Gospel of Mark
I. Introduction and Dating
Mark the Evangelist
Most casual readers merely gloss over the gospel of Mark. They conclude the author merely threaded a series of quick narratives and sayings together with the word "immediately." Yet, they miss the genius of the evangelist who wove together a rich work using many different literary devices to create a work that challenged a believer's quality of faith.
I dated Mark's Gospel the early 70's CE (see Dating the Synoptics).
Mark constructed his Gospel in a chiastic or stair-step fashion:
A. Step A1: Introduction (1:1-15)
B. Step B1: Galilean Ministry (1:16-8:21)
C. Step C: Journey to Jerusalem (8:22-10:52)
D. Step B2: Jerusalem Ministry (11:1-13:37)
E. Step A2a: Passion Narrative (14:1-15:47)
F. Step A2b: Conclusion (16:1-8)
He structured his gospel with the Passion Narrative (14:1-15:47) in mind, leading up to that section with:
1. A title and an introduction of the Christ through the Baptist (1:1-15).
2. A gathering of disciples in Galilee with his teaching and power (1:16-8:21)
3. The revelation of who he was as the Christ on his way to Jerusalem (8:22-10:52)
4. The assertion of his authority both in the Temple and in eschatological prophecy (11:1-13:37)
Along the way, Jesus encountered misunderstanding with his own followers and opposition from his enemies. Misunderstanding led the disciples to abandon him. Opposition led to his execution. He faced his demise alone. Mark presented the empty tomb (16:1-8) as a challenge to disciples. Would they believe in the Risen Christ and face the same opposition Jesus did? Or would they run and hide? Those questions hinged on the revelation of the Messiah as the Suffering Servant (Step C).
To frame his challenge to Christians, Mark employed several literary devices. After a brief introduction of Jesus sans the Baptist (1:1-15), he defined the ministry of the Nazarene in a series of "firsts" (1:16-45) Then, he laid out the narrative in several chiastic (or stair-step) structures that focused upon his teaching (fasting in 2:1-3:6, parables in 3:7-6:6a and halakhic matters in 6:6b-8:21).
Next, after Peter's declaration of faith ("You are the Christ" in 8:27-30), the author shifted to parallels of prophecy and teaching. The three times Jesus predicted his Passion and death (8:31, 9:31-32, 10:34), followed by instructions that applied his suffering to that of his followers (8:32-9:1, 9:33-50, 10:35-45). In between the three prophecies/teachings, Mark injected two transitions: one on the revelation of power (9:2-29) and the other on his teaching (10:1-31). He began and ended this section with the healing of the blind (blind man at Bethsaida in 8:22-26 and Bartimeaus in 10:46-52).
Mark built up the tension with Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem which he framed the Jesus' activity there as a condemnation of the religious leadership. Jesus entered the city in triumph and cleansed the Temple; this caused conflict with the Temple elite (11:1-33). He bookended further controversies (12:13-40) with a contrast between the rich leaders (Parable of the Tenants in 12:1-12) and the poor widow (12:41-44).
The evangelist ended the Jerusalem ministry with the eschatological discourse, capped by a double introduction (prophecy and reaction in 13:1-4) and double conclusion (warning and preparation in 13:32-37). He divided the discourse into two parts. First, he listed three warnings for the disciples ("keep watch"), interspersed with signs concerning the cosmos, civil wars, family opposition, and the pollution of the Temple itself (13:5-23). Second, he foresaw the Second Coming in power (13:24-31). The curse (11:12-14, 11:20-25) and lesson (13:28-29) of the fig tree symbolized Jesus' condemnation of the Temple leadership and, by extension, the city in which the cultic center dwelt.
Mark shifted to the familiar Passion narrative of the Last Supper (14:1-31), the garden scene (14:32-52), the two trials (before the high priest in 14:53-72 and Pilate in 15:1-15) and, finally the Crucifixion (15:16-32). Notice the tight, linear structure that stood apart from the chiastic structures, parallels, foreshadowing and abrupt changes between narrative and teaching the author employed in the rest of his gospel. Because of this discrepancy, many scholars contend the Passion originally stood apart and even predated the writing of the gospel.
Finally, the evangelist closed his work with a short scene of the empty tomb and kerygma about the resurrection, followed by the command to the women who fled in fear (16:1-8).
This overview reveals the intricate literary tapestry Mark created to proclaim "the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."
III. Synopsis and Commentary
The parts of Mark's gospel will be denoted by brackets: (x:xx, Mt x:xx, Lk x:xx, Jn x:xx). The x:xx designates Mark while the others are in order of Matthew, Luke, or John. Ocassionally, you will see GTh xx that refers to a specific saying in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas.
Commentary DirectoryA. Step A1: Introduction (1:1-15)
B. Step B1: Galilean Ministry (1:16-8:21)
C. Step C: Journey to Jerusalem (8:22-10:52)
D. Step B2: Jerusalem Ministry (11:1-13:37)
E. Step A2a: Passion Narrative (14:1-15:47)
F. Step A2b: Resurrection - Conclusion (16:1-8)
A. Step A1: Introduction to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1:1-15)
1. 1:1-6 Title and John the Baptist
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 Just as it has been written in Isaiah the prophet:
"Behold, I send my messenger before you
who will prepare your way.
3 A voice crying out in the desert:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight!'"
4 He appeared, John, the one baptizing in the desert and announcing a baptism of change for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And, all the Judean countryside and all the citizens of Jerusalem traveled to him. And they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 And John was clothed in (a tunic and robe made from) camel hair and a leather belt around his waist, and (he) was eating wild locusts and honey.
Mark's gospel began with a simple title that announced the public ministry of Jesus; he was the Christ, the Son of God (Mk 1:1). The opening title paralleled the last verses of the gospel. As Mark wrote in Mk 1:1: "(The) beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, [Son of God]." In Mk 16:6-7, the young man at the tomb explained who the Messiah really was, the Risen Christ. Then, he ordered them to tell Peter and the others where they would see Jesus. Mark ended the gospel with an open question: would followers have the courage to spread the faith?
The author followed the title with a Scripture quote he attributed to Isaiah but actually mixed three verses together:
Malachi 3:1a: Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me! (Mk 1:2)
Isaiah 40:3: The voice of one who calls out, "Prepare the way of YHWH in the wilderness! Make a level highway in the desert for our God. (Mk 1:3, Mt 3:3, Lk 3:4)
Exodus 23:20: Behold, I send an angel before you, to keep you by the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.
With this statement, the author portrayed the Baptist as town crier who announced the news of the day, an advance man who prepared an area for the arrival of a dignitary, and as a lesser official who spoke with the authority of a greater. Under usual circumstances, a town who expected the visit of a ruler after the visit of an advance man would initiate civic improvements (including road work) so that the regent might be impressed and extend his financial largess upon the community ("Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths"). Note the location of the crier - advance man - lesser official, in the desert. In 40:3, Isaiah referred to the guide who led the caravan of exiles back to Jerusalem in order to rebuild it. The author used this statement in order to introduce John the Baptist.
