V. Ministry on the Way to Jerusalem (Mark 8:31–10:52)


V. Ministry on the Way to Jerusalem (8:31–10:52)

8:31 For the first time, Jesus told his disciples what being the Messiah involved. He would suffer and be rejected—not merely by the Gentile rulers—but by the Jewish elders, chief priests, and scribes. Then he would be killed—but would rise after three days (8:31). Rejection and death certainly were not what the disciples were expecting for the Messiah. They were looking for victory, not defeat. Nevertheless, they had been with Jesus for a long time. They had heard his teaching; they’d seen his marvelous deeds. So if these difficult things were what Jesus said must happen, then they should’ve believed him.

8:32-33 Peter had been quick to pronounce Jesus as the Messiah. Unfortunately, he was also quick to rebuke Jesus for misunderstanding what the Messiah was all about—or so Peter thought (8:32). Jesus therefore spoke a quick and harsh word of rebuke to Peter: Get behind me Satan! You are not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns (8:33).

Peter had not been merely confused. He’d adopted Satan’s way of thinking, which involved rejecting God’s revealed truth for mere human logic. Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the King. But there could be no kingly glory without the suffering of the cross. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus, there could be no atonement for sin and, thus, no salvation. To oppose the true understanding of the Messiah is to oppose God.

8:34 Jesus wanted to make it clear to his disciples and to the crowd that this principle of suffering would apply to his followers too. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus—you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him. It’s easy to say you’re a follower of Jesus—until the going gets hard. But Jesus expects you to identify with him, even if that means experiencing rejection and suffering.

8:35 In saying, Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, Jesus wasn’t speaking to unbelievers. He was addressing those who had already decided to follow him. He wanted them to know what being a disciple would look like. If you seek to preserve yourself from inconveniences and difficulties that come from identifying with Jesus, you will lose out on the abundant life that Christ promises—that is, the experience of a relationship with him now and an eternal reward later.

On the other hand, whoever loses his life because of [Jesus] and the gospel will save it. So if you are willing to deny yourself (telling your desires “no” when they come in conflict with the kingdom), to pursue God’s kingdom agenda in his Word, and to publicly identify with Jesus Christ, you will gain true life (that is, intimate experience with God) in history and even greater reward in eternity.

8:36-38 How does it benefit a believer to amass great wealth, notoriety, and power if he loses out on the abundant life God promises and his eternal rewards later? (8:36). Such a life is worthless. And we only get one chance to decide what kind of life we’ll lead. As missionary C. T. Studd wrote, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, / Only what’s done for Christ will last.” So don’t let the pleasures this world has to offer replace the true meaning of life. Don’t be ashamed of Christ and his words. Let his return be an experience of true joy, not of shame (8:38).

9:1-3 Jesus told his listeners that some standing among them would not experience death until they saw a powerful display of the kingdom of God (9:1). It would be a preview of coming attractions. About a week later, Jesus was on a high mountain with Peter, James, and John. They saw the Son of God’s heavenly glory manifested before them. Jesus was transfigured—transformed (9:2). His clothes became so white that no launderer could compete (9:3). The deity of Jesus broke through his humanity so that it was undeniably visible. This glimpse of glory was a sneak peek of the glory of the coming kingdom.

9:4 Not only was Jesus transfigured, but Elijah and Moses—both long deceased—appeared with him! Moses represented the Law, and Elijah represented the Prophets. The Old Testament (“the Law and the Prophets,” Matt 5:17; 22:40) points to Jesus.

9:5-7 Have you ever known people who can’t stop talking when they become nervous or afraid? That was Peter. He was terrified of what he saw and did not know what to say (9:6). So he suggested building three shelters, one for each of them (9:5), in fulfillment of Zechariah 14:16-19. However, by his affirmation of his beloved Son, God the Father made it clear that the disciples’ focus was to be on Jesus alone (9:7).

9:8-10 After the voice spoke, the disciples found that they were alone with Jesus (9:8). Before they rejoined the others, Jesus told them to tell no one about what had happened until the Son of Man had risen from the dead (9:9). They did indeed keep it to themselves, but it was because they couldn’t understand what he meant when he spoke of resurrection (9:10). Seeing would be believing.

9:11-13 Having seen Elijah, the disciples were prompted to ask why the scribes say that Elijah must come first (9:11)—that is, why must he come prior to the Messiah? The scribes were probably thinking of Malachi 4:5, in which God promised to send “the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” Jesus agreed that Elijah does come first and restores all things (9:12). In fact, he said, Elijah had already come, and they did whatever they pleased to him (9:13).

In his account of this incident, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus was speaking about John the Baptist (Matt 17:13). On another occasion, Jesus said that John the Baptist “is the Elijah who is to come” (Matt 11:14). As Elijah is a messenger for God in the Old Testament, John is a messenger in the New Testament. John came to “restore all things” by calling Israel to repentance to prepare the way for the Messiah. But, the religious leaders “did whatever they pleased to him” by rejecting him (Matt 3:7-10; Mark 11:29-31), and ultimately Herod had him executed (6:25-29).

9:14-18 Upon their return, Jesus and the three disciples found the other disciples engulfed in a controversy with the scribes (9:14). When he inquired what it was all about, a father said that he had brought his demon-possessed son to the disciples, but they couldn’t heal him (9:16-18). The evil spirit often brought great physical and emotional turmoil on the boy (9:18). The inability of the disciples to cast out the demon apparently led to dispute with the scribes, who questioned their legitimacy.

9:19-22 Jesus called them an unbelieving generation (9:19), no doubt including the disciples’ lack of spiritual receptivity. In light of the signs Jesus had already demonstrated, they wanted the results of faith, without exercising faith. When the evil spirit inside the boy saw Jesus, he caused the boy to fall into convulsions (9:20). It’s not clear how old the boy was, but apparently this had been happening to him from childhood (9:21). The father was in such despair that he wondered if even Jesus could do anything. After all, his disciples had failed (9:22).

9:23-24 Jesus offered encouragement: Everything is possible for the one who believes (9:23). The problem was that the man’s faith was weak and mixed with doubt. He said, I do believe; help my unbelief (9:24). If you find yourself doubting God, let this man’s cry be your prayer. Be honest with God about your doubts and proceed in faith. God will honor your faith and strengthen it in spite of your doubt.

9:25-27 Jesus ordered the unclean spirit to come out of the boy (9:25). Though the demon departed, it did so with such violence that it appeared the boy was dead (9:26). Yet all it took was a touch from Jesus, and the boy arose (9:27).

9:28-29 A bit humiliated, the disciples asked Jesus privately why they’d failed (9:28). Some demons are worse and more powerful than others, he told them. Some require greater dependence on divine intervention that is only accessed through prayer (9:29). Past spiritual victory does not necessarily fuel today’s spiritual battles. Today’s battles require fresh dependency on and communication with God.

9:30-32 They traveled from there through Galilee, but Jesus was keeping a low profile (9:30). He was focused on teaching his disciples. Again, he told them that he would be betrayed, killed, and would rise three days later (9:31). However, they were just as confused about this second prediction (9:32) as they were about the first (8:31-33).

9:33-34 Upon their arrival in Capernaum on the north side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus asked his disciples to explain their argument he had overheard while they were traveling (9:33). Obviously, they hadn’t realized that the Master had been listening because they all fell silent. They were ashamed to admit that they’d been arguing about which of them was the greatest (9:34).

9:35 It’s interesting to note Jesus’s response. He didn’t correct them for having a desire to be great; rather, he corrected them with regard to the manner of becoming great. Greatness comes by being a servant to others—not by exalting yourself above others. You must believe that God will honor your servanthood in history and in eternity.

9:36-37 Jesus illustrated his point with a child (9:36). To show kindness to a child—who can offer nothing in return—is to serve God (9:37). Greatness is not achieved through marvelous actions that all see. It’s often achieved through lowly and unseen acts of service toward those who cannot repay. But God sees, and God repays.

9:38-41 John was spokesman for the disciples this time. They were offended when they saw an exorcist casting out demons in Jesus’s name because, they said, He wasn’t following us (9:38). They considered themselves part of an exclusive team. After all, they were the only ones who’d been deputized by Jesus to minister in his name. So who did that guy think he was? Jesus made it clear that someone cannot work for him and against him at the same time (9:39): Whoever is not against us is for us (9:40). Then he broadened the scope of that principle beyond exorcisms. Not only would God reward the man for casting out demons in Jesus’s name, but he will also reward all kind deeds done in Jesus’s name—even giving a fellow disciple of Christ a cup of water (9:41). God sees and remembers all things done for his glory and for the good of others, especially those who belong to the household of faith (cf. Gal 6:10).

9:42 If anyone causes one of these little ones—like the child in 9:36-37 or the man in 9:38-39—who believe in Jesus to be led astray, he would be better off having a millstone wrapped around his neck and tossed into the sea. A millstone was used to grind grain, and it was so heavy that a donkey was typically used to move it. Thus, the consequences are grave for leading a follower of Christ astray through deception or false teaching. God’s severe judgment will fall.

9:43-47 There are a variety of things that can keep a person from coming to Christ, including the hand . . . foot . . . and eye. Of course, you can cut off your hand, hack off your foot, and gouge out your eye and still fail to believe in Christ. But Jesus’s point was that the hand (representing things you handle), the foot (representing the places you go), and the eye (symbolizing the things you look at) can open doors to sin; thus, an unbeliever must take drastic measures to remove sinful hindrances from coming to faith. Inconveniencing oneself and forgoing pleasure are far preferable to being thrown into hell. The kingdom of God is worth any sacrifice (9:47).

9:48 Quoting from Isaiah 66:24, Jesus described hell as a place where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. There are several things we learn about hell from this brief statement. First, it’s clear that Jesus considered it a real place. So though many today deny the existence of hell, their claims run contrary to Jesus’s. Second, hell is a place of intense suffering, both external and internal. The “fire” represents the source of external suffering. The “worm” represents the source of internal suffering—the gnawing from within. Third, hell is eternal. Some today argue that unbelievers are “annihilated” after death, but Jesus says the worm doesn’t die and the fire isn’t quenched. The suffering of hell, then, is never-ending. The good news of Jesus Christ is so good because the bad news of hell is so bad.

9:49-50 Even believers (signified by the word everyone) will have to deal with the salt of trial in their lives (9:49). As Old Testament sacrifices were offered with salt (Lev 2:13), so believers must live their lives with sacrifice in mind. Salt had a variety of helpful uses in New Testament times: it was a medicine, a seasoning, and a preservative. Similarly, believers are to be like salt in promoting peace among fellow believers (9:50). This demonstrates the preserving power of God.

10:1-2 After spending so much time in the north, in the region of Galilee, Jesus came to the south, to the region of Judea, in order to teach (10:1). As they’d done previously, the Pharisees came merely to test him. They asked him a controversial question—whether or not it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife (10:2).

There were two views about divorce held by first-century Jewish scholars. According to one view, a man could divorce his wife if she committed sexual immorality. According to the other, a man could divorce his wife for any reason. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to take sides and, thus, alienate some of his listeners.

10:3-5 Jesus, however, refused to enter their debate. Instead, he appealed solely to God’s Word. He asked them what Moses had commanded, and the Pharisees pointed to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (10:3-4). But this permission from Moses to divorce had only been granted because of the hardness of their hearts (10:5). It wasn’t God’s ideal. So instead of starting with divorce, Jesus insisted that they must start with marriage.

10:6-9 God’s design for marriage is clear from the beginning of creation. First, marriage is to involve a male and female (10:6)—that rules out a lot of what goes by the name of “marriage” in our culture. Second, marriage was intended as a permanent bond. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate (10:7-9). People, including civil judges, are not to overrule God. The Pharisees had become so consumed with the question of divorce that they’d forgotten God’s design for marriage as revealed in God’s Word.

10:10-12 When they were alone, the disciples asked Jesus about the same issue (10:10). He explained that the one who illegitimately initiates divorce and marries another has entered an adulterous relationship (10:11-12) because God has not canceled the first marriage (see commentary on Matt 19:1-9).

10:13-16 Parents were bringing little children to Jesus so that he touched and blessed them (10:13, 16). For some reason, the disciples rebuked them (10:13). But you don’t want to be the one to come between Jesus and children. Children held a low status in this ancient society, and Jesus was displeased by the marginalization of these precious ones. He was indignant and told people to let the little children come to him. He prioritized children because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (10:14).

The reason Jesus valued children so highly is because they are a model of what it takes for someone to come to God. Little children know what it is to have a low and dependent status. When they put their trust in someone, they do it wholeheartedly and with humility. To trust in God is to receive his kingdom . . . like a little child (10:15). We are not to be like the Pharisees, having pride in ourselves and in our own righteousness. We are to humble ourselves, acknowledging our sin, and put our whole trust and dependence in God.

10:17 A man approached Jesus with a question. Matthew adds he was a “young man” (Matt 19:20). Luke says he was “a ruler” (Luke 18:18). All three Synoptic Gospels note that he was wealthy (Matt 19:22; Mark 10:22; Luke 18:23). Thus, he is often described as the “rich young ruler.” He asked Jesus, Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? This man, then, not only wanted to know how to enter heaven but also how to gain inheritance rewards there.

10:18 First, Jesus wanted to deal with the matter of his own identity. The man called him “good” teacher. But no one is good except God alone (10:18). All are sinners before a holy God. So, the only way Jesus could truly be called good was if he was the Son of God.

10:19-20 Jesus reviewed God’s commandments (10:19). These are divine standards of righteousness by which men can measure themselves. If someone could perfectly keep God’s law, he or she would indeed be righteous before him. Yet we are all sinners. Our only hope of a righteous standing before God is to have a righteousness imputed or credited to us (Rom 4:22-25). Naively, the man claimed to have kept all of the commandments (10:20). But he was self-deceived. Our sinful hearts have a habit of appraising us as better than we are.

10:21-22 Yet, in spite of the man’s self-deception, Jesus loved him. The glorious good news is that Jesus loves sinners. He therefore sought to enlighten the man and expose his spiritual blindness. The clear problem in this man’s life was that his love for money prevented him from loving his neighbor, proving that he was not as righteous as he perceived himself to be. So Jesus called him to sell his possessions and give to the poor so that he might have treasure in heaven. Then, Jesus said, follow me (10:21). Sadly, the man was not the commandment-keeper that he thought he was. He was unwilling to part with his riches so that he could come to Christ to have eternal life and the rewards that would accompany following him. He departed in grief (10:22).

10:23-25 When the rich young ruler was gone, Jesus expressed a spiritual principle to his disciples: How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! (10:23). When they heard this, the disciples were astonished, but Jesus drove the point home with an illustration. You’d have better success stuffing a camel . . . through the eye of a needle than . . . a rich person would have entering the kingdom (10:24-25).

The problem is not wealth itself; the problem is a wealthy person who trusts in his wealth. An unhealthy dependence on worldly riches will obscure focus on kingdom values and eternal spiritual riches. And rich people can have a distorted picture of God’s view of them, assuming that their wealth is proof of divine acceptance and blessing.

10:26-27 The disciples assumed that wealth was a sign of divine approval. And if this was not true, then who can be saved? (10:26). Jesus had the answer: Salvation is only possible with God (10:27). God can save and provide a heavenly inheritance for anyone who does not let wealth get in the way of relationship with Jesus Christ.

10:28 In contrast with the man who let riches stand between him and the kingdom, Peter spoke on behalf of the disciples and said, Look, we have left everything and followed you. His words are an indicator that if you intend to be the visible, vocal follower that Jesus calls you to be, it will cost you. You cannot grow as a disciple without paying a price. Peter testified that he and his comrades had given up much in their commitment to Jesus. His successful fishing business, for instance, had been left behind. So Peter was asking, “What’s in it for us, Jesus? What’s the payoff for our willingness to be committed disciples?”

10:29-30 Notice that Jesus didn’t chastise Peter for his question, so it was a legitimate inquiry. Jesus told them there is no one who has made significant sacrifices for the sake of the gospel who will not be rewarded now at this time and in the age to come (10:29-30).

