffer the wrath of God for those sins. He who is God, who lives in the closest fellowship with the Father and the Spirit, is to be treated as a common sinner, a criminal against God. His fellowship with God is being severed. Truly, as He said from the cross, God is forsaking Him (34). Surely this is the greatest reason for His sorrow; a cup He would have pass from Him, but accepts because He loves the Father and He loves us. Thus, He does not run in fear, or attempt to hide from His enemies. Instead, He seems to go to them. Seeing their approach He says, “Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand” (42).
Judas’ betrayal with a kiss is not as unusual as we might think. The kiss is a token of affection, but here it is used to betray, thus, actually becoming a token of hate. Do not people, even today, betray one another while giving tokens of affection? Do not politicians cry for loudly for the needs of the people, while devoting themselves to their own prosperity? Do not husbands and wives, and parents and children feign love and fidelity while practicing infidelity and rebellion? Do not people call themselves Christians, yet live apart from God, or receive Him only on their own terms? Do not men take up the holy office of ministry, promising to preach the word, but in reality, seeking nothing more than their own wealth? Are not all of these things simply different forms of betrayal with a kiss?
The trial of Jesus is a trial only in the sense that it tries His patience and His determination to go to the cross. It is not about justice and it is not about truth. It is about finding some way to manipulate Pilate into executing Christ (55). False witnesses abound, probably secured in an attempt by the High Priest and his cronies to convince those unaware of the plot to agree to the death of Christ. But their stories do not match, and the plot fails at this point.
Finally, the High Priest asks, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? (61). Like their other questions, this is an attempt to trap Jesus with His own words, not a request for information. We may be correct to surmise these men care nothing for blasphemy, and they care nothing about the Messiah. Their very lives are blasphemies, opposing God at almost every point. Even if Jesus had been the worldly Messiah so desired by the average Jew, these men would still oppose Him. For He would still want the Temple and the sacrifices, and the men who have charge of them, to be pure and Godly. Thus, He would still be a threat to their position and power. In fact, if Jesus is the Messiah, that is the kind of Messiah they expect Him to be. So, when Jesus says, “I am,” they must either repent and believe in Him, or kill Him to prevent Him from ruining their comfortable, though wicked, lives.
Their treatment of the Son of God is perhaps more spiteful and wicked than that of the Romans. They heard His words. They questioned people He had healed. They knew the Scriptures. Yet they spit on Him, beat Him, and mock Him whom they ought to enthrone in the Temple and in their own hearts. At least the Romans were ignorant, but these rulers of Israel do their sins knowingly.
Poor Peter. The story of his fearful denial of Christ will live in eternity. But it is exactly this honesty about the Apostles that makes the Bible so believable. We have all read biographies that romanticise their subjects. The Bible does not do this. It reports the Apostles’ many failures, from their failure to understand Jesus’ teaching, to their desire for power and preference in His Kingdom, and on to their sleeping when they should have been praying, and their cowardice at the capture and murder of Christ. The Bible is equally honest about the Jewish people and their leaders, and about the nature and weakness of all people. It does not give any of the popular nonsense that Christ died for us because we are valuable and worth saving. It teaches that we are sinners who have no value and are not worth God’s thoughts, let alone the Incarnation and death of Christ. It is this obstinate realism that makes the Bible believable.
The first part of Jesus’ “trial” was really a secret meeting of a few, select people. Most were part of the kill Jesus conspiracy, and their only purpose was to find a way to convince the Jewish ruling council to condemn Him to death. The entire event, from the a abduction to the secret meeting is illegal and immoral. The real trial, held early Friday morning is not much better. The “jury” is stacked with Christ’s enemies, who control the event and push for His execution. The rest of the Sanhedrin is swayed by their lies, at least enough to allow the accusation of blasphemy to stand, and Jesus is sent to Pilate, where His same enemies agitate for His execution (1).
Mark does not give much detail about Christ’s time before Pilate; only that He does not answer the many charges flung at Him by the priests, and that He does answer Pilate, “Thou sayest it.” Jesus means He does not claim to be king of the Jews in a worldly kingdom. That is a false belief about Him spread by people who oppose Him. His Kingdom is spiritual. It is not of this world (Jn. 18:36), therefore, He is not an enemy of Rome. Our Lord wants it made perfectly clear He is not a revolutionary like Barabbas and He is not being executed for being one (11). He has committed no crime against Israel, Rome, humanity, or God. He lays down His life of His own accord, the Good Shepherd giving His life for the sheep (Jn. 10:11). His death, therefore, is nothing short of murder. The fact that it is done by government agents under government authority does not change it, or the millions of other murders carried out by rulers according to the laws of their lands. Thus, rejected by His own people and condemned by the government that should have protected His life, the Messiah is scourged and abused and led away to be crucified 6-20).
