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Commentary on The Gospel of Mark (4).

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

The Eyes of The Disciples Are Opened (8.22-9.33a).

Following on Jesus’ concern at the lack of understanding of the disciples we now learn how their eyes are gradually opened to see at least something of the truth. The subsection commences with the healing of a blind man in two stages, a picture of what is happening to the disciples, and moves on to the disciples’ recognition that Jesus is the Messiah. The consequence of this is that Jesus then begins to emphasise that His way is to be a way of suffering as the Son of Man, followed by His revelation in glory. And at the same time He gives to Peter, James and John a vision of that glory. It is necessary for them to know both sides of Who He is. From Mark’s viewpoint Jesus at last lays aside the veil that has covered His teaching, and reveals openly what lies ahead. It is a way of suffering and glory, resulting in final triumph. And it has been made possible by their recognition of Him as the Messiah.

Analysis of 8.22-9.33a.

  • He comes to Bethsaida (8.22)
  • a The blind man’s eyes are gradually opened (8.22-26)
  • b The disciples recognise Who Jesus is (8.27-30).
  • c They learn that He must suffer before His glory is revealed (8.31-9.1).
  • d In the transfiguration His glory is revealed before the chosen three in the presence of Moses and Elijah (9.2-8).
  • c They learn that they must not tell others of what they have seen until after the resurrection and learn that Elijah has already come to restore all things, leading up to the suffering of the Son of Man and of Elijah himself (9.9-13).
  • b The demon possessed boy is remarkably healed revealing the uniqueness of Jesus. No other could do what He did (9.14-29).
  • a The disciples are alone with Jesus and learn that spiritual storms lay ahead for Him and for themselves. Their eyes are being gradually opened (9.30-32).
  • He returns to Capernaum (9.33a).

Note that in ‘a’ the eyes of the blind man are gradually opened, and in the parallel Jesus opens the eyes of the disciples to what lies ahead. In ‘b’ the disciples, through Peter their spokesman, recognise that Jesus is the Messiah, and in the parallel they are made aware of His total uniqueness and authority. In ‘c’ they learn that He must suffer before His glory is revealed, and in the parallel they learn the same. Centrally in ‘d’ Jesus is transfigured and His glory is revealed.

A Blind Man Is Healed in Two Stages (8.22-26).

This account comes after the blindness of the disciples has been stressed (7.18) and before the scales are revealed to have been at least partially dropped from their eyes (8.29). It is clear that it is heavy in symbolism as with the healing of the deaf and dumb man. It is no accident that the two unusual stories of healing are placed at each side of the emphasis on spiritual significance as opposed to literal (8.14-21), along with the feeding with bread which was also literal with a spiritual meaning, and follow the spiritual use of the idea of bread with the Syro-Phoenician woman (who was the only one who understood the meaning of the bread straight away).

Thus the pattern is - the spiritual use of bread (7.27-28), the unusual nature of the healing of the deaf and dumb man where there is a pointer to its spiritual meaning in the connection with Isaiah 35.5-6 (7.31-37), the giving of the bread to the crowd which has spiritual significance (8.1-10), the emphasis of Jesus that His disciples must think not of literal bread but of spiritual, and referring to deafness and blindness which are also spiritual (8.14.-21), all leading up to this unusual healing of the blind man (8.22-26) which must also be seen as having spiritual significance, as is demonstrated by the fact that it is followed by the eyes of the disciples being partially opened (8.27-30) and then fully opened (9.1-8). And it all follows the lesson that it is not what goes into a man that defiles him (what is physical) but what comes out of his heart (what is spiritual) (7.14-23).

The two accounts of healing, that of the deaf and dumb man, and of the blind man, are parallel in a number of ways. Both take place outside Galilee, both involve the use of saliva, both mention Jesus touching the affected part, both are connected with Messianic expectation (Isaiah 35.5-6; compare Matthew 11.5), both illustrate the spiritual state of men in the context (compare 8.18; and see also 4.12), and both result in a request for secrecy (which was Jesus’ policy when He performed an outstanding miracle and would be staying around).


  • And they come to Bethsaida, And they bring to Him a blind man and plead with Him to touch him, and He took hold of the blind man by the hand and brought him out of the village (22-23a).
  • And when He had spat on his eyes and laid His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” (23b).
  • And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I behold them as trees, walking” (24).
  • Then again He laid his hands on his eyes, and he looked steadfastly and was restored and saw all things clearly (25).
  • And He sent him away to his home saying, “Do not even enter into the village” (26).

Note that in ‘a’ the blind man is brought to Jesus and He takes him out of the village, and in the parallel He sends him away and tells him not to enter the village. In ‘b’ He lays His hands on him, and asks if he sees anything, and in the parallel He lays His hands on him and he sees clearly. Centrally in ‘c’ the man sees men as trees walking, a picture of the half-sightedness of the disciples.

8.22 ‘And they come to Bethsaida, And they bring to him a blind man and plead with him to touch him.’

They have returned to Bethsaida, outside Galilee and north of the sea of Galilee, and a blind man is brought to Him. Notice that as with the deaf and dumb man, (‘to lay His hand on him’ - 7.32) Mark draws attention to the expected method of healing, ‘that He may touch him’. In other words he draws attention to the unusualness of the cure. He is concerned that the special significance of the healing is appreciated.

8.23a ‘And he took hold of the blind man by the hand and brought him out of the village.’

Again we note the parallel with the deaf and dumb man. ‘He brought him out of the village’, compare ‘He took him aside from the multitude privately’ (7.33). And that was what He had done to the disciples in order to open their ears and eyes, and yet sadly they were still inoperative (8.18).

‘The village.’ Philip had made Bethsaida into a fairly large town, but this may be a reference to the old fishing village which was the basis of the later building of the town, and was still a relatively separate entity. It may, however, be that the local title ‘the village’ had been retained for the whole through custom and usage.

8.23b ‘And when he had spat on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”

Again we have similar treatment, the use of saliva, although applied differently to the different parts (compare 7.33). The idea is that the words of Jesus will open the eyes of the spiritually blind as they will open the mouth of the spiritually dumb.

8.24 ‘And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I behold them as trees, walking”.’

The healing was only partial. The eyes that had been opened were still dim, just as with the disciples spiritually. The Greek brings out the excited state of the man. The picture is vivid ‘men as trees, walking’, his sight was still dim and distorted.

8.25 ‘Then again he laid his hands on his eyes, and he looked steadfastly (aorist - indicating the moment of truth) and was restored and saw all things clearly (imperfect - indicating the continuing result).’

After further action (a unique occurrence for Jesus’ healings in the Gospels) full sight is restored, the half blindness slips away and he can see fully. In the light of the whole context as described above we may see this, not only as an actual miracle, but also as an acted out parable (like the cursing of the fig tree). It was Jesus’ expectation that it would be thus with the disciples spiritually, first partly seeing and then receiving whole vision. And also with others who would follow them. Perhaps the partial healing reflects their somewhat defective recognition of Him as the Messiah, while the whole healing pictures what happens at the Transfiguration, or at His resurrection. But the idea is probably more in order to press home the fact that spiritual illumination comes slowly in stages. We should note here that in Scripture the healing of the blind is regularly seen to be God’s prerogative (Psalm 146.8; Isaiah 29.18; 35.5).

8.26 ‘And he sent him away to his home saying, “Do not even enter into the village.’

As with the deaf and dumb man we may see this as silence enjoined - compare 7.36 (‘tell no one in the village’ is in fact a variant reading). The man was to go home without contacting anyone, the matter was not to be publicised. Compare how with the disciples they are not to publicise their new recognition of Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) (8.30). But such a demand for silence was Jesus’ regular policy when He performed outstanding miracles and was expectant of remaining in the area.

Jesus had taken the man out of ‘the village’ (verse 23), and now tells him not to return there, but to go straight home. This was, of course, partly to prevent the publicity that might then result in sensation seeking crowds, but it is also clearly a spiritual picture of what the disciples must do once their eyes were opened. They must not proclaim Him as Messiah until after His death and resurrection, for men were mistaken in their conceptions of the Messiah (8.30).

The Disciples’ View of Jesus Is Revealed - Jesus Teaches His Disciples and Corrects Their Wrong Impressions - Three of Them Behold His Glory - And He Heals a Man Whom His Disciples Cannot Heal. The Disciples Are Receiving Gradual Illumination (8.27-9.32).

We have already seen how Mark has built up to this incident from chapter 7 onwards when the Pharisees had criticised Him, and especially that the disciples have been portrayed as deaf and blind, with the assurance that He will make them hear and will open their eyes so that at first they will see dimly, and then clearly. Now that will come to fulfilment, firstly in Peter’s confession, and then gradually in what follows.

In this passage Peter reveals that the disciples were still confident that Jesus was ‘the Messiah’, the unique Deliverer promised by God, although puzzled about what His intentions were, for the majority view in Galilee and Judaea was that when the Messiah came he would raise an army and drive out the Romans, after which he would establish the Jews in peace and plenty, and all by the power of God, which did not seem to be Jesus’ intention at all. But the variations in the expectations were in fact legion.

For the disciples’ view of Jesus’ Messiahship we can compare John 1.41, 49 - but that was in initial enthusiasm. This was a more thought out position, even in the light of their inability to understand exactly what His intentions were. They had no doubt gone through periods of great mind searching and discussion, for He just did not seem to be behaving as men in general had expected the Messiah to behave. Peter is now probably expressing the view of all of them as discussed among themselves.

Then Jesus will begin to teach them what this signifies and how it affects them. They must learn what kind of Messiah He has come to be. So He begins to show them that He must die and rise again, and that, in the light of the resurrection, they too must be ready to suffer and die. After that He is transfigured before Peter, James and John, and His authority is revealed in the healing of a sad case which even His disciples could not deal with. This is meanwhile accompanied by teaching which lays stress on His coming suffering, followed by His resurrection. He is seeking to prepare them for what is coming in the light of their limitations.

The authenticity of this passage is brought out by a number of factors. Firstly by its identification with a specific and unusual and unexpected place (Caesarea Philippi), secondly by the fact that Jesus is not seen as actually confirming Peter’s confession (except by implication), thirdly by the stern and unprecedented forceful rebuke to Peter, and especially his being called Satan, almost aligning him with Judas, fourthly by the vivid and lifelike picture drawn of Peter’s error, and fifthly by its specific connection ‘after six days’ (9.2) with the incident that followed, when the dim sight revealed here becomes for at least three of them the bright light of certainty of men who see clearly. Such a time based connection is unusual for Mark and was clearly part of the tradition from the beginning. Had the event been an invention these factors would not have arisen.

This visit to Caesarea Philippi is often depicted as though it was a time when Jesus was alone with His disciples, but a careful reading of the narrative is against that idea, for it will be noted that the private conversations take place while they are ‘in the way’ between villages (verse 27). But meanwhile ministry is taking place in the villages around Caesarea Philippi (verse 27) and we learn of a large crowd whom He can call on to hear His words (verse 34). They are very much rarely alone.

Peter’s Confession of Jesus as Messiah and His Subsequent Failure (27-33).

While on the way between villages Jesus now challenges the disciples as to their present view of Him and Peter declares that they see Him as the coming Messiah. Jesus does not deny the title but immediately goes on to firmly reinterpret it in terms of the suffering Son of Man (verse 31), Who will rise again and will one day come in the glory of His Father with the holy angels (verse 38) having received Kingly Rule (9.1), a teaching backed up by the displaying of His glory on a high mountain (9.2-8). It is a startling revelation to which all that has gone before has been leading up. From now on there will be a new urgency to His teaching.

Analysis of 8.27-33.

  • a And Jesus went forth, and His disciples, into the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way He asked His disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?”. And they told Him, saying, “John the Baptist, and others, Elijah, but others, One of the prophets” (27-28).
  • b And He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” (29a).
  • c Peter answers and says to Him, “You are the Christ” (29b).
  • d And He charged them that they should tell no man of Him (30).
  • e And He began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again (31).
  • d And He spoke the saying openly (32a).
  • c And Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him (32b).
  • b But He turning about, and seeing His disciples, rebuked Peter (33a).
  • a And He says, “Get you behind me, Satan, for you do not mind the things of God, but the things of men”(33b).

Note that in ‘a’ the reply to Jesus question is of what men say, and in the parallel Peter is back on the same level with them and also regards only the things of men. In ‘b’ Jesus asks His disciples what they think of Him, and in the parallel notices that they have listened to Peter’s false ideas and therefore rebukes him publicly. In ‘c’ Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah (what he says is of God), and in the parallel Peter wrongly thinks that he can rebuke Him (what he says is of men). In ‘d’ Jesus charges His disciples to tell no one that He is the Messiah, and in the parallel He speaks openly about the Son of Man. Centrally in ‘e’ He teaches what must happen to Him as the Son of Man.

8.27-28 ‘And Jesus went out, and his disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and in the way he asked his disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?” And they told him saying, “John the Baptiser, and others Elijah. But others, one of the prophets.”

The group travelled northwards towards Caesarea Philippi, visiting the villages around. The proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God went on apace. Meanwhile Jesus took advantage of the time spent on the road to challenge His disciples, and to examine and clarify their thinking. He did this by means of a question concerning what men were saying about Him, always a good teaching approach. In view of what was soon coming it was important that they had some basic understanding of Who He was imprinted in their minds, and it had to be rightly interpreted. For similar questioning see 4.13; 4.40; 7.18; 8.17-18.