Observe six things: First, Jesus’s pronouncement is true for all who associate with him as kingdom disciples. There are no exceptions (“there is no one,” 10:29). Second, being a public disciple will cost you: maybe a location (house), relationships (brothers or sisters or mother or father or children), or even your business or means of employment (fields) (10:29). Jesus is not talking about abdicating one’s responsibilities. A man does not become a Christian and stop providing for his children. But we must always give our relationship with Jesus priority. We are not to compromise our commitment to Christ for the sake of anything. Third, these prices are paid “for the sake of the gospel”—that is, for the purpose of following Jesus and giving allegiance to his kingdom. Fourth, the very things that were left behind are what you receive. You don’t truly lose anything; you make a trade. Fifth, you will also receive persecutions (10:30). The more committed you are to Christ, the more resistance there will be to the presence of Christ in your life. Sixth, a disciple’s reward is divided between the ages: the present age and the age to come. Don’t expect to receive all of your blessings now. Most of your reward is stored up and kept for you—and it’s a hundred times more than anything you leave behind (10:30).

10:31 Many who are first will be last, and the last first. Believers whom God has blessed in the present life but who have been less than faithful with those blessings will find that God flips the script in the age to come. Don’t desire all of your inheritance now. Let your motivation be for the reward that lies before you in the millennial kingdom and the new heaven and new earth.

10:32-34 As Jesus and his disciples made their way toward Jerusalem, he predicted his forthcoming death and resurrection a third time. Because of the mounting hostility from the religious leaders, those who followed him were afraid. Jesus therefore explained exactly what would happen (10:32). Nothing would take him by surprise. The Jewish chief priests and scribes would condemn him; however, they didn’t have the authority to execute anyone. Thus, they would have to hand him over to the Romans—the Gentiles (10:33). Jesus knew what awaited him, down to the smallest detail: mocking, spitting, flogging. But he also knew that victory was waiting. He would rise again (10:34).

10:35-37 James and John wanted Jesus to do whatever they asked of him—to write them a blank check in a sense (10:35). In his future kingdom, they wanted to sit on the King’s right and left (10:37)—positions of significant honor and authority. Jesus did not question their desire to be great, but he did question their assumptions about what it takes to get there.

10:38-40 He asked if they were prepared to suffer as Jesus himself would suffer—that is, to drink the cup he would drink or be baptized with his baptism (10:38), metaphors for enduring suffering. James and John committed themselves to suffering for Christ’s kingdom, and Jesus admitted that they would (10:39). We know from Scripture that because of their faith in Christ, James was executed (Acts 12:1-2) and John was exiled (see Rev 1:9). In spite of this, sitting on King Jesus’s right or left was not something that he would grant them. Those honors would go to whomever they’d been prepared for (10:40).

10:41-44 The other ten disciples were upset with James and John (10:41), leaving Jesus with a dozen followers battling over who would be top dog in the kingdom. So he explained how kingdom greatness contrasts with earthly greatness. Among the Gentiles, greatness is attained by those in high positions who lord it over others and act as tyrants (10:42). For most people, pursuing power, prestige, and possessions leads to “greatness.” But it is not so among you—this is not the path Christians are to take (10:43).

His use of the phrase whoever wants to become great indicates Jesus didn’t quench his disciples’ desire for greatness. Instead, he explained that you can’t use the standards of the unrighteous to attain true greatness. To be great, you must be a servant (10:43). According to Paul, believers are called to “serve one another through love” (Gal 5:13). God saves us by grace apart from good “works,” but in Christ we are created “for good works” (Eph 2:8-10). So once we are saved, it’s time to get to work! To practice servanthood among the people of God is to serve others with no strings attached for the glory of God. The church of Jesus Christ is a family, and as brothers and sisters in Christ we are called to serve each other (see 1 Pet 4:10).

10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus didn’t call his disciples to walk a path that he wouldn’t walk. “To serve” was the reason he came into the world. When Paul exhorts the Philippians to reject “selfish ambition,” live with “humility,” and be concerned for “the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4), in fact, he puts Christ forward as the perfect example of selfless, loving, God-honoring service. As John put it, “The one who says he remains in [Christ] should walk just as he walked” (1 John 2:6).

10:46-52 Outside Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by, hailed him as the Son of David (a messianic title), and pleaded with him to have mercy on him (10:46-47). Though he was physically blind, Bartimaeus could see better spiritually than the religious leaders could. The people tried to make him keep quiet. But the more they tried to silence him, the noisier he became (10:48). Jesus wasn’t about to allow such a bold proclamation of faith to go unacknowledged. At the man’s request, Jesus restored his vision so that his physical sight matched his spiritual sight. Then, he began to follow Jesus (10:52).