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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- PSALMS 1-50--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London)
Jesus Begins His Final Journey to Jerusalem On The Road To The Cross and Spends Much Time in Teaching His Disciples And Disputing With His Enemies In Readiness For That Event, For He Is Giving His Life As A Ransom For Many (9.33b-12.44).
Having returned to Capernaum Jesus now has His face set towards Jerusalem, and in 9.33b-50 He will lay the foundation by pointing out the fact that all must look to and respond to His Name, and the dangers inherent in not doing so. Then He will advance into Judaea, and by 10.32 His journey to Jerusalem is clearly well under way. He will, of course, continue to prepare His disciples for what lies ahead, but it does not mean that He will neglect seekers. Crowds will still gather to hear Him and He will minister to them (10.1). And then once He reaches Jerusalem and enters in triumph (11.1-17) the opposition will become loud and clear as He refutes and puts to flight His opponents (11.27-12.44). But He is well aware that their rejection of Him can only mean one thing. They will determine to put Him to death (11.18).
Analysis of 9.33b-12.44. Jesus’ Ministry from Capernaum to Jerusalem.
Note that in ‘a’ it is those who are humble in His Name who are the greatest, and in the parallel the widow who gives two small coins is the greatest giver. In ‘b’ they must receive all who genuinely operate in His Name and in the parallel they are to beware of those who instead make much of themselves. In ‘c’ even to give a cup of cold water in the Name of the Messiah will be rewarded, and in the parallel the Messiah is seen to be David’s Lord. In ‘d’ those who cause little ones who believe in Him to sin will receive the greatest condemnation and enter Gehenna, while in the parallel those who truly love God and their neighbour will enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven. In ‘e’ marriage is reinstated on earth, and in the parallel it does not take place in Heaven. In ‘f’ response to God must come before wealth, and in the parallel men must give what is due to God. In ‘g’ Jesus declares that He will be rejected, arrested, sentenced and executed, but will rise again, and in the parallel the stone which the builders rejected is to be made the chief cornerstone and an attempt is made to arrest Him which fails. But their intent is clear. In ‘h’ the eyes of the disciples need to be opened to what their true responsibilities are and to Who He is, and in the parable the wicked tenants also fail to recognise their responsibilities and are blind to Who He is. In ‘i’ Jesus reveals His authority by riding into Jerusalem on an asses’ colt, and in the parallel He is questioned concerning that authority and rebuts His questioners. In ‘j’ Jesus looks round the Temple, and then at the fig tree, and recognises that both are fruitless, and in the parallel the fruitless fig tree has withered and the mountain will be cast into the sea. Centrally in ‘k’ the Lord suddenly comes to His Temple. He cleanses the Temple in order that it might be a house of prayer.
Jesus Reveals The Things That Are Pleasing and Displeasing to God (9.33b-10.45).
In this next subsection Jesus reveals the things that are pleasing and displeasing to God. Seeking greatness displeases Him (9.33-35; 10.35-45), while seeking to do things for Jesus’ sake pleases Him (9.36-41; 10.28-31). Causing those who believe in Him to sin displeases Him (9.42-49; 10.1-12), while being true salt pleases Him (9.50).
So having begun the process of changing His disciple’s thinking about the kind of Messiah He had come to be, and having given a revelation of His glory to the chosen three, we now come to a series of incidents through which He will begin to prepare the disciples for the future, interspersed with examples of His teaching. Thus Mark will now tell us of teaching concerning the danger of seeking greatness, and on the need to be ready to engage in humble ministry such as the receiving of little children (9.33-37); of teaching concerning a readiness to receive others whose successful ministry shows them to be of God (9.39), of teaching concerning those who cause others to stumble and what the awful consequences will be (9.38-50); of teaching concerning marriage which will seek to re-establish things as they were at the beginning (10.1-12); of teaching concerning the need to receive little children with a reminder that the openness of children to receive truth is the pattern for all who would receive the Kingly Rule of God (10.13-16); of teaching concerning the need to give up everything for Him, which will include the lesson of the rich young ruler who could not do so (10.17-31); of how John and James will seek the highest place and will learn that such is for those whom God selects, which will result in teaching concerning the need to seek to serve rather than to seek to be great (10.32-45). But it all begins here with a revelation of how weak they still were.
And as we are considering these examples of His teaching to the disciples we would also note that each implies in one way or another His uniqueness. Some have tried to say that Jesus was but a great teacher and that it was His disciples Who exalted Him. But this, as we have already seen, and as can be seen from His teaching, is clearly untrue. In all His teaching He quietly and humbly assumed His right that men should accept His greatness and unique rights. He made what on any other man’s lips would have been the most outlandish statements and he did it without any hint of arrogance or megalomania. In the release of the boy from the evil spirit He had assumed that He alone was in a state to cast it out, and had basically rebuked the father for not accepting the fact (9.23). In His prophecy concerning His death He has stated that He will rise again on the third day, an assumption of uniqueness and special privilege before God (9.31). In taking the little child in His arms He claims that to receive such a little child is to receive Him, and that to receive Him is to receive Him Who sent Him. He thus puts Himself in an equation that no other teacher would have done (9.37). In the case of the man who cast out evil spirits in His name, it is the fact that the man is thereby speaking well of Jesus that makes him of God (9.39), and Jesus considers that for him to be ‘for Him’ is crucial (9.40). And that indeed all who do good things in His name as Messiah will be rewarded by God (9.41). Furthermore those who face judgment are those who cause children who believe in Him to stumble. Jesus is not just speaking as an important teacher here, He is confirming that response to Him in His uniqueness is paramount and crucial, and that attitude towards Him is at the very centre of things (9.42). All must be done ‘in His Name’ (9.37, 38, 39, 41). In the matter of divorce He will give His verdict categorically, sweeping to one side the verdicts of the great Rabbis (10.7-12). When the little children are prevented from coming to Him, He points out their right to come to Him because they are under the Kingly Rule of God (10.14). When the young man seeks eternal life (10.17) his way to life is by ridding himself of his riches and following Jesus (10.21). And all men who do the same will receive eternal life (10.29-30). In the approach of John and James the whole basis of their plea is that Jesus will be enthroned as the Messiah, even though they see it from their own point of view. And He accepts that it will be so (10.40). Whereas other teachers pointed men to God, Jesus, while He did most specifically point them to God, also pointed them to Himself on similar terms. To suggest then that Jesus was only presenting Himself as a godly teacher is just not true. He unquestionably saw Himself as the centre, along with God, of His own teaching.
This subsection can be analysed as follows:
Analysis of 9.36-1.45.
Note that in ‘a’ the disciples are concerned as to who will be the greatest, and in the parallel this is illustrated, and in both they learn that true greatness lies in being the servant of all. In ‘b’ greatness lies in receiving children in His Name, while in the parallel those who should have received Him will not do so. In ‘c’ those who do things in His Name or for His sake do well and in the parallel they receive eternal life. Examples are given of those who must nor be ‘forbidden’. And the example of one who is not with them but is for them is compared with the example of one who is not with them and therefore is not for them. In ‘d’ there is a warning against those who cause others who believe in Him to sin, and in the parallel a specific example is described in the form of the consequences of a wife being divorced. Centrally in ‘e’ we have God’s desire that we be seasoned salt in the world.
The Test Of What Men And Women Are Is Determined By What They Do In His Name (9.33b-50).
Jesus now gives a number of illustrations of what it means to act in His Name as the Messiah. He gives three examples of those who are ‘for us’ and one example of those who are ‘against us’. In all cases it has nothing to do with seeking greatness, but with seeking to serve in genuineness and lowliness. Thus:
Note that in ‘a’ to receive little children is to receive Him, while in the parallel to fail little children who believe in Him is to be in the greatest possible danger. In ‘b’ the one who operates in His Name to relieve others is to be appreciated, and in the parallel the same applies to the one who gives a cup of cold water in the name of the Messiah. Centrally in ‘c’ the one who is not against them is for them.
The Lesson Of True Greatness (9.33b-37).
We are suddenly introduced here to a sad situation that Jesus had tried to guard against, but which was probably inevitable. The disciples were beginning to get too high an opinion of themselves. They were beginning to think in terms of their own greatness. After all, were they not the intimate servants and colleagues of the coming Messiah? Were they not acting ‘in His Name’? As far as they were concerned the only question now was how they stood as compared with each other. When Jesus did seize power which of them would take the most important positions and be held in the highest esteem? But this stands in stark contrast with the attitude of the One Who had come to serve and to Give His life a ransom for many (10.45). They were asking, ‘how far can we climb?’ Jesus was asking, how far can I go down in order to save men? (Philippians 2.5-11). And He illustrates this firstly through a little child. True Messianic service, He stresses, is found in assisting the weak and lowly.
Note that in ‘a’ the disciples are concerned about who is the greatest, and in the parallel Jesus brings out who is really the greatest, the one who receives little children in His Name, for by doing so they receive both Him and His Father. Centrally in ‘b’ He points out that to come first in the Kingly Rule of God it is necessary to seek to be the last and to be the servant of all.
9.33-34 ‘And they came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing in the way?” But they did not answer for they had disputed with one another who was the greatest.’
Having arrived back in Capernaum they no doubt went to Peter’s house. They little realised that this was the last time that Jesus would be there. And, as they were settling in, a few of them were a little disconcerted when Jesus asked them what they had been talking about on their journey. The reason for their hesitation was because they had been arguing as to who was the greatest. This does not necessarily mean that each thought that he was, but rather that they had different opinions as to who were the most important in the group, and where each stood in order of importance.
The way this is depicted is devastating. After what Jesus had told them there was surely only one thing they should have been discussing. Jesus had said He was being delivered by God into men’s hands. That He was going to be killed. And all that they could think of was as to who of them was to be the greatest. Perhaps they believed that the rising from the dead meant that rising bodily He would come back again and establish His Kingly Rule by acts of divine power, by the spectacular. (They were, of course, both right and wrong. The idea which Jesus had conveyed was right, it was their concept of it that was wrong). But what mattered to them was not that, but what they were going to gain from it. They were not discussing how it would benefit the world. They were discussing how it would benefit themselves. After all He had said to them in Caesarea Philippi they still thought mainly in terms of what status they could achieve. And that is at the heart of the thoughts of a large number of people in the church today. Their question is, ‘What reward will we get? What status will we achieve?’ And that is why supposed men of God are constantly jostling for position, and seeing themselves as on a higher level than others, rather than recognising their own relative unimportance and being sufficiently burdened for the need of he world.
‘They did not answer.’ Their discussion had seemed reasonable enough among themselves but instinctively they recognised in their hearts that Jesus would not be pleased about it. They knew that Jesus did not look at things like they did even before He said anything. How wise we would be if we learned to bring before the Lord our desires for position and importance and were then prepared to listen to what He had to say about it. For we would hear His voice saying, ‘he that would be first shall be last of all.’ And we would then be made to ask, is that really what we are seeking, to choose to be last? Who chooses to be last? Jesus says, My true servants do.
It is interesting in passing to notice that this reminds us that as they went along, with Jesus leading the way, they regularly discussed various matters between themselves. They had had much to discuss.
9.35 ‘And he sat down and called the twelve, and he says to them, “If any man would be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” ’
The words of the few clearly disturbed Him. He recognised that there were strong feelings among them about their own greatness, and that this probably applied to all the twelve, so He called the twelve together and ‘sat down’ to teach them as a Rabbi would sit down to teach his pupils (or simply perhaps because He was tired). Then He explained what true greatness consisted of. It consisted of taking the lower place, indeed seeking the last place. It consisted in serving others (see 10.43-44; Matthew 20.25-27; 23.10-12). It consisted in counting others better than themselves (Philippians 2.3).
But the point, of course, was that such an attitude had to be genuine. If they merely did it to be ‘humble’ it would be no good. The truly great man does not make a show of being humble, he is humble because he knows the truth about himself. (Today the one who insists on washing other people’s feet is often not as humble as the one who allows it to be done, unless of course there is some genuine need for the feet to be washed. It is so often only outward show. Nothing is worse than ostentation. In those days people washed men’s feet because it was necessary and because it was the task of a servant, not in order to achieve greatness).
Matthew tell us that at some point the disciples asked, “Who then is greatest under the Kingly Rule of God?” (Matthew 18.1). And in Matthew that had led on to similar sayings to those that follow in verse 36.
9.36-37 ‘And he took a little child and set him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms he said to them, “Whoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” ’
Some argue that the connection between this verse and the last is obscure. But it is not really so. Jesus was adept at dealing with questions by unusual methods to bring home the truth. He had made His statement about what true greatness consisted of and now he looked around for a way of illustrating it. A few words about greatness could pass by unnoticed but an apt illustration would speak volumes.
Not one of the disciples who had been speaking of greatness had thought in terms of thereby helping little children. Indeed when at another time certain mothers sought to bring their children to Jesus the disciples would try to turn them away. They did not have the heart of a shepherd. They thought that Jesus had more important things to deal with! All their thoughts were on their own importance. But Jesus here took a little child who was standing by, probably almost unnoticed by the disciples, and receiving him in His arms He quietly said, ‘look, true greatness consists in things like looking after little children like this, and guiding them aright’. For each little child represents an opportunity to serve Jesus. To receive them is to receive Jesus. And not one of the disciples would have argued about the importance of properly receiving Jesus.
The Old Testament constantly laid stress on the importance of teaching little children. This was the duty of every Israelite and Jew. (Compare Exodus 12.26-27; 13,8, 14; Deuteronomy 6.7, 20-25; 11.19; 32.7) and it was considered so important that it immediately followed the ‘first great commandment’, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6.5-6). But so often it got overlooked because men were too busy.
So Jesus did not argue about who would be the greatest. Rather He sought to stress that what mattered was men’s attitude of heart. He sought to stress what was truly great. Those who were truly great heeded God’s commands and ensured that little children were taught. They cast out evil spirits with no thought of preferment (verse 38). They gave cups of cold water to those who followed the Messiah (verse 41). So He took up a little child and spoke about him. Many would consider a little child unimportant in the order of things, said Jesus, but if someone receives that child in the name of Christ, He is receiving Christ, and not only is he receiving Christ but he is also receiving the One Who sent Him. He is doing a great thing. He is dealing with what is really important without regard for his own position or how men see him. That is the true measure of greatness. It is such a man who is truly great.