The writer described the Baptist as an Elijah figure (Mk 1:6, Mt 3:4; see Malachi 4:5) with a unique spiritual message. He preached not only for national change but for personal repentance. The sign of such metanoia was baptism (Mk 1:4). His message resonated with the people who sought him out (Mk 1:6, Mt 3:5-6, Lk 3:3).
As an aside, the figure of the Baptist loomed large on the Palestinian landscape in the early part of the first century CE. In his Antiquities 18.5.2 116-119, Josephus described John as a preacher who urged repentance, but in the context of his arrest and execution by Herod Antipas.
2. 1:7-11 Baptism of Jesus
7 And (John) preached, saying, "The one stronger than I comes after me. I am not worthy, bending down, to loosen the straps of his sandals. 8 I baptized you in water, but he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit."
9 And it happened in those days, JESUS came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. 10 And coming out of the water, HE immediately saw the heavens split apart and the Spirit as a dove coming down into HIM. 11 And there was a sound out of heaven, "YOU are my beloved SON. In YOU I am delighted."
In this passage, the author quickly shifted from the Baptist to Jesus. First, he compared the role of John with that of Jesus. The latter was greater in stature and implicitly in power for he could "baptize" people in the Spirit (Mk 1:8). The former could only profess humility before such a man (Mk 1:7, Mt 3:11, Lk 3:16).
After the description of the Christ by John, the author moved to the first public appearance of Jesus in his gospel, the baptism (Mk 1:9, Mt 3:13, Lk 3:21). It was a moment of revelation. The sky that separated heaven from earth was torn apart so the divine existed with the human. The Spirit descended into Jesus (Mk 3:10, Mt 3:16). And the voice from heaven proclaimed approval (Mk 3:11, Mt 3:17, Lk 3:22). Notice God now lived with his people.
3. 1:12-15 The Temptation and Preaching Ministry of Jesus
12 Immediately, the Spirit compelled HIM (to go) into the desert. 13 He was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with wild animals and the angels were serving him. 14 After John had been handed over (to the authorities), Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Good News of God, 15 saying, "The moment is right and the Kingdom of God is near! Repent and believe the Good News."
In the eyes of the author, the Spirit drove the ministry of Jesus. The power of God compelled him to seek personal time in the wilderness in order to reflect and test himself in the face of evil (Mk 3:12-13, Mt 4:1-2, Lk 4:1-2). After the Temptation and John's arrest, Jesus took up the message of the Baptist but shifted from the desert to Galilee, from a stationary ministry of baptism by the Jordan to a mobile one (Mk 3:14, Mt 4:12, Lk 4:14). But Jesus shifted the proclamation of change by what was absent. He evangelized with a message of metanoia and the proximity of the Kingdom but no longer did he point toward the coming of the Christ. He was that Promised One (Mk 1:15, Mt 4:17)
B. Step B1: Galilean Ministry (1:16-8:21)
Galilean Ministry Directory1. Beginnings: A Series of Firsts (1:16-45)
2. Conflict Cycles (2:1-3:6)
3. Jesus' Early Ministry.(3:7-6:6a)
4. Jesus's Ministry Expands (6:6b-8:21)
1. 1:16-45 Beginnings of Jesus' Ministry: A Series of Firsts
In Mk 1:16-45, the author fleshed out the ministry of Jesus in a series of firsts. The Lord called the first disciples to follow him. He first taught in the synagogues and revealed his power through exorcisms and heatings; his ministry was one of restoration. He prayed alone for the first time in the text, then moved beyond his home base of Capernaum for his first journey. These aspects of his ministry would arise again and again in the balance of Mark's gospel.
The first exorcism (Mk 1:21-28) presented the famous "Messianic secret" where Jesus silenced demoniac forces from revealing Jesus as the "Holy One of God" (Mk 1:24; also see Mk 8:29-30). While most modern scholars have rejected the formal theory by William Wrede at the beginning of the twentieth century, they do agree that the constraint of the demons represented Jesus opposition to evil.
Ministry Firsts Linksa. First Vocation: Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, James and John (1:16-20)
b. First Exorcism: Jesus exorcises demon in the Capernaum synagogue (1:21-28)
c. First Healing: Jesus heals Simon's mother-in-law (1:29-31)
d. First Prayer: Jesus prays alone in wilderness (1:35)
e. First Journey: Jesus travels beyond Capernaum (1:36-39)
f. First Restoration: Jesus heals a leper and restores to him the community (1:40-45)
a. 1:16-20 First Vocation: Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, James and John.
16 Traveling along the Sea of Galilee, HE saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, throwing nets into the sea. For, they were fishermen. 17 JESUS said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men." 18 And immediately having set aside (their) nets, they followed HIM. 19 And having gone a little farther, HE saw Jacob, (son) of Zebedee, and John his brother, (while) they, in the boat, mended the nets. 20 And, immediately, HE called them. And having left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers, they followed HIM.
[Mt 4:18-22] The evangelist portrayed the beginning of the mobile ministry with the call of fishermen. Why these men? Jesus set up his headquarters in Capernaum, a town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Since he intended on mobility, the fastest way to reach the maximum number of people was by boat. So, to achieve his ends, he chose men of this profession (Mk 1:16, Mt 4:18).
The author framed the first call among two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew, James and John. Like much of Mark's gospel, Jesus acted and the results were instantaneous. He called them as followers (Mk 1:17, Mk 1:20; Mt 4:19, Mt 4:20) and they "immediately" responded (Mk 1:18, Mk 1:20; Mt 1:18, Mt 4:21). Scholars have researched the popular group movements in first century Palestine and noticed how groundswells of support could prompt the populace into action. But the evangelist framed the call to emphasize the power of Jesus to motivate people to become disciples at a moment's notice.
b. 1:21-28 First Exorcism: Jesus exorcises demon in the Capernaum synagogue.
21 And they travel to Capernaum. Immediately, on the Sabbath, having entered the synagogue, HE taught. 22 They were overwhelmed by HIS teaching, for HE was teaching them as having (an) authority not as the scribes (had).
23 And, immediately, there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he shouted, 24 saying, "Why do YOU interfere with us, JESUS of Nazareth? Did YOU come to destroy us? I know who YOU are: the HOLY ONE of God." 25 JESUS stopped him, saying, "Be quiet and come out of him!" 26 The unclean spirit, having convulsed him, and shouting (with) a large cry, came out of him.
27 Everyone was (so) amazed that they discussed (it) with themselves, saying "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He orders unclean spirits and even they obey him!" 28 Reports about him immediately went out everywhere in the entire countryside of Galilee.
[Lk 4:31-37] After the call of the first disciples, the author extended spreading the Good News into Capernaum. He described evangelization as an act of power far beyond anything the people had experienced. It was greater than that of the scribes and had the ability to command demons. It had the power to affect radical change. Note the chiastic structure below.
Step A1: "...teaching with an authority greater than the scribes" (1:22b)
Step B: Exorcism (1:25-26)
Step A2: "...a new teaching with authority...even (the demons) obey him!" (1:27)
In the exorcism of the "B" step, the demoniac rushed into the synagogue to confront Jesus (Mk 1:23). The evangelist painted the scene as a turf war. But the demon didn't invade the territory of the Lord; if this were the case, the evil one would not have dared enter. It was the other way around. Jesus and his message confronted evil in its arena.