Their reply indicated that some saw Him as John the Baptiser risen from the dead (as Herod had previously), others saw Him as the coming Elijah (Malachi 4.5), while still others saw Him as ‘one of the prophets’. Compare on this reply 6.14-15. See also Matthew 16.14. Matthew adds ‘Jeremiah’ to the list. Thus Jesus, presumably because of His miracles, was seen as a great ‘returning’ figure by many, and a prophet similar to the great prophets by others. The likeness to Elijah and Jeremiah may simply mean someone with the same qualities, although many certainly expected Elijah in person and the return of Jeremiah (and of Isaiah) is anticipated in extra-Biblical literature, in 2 Esdras 2.18 . It is significant that none saw Him as the Messiah or as the ‘prophet like Moses’ (Deuteronomy 18.15). For, although at times the question must have crossed their minds, He did not behave like they expected the Messiah to behave, .

‘The villages of Caesarea Philippi.’ Not the town itself but the villages in the surrounding area. This was in Herod Philip’s territory. It was Herod Philip who rebuilt Caesarea Philippi and dedicated it to the emperor, calling it Caesarea. The name Philippi was added to distinguish it from the main Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast from where Pilate governed Judaea. It was built at what was said to be the main source of the Jordan on the slopes of Mount Hermon. Nearby was a Temple of Augustus, built by Herod the Great, and an ancient shrine dedicated earlier to Baal and then to Pan, the god of nature, whom many claimed was born in a cavern there. Thus it was a centre of Emperor and Roma worship and of primitive nature religion. In a sense by coming to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God in their villages Jesus had come to challenge the dominion of these pagan gods, and it was highly appropriate that it was in this vicinity that Jesus should test what the disciples thought about Him.

‘In the way.’ A favourite expression of Mark denoting the period of travel between two places, periods which Jesus made full use of. Compare 8.3; 9.33-34; 10.17, 32.

8.29-30 ‘And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers and said to him, “You are the Messiah.” And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.’

Jesus then became more direct and challenged them as to how they saw Him. At the challenge of Jesus (the ‘you’ is emphatic) Peter made clear that, in spite of all their bafflement, they did recognise that He was the Messiah, God’s unique, long promised Deliverer. And it was a title which He accepted as is shown by the fact that He charged them not to let anyone else know. But the title was dangerous for the wrong reasons. It gave the wrong impression of why He had come and would have made Him appear to the Romans and to Herod as bent on violent political success. So while pleased at His disciples’ recognition (Matthew 16.17) He wanted the title left well alone. And in Mark Jesus immediately goes on to reinterpret the Messianic idea in terms of the suffering Son of Man. This is the emphasis that Mark is getting over. Jesus is the Messiah (1.1), but His Messiahship expresses itself through suffering first, and then through final triumph in resurrection and glory. Jesus thus did not want His Messiahship made known at this stage because it would turn men’s minds in the wrong direction. For that was not how men saw the Messiah.

In Matthew the confession is described more emphatically, and there it is clearly a turning point in Jesus’ ministry as is witnessed by ‘from that time ---’, but in Mark the main turning point lies in the changing direction of His teaching about Himself, not in the actual confession itself. This is especially significant as Mark has previously tended to stress appellations given to Jesus. Had we not had Matthew we would not have laid such an emphasis on this confession. One reason for extracting it from the disciples as far as Mark was concerned, was precisely so that He could correct the wrong impression it gave. For at this stage the disciples only saw dimly, like the partly healed blind man in 8.22-26.

One prominent ancient manuscript (aleph) adds here ‘the Son of God’. A few add ‘the Son of the living God.’ But the majority of the most ancient manuscripts add nothing. The latter phrase would seem to have been introduced from Matthew 16.16, to make the confession here more prominent. But that is not Mark’s intention. He passes quickly on to Jesus reinterpretation. He is not concerned with the title but what it signifies in the purpose and plan of God.

‘The Christ’ (Messiah - anointed One). In the Old Testament those who were set apart for God as either king, priest or prophet were anointed with oil as an indication of their setting apart (Exodus 29.7, 21; 1 Samuel 10.1; 16.13; 1 Kings 19.16). They were looked on as ‘the anointed of God’ and therefore not to be harmed (1 Samuel 24.6, 10; 2 Samuel 23.1; Psalm 105.15 compare Acts 23.5). Thus the coming great prophet would be anointed by God (Isaiah 61.1). It was a term applied in Daniel to a coming ‘prince’ (nagid) who would be cut off and have nothing (Daniel 9.25-26). The term came to be applied par excellence to the Coming One who was expected to deliver Israel, as king or ruling priest, or both, who would thus be ‘the Anointed One’, the Messiah. In popular thought he would come and rouse the people by force of arms to bring political freedom to Israel, and the term was probably applied by them to a number of political troublemakers who in the end failed their expectations. Thus the Roman authorities were wary of ‘Messiahs’. But the essence of the idea was that he would come as the Deliverer and Restorer (John 4.25-26).

‘He charged them.’ The Greek word is that same as that translated ‘rebuke’ in verses 32, 33. It was a stern charge which contained an implied equally stern rebuke on any who disobeyed. Jesus did not want to be linked with Messianic speculations (once He was dead, of course, the situation changed. There was no danger then of misinterpretation, which was why He was then spoken of as the Christ).

8.31-32a ‘And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and after three days rise again. And he spoke the saying openly. ’

We should note here that Jesus not only refers to His coming death, but actually embraces it as a part of the divine purpose. From now on it is no longer seen as something that might arise because of opposition against Him, but as something which has been in the mind of God from the beginning. For He immediately turns their attention to Himself as ‘the Son of Man’ (compare 2.10, 28) Who ‘must suffer’ (‘it is necessary for Him to suffer’). Here, in contrast with His desire for secrecy in respect of His Messiahship, Jesus speaks openly about His rejection and coming death as the Son of Man, to be followed by resurrection. The significance of His death will come out later (10.45; 14.24).

‘The Son of Man must suffer.’ Notice the ‘must’. It is seen to be a divine necessity (compare 9.11; 13.7, 10; Luke 24.7, 26; John 3.14; 9.4; 10.16; 20.9; Acts 3.21; 1 Corinthians 15.25, 53; 2 Corinthians 5.10; Revelation 1.1). It is not surprising that Jesus saw His future in terms of suffering. He had witnessed what had happened to John the Baptiser, He knew of the growing antagonism against Him that had probably caused Him to leave Galilee, He knew of the career of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 50.4-11; 52.13-53.12, and of the Smitten Shepherd in Zechariah 13.7 (consider John 10.11). He knew of the references to the suffering of the godly, and especially of the son of David, in the Psalms (e.g. Psalm 22; 118.10 on) and He knew that the Son of Man in Daniel, as the representative of God’s people, was to come out of suffering into the presence of God, as the beasts attacked the people of God (Daniel 7.13-14 with verse 22 and verses 25-27). So He had no Messianic delusions. Unlike the disciples He knew what was in store. And He knew that that suffering was necessary so that He could be a ‘ransom for many’ (10.45; compare Isaiah 53.4-6, 10-11). For ‘the Son of Man’ see note on 2.10.

‘And be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests and the scribes.’ This description encompassed the whole Sanhedrin (the Jewish governing body). The elders were the prominent lay people on the Council (11.27; 14.43, 53; 15.1), the chief priests were the hierarchy and ran the Temple and its ritual, and the scribes were the Doctors of the Law. He was already rejected by many of them and He recognised that almost all of them would turn against Him (Psalm 118 (LXX 117).22 - same Greek verb in LXX), for He knew what was in man (John 2.25). Indeed if He was to die as a ransom (10.45) it could only be through rejection at their hands. This idea would particularly have appalled the disciples. But it was firmly based on Old Testament precedent, as witness the experiences of Jeremiah and Zechariah.

‘And be killed.’ Reference must mainly be to the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.8-10, as later expressed in Mark 10.45. We have here an evidence of how carefully the actual words of Jesus were preserved. It would have been so easy to alter it to ‘crucified’, especially in the light of verse 34 and the fact that crucifixion was the normal death under the Romans for high treason, but they did not.

‘And after three days He will rise again.’ This promise is repeated in 9.31; 10.34. He may not have intended ‘three days’ literally. ‘Three days’ indicated a relatively short period of time and could mean ‘within days’ (compare the ‘three days journey’, a standard phrase in the Pentateuch indicating a shortish journey compared with the longer ‘seven days journey’ - Genesis 30.36; Exodus 3.18; 5.3; 8.27; Numbers 10.33; 33.8; Jonah 3.3). The idea of a third day resurrection is possibly taken from Hosea 6.1-2 (both Matthew and Luke interpret the ‘three days’ of Mark as ‘the third day’. To Jews both phrases meant the same thing) interpreted in the light of Jesus identification of Himself with Israel in terms of the suffering Servant of Isaiah. Indeed the Servant’s task could only be fulfilled by resurrection. How else could He receive the spoils of victory (Isaiah 53.12)? (Compare also 52.13-15). And how else could the Son of Man come triumphantly out of suffering into the presence of the Ancient of Days to receive the everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7.13-14)? Resurrection is also constantly implied by such statements as Mark 8.34-37.

It should be noted that in Mark Jesus is always depicted as actively rising again, using the active verb anistemi. The thought would seem to be that after being subjected to humiliation He will Himself take control of events and bring about His own resurrection. In the words of John 10.18, ‘no man takes it (my life) from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father’. Matthew on the other hand translates using the passive of egeiro where the emphasis is on God raising Him. But the difference is simply one of viewpoint. Father and Son will act together in His resurrection.

It may be asked why, if Jesus made this prophecy so regularly, the disciples were not expectant of His resurrection. But we have only to consider man’s propensity for accepting what he understands to explain this. It was difficult enough for them suddenly to be faced in this way with the possibility that He would die tragically, without their taking in what His enigmatic words about His resurrection indicated. If they thought about it at all it would be in terms of some miracle of a resurrected Messiah after being put to death by his enemies. But it is more likely that they saw it in terms of Hosea 6.1-2 as a kind of national resurrection, possibly with His death being seen metaphorically as well, especially when they considered His own words about all who followed Him having to ‘die’ (verses 34-36).

This prophecy concerning His coming suffering and death will be repeated three times in this subsection, here, and in 9.12 and 9.31. Its full significance will then be brought out in 10.33-34 with 45.

Note on Daniel 7.13-14.

In the Book of Daniel the empires (e.g. 7.23) of the Mediterranean world were likened to rapacious beasts because their behaviour was seen as like that of beasts who range around and conquer and destroy (Daniel 7.1-8; 8.1-14). These beasts also represent their kings (7.17), and their horns represent later kings and kingdoms (e.g. 8.20-23). In contrast the people of God are seen as a ‘son of man’ (7.13-14 with verses 18, 25-27). As represented by their obedience to the Law of God they are human in contrast with the bestial empires. But because they are God’s people they will be subject to suffering and tribulation (7.25). Finally, however, they will triumph when ‘the thrones are placed’ (7.9) and their representative (7.13) will come into the presence of God, ‘the Ancient of Days’, to receive the everlasting dominion and glory and kingdom (7.13-14 compare 7.27).

As Himself the representative of the people of God Jesus takes to Himself the designation ‘the Son of Man’ and so aligns Himself with their future suffering prior to everlasting glory. The Son of Man is thus seen as One Who comes out of earthly suffering and will enter in triumph into the presence of God to be crowned and glorified.

(End of note).

‘And He spoke the saying openly.’ This is in direct contrast with verse 30. There was no secrecy hinted at here. While He did not want them to spread about the fact that He was the Messiah, He had no such reservations about the fact that He was the Son of Man Who was to suffer, die and rise again. This was something that He wanted known, especially to all the disciples. Thus it was not whispered to a few. It was boldly declared before all.

Strictly speaking the disciples should have been prepared for this, but like us they had the ability to make words mean what they wanted them to mean. They had been told that the Bridegroom was to be ‘snatched away’ from them (2.20), and that then they would fast. It had been inferred that the temple of His body would be destroyed, and in three days raised again (John 2.19). And Jesus had clearly stated that He was giving His flesh for the life of the world (John 6.51) and that men would ‘eat and drink’ of Him (John 6.56), a clear reference to His being put to death according to Old Testament passages such as Psalm 14.4; 53.4; Micah 3.3; Isaiah 49.26; Zechariah 9.15 LXX; compare Matthew 23.30. But in the way men have they had refused to accept the unpalatable truth and had ignored it. Now they were being faced up with it in a way that they could not ignore.

8.32b ‘And Peter drew him aside and began to rebuke him.’

For the use of the verb proslambano as ‘drew aside’ compare Acts 18.26. Peter did not want to make an open issue of the matter, and did not want to embarrass Jesus or himself. But the word ‘rebuke’ is fairly strong. Peter clearly felt quite strongly about it.

Possibly he took Jesus aside to warn Him that He was in danger of putting people his disciples off (compare John 6.60), or it may have been that he may even have thought that He was being too pessimistic and was mistaken. Either way he felt that things needed putting right, and he was the man to do it. The rebuke takes us quite by surprise. No friend of Jesus had ever rebuked Him in this way over His teaching, or, as far as we know, would again. Indeed it was so presumptious that without the additional information provided by Matthew 16.17-19 we would be at a loss to understand it. The words and commendation of Jesus had gone to his head and made him think very foolishly. (It has made many think very foolishly ever since. We need to especially to watch ourselves when we are being commended).

Peter’s problem may have been mainly with the idea of Jesus needing to suffer. Alternately it may have been with the idea that such suffering would be at the hands of the religious leadership of Israel, for current teaching about the Messiah did not exclude the possibility of a glorious martyrdom at the hands of Israel’s enemies, but it would never have thought of it as being at the hands of his own people. In view of what follows (the fact of Jesus’ strong rebuke and His teaching that those who followed Him must also suffer) the former seems more likely, although it may have included both.

