Mark 9 Study Notes
9:1 Jesus previously used this solemn introductory formula (Truly I tell you) in 3:28 and 8:12. Some standing here is clarified by v. 2. Until they see the kingdom of God come in power is clarified by Jesus’s transfiguration in vv. 2-13. This saying precedes the transfiguration in all three Synoptic Gospels (Mt 16:28; Lk 9:27).
9:2 Six days appears to refer to the time between Peter’s confession and Jesus’s transfiguration. It may also tie Jesus’s experience to Moses’s (Ex 24:15-17). On Peter, James, and John as Jesus’s inner circle, see note at 1:16-20. The high mountain is often identified as Mount Tabor, but Mount Hermon or Mount Meron may be better candidates. As he was transfigured, Jesus’s nature was not changed but unveiled.
9:3 Dazzling connotes extreme whiteness that is beyond natural explanation (Mt 17:2 describes them as “white as the light”). Matthew (17:2; cp. Lk 9:29) adds that Jesus’s face glowed like the sun (cp. Ex 34:35).
9:4 Mark probably intended to indicate Moses as the greater OT figure by saying Elijah appeared with Moses.
9:5 The three shelters Peter mentioned relate to the Jewish custom of building booth-like shelters during the Festival of Shelters (Lv 23:39-43). Perhaps Peter wished to prolong this experience, but his words wrongly implied equality among the three persons.
9:6 Peter proves that when you don’t know what to say, it’s best to keep quiet. But he was not alone in his uncertainty; all the disciples were terrified.
9:7 A cloud is often a symbol of God’s presence in the OT (Ex 40:34-38). The voice from within echoes Ex 24:15-18. Them probably refers to all six persons on the mountain. The divine announcement recalls the divine words at Jesus’s baptism (see note at 1:9-11). This time Jesus’s Sonship is confirmed to others, not just to Jesus, and the hearers are told to listen to him (cp. Dt 18:15). God’s words affirmed Jesus’s teaching in Mk 8:31-38 about his suffering and the requirements for discipleship.
9:8 Not even Moses or Elijah can compare with Jesus. The spotlight was on him and him alone.
9:9 Nine times in Mark’s Gospel Jesus enjoined people to be quiet about his messiahship. This is the only time when he put a time limit on the injunction. Jesus’s prohibition indicated that his glory and mission could not be understood fully until after his death and resurrection.
9:12-13 Jesus affirmed the scribal teaching about Elijah and his role, but Elijah’s coming did not change the fact that the Son of Man must suffer many things (cp. 8:31). Jesus then made two startling statements: Elijah had come already, and he suffered because the people did whatever they pleased to him. Jesus was identifying Elijah with John the Baptist. The treatment John received (6:16-29) foreshadowed the way Jesus would be treated.
9:14-29 These verses reveal what the other disciples were doing while Jesus and his inner circle were on the Mount of Transfiguration. Mark’s account is twice as long as the parallels (Mt 17:14-20; Lk 9:37-43).
9:16-18 That the disciples couldn’t drive . . . out this demon is surprising because Jesus had commissioned them to do this (3:15; 6:7) and they had previously succeeded in doing so (6:13). The symptoms were similar to epilepsy, but Mark says they were the result of unclean spirits (9:17,20,25).
9:21 The duration of the condition made Jesus’s healing all the more impressive.
9:22 To destroy him shows the evil intention of demons. The father asked for help based on Jesus’s compassion (see notes at 1:40-45 and 6:33-34). If you can was an appropriate qualifier, considering the disciples’ failure to cast out the demon.
9:25 The demonic spirit was mute and deaf, rendering the boy mute (v. 17). When Jesus issued the command to come out of him, he used a word that emphasized his authority. The demon was able to resist the disciples, but not the Lord. Jesus’s command to never enter him again is unique in all the exorcisms in the Gospels.
9:28-29 To the disciples’ question why, Jesus told them this kind (apparently a very resistant and powerful evil being) required spiritual preparation on the part of the exorcist, specifically prayer.
9:31 Jesus’s second death prediction is the briefest of the three (see notes at 8:31; 10:33-34), and has much in common with the others. The new element in this prediction is that he would be betrayed.
9:35 Sitting down was the posture assumed by a teacher (4:1-2; Mt 5:1). Jesus’s teaching reversed human thinking. In his value system, being first did not come through aggressiveness and privilege but through humility (Mt 18:4) and by being servant of all.
9:36-37 Jesus used a child as an object lesson. He did not command his disciples to become like children but to welcome those who are like a little child. A child is an example of a person with no status and no rights.
9:38 It is ironic that the disciples told this man to stop driving out demons when they had failed at the same task (vv. 14-29). Apparently they thought they were the only ones authorized to do this (3:14-15; 6:7,13). The episode recalls Nm 11:26-29.
9:39-41 Jesus gave three reasons not to stop the man. First, anyone who performed a miracle in Jesus’s name wouldn’t turn and speak evil of him. Second, there is no middle ground. A person is either against or for Jesus. Third, anyone who extends a kind gesture (giving a cup of water was a basic Eastern courtesy) in my name . . . will never lose his reward.
9:42 To cause someone to fall away refers to hindering discipleship or causing someone to sin. Little ones refers to immature disciples. A heavy millstone was the one donkeys turned to grind wheat. As terrible as drowning was, Jesus said it would be better than suffering the punishments of vv. 43-48.
9:43-48 The body parts and admonitions are figures of speech that warn disciples to guard their sight and actions against participation in evil, for recklessness here can lead to spiritual downfall (cp. Jb 31:1,5,7). This is the only place where Mark used the word for hell (Gk gehenna). The imagery for hell developed from the Hinnom Valley southwest of Jerusalem. This valley was used for pagan human sacrifice (2Kg 16:3; 21:6; Jr 7:31), hence the association with unquenchable fire and perpetual rot (their worm does not die).
9:49-50 Jesus’s puzzling statement in v. 49 probably drew on the association of fire and salt in the sacrificial context of Lv 2:13. The first salt saying of Mk 9:50 occurs elsewhere (Mt 5:13; Lk 14:34) and focuses on the good uses of salt, which disciples must reflect on (Mt 5:13). Salt from deposits around the Dead Sea could lose its flavor since it was not pure sodium chloride. Disciples who lose their saltiness are no longer effective witnesses. The second “salt saying” of v. 50 draws on the OT custom of using salt in making covenants of peace (Lv 2:13; Nm 18:19; 2Ch 13:5; cp. Col 4:6).