The demoniac attacked Jesus with knowledge of the Lord's identity (Mk 1:24). Such information, the popular belief concluded, could be used to control spiritual power. This, of course, was superstition. Say the right words in the right way and, suddenly, the speaker could affect the outcome of a situation. But, the author portrayed Jesus being in total control. The devil had no choice but to exit the scene (Mk 1:25-26). And the exorcism resulted in the growing reputation of Jesus (Mk 1:28).
c. 1:29-31 First Healing: Jesus heals Simon's mother-in-law.
29 Immediately leaving from the synagogue, they went into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 The mother-in-law of Simon was lying down, burning (with a fever). Immediately, they told HIM about her. 31 Approaching (her), HE raised her, having held (her) hand. And the fever left her. She served them.
32 Evening came when the sun set. They (kept) bringing HIM everyone having illness and the demon-possessed. 33 The entire city was gathered together at the door. 34 HE healed many very sick with various diseases and threw out many demons. HE was not permitting the demons to speak, because they had known HIM.
[Mt 8:14-17, Lk 4:38-41] The author turned to a domestic situation. Jesus went to the family compound of Simon and healed his disciple's mother-in-law (Mk 1:29-31). The passage assumed two beliefs. First, the healing was an extension of the previous exorcism. In ancient culture, people lacked knowledge of diseases caused by viruses and bacteria. Instead, they attributed every cause to the power of spirits. Benevolent spirits produced good results, malevolent spirits produced evil like illness and death. In this sense, Jesus exorcized the demon of the fever from the woman.
Second, Simon's mother-in-law stood near the bottom of the clan hierarchy. For some reason, she did not reside with her family. Either her husband divorced her or, more likely, she was a widow without clan support. So, she relied on the charity of her son-in-law for support. Her place in the Simon's house was that of a servant; that was her duty and, in a way, her dignity. When Jesus healed her, he restored her place and social function within the clan. Then, she was able "to serve them" (Mk 1:31).
1:32-34 The passage closed with a summary of Jesus's new ministry. Through healing and exorcism, he banished evil from a continuous flow of those who sought relief (Mk 1:32). He became the talk of the town (Mk 1:33). Like the demoniac in Mk 1:24-25, he commanded silence from devils (Mk 1:34). Jesus was in charge.
d. 1:35 First Prayer: Jesus prays alone in wilderness.
35 The (next) morning, while it was still very dark, rising up, HE left and went out to a deserted place. There HE was praying.
Here, the author emphasized balance in the spiritual life. It was part active ministry and part reflection. For the latter, Jesus needed time for prayer alone. So he sought solitude in the wilderness (Mk 1:35; Lk 5:15-16; see 1 Kings 19:8-13).
e. 1:36-39 First Journey: Jesus travels beyond Capernaum.
36 Simon and those with him tracked HIM down. 37 They found HIM and said to HIM, "Everyone is looking for you." 38 He said to them, "Let us go elsewhere, into the next village, so I might also preach there. For this is the reason I came." 39 He went preaching in their synagogues throughout Galilee, and throwing out demons.
These verses marked a shift in the public ministry of Jesus. He could have established Capernaum as his base of operations, serving those who sought him out (Mk 1:36-37). But, in the spirit of Elijah and Elisha, he moved on to preach and exorcize evil (Mk 1:39). In this way, he challenged the devil's domain and made the Kingdom palpable.
f. 1:40-45 First Restoration: Jesus heals a leper and restores to him the community.
We can divide this healing into three parts, the miracle, Jesus's instruction, and the man's reaction.
40 A leper came toward HIM, begging HIM, falling to (his) knees, and said to HIM, "If you wish, you have the power to make me clean." 41 Having feelings (for the leper), having stretched out HIS hand, HE touched (him) and said to him, "I wish (it). Be cleansed." 42 Immediately, the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
For ancient Jews, the term "leprosy" covered far more than what the auto-immune syndrome known as "Hansen's disease." It included rashes, pustular discharge, and even mold in buildings. The Scriptural edicts on the ailment required quarantine. Lepers were to isolate themselves outside any habitations and, in the presence of the uninfected, cry out "Unclean, unclean!" (see Lev 13:45-46). In other words, the leper was cut off from their place in society.
When the leper approached Jesus, he asked more than healing. He wanted to be made "clean" (Mk 1:40). He wanted his place restored in society. Jesus acquiesced by touching the man (Mk 1:41). Note Jesus broke kosher to make the man kosher. Instead of keeping his distance, he made contact with the leper. In doing so, the sought result was immediate (Mk 1:42).
43 Having clearly warned him, HE immediately threw him out. 44 HE said to him, "See (that) you do not say anything to anyone. But, go away, show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing that Moses commanded, as a witness to them."
Next, Jesus sent the man on his way with a stern warning to fulfill the requirements of the Law (Lev 13:13, Lev 14:10-11, Lev 14:19-20). He directed the cleansed man direct his witness to Temple officials, not to the general public (Mk 1:43-44).
45 The man, having left, began to proclaim all the time and spread the word (about Jesus), so that it was no longer (possible) for HIM to be able to go openly into a town. But he was outside (the towns) in deserted areas. And they kept coming to him from everywhere.
Despite the instructions of Jesus, the former leper spread the news of his cleansing far and wide to anyone who would listen. This ironically restricted the movement of the Nazarene for his popularity increased (Mk 1:45).
2. 2:1-3:6 Conflict Cycles
After his series of "firsts," Mark recorded a cycle of conflicts. In his typical fashion, he molded them into a chiastic form. But, within each, he presented a theme, someone who objected, a controversy and a reason for the conflict.
Healing the Paralytic
Argue among themselves
Jesus' Saying: "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (2:10).
Calling Levi, Tax Collector
Scribes of Pharisees Object
Against Jesus' disciples
Eating with tax collectors and sinners
Jesus' Sayings: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (2:17a); "I have come to call not the righteous but sinners" (2:17b).
Disciples not fasting
Jesus' Sayings: "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them." (Mk 2:19-20); "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak." (Mk 2:21-22).
Plucking Grain on the Sabbath
Breaking the Sabbath
Jesus' Sayings: "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath" (Mk 2:27); "so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath" (Mk 2:28).
Restoring a Withered Hand
Against "them" (Herodians and Pharisees)
Healing on the Sabbath
Jesus' Question: "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" (Mk 3:4).
The conflict cycle works on different levels, depending upon our focus. If we look at the content of the five narratives, we can see a quasi-chiastic (or stair-step) structure:Step A1. Healing of the Paralytic. (2:1-12)
Step B1. Calling a Sinner, Levi the Tax Collector.
Step C. Piety: Question about Fasting.(2:18-22)
Step B2. Sin of the Disciples: Breaking the Sabbath (2:23-28)
Step A2. Healing the Withered Hand (3:1-6)
Notice steps one and five address healing power, steps two and four focus on sin. These parallels build up to the question of Christian piety which revolved around the presence of the Christ.