The whole affair suggests that Peter now thought that he was at last beginning to understand things better and was becoming something of an authority. Why, had not Jesus Himself said that the Father was revealing things to him (Matthew 16.17)? And that gave him false courage and a false sense of his own importance and understanding. (Let him who thinks that he stands beware lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10.12)). Along with his natural impetuosity, which comes out again and again in the Gospels and Acts, and the position of respect he held, this was in danger of becoming a problem. It was therefore necessary that he recognise immediately that he had still much to learn.

There is no doubt that Peter’s rebuke was presumptious from a disciple to his teacher, especially such a teacher as Jesus had revealed Himself to be, and when heard for the first time it comes as a distinct shock. It certainly revealed that Peter had the wrong idea of what the Messiahship he had mentioned involved for Jesus, and it equally certainly showed that he had wrong ideas of his own importance and understanding. He had overstepped the line between disciple and compatriot. He had thus to be shown that while he was beginning to have a glimmer of understanding (‘you are the Messiah’) it was not much more than that. He still ‘saw men as trees walking’ (8.24). For parallel examples of rebukes that had to be shown to be wrong compare 10.13, 48. But this is the only example we have of a disciple rebuking Jesus.

8.33 ‘But he, turning about and seeing his disciples, rebuked Peter, and says, “You get behind me, Satan, for you are not minding the things of God but the things of men.” ’

Peter’s words would immediately remind Jesus of another who had sought to turn Him aside from the way of suffering when He was tempted in the wilderness (1.13). And at them Jesus turned round to check on the other disciples, probably to see if they had heard. And on seeing that they were aware of what Peter was doing He clearly felt that He had to put things right very firmly. They all looked up to Peter and it had to be made clear to them all that his present ideas were not only not reliable but in fact came from a very dangerous source. We should always consider people’s feelings, but there are times when a person’s feelings have to come second to the truth, especially when open error is involved. He had just commended Peter for spiritual insight, now He must make clear the dimness of his spiritual eyes.

‘You get behind me, Satan.’ This answer should come to us, as it came to them, as a distinct shock. Its impact must have been huge. Peter must have been shaken to the core, and the other disciples almost as much. To be openly called ‘Satan’ by the Master in front of all. And it was intended by Jesus to have this effect. Furthermore Mark intended it to stand there with all its impact, with no softening (as was attempted later in some authorities). Peter’s words were dangerous in the extreme. They went against the whole purposes of God, and had to be shown for what they were. As Jesus had to sternly tell him, God’s ways are not man’s ways and he must not presume to know the mind of God until He had fully absorbed the words of Jesus. His words were the truth and Peter (and the other disciples) must never forget it.

This brought out even more emphatically Jesus’ own consciousness, which we so easily assume, of the fact that He had come with a unique message as a unique person for a unique purpose. To go against His words was to behave as Satan. It was direct rebellion against God.

What Jesus was saying in a most uncompromising fashion was that Peter had become Satan’s instrument through a combination of self-conceit and worldly wisdom, and that as such he could have no part in Jesus. He must ‘get behind Him’. Only once he had come to his senses could he once more be accepted face to face.

The words carry an important lesson. How easily can the one who has things revealed to him by God become a dupe of Satan. Great privilege is dangerous when given to mortal men. Nothing is more important for men who seek to know God and as a result receive some illumination than to refuse to allow themselves to be influenced by their own extravagant ideas lest they expand on what God has shown them. They must beware lest after they have preached to others they themselves become disapproved, ‘rejected after testing’ (1 Corinthians 9.27). There is only one safeguard against this. And that is to subject themselves thoroughly to God’s revelation through His word and to allow other godly men to judge them (1 Corinthians 14.29). Those who are sure that they are always right are always wrong.

And that is what had happened to Peter. He had become a dupe of Satan. But how fortunate for him that he had there the One Who could immediately put him right. Jesus had already faced up to and conquered the temptation to take the easy way, to avoid suffering, and He had no hesitation as to what should be done with such suggestions as Peter’s. They had to be put behind Him, out of sight and out of mind. And their source had to be made clear. His words here to Peter are similar to His words to Satan in Matthew 4.10, ‘hupage -- Satana’.

We must not soften the situation by suggesting that Jesus was actually addressing Satan. He was addressing one who had allowed himself through folly, and pride, and carelessness, to become Satan’s messenger. The words that follow are not directed at Satan but at Peter.

‘You are not minding the things of God but the things of men.’ The word translated ‘mind’ means ‘to think’, ‘to form or hold an opinion’, ‘to make a judgment’, and can mean ‘to have the same thoughts as’ (Philippians 2.5). It could involve taking someone’s side, espousing someone’s cause. And that seems to be what is in mind here. Peter is unconsciously siding with men confused by Satan, and not with God. One moment he had almost seemed to know the truth, and the next He was blind to the truth. His spiritual sight was seen to be both limited and partial. But the final point behind this is that men think differently from God, because they see everything from a different perspective. That is why man never really understands the ways of God, and must take them on trust. It is only God Who really understands why the way of salvation that He chose was so necessary. ‘How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out’ (Romans 11.33).

But we miss the point of the whole episode if we stop there. This incident was so startling that it must have burned itself into the minds of His disciples, and that was Jesus’ intention. It should have made them recognise that they were totally wrong about their expectations (although not completely succeeding - 10.35-40), and that they should always be wary in future about what they said to Jesus, and also about what they said about Him. His hope was that they would never be too loose in their thinking again (although of course still baffled and misled by their own thoughts).

Jesus Addresses The Disciples Along With A Gathered Crowd (8.34-38).

Analysis of 8.34-38

  • a And He called to Him the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (34). >li> b For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it (35).
  • c For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? (36).
  • b For what should a man give in exchange for his life? (37).
  • a For whoever will be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will also be ashamed of him, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels (38).

Note that in ‘a’ Jesus calls all to follow Him fully whatever the cost, and in the parallel he declares what the consequences will be for those who do and those who do not. In ‘b’ He declares what someone must do to save their life, and in the parallel asks what a man will give in exchange for his life. Centrally in ‘c’ He declares the folly of gaining the whole world but losing eternal life.

8.34-35 ‘And he called to him the large crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever will save his life shall lose it, and whoever shall lose his life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News shall find it.” ’

This sudden reference to ‘a crowd’ reminds us that large crowds and Jesus were never far apart. The tendency of many has been to think of this time in Caesarea Philippi as a private period alone with the disciples, but this verse indicates that it was in fact quite otherwise. Here also He was accompanied by large crowds. For wherever He went He could not be hidden. It is true that large crowds have appeared to be largely absent in this part of Mark, and yet their spasmodic appearance is constantly referred to, and the likelihood of their presence at various times must be assumed (8.1; 8.34; 9.14). They do not, in fact, just appear from nowhere, and His visits to the villages (8.27) in fact suggest a preaching ministry. So we must clearly see the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God, and the miracles, as going on apace, alongside the private teaching of His disciples. But we are now to learn that from now on it will carry a new emphasis on the way of self-denial and suffering for all who follow Him.

‘And He called to Him the great crowd with His disciples.’ The crowd had possibly been following, but they would not have been party to what had been going on between Him and His disciples. Now, however, He felt the urge to confront them also with the new emphasis, and indicating that He intended to preach, He called them to gather round. If they were to follow Him they needed to recognise that danger lurked in the background, and it was right that they be warned.

His message was clear. He quite possibly began by proclaiming things concerning the Kingly Rule of God but then He began to warn them of what might be the consequences of coming under God’s Rule. For it would involve self-denial. It would involve being willing to put themselves in danger and at odds with men as they followed Him. On the other hand it would also result in finding life, a new, supernatural life under the Kingly Rule of God, the ‘eternal life’ stressed in John’s Gospel but here having the eternal future very much in mind (see 10.17, 30 for the concept in Mark).

‘Let him deny himself.’ Any follower of Him will be expected to keep God’s commandments (10.19). He must no longer live for himself. He must be willing to leave aside all earthly goods (10.21, 29). He must totally commit himself and all he has to the control and service of God (Matthew 6.33). And he must learn to say no. No to the natural desire for ease and comfort. No to the longing for fleshly satisfaction. No to every self-seeking action. No to self-will. And yes to obedience to Christ. Yes to self-giving. Yes to a needy world, to the hungry, the lonely, the distressed and the friendless. He must put off the old man and put on the new, ‘created in righteousness and true holiness’ (Ephesians 4.22-24; Colossians 3.8-10). This is initially what is involved in becoming a Christian.

‘And take up his cross.’ But that is not all. He must also be willing to take up his cross. All present knew about the cross, that savage instrument of Roman execution (although not limited to Rome), where a man, a lonely figure, bloodied by scourging, was forced to take up and carry the means of his own execution, turning his back on his life, leaving all else behind, and being hung up to die a slow and painful death. They had witnessed it in daily lives. (Some present would have witnessed such executions following the uprisings of men like Judas the Galilean (6 AD), and it was not an unusual occurrence). Now they were to recognise that to follow Him would be like that, a crucifixion of self, a turning of one’s back on the world, a taking of a way that was outwardly uncomfortable, costly, demanding, often a terribly lonely path, requiring them to leave all else aside, and might even lead to the same end as it would involve for Him, to martyrdom. And in their case they could choose whether they took it up. The picture carried the ring of total self-sacrifice and a stern warning note. It demanded sacrifice. It demanded all. If men were willing to do it for Judas the Galilean, should they not be willing to do it for Him?

The mention of the cross at this stage, to people not inured to it by being aware of the crucifixion of Jesus, must have come as something of a jolt. It was not a pleasant picture. And it demonstrated a sense of finality about becoming a disciple, and the dangers of being involved with what Jesus was teaching. He offered no easy road. Certainly it included the idea of possible martyrdom, but as spoken to the crowd and accompanied by the call to follow Him it was probably seen by most as a vivid way of expressing the need for the disciple of Christ to leave all behind and be ready for anything.

‘And follow me.’ They were to follow Him and walk as He walked. He was the One Who had nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8.20; Luke 9.58). He was the One Who loved God with heart, soul, mind and strength (12.30) and His neighbour as Himself (12.31). He was the One Who gave Himself utterly for others and lived simply to please the Father. And they were to walk as He walked. ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me’ (Galatians 2.20). And once of course that He had literally gone to the cross that would also be in mind. But it is not in mind here. Jesus’ death has not been connected with the cross.

‘Whoever would save his life shall lose it. And whoever will lose his life for my sake and the sake of the Good News, will find it.’ Jesus then pointed out that every man is faced with a stark choice. There is no midway house. He may choose to cling on to his own life, treating lightly, indeed basically ignoring, the Kingly Rule of God, and thus lose eternal life. Or he can cast off his old life for Jesus’ sake (that is, because of their faith in Him and the Good News He has brought). He can begin a new life under the Rule of God in total commitment to Him. And then he will find life that is life indeed. The stark choice is between the way of the world or the way of Jesus, and every man must choose which way he will take. He can choose the broad way or he can choose the afflicted way (Matthew 7.13-14), but he cannot have both, and the one leads to destruction and the other leads to life. There is no middle path. The losing of the life was essentially metaphorical, but might for some, as indeed it would later, become a reality.

‘For my sake and the sake of the Good News.’ The call is not just to an ‘imitation of Christ’. It is to playing a positive part in disseminating the Good News. This is discipleship to the full. It involves being actively engaged in bringing men under the Kingly Rule of God.

There are those who would relate all this to the willingness to die for Christ, and that is in the end included. But while Jesus was well aware of what fate might befall those who followed Him fully it is doubtful whether such a message would have had meaning to a great crowd, or even at this stage to the disciples (and see on verse 38). Those who had discernment would see that what He was calling for was rather what the rich young ruler would not give, everything a man had and was (10.21 with 23), full surrender and total obedience, although including if necessary the willingness to die for Jesus.

It is an attractive thought that Jewish men who in those days joined a religious cause in order to oppose the Romans jestingly spoke of their enrolment as ‘taking up the cross’, knowing that that would be their end if they were caught. It may or may not have been so, but the idea adequately encapsulates what Jesus is meaning here. Such men did not necessarily expect to die, but their cause had become their life, and they were ready to sacrifice everything for it, and yes, if necessary, were ready to die for it.

8.36 ‘For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?’

His question was this, is anything worth having or clinging on to if it means losing eternal life? If we gain the whole world, what is it worth if it means that we lose our hope of eternal life? There is life on offer to man, but it is like the pearl of great price. In order to obtain it, it is necessary to sacrifice everything else (Matthew 13.45). At the last, then, who will have made the best bargain? The man who gains the whole world, or the man who sacrifices all that he has and obtains the pearl of great price, his place under the Kingly Rule of God for himself? Herod had gained much of this world, and John the Baptiser only a dark and dreary dungeon, but who would exchange the reward of John the Baptiser for his?

We have here translated psuche as ‘life’. It is an illusive word. It can refer to the inner life, or to the self, or to what we often call ‘the soul’, as long as by that we do not refer to a separate entity within a man. For in the end ‘body, soul and spirit’ are all aspects of the self. Thus to lose our soul is to lose our essential selves.

8.37 ‘Or what should a man give in exchange for his life?’

At what price, asks Jesus, will you value a man’s eternal future? If a man gains the whole world and loses true life he has made a bad bargain. So having the chance of life, how great is the price he should be willing to pay to obtain it? The Psalmist says, ‘the redemption of their soul is costly’ (Psalm 49.8). What sacrifice then would be sufficient? The answer is that it is beyond price and therefore worth any sacrifice. And hearing Him they must determine whether they will pay that price by responding to the Kingly Rule of God.