The principle would appear to be twofold. Firstly that what seems unimportant to men is extremely important to God, especially the care of believing children for whom He has special concern (verse 42). Every child offers an opportunity of receiving Christ and receiving God, because they offer an opportunity of humble service in His name. Furthermore the right teaching of these little children will be the safeguard of the future. So the truly great will not be too important to receive them and give them time. And secondly that the smallest thing done for Christ and for love of Him is extremely important (see verse 41, and compare 12.41-44), while larger things, if not genuinely done for Him, lose their importance. For the truth is that what men consider important, and see as contributing to their own importance, is often not very important at all in the final scheme of things. Indeed those who seek importance often merely demonstrate that they are unimportant. It is not just a question of getting children to ‘make a decision’. What matters is carefully bringing them up to know the truth. Very often this is left to mothers. How important mothers are in the scheme of things (1 Timothy 2.15). We almost take it for granted, but this is the very foundation of the Kingly Rule of God.
The idea that lies behind verse 37 is the Jewish shaliach (agent, representative). A man’s agent is as himself. Thus little children, especially those of godly parents, are seen to be God’s agents and as such are His representatives and present real opportunity for serving Him.
‘He took a little child.’ Probably some relative of Peter’s, who knew them all and would possibly be hanging around wanting to be with the men, but of whom little notice was being taken. ‘Taking him in his arms.’ A personal touch, found only in Mark, suggesting an eyewitness who remembered exactly what happened, and bringing out that Jesus had time for all.
‘Whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him Who sent Me.’ Here we see the claim of His special status, that He was sent by the Father, an idea common in John, and distinctly stated here (compare 12.6 see also Matthew 15.24; Luke 4.18, 43; John 3.17; 4.34; 5.23,30,36,38; 6.29, 38-44, 57 and often). And that to receive Him was to receive the Father, a further stress on His unique status.
The Jewish Exorcist Who Acted In His Name (9.38-41).
Talk about greatness and of those who do things ‘in the name of Jesus’ seems to have stirred John’s mind to consider something that had happened in the past that may well have been on his conscience, and he took this opportunity to seek to justify himself. Possibly he thought he would be commended for his action. But he had done exactly the opposite of what Jesus was talking about.
Note that in ‘a’ John had forbidden doing good in His name, while in the parallel such a person would gain a reward from God. In ‘b’ they must not forbid those who genuinely act in His Name, and in the parallel he refers to one who does do a genuine act in His Name. Central in ‘c’ is the fact that he who is not against us is for us.
Once again the idea is of those who act in Jesus’ Name. In these cases it was someone who was seeking to relieve the needs of others with no concern for greatness or recognition. Their heart s were right towards Jesus and towards God, and they should therefore be encouraged.
9.38 ‘John said to him, “Teacher, we saw one casting out devils in your name, and we forbade him because he did not follow us.’
We are reminded here that the disciples did not just rigidly always remain with Jesus. They were given errands to fulfil and they at times went out preaching (we would probably be wrong to assume that they only made two such ventures). Perhaps it was on one such mission that they met the man described. And on that occasion John and at least one other (‘we’) had bridled at the fact that this man dared to exercise the prerogative which they saw as given to the Apostles. Indeed they had forbidden him. Who was he that he should do so? What right had he to so exalt himself? But Jesus will now tell them that they should have realised that the success of the man’s attempts revealed that he was a genuine believer whom God was blessing, (and perhaps underneath John was even himself uneasily conscious of the fact).
John’s attitude revealed his limited viewpoint. Instead of seeing that the man’s success showed that God was with him (which he should have done for Jesus regularly used that as an argument) and giving glory to God Who worked in such remarkable ways, he had been offended because the man dared to use Jesus’ name without being a regular disciple. He did not at that time have the openheartedness that would one day be his. (What a different case this was from certain Jewish exorcists and especially the sons of Sceva (Acts 19.13-16) There they were using Jesus name as a magical formula not out of a deep belief in Him).
‘We forbade him.’ Here was a man of a different ‘denomination’. John thought he was presumptious, even blasphemous, and had no right to work in Jesus’ name. He was not ‘one of us’. How often through history these words and Jesus’ wise reply have been ignored. Churches have become wrapped up in themselves and have begun to think that they were the only ones with the truth, and to enforce their own authority. They revealed thereby not their desire for the truth, which is many faceted, but their desire for their own greatness and importance, and their unwillingness to be true servants of Christ. They wanted to be the masters. But Jesus here made clear that when a man sought to please God, even if he was outside the ‘gathering’ (the congregation, the church), and God blessed his work, it was evidence that God was with him and he should not therefore be halted in his work for God.
‘Because he did not follow us.’ The exact wording is unsure but the meaning is clear. He was not a recognised ‘follower’. The early authorities are divided between ‘who did not follow us’ and ‘because he did not follow us’. Compare Luke 9.50 which may suggest the latter was by assimilation. But notice the ‘us’. There is already a hint in this of a feeling of superiority.
9.39-40 ‘But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him. For there is no man who will do a work of power in my name and be able quickly to speak evil of me. For he who is not against us is for us.” ’
Jesus recognised immediately that the man’s success was sufficient proof that the man’s heart was right and that God was with him. Such a man clearly believed in Jesus and His words and had responded to them. He had a high view of Jesus. Thus he would not criticise Jesus or run Him down but would gladly use any opportunity that arose out of his activity to point men to Jesus. Jesus could only encourage such activity, as He had encouraged the Gadarene ex-demoniac.
As already mentioned we can contrast with this Acts 19.13-17 where men did what seems on the surface to be the same, but they were simply using Jesus’ name as an exorcist’s tool. They did it for their own benefit rather than to glorify God. There they were unsuccessful and discovered that Jesus’ name was not to be trifled with. Such use of sacred names by exorcists occurred widely. They did not always mean that the exorcist gave much credence to the one whose name they used, and there are many examples from Egyptian papyri. The use of Jewish sacred names was quite popular. The Jews with their mysterious religion and mysterious invisible God were often seen as harbouring mysterious powers. One such papyrus contained the formula, “I adjure you by Jesus the God of the Hebrews” a most interesting combination by some who were clearly somewhat hazy about distinctions.
Compare also Matthew 7.22 which suggests that many did wrongly seek to use the name of Jesus and were even at times successful in His name, possibly because of psychological healing, without necessarily being true men of God. But Jesus was prepared to give such men the benefit of the doubt, as He did with Judas, and would not forbid them. However, He did warn them not to be complacent, and that in the end their genuineness would be judged by God. To have acted in His name is not the same as to be truly His.
‘A work of power.’ The Greek is literally ‘a power’.
‘For he who is not against us is for us.’ This does not mean that anyone who was not antagonistic was necessarily to be seen as a supporter and that what mattered was tolerance. Many were apathetically neutral and would not come under the description of supporter. Jesus would not describe them as ‘for Him’. What Jesus was saying was that where men were active in seeking to serve God, as this man was, they would, at times, be required to take up an attitude towards Jesus, and those who did not oppose Him or attack Him but defended His ministry thereby demonstrated that they were for Him and His work, even if they did not follow Him directly (compare Numbers 11.26-29). Jesus welcomed all who were truly for God.
Elsewhere at a different time He would say what seems the opposite, ‘He who is not with me is against me’ (Matthew 12.30; Luke 11.23). But there He was indicating that to refuse to make some response to Jesus and His teaching and to remain in apathetic neutrality to Him thereby demonstrated the attitude of one who was opposing the will and call of God. On the other hand the man spoken of here in Mark was actually showing that He was ‘for’ Jesus, and was being very active in being so. There was nothing neutral about him.
The Giving Of A Cup Of Cold Water In His Name (9.41).
9.41 “For whoever will give you a cup of water to drink ‘because you are Messiah’s’, truly I tell you he will assuredly not lose his reward.”
This follows on from verse 40 being an example of one who was ‘for us’ as shown by his action. The mention of Jesus as Messiah is startling and unexpected and indicates that these words were given in private teaching to the disciples. They had acknowledged His Messiahship and He did want them to know that He was the Messiah but without overemphasising it. We can compare the similar but differing statement in Matthew 10.42 in a different context. There the cup of water was seen as given to them in a ministry during His lifetime because they were disciples of Jesus. Here in Mark it is the giving to them of a cup of water when they engaged in their future ministry of proclaiming Jesus as Messiah. But the idea is the same in both cases.
The action of giving a cup of water is similar to that of the woman who gave her pittance (Mark 12.41-44). Tiny it may have been but it was vitally important to her. And it was vitally important to God. So small a gift in the eyes of men. So huge in the eyes of God. She was truly great. But note the reason for the giving of the cup of water. It was given by someone who could not do much but wanted to show their love for Christ, possibly even sometimes in a hostile environment where they could have been severely mishandled for it. What mattered was the size of the love in that person’s heart for God which prompted the action, not the size of the gift.
‘Because you are Messiah’s.’ A rare use of the term by Jesus, Who only ever used it indirectly while on Jewish territory (compare Matthew 23.8. See also Matthew 22.42; Mark 12.35; Luke 20.41, which are parallel sayings to each other). But there is no reason why Jesus should not have used it in such a context when reassuring His disciples indirectly that in spite of all He was saying about His death and resurrection He really was the Messiah. And it acknowledged that one day men would indeed see them as followers of the true Messiah, but not yet. This is the only place in the Gospels and Acts where ‘Christ’ is used without the article. It is not here a proper name but indicating Messianic connection.
‘He will assuredly not lose his reward.’ Nothing that we do for God passes by unnoticed. In contrast much of what we claim is done for God is done for our own self-gratification. There will be no reward for that (Matthew 6.2, 5).
A Warning Against Causing Those Who Believe In Him To Stumble (9.42-50).
Having spoken of what acting in His Name regularly involved, Jesus now gives a warning to those who act against His Name. Not all these sayings may necessarily have been delivered at this point in time (see verses 49-50), but Mark includes them here because he is at present concentrating on Jesus’ teaching of His disciples. He considered this to be a convenient place to give examples of that teaching. Alternately they may have occurred in teaching given during the remainder of the day and cited accordingly. But they may not be a continual sermon and some consider that parts are not directly connected with what has gone before, although linked by keywords. If that be so they are more generally illustrative of the teaching of Jesus. But they can in fact be seen as connecting up as we see below.
Similar phrases are found in the Gospels elsewhere in varying contexts, but this should not surprise us. Like most preachers Jesus would deliberately repeat important lessons in slightly different ways time and again, and some would remember them better from one context and some from another.
a “And whoever shall cause one of these little ones (or ‘low ones’) who believe in me to stumble” (42a).
Note that in ‘a’ reference is to those who should be salt in the world but instead cause believers to stumble, and in the parallel they are like salt which has lost its savour. In ‘b’ is an example of what would be better for such than the actual punishment that they will face, and in the parallel they will be salted with fire. Three examples are then given of what to do if a part of you causes you to stumble, although only in the central one is Gehenna not followed by an amplifying statement.
9.42 “And whoever shall cause one of these little ones (or ‘low ones’) who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he was thrown into the sea.”
This may well have continued on from the previous words. Jesus was in Peter’s home and had sat down and at least one child had approached Him and had been taken up into His arms. Having answered John’s question He might well have turned back and indicated the child and continued in this vein. The act of causing a child, or any young believer, who believes in Christ to stumble is in deliberate contrast to the one who gives the cup of water to a follower of the Messiah. The one is a small act with great results in heaven, the other again seemingly a small act but with devastating results for the perpetrator.
Again the emphasis is on the importance of ‘little’ things. These young children who believed in Jesus were of such great importance to God that to cause them to stumble spiritually was to commit the greatest of sins. Wars and politics could go on and God would stand by and let men destroy themselves. But let them touch but one of these children who believed in Him and God would notice immediately. How careful we must be when around such little children.
But the word ‘mikros’ may mean ‘humble ones’ rather than ‘little ones. In this case the one who gave the cup of water may be specifically in mind and the thought may be of the value of the lowest and least important of Christ’s followers. For those who think themselves important to behave or speak in such a way that they cause humble believers to stumble, proving that they themselves were salt which had lost its savour, would be a scandal indeed and would result in the worst of fates, for it is the humble who are the important ones to God.
‘Cause to stumble.’ By some act, word or behaviour that affected their faith in God lead them into sin and error.
‘A great millstone.’ This is speaking of the huge stones that ground the corn in the village mill, far too huge to hang around a man’s neck. No one could have even lifted them. But God could. It was of course deliberate humour and exaggeration. But it would certainly have made sure that the man sank rapidly to the deepest depths. And this is preferable to what would happen to the one who causes others to stumble.
So the argument about greatness has resulted in revealing that true greatness is expressed by recognising what is really important to God and acting accordingly. Thus the giving of a cup of cold water to a servant of Christ, the nurturing of a believing child’s faith, these are acts of true greatness. But to be busy fighting for position and arguing about greatness, or seeking to evidence it by behaviour, could well cause a little child to stumble. Then let such beware lest they receive the condemnation due.
9.43-48 “And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is good for you to enter into life maimed rather than having two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is good for you to enter into life lame rather than having two feet to be cast into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out. It is good for you to enter under the Kingly Rule of God with one eye rather than having two eyes to be cast into Gehenna, where the maggot does not die and the fire is not quenched.”
The idea of causing others to stumble leads on to the idea of what causes men themselves to stumble. We must note here first that there is no suggestion that this decapitation should be done by others as a punishment. The mutilations carried out in the name of Allah have no connection with the ideas of Jesus of of the Father. They result from cruel and heartless men misusing the word of God. And yet they think themselves righteous in doing it. How evil men are. How blind to the truth about God. Jesus was simply here talking of extreme actions which men themselves should in theory apply to themselves if there was no alternative. He was really saying vividly, ‘you must go to any lengths to prevent sin’.
‘If your hand causes you to stumble.’ The man whose hands are uncontrollable, whether through petty stealing, or through groping a woman who does not want the attention, or in any other sinful purpose, has hands that cause him to stumble. But Jesus did not really expect such a man to cut his hand off. He knew well enough that that would not solve the problem. What He was saying was that that man should be willing to take any drastic action that would enable him to control his behaviour. Although indeed, if there were no other alternative losing the hand would certainly be better than having to enter Gehenna. But Jesus knew well enough that cutting the hand off would not be the answer, for He had already declared that evil came from the heart of man (7.20). The man would be just as evil without his hand. To deal with sin he would have to cut his heart out. The same applied also with respect to both foot and eye, and the sins that relate to both. The wandering feet that take men into sinful places. The wandering eye that tempts to indulging in sin. All are to be dealt with severely.