However, if we viewed the moral Jesus put on these conflicts, we see he asserted his authority to forgive sin (thus to accept the sinner and even define sin) and his power to interpret the Law (his authority over the Sabbath). In other words, he stated his presence trumped both the authority of the Pharisees and the limitations their interpretations place upon the Law. Thus, the religious leaders plotted his death (Mk 3:6).
Step A1. Healing of the Paralytic (2:1-12, Mt 9:1-8, Lk 5:17-26)
1 When HE had gone again into Capernaum a few days later, people heard HE was at home. 2 So many gathered together that they (could) no longer find space at the door. HE was speaking the Word to them.
According to the author, Jesus became a celebrity in Capernaum. He inferred the Nazarene displayed hospitality by preaching the Good News in an open house (Mk 2:1-2).
3 They came, bringing toward HIM a paralytic carried by four (others). 4 Since they were not able to bring (the paralytic) to HIM because of the crowd, they removed the roof where HE was. And, having dug through, they lowered the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 JESUS, having seen their faith, said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven."
The evangelist introduced a group of men who carried a paralytic to Jesus (Mk 2:3). Since they couldn't carry him directly to the Lord due to the crowd, they heaved the man up top, dug through the thatch and mud roof, and lowered him down before Jesus (Mk 2:4). The Nazarene noticed faith, not of the paralytic but of the men who carried him. Note the trust the community had in the Lord was the impetus for the healing. Jesus responded with a declaration of forgiveness (Mk 2:5). In a sense, Jesus healed the spirit of the paralytic. Through forgiveness, the man gained the gift of intimacy with God.
6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and wondering, 7 "Why does THIS (man) speak in this way? HE blasphemies! Who is able to forgive sin but the One God?" 8 Immediately having sensed in HIS spirit that they privately wondered in this way, HE said to them, "Why do you wonder about these (things)? 9 What is easier to say to the paralytic: 'Your sins are forgiven' or 'Rise, pick your mat, and walk around?' 10 But that you might know that the SON OF MAN has authority to forgive sins on earth" - he said to the paralytic) - 11 "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go to your house." 12 He was raised and, immediately having picked up his mat, he went out in front of everyone. All the people gave glory to God, saying "We never saw (anything) like this!"
Since Jesus taught openly, scribes appeared to privately question his ministry (Mk 2:6-7). Notice the evangelist portrayed Jesus possessing acute insight. The Lord knew their innermost doubts (Mk 2:8) so he challenged them with a rhetorical choice of power. What was easier, spiritual or physical healing? (Mk 2:9). To prove he could do the former, he did the latter (Mk 2:10-11). Again, notice the power of Jesus. He could banish evil on the spiritual and physical levels. The healing foreshadowed the ultimate display of such power, the Resurrection; the paralytic was "raised up" (Mk 2:12). In the end, the event was unique and caused rejoicing among witnesses (Mk 2:12).
Step B1. Calling a Sinner, Levi the Tax Collector (2:13-17 WEB, Mt 9:9-13, Lk 5:27-32)
13 He went out again by the seaside. All the multitude came to him, and he taught them. 14 As he passed by, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he arose and followed him.
The author shifted the scene from the house to the shore. Jesus taught the crowds (Mk 2:13). Nearby, on the edge of town stood the tax booth, a building where taxmen would collect tolls for goods brought to the marketplace for sale. There, Jesus called Levi bar Alphaeus as a disciple (Mk 2:14). Note the name "Alphaeus" was Greek but this was not unusual for Jews in first century Palestine who were influenced by Hellenism (for example, see "Bartimaeus" in Mk 10:46-52). Tradition has identified Levi with Matthew (Mt 9:9).
15 He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners sat down with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many, and they followed him.
In short order, the scene shifted to a meal that mixed sinners with followers (Mk 2:15). While no evidence existed that Levi ate with Jesus at this particular meal, thematically, the scene progressed from the call to table fellowship.
16 The scribes and the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, "Why is it that he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?" 17 When Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
The leaders objected to the arrangement (Mk 2:16). We must remember that the Pharisees based their spirituality upon separation. They viewed living in the divine presence in terms of purity and distance. To be worthy to stand before God meant strict adherence to the Torah away from any "polluting" influences. They might not object to repentance, but the notion of life among sinners was abhorrent to Pharisees.
Jesus retorted to their objections with a medical analogy. He likened himself to the healing doctor, sinners were the "sick." Then he defined his ministry in the same lines as John the Baptist, the call to repentance (Mk 2:17).
Step C. Piety: Question about Fasting (2:18-22, Mt 9:14-17, Lk 5:33-39)
18 The disciples of John (the Baptist) and the Pharisees were (used to) fasting. (People) came and said to HIM, "Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but you disciples do not fast?"
Two different groups questioned the spiritual practices of Jesus. The disciples of John fasted in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom. The Pharisees limited food and drink on a weekly bases as a means to atone for past sins. In some ways, both groups fasted as a way to look forward to the Messiah. If they restricted sustenance, why didn't the Nazarene and his followers? (Mk 2:18)
19 JESUS said to them, "Should the bridegroom's men fast when the bridegroom is with them? As long as the groom is with them, they are not able to fast. 20 But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken from them. Then they will fast on that day.
21 No one sews an unshrunk cloth on old clothing. But if so, the fullness (of the new piece) lifts away from it, the new from the old, and the tear becomes worse. 22 No one throws new wine into old wine skins. But if so, the wine will rip the wine skins, and the wine is destroyed and the wine skins (too). New wine, however, is (to be poured) into new wine skins.
In Mark's gospel, Jesus responded with three images: the bridegroom, the clothing patch, and the wine skin. First, Jesus placed himself at the center of the question. Like the groom, he was the reason for celebration. Implicitly, he was the one the followers of the Baptist and the Pharisees yearned for. But, when he left the scene, then his followers would fast (Mk 2:19-20).
Second, Jesus shifted the focus from himself to his teaching. He proclaimed a new message ("new cloth...new wine") that could chide with the tradition ("old clothing...old wine skins"). Logic dictated the new and the old could not mix without disastrous consequences (Mk 2:21-22). These images were analogies for the demands of discipleship. Faith in Christ superseded the requirements of the other groups. To push the analogies further, the new cloth could represent the baptismal garment of the Christian neophyte; it reflected a clear break from a past lifestyle to a new way of life. The new wine could have sacramental overtones in the Eucharist. The blessing and sharing of wine had great significance in Jewish table fellowship. The Last Supper changed that importance for the wine shared in the churches for it was the very life of Christ.
Step B2. "Sin" of the Disciples: Breaking the Sabbath (2:23-28)
23 It happened (that) HE, on the Sabbath, traveled through the grain fields. And his disciples began to make (their) way (through the fields), picking the grain stalks. 24 The Pharisees said to HIM, "Look! Why do they do (something) on the Sabbath that is not proper (according to the Law)?"
Again, the evangelist noted a controversy. This time, the Pharisees objected to the "work" of picking wheat and rubbing the chaff off to eat the kernels (Mk 2:23). His opponents clung to a strict interpretation of Exo 34:21 which forbade harvesting even on the Sabbath. In their eyes the act of plucking the grain and rubbing it between the palms of the hands constituted a "harvest."