8.38 ‘For whoever will be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

Then Jesus puts it all in the light of the great Day that is coming when He ‘comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’, and He closes by stressing that everything with regard to that would depend on their response to Him, and on their willingness to follow Him. Those who turn away from Him and who are ashamed to respond to Him and to His message, will find that when the Son of Man ‘comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’ He will be ashamed of them. For it will reveal them as a part of this ‘adulterous and sinful generation’. They will thus have no part in Him and will join the unbelievers in the awfulness of their judgment. But the corollary is that those who do respond will be received and welcomed. He will not be ashamed of them but will acknowledge them before all. They will hear Him say, ‘Well done My good and faithful servant!’ The whole statement may have seemed to His listeners as assuming that many of them would still be alive at His coming. That is the purpose in portraying something as ‘imminent’. But it does not say that. It is more general. It is saying that He will be ashamed of them in that Day whether they are still alive or whether they have been raised for judgment. Compare Matthew 8.10-12; 10.32; Luke 12.8.


What Does Jesus Mean When He Speaks Of ‘Coming In The Glory Of His Father With The Holy Angels’?

This passage raises the question as to what ‘when He (the Son of Man) comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’ refers to, a question which has been variously answered. There are two possible main interpretations. The first, which is the majority one, is that it refers to the second coming of Christ. Certainly the closest parallels would initially appear to support this interpretation, for in Zechariah 14.5 we read, ‘Then the Lord your God will come, and all the holy ones with Him’, where most would feel that Zechariah clearly has in mind the final time of perfection, for it is speaking of the Day when the Lord will be king over all the earth, night will cease, and everlasting worship will have been established, all pictures of the eternal kingdom. That would then be an indication that here Jesus was paralleling Himself with ‘YHWH your God’, and was to be seen as coming in His Name with the holy angels (compare Matthew 28.18-20 where ‘the Son’ shares ‘the Name’). This might be seen as supported by Matthew 25.21 where we read, ‘when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him’, which is admittedly very similar to ‘when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’ and that too is certainly referring to a time when the final judgment is in mind.

A reference may also be made to Jude’s quotation from apocalyptic literature which was clearly prevalent at this time, which runs as follow: “Behold the Lord came with ten thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their works of ungodliness which they have ungodly wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 1.14-15). Jude almost certainly has the second coming in mind, and thus sees His coming as being ‘with the holy ones’ (the holy angels).

However one or two caveats must be entered here. The first is that none of these references actually refer to ‘the holy angels’, even though Zechariah 14.5 and Jude 1.14 might be seen as implying it. (However, the failure to refer to ‘the holy angels’ is even more true in Daniel 7, for there the ‘holy ones’ are the people of God). The second is that the reference to the Son of Man coming in His own glory is not necessarily the same thing as the Son of Man coming in His Father’s glory. Indeed it must be seen as quite possible that the former refers to His own glorious appearing at the Parousia, as in Matthew 25 31 and that the latter should be seen as referring to the revelation of the Father’s glory in Jesus when He comes to His disciples at, for example, Pentecost in the holy breath and fire, (‘lo I am with you always’ - Matthew 28.20) and to Stephen in Acts 7.56 where the Son of Man is seen to be at the right hand of God, and therefore as partaking in His glory. It could indeed be argued that the differentiation between the two phrases is as deliberate as the similar differentiation which is made in Revelation 3.21, where the Son of Man says, ‘He who overcomes I will grant him to sit on my throne, even as I overcame and sat with my Father on His throne’. There Scripture is clearly indicating that sitting on His Father’s throne refers to His enthronement in the past after He had ‘overcome’, while the idea of the overcomers sitting on His throne still has the future in mind, when the King has taken His throne (Revelation 19.11-16; 20.11). This would fit well with the former referring to His enthronement as mentioned in Matthew 28.18; Acts 2.36, and the latter referring to His own throne of glory as revealed at His second coming once the general resurrection of the dead has taken place (Matthew 25.31; 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17). However this argument is double edged, for we can then equally argue that Mark is deliberately following the pattern, referring in 8.31 to the Parousia and in 9.1 to Jesus enthronement after the resurrection.

The second possible interpretation is that this refers to the ‘coming’ of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days, Who in Heaven is surrounded by the innumerable company who minister to Him, in order that He, the Son of Man, might receive Kingly Rule, glory and dominion (Daniel 7.14). It could be argued that those in the crowd who knew their Scriptures would, if Jesus had said nothing further about it, probably have seen in Jesus’ words ‘when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’ a reference to that Scripture. For there the Son of Man (7.13) would come into the presence of the innumerable company who minister to the Ancient of Days (7.10), and would be brought by them into the Presence of the Ancient of Days (7.13), and would be given all glory, dominion and power (7.14), this taking place once the records had been opened and judgment pronounced on the opposing ‘wild beast’ (7.10).

It might thus be claimed that to those in the crowd who knew the Scriptures these words would not therefore have been seen as speaking of ‘the second coming’ (of which they perhaps knew nothing), but of the coming of the Son of Man to be crowned in Heaven in the presence of the heavenly court, because judgment had been pronounced on those who opposed Him. The weakness in this argument, however, is that the only verse in the Old Testament Scriptures which actually refers to ‘coming with holy ones’ is that in Zechariah 14.5, which would therefore be the one more likely to come to the minds of the crowd (especially as in Daniel 7 the ‘holy ones’ are ‘the holy ones of the Most High’ who possess the kingdom, that is, the people of God). Thus we could argue that it is that Scripture in Zechariah that they would most likely have in mind, especially as boosted by apocalyptic ideas.

The case for looking to Daniel 7 could be seen as further supported by the fact that it is ‘this adulterous and sinful generation’ of which Jesus is speaking which must face being shamed by Him, something which would aptly fit in with a reference being then made to His being crowned after His resurrection and calling them to account, followed by His judgment on them in the destruction of Jerusalem and its environs. In the same way ‘seeing the Kingly Rule of God coming in power’ (9.1) could then also be seen as referring to the same enthronement, being there connected with His sending of the Holy Spirit and the rapid spread of the new community under God’s Kingly Rule, which would then take place within the lifetime of many standing there. The idea has its attractions.

What conclusion then can we come to? The arguments in the latter case are undoubtedly attractive, and as we shall subsequently see have some truth in them. They almost certainly do apply, for example, to 9.1 where the coming is not with the holy angels but with power, and in 14.62 where again the angels are not mentioned. But in our view they fail in 8.38 because of the mention of the angels (and in 13.26-27, partly for the same reason, and partly for other reasons. See on those verses). For it cannot be doubted that the prominent verse in the Old Testament Scriptures which speaks of ‘coming with the holy ones (as the angels)’ looks forward to the consummation (Zechariah 14.5), something confirmed by Matthew 25.31.

End of Excursus.

‘Whoever will be ashamed of me.’ The point here is that men will be judged by their previous attitude towards Him (compare also Matthew 7.23). What greater claim to divinity could He make? He is here stressing that those present had to take up an attitude towards Him. They could believe in Him, and submit to the Kingly Rule of God. Or they could turn away from Him and His words, being ‘ashamed’ of Him and His message (compare 2 Timothy 1.8). But let them consider this, that their eternal future would depend on it when He finally came to call them to account.

‘In this adulterous and sinful generation.’ This was His definition of the world in which they lived, adulterous and sinful, and it was this that He was calling them to turn their back on. It is a description that aptly applies today.

‘Adulterous.’ In the Old Testament the unbelief and disobedience of Israel was often described in terms of adultery. God was seen as their ‘husband’ and they as unfaithful to Him. They had forsaken God and indulged in their own pleasures, including those of sexual misbehaviour and perversion, and idolatry. See Hosea 2.2; 4.12; Ezekiel 16.25-26; Jeremiah 3.8-9; 9.2. And they were thus unacceptable. The thought covered a whole host of behaviour (some of which involved idolatry) in their rebellion against God and His ways. Thus the very fact of their being ashamed of Him would demonstrate that they were adulterous at heart.

‘Sinful’. This covered all that was left out in the description adulterous. It covered all the sins of the Pharisees who themselves were only too willing to call others ‘sinners’. For they too were ‘ashamed’ of Him. Josephus would make clear the depths to which the Jewish people had sunk at this time, and his thoughts were echoed by pagan writers concerning the people of the time everywhere. Thus Jesus’ words aptly covered both Jews and Gentiles.

‘The Son of Man will also be ashamed of him.’ Those who have refused to acknowledge Him and have cringed in shame from doing so will find that He too will refuse to acknowledge them. He will be ashamed of them. While not stated here it is clear that He is being seen as co-Judge or Prosecutor. The same principle is found in Jesus’ words in Luke 12.8-9; Matthew 10.32-33; John 5.22, 27. None would be more fitted for the position of Prosecutor than the Son of Man, for He would also Himself have gone through His own suffering (verse 31). In the light of the general resurrection in which most Jews believed there is nothing in this that requires any limitation in time as to when this would happen.

Some have tried to differentiate Jesus from the Son of Man here as though Jesus and Mark were saying that there was another yet to come, but this does not bear examination. To the disciples the term Son of Man tied in too closely with Jesus, for it was His favourite title for Himself. They knew Who the Son of Man was. The use here simply differentiated the present earthly Jesus, from His ‘coming’ as the glorious Son of Man. But to the crowds there was a certain veiledness, for they were not familiar with Jesus’ teaching. They may well have thought in terms of two figures and were inevitably being required to think it through. To them He was teaching parabolically. But they could always, of course, ask, and no doubt some did.

‘When he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ This was assurance that although the Son of Man must suffer and die as He has warned (Mark 8.31), yet He would rise again and would come to the throne of God in order to receive His eternal kingship (Daniel 7.13-14), a kingship which would then be revealed in His coming in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.

‘With the holy angels.’ If this refers to the coming of the Son of Man to the throne of God then the idea here is of the ministering heavenly beings who surround the throne (Daniel 7.10). If it refers to His coming to earth it stresses that His coming is with heavenly intentions and with kingly glory, for the angels would not come to rule on earth, but would come as His escorts and attendants. (Compare 13.27; Matthew 13.39, 41, 49; 16.27; 25.31; 2 Thessalonians 1.7). This description of His coming with the angels is not as common as we might at first think, for it should be noted that elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus never speaks of Himself as coming to earth in glory ‘with His angels’ apart from in Matthew 25.21, where we read, ‘when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him’. He is always otherwise spoken of in the Gospels as coming and ‘sending the angels forth’. On the other hand in Zechariah 14.5 we do read in an eschatological context, ‘Then the Lord your God will come, and all the holy ones with Him’, which is backed up by such apocalyptic ideas as we find evidence of in Jude, and by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1.7-9. And we can see why Jesus should add ‘angels’ to ‘holy ones’ so as to prevent any confusion with the people of God who are also often called ‘holy ones’ (saints) in the Old Testament. In the light of this the natural interpretation of 8.38 therefore is that it refers to the second coming.

So this passage, which began with a statement of His Messiahship, has progressed through the idea of suffering and ends with a depiction of His triumphant glorious appearing as One Who is the Son of the Father, Who will ‘come in glory’, first to the throne of God in the presence of the holy angels, and then to earth escorted by holy angels as in Matthew 25.21. It is then that His Messiahship will be fully revealed. Tragedy will be followed by triumph.

One further point must be made here. It is often pointed out that if this is a reference to the second coming it is the first clear reference to be found in Mark’s Gospel, and that is undoubtedly true. But equally strange would it be if Mark made little reference to the second coming at all. For Mark did not write in a vacuum. He was fully aware of the tradition that was common in all the churches, and would therefore write in the light of it. It would, however, be left to Matthew and Luke to provide fuller details, and Luke especially makes clear that the idea of Jesus’ second coming was proclaimed throughout His ministry (e.g. Luke 12.35-48).

Jesus is Transfigured Before Peter, James and John and Reveals His Glory (9.1-8).

Having revealed to His disciples His coming glory, based on His coming suffering, Jesus will now completely open half-opened blind eyes so that they may see fully. It is one thing to be told of the glory that is coming, it is another to see it with one’s own eyes. In a sense what happens now is a preview of Jesus’ second coming.

There also seems little doubt that Jesus intended the scene now described to be looked on as to some extent paralleling Moses’ entry into the Mount to meet God in Exodus. There Moses went into the mountain after six days where He met with God, accompanied by his servant Joshua, and beheld in a cloud the glory of God, observed also by the favoured group of seventy who had gathered in the Mount and eaten before God (Exodus 24.1-2, 9-11, 13-18). But the thought is not so much of a new Moses as of a new ‘divine event’.

Here the three disciples are taken up into the Mount, but what they see there is Moses with Elijah, who behold the glory of Jesus. The inference is clear. Jesus is on the divine side of reality, and is fulfilling the Law and the prophets. The disciples would not understand this at the time, but later John would write, ‘And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Son of a Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14), while Peter would declare, ‘We were eyewitnesses of His majesty’ (2 Peter 1.16).

Analysis of 9.1-10.

  • a And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some here of those who stand by, who will in no way taste of death, until they see the Kingly Rule of God has come with power” (1).
  • b And after six days Jesus takes with Him Peter, and James, and John, and brings them up into a high mountain apart by themselves (2a).
  • c And He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became glistering, exceedingly white, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them (2b-3).
  • d And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus (4).
  • e And Peter answers and says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here” (5a).
  • d “And let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah”, for he did not know what to answer, for they became grievously afraid (5b-6).
  • c And there came a cloud overshadowing them, and there came a voice out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, hear you Him” (7).
  • b And suddenly looking round about, they saw no one any more, except Jesus only with themselves (8).
  • a And as they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, until the Son of man should have risen again from the dead, and they kept the saying, questioning among themselves what the rising again from the dead should mean (9-10).

Note that in ‘a’ some would not taste of death until they saw the Kingly Rule of God come with power, and in the parallel the three were not to tell anyone of what they had seen until the Son of Man was risen from the dead. In ‘b’ the three went into the mountain with Jesus, and in the parallel they look round and see Jesus only with themselves. In ‘c’ the transfigured Jesus is described in all His glory, and in the parallel the voice declares Him to be the Father’s beloved Son Who is to be listened to. In ‘d’ Elijah and Moses were talking with Jesus, and in the parallel Peter suggests making booths for all three so that they might live in them. Centrally in ‘e’ Peter declares that it was good for them to be there.