The mocking of Christ on the cross, even by the two thieves is just what we would expect from people carried away with the thoughtless anger of a mob. Doubtless, many are watching to see if He will indeed come down from the cross and, thus, show Himself to be the King of the Jews. Many hope so. Many pray so. But it does not happen. Yes, the sky is darkened (33), with an erie, supernatural darkness, but most of the spectators are too blind to notice it as a sign that the Lord of glory hangs on a cross.
“MY GOD, My GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?” cries our Lord, as He bears the wrath of God and the sins of man in His own flesh. His sense of desolation must be more dreadful than we can imagine. In the end, it is God’s wrath that kills our Lord, not the whip or the nails or the spear. The wrath of God is more than a human body can bear, even the body of the Son of God. Yet, even at this time, some still expect Him to come down from the cross. The man in verse 36 saying, “Let alone,” seems to believe it is just possible that Elijah will come and take Him down. “Let alone” is a rebuke of the mockers. It is a rude statement; the equivalent of, “shut up you fools.” But Elijah does not come, and Christ’s enemies are not struck down to hell by the wrath of God. Jesus hangs there and suffers until, finally, He “cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost” (37).
The time Christ spends on the cross, are hours of ugly, bloody agony, as wicked people revel in their victory, and rejoice in the suffering they have inflicted on an innocent Man. It is also a time of miracles. The darkness is just a small miracle, but its meaning is great. It is a symbol of the darkness that envelops all of Israel, and the sin that enables her to callously crucify the Son of God. Even more, it is a symbol of God’s displeasure with the sin Israel, and all humanity. Yes, “The Son of Man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed” said our Lord in Matthew 26:24, and is not all mankind betraying Him as He dies on the cross? The fact that this event was ordained before the foundation of the world, does not mean it is anything less than the lowest wickedness and sin of the part of the men who did it. Many have suggested that the darkness is as though nature, recognising and mourning the treatment of her God, cannot bear to look upon this tragedy. Like the sun, she must hide her face from it. But the deepest meaning of the darkness is something like what our Lord said in verse 34. It is part of the darkness our Lord suffers as the wrath of God settles upon Him for our sins. It is part of His forsakenness as He Himself passes through the valley of the shadow of death dying the death for all humanity.
A much higher miracle takes place in the Heavenly sanctuary as the sin of the world is laid upon Christ and punished in His suffering. The Substitutionary Atonement: it sounds so clean and perfunctory when we say or read such words. We are accustomed to them, and that leads us to become less aware of the impact of their truth. This is partly because the Bible reports it in a matter of fact way. It does not attempt to manipulate our emotions like a Hollywood movie. There is no music and no soundtrack of the weeping, jeering crowd, or the groans of the dying, expertly filmed and edited to elicit the desired response from us. But, neither are the effects of the cross mere contrived emotions. The cleansing is real. The forgiveness is real. The reconciliation of sinful man to Holy God is as real as the suffering and death of Christ.
Another miracle is recorded in verse 38. The veil of the Temple refers to the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple. It was the home of the Altar and the Mercy Seat. No one but the High Priest was allowed to enter it, and he only once a year on Yom Kippur, bearing the blood of the sacrifice. Even he entered with a rope around his waist so his body could be pulled out if the Lord struck him dead at the Altar. The Holy of Holies represented the very presence of God, where only creatures as pure and holy as the angels are invited and can survive. The curtain around the altar means no human being, marred as we all are by sin, can enter the Holy Presence of God, unless there is a sacrifice, which God accepts in place of the death of the sinner. When that curtain was torn, top to bottom, at the very moment of Christ’s death, it signified that the sacrifice has been made and accepted, and all people are invited to enter the presence of God through Christ. There is no more need of the Temple, or the priests that serve in it; no more need of the Holy of Holies or of sheep to be killed on the Altar. They were all symbols of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross, and His sacrifice has rendered them obsolete.
Finally we have the miracle of the Roman soldier’s words, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” A pagan, a hated Roman who makes his living torturing people to death, recognises what Israel misses. As Christ dies, His enemies believe their triumph is complete, while His followers believe their cause died with Him. Either way, a dead man cannot be the Messiah, they conclude. But the Roman sees His death, and reaches the opposite conclusion. He was the Son of God. He was the Messiah. How clear it is that the things that drive some away from God are the very things that draw others irresistibly to Him; and the things that harden some in their sin and unbelief soften others and build faith in them. How high and mysterious are the ways of God.
The women do not desert Him (40, 41) though men’s hearts fail them. The women are there to the end. But who are these ladies? Mary Magdalene is familiar to us. She is the one delivered from evil spirits and infirmities (Lk. 8:2), and who stands at the tomb of Christ weeping on Sunday morning (Jn. 20:8-11). Some have thought her to have been a prostitute and the sinner in Luke 7:37-40), but that is not true and certainly not stated in Scripture. The other is Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses. She is identified for us in Mark 6:3 as the mother of Jesus, for James and Joses are His “brothers.” The third lady is Salome, probably one of Mary’s daughters. These women live in glory now, leaving only the record of their courage behind, to inspire us who remain to walk by faith. They are part of a company of “many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem” (41).