25 He said to them, "But did you not ever read what David did when he had a need and he was hungry himself, and those along with him: 26 how he went into the house of God when Abiathar (was) the high priest and he ate the breads of (God's) presence which was not proper (for anyone, according to the Law,) to eat except the priests; and he gave it to the others being with him (to eat)?"
Jesus retorted with an example of need outweighing practice. He pointed to the great king David who requested and received restricted loaves of bread in order to feed his men (Mk 2:26-27; see 2 Sam 21:1-6 in response to Lev 24:5-9). In this case, hunger trumped any notion of ritual purity. Jesus would use this conflict as a teachable moment.
27 And HE said to them, "The Sabbath was made because of man, not man because of the Sabbath. 28 So, the Son of Man is also master of the Sabbath."
In Mark;s gospel, Jesus stressed the needs of people over the demands of the Law (Mk 2:27). But, he did not stop there. He asserted his interpretation of the Law over that of the Pharisees and, thus, his status as the Teacher. As the "master of the Sabbath," he pointed to himself as the source of right living (Mk 2:28).
Step A2. Healing the Withered Hand (3:1-6 WEB, Mt 12:9-14, Lk 6:6-11)
3:1 Jesus entered again into the synagogue, and there was a man there who had his hand withered. 2 They watched him, whether he would heal him on the Sabbath day, that they might accuse him. 3 He said to the man who had his hand withered, "Stand up." 4 He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath day to do good, or to do harm? To save a life, or to kill?" But they were silent. 5 When he had looked around at them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their hearts, he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored as healthy as the other. 6 The Pharisees went out, and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.
To this point, the evangelist created a chiasmus that focused on Jesus's place as a superior expert in the Law ("Lord of the Sabbath" in Mk 2:28). But he also heightened the conflict about the Sabbath. He entered a synagogue to bait his opponents with a question on the Law. Was it lawful to heal on the Lord's day? But Jesus did more than win the argument. He silenced his critics (Mk 3:1-4). They sat in a no-win situation. If they objected with some ruling of legal minutia, the populace would grumble and even revolt. As such, they felt their authority slip away in favor of the Nazarene. Hence, when Jesus did heal (Mk 3:5), they looked for ways to eliminate him, even forming alliances with the lackeys of the Romans, the hated Herodians (Mk 3:6).
3. Jesus' Early Ministry: Chiasmus (3:7-6:6a)
Early Ministry Links
a. Step A1: Jesus interacted with outsiders (crowds, opponents) and insiders (disciples, family) (3:7-35)1) Crowds come to Jesus for healing (3:7-12)
2) Jesus chooses the Twelve (3:13-19)
3) Scribes challenge Jesus in the "Beelzebul" controversy (3:20-30)
4) Jesus described disciples as his "true" family (3:31-35
b. Step B: Jesus Taught in Parables (4:1-34)1) Transition (4:1-2)
2) The Parable of the Sower and the Seed (4:3-20)
3) The Lamp (4:21-23)
4) The Measure (4:24-25)
5) The Farmer (4:26-29)
6) The Mustard Seed (4:30-32)
7) Use of Parables Summarized (4:33-34)
c. Step A2: Jesus' Power in Word and Mighty Deed (4:35-6:6a)1) Jesus calms the storm (4:35-41)
2) Jesus heals Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20)
3) Jesus heals bleeding woman and raises Jarius' daughter (5:21-43)
4) Jesus is rejected in Nazareth (6:1-6a)
The activities of Jesus acted as bookends to his teaching in parables. As a chiastic structure, step A1 (growing ministry and controversy in 3:4-35) and step A2 (healings and rejection at Nazareth in 4:35-6:6a) highlighted Jesus' enigmatic stories (4:1-34).
The bulk of chapter three reached back and looked forward. As the reputation of Jesus grew, people sought him out for healing, echoing Mk 1:32-34. So, he called his Apostles together to expand his mobile ministry through them (Mk 6:6-13). The religious leaders tried to dishonor him, crediting his power to the devil (see Mk 3:6). He summarized his movement as his family, those "who do the will of God."
Sections on his Word and Power followed. Jesus explained his use of enigmatic parables with a reference to Isa 6:9-10 (Mk 4:10-12); some would understand, others would not. He continued with agricultural images to explain evangelization (Mk 4:3-8, Mk 4:13-20) and the slow appearance of the Kingdom (Mk 4:26-32). He also employed images of daily living (lighting lamps in Mk 4:21-23 and receiving grain ration in Mk 4:24-25) to stress openness to his message.
Through of his word, Jesus revealed God's power over nature (calming the storm in Mk 4:35-41), unclean evil (exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac in Mk 5:1-20) and death (healing the bleeding woman and the raising of Jarius daughter in Mk 5:21-43). Yet, those who knew him most intimately in Nazareth rejected him when he tried to teach there (Mk 6:1-6).
a. Step A1: 3:7-35 Jesus interacted with outsiders (crowds, opponents) and insiders (disciples, family)
1) Crowds come to Jesus for healing (3:7-12 WEB)
7 Jesus withdrew to the sea with his disciples; and a great multitude followed him from Galilee, from Judea, 8 from Jerusalem, from Idumaea, beyond the Jordan, and those from around Tyre and Sidon. A great multitude, hearing what great things he did, came to him. 9 He spoke to his disciples that a little boat should stay near him because of the crowd, so that they wouldn't press on him. 10 For he had healed many, so that as many as had diseases pressed on him that they might touch him. 11 The unclean spirits, whenever they saw him, fell down before him and cried, "You are the Son of God!" 12 He sternly warned them that they should not make him known.
In these few verses, the author squeezed in many details. After the conflict cycle that culminated with a Sabbath healing in a synagogue, Jesus returned to the lake. But, his reputation grew from the region to areas beyond Galilee along with the size of his audience (Mk 3:7-8). He taught his disciples off shore in a boat because the crowds pressed in on him seeking healing (Mk 3:9-10). Like the scene with the demoniac in Mk 1:23-26, Jesus exorcized demons even though they recognized him as the "Son of God" (Mk 3:11-12)
2) Jesus chooses the Twelve (3:13-19 WEB, Mt 10:1-4, Lk 6:12-16)
13 He went up into the mountain and called to himself those whom he wanted, and they went to him. 14 He appointed twelve, that they might be with him, and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: 16 Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee; and John, the brother of James, (whom he called Boanerges, which means, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas; James, the son of Alphaeus; Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot; 19 and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
Again, reflecting the pattern established in Mk 1:32-35, Jesus withdrew from active ministry. But this time, he invited those he would send out to extend his ministry of evangelization and healing (Mk 3:13-15). Notice Mark listed the Apostles in order of importance not by family relations. Unlike Mt 10:2 and Lk 6:14, the author divided Andrew from Simon (Mk 3:16) and placed the former's name after Zebedee's sons.
As an aside, the term "Boanerges" was Chaldean in origin meaning "sons of thunder." It could refer to origin as "sons of heaven" where thunder resided or force of personality especially in preaching (Mk 3:17).
All three Synopics listed the Apostles in pairs. According to Western tradition, James bar Alphaeus was not related to Levi bar Alphaeus (Mk 2:14). Matthew, Mark and Luke placed the Iscariot at the bottom of the list, a position of shame for his betrayal of the Lord (Mk 3:18-19, Mt 10:2-4, Lk 6:14-16).