9.1 ‘And he said to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some here of those who stand by who will in no way taste of death until they see the Kingly Rule of God has come with power.” ’

The introductory ‘and He said to them’ separates this saying off from the earlier ones, and the presence of Scribes (9.14, 30) suggests that they were now back in Galilee. The words were probably spoken only to His disciples. They have caused a great deal of discussion, especially in view of the parallel verse in Matthew. The basic question is, what did Jesus mean when He spoke of ‘the Kingly Rule of God’ being seen as having come with power’? In Matthew it reads, ‘until they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingly Rule’ (16.28). Luke reads, ‘until they see the Kingly Rule of God’ (9.27). For He said that there were some there who would not die until they had seen it. Note especially that here the emphasis is on the coming of His Kingly Rule ‘with power’ which will occur in such a way that it will be for those who see it a past event (perfect tense), not on its future coming ‘in glory’ (8.38).

We can compare the words in Matthew 16.28 with Jesus’ words at His trial. In Matthew 26.64, in reply to the question as to whether He was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus said to Chief Priests, Scribes and Elders who were present,, ‘From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power (i.e. God) and coming on the clouds of Heaven’ (compare Mark 14.62). This must be interpreted in its context. It is clearly intended to have significance for His hearers, and to be understood by them in the light of their question, and of their own state of knowledge, and in their case their minds would immediately turn to Psalm 110.1 (quoted in Matthew 22.44), ‘You sit at my right hand’ and Daniel 7.12-13 ‘there came with the clouds of heaven one like a son of man’. ‘The right hand of power’ is a synonym for ‘the right hand of God’, ‘power’ being used, as was customary with the Jews, to avoid the use of the word ‘God’, which they sought to avoid. Here therefore Jesus speaks of His receiving Kingly Rule and their witnessing it (in its effects) as something shortly to happen (‘from now on, from the present time’).

Neither of these references would suggest to his listeners a leaving of and return to earth. Both would be seen as signifying that His claim was that He would be crowned as God’s chosen king, the latter after coming to the throne of God in Heaven, presumably in some kind of mystical experience. The ‘sitting at the right hand of God’ indicated His coronation and subsequent reign, and the ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’ represented a coming to the throne of God to receive everlasting dominion (Daniel 7.13-14). And Jesus told them that it was something that they would ‘see from the present time’, not necessarily literally with their eyes, but by seeing it manifested on earth. In other words His enthronement as king would be made apparent to them in what was in some way shortly to follow. Clearly then He spoke of His enthronement and its after effects as an event about to happen and to be evidenced on earth. Thus we must see Matthew 16.28, which uses similar language, in that light as well.

So ‘see the Son of Man coming in His Kingly Rule’ can be seen as connected with the idea of His enthronement at the right hand of God as He came before His Father ‘in the clouds of heaven’ (signifying a heavenly connection) and we should note that in Matthew it is later specifically stated by Jesus as having occurred at His resurrection, when He says ‘all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth’ resulting in the going out of the disciples to ‘disciple all nations’ (Matthew 28.18-19) and the building up of a new people of God. This would certainly be something that would be ‘seen’ by the leading Jewish authorities (Matthew 26.64) and also by the disciples (Matthew 16.28), apart of course from Judas.

Furthermore in Acts 2.34-36 Peter uses Psalm 110.1 ‘sit on My right hand’ to indicate the enthronement of Jesus as ‘both Lord and Messiah’ and directly connects it with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2.33). As far as he was concerned, at Pentecost he ‘saw’ the Son of Man coming in His Kingly Power.

What then are we to make of the meaning of Mark 9.1 and its parallels? Firstly we should note that the emphasis is on the coming of God’s Kingly Rule (or in Matthew ‘His Kingly Rule’) in ‘power’ (dunamis) as something that will be experienced by some present while they are yet alive. There is no thought of the ‘glory’ which is elsewhere always emphasised when His final coming is baldly stated (Matthew 16.27; 19.28; 24.27, 30; Mark 8.38; 10.37; 13.26; Luke 21.27).

Secondly we should remember that Jesus has spoken of the Kingly Rule of God as ‘drawing near’ and as something available to His hearers. For in response to the question as to when the Kingly Rule of God will come, He had said:

  • That it was ‘among or within them’ (Luke 17.21).
  • That from the time of John the Baptiser ‘the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God is preached and every man presses (enters violently) into it’ (Luke 16.16; Matthew 11.12).
  • That men were even then being made ‘disciples to the Kingly Rule of heaven’ (Matthew 13.52).
  • That they must receive the Kingly Rule of God like a little child if they were to enter (Mark 10.15).
  • That the good seed in the parable prior to the end were the ‘sons of the Kingly Rule’ (Matthew 13.38).
  • And He had said, ‘if I by the Spirit of God cast out devils, then is the Kingly Rule of God come upon you” (Matthew 12.27).

Thus the Kingly Rule of God was to be seen as present at that time as well as being something which was to be experienced in the future at the end time. To Jesus, therefore, as a result of His coming, the Kingly Rule of God was an ever present reality, both in the present and in the future. Its revelation in power is not therefore necessarily the same thing as its revelation in glory.

Thirdly we should note that this word of Jesus is placed before the Transfiguration scene in each Gospel and connected with it specifically by a time reference e.g. ‘after six days’. Thus it was clearly seen as having some connection in some way with the Transfiguration.

In the light of what we have seen earlier it is probable therefore that we are to see it as fulfilled in three ways, each interconnected.

  • 1). It found partial fulfilment in the Transfiguration. There the majesty and glory of the King, hidden from the world, was revealed, supported by those two pillars of God who represented the Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah, who had proclaimed His word and whose ministry and word He was to bring to fulfilment. The Kingly Rule of God was seen on the mountain in embryo with its manifested power and glory, for the Transfiguration foreshadowed both the resurrection and exaltation of Christ to God’s right hand brought about with power (Romans 1.4; Philippians 3.10) and His second coming in glory. Some see in this a sufficient fulfilment, for it was a unique and incredible experience for those who witnessed it, and indeed for us all. But against this is the fact that His talk of some not tasting death would be odd if He was talking about something that would occur within a week. On the other hand it can be argued that most of those who were there would taste of death without seeing the transfiguration.
  • 2). It found further fulfilment when Jesus, having been raised to God’s right hand, appeared to His disciples to inform them that He had received from God ‘all authority -- in heaven and earth’ (Matthew 28.18) and was sending them out to ‘make disciples’ of the nations, with ‘signs’ (of power) following (Mark 16.15-18). Indeed He promised them that shortly they would receive ‘power (dunamis) from on High’ (Luke 24.49 compare Acts 1.8). The Kingly Rule of God would thus ‘come with power’.
  • 3). It found its complete fulfilment when the King, having risen, sat down at God’s right hand (Acts 2.34-35) and received and poured out the Holy Spirit on God’s people at Pentecost (Acts 2.33). By this He empowered them to go out throughout the known world with ‘power’ (dunamis) (Acts 1.7; 1.8; 3.12; 4.7; 4.33; 6.8), preaching the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God where He was proclaimed both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2.36), and performing ‘miracles’ (signs) before the people (Acts 4.16, 22; 6.8; 8.6). Then indeed they did see the Kingly Rule of God ‘coming in power’ (see 1 Corinthians 4.19-20), and they saw through Stephen the Son of Man, having received His dominion, coming to manifest Himself in His Kingly Rule (Acts 7.56), just as He had similarly manifested Himself to the three. And all this confirmed by the fact that within forty years there appeared to be Christians everywhere.

To the objection that the verse says that only ‘some standing here’ would see it, we can point out that if the words were spoken to a crowd of any size it was always likely that quite a number would die before the event, as Judas certainly did before 2) and 3), and as James did before it reached out to the Gentiles (Acts 12.2). Thus all that Jesus was saying was that it would be delayed long enough for some to die before it occurred, but that others would be preserved in order to see its fulfilment. Thus it would certainly be within the lifetime of others. (In the case of the Transfiguration only some did see it). And the same applies with the outreach of the Kingly Rule of God to the nations.

But the words provide a further assurance, for in His previous words Jesus had been stressing not only that He must suffer, but that His disciples must also be ready to suffer, and even to face martyrdom. Here therefore He is giving assurance that that will in no way hinder the advance of the Kingly Rule of God. They must not think that the tasting of death by some of them will prevent its onward growth.

9.2a ‘And after six days Jesus takes with him Peter, and James and John, and brings them apart into a high mountain by themselves.’

‘After six days.’ Matthew follows Mark in this, and Luke has ‘about eight days after’ (his source probably included the day when Jesus spoke 9.1 and the day of the Transfiguration itself, not just the six days in between). Thus all connect the Transfiguration with the previous verse (9.1 and parallels) by a time note. Such a time reference is rare in the Synoptics and Luke’s variation stresses that it was not just something retained in the tradition but was significant. So all wish to make the connection clear.

In the case of Matthew and Mark the six days may be seen as reflecting the six days that Moses waited before on the seventh day he went up to meet God in the cloud (Exodus 24.16), but if so Luke has blurred the point. But Peter (Mark’s source) and Matthew might have remembered how Jesus had emphasised the need to wait for six days for this very reason.

‘Peter, and James and John.’ These were the inner three and seemingly the recognised leadership and were privileged to be present at outstanding events. They were also witnesses to the raising from the dead of Jairus’ daughter (5.37) and to Jesus’ agonies in Gethsemane (14.33). The omission of the article before John demonstrates that he and his brother were seen very much as a pair, compare for this their joint name ‘sons of thunder’ (3.17).

‘Brings them apart into a high mountain by themselves.’ The mention of taking them with Him and going into a high mountain may have been in order to make a comparison with Moses, who took Joshua and went up into the mountain to meet with God where the glory of God was to be revealed (Exodus 24.13-18), after which the face of Moses shone with an unearthly glow (Exodus 34.29-35). But here is a greater than Moses, for it was Jesus Whose glory was revealed. Matthew does stress that His face shone like the sun (Matthew 17.2 compare Luke 9.29) but in this case it was with His own glory, not with a reflected glory. Elijah too was associated with a special revelation of God in the mount of God (1 Kings 19.8-12). Thus Jesus may be seen here as declaring that He was the new Moses, and the new Elijah, and as superseding and more glorious than them both (verses 4 and 8). Compare how He supersedes and is more glorious than Jonah and Solomon who were both witnesses to the nations (Matthew 12.41-42).

The identity of the mountain is uncertain. The presence of Scribes when they came down (9.14, 30) may suggest that they were now in Galilee which would emphasise the separation of 9.1 and this incident from what went before.

9.2b-3 ‘And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became glistering, extremely white, in such a way that no launderer on earth can whiten them.’

A remarkable transformation of Jesus is described in terms which show that it was really indescribable. It was a vision of the glory of heaven and of absolute purity. They ‘beheld His glory’ (John 1.14) and were ‘eyewitnesses of His majesty’ (2 Peter 1.16). We are probably intended to see in this a preview of ‘the glory of His Father’ which would be revealed at His coming (8.38)?

‘Transfigured.’ The word indicates transformation (Romans 12.2; 2 Corinthians 3.18), a change in form. The description following is thus an attempt to portray the unportrayable, a revelation of heavenly glory and purity. Words had to be found to portray something that was totally unearthly. (Luke avoids the word, possibly because among the Gentiles, without a background of Jewish apocalyptic literature, it had associations with pagan mythology and magic). The point here is that the earthly Jesus was revealed in His usually hidden heavenly glory which transformed His mortal body.

‘Glistering.’ That is, shining and radiant. The word is used in LXX of the glittering of metals, especially as connected with supernatural events (Ezekiel 40.3; Daniel 10.6; also Ezekiel 21.10, 15, 28;). The idea here may be of the glory of the heavens. Matthew and Luke expand on it. Matthew adds ‘His face did shine as the sun’ (17.2 compare Revelation 1.16; 10.1 also see Matthew 28.3; Daniel 10.6 where the picture is of lightning) while Luke says ‘the fashion of His countenance was altered’ (9.29). The clear idea is of One Who was of heaven and not of earth.

‘Extremely white.’ Exceedingly white, whiter than white, a white beyond imagination. It was a vision of total righteousness and purity (compare Daniel 7.9 of the Ancient of Days). We are reminded by it of Him Who sits in eternity, Whose name is Holy (Isaiah 57.15). And those who are purified by God will become so glistening white (Psalm 51.7; Isaiah 1.18), and in the end will be made like Him (1 John 3.1-2). White clothes are regularly the indication of a heavenly visitant (16.5; Matthew 28.3; John 20.12; Acts 1.10; Daniel 7.9; compare Revelation 4.4; 15.6).

So Jesus is portrayed as the glorious Son of Man (8.38), and later as the even more glorious ‘only beloved Son of God’ (see verse 7).

9.4 ‘And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.’

The disciples may have remembered how Elijah and Moses had both previously gone up into a mountain to talk with God at special times when they were in God’s service on earth. Now it was Jesus Who had gone up into the mountain and here were Elijah and Moses also come to the mountain to speak with Him. Those who represented the Prophets and the Law, the sources of the word of God of the Old Testament, were acknowledging Jesus before chosen witnesses. This was the point Mark was seeking to get over to his readers. (Luke 9.31 tells us that they appeared in glory and spoke of His ‘exodus’ which He would accomplish at Jerusalem and in view of the presence of Moses we are justified in seeing in that term the deliverance of His people through suffering and death. But that was not Mark’s emphasis here).