‘Cut it off -- cast it out.’ Be decisive with sin, says Jesus. Do not play with it but treat it for what it is, destructive and harmful and to be got rid of at all costs lest it finally result in judgment. This was the kind of deliberate exaggeration often favoured by Jesus in order to bring home His point. Jesus had no time for a faith that did not result in a changed life and a changed attitude to sin.
‘To enter into life.’ This is the opposite of going to Gehenna. It is to enjoy that eternal life that Jesus offered to men (10.17, 30), life under the Kingly Rule of God (verse 47).
‘To go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.’ The picture of Ge-henna was based on ‘the valley of Hinnom’ (ge Hinnom). This valley outside Jerusalem was the rubbish dump of Jerusalem where there were continually burning fires, and where continually devouring maggots consumed the rubbish. It was a sight men preferred not to look at. The bodies of executed criminals were often tossed there to expose them to shame and to be rid of them, and there they burned and there the maggots and the scavengers gradually disposed of them. But it was the continuous activity of the maggots, which could not be chased away or avoided, which illustrated the inevitability of judgment.
The idea was used in Isaiah 66.24 to depict the end of the wicked. Those who inherited the new heaven and the new earth would ‘go out and look on the carcasses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their maggot will not die, nor shall their fire be quenched, but they will be an abhorring to all flesh.’ It was the picture of an eternal Gehenna based on the Valley of Hinnom.
Thus Jesus was here warning men to consider their end, pictured in terms of the undying maggots and the unquenched fire which would be the guarantee of the certainty of man’s final judgment. The idea is not of conscious suffering but of being totally shamed. Compare Daniel 12.2, ‘everlasting contempt’.
9.49 “For everyone shall be salted with fire.”
There are a number of questions to be asked about this small, rather enigmatic, phrase. Firstly as to whether this is to be seen as continuing the thoughts which have preceded it, secondly as to what is meant by being ‘salted’, thirdly as to who are involved in ‘everyone’, and fourthly as to what being ‘salted with fire’ adds to the equation.
We will first consider what it might mean to be salted. There is no doubt that to the ancients salt could be seen as a preservative, in which case ‘being ‘salted’ might be seen as signifying being treated in order to be preserved. The fire would then here indicate the purifying fires of persecution and tribulation (see 10.30; John 15.20; 16.2) which would purify the righteous (see Romans 5.1-5; Hebrews 12.4-11; James 1.2; 1 Peter 1.7; 4.12). But this interpretation by itself assumes that the saying is a semi-independent one, for it does not specifically connect it up with what has gone before.
However, it was also recognised in those days that where ground had been salted nothing could grow in it, and the picture here might well, in the light of the context, have Deuteronomy 29.23 in mind. There salt and fire are closely connected, so that the result is seen to be that nothing grows in the land that has been salted and subjected to burning, and the picture is connected by Moses with the area around the Dead Sea, where the salt lands themselves were equally seen as places lacking in life (see Ezekiel 47.11). Thus as an alternative to the picture of preservation we have the picture of ‘salting’ as something that results in barrenness and death, something which is also then connected up with the idea of destructive fire. Taking this view the verse would be carrying on the theme of judgment and Gehenna, emphasising its inevitability for all who sinned.
‘Everyone’ may here be seen as referring to ‘everyone who has caused others to stumble’, in which case again we may see this as referring to the inevitability of their judgment, which would fit well with what has gone before. (Another suggestion has been for the cauterising of their wounds with fire, although the latter must be seen as very unlikely and does not really fit the illustration).
Alternatively ‘everyone’ may be seen as indicating ‘all men’ with the idea that in one way or another this is what will happen to all men. It might then be seen as including the ideas of on the one hand preservation and purifying through suffering, and on the other destruction through destructive fire, the case varying with the recipient. But this entails it as being seen as a fairly sudden break with what has gone before, although in view of the verse that follows a good case could be put for that.
Some, however, have seen in it a reference to salt as used in sacrifices (Leviticus 2.13), with the idea that all believers are to become a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God and ever faithful to the covenant. This would certainly tie in with the fact that salt was connected with covenants, so that people could speak of ‘the salt of the covenant’.
A good number of ancient manuscripts are restricted to the phrase as we have cited it, which is probably the original wording, but some few add a further phrase, although even then they differ in the wording of the phrase, which suggests that they are explanatory additions. One rendering is ‘and every sacrifice will be salted with salt.’ In this case they saw Jesus’ words as connected with Leviticus 2.13. There sacrifices are salted with salt, that is, salt is offered with them because it is a preservative and thus it symbolised the preserving element of the covenant. It is there called ‘the salt of the covenant’, thus tying in with the idea of preservation through faithful endurance. But the differences in the manuscripts confirm that this is an addition intended to make clear something that was otherwise not clear, so that we would be unwise to see it as decisive.
A third group of manuscripts have an abbreviation of the two clauses combined. But these additions would again all seem to be explanatory, and to be an attempt from other Scripture to explain and expand on words that were found difficult. They could be seen as indicating that as men offered up themselves as a sacrifice to Christ (Romans 12.1) they would endure chastening and tribulation which would purify their lives and cause the covenant to endure. The essential thought is the same as the last alternative above.
All in all, however, it would seem best to see it as continuing the theme of the passage and as pointing to certain and inevitable judgment, especially in the light of Deuteronomy 29.23, with the thought that all who sin against others will finally be ‘salted with fire’ (be made barren and fruitless by the fires of judgment and only fit for destruction).
9.50 “Salt is good. But if the salt has lost its saltness with what will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another.”
Jesus then replies to the possible objection which could be raised that salt is good. The connection between this verse and the last is ‘salted’ and ‘salt’. But here there is a definite connection with the thought of God’s people as being salt, and here it is its purifying quality that is in mind. Compare ‘You are the salt of the world’ in Matthew 5.13. Salt was used for preserving and was vital in the ancient world to prevent the putrefaction of food. Thus the idea here is that the people of God are to act as a preservative of righteousness in the world as they love God with all their being and their neighbour as themselves. Such salt is good.
But if the salt loses its saltiness, (as has happened to the one who begins to cause little believers to stumble, it loses its usefulness. How can its saltiness then be restored? The answer expected is, it cannot. It is therefore essential that those who are salt retain their saltiness by a life of trust and obedience, and by dealing violently with sin. And the central nature of that saltiness will be found in their participation in and response to the good news of the Kingly Rule of God now present among them (compare Luke 11.28).
The idea of salt that has lost its saltiness may well have come from knowledge of the salty area around the Dead Sea where deposits which seemed similar to the salt deposits had no saltiness. Although such deposits seemed to be salt it was a waste of time collecting it for it was not salty, while even blocks which were salty could lose their saltiness if something drained the actual salt away.
‘Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another.’ Thus He adjured them to retain their saltiness. By retaining their saltiness and remaining firmly established in the covenant and under the Kingly Rule of God, by walking in trust and obedience, they will then ensure that they live at peace with one another. This picture aptly ends a section which began with the disciples arguing about rank. It indicates that if they truly live under the Kingly Rule of God position and precedence will be unimportant, and instead all will be in harmony. What will matter will be purity and peace.
The Mission in Judaea - Jesus Pronounces on Divorce, On Entry Under the Kingly Rule of God, on The Dangers of Riches and on the Requirement of Becoming a Servant As He Has Done (10.1-45).
Jesus now begins His ministry in Judaea. Each of the pronouncements that follow continue the theme of the teaching of Jesus, and bring out more about Jesus and His Lordship. His pronouncement on divorce overturned the teaching of the Rabbis and stressed the permanence of marriage and His call to a new beginning, His pronouncement on little children and on the Kingly Rule of God excluded wide numbers who thought themselves candidates for that Kingly Rule, for it demonstrated that their attitude of heart was wrong, His pronouncement on riches turned men’s thinking upside down, making following Him more important than riches and prestige, and His call to servanthood demonstrated a wholly new way of thinking. Only One Who was unique could have made such demands.
Note that in ‘a’ the call is to return under the Kingly Rule of God to man’s state of innocence as in ‘the beginning’ before the fall, and in the parallel the same call demands that they take the position of servant’s as He has, as they experience His redemptive work under the Kingly Rule of God. In ‘b’ not even the least is to be rejected, for the Kingly Rule of God is made up of those who seek it like little children, and in the parallel we have the picture of those who do reject it because, being as little like little children as it is possible to be, they reject Him and seek His death. In ‘c’ a rich man refuses eternal life because he will not forsake all and follow Jesus, and in the parallel those who do so reveal themselves as inheritors of eternal life. Centrally in ‘d’ is the impossibility of men entering the Kingly Rule of God through their own actions.
The Mission In Judaea and Beyond Jordan (10.1).
Having stressed the importance of what is done in His Name, bringing out the supreme importance of His Name, Jesus commences His journey to Jerusalem by moving down into Judaea and Beyond Jordan.
10.1 ‘And he arose from there and comes into the borders of Judaea and beyond Jordan. And great crowds come together to him again, and as he was usually accustomed to do he taught them again.’
The last journey to Jerusalem was now under way, although there was at this stage no sense of urgency, and Jesus therefore commenced a ministry in Northern Judaea and in Beyond Jordan where great crowds gathered. The plural ‘crowds’ suggests a continuing ministry. We know from John’s Gospel that He had preached and wrought miracles in Judaea and Beyond Jordan before (John 2.23; 3.22; 4.1). Judaea may be mentioned first because it was reached first through Samaria, or simply because it had precedence in Mark’s mind. By Beyond Jordan Mark may be indicating Peraea which was across the Jordan, but in the Old Testament both sides of the Jordan River could be named Beyond Jordan, thus He may be referring to the area on the west bank of the Jordan in the Jordan rift valley and its surrounds.
‘And as He was usually accustomed to do He taught them.’ This indicates that He continued His ministry as He usually did. It reminds us that we should recognise that His ministry has been continual, even when not mentioned. So satisfied that His ministry in Galilee over a number of years was complete He had now returned South again. This small note emphasises that Jesus preaching ministry continued in progress even while He was teaching His disciples.
In the example of His ministry that now follows Jesus not only gives important teaching on marriage and divorce, but also stresses His position as One Who can speak with unique authority on the significance of God’s word. Indeed it cannot be overemphasised what a totally different view of life Jesus introduces as obligatory on all, the kind of life only liveable by those who come under the Kingly Rule of God.
Jesus Firmly Establishes The Creation Ordinance of Marriage and Rejects Divorce As Contrary To God’s Purpose (10.2-10).
As Jesus was conducting a teaching ministry it was inevitable that Pharisees would soon attach themselves to the crowd (although if we accept some manuscripts the questioners were unidentified). These may have been different Pharisees from those that He had previously encountered (they were spread all over Palestine), and while they came to test His quality we need not assume that they were particularly hostile, at least to begin with, although it is possible that the subject of their question was with the hope of getting Him to condemn Herod as John had done, in which case their hostility would be apparent.
What Jesus is questioned about is divorce, but as we read on in the narrative it becomes clear that, while the Pharisees are totally wrapped up in the question of divorce, Jesus wishes to turn their question round and make a solemn pronouncement on the sacredness and permanence of marriage under the Kingly Rule of God, while at the same time giving an authoritative answer to their question which sweeps aside the decisions on the subject which had been made by prominent Rabbis.
Note that in ‘a’ the Pharisees ask Him about putting away a wife, and in the parallel the disciples ask Him about it, and declares that a man shall not put away his wife. In ‘b’ He reminds them that God made man as male and female, and in the parallel He says that what God has joined together man must not separate. Centrally in ‘c’ He declares the basic creation ordinance concerning the unique oneness of a man and a woman who have been married, a oneness which must not be broken because it is of God.
10.2 ‘And there came to him Pharisees and asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?” testing him out.’
‘Testing Him out’ may not necessarily mean in a bad sense. These were not the Pharisees he had been dealing with in Galilee, even though they did want to know His calibre and position. But possibly a hint of antagonism is intended, and it may be that their intention was to see if He would dare condemn Herod who had notoriously put away his wife. By speaking out boldly on divorce in Peraea (if He was in Peraea, see above) He could be represented as an enemy of Herod, as John the Baptiser had been considered to be before Him.
There were two opposing views among the Pharisees themselves about divorce, which had been declared by two great Rabbis of the past who had taken up two different positions. Both, however, gave their interpretations based on Deuteronomy 24.1-4. In that passage Shammai and his followers, whose interpretations of the Law always tended to be stricter, interpreted the ‘some unseemly thing in her’ of Deuteronomy 24.1 as signifying adultery or sexual impropriety. Hillel and his followers on the other hand taught that it should be interpreted more widely and could mean anything that her husband found unsatisfactory in her such as letting the food burn or losing her beauty. Thus both allowed divorce, but while Shammai did so only on a limited basis, Hillel was more free and easy and allowed divorce for almost any cause, and only too many had taken advantage of the fact. As Josephus could say quite glibly, ‘At this time I divorced my wife, not liking her behaviour’.
10.3 ‘And he answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” ’
Jesus tested them out in return. He turned their minds to the Law of Moses. and asked what they commanded. (‘Moses’ was short for ‘the Law of Moses’, the first five books of the Bible, which they accepted as written by Moses). He was preparing the way in readiness for establishing His own position, not only on divorce, but on marriage in general.
10.4 ‘And they said, “Moses allowed the giving of a Certificate of Divorce and to put her away.”
Their minds automatically concentrated on Deuteronomy 24.1, for that was the only place in the Law where divorce was mentioned. In that verse God, through Moses, had made provision for the protection of women who were turned out of the houses by their husbands. The decree was that they could not just be turned away, but had to be given an official Certificate of Divorce so that it was clear to all that they were seen as free to be able to marry again. But to the Scribes this had become Moses’ official ruling, and was therefore seen as revealing the will of God. (It was seen as their responsibility to apply the Law to every situation, so that as this was the only passage that dealt with the subject it had become the basis of their positions).