The day of preparation (42) is Friday, and the Sabbath will begin at sundown. Being good followers of the letter of the Law, the enemies of Christ are eager to get Him buried so they can go home and keep the Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathaea asks for the body (43) and places it in the tomb he had hewn for himself. The tomb is carved into a hillside and a huge stone seals the entrance (46). Verse 47 is important because it shows that Joseph and the Marys of verse 40 were present at the tomb, and helped place the body into it. More importantly, it shows they know the tomb’s location. This means they did not go to the wrong tomb on Sunday, as some have suggested. They knew the tomb, they knew its location, and they were able to find it on Sunday morning.
Jesus is now dead and buried. So are the hopes of many in Israel. With Him in His grave, the faithful women and Joseph would depart to spend the Sabbath in deep mourning. And Thus, the chapter ends. but not the Gospel.
Mark’s final chapter is not concerned about details or chronology. It has four main points as follows.
Most of the chapter deals with the empty tomb and appearances of the risen Christ. And even these events are given without much detail. The same lack of detail is evident in the jump from the appearance in verse 14, which seems to be one of the Jerusalem appearances, to the commissioning of the Apostles in verse 15. Mark leaves out the forty days the risen Christ spent with the Apostles, details of their trip to Galilee (7), and their return to Jerusalem, where Christ ascended to Heaven from the Mount of Olives. Such details do not concern him at this point. He is concerned that his readers see the big picture. Typical of Peter, he emphasises action. Christ is risen.
Most of the rest of the chapter is devoted to the commission and ministry of the Apostles. Peter did not appoint himself to this ministry. It is clearly a calling from Christ Himself. He wants that known to the readers of this Gospel. He did not make up the story, nor does he preach it of his own accord. He preaches what he saw and heard because he was commanded to preach it by Christ.
Verses 17 and 18 talk about miraculous signs, and verse 20 says the Lord worked with the Apostles “confirming the word with the signs following.” Taking this to be a perpetual part of the Church’s ministry, even after the Apostolic age, many continue to attempt to reproduce miracles, and even handle serpents. But God has moved the Church from the age of the Apostles and their signs, to the post Apostolic age, when things are usually wrought by prayer rather than signs. Thus, regarding miracles and the normal course of Christian ministry, Bishop Ryle wrote:
“The whole analogy of God’s dealings with His Church, forbids us to expect that the miracles would always continue. In fact, miracles would cease to be miracles, if they happened regularly without cessation or intermission. It is well to remember this. The remembrance may save us much perplexity.
“But though the age of physical miracles is past, we may take comfort in the thought that the church of Christ shall never want Christ’s special aid in its seasons of special need. The great Head in heaven will never forsake His believing members. His eye is continually upon them. He will always time His help wisely, and come to their succor in the day that it is wanted.
“Finally, let us never forget, that Christ’s believing Church in the world is of itself a standing miracle. The conversion and perseverance in grace of every member of that Church, is a sign and wonder as great as the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The renewal of every saint is as great a marvel as the casting out of a devil, or the healing of a sick man, or the speaking with a new tongue. Let us thank God for this and take courage. The age of spiritual miracles is not yet past. Happy are they who have learned this by experience, and can say, ‘I was dead but am alive again : I was blind, but now I see,”
It is important to know Bishop Ryle, like others who share his view, is not saying God does not work miracles today. We maintain, for example, that all healing is a miracle of God, whether accomplished through the means of medical care or prayer. We also believe God supernaturally protects loved ones and guides the hearts and minds of people. Sometimes He does this in answer to prayer. Sometimes He does it out of His own love, even when no one prays for it. We also affirm that every conversion is a miraculous casting out of Satan and entering in of the Holy Spirit of God, and that the preaching of the Gospel is the way we take up serpents, and are protected from the deadly poisons of false doctrine and unbelief that are so prevalent in this world. We only say that open miracles, like those in the Gospels and Acts are not the normal way God works today. Prayer, holy living, and preaching and believing the Gospel are.
Let us return to the wise counsel of Bishop Ryle as we come to the end of our study of Mark.
“And now let us close the pages of St. Mark’s Gospel with self-inquiry and self-examination. Let it not content us to have seen with our eyes, and heard with our ears, the things that were written here for our learning about Jesus Christ. Let us ask ourselves whether we know any thing of Christ ‘dwelling in our hearts by faith?’ Does the spirit ‘witness with our spirit’ that Christ is ours and we are His? Can we really say that we are ‘living the life of faith in the son of God’ and that we have found by experience that Christ is ‘precious’ to our own souls? These are solemn question. They demand serious consideration. May we never rest till we can give them satisfactory answers!”