Mark alone gives Elijah precedence (although the names are switched in the next verse). This may well have been because Elijah was the figure whose coming was constantly expected in 1st century Judaism (see 9.11; John 1.21). And now he had come and had brought Moses with him, as two witnesses to the glory of Jesus. Here was evidence indeed of His Messiahship. But there may also be in mind here that Elijah and Moses were seen as figures who had never died. Elijah had been taken up into Heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2.11), and Moses had been ‘buried by God’ (Deuteronomy 34.6), and tradition had it that the angels had taken him up to God. Thus these two came directly from the presence of God to witness to Jesus, adding their twofold testimony to the angels elsewhere.

How did they know that it was Elijah and Moses? The answer may be that it was as a result of a spiritual awareness brought about by their appearance (Elijah may well have been dressed in his distinctive garb) and also surely from the conversation that they overheard. But just as God could bring up Samuel (1 Samuel 28.12-20), so He could bring up Moses and Elijah in recognisable form. It tells us nothing about the afterlife or the post-resurrection body. The resurrection had not yet taken place. The impact of this appearance no doubt influenced John in his depiction of the two witnesses in Revelation 11, spoken of in terms reminiscent of Moses and Elijah. Both had also been willing to offer up their lives for the people of God (Exodus 32.32; 1 Kings 19.2, 10, 14). Who better then to discuss Jesus’ ‘exodus’ (Luke 9.31).

The coming of Elijah had been prophesied by Malachi 4.5, and this expectation was very much alive in the hearts of the people of Israel (6.15; 8.11; 9.11), being continually present in their tradition. Even today at their Passover feasts they leave an empty seat for Elijah. It is quite possible that the disciples, having not fully grasped Jesus’ teaching that John the Baptiser was the coming Elijah, thought that this was Elijah now come, and what was more bringing with him Moses, and that Jesus had come up to welcome them.

9.5-6 ‘And Peter answers and says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here (or ‘it is good that we are here’). And let us make three booths, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to answer for they were filled with a dread sense of awe (were dreadfully afraid).’

If anything confirms the genuineness of the account it is this. As always Peter could not keep quiet. James and John could watch in silent awe, but not Peter. And when he did speak it was with the vain babbling of a man overcome by an ‘out of this world’ experience. But he clearly did not see it as ‘out of this world’ or as a ‘vision’ because otherwise he would not have spoken of erecting three booths for them (out of branches and leaves). To him at least they were real live persons. How he must have cringed when he thought of what he had said later, and how typical of him that he did not attempt to hide the truth. No one would later have invented this of Peter (Mark excuses him with ‘he did not know how to respond to the situation’). And interestingly he called Jesus ‘Rabbi’ (‘my revered teacher’), the tender word by which he knew Him, another touch of authenticity. In the circumstances it was incongruous. Only Peter’s familiarity with Jesus could have produced it. He called Him that because he always called Him that. An inventor in such circumstances would have introduced ‘Lord’ or ‘Son of Man’. But there may well also be an indication here that Peter saw here three of the great teachers of Israel.

It may also be that there was relief in his words. His spirit had rebelled against the idea of the Master suffering, and it must have come home to him that now perhaps it would not be after all. With Moses and Elijah here things would be very different. Even the Scribes would see that. (How often we struggle within ourselves against what God has willed).

The idea behind the building of the booths would appear to be in order to keep Jesus’ two companions on earth for a while. He may have thought in terms of them being able to spend time with them, providing a foretaste of heaven, or even of what a testimony this would present to the Pharisees. And what a source of teaching for the world - Jesus, Moses and Elijah! It would be natural for him to think that now that Elijah had finally come, and had come with Moses, men would surely flock and believe.

(But they had not so flocked and believed when they were on earth. Nor on the whole did men permanently flock and believe under John the Baptiser and Jesus. Peter did not know men’s hearts as Jesus did. How like us he was. What we would give to have Moses and Elijah present with us, preaching in our churches. But we have God with us. What want we more? When men like them do come they will be treated summarily - Revelation 11).

‘And they were filled with a dread sense of awe and fear.’ We are so used to the Transfiguration scene that it may no longer fill us with awe. But if we pause for a moment and think about it perhaps the awe will overtake us. They had come up unsuspectingly into the mountain with Jesus and suddenly this immense change had taken place in Him, something brighter and more glorious than the sun in its splendour, together with a sense of extreme whiteness, of awful holiness and purity. And then two of the greatest men ever known, as far as the Jew was concerned, had appeared there with them talking with the glorified Jesus. No wonder it was all too much and turned Peter into a babbler. John would later say, ‘and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only son of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14). But that was after later reflection.

We should note how often Mark speaks of Jesus followers being ‘afraid’ or ‘awestruck’. They were afraid when they realised how He had stilled the storm at a word (4.41). They were afraid when they saw Him walking on the water (6.50). They were afraid when they saw His glory here. They were afraid when He spoke to them of His coming suffering, death and resurrection (9.32). They would be afraid at the way that Jesus seemed to be pressing on towards Jerusalem (10.32). And the women would be afraid when they learned of His resurrection (16.8). All these were experiences which took them away from the ordinary, and from what they could understand. Their fear was a sign of how human and inadequate they were. But it was also a sign of their appreciation of what they saw or heard. They recognised that they were in the presence of the divine, and they were afraid and filled with awe.

9.7-8 ‘And there came a cloud overshadowing them, and there came a voice from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”

The appearance of Moses and Elijah was followed by an overshadowing cloud which was testimony to the fact that God too had come to join the company (Exodus 19.9). It was once more a reminder of Moses in the mount of God (Exodus 24.18), but this time overshadowed Jesus, Moses and Elijah. This was their ‘booth’. They needed no other. And from the cloud came a voice to the disciples (compare Exodus 24.16; Psalm 99.7). And it made crystal clear to the three disciples the uniqueness of Jesus. For God testified to the fact that He was His ‘own beloved Son’, and that He was the One Who must above all be listened to. He was greater than Moses, He was greater than Elijah. In Him came the full truth about God. All other messengers had been superseded.

The idea that Jesus was the Father’s beloved Son had been emphasised after His baptism (1.11). It was apparent to the demon world (3.11; 5.7). It is brought home to them here. It will be revealed in veiled form in the parable of the wicked tenants (12.6). And Rome acknowledges it at the cross (15.39). It runs like a golden cord through the narrative. This is God’s beloved Son.

‘A cloud overshadowing them.’ By the cloud God reveals His presence, yet veils it, and a cloud is regularly connected with the glory of God being revealed. (Exodus 19.9; 13.21-22; 14.19, 24; 24.15-16; 33.9-10; 40.34-38; 1 Kings 8.10-11; Ezekiel 10.3-4). Here it is the glory of Jesus that is revealed and then veiled by the cloud. The implication of His divinity is unmistakable.

‘My beloved Son.’ See 1.11. It would be some time before the full significance of this would dawn on the disciples, but from now on they had to recognise that He was like no other. He was truly the Messiah, but not only the Messiah, He had a unique relationship with the Father. ‘Beloved’ reflects the fact that Jesus was not adopted by God like the kings of Israel but was unique. It practically reflects the same idea as the ‘only begotten’ - it is used in LXX to indicate Abraham’s ‘only son’ and Jephthah’s ‘only daughter’ - but was especially suitable as distinguishing Jesus from the earlier Davidic kings, as the One Whom God essentially and uniquely loved, His only beloved Son, Whose relationship with God was like no other (compare 12.6).

‘Listen to Him.’ Listen is a strong expression and means take notice and obey, for He is the ‘Prophet like Moses’ who was to come. It echoes Deuteronomy 18.15. (See Deuteronomy 18.15 with 18.18-19). Moses and Elijah are not now required for He is the One Who is greater than all, and if men will not hear Him they will hear no one. The idea of the Prophet like to Moses was linked in 1st century Judaism with Messianic expectations.

9.8 ‘And suddenly looking round about they saw no one any more except Jesus only with themselves.’

Then suddenly the cloud lifted and it was all over. All was back to normal. There were just themselves with Jesus only. And they now knew that with Jesus here Moses and Elijah were superfluous. But they had been there in order to testify to Jesus as heavenly witnesses, and that was important. The three would never see Jesus in quite the same way again.

Yet it is a testimony to the self-seeking of the human heart that one result of this experience would be for James and John to seek the highest place for themselves in their expectation of the coming kingdom (10.35-37). We can see their thinking. Now that Elijah and Moses had come and gone it was between them and Peter, and they wanted the place that Moses and Elijah had enjoyed for themselves. That was the lesson that they had learned from the transfiguration. They had still not grasped the idea that they were called to be servants and to serve. It would take the cross for them to realise that.

‘Except Jesus only.’ In Him they now knew they had everything for He was now unmistakably revealed as the glorious Messiah and the unique Son of God.

9.9 ‘And as they were coming down from the mountain he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, except when the Son of Man should have risen again from the dead.’

Jesus now reminds them as they are coming down from the mountain of His coming death and resurrection and He charges them to tell no one what they have seen until after His resurrection from the dead has taken place. This should have brought home to them even more vividly that His death and resurrection were shortly to happen, and He will even back it up by re-emphasising it again in verse 12. And we might think that if He could speak of His death and resurrection in such circumstances surely they would accept it and understand. But the fact is that there is no one so blind as a person who thinks that he understands and is satisfied with his own ideas, and the truth was that each of them was looking forward to his part in a physical kingdom on earth, and thinking those terms, and were prepared in the light of it to glide over the method by which it would be obtained. If Jesus was to die for the cause and then be brought back to life by God then so be it. But it was the kingdom that was important. They had dreams of glory, but it was mainly of glory for themselves. Thus they were unable to think prosaically. They just did not have an inkling that Jesus was talking about a simple arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection for the sins of the world. Their minds were filled with ‘kingdom’ ideas.

But this demonstrated how totally unable they were to get onto God’s wavelength. Indeed they must have wrestled in their own minds with how this new teaching about some form of ‘death and resurrection’ fitted in with what they had seen in the mountain and into their ideas. Did it mean that He was going to have an experience even more vivid and form-changing than the one that they had just seen, emerging from it with even more spectacular powers with which to defeat the Romans and establish Jerusalem as the centre of things? No wonder that they thought that they must secure their own positions early on. For if it was so it was clear from this that He would soon be establishing His kingdom with power, as He had just stated. And they wanted to make sure that they did not miss out. And the way to do this was to book their seats beforehand. Perhaps, indeed, they thought that that was why Jesus had let them see and hear what they had. Perhaps this was their commissioning for glory. But the last thing that they even considered was the truth, and that the reason why they had been given this experience was in order to strengthen an infant community of God’s new people after the shock of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. (It is salutary to think that one of these three witnesses would be obliterated by Satan (Acts 12.2), who would also make an attempt on a second (Acts 12.3-17). Only John would then have been left, and he would have been next).

‘He charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen.’ They themselves were confused and it was therefore wise that they said nothing until they understood it better. All kinds of wrong ideas might have been dreamed up, both by them and by others, if what had happened came out without the resurrection putting it in perspective.

‘Except when the Son of Man should have risen again from the dead.’ In this they again learned of His coming death and resurrection, although we learn here that they were still puzzled as to its meaning. They knew, of course, of the general resurrection taught by the Pharisees but this was clearly something different, an individual resurrection. But what did it mean? Perhaps they looked back to how Jesus had taken them in with Him to see the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and thought that He was indicating that the same was to happen to Him. They should have caught on, and of course later did, that the resurrection of the Son of Man was necessary in order for Him to come to the throne of the Father to receive everlasting dominion as in Daniel 7, (as Peter declares in Acts 2) and so that the Servant could share His spoils with the strong (Isaiah 53.10-12), and so that Israel might be revived (Hosea 12.1-2) through the death and coming alive again of the Servant (Isaiah 53).

9.10 ‘And they kept the saying, questioning among themselves what the rising again from the dead should mean.’

So they kept what they had seen to themselves, and when alone discussed what exactly Jesus had meant when He spoke of rising again from the dead, and what it could possibly mean. But they no doubt thought that hopefully it was a long time ahead.

Resulting Comments - What Of The Return of Elijah? (9.9-13).

What they had seen had stirred their thinking and they now asked Jesus on the way down from the mountain about the anticipated coming of Elijah. That is what they had been taught from childhood on the authority of the Scribes. Why then had Elijah not come?


  • a And they asked Him, saying, “How is it that the Scribes say that Elijah must first come?” (11)
  • b And He said to them, “Elijah indeed does come first, and restores all things” (12a).
  • c “And how is it written of the Son of man, ‘That He should suffer many things and be set at nought?’ ” (12b).
  • b But I say to you, that Elijah is come (13a).
  • a And they have also done to him whatever they would, even as it is written of him (13b).

Note that in ‘a’ the Scribes (from the Scriptures - Malachi 4.5) say that Elijah must first come, and in the parallel they have treated him badly, also as the Scriptures have said. In ‘b Jesus confirms that Elijah would indeed come first, and in the parallel confirms that he has already come (in the person of John the Baptiser). Centrally in ‘c’ He refers to what the Scriptures have said about the Son of Man, and how He too is to be ill-treated and set at nought.

9.11 ‘And they asked him saying, “The scribes say that Elijah must first come?”

The question may suggest that they were disappointed by the fact that Elijah had come and yet had not remained and revealed himself to the world. It was commonly taught that his coming must precede that of the Messiah. Why then had he not stayed? Or were the scribes wrong?

9.12-13 ‘And he said to them, ‘Elijah it is true comes first, and restores all things, and how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be set at nought (‘treated with contempt’)? But I say to you that Elijah is come, and they have also done to him whatever they willed, even as it is written of him.” ’

Jesus confirmed that Elijah was in fact to come first ‘to restore all things’ (Malachi 3.5-6). In that the scribes were right. But then He explains what ‘restore all things’, which was probably a stereotyped saying about the coming of Elijah, meant. If, He asked, ‘restore all things’ meant all being put right, how could it be written of the Son of Man who was to follow Elijah that He should suffer and be treated with contempt, and be set at naught? A suffering Messiah must surely be introduced by a suffering Elijah. Thus ‘restore all things’ could not mean total restoration. It had to mean that Elijah’s work was the beginning of the restoration.

This reference to suffering has in mind Isaiah 50.6-7 and 53 (where verse 3 contains the same verb for ‘treated with contempt’ in some Greek versions). That was where God’s suffering Servant is described. And also possibly in mind was Psalm 22 which spoke of the sufferings of the Davidic king prior to the manifestation to the poor of God’s Kingly Rule (Psalm 22.26-28). Added to that it was necessary to take into account ‘the anointed one’ (Messiah) who was to be cut off and would have nothing, as prophesied by Daniel 9.26.

So what did ‘restore all things’ promise? The answer is clearly that he was to lay a firm and solid foundation for the establishing of the Kingly Rule of God. He was to bring Israel to a point where the King could come, turning the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, turning the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the righteous and to make ready for the Lord a prepared people (Malachi 4.6; Luke 1.17). And that John had accomplished.

‘But I say to you that Elijah is come, and they have also done to him whatever they willed, even as it is written of him.’ Jesus then confirmed that Elijah had in fact come, in the person of John the Baptiser. And they had done to him what they wanted, just as it is written that the Elijah of old was treated (1 Kings 19.2, 10). Scripture was being repeated. It had already revealed how an Elijah who came was treated. And here it was again.

There was, of course, a restoring under John the Baptiser, but it was the restoring of those in Israel who were open to faith, as with the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19.18) and not of the whole of Israel (see Romans 11). It was the restoring of those reserved within the purposes of God

The reference to fulfilled Scripture is interesting. It sees the lives of Elijah and John the Baptiser as combined in one. The Scripture referring to one is here seen as also fulfilled in the other, for John is the Elijah who was to come. That is he was engaging in Elijah’s continuing ministry and fulfilling his function. Elijah had stood up against a king and his notoriously sinful wife in spite of the danger to his life, and so now had John. Both had been persecuted by kings. Both had been concerned for righteousness. Both had been in danger of their lives. And it is saying that Elijah continued to be treated in the same way now that he had ‘come again’ in John the Baptiser. And in John’s case they had not only sought his life, they had taken it.

Note. Jesus was quite clear that John the Baptiser was the fulfilment of the prophecies about Elijah. He had already said this to the crowds at the time that John the Baptiser had sent messages to Him seeking confirmation of Who He really was (Matthew 11.2-15). John had originally had no doubts of Who Jesus was, but he was clearly perplexed that he should be in prison in such dreadful conditions if the Messiah had come. He still received news, and heard about His powerful ministry. But where was the promised deliverance? It reminds us that John himself did not fully understand what God’s future purposes were, and that he, like his ‘namesake’ Elijah, could temporarily lose faith and begin to doubt (1 Kings 19.4). In both cases a word from God was all that was needed to put them right.

Jesus had told the crowds who John the Baptiser really was. He was equal to the greatest of all prophets, including Elijah, prior to the coming of the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 11.11). He was the final great pre-Kingly Rule prophet (11.13). Indeed ‘if you are willing to receive it this is Elijah who is to come’, and then He declared that those with truly spiritual ears would recognise that this was so (11.14-15). In all ages there are those who are unwilling to receive it, but Jesus’ statements were unequivocal. Elijah had again essentially come. No further fulfilment was required. His preparatory work had been accomplished in fulfilment of Scripture. While the ‘two witnesses’ at the end of time will be similar in power to Elijah neither is called Elijah for they were under the Kingly Rule of God, and Elijah’s purpose had been completed when that Kingly Rule first became established in the ministry of Jesus.

(End of note).

The Casting Out of the Deaf And Dumb Spirit (9.14-29).

This incident provides a fitting climax to this section of the Gospel. It is the final example of Jesus acting to cast out evil spirits. That was a work in which He was involved from the beginning (1.23-27) and had become a permanent aspect of His ministry (1.32, 34; 3.11, 22-30; 5.1-20) and of the ministry of His disciples (6.7). Now at the end of His Galilean ministry He faces a final challenge. In the chiasmus of the section from 4.35 to 9.33a it parallels the healing of the Gadarene demoniac, and this is very fitting for both cases presented peculiar characteristics. Both represented unusually difficult cases. It is doubtful if the disciples would have been able to cope with the Gadarene demoniac, and they were certainly unable to cope with the unclean spirit here. The Gadarene demons tried to prevent Jesus’ success by weight of numbers, the unclean spirit here did it by being deaf and dumb so that it could not be ‘attacked’, and had thus prevented the disciples from being successful. The Gadarene demons destroyed their host swine in water, the unclean spirit here had constantly tried to destroy its host in the same way, although up to this point had failed (9.22). Thus we must not underestimate the authority that Jesus reveals here. But it was an indicator that no demon, however astute, could resist His awesome power. It was a fitting finale to His revelation as the Messiah and His transfiguration on the mountain.

The passage also brings out the limitations of the disciples. They had been given authority over unclean spirits (6.7) but here they had come across a case in which they had failed miserably. They could not cope with the subtlety of this unclean spirit. Their failure was, however, a salutary lesson, for as the later evidence reveals, they were beginning to feel a little superior to others. Considering what was happening in their lives it was not surprising. Their being sent out to preach in order to pass on the teaching of Jesus, the ability bestowed on them by Jesus to heal and cast out evil spirits, and the respect that would be paid to them by the masses who came to hear Jesus would be enough to cause many a person to feel inordinately proud. It was something that had to be tempered by careful warnings. And there is no better warning than the kind of failure that they suffered here.

On descending from the mountain Jesus and his three disciples found that a man had brought along his son who was possessed by a dumb spirit, and that none of the disciples had been able to cast it out. It was clearly a more powerful spirit than they had previously dealt with. Indeed we note how Jesus had to bid it not to return (verse 25). But Jesus cast it out permanently and demonstrated once again His unique power and authority. The account is very vivid and suggests an eyewitness to the final stages of the ministry, which we need have no doubt was Peter.

Analysis of 9.14-29.

  • a And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd about them, and Scribes questioning with them (14).
  • b And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Him, were greatly amazed, and running to Him saluted Him, and He asked them, “What do you question with them?” (15-16).
  • c And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought to You my son, who has a dumb spirit” (17).
  • d And wherever it takes him, it dashes him down, and he foams, and grinds his teeth, and pines away, and I spoke to Your disciples that they should cast it out, and they could not” (18).
  • e And He answers them and says, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me” (19)..
  • f And they brought him to Him, and when he saw Him, immediately the spirit tore him grievously, and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming (20).
  • e And He asked his father, “How long time is it since this has come to him?” And he said, “From a child” (21).
  • d “And often it has cast him both into the fire and into the waters, to destroy him, but if You can do anything, have compassion on us, and help us” (22).
  • c And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes”. Immediately the father of the child cried out, and said, “I believe, you help my unbelief” (23-24).
  • b And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to him, “You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and enter no more into him”, and having cried out, and torn him much, he came out, and the boy became as one dead, insomuch that the majority said, “He is dead”. But Jesus took him by the hand, and raised him up, and he arose (25-27).
  • a And when He was come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “How is it that we could not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing, except by prayer” (28-29).

    Note that in ‘a’ the disciples were being questioned because of their failure, and in the parallel they question Jesus because of His success. In ‘b’ the crowd run together and welcome Him, and are amazed, and in the parallel the crowd run together and see Him heal the boy, and we are left to imagine that they are amazed, as they surely must have been. In ‘c’ the father tells Jesus that he had brought his son to Him, and in the parallel Jesus puts the responsibility back on him. In ‘d’ the man describes what happens when a seizure takes hold of his son and says that he has appealed to His disciples for help, and he describes what happens from a different angle and appeals to Jesus for help. In ‘e’ Jesus asks Himself how long He must put up with a faithless generation, and in the parallel He asks how long the son has been ill. Centrally in ‘f’ the son is brought to Jesus and the spirit reacts to His presence and gives the young man spasms, causing him to fall down and wallow, foaming

    9.14 ‘And when they came to the disciples they saw a great crowd about them, and scribes questioning with them.’

    The fact that scribes were there suggests that this took place somewhere in Northern Galilee, from where they would ‘pass through Galilee’ (verse 30) to Capernaum. The Scribes would have limited authority outside Galilee. It is not impossible, however, that they had travelled further North although less likely. From this point of view we can ignore the time references. ‘And He said’ in 9.1 has divided this episode from what happened at Caesarea Philippi, so that we have no time reference as to when that was. The time reference in verse 2 simply links back to verse 1. But even were we to relate the incidents the six days mentioned would have given them time to get back to Galilee. We thus do not know on which ‘high mountain’ this took place. The lack of article may suggest that there only two or three scribes present. They were probably suggesting that the disciples were using the wrong methods for exorcising spirits and taking the opportunity of drawing the crowds attention to their failure. Note that now that Jesus had returned to Galilee the crowds had gathered once more.

    ‘They came --- they saw.’ Some important manuscripts have the singular ‘He’. The latter is very possible, placing the emphasis on the presence of the Unique One. But the point is probably that the three, having been in the mountain and seen the certainty of the glory of Jesus, had now descended and together with Him saw a scene of doubt, need and despair.

    9.15 ‘And immediately all the crowd when they saw him were greatly amazed, and running to him greeted him.’

    It is quite likely that the disciples had told the crowd that Jesus had gone up into the mountain and would be there for some time, as had Moses when he went into a mountain to meet with God. So the idea had probably become quite settled in their minds that they would not see Jesus for quite a while, and they were no doubt disappointed by the fact, especially as the failure of the disciples accentuated it. Thus they were quite taken by surprise at seeing Jesus approaching and were ‘amazed’ that He had arrived at such an opportune time, and ran to meet Him. They clearly had confidence that He would be able to do something.

    The idea that there was a glow on the face of Jesus, other than the glow that was always there, is not likely, for there is no mention of it and the case is quite different from that of Moses. In the mount Jesus’ glory had been His own glory which He usually veiled in His human body, not a reflection of a glory that He had beheld. Had there been any truth in the idea it would surely have been mentioned by at least one of the writers. And it would have been contrary to His policy of veiledness.

    9.16 ‘And he asked them, “What did you question with them?’

    From verse 14 we would see this as meaning that He asked the Scribes who had come with the crowd what they had been challenging His disciples about. However the fact that one of the crowd answers might suggest a question directed at the crowds with the Scribes seen as part of them, and the crowd seen as part of the questioning of the disciples through their leaders.

    9.17-18 ‘And one of the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought to you my son, who has a dumb spirit, and wherever it takes him it dashes him down and he groans and grinds his teeth and is thoroughly exhausted, and I spoke to your disciples that they should cast it out, and they could not.”

    A voice in the crowd answered Him. The voice was that of a father who had brought his possessed son seeking Jesus, and on not finding Him had probably been assured by the disciples that they could cast the spirit out. This is a sign of authenticity. No one would later invent the story of the failure of the disciples, especially after their previous success (6.13; compare Luke 10.17).

    ‘A dumb spirit.’ Probably one that hid its presence by not speaking. It may also have made the boy dumb, but there is no indication of the fact. The actual description is somewhat similar to epilepsy but there is no question that had it been simply epilepsy or else the disciples would have been able to heal him. They had no doubt healed many epileptics. But here they were dealing with more than epilepsy, something that was beyond them, and in fact the details do suggest experiences deeper than epilepsy.

    ‘Is thoroughly exhausted.’ The usual meaning of the word is ‘withered’ or ‘dried up’ (3.1; 4.6; 5.29; 11.20). The unclean spirit was draining him of his very life.

    9.19 ‘And he answers them, “Oh unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you, how long shall I put up with you. Bring him to me.” ’

    Jesus goes immediately to the root of the whole problem, unbelief, man’s lack in his attitude towards God. The ‘unbelieving’ here especially has in mind the disciples, and their failure to cast out the evil spirit, but only as a part of the larger whole, an unbelieving people. In His faith He stood out from them like a sore thumb. Unbelief was specifically connected with that generation because in the main it rejected Jesus present among them, but now even in the chosen few that unbelief was accentuated, because they too lacked full faith.

    Yet the disciples had expected to succeed. They had had the faith to try, and were surprised that they had not succeeded. In what then lay their lack of faith? For they had certainly still failed. Perhaps previous success had made them overconfident. They had perhaps begun to have faith in their own powers rather than in the authority of Jesus, for it was because of ‘their little faith’ (Matthew 17.20) that they failed. But Jesus does not say so. His point will rather be that this was an unusually difficult case and that the problem lay in the fact that they were not sufficiently in touch with the Father to be aware of what was involved and to react accordingly. They were still essentially beginners in the ‘discerning of spirits’.

    As we shall see the story contains a contrast of faiths. The faith of the disciples that had possibly become stale and was failing through lack of sufficient prayer and communion with God. The faith of the father whose faith was weak but persisting. The faith of the crowds was limited to a mild hope and expectation. It was the faith of Jesus which was strong and unfailing because grounded in His union and continual fellowship with the Father.

    ‘How long shall I be with you?” A hint of deity. As the heavenly One He was among them for a time, but then He would return to heaven (John 3.13). He was conscious that His time on earth as a man was short, and He was finding living in an unbelieving world very difficult.

    ‘How long shall I put up with you?’ Their unbelief wearied Him and hurt Him deeply, especially that of the disciples. It was so inexcusable. How could they not trust the Father? These few brief words reveal how much it continually cost Him to be in an unbelieving world. There is expressed here the confidence of One in Whom there was no weakness or lack of faith, and Who was finding it wearisome to bear the weakness and unbelief of others. It was not an easy path that He trod.

    ‘Bring him to me.’ But Jesus had no doubt about His own success because He knew that His total faith was in the Father. So Hew commanded that the young man be brought to Him.

    9.20 ‘And they brought him to him. And when he saw him immediately the spirit tore him grievously, and he fell on the ground and wallowed foaming.’

    They went to fetch the boy who was being kept apart, probably under guard. And as soon as he saw Jesus (Luke brings out that it was while the boy was approaching), the effect of seeing Him was to disturb the dumb spirit which immediately expressed its dismay by an acute attack on the boy. But we note that it did not cry out, for it was a ‘dumb’ spirit. Mere epilepsy alone would not have caused such an effect for naturally speaking there was nothing about Jesus which would produce an epileptic fit and the boy himself would not necessarily have known Jesus. And had it been only epilepsy Jesus would have dealt with it differently. Rather He was aware that there was a powerful spirit possessing the boy and that it was deeply disturbed. It had cause to be, for it knew that here was One Whom it could not resist or deceive.

    As the boy approached Jesus it would appear that the crowd did not at first follow, leaving it to a few of their number to take the young man to Jesus.. They may well have been afraid to come too close to the situation until they were sure Jesus had it well under control. They were aware that what was being dealt with was very powerful. Or perhaps the disciples had asked them to give Jesus some room. But it seems that they watched at a distance to see what would happen. This gave Jesus space in which to ascertain the full situation.

    9.21-22 ‘And he asked his father, “How long is it since this has come to him?” And he said, “From a child. And it has often thrown him both into fires and into waters to destroy him. But if you can do anything have compassion on us and help us.”

    Jesus asked the history of the possession. This could help Him to determine what He was dealing with. Then the father revealed his despair. He had seen his son collapse on fires and fall into water as a result of his attacks, experiences which had damaged him and put him in danger of losing his life. The father was desperate. Note the attempts of the spirit to destroy its host. It was similar to the legion of spirits who destroyed their pig hosts, although we do not know why it was.

    ‘If you can do anything.’ The father was in torment. He had come with hopes high to these famed followers of Jesus, seeing in them a last desperate chance, but they had been able to do nothing. And his hopes had faded. The question was, could Jesus do any better? If He could, let Him show pity to the man’s need and the need of his son.

    9.23 ‘And Jesus said to him, “If you can? All things are possible to him who believes.” ’.

    The probable text is ‘to ’ei dune’ making the ‘if you can’ a noun equivalent. Jesus was saying, “you have said ‘if you can’. But to him who believes (what I can do) all things are possible.’ The strength of the argument is not that if the man has sufficient faith the boy can be healed, but that if the man has sufficient faith in Jesus Himself then he can be. And it was necessary for him to have faith in Jesus. He must put aside his doubt and place full confidence in Him. For Jesus is concerned that the man should be faced up with his response, not only to God but to Jesus Himself. (The man’s reply demonstrates that he saw that it was his own faith that was in question).

    Alternately Jesus may be pointing out to the man that he need not have doubts for all things are possible to Him because He, Jesus, truly believes. There is not question of ‘if’. Let him rest on that. Certainly in the remainder of the passage the emphasis is on the faith or lack of faith of the healer. But if so the man either misunderstood Him or else reacted to the words and applied them to himself as well.

    9.24 ‘Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe. You help my unbelief.”

    The man’s response was immediate and significant. He recognised that he was dependent on Jesus. And he accepted that his own faith was weak. But he was desperate. And he was beginning to believe that Jesus could do something. His statement was a paradox and yet true in the experience of us all. He had a weak, wavering faith that was reaching out and yet was aware of how much it was lacking. He knew that it needed strength from the Master for his faith to blossom. So he put the onus on the One Who never fails to ensure that the faith of those who trust in Him is sufficient. (‘Look,’ Mark is saying, ‘here is One Who can actually ensure faith in men’).

    9.25 ‘And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to him, “You dumb and deaf spirit, I (emphatic) command you, come out of him and do not enter him any more”.’

    The man’s loud cry seemingly stimulated the crowd who had been hanging back, and they sensed that something was about to happen, so they hurried over to where the small group were talking around the boy. This made Jesus act quickly. He commanded the spirit to leave the boy and to leave him alone for ever. Note the emphatic ‘I’. It had been able to resist His disciples but it had no choice with Him.

    ‘You dumb and deaf spirit.’ The spirit was dumb and had previously refused to hear when the disciples had spoken to it in the name of Jesus. It had deliberately made itself deaf as a safeguard against being affected. But Jesus recognised it for what it was and His authority broke through its subterfuge. It could not be deaf to Him. It was no longer just facing the power of the Name, it was facing the One behind the power of the Name Who would brook no refusal.

    I command you.” The ‘I’ is emphatic. This was no mere exorcist that the spirit was pitting its wits against, it was the One Who was Lord over all. It was the Lord of glory Who had been revealed in the mountain. Its deafness was of no use against the authority and voice of the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. These others had commanded and it had not heeded them, protected by its wall of deafness. But now a voice spoke through its deafness that it had to obey.

    ‘Come out of him and enter into him no more.’ This was the first time that we know of that Jesus had to command a spirit not to return (but compare Matthew 12.45; Luke 11.26). It suggested a spirit of great power. And yet it had no alternative but to obey now that it faced the Master of the world.

    9.26 ‘And having cried out, and convulsed him greatly, it came out, and the child became as a dead person, insomuch that the great majority (or even ‘all’) said, “He is dead”.’

    The dumb spirit was so affected that it found voice. Its dumbness and deafness had been part of its defence against intrusion. Now, however, it ‘cried out’. And as it came out it made one last attempt for a kind of victory. It would kill its host. Its exit was with such great disturbance that the young man lay as if dead, so much so that a great many, if not all, said that he was dead. (We note here how Mark clearly distinguishes between death and seeming death. How much more effective to have said that the boy was dead. But both Peter and Mark were honest witnesses. The boy looked dead, but they were not sure and so they said nothing).

    9.27 ‘But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him up. And he arose.’

    Whatever the boy’s condition it did not matter, for Jesus was there. ‘He took him by the hand.’ Compare 1.31; 5.41. ‘And raised him up, and he arose.’ Compare 5.41-42. What He began He finished. And because Jesus was there the man’s weak faith in Him proved sufficient and the boy’s life began anew.

    ‘And he arose.’ Once again we have a picture of the resurrection, for it was a picture also of what could happen to the world if only they would believe. They could be delivered from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26.18).

    9.28-29 ‘And when he had come into the house his disciples asked him privately, saying, “We could not cast it out.” And he said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing, except by prayer.”

    It was always going to happen that the disciples would want to know why they had failed, and they were clearly very disappointed. They had had sufficient faith not to expect to fail. We have here a reminder of the fact that ‘faith’ means more than just believing. It involves relationship with God. . But it is emphasised here to bring out the contrast between Jesus Himself and the disciples. He, on the mountain top, in full fellowship with God and revealing the glory of God in Himself, and they below, ineffective because they were not close enough to God. The disciples were not all-powerful, but Jesus was. He alone of all miracle workers and exorcists never failed when people came to Him for help. Jesus will later promise them that they will share this wonderful union with Him and the Father through the Holy Spirit (John 14.18-20, 23; 15.7).

    “This kind can come out by nothing, except by prayer.” We need not doubt that the disciples had prayed, and it is clear that this is not to be taken simply at face value, because Jesus had not prayed, at least not openly. What Jesus meant was that in order to deal with such a powerful and deceitful spirit it was necessary to be in complete union with the Father by a life in which continual prayer was paramount. It was because they were not so in touch with the Father that their faith was too small in this particular case. But for Jesus there had been no problem. He was always in close touch with the Father.

    Jesus Arrives Back In Capernaum After Predicting What Is To Happen To Him (9.30-33a).

    We now come to the close of the section outlining Jesus’ Galilean ministry as recorded by Mark (4.35-9.33a). Having left the region round about Capernaum in 4.35, and after having had many experiences, and having done many wonderful things, and having made a number of revelations about Himself, Jesus now returns to Capernaum for the last time. He will not see it again. During this section Jesus has been putting all His efforts into proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God, and into preparing His disciples for what lies ahead, especially emphasising, as He does now for the third time, that He has come to suffer and die, and then rise again. Now, from this point on, the fulfilment of His prophecies will begin as He commences His journey to Jerusalem to die. It will be noted that the whole section began with a sense of awe (4.41) and now it ends with a sense of awe (verse 32), a fitting preparation for the final words in His Gospel where the women will also be filled with awe at the news of His resurrection. The point is that what is being described is something beyond man’s understanding.


    • a And they went out from there, and passed through Galilee, and He would not that any man should know it (30).
    • b For He taught His disciples, and said to them (31a).
    • c “The Son of man is delivered up into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and when He is killed, after three days He will rise again” (31b).
    • b But they understood not the saying, and were afraid to ask Him (32).
    • a And they came to Capernaum (33a).

    Note that in ‘a’ He passes through Galilee, and in the parallel He comes to Capernaum (for the last time). In ‘b He teaches His disciples, and in the parallel they do not understand Him. Centrally in ‘c’ we are told what they did not understand.

    The Third Prediction of His Death and Resurrection (9.30-32).

    This is basically the third prediction that Jesus makes about His coming death and resurrection, compare 8.31; 9.9, 11. From this point on He will be going forward to His death.

    9.30-31 ‘And they went out from there and passed through Galilee, and he would not that any man should know it. For he taught his disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is delivered up into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed after three days he will rise again.” ’

    Jesus seems at last to have been successful in avoiding the crowds in Galilee. He took great precautions to ensure that He could teach His disciples undisturbed, probably by using lesser known routes. He knew it was very necessary. For He was aware that events were approaching which would throw them into total confusion and leave them feeling totally bereft. Thus He was laying the foundation so that when the time came, and they had passed through the tumult and tribulation, they would understand how it all fitted into the purposes of God. There are no grounds for suggesting that the secrecy was through fear of Herod.

    “The Son of Man is delivered up into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed after three days he will rise again.” It is clear that He spent a good amount of time expanding on these words for He had many days in which to teach them. But these words sum up the essence of His message. Notice the tenses. What He described was already determined in the mind of God.

    ‘The Son of Man is delivered up into the hands of men.’ The Son of Man, God’s chosen One, is delivered up by God into men’s hands. Who can grasp the enormity of it? He Who was truly Man as God had intended man to be, and Who had the mind of God and walked in full obedience to God, He Who was the purest, kindest, most compassionate being who ever lived, is to be ‘handed over’ to the wild beasts (as in Daniel 7). What a paradox. He was shortly to come on the clouds of heaven into the presence of God, but first He must be humiliated and treated as evilly as a man can treat his fellow, and with total disdain. Man was to be allowed to have his day in which he could reveal how evil he had become. And there was no limit to the evils he would reveal. Some would not take a direct hand in it, but they would approve of what was done, or at least not protest against it. And let us make no mistake about it, had we been in their situation most of us would have been part of it. They are now about to be ‘partakers in the blood’ of One Who is more than a Prophet (compare Matthew 23.30, 32) but it was very necessary if life was to be made available (John 6.53-58 )

    Let us note what Jesus said. He was not to be delivered into the hands of Satan but into the hands of men. Satan’s evil influence would undoubtedly be behind it (John 13.2, 27), and through what was done Satan was to be totally defeated (probably to his great surprise), but it was man who was to be the prime instigator.

    ‘Delivered up.’ The verb is used of Judas’ betrayal in 3.19. Jesus would be handed over from one to another. Betrayed by Judas, handed over by the Sanhedrin, passed on to the mocking soldiers by Pilate, and by Herod Antipas, and finally handed over to Pilate to be sentenced to be crucified. They all had a hand in it. ‘Against your holy Servant Jesus, Whom You did anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together’ (Acts 4.27). But finally it was God Who would deliver Him up. Without that no one could have done anything.

    ‘And they will kill him.’ The method of His death was not yet known. This statement is a remarkable proof of the genuineness of the narrative, and the care taken to preserve the exact words of Jesus. Had it been known at the time that this was said that He would be crucified it would surely have been stated. It demonstrates that it was not an invention of a later day. What is equally remarkable is that neither Mark or Luke alter the wording, when they could have done so on translation grounds. (Matthew possibly succumbs to the temptation in Matthew 20.19, which he could in fact have justified as an interpretive translation from the Aramaic, but as by then Jesus was aware that He would be ‘delivered to the Gentiles’ He would have good grounds for recognising that He would be crucified, and may well have said so). But the fact of it was certain. He was to die as was promised to the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53.

    Jesus may well in fact originally have expected to be stoned for blasphemy. One or two attempts would certainly be made to do that (John 8.59; 10.31). It would seem that He knew that He must die, but at this stage not how that death would take place. Later He would become aware of that as well (John 12.32-33).

    ‘And when he is killed after three days he will rise again.’ Compare 8.31. Disaster will be followed by triumph. Not for one moment are we to be allowed to think that God will be defeated. His death will be followed immediately by resurrection in the short but complete period determined by God. Death would be defeated and God would triumph (Isaiah 53.12). How clearly the disciples were given preparation for what was to be, and how totally unprepared they were, simply because they did not believe Him.

    9.32 ‘But they did not understand the saying and were afraid to ask him.’

    They did not understand because they did not want to. They were afraid to ask Him because they did not want what He was saying to be confirmed. How much easier it would have been for them in the end if they had been willing to believe. But men do not easily give up their cherished ideas even if they are wrong. How often we are like them. The way of God is too hard for us, so we convince ourselves that there is another way. But often there is not.

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