10.5-9 ‘But Jesus said to them, “He wrote you this commandment because of your hardness of heart. But from the beginning of creation he made them male and female. For this reason shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh, so that they are no more two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate.” ’
Jesus reply was that they were misinterpreting Deuteronomy 24. He was the only one who considered it in its context, and He pointed out that it was a provision made because of men’s hardness of heart in divorcing their wives. God’s primary will and intention, He pointed out, was that once a man and woman had come together as one through sexual union they should be seen as inseparable because they had become uniquely one. In evidence of this He quoted Genesis 1.27 and 2.24-25. Thus He was declaring that divorce was not God’s will and intention at all, but was to be seen as what it was, something that resulted from man’s hardness of heart. He was not contending that Moses was wrong. Indeed both He and the Pharisees saw Genesis 1 & 2 and Deuteronomy 24.1-4 as the work of Moses and therefore as containing his teaching. He was contending that the Scribes had interpreted these verses wrongly
‘Because of your hardness of heart.’ It was because man was sinful and hardened his heart against God’s will and did divorce what he saw as an unsatisfactory wife that God spoke of a certificate of divorce in Deuteronomy 24.1. But it was never His strict intention that it be seen as permissive. It arose because unfortunately men disobeyed His commandments and did put their wives away, something which could leave the wives in a parlous position as it might be questioned whether they were divorced or not. Deuteronomy 24 was thus simply safeguarding any woman to whom it happened (against the will of God) from false accusations. Divorce is therefore a sign of the division between God and man, for it reveals hardness of heart. The word for ‘hardness of heart’ is restricted to Jewish and Christian literature. It signified an attitude developed against God.
‘From the beginning of the creation he made them male and female.’ The reason for this is stated. It is that originally man and woman were made as one. There was no thought that they would ever separate, for they were seen as indissolubly linked, and such a thought was therefore not God’s intention. That is why when a man marries a woman he leaves behind his father and mother, and that household of which he was firmly and very much a part, and forms a new household, joined to his wife as one flesh as Adam was to Eve. The tie of marriage is therefore to be seen as stronger and deeper than the tie of blood, which is itself indissoluble. The thought was not that a man no longer had any regard for his wider family. It was that his regard for his wife should become the priority.
‘They shall become one flesh.’ That is, will be joined by as close a union as it is possible to have, united in their flesh by an unbreakable spiritual bond.
‘What therefore God has joined together let not man separate.’ To seek divorce therefore is to seek to separate what God has joined together. It is not therefore something that a man should desire or permit. It is totally banned. We should not understate this argument. It is declaring that God has so instituted the union of a man and woman in a marriage relationship that there is a genuine, if invisible, way in which they become one, so that to engage in sexual relations with any other actually breaks a genuine, if unidentifiable, unity. It is not just a play on words. It is a genuine reality.
Mark is here bringing out God’s absolute purpose under the Kingly Rule of God as revealed in the words of Jesus. For this reason he does not bring out the exception mentioned in Matthew 19.9, ‘except it be for fornication’ (compare Matthew 5.32), for that exception arose because by illicit sexual union the guilty parties have themselves caused the sinful separation. But it was never God’s intention, and could only therefor be seen as an aberration. This brings out quite clearly that sexual union is seen by God as binding and total (compare 1 Corinthians 6.16). His purpose was that man should be both monogamous and faithful. And His purpose in this was so that they might ‘go forth and multiply’. Anything that does not result in that intention is not marriage, for true marriage is a family forming relationship, not an exclusive bond between two self-centred people who think only of each other (although we must recognise the difference between intention and unintended and undesired consequences)
The stress on this faithfulness was so strong in the Law that an adulterer and an adulteress were to be put to death (Leviticus 20.10), and the result would be that the husband or wife would be freed from the marriage tie because of the death of the one who had broken the tie. This was the absolute position. But once the law on instant death had ceased to be put into practise through mercy or force of circumstances, the presumption was made that presumably he or she could be seen as ‘dead’, and treated as such. Thus the exemption.
So Jesus was laying out the difference between God’s will and purpose on the one hand, something on which there could be no concession (compare Malachi 2.14-16 which emphasises this), and sinful man’s behaviour on the other for which provision had to be made for the sake of the innocent party. Without the position laid down in Deuteronomy a woman could have been left in an impossible position because of a man’s hard-heartedness. This was the situation that Moses was commanded to alleviate. But it was never God’s intention that it be treated as a norm, nor did it mean that He had given permission for divorce, for most decidedly He had not.
The startling nature of this declaration should be recognised. Indeed it even startled His disciples. For it established a whole new situation with regard to marriage, and indicated a purpose in marriage that was God ordained and God demanded, and was different from how all men saw it. Jesus was thus changing the whole view on the subject in a way that could only be seen as possible under the Kingly Rule of God. Only those who subscribed to the Sermon on the Mount could be expected to live in this way, as that Sermon itself made clear (Matthew 5.27-32).
Jesus thus turned a Pharisaic discussion on divorce into statement of the purpose of marriage, and thereby revealed that a new way of approaching life had begun under the Kingly Rule of God, a way that set aside the old weaknesses and excuses. A way that demanded a commitment to positive love and cooperation, sealed by marital faithfulness. It was one way in which the true people of God would stand out from all others, a foundation stone of the new Kingly Rule. As Paul will later point out, one of the most important responsibilities of Christian women was to bear and bring up children as Christian men and women. Thereby they experienced and worked out their salvation (1 Timothy 2.15).
10.10-12 ‘And in the house the disciples asked him again of this matter, and he says to them, “Whoever shall put away his wife and marry another, commits adultery against her, and if she herself shall put away her husband and marry another, she commits adultery.” ’
This was all so startling that it is not surprising that the disciples wanted clarification on the matter (Matthew tell us that they said, ‘in that case it is not a good idea to marry’, a logical but not very practicable idea). Under Jewish law a man could divorce his wife but a wife could not divorce her husband (although in extreme cases she could go to court for the court to do it for her). Nor according to the Rabbis could a man commit adultery against his wife, for he could take a second wife, but he could commit adultery against another man by taking that man’s wife, and a wife could commit adultery against her husband. However under Roman law a wife could also divorce her husband. The prime example of it as far as Jesus and the disciples were concerned was Herod and Herodias. That was the most infamous example of divorce and remarriage in the area and had been carried out under Roman law. And it was John the Baptiser’s opposition to this that had contributed largely to his death. It is not therefore surprising that Jesus, rather daringly, made a reference to that situation.
‘Commits adultery against her.’ The Jewish teaching did not go this far. A man could not in their eyes commit adultery against his wife. But Jesus went further than they did. He claimed that divorce was as wrong for a man as for a woman and equally for him a breaking of the commandment on adultery, for by it he forces the committing of adultery on the woman.
‘And if she herself shall put away her husband and marry another, she commits adultery.’ This is probably to be seen as a direct condemnation of Herodias’ second marriage (it could hardly not have been in mind when the subject was discussed, especially in view of what had happened to John the Baptiser), and was spoken only in the presence of the disciples. Had He said it in front of the Pharisees it would have been the equivalent of a rope about His neck. But He wants His disciples to know that He agrees with John the Baptiser. But no doubt He also saw it as applying more generally. Divorce under Roman law was undoubtedly reasonably well known in Palestine, especially in court circles, and no doubt its popularity had increased following the example of Herod. Thus it was necessary for it to be condemned
These words are peculiar to Mark and differing authorities have slightly different renderings. But the main import is the same. A woman who divorces her husband and marries another, as Herodias had done, commits adultery.
This whole statement on divorce which we have looked at above, and which Jesus gave on His own authority based on the Scriptures, was a powerful claim that He could settle Pharisaic disputes because of Who He was, and set aside their rulings by a solemn declaration. It was an example of, ‘But I say to you.’ (compare Matthew 5.21-48). And in the circumstance of the time, and in view of what had happened to John the Baptiser, it was an indication of His fearlessness, and that He saw it as His right as a prophet even to speak against kings.
So this declaration on the significance and purpose of marriage, which swept aside all other rulings on the subject on the basis of the word of God, demonstrated His claim to unique authority and established that the Kingly Rule of God had come. This was His first indication to Judaea and Jerusalem that a new age had come in which men would be turned back to how things were in the beginning before man had sinned.
Jesus Pronounces on the Importance of Little Children and The Means Of Entry Under the Kingly Rule of God (10.13-16).
Jesus here continues His teaching about children. He was constantly concerned that the needs and rights of little children should be recognised, for to Him they were equally as important as the greatest rulers in the land. Here children were brought to Him in order to receive His blessing. However the disciples, knowing His desire for privacy, and possibly that He was exhausted, sought to turn them away. But Jesus would have none of it and uses it as an illustration of what is required of those who would enter under the Kingly Rule of God.
Note how in ‘a’ they wanted Him to touch the young children, and how in the parallel He laid His hands on them. In ‘b’ the Kingly Rule of God belongs to such (in the sense that they have a right to a full part in it), and in the parallel anyone who would receive the Kingly Rule of God must receive it in the same way as they do.
10.13 ‘And they brought to him little children in order that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.’
This incident in one way stands by itself, but it is actually introductory to what follows, for it pronounces on how anyone must enter under the Kingly Rule of God in the light of a young man who will come to Jesus with precisely that question, but not in a frame of mind to receive it.
‘Little children’ (the Lucan parallel has ‘infants’, that is, small children not babes in arms) were brought to Jesus by their parents and relatives (Luke 18.15). They wanted the blessing of the great prophet on them. His very touch would be seen as bringing blessing. At certain feasts it was a recognised thing that children could be brought to the Rabbis to be blessed, but this was not a special time and the disciples knew how tired Jesus was and what little opportunity He had had for rest. And so they rebuked the mothers for seeking to bother Jesus. Would they have so rebuked Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, had he come again to see Jesus? They had still not learned the true meaning of greatness.
10.14 ‘But when Jesus saw it he was indignant and said to them, “Allow the little children to come to me. Do not forbid them. For of such is the Kingly Rule of God.”
Jesus’ response to His disciples’ behaviour was indignation. He had already pointed out to them that to receive such little children was to receive God Himself (9.37) for in their relative freedom from prejudice, and coming with faith in their hearts, they were His representatives on earth. They were open to receiving the truth as no others were. And now the disciples were turning away His opportunity to receive the representatives of His Father. How foolish they were. Perhaps they had thought that when He had said it previously, it was just an illustration and that He had not meant it.
‘Of such is the Kingly Rule of God.’ (Or ‘the Kingly Rule of God belongs to such as these’). The powerful and the important and the learned were not responding to His Kingly Rule (1 Corinthians 1.26). It was those who humbled themselves and became as little children who were responding. It was those who came with nothing but their need. And children were thus prime candidates to respond. The Kingly Rule of God was made up of such as these, and they therefore had a God-given right to it, and it was theirs. So they must not be refused the opportunity to meet the One Who would be their King, for in their innocence they had the right. Who knew what a difference this might make to their future lives?
Comparison may be made with Luke 11.9-13. There asking for the Holy Spirit is likened to a child asking its father for some simple thing. The child comes simply with its need and the father supplies abundantly. So should men seek to receive the Holy Spirit, as simply as a child receives a gift from its Father.
10.15 “Truly I say to you, whoever will not receive the Kingly Rule of God as a little child, he shall not under any circumstances enter into it.”
The real problem for men when they sought to come under the Kingly Rule of God was that they were not like children. They were not receptive, open, responsive, simple, believing. They were prejudiced, self-opinionated, proud, and unwilling to believe unless it fitted in with their ideas. Thus until they could put such things aside and become childlike in their openness and response, until they could come like children with nothing but their openness and need (compare Luke 18.13), they could not and would not receive the Kingly Rule of God.
10.16 ‘And he enfolded them in his arms and firmly blessed them, laying his hands on them.’
Having spoken sternly to His disciples He then turned to the children and opened His arms to them. Each was received and each was ‘firmly blessed’ (the prefix confirms it was no perfunctory action). And as He did so He laid His hands on them identifying them with Himself. We may surmise that Jesus would not have been happy just to touch them as though He were some religious symbol which could automatically confer blessing. He wanted His actions to be real and personal and loving.
Some have tried to connect this episode with baptism, and it is true that the word for ‘forbid’ here is also elsewhere used by or about those seeking baptism (Acts 8.36; 10.47; 11.17 compare Matthew 3.14) but the connection is tenuous and only 10.47 is remotely a parallel usage. Thus its use is coincidental. It is also true that this story may have become one basis for infant baptism, but it should be noted that what Jesus says here assumes some comprehension on the children’s part. While it may thus be said to have encouraged child baptism, there are no grounds at all for saying that it justifies infant baptism of those who cannot intelligently respond. That is a totally different issue.
So having demonstrated in 10.2-12 that the new Kingly Rule of God was present so that men could be expected to go back to the way things were before the fall, He has now demonstrated the kind of people who will be able to enter under that Kingly Rule of God, and to whom it really belongs. And we will now see an example of one such young person who was unable to enter, because he had gone beyond having the heart of a little child.
Jesus Pronounces on Riches and Entry Under the Kingly Rule of God (10.17-31).
In this further example of His teaching Jesus’ authority again comes out. He is depicted as the One Who lays down the rules for entry into the Kingly Rule of God. And it also illustrates something else. He has just been speaking of how it is necessary to receive the Kingly Rule of God like a little child, and now here was an important and wealthy man (verse 22) who wanted guidance, and Jesus makes the demand that he forget all his encumbrances, and with the heart of a little child forsake all and follow Him. For the point was that he could not come and receive the Kingly Rule of God like a little child because his wealth got in the way. It prevented the Kingly Rule of God being of prime importance. So at the best any allegiance would have been a half-hearted allegiance as he tried to serve both God and Mammon (Matthew 6.24). And when he goes away disappointed (and Jesus was disappointed too) Jesus then goes on to point out that eternal life is not to be earned by dedication to good works. Rather it is a gift which is received by those who with unencumbered hearts follow Him. His point is that it is those who in their hearts have disregarded earthly things who will receive eternal life in the world to come. And why have they done this? It was ‘for His sake.’ This was another huge claim to being unique. The thought is not that they receive eternal life because of what they have sacrificed. It is that their sacrifice reveals their love for Him, in that they do it for His sake, following Him in childlike trust. It is this love and trust which evidences that they are true servants of God. Thus they will receive eternal life.
10.17 ‘And as he was going out in the way there ran one to him and knelt to him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I might inherit eternal life?” ’
As Jesus was leaving the place where He was, a young man (Matthew 19.20) came running up to him and knelt in front of Him. The action demonstrated the young man’s eagerness and also his awe of this great prophet. He clearly had some knowledge of Jesus, and his longing was to inherit eternal life. He gave the appearance of being just the right kind of person to make a disciple.
‘Eternal life’ here equates to coming under the Kingly Rule of God as is brought out in verse 23. But the eternal life he was seeking was that taught by the Pharisees, life in the future eternal kingdom, for they believed steadfastly in the resurrection from the dead and eternal life in the future Kingdom. He had seen how they strove to obtain it and he wanted to ensure his part in it as well. He had probably himself struggled hard, following the dictates of the Pharisees, but up to now he knew that he had not achieved it. He was aware that what he had learned was not enough. Something more was needed. We have here an interesting contrast to the young children. They came only to receive in a way that was free and undeserved, but he in contrast came to ‘do’. He wanted to put in a great effort, or possibly find some crucial key to the problem, some extra special deed, that would enable him to achieve his goal. Consequently it was going to be very difficult for him to enter under the Kingly Rule of God, for there were too many barriers in the way.
‘Good teacher.’ The unusual application of the adjective to the respectful title of ‘Teacher’ spoke volumes about the young man’s attitude of mind. In Jewish circles it was almost unique. Goodness was seen as belonging only to God. But he was thinking in terms of achieving goodness, in the way that the Pharisees sought to achieve it, and he had considered many teachers, but all had failed to come up to his exacting standards. Now, however, he had been watching Jesus and listening to Him, and as he had considered Jesus he had been filled with admiration. He had seen in Him One who was almost there, no, One who might already have achieved it. And therefore One who could perhaps now give him the secret and enable him to achieve it as well. But his thoughts were all in terms of achievement. And so enthusiastically he describes Jesus as ‘good’, and desires to attain to a similar goodness. He too wanted to be ‘good, like Jesus was. And so while enthusiastically he describes Him as ‘good’, it is with the wrong idea in mind. He sees in Him someone who had made Himself good, and He wants to know how to achieve it too. It was necessary for him first to be disillusioned about the possibility of achieving goodness.
‘What must I do?’ You have almost achieved it, teacher. Show me what you did. Show me what I have to do.
10.18 ‘And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? None is good except one, even God.” ’
Jesus gently asks him why he calls Him uniquely good. He was not by this denying His own goodness. That was not really the question at issue. He was rather asking the young man to think through what he meant by ‘goodness’, and to recognise what quality was in his mind. For what he needed to realise was that as far as he was concerned that goodness that he was speaking about was unattainable, because it was a goodness that was only true of God. And the truth therefore was that no one could become good in that way, because only God is essentially good. In other words He was stressing that true goodness is something that is beyond men, because it is something innate, not earned, and He wanted the young man to recognise the fact. Thus for the young man to have suggested that even Jesus was good when he thought of Him as a mere prophet demonstrated the inadequacy of his thinking, for it revealed that he did not know what true goodness was. Indeed if he really did think that Jesus was truly good let him consider what the consequences of that thought would be. It would be to put Jesus on the divine side of reality. That this point is in Jesus’ mind in the background (at least as far as Mark is concerned) comes out in the parallel verses in the chiasmus. For there too there is the veiled recognition that He is to be seen as unique and on the divine side of reality, for He speaks there of men making sacrifices ‘for His sake’ and as a consequence receiving eternal life, not because they make the sacrifices, but because of their attitude of heart towards Him (10.29). Because they recognise His essential goodness they respond to Him with all their hearts, without reservations. The corollary of the thought is that no merely ‘good’ Teacher could teach anyone how to be truly good, for such goodness had to be received from God.
There was unquestionably the implication here, to those who knew the truth, that in fact because He was Son of God He was intrinsically good, and He would not have denied such a level of goodness. But it is not the prominent idea in mind. What He wanted recognised was that to find goodness men must find God and that such goodness was not something for another to achieve, or that was achievable by men on earth. They could only become absorbed into His goodness. What the young man was seeking was therefore impossible. But how was He to make him realise the fact?
10.19 “You know the commandments. Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not defraud. Honour your father and mother.”
Jesus began by putting before him something of the standards God required of man. The requirements outlined follow the second part of the ten commandments, the part that could be actually demonstrated before men. ‘Do not defraud’ may well have been intended as a warning against covetousness, thus making up the last six commandments. But here, interpreted in the way in which the young man interpreted them, they were all things that a respectably brought up, wealthy Jewish young man of authority would on the surface feel that he had refrained from, unless he had been put to extreme temptation or had read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and that was precisely what he was. Matthew tells us that Jesus added, ‘and you shall love your neighbour as yourself ’ and there is no reason why it should not have been included by Jesus for it was a favourite requirement of His (12.31; Matthew 19.19; 22.39; Luke 10.27), and got to the heart of all these commandments.
Perhaps had the young man considered the words further he might have hesitated in his claim to goodness, especially if he had heard the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10.29-36), but he was young and constrained by the standards he knew, and perhaps a little self-righteous, and so he thought that he had not failed as regards the commandments. And yet in spite of that he knew that he lacked something, although he was not sure what. It was in fact because in his heart he did fail, because he had a failing which controlled him without his realising it, the deceitfulness of riches.
It is interesting that Jesus did not directly cite the commandment that had so struck Paul (Romans 7.7-8), “You shall not covet”. He stated it as “do not defraud”. For as will be seen the equivalent of covetousness for a rich man was in fact the young man’s weak point, and possibly Jesus did not want to bring its impact home too early. It was not that the young man coveted what others had, he owned too much for that, but that he loved what he had to such an extent that it gripped his life and prevented him from being totally outgoing towards God. And that was what Jesus was building up to.
10.20 ‘And he said to him, “Teacher, all these things I have observed from my youth.”
The young man had been brought up as a good and respectable Jewish boy and he had responded to the teaching he had received. Obedience to the Law of Moses had been a passion of his life. And He could think of nothing that he had omitted. As far as he was aware he had committed no major sin. But, of course, the truth was that he had not got beneath the surface of the Law.
10.21 ‘And Jesus, looking on him, loved him and said to him, “One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me.”
Jesus looked at the eager young man and loved him. He was the kind of young man whom all good men loved. But Jesus loved him too because He saw what this eager young man might yet become. And then Jesus went straight to the root of his sinfulness, a sinfulness of which he himself was as yet unaware. Like an arrow from a bow the words of Jesus went straight to his heart. His particular sin was that of love of money and luxurious ease and riches, the deceitfulness of riches (4.19) and it included the failure to genuinely dedicate it to the cause of God by using it extensively for those in need. So Jesus commanded him to rid himself of his stumblingblock by selling everything that he possessed and giving it away and then coming and following Him. Jesus knew that in his case he had to be totally freed from it.
Certainly Peter and Andrew had done this (1.18), and Levi had done it (2.14). But this young man had even more to lose, and he was not yet ready for it, for his wealth gripped his heart. We should note that his coming to Jesus had shown him what the real truth was. At least now he knew what the stark fact was. He was not, as he thought, approaching a certain higher level of goodness, so that he was almost there. Rather he was sinful, utterly sinful, because his wealth was more important to him than God. His privilege had become his idol.
So Jesus had achieved His aim. The man’s self-righteousness had been broken down, and shown for what it was, and he knew now that by his actions alone he could not hope to achieve eternal life, for he could not face the price that was demanded. He was unwilling to sacrifice all that he had.
‘Go -- sell -- give it to the poor.’ If the young man was to find life he must get rid of the idol that came between him and God. Without that he could never love God truly. Loving God like that was the one commandment that he had failed to keep, to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and if he would find eternal life it was that that had to be remedied. It was true that only God could inspire the necessary love within him to turn away from his idol, but it was for him to first cast out the hindrance to that love.
This demand to sell everything and give it to the poor was contrary to the teaching of the Rabbis who considered that it was wrong for a man to impoverish himself. They forbade the dedicating of more than a fifth of a man’s wealth to God. But Jesus would have argued that under the Kingly Rule of God things were different because such a person was trusting in his Father’s provision (Matthew 6.32-34) and wanted to have nothing diverting his attention from total commitment to God. Here was another evidence that the Kingly Rule of God was present.
‘And you will have treasure in heaven.’ Then the treasure that he sought would be his. He would have treasure in heaven. Compare Matthew 5.19-20. Not, be it noted, more treasure than others. The widow who gave her mite would equally have treasure in heaven (12.41-44), for both had given all. But both would have the treasure because by their actions they had revealed by their actions that they both loved God and were loved by God.
Jesus was not just saying, give up your worldly treasure and you will receive eternal life. The giving up had to be in order to follow Jesus fully. That was the crux. For eternal life was found in knowing Jesus Christ and in knowing the One Who had sent Him (John 5.24; 17.3).
‘And come and follow Me.’ Jesus was offering the young man a full answer to his question, and it was to be found in Him. As he responded to Jesus with his hindrance left behind him he would soon find the life that was life indeed, the free gift of eternal life in Christ, for God would work faith within his heart. He would be able to come under the Kingly Rule of God. But first his idol must be done away with.
And we should note that. Without the idol gone there could be no salvation. Jesus did not just tell him to believe. He told him that first he must rid himself of his idol. Then he could follow and find.
10.22 ‘But his face fell at the saying and he went away sorrowful, for he was one who had great possessions.’
As he thought of what was involved the young man’s face changed, and a despairing look overtook it. What was being required was too much for him. And he went away sorrowful. What a contrast with how he arrived. He did not run now. He walked off with drooped shoulders. We are reminded of Jesus’ words earlier. ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life’, and ‘what should a man give in exchange for his life’ (8.36-37). And this man seemed unwilling to face the cost.
And we should note that Jesus let him go. He knew how hard it was for the young man but He was willing to wait for the word sown to work in his heart, producing either good grain or being choked by weeds. It would determine what kind of ground he was, that which had been prepared by God, or that which was barren and would never bear fruit. The young man had to be left to decide. We do not know what the final outcome was. Perhaps he did return to follow Jesus. But he would never again say, “All these things have I done.” He had learned a vital lesson. He was not as ‘ready for anything’ as he had thought. There was at least one commandment that he was not prepared to keep. And now he knew it.
Nor was he at this stage prepared to come to Jesus open-heartedly, bringing his need, for he wanted too much what he already had and that prevented him being fully aware of his need. And while he was clinging on to his possessions so desperately he could not come under God’s Kingly Rule, for his wealth ruled in the place of God.
Of course Jesus was not suggesting that the young man could buy eternal life. That was not the question at issue. What mattered was that he thought that he was a true seeker after eternal life who would do anything to obtain it and had now discovered that he was not. Jesus had torn aside his refuge of lies and shown him the truth about himself. He could no longer look on himself as a fulfiller the Law, for he did not love his neighbours enough to put them on a par with himself, and he did not love God enough to use his wealth to do so.
Now, therefore, he was faced with a proper choice, God or mammon? His only hope now was to get rid of all that he possessed, because it was the burden around his neck, and the hindrance to his right approach. It was the thing that blurred his vision. Once he was rid of it, then he would be able to come to Jesus in childlike trust, need and penitence. But until then he could not. For the obstacle was too great to allow for any other option. Then he would be able to receive eternal life, not because of his sacrifice but because thereby he would put himself in a position to receive it as a free gift without restrictions and would be welcomed. We too need to stop and ask ourselves, what is the obstacle that grips our hearts and prevents us from fully following Christ? And then we also need to be ready to rid ourselves of it.
What a sad contrast there is between this man and the children who were brought to Jesus, whom He would not allow His disciples to turn away (verses 13-16). Here He let the man go because it was his own free choice, but He was still sorrowful.
10.23 ‘And Jesus looked round about and says to his disciples, “With what great difficulty shall those who have riches enter under the Kingly Rule of God.” ’
Heavy of heart for the rich man Jesus wanted the lesson that they had seen in His dealings with him to come home to all the disciples. He wanted them to see that when it came to response to Him the rich were at a definite disadvantage for they had too much to lose. In order to come under the Kingly Rule of God total obedience was required, and riches made that difficult when there was a world in need. That as why there would be few who could cope with riches and discipleship at the same time. For being under the Kingly Rule of God meant living as God required, and riches tended to make men live as their lusts required.
10.24a ‘And the disciples were amazed at his words.’
Why were the disciples amazed? Because they had still not learned the lesson that what was important in the world was not important to God. They probably thought that riches enabled men to give generously, gave them position in the synagogue and made them more capable of doing good. It gave them a decided advantage. That was because in spite of all that Jesus had taught them they still thought that eternal life could be earned. They failed to see that when men did the things that we have described their hearts were often not right, and that meanwhile they failed in so much of what they ought to have done, for they lacked compassion and mercy. And His disciples were also astonished that Jesus seemed even to pity such rich men.
10.24b-25 ‘But Jesus answers again and says to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter under the Kingly Rule of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter under the Kingly Rule of God.” ’
‘Children.’ A tender word. Possibly this was a hint to them that they should remember what He had said about the need to become like little children (although the word consistently is different). But more likely it was an affectionate ‘lads’. Then He went on to stress that entry under the Kingly Rule of God was difficult for all, never mind the rich. It was not easy for anyone. That was why so few entered. And that for the rich it was virtually impossible. It was like trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle. Rich men found it hard to become like little children, bringing nothing with them and being always ready to receive freely. They relied on their own riches and enjoyed the pleasures that resulted, regularly only paying lip service to God and His purposes. They had little real sense of need and thought they could buy God’s acceptance, either by a multiplicity of sacrifices, or by gifts. They rather needed desperately to consider whether their hearts were truly right towards God.
The illustration is typical of Jesus’ vivid metaphors. The thought of a camel going through the eye of a needle was ludicrous, but it well illustrated the point of impossibility. The Babylonian Talmud would later use the picture of an elephant going through the eye of a needle. There is no foundation in fact, however, for a needle gate used by camels, which is a picturesque modern invention (in spite of photographs of ‘it’ i.e. of a gate dating centuries later), although it is an interesting suggestion. There is simply no evidence for it.
10.26 ‘And they were exceedingly astonished, saying to him, “Who then can be saved?” ’
They had previously been amazed at the statement of how hard it was for a rich man to enter under the Kingly Rule of God but at this statement about the difficulty of anyone entering under the Kingly Rule of God, and the ‘impossibility’ of rich men so entering, they were absolutely staggered. General Jewish theory from the Old Testament was that men prospered because they were pleasing to God and that prosperity was a sign of God’s favour. The rich were expected to give alms generously, but that would surely only count in their favour. So if they could not enter, who could?
We should note, however, that a counter position about the rich is found in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, and that was that the poor tended to righteousness and the rich to ungodliness. This was more in line with what Jesus was saying here and fitted in with His proclamations about His own coming treatment at the hands of powerful men. It is also the stress of much New Testament teaching.
We have the same tendencies today. There are those who magnify the idea that truly believing will result in physical prosperity, but that is countered here. Jesus was saying that too much prosperity is dangerous and that Christians should not seek it, for there are few who can cope with it and remain true (Proverbs 30.7-9; 1 Timothy 6.9). And that has been proved by many a modern man.
10.27 ‘Jesus looking on them says, “With men it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” ’
Jesus recognised that they were beginning dimly to see the truth, that attaining salvation is impossible to men, and He then went on to make clear that in fact the only reason that men could be saved was that nothing is impossible when God is there. That God is able to do anything, even save men. This stresses the miraculous nature of the work of converting of men and women and the bringing of them under the Kingly Rule of God. As He would say elsewhere, men came to Him because it was given to them by the Father (John 6.39, 65) and because the Father Himself drew them (John 6.44), not because of their own ability or deserts. In the end, He was saying, salvation (verse 26) is the gift of God, and only made possible by the work of God on them and within them. It is the greatest miracle of all.
‘For all things are possible with (alongside) God.’ Genesis 18.14 in LXX in a similar construction expresses the same idea negatively, ‘is anything impossible alongside God?’ Thus emphasising that anything is possible when God steps in. It is not a theoretical or philosophical statement, it is a deeply personal statement. We could translate, ‘All things are possible when God is there.’ (Para to theo - alongside God). Compare also Zechariah 8.6 where LXX translates ‘marvellous’ as ‘impossible’.
Basic then to all Jesus’ words here is that men cannot save themselves by their actions. This rich young man had given Him a marvellous opportunity to bring this lesson home. In men’s eyes there was no one closer to being acceptable to God than this eager young man, desirous of being good, and rich without being spoiled, seemingly ready to do ‘anything’. He seemed almost the perfect model for acceptability. But Jesus had seen deeper and had revealed exactly what was lacking. He was not ready to put God first in his life. His eagerness was with reservations, and that could not make him acceptable to God. What he must therefore do was look to God to do the ‘impossible’ in his life, and in his case that involved following Jesus, as indeed in one way or another it does for us all. We cannot ever come for salvation and say that we will not follow Him.
10.28 ‘Peter began to say to him, “Lo, we have left all and followed you.” ’
The thought of who could be saved, and that salvation is impossible to men, must have been disturbing to these men who had followed Jesus. After all, was that not why they were following Jesus? It could only make them wonder about their own position. And Peter spoke for them all when he asked this question. Where did they stand? After all, they had done what the young man would not do. They had left all and followed Him.
The first verb is in the aorist indicating an instantaneous action, the making of the first choice, ‘left all once for all’, the second in the perfect (the probable reading) indicating something which was done and continues, ‘have followed you and still do’.
But in Mark, where the immediate reply is omitted (see Matthew 19.27), Peter’s question can seem almost to be greedy, as though he was asking what rewards they would get. However, we think that because of the nature of Jesus’ reply rather because of Peter’s question and expectation. Peter was not asking what rewards they would get. In the light of the previous comments about riches it would hardly be in his mind as a question to put to Jesus at that time. What he was concerned about was whether, considering their position, God would work the impossible on them, giving them the eternal life that the young man had been seeking. It was a reasonable question and in the circumstances to be expected.
It was Jesus Himself Who seemingly expanded His reply by saying that not only were they sure to receive eternal life in the world to come if they truly followed Him, but also that they would receive many benefits in this life, even though not in the way that men in general sought them. There would be unexpected rewards resulting from Christian fellowship and sharing. What would be involved for them meanwhile, both positively and negatively, would be sacrifice, God’s provision, persecution and finally eternal life. We must not blame Peter because Jesus graciously offered more than he asked.
But another point should be borne in mind, and that is that according to Matthew, Jesus gave another reply first which threw a whole new light on the situation. So first let us consider what Mark did not say.
EXCURSUS. The Gospel of Matthew’s Additional Words.
Matthew 19.27 adds to Peter’s words the phrase ‘what then shall we have?’ In context this has in mind salvation and entry under the Kingly Rule of God. What Peter was asking was, ‘in view of what you have said what future is there for us? Will God work that salvation in us?’ He was not necessarily thinking of riches, for what he had just seen with the rich young man, and had heard in Jesus’ reply, would surely have made him think the opposite. What he was concerned about was what was in store for them and whether they would be privileged to have eternal life.
To this question Jesus did not just say that they need not be concerned because their salvation was assured by the grace of God. Rather He sought to give them the grand vision which would help to sustain them in days to come. He replied, “Truly I tell you, that you who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of His glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones judging (administering and directing and acting as guide to) the twelve tribes of Israel.” He repeated the last part of this at the Last Supper (Luke 22.30).
This reply was an absolute assurance of their salvation and of eternal life, of entering into the Kingly Rule of God, because they had truly responded to Him and followed Him (whereby Judas was excluded). But it was more than that, it was a guarantee of the future. It was a guarantee of final triumph in the face of what was to come. Man might do his worst but God would finally bring about the regeneration, and then ‘you who have followed me’ (thus finally excluding Judas, a warning to all) would be there in positions of authority fulfilling a new function as disciples and Apostles.
‘The regeneration.’ The new beginning, the renewal of things, when through His Chosen One, His Messiah, God would bring about His purposes. It would begin in Acts 2. Jesus wants them to know that it is finally assured, and that when it is so they will share prominently in it, as they did.
‘You also will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’ In other words the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16; John 15.1-6) will finally be established, with the disciples acting as servants over it. Like the sons of the ‘anointed one’ of old they will sit on the thrones of the house of David and act as ‘judges’ in Jerusalem’ (Psalm 122.5). The ‘twelve tribes’ means simply ‘all Israel’, (for there became in fact thirteen tribes). And the church could therefore be addressed as ‘the twelve tribes’ (James 1.1) because they were the new Israel sprouting from the old (Ephesians 2.11-22). Thus the promise is that the true Israel will be established and they, His disciples, will be in authority over it. Furthermore their prominent position in the new Jerusalem, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12.22), would also be secure (they would receive both in this life and in the one to come - Mark 10.30). The saying should not be taken too literally. Judas for one would certainly not end up sitting on a throne, and to sit on His right hand and on His left was not His to give (10.40). Indeed Jesus closed by warning that those who were first may in the end be last. The idea was rather of their certain, significant and unique participation, if they were faithful, in the final fulfilment of God’s purposes. We may note that some saying like this was necessary in order to explain the ambitions of James and John in Mark 10.37. But note that there the ‘judging’ is expressed as being in terms of service. They were not to look forward to lording it over people. They were to look forward to humble service.
(END OF EXCURSUS).
Returning to Mark we find that his emphasis is that those who follow Jesus will not finally lose by it and will finally receive eternal life.
10.29-30 ‘Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no man who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake and the sake of the Good News, but he will receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecution, and in the world to come eternal life.” ’
Jesus here covered two aspects of things, this world and the next. The thought was not that like Job all their goods and family would literally be restored. What was promised was that there would be satisfactory alternatives. We should compare 3.34 which explains it. As some travelled the world in His name they would share many houses which they could for a time call home, they would find many brothers and sisters and mothers (but not ‘many fathers’ - they had one Father, even God), and they would often benefit from land as necessary in His service. But the solemn note was then added, ‘with persecution’. Life was not promised to be rosy, only fulfilling. And finally the greatest promise of all, ‘in the world to come eternal life’. This does not have in mind any kingdom age. It looks to the everlasting glory with God in eternity.
Notice the ‘ors’ and ‘ands’ in the verses. What is lost is limited, what is received is all inclusive.
The implications of this verse are enormous humanly speaking. Let us consider them.
10.31 “But many that are first shall be last, and the last first.”
Finally Jesus ended by warning them against presumption, and no doubt Judas was especially in mind. Whether this means first in status and priority, or first in time, the same applies. It was possible to lose the benefit that was theirs. They could finish up last. Each must ensure his continuation in faithful service if he was to receive the prize (1 Corinthians 9.27). And it applied not only to them but to ‘many’. And in a sense the discouraging thing is that many who were first will be last. It was not to be seen as theoretical but as fact. Many would lose what they had at first gained. But it was also an encouragement. Those who were last need not despair, for they too could finish up first. It is never too late to begin to serve God faithfully.
Some would relate those ‘that are first’ to the leaders of the people, or to the Pharisees, or to rich and important men in contrast with the common people and the poor. But in this immediate context this seems doubtful. What He has in mind here is for them not to lose what they have already gained.
Once again we should note overall that Mark presents his material in order to bring out Who Jesus really is. He is One Who can be called ‘Good’ (verse 17), an attribute reserved for God. He can demand that a man sell all he has and give it away to follow Him (verse 21), promising eternal life on that basis. He can guarantee to His disciples that they will receive eternal life and share in the Kingly Rule of God (verse 30 with 23) because of what they have done with regard to Jesus Himself. Jesus is putting Himself in the place of God.
Jesus Presses on Towards Jerusalem Where He Will Give His Life As A Ransom For Many (10.32-45).
It is only at this point that Mark draws our attention to the fact that Jesus has begun His final journey to Jerusalem, and having done so he will immediately hurry on to the final days. This contrasts with Luke who emphasised that Jesus’ face was set for Jerusalem seemingly long before He actually reached it (9.51). But the timing is in fact actually similar. It is only that Luke then includes a whole host of extra material. It is simply a difference of presentation.
And yet Mark’s assessment of those final days comes out clearly for he devotes to them over one third of his Gospel. Much is left out of the life of Jesus which he must have known, but the final days are dealt with in great detail, showing how important he saw them to be. To Mark Jesus’ death was not just the end of His life, it was the culmination of all that He was and of what He had come to do. It was His final achievement. As he will shortly point out, He had come to give His life as a ransom for many (10.45), and to seal the new covenant in His blood (14.24).
Note that in ‘a’ as they were going up to Jerusalem and ‘following Him’ the disciples were filled with awed amazement, and He told them what was to happen to Him, and in the parallel He tells them that He will give Himself as a ransom for many, calling on them to follow Him in His example. In ‘b’ He describes what the Jewish authorities and Gentiles will do to Him, and in the parallel reminds them that such love lording it over people. In ‘c’ James and John come near in order to preempt the other disciples, and in the parallel the other disciples are angry at James and John. In ‘d’ they wish to sit on His right hand and His left in His glory, and in the parallel such is for those for whom it has been prepared. In ‘e’ He asks them whether they can drink the same cup as He will, and be baptised with the same baptism, and in the parallel declares that they will indeed participate in both. Central is the naive claim that ‘we are able’ when they had no idea what they were talking about.
Jesus Speaks For the Third Time of His Coming Violent Death (10.32-34).
10.32a ‘And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them, and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.’
As they walked along the dusty road towards Jerusalem, something about Jesus’ new demeanour and His determination to press on urgently to Jerusalem amazed the disciples. Luke puts it, ‘when the days were well nigh come that He should be received up He steadfastly set His face to go towards Jerusalem’ (Luke 9.51). They sensed that something was about to happen. In His heart was the cry, “Lo, I come to do your will, Oh God” (Hebrews 10.7, 9). Yet not for one moment did they think of leaving Him.
‘Those who followed were afraid.’ This may refer to a different group of followers than the twelve, including among others the women who went around with them (Luke 8.2-3). They must have gathered something of the expected dangers for they were afraid. But they too continued to follow. This sense of awe will be repeated as a result of His resurrection (16.8). All that happens from this point on is beyond man’s comprehension.
10.32b-34 ‘And he took again the twelve and began to tell them the things that were to happen to him, saying, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and to the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and will deliver him to the Gentiles, and they will mock him, and will spit on him and will scourge him, and will kill him, and after three days he will rise again.” ’
We note that these words were specifically delivered to the twelve, possibly at a resting point. Here Jesus for at least the third time (compare 8.31; 9.30-32) explained what was in store for Him. It was probably no coincidence that the first occurred in Gentile territory, the second in Galilee and the third in Judea, each building in intensity from the other as He neared Jerusalem. He was slowly and dedicatedly marching toward the centre of Judaism and had declared what was to happen to Him in each area, indicating that those in each area could participate in what He would achieve. There is also possibly the thought that the Gentiles (verse 33), Herod of Galilee and the Jewish leaders of Judea would contribute to His judgment.
It is significant that crucifixion is not mentioned, which we would have expected if Mark had ‘coloured’ the material. And there is in fact nothing here that Jesus could not have gleaned from the Old Testament, and especially from what had happened to Jeremiah, and was forecast as to happen to God’s true Servant (Isaiah 50.6; 53.3-5, 8-12; compare Psalm 22.7), and His knowledge of the treatment regularly meted out to prisoners, as guided by His continual relationship with His Father.
‘Delivered to the chief priests and the scribes.’ God would hand Him over to those who were supposed to be His representatives. These represented the two main religious authorities of Judaism, the chief priests who controlled the Temple and its worship, and the scribes who were looked to for teaching and guidance by the people. In this He would be following in the steps of Jeremiah. Consider the words of Jeremiah 2.8, ‘the priests did not say “where is the Lord” and they that handle the Law knew Me not.’ Compare also Jeremiah 18.18 where he too was rejected by those who handled the Law and 20.1-2 where he was smitten by ‘the priest who was the chief officer in the house of the Lord’. See also Jeremiah 26.7-8, 11 where ‘the priests and the prophets’ sought his death. Jeremiah would be especially significant to Jesus as he too prophesied the destruction of the Temple (7.14), calling it a ‘den of robbers’ (7.11). So it would be nothing new for the religious leaders of Israel to condemn a prophet.
This rejection by the Jewish leaders is further based on the pattern of such Scriptures as Zechariah 11 where the true shepherd who had fed the flock was rejected by the false shepherds of Judah and Israel, and was dismissed for thirty pieces of silver, the value of a slave, which he cast to the potter in the house of the Lord as a sign that it was insufficient and rejected.
So Jesus was to be delivered into the tender mercies of the Jewish religion as a whole, as the prophets had been before Him, and could only expect the same treatment. As happens in all religions, and as would happen in part with Christianity, apart from a remnant it had gradually built up traditions and dogmas which had stifled the truth at its heart as represented by its Scriptures and could not bear opposition from anyone who would not bow down to their traditions and dogmas. Being handed over to them was like being thrown in a lion’s den.
‘And they will condemn Him to death.’ In the same way as they had done it to Jeremiah before Him (Jeremiah 26.11). See also the prophecy concerning the Suffering Servant who would also be condemned to death by those responsible for judgment in Israel (Isaiah 53.7).
‘And will deliver Him to the Gentiles.’ This was a sign of His total rejection as a religious figure. To be handed over to the Gentiles meant that He was seen as unclean and having no part in Judaism. It was the ultimate rejection.
‘And they will mock him, and will spit on him and will scourge him, and will kill him.’ Even the Gentiles will have no time for Him. They too will totally reject Him. The first part was the fate of the Servant of Isaiah 50.6 who could say ‘I gave my back to the smiters --- I hid not my face from shame (mockery) and spitting’. Compare also Psalm 22.7, ‘A reproach of men and despised of the people, all those who see me laugh me to scorn’.
‘And will kill him’ again has in mind Isaiah 53.7. These words express the expected fate of the Servant of the Lord.
It is clear from these words that Jesus was steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures and had seen in Jeremiah, in the Suffering Servant of Isaiah and in the suffering Psalmist a picture of His own coming suffering. Indeed He quoted from the latter’s opening words when He was on the cross. The disciples meanwhile had concentrated on more pleasant and popular promises and could not or would not understand Him. It is always difficult to break down prejudice. His ideas were totally alien to them because they did not know the Scriptures (Luke 24.25).
‘And after three days He will rise again.’ Death would not be the end. He would be vindicated by resurrection (Isaiah 53.12). This He repeated each time He spoke of His death. It echoed the words of Hosea in 6.1-2, with Himself being seen as representing true Israel, and His own words at the beginning of His ministry (John 2.19) where He had hinted at the idea when speaking of the Temple. It is the equivalent in Jewish terminology of ‘on the third day’ (Matthew 16.21; 17.23; 20.19) see on 8.31).
James and John Seek the Highest Place (10.35-45).
The words of Jesus found in Matthew 19.28, not recorded by Mark, had struck home. They appealed more to the thinking of the disciples than the talk of death. And James and John, as part of the Inner Three, egged on by their mother (Matthew 20.20), came with her to Jesus to seek to supplant Peter. Possibly they felt that Peter, having been addressed by Jesus as ‘Satan’ (8.33), was at present vulnerable as leader of the group. And besides they were related to the high priestly set which gave them prestige. They were the well connected ones (John 18.15). (How hard it is for those who are well connected to put themselves on a level with others).
This self-seeking is deliberately set against the previous words to bring out its enormity, but we need not assume it immediately followed it. They would soon learn what being a leader meant in Jesus’ eyes.
10.35 ‘And there come near to him James and John, the sons of Zebedee, saying to him, “Teacher, we wish you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” ’
This was a normal type of approach when someone sought a favour. It was not considered polite to be too direct.
10.36 ‘And he said to them, “What do you wish me to do for you?” ’
Jesus’ reply was equally polite. He accepted their approach and recognised that they were leading up to asking a favour. (There are several slight variations in text, but all with the same intent).
10.37 ‘And they said to him, “Grant to us that we may sit, one on your right hand and one on your left hand, in your glory.” ’
This request assumes a statement like Matthew 19.28 in order to get their minds thinking in this direction. The idea of suffering had passed them by, but the idea of glory appealed. If the twelve were to rule, and Peter had shown that he came short, they felt that they deserved the favoured places (John would, after all, have one at the Last Supper - John 13.23). We can see from this the way the disciples were thinking and appreciate better why they were unprepared for what would soon happen. In spite of the warnings they could not rid their minds of earthly glory.
‘Matthew has ‘in your kingship’ but the idea is the same. They may well have said ‘in your glorious kingship’. The idea of a glorious Messianic kingship preceding the establishing of the Kingly Rule of God was popular, and they wanted pre-eminence in sharing the rule and the glory. Compare how glory is to be given to the Son of Man in Daniel 7.14. It is interesting how quickly they could seize on ideas of glory and how slowly on ideas of suffering. But we often hear what we want to hear and neglect what is unpleasant, and invariably interpret in the light of our own fixed ideas.
That two disciples should make such a request baffles us, because we look at the disciples after they have been transformed. But in fact they were simply manoeuvring for position and seeking to ensure the positions that they had already calculated might be theirs (had it not been for Peter, and he had surely disqualified himself. It is an indication of how grossly they had misinterpreted Jesus’ teaching, and of how self-seeking the disciples were at this point.
10.38 ‘But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink? Or to be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?”
Jesus’ reply was veiled, and yet open to those who would see it and who had listened to all His warnings of what was to come. The king’s cup was drunk by his favourites and both Jesus and His disciples had been baptised by John. This was probably what his statement initially meant to the disciples. They felt well able to fit in with the requirements. Yes, they would say confidently, we can do both.
‘You do not know what you are asking.’ Jesus warned them to appreciate that they might be asking more than they realised. To take their position by His side meant being involved in what He was going to be involved in. Were they prepared for that? Did they even know what it was? (Did they, for example, want to be on each side of Him when He was on the cross, as Mark will later point out that the insurrectionists were (15.27)?) They little realised how they must have been grieving Jesus at their lack of understanding.
‘Are you able to drink the cup that I am drinking?’ With His eyes ahead on the sorrows that awaited Him He had already begun to drink the cup, and He knew that He would have to drink it to the full. The cup was the cup of suffering (14.34, 36) and the cup of God’s wrath, regularly mentioned in the Old Testament, to be drunk by the One Who was made sin for us. ‘In the hand of the Lord there is a cup and the wine is red’ and it is for all the wicked of the earth (Psalm 75.8). Jerusalem had ‘drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of His fury’ (Isaiah 51.17). ‘Take the cup of the wine of this fury at my hand and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it’ (Jeremiah 25.15 see also 49.12; Lamentations 4.21; Ezekiel 23.31-34; Habakkuk 2.16; Psalm 60.3; Isaiah 63.6; Obadiah 1.16 compare Revelation 14.10). In the words of Job, ‘let him drink of the wrath of the Almighty’ (Job 21.20).
‘Or to be baptised with the baptism I am being baptised with?’ Jesus was here thinking of being overwhelmed with suffering (compare Luke 12.50). The word ‘baptizo’ was used by the Greeks of overwhelming calamities. Isaiah 21.4 LXX renders ‘horror has frightened me’ from the Hebrew into the Greek as, ‘lawlessness has baptised me’ with the same idea of being overwhelmed. Aquila also in his Greek translation of the Old Testament translates Psalm 69.2 ‘the floods overflow me’ by using baptizo. The idea of such overwhelming appears regularly in the Old Testament (Psalm 42.7 - ‘all your waves and your billows are gone over me’; see also Jonah 2.3-5; Psalm 69.15; 124.4-5; Isaiah 43.2). So Jesus was thinking of being overwhelmed by suffering, including, in the light of the cup, the horror of the wrath of God which He would bear for us (verse 45).
10.39a ‘And they said to him, “We are able”.’
In their reply they had no idea what He was talking about. Perhaps they did naively think in terms of the King’s cup and social graces, or perhaps they acknowledged that although there may be dangers ahead when Jesus as Messiah finally sought to establish His rule, they would be well able to face the opposition bravely, and if necessary die nobly for the cause. But what they had no idea of was the humiliation, the suffering, the degradation, even the slow martyrdom by exquisite torture, of which He was speaking.
10.39b-40 ‘And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptised, you will be baptised. But to sit on my right hand or on my left hand is not mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” ’
Fortunately for them Jesus knew their hearts. He knew that in spite of their dull apprehension and their desire for pre-eminence they would soon show their mettle. So He gently let them down. Now He would speak of a lesser cup and a lesser baptism of suffering which they too would be called on to share.
‘The cup that I drink, you will drink.’ Not the cup of the wine of the wrath of God, for that was for Jesus only, but the cup of suffering. Both would drink it to the full.
‘The baptism with which I am baptised, you will be baptised.’ They would not necessarily suffer the agonies of crucifixion, and certainly they would not die with the weight of sin on their shoulders, but in one way or another they would find themselves ‘partakers of Christ’s sufferings’ (1 Peter 4.13, compare Colossians 1.24), at times overwhelmed, by persecution, hatred, imprisonment and even possibly, but not necessarily, martyrdom. James would be dead fairly early on, having triumphed in the name of Christ, when he was executed by the sword under Herod Agrippa (Acts 12.2). Of John there are conflicting accounts. One refers to his martyrdom, others to his working in the mines on Patmos (see Revelation 1.9) and dying in Ephesus an old man, having undergone the travails which inevitably faced all the Apostles, as they had those before them (Hebrews 11.35-38 compare 2 Corinthians 11.23-28).
‘But to sit on my right hand or on my left hand is not mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’ Jesus did not dispense favours. He did not have favourites. He dealt with all according to God’s purposes. Whatever He did was in line with what His father willed. Indeed, He pointed out, the ‘prime positions’ in heaven were already allotted in the foreknowledge of God (and were settled on a basis that as yet they had not begun to conceive). It was not therefore possible for them to be changed. They would go to those chosen from the beginning, for whom they had been ‘prepared’. We have here a warning against taking the twelve thrones of Matthew 19.28 too literally. Others too have a right to those thrones, for they are spiritual not literal.
Note on the Apostle John.
Jesus’ words did not necessarily mean that John would be martyred. It was a baptism of suffering that He spoke of rather than a baptism of death. He was saying that both would have to endure overwhelming trial and tribulation for His sake.
In fact the evidence suggesting that John was martyred is relatively slight. A 9th century chronicler George Hamartolos reproduced a statement contained in the History of Philip of Side (c450 AD) to the effect that Papias (mid-2nd century AD) asserted that both the sons of Zebedee met a violent death in fulfilment of the Lord’s prediction. But most scholars regard Philip of Side as an unreliable witness to Papias, and neither Acts nor the historian Eusebius mention the fact, which would be surprising if it were true.
The only supporting evidence is a Syriac martyrology written c.400 AD in which the entry on 27th December is ‘John and James the Apostles at Jerusalem’. But a calendar from Carthage dated 505 AD reads for 27th December ‘John the Baptist and James the Apostle whom Herod killed’. However as the calendar also commemorates John the Baptist on 24th June those who argue for the Apostle John’s martyrdom suggest that the calendar made a mistake on 27th December and should have read John the Apostle. But there is no reason why the calendar should not preserve two old traditions concerning the death of John the Baptist, and while a switch from John the Baptist to John the Apostle, when being paired with James, is easily understandable, a switch the other way seems very unlikely.
And, however we read the above doubtful evidence, none fix a date for John’s supposed martyrdom, only saying it was in Jerusalem. Had it been at the same time as James, Acts would have mentioned it.
But the far stronger evidence says that John died in old age in Ephesus. Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus (190 AD) said that John ‘who reclined on the Lord’s breast’, after being ‘a witness (martus) and a teacher’, ‘fell asleep at Ephesus’. Irenaeus also, who knew Polycarp who was born in 70 AD, who used to tell him what he had heard from John’s lips and from the lips of the other disciples, writing around the same time as Polycrates said that John ‘issued the Gospel’ in Ephesus and confuted the heretics, refusing to remain under the same roof as that enemy of truth, Cerinthus, and that he lingered on until the days of Trajan (98-117 AD). Jerome also repeated the tradition that John remained at Ephesus into extreme old age. Other evidence is known which also linked John with Papias and with Ephesus e.g. the second prologue to John’s Gospel found in a tenth century AD manuscript of the Latin vulgate which was clearly based on much earlier evidence. It is possibly a little surprising that Ignatius of Antioch (110 AD) does not mention the fact of his residence at Ephesus but an argument from silence is dangerous, especially as he may have favoured Paul.
End of note.
10.41-44 ‘And when the ten heard it they began to be moved with indignation at James and John, and Jesus called them to him and says to them, “You know that those who are deemed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you. But whoever would become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever would be first among you shall be bondservant of all.” ’
It takes a long time to develop true humility and with all Jesus’ teaching it had not yet become obvious among the Twelve. Thus when the others heard what James and John had done they were indignant. What right had they to pre-empt the issue, they thought. They little realised that thereby they were showing that they too were unfit for the position.
How hard a lesson it is to learn, that the Christian leader should desire only one thing, and that not to be admired or exalted, but to be allowed to humbly serve. He must not want position or fame or to be treated as someone important. He must want to act as a bondservant to everyone, and really mean it. The Apostles had not learned it yet and they had been with Him for years. Show me someone who basks in praise, and I will show you someone who is a beginner in Christ.
Jesus illustrated His point from Gentile rulers. The Jews had experienced a number of them. And one thing was common to all, they lorded it over their people. They were proud of their authority and very conscious of it, and they exerted it to the full. They were the masters and they wanted everyone to know it. Furthermore the dreams of the Jews for the future rested on similar hopes for their own exaltation. And it was these very attributes that would cause them to reject and crucify Jesus.
‘But it is not so among you.’ Those who were seeking position so as to be masters and lords in that way were not true disciples, nor were they following their Master. If they thought like that they were totally in the wrong. For disciples the opposite was to be true.
‘Whoever would become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever would be first among you shall be bondservant of all.’ Compare 9.35. The true disciple’s prime concern, said Jesus, is to serve, yes even to be a bondservant. That is the test of greatness among Christians. Such a man does not look for praise, he does not seek honour, he does not desire position. He gladly takes the lowest task if it will help someone. He just wants to be useful in God’s service, and as long as God is satisfied he is satisfied. That is true greatness. And that will apply in heaven as well as on earth.
‘Be your servant.’ The idea is of personal service rendered to others. And note the ‘your’. In that small band his aim would be the good of all and to serve all. He would not even want to be ‘first’. He would not think of it. The word for servant is diakononos. This verse incidentally describes the duties and responsibilities of a deacon, humble service to others. But that is not strictly in mind here. What is in mind here is the whole attitude of wanting to serve rather than to master it over others.
‘Bondservant of all.’ Here the idea is of commitment and responsibility. He is ‘bound’ to those he serves, he is their debtor. They owe him nothing. He owes them everything.
10.45 “For truly the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The perfect example was before them. The Son of Man, He Who would one day enter into God’s presence to receive the dominion and the power and the glory, and would return to earth in power and great glory, had come to earth to serve. He Who should have been served by all, had made Himself the servant of all. He had deliberately humbled Himself (Philippians 2.5-8). He was God’s Servant. He was here to do the Father’s will and would do anything for those whom the Father had given Him. And even when He is exalted, when He receives the dominion, He will serve (Luke 12.37). His aim and purpose will always be the good of all. He does not want the dominion for Himself but so that He can use it for the good of all. There will never be any thought for Himself. It was for this that He became man.
One of the most remarkable things about Jesus was that He could speak like this in true humility. He said it because it was true. Never once do we get the idea of self-conceit. Always He wanted only to please His Father and do and be what was right. What always comes over is the totally balanced man Who wants only to give of Himself to make the world right, and make it right with God.
That Jesus was to be seen as the Servant of God of Isaiah is seen in that He was declared to be the Servant at His baptism - ‘my beloved, in whom I am well pleased’ (Mark 1.11 compare Isaiah 42.1), and that the idea was applied to Him in Matthew 12.17-21; Luke 2.32; 9.35 RV; and by Jesus Himself in Luke 22.37. The Servant was also possibly to be identified with the prophet in Isaiah 61.1-3 which Jesus applied to Himself in Luke 4.16-21 (it at least demonstrated that He saw Himself as fulfilling Isaianic prophecy). When John the Baptiser declared Him to be ‘the Lamb of God’ (John 1.29, 36), this identification was also made by him (Isaiah 53.7).
‘Came.’ He came of His own free purpose and choice, coming from the Father, with one aim, to serve those who were His and to redeem them to Himself.
‘And to give His life a ransom for many.” In the nature of Him that was the central aspect of His service, that He would give of Himself utterly so as to redeem others. He would take their place, bearing the consequences of the wrath of God upon Himself. It was necessary and so He would do it, and do it with love and compassion and mercy. He had no other thought. He was the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 personified. That chapter is the best commentary possible on this verse, as it describes One who was totally self-giving for the sake of others.
‘To give His life.’ That was why He had to die. He was voluntarily giving His life in order to be a ransom (see John 10.17-18). He was going firmly and uncompromisingly towards the cross.
‘A ransom.’ Lutron. Used only here and the parallel passage (Matthew 20.28), in the New Testament (Paul uses ’antilutron - 1 Timothy 2.6). In secular Greek it was used for the ransom of a prisoner of war or of a slave. In LXX it was used of the price a man paid to redeem his life which was forfeit because his ox had gored someone to death (Exodus 21.30), the price paid for the redemption of the firstborn (Numbers 18.15), the price paid by which the next of kin obtained the release of an enslaved relative (Leviticus 25.51-53) or the price paid for the redemption of a mortgaged property (Leviticus 25.26). It was a payment made to obtain release and freedom, paid in substitution for what was obtained. Compare 1 Peter 1.18; Hebrews 9.12.
‘Instead of (anti) many.’ ’Anti - which indicates ‘instead of, in the place of’ - is a clear substitutionary word. For the ‘many’ compare Isaiah 53.11, 12. It reminds us of the purpose of the Servant, to be wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53.5), to make Himself an offering for sin (Isaiah 53.10) so that ‘many’ may be declared righteous (53.11) and so that He may bear the sin of ‘many’ (53.12).
So Jesus spoke of Himself here as offering Himself as a substitute for those for whom He died, as paying Himself as a price for their release and freedom. But it is part of a total picture, not the whole. He was also a sacrifice for sin, and our representative in Whom we also died that we might live. The work of atonement was far greater and far deeper than one picture, albeit an important one, can ever portray, indeed than all pictures can ever portray. In the end it is beyond understanding.
Jesus Approaches Jerusalem and Enters It As A Proclamation Of Who He Is, Cleanses The Temple, Depicts Its Coming Demise By Means Of The Withering of The Fig Tree, Enters Into Dispute With His Opponents, And Reveals Them As Those Who Are Like Faithless Tenants Of A Vineyard Rejecting Even The Son (10.46-12.12).
Along with the festal crowds proceeding to the Passover in Jerusalem along the Jericho Road Jesus now passes through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem, which He intends to enter as the Prince of Peace, purifying the Temple from its extravagances which are wrecking true worship for the Gentiles, and facing down His opponents who challenge what He is doing, pointing out that they are like false tenants of a vineyard who even reject the owner’s son. But none need fear, for the stone that the builders are rejecting is to be made the Cornerstone of the whole building.
Note that in ‘a’ the blind man acknowledges the Son of David, while in the parallel those who should have acknowledged Him refuse to do so because of their spiritual blindness. In ‘b’ Jesus reveals His authority by His actions and is acknowledged by the crowds, and in the parallel He is challenged as to that authority and rejected by Jewish authorities. In ‘c’ He declares that the fig tree (and the Temple) will never bear fruit again, and in the parallel the fig tree is withered and the Temple’s judgment is announced. Centrally in ‘d’ God has suddenly come to His Temple and has revealed its true condition, and that it is not what it should be.
The Blind Man Who Saw Clearly (10.46-52).
As Jesus left Jericho on His approach to Jerusalem he was hailed as ‘the son of David’ - by a blind man. The idea had no doubt been suggested to the blind man by others but it was he alone who, having thought about it and accepted it, hailed Jesus by the title. Blind Jerusalem might not welcome Jesus like this but this blind man would, and he also was given sight and became a disciple (verse 52).
Whatever the beggar’s intention Mark clearly saw the use of this title on this momentous entry into Jerusalem as highly significant. Here was the son of David approaching Jerusalem across the Jordan as He proceeded towards His final victory, as had the Israel of Joshua, and as the Messiah of the future was expected to do.
Note that in ‘a the man is blind and is sitting by the way, and in the parallel he has received his sight and is walking in the way, following Jesus because of his faith. In ‘b’ he cries out to Jesus for mercy, and in the parallel responds to Jesus that he wants to receive his sight. In ‘c’ the crowd rebuke him but he persists, and in the parallel the crowd encourage him and he comes to Jesus. Centrally in ‘d’ he has the privilege and joy of being called by Jesus.
10.46 ‘And they come to Jericho, and as he went out from Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar was sitting by the wayside.’
Luke speaks of this happening ‘as He drew near to Jericho’. Neither are stressing the exact situation, the important thing (if it was important) being that it happened at Jericho. Possible explanations of the difference are:
‘They come to Jericho.’ Mark rarely mentions names and yet here he stresses the approach to Jericho. The sensible explanation for this is that he saw it as significant in the light of Old Testament history. When the ancient people of Israel first entered the land they came to Jericho, and when any Jew heard the name Jericho that was the idea that would spring to mind. And now the first place Jesus reached after the mention of His determined ‘going up to Jerusalem’ (10.32) was Jericho. He has, as it were, ‘entered the land’ to claim it and was now to be greeted as ‘the son of David’, the all conquering Messiah. (We can compare how when Elijah was ‘departing’ he took the reverse route - Bethel, Jericho, Jordan and divided the waters of the Jordan, a reversal of the stages of Israel’s entry, and Elisha then reversed the process). It is tempting to remember that man who had awaited Joshua with the drawn sword in his hand who was the Captain of the Lord’s host (Joshua 5.13-14). But this king was approaching offering peace, although enjoying the same spiritual protection.
‘And as He went out from Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd.’ The large crowd has again appeared. Jesus could not avoid them, and here they were to be seen as part of the triumphal march to Jerusalem. He had not come alone. Some would return home shortly but others would continue to Jerusalem for the Passover.
‘The son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar was sitting by the wayside.’ The description suggests that Timaeus (Hebrew - Timay?) was well known to Mark, and possibly the church to which he first wrote, as an outstanding Christian. As Bartimaeus (which means son of Timaeus) became a disciple this is quite probable. But that they were poor comes out in that Bartimaeus was begging.
Matthew has two blind beggars at the scene and names neither. This would not be surprising as there would probably be a dozen or more there, (it would be a favourite place for beggars at Passover time), and it is quite likely that Jesus would heal them all. He certainly would if they asked for it. But Mark concentrates on the one who brings over his point. Approaching Passover time such a spot just outside Jericho leading up to Jerusalem, would be prized by beggars. And it would be constantly thronged with people in festive mood. The point about this particular beggar was his use of the title ‘son of David’, and that was clearly picked up by a second joining in his cry.
10.47 ‘And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, you son of David, have mercy on me.”
The blind man had clearly asked what the commotion was and was informed that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. That Jesus was well known to him comes out in that the blind man knew who He was and that He was the son of David. The news excited him for he had heard what Jesus could do and he began to cry out.
‘Jesus of Nazareth’, a name by which Jesus, with slight variations, was identified (Jesus was a common name). It was used by evil spirits (1.24; Luke 4.34), by the serving girl who challenged Peter (14.67; Matthew 26.71), by the angel (16.6) and by two of Jesus’ disciples when identifying Him to ‘a stranger’ (Luke 24.19).
‘Jesus, you son of David.’ It is possible that knowing of Jesus’ connection with the royal house, he meant this to be flattering, but it is more probable that he was thinking of the great ‘son of David’, Solomon, who was traditionally a famous healer, and hoped for the same from this his heir. Yet as the crowd did not react to the name (their rebuke was because they thought he was making a disturbance and trying to beg from Jesus) and Jesus made no comment, it is not likely that the crowd here saw it as a Messianic title. But the man himself may have done. He may have been visiting Judaea for the Passover from an area where it was so used. Mark certainly sees it as significant. Here was prophetic recognition, whether conscious or subconscious, of Who Jesus really was, on His approach to Jerusalem to die and rise again. He is welcomed by a blind man in such terms while those who can see are oblivious to His coming.
‘Son of David.’ It was certainly a Messianic title in later Jewish literature, but the only known such reference in pre-Christian literature was in the Psalms of Solomon 17.23. It may thus have been a marginal rather than a popular Messianic title in Jesus’ time. Perhaps then its use popularly was localised in Galilee, and Bartimaeus was from that locality taking advantage of sitting beside a key route to Jerusalem before the Passover. The coming of a son of David as deliverer was certainly a common idea in the Old Testament (Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-10; Jeremiah 23.5-6; Ezekiel 34.23 and recognised in certain Psalms), and the crowds in Matthew 12.23 appear to have used it Messianically, as do two blind men in probably the same locality (Matthew 9.27), all in Galilee.
Matthew 21.9, 15 may have been a more general use in typical Passover welcomes, or the result of visitors from the locality where it was used, the children in verse 15 having picked it up from the crowd. The use of it by the Syrophoenician woman (Matthew 15.22) was probably a polite title to Him as a Jew, son of David signifying a Jew (compare ‘our father David’ in Mark 11.10; Acts 4.25), although she too probably related it to Solomon as the great healer, for Solomon had had connections with Tyre and Sidon. That the Messiah would be the son of David was certainly recognised by the scribes (12.35) although that does not guarantee the use of the title by them at this stage.
So we may see it as quite possible that the blind man was hailing Him as Messiah in Galilean terms (certainly in the mind of Mark) without the crowd on the whole recognising his intention.
The crowd here probably largely consisted of local inhabitants crowding the route taken by Passover pilgrims, although it might also have included pilgrims from Galilee and elsewhere. None, however, appear to react to the title which, if it was understood, would have been surprising in the excitement of the approaching Passover. The Passover crowds who later hailed Jesus on His entry into Jerusalem in a similar way would be mixed and would probably contain a large Galilean element.
10.48 ‘And many rebuked him that he should hold his peace, but he cried out even more a great deal, “You son of David, have mercy on me.” ’
Mark clearly wants to get the point over that Jesus was hailed as the son of David. It is obvious that the man was creating quite a disturbance for the crowd told him quite sternly to be quiet. But he had seen his chance and would not be quiet.
10.49 ‘And Jesus stood still and said, “Call him.” And they call the blind man saying to him, “Be of good cheer, rise, he calls for you.” ’
Jesus had discerned a voice in the crowd appealing to Him. The man was probably sat in a place for beggars and because he was blind would not have wanted to get caught up in a crowd. So he had remained seated, which had made his cries even more urgent. But no cry to Jesus ever remained unheard. He stopped in His tracks and said, “Call him.”
The crowds attitude now changed. They encouraged the man, telling him to get up. No doubt someone offered help to guide him, or possibly a disciple came to help him.
10.50-51 ‘And he, throwing aside his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered him and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabboni, that I might receive my sight”.’
The detail of him throwing aside his cloak, again suggesting an eyewitness, is dropped by the other Gospels, (demonstrating that these writers do not invent things to give an impression of genuineness). He was so eager that he sprang up and threw aside all encumbrance. At last his chance had come and the prophet had called him. It may be that the cloak had been spread out on his knee to receive alms.
‘He came to Jesus.’ Possibly guided by the voice or perhaps with help.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus often questioned those who came to Him so that He could make them think what they were asking and could strengthen their faith.
At Jesus request he replied simply. ‘Rabboni’. This probably indicated extra respect, ‘my lord, my master’. ‘That I might receive my sight.’
10.52a ‘And Jesus said to him, “Go your way. Your faith has made you whole.”
Jesus recognised the man’s incipient faith and responded to it. Matthew tells us that He also touched his eyes. Through faith his eyes were opened. This was part of the message that Mark was conveying. The other was that the son of David, the Messiah had come, entering the land of promise and opening the eyes of the blind in fulfilment of Scripture (Isaiah 35.5; 61.1 LXX). And this was what He longed to do spiritually in Jerusalem and would do for those who believed and put their trust in Him, for the idea of Isaiah was not only literal but spiritual.
‘Made you whole.’ Literally ‘saved you’. Used of physical healing, but also of the healing of the soul. Here the first is primary but both are probably in mind.
10.52b ‘And immediately he received his sight and followed him in the way.’
He was immediately healed. Jesus had said “Go your way”, but instead he followed Jesus. There seems little doubt that this means fully what it says. From now on he was a disciple of Jesus, which explains why his name and that of his father were well known to Mark. There is probably therefore a double meaning here, that he also received his spiritual sight and was saved, and thus followed Jesus. The significance of the event is clear. The opener of the eyes of the blind, the Son of David, is about to enter Jerusalem.
‘And followed Him in the way.’ The rich man had refused to leave all and follow Him, but this one time blind beggar did so gladly. He had previously been sat by the way. Now he was able to follow in the way. That was the difference that Jesus made.
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