3) Scribes challenge Jesus in the "Beelzebul" controversy (3:20-30 Mt 12:24-37, Lk 11:15-23)
20 HE went home. [The] crowd assembled again, so that they were not able to eat bread. 21 The (ones) along with HIM having heard (this) went to seize HIM; for they were saying, "HE is beside HIMSELF." 22 The scribes having come down from Jerusalem kept saying, "HE has Beelzebul (in HIM) and HE expels demons by the ruler of demons."
After the short excursion with his followers, Jesus returned to Capernaum. A crowd gathered so large they could not gather food. The activities of Jesus brought some sense of social shame upon some followers who were associated with his family (see Mk 3:31-32; Mk 3:20-21). His opponents seized upon the shame for an attack. Why did the Nazarene act in such unexpected and anti-social ways? Their answer was simple. He's demon possessed and had command over other demons (Mk 3:22).
23 Having called out to them in parables, HE said to them, "How can Satan expel Satan? 24 If a kingdom should be divided against itself, that kingdom is not able to stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house is not able to stand. 26 If Satan takes a stand against himself, he is also divided and is not able to stand, but (he) has (his) finish (as an effective force). 27 However, having entered the house of a strong (man), no one is able to ransack his goods, unless he should first bind the strong (man) and then he can ransack his house. 28 Amen, I say to you, that all the sins of the sons of man will be forgiven, and (their) insults, as many as they might insult. 29 But whoever should insult the Holy Spirit, he does not have forgiveness into the (Messianic) age, but he is guilty of eternal sin." 30 (This was) because they kept saying, "HE has an unclean spirit."
Jesus responded with a rhetorical question and a series of images. "How could Satan expel Satan?" actually begged a deeper question. Why would Satan do such a thing? It would divide the forces of evil and dilute their power like a kingdom embroiled in a civil war or a clan cleaved apart in a bitter dispute (Mk 3:24-26). Indeed, Satan could not be fully effective unless he took complete control of the spiritual landscape like a marauder who overwhelmed a strong patriarch then ransacked his compound (Mk 3:27, Lk 11:21, GTh 35).
Jesus then turned to the question of unbelief. Those who judged the Lord out of ignorance could find forgiveness. But those who did understand and still rejected the movement of the Spirit would not find reconciliation with God (Mk 3:28, Mt 12:32, Lk 12:10, GTh 44).
4) Jesus described disciples as his "true" family (3:31-35 Mt 12:46-50, Lk 8:19-21)
31 HIS mother and his brothers came and, standing outside, (they) sent (someone) to HIM, calling HIM. 32 A crowd was sitting around (HIM) and they said to HIM, "Look! Outside YOUR mother and YOUR brothers and YOUR sister seek you." 33 Having answered, HE said, "Who are MY mother and [MY] brothers?" 34 Having looked around at the (ones) sitting around HIM (in a) circle, HE said, "Look! My mother and my brothers. 35 Whoever should do the will of God, this (person) is MY brother and sister and mother."
The author returned to the controversy among some of the disciples. Those associated with Jesus's family worried he might bring shame on himself and his clan. So sought to address him through intermediaries (Mk 3:31; see Mk 3:21-22). He shifted the notion of family from his blood relatives to his disciples. Those who did the will of God were his "brothers and sisters and mother" (Mk 3:31-35, Mt 12:46-50, GTh 99).
b. Step B: Jesus taught in parables (4:1-34)
1) Transition (4:1-2 WEB, Mt 13:1-2, Lk 8:4)
1 Again he began to teach by the seaside. A great multitude gathered around him, so that he entered into a boat in the sea and sat down. All the multitude were on the land by the sea. 2 He taught them many things in parables, and told them in his teaching,
2) The Parable of the Sower and the Seed (4:3-9 WEB, Mt 13:3-9, Lk 8:5-8, GTh 9)
3 "Listen! Behold, the farmer went out to sow. 4 As he sowed, some seed fell by the road, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Others fell on the rocky ground, where it had little soil, and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of soil. 6 When the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. 8 Others fell into the good ground and yielded fruit, growing up and increasing. Some produced thirty times, some sixty times, and some one hundred times as much." 9 He said, "Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear."
The evangelist introduced the subject of parables with the tale of the Sower and the Seed. Jesus caught the attention of his audience with its absurdity. The vast majority of farming in first century Palestine was performed by tenants who leased the land from absentee landlords. The owners demanded the vast majority of the harvest, leaving only enough grain for near subsistence living and for the next season's crop. And this was during a good year. So the tenants would carefully prepare the soil, plant the wheat seed by seed, tend the crop, and hope for enough rain that they could receive a harvest of two or three fold.
Jesus turned this picture on its head. Instead of planting carefully, the farmer tossed seed indiscriminately on the road, on rocky soil, among thorns, and, finally, on rich soil which produced an unbelievable yield (Mk 4:3-8). He ended the story with a rejoinder, "Whoever has ears, let him hear" (Mk 4:9)
i. Reason for using parables (4:10-12 WEB, Mt 13:10-15, Lk 8:9-10)
10 When he was alone, those who were around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 He said to them, "To you is given the mystery of God's Kingdom, but to those who are outside, all things are done in parables, 12 that
'seeing they may see and not perceive,
and hearing they may hear and not understand,
lest perhaps they should turn again,
and their sins should be forgiven.' "
The author presented the disciples with a question. Why did Jesus teach in parables? (Mk 4:10). Jesus responded by dividing his audience into insiders and outsiders. Those in his circle would receive clear instruction; those outside would face the struggle of interpreting parables (Mk 4:11, GTh 62). He justified his decision of the latter technique by quoting Isa 6:9-10 (Mk 4:12).
ii. Explanation of Sower and Seed parable (4:13-20 WEB, Mt 13:18-23, Lk 8:11-15)
13 He said to them, "Don't you understand this parable? How will you understand all of the parables? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 The ones by the road are the ones where the word is sown; and when they have heard, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. 16 These in the same way are those who are sown on the rocky places, who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 They have no root in themselves, but are short-lived. When oppression or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they stumble. 18 Others are those who are sown among the thorns. These are those who have heard the word, 19 and the cares of this age, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 Those which were sown on the good ground are those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit, some thirty times, some sixty times, and some one hundred times."
In the gospel, Jesus criticized his insiders' for their lack of insight (Mk 4:13). Then he explained the parable in terms of evangelization. The seed was the word of God (see Isa 55:10-11); implicitly, the farmer was the missionary; the soil was the audience. The focus lay on the character of the listener. The "road" represented the easily tempted (Mk 4:15). The "rocky soil" represented the shallow believer who pursued the next thrill, only to collapse in times of trouble (Mk 4:16-17). The "soil among the thorns" represented the anxious who lack spiritual growth due to the concerns and desires of the day (Mk 4:18-19). But the "rich soil" represented those who believed, grew spiritually, and demonstrated both through their good example and the inspiration they gave to outsiders. They became the catalyst for new converts (Mk 4:20).
3) The Lamp (4:21-23 WEB, Mt 5:15-16, Lk 11:33)
21 He said to them, "Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Isn't it put on a stand? 22 For there is nothing hidden except that it should be made known, neither was anything made secret but that it should come to light. 23 If any man has ears to hear, let him hear."
The parable of the lamp has two parts, the analogy and its meaning. First, a lamp belonged on a stand not under a basket to measure grain or a bed (Mk 4:21, GTh 33). Second, the light of the lamp represented the Good News itself. Even though Jesus taught his disciples a clear message in private, in time it would become public (Mk 4:22, GTh 5). Then, Jesus repeated the admonition, "Those who have ears to hear, let him listen." (Mk 4:23; see Mk 4:9).
4) The Measure (4:24-25 WEB, Mt 7:2, Lk 6:38)
24 He said to them, "Take heed what you hear. With whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you; and more will be given to you who hear. 25 For whoever has, to him more will be given; and he who doesn't have, even that which he has will be taken away from him."
Like the parable of the lamp, that of the measure also had two parts, the analogy and its meaning. First, the "measure" could have been a container like a basket or bowl. It could also refer to the fold of an outer garment someone would make to receive a ration of grain. In either case, the measure given was meant not for the self alone but for one's family. Second, however, Jesus shifted the focus from the measure to the seed received as the message lived out ("more will be given to you who hear"). Those who would not listen "with their hearts" would lose any inspiration they had ("...will be taken away"; Mk 4:24-25).
5) The Farmer (4:26-29)
26 He said, "The Kingdom of God is as (if) a man should throw seed on the earth 27 and (he) should sleep and rise up, night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow up (in a way) as he does not know. 28 On its own, the earth bears fruit, first (a blade of) grass, then an ear of grain, the full (crop) of wheat in the grain stalk. 29 When the fruit (of the grain) allows (for harvest), he sends out (those working) the sickle, because the harvest is ready."
In the parable of the farmer, Jesus presented the coming of the Kingdom in mundane terms. He addressed a rural, agricultural audience who were fully aware of crop growth cycles. The farmer planted seeds, lets nature slowly take its course (Mk 4:26-28), then harvested the resulting grain at the end of the season (Mk 4:29, GTh 21). The middle section about "nature taking its course" implied what scholars called the "theological passive." Who caused the seed to sprout, grow in unknown ways, and ripen to maturity? God, of course. If the reader interpreted the seed as the message "sown," then its growth in faith that led an increase in convert could only happen because of God's activity.
6) The Mustard Seed (4:30-32, Mt 13:31-32, Lk 13:18-19, GTh 20)
30 He said, "How should we compare the Kingdom of God, or in what (way) should we place it (as) a parable? 31 (It is) as a mustard seed, which, whenever it should be sown on earth, is smaller (than) all of the seeds, the (ones) on the earth, 32 yet whenever it should be sown, (it) grows upward and becomes larger (than) all the vegetables and produces large branches so that, under its shadows, the birds are able to make a dwelling.
In Mark's gospel, Jesus continued comparing the seed with the Good News and its growth. This time, he described the message as small, implying disciples evangelized primarily by word-of-mouth. Yet, over time, the process produced huge results.
From ancient times until today, societies have planted and bred mustard for a variety of uses. In the wild, the plant could grow large enough for birds to nest in.
7) Use of Parables Summarized (4:33-34, Mt 13:34)
33 With many such parables, HE kept speaking to the word (of God), as they were able to hear (it). 34 HE did not speak to them without a parable, but by (himself) he explained everything to his disciples.
Why did Jesus teach outsiders in parables while he instructed his followers in clear language? Two possible reasons. First, he used such stories to communicate his message while deflecting direct criticism by his enemies. Second, he employed the power of the narrative to make his points memorable and cause people to reflect.
c. Step A2: Jesus' Power in Word and Mighty Deed (4:35-6:6a)
1) Jesus calms the storm (4:35-41, Mt 8:25-27, Lk 8:22-25)
35 On that day, when it was evening, HE said to them, "We should travel across to the other side." 36 Leaving the crowd, they took HIM along, as HE was in the boat and other boats were with him. 37 A great storm of wind happened and the waves split into the boat, so that the boat already was filled up. 38 HE was at the stern (with HIS head) on a (sailor's) cushion sleeping. They roused HIM and said to HIM, "Teacher, does it not concern YOU that we are perishing?" 39 Having been thoroughly roused, HE stopped the wind and said to the sea, "Be silent. Be quiet." The wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you cowardly? Do you not yet have faith?" 41 They feared a great fear and kept saying to each other, "So, who is this that the wind and the sea obey him?"
The author mentioned an unusual but not uncommon event on the Sea of Galilee: a wind storm. The Sea is a freshwater lake, twelve miles long and seven miles at its widest point. It's fed by the Jordan River on the north and empties out to the Dead Sea on the south. Since it lay nearly 700 feet below sea level, some of its shores are cliffs only interrupted by gorges cut out by creeks that flow into it during the rainy season. At dusk, the water remains warm while the surrounding shore cools. As the warm air rises over the water, it sucks the cool air off shore through the gorges, creating stiff wind gusts. Such a squall set the scene for the passage.
Jesus and his disciples traveled by boat across the Sea of Galilee (Mk 4:35-36). Suddenly, a strong wind created waves so large they threated to capsize the boat (Mk 4:37). Yet, Jesus lie asleep during the storm so the disciples had to awaken him to the danger (Mk 4:38). With a simple command, he calmed the wind and water, then chided his followers for their lack of faith (Mk 4:39-40). The disciples reacted with awe (Mk 4:41).
Like many of the scenes in the gospels, followers read this passage allegorically (see Mk 4:13-20). The boat represented the Church and the wind storm was persecution. During the chaos, those who suffered called out for relief from the Lord who seemed either absent or asleep. But he was there all along and, soon in his presence, the troubles abated. And the followers were in awe that the problem was averted.
2) Jesus heals Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20 WEB, Mt 8:28-34, Lk 8:26-39)
1 They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasene. 2 When he had come out of the boat, immediately a man with an unclean spirit met him out of the tombs. 3 He lived in the tombs. Nobody could bind him any more, not even with chains, 4 because he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him, and the fetters broken in pieces. Nobody had the strength to tame him. 5 Always, night and day, in the tombs and in the mountains, he was crying out, and cutting himself with stones.
The author introduced the exorcism with a description of the demoniac. Jesus and his followers sailed across the lake to its southeast shore which was Gentile territory (Mk 5:1). (The area called Gerasenes had several different names: Gadarenes in Mt 8:28 and the variant Gergesene in several codices.). There, they encountered an extremely powerful, possessed man who lived among the dead. In spite of the best efforts of the local populace, the man could not be physically controlled. While the text did not specify a direct threat, inhabitants must have felt a combination of dread and shame. The gospel described the man in terms we should define as mental illness, possibly schizophrenia (Mk 5:2-5).
6 When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and bowed down to him, 7 and crying out with a loud voice, he said, "Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, don't torment me." 8 For he said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!"
9 He asked him, "What is your name?"
He said to him, "My name is Legion, for we are many." 10 He begged him that he would not send them away out of the country. 11 Now on the mountainside there was a great herd of pigs feeding. 12 All the demons begged him, saying, "Send us into the pigs, so we may enter into them."
13 At once Jesus gave them permission. The unclean spirits came out and entered into the pigs. The herd of about two thousand rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and they were drowned in the sea. 14 Those who fed the pigs fled, and reported it in the city and in the country. The people came to see what it was that had happened.
After the author described the demoniac, he recorded the man's encounter with Christ. The meeting was not unlike that of the exorcism in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mk 1:23-26). The man ran into the scene, bowed down, and recognized Jesus as the "Son of God." But there were two differences. First, Jesus met the man on alien (i.e., Gentile) turf. Second, he begged the Nazarene not to torture him and leave him be. But, like the earlier meeting, Jesus commanded the devil to depart (Mk 5:6-8).
Then, Jesus shifted the encounter by asking the demon's name. The man responded "Legion" due to the number of devils "in residence" (Mk 5:9). To put the term in perspective a Roman legion could contain upwards of 5,500 men depending upon its configuration. However, we should not focus on its literal meaning of the word but upon the severity of the man's condition. To the populace, he epitomized evil.
The demons did not want to leave the area they considered their territory, so they begged to enter the swine. Since Jews considered the animals the prime example of ritual pollution, Jesus allowed the transfer. This led to the mass suicide of the pigs (Mk 5:10-13). After the mass death, the herders spoke to the locals who, in turn, created an uproar (Mk 5:14).
As an aside, the text described a cliff over the Sea of Galilee in the area. This accurately portrayed the landscape near the ancient city of Gadara. The region consisted of rolling hills that rose upon from the lake. To the northwest of the city lies a hill on the water's edge that created a cliff. This could have been the site described in the gospel.
15 They came to Jesus, and saw him who had been possessed by demons sitting, clothed, and in his right mind, even him who had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who saw it declared to them what happened to him who was possessed by demons, and about the pigs. 17 They began to beg him to depart from their region.
18 As he was entering into the boat, he who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 He didn't allow him, but said to him, "Go to your house, to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you." 20 He went his way, and began to proclaim in Decapolis how Jesus had done great things for him, and everyone marveled.
The sight of the formerly possessed man and the news of the departed swine, greatly upset the lives of the local populace to the point they begged Jesus and his followers to leave (Mk 5:15-17). The man, in turn, wished to join Jesus and his entourage because, in a strange twist, he had lost his social role as the "crazy demoniac." He didn't know what to do. That was until Jesus gave him a new purpose. Remain with his own people and evangelize in Decapolis ("Ten Cities" in Greek), the region of pagans (Mk 5:18-20).
3) Jesus heals bleeding woman and raises Jarius' daughter (5:21-24, 35b-43, 5:25-35a WEB, Mt 9:18-26, Lk 8:40-56)
21 After JESUS crossed over in a boat again to the other side, a large crowd gathered around HIM. HE was by the sea (shore). 22 One of the synagogue leaders, Jairus by name, came and, having seen HIM, fell to HIS feet, 23 and strongly urged HIM, saying, "My small daughter has (come) at the end (of her life). Come and set (your) hands on her so she might be saved and live." 24a So, HE went off with him.
After the exorcism at Gadara, Jesus and the disciples sailed back to be met by a large crowd (Mk 5:21). As the scene opened, a synagogue leader named Jarius begged Jesus to heal his daughter (Mk 5:22-23). Note the man had a respected position in the community for he maintained the synagogue building, made arrangements for travelers who stayed in its hostel, and even acted as master of ceremonies at Sabbath services. Despite the dire situation, the man had great influence in the community. His action piqued the interest of the crowd.
24b A great multitude followed him, and they pressed upon him on all sides. 25 A certain woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and had suffered many things by many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better, but rather grew worse, 27 having heard the things concerning Jesus, came up behind him in the crowd and touched his clothes. 28 For she said, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be made well." 29 Immediately the flow of her blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
30 Immediately Jesus, perceiving in himself that the power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"
31 His disciples said to him, "You see the multitude pressing against you, and you say, 'Who touched me?' "
32 He looked around to see her who had done this thing. 33 But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had been done to her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth.
34 He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be cured of your disease."
Because of the crowds who sought Jesus and the stature of Jarius in the community, it seemed everyone went with the Nazarene (Mk 5:24). Then, the narrative shifted to a woman who suffered from a hemorrhage that made her ritually unclean for a large part of her life (see Lev 15:19, Lev 15:24, Lev 18:19). Because she could not rejoin her place in society, she bankrupted herself seeking medical attention, but to no avail (Mk 5:25-26). In a desperate move, she weaved her way through the crowd, approached Jesus from behind, and touched his cloak in the belief the act would make her well. And it did (Mk 5:27-29).
The woman's act seemed to catch Jesus off-guard. Power left him so he turned to ask, "Who touched me?" The disciples were puzzled by his reaction, considering the mob that pressed in on the Nazarene (Mk 5:30-31). Why did Jesus notice this touch and not the jostling of the crowd? The answer lay with matter of intent. The woman specifically reached out to him in faith. Others were just along with him to see the approaching spectacle. After the woman confessed to her act, Jesus confirmed her trust in him and his power to make her well (Mk 5:32-34).
35a While he was still speaking,
35b (some) came from the synagogue leader's (house), saying, "Your daughter died. Why do you still bother the TEACHER?" 36 But JESUS, disregarding the statement being spoken, said to the synagogue leader, "Do not fear. Only trust." 37 HE did not allow anyone to follow along with him, except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 They came into the house of the Synagogue leader. (There) HE saw the uproar, (with) great crying and wailing. 39 Having entered, HE said to them, "Why do you make (such an) uproar and cry? The small girl is not dead but sleeps." 40 They were laughing at him. But, HE, HIMSELF having throw everyone out, took along the father and mother of the small child and those with him and went where the small child was. 41 Holding the hand of the small child, he said to her, "Talitha cumi" [which is translated, "Young girl, I say to you, rise."] 42 Immediately, the young girl stood up and was walking around, for she was twelve years old. Immediately they were amazed with a great amazement. 43 HE gave them a weighty command that no one would know (about) this and he told (them) she be given something to eat.>
The evangelist turned again to Jarius. Family and friends arrived to give him the news of his daughter's passing (Mk 5:35). Note how Jesus responded. He reassured Jarius then restricted his entourage to Peter, James and John thus denying the crowd access to the miracle (Mk 5:37-38). When he encountered the mourners and endured their mockery over his comment about the girl's state ("The child is not dead, but is asleep"), he ejected them too. Then, Jesus, his three disciples, and the parents went to girl's bedside (Mk 5:40) where he took her by the hand and commanded her to rise (Mk 5:41-42). Again, notice he violated kosher by touching the dead (Num 19:11) then raised the girl up to life, a sign of the resurrection. Like other miracle stories, Jesus forbade the witnesses to spread the news (Mk 5:43) but, with the anticipation of the crowd, that would be difficult.
4) Jesus is rejected in Nazareth (6:1-6a, Mt 13:24-58, see Lk 4:14-30)
1 HE departed from there and went to his hometown. His disciples accompanied him. 2 When it was the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many hearing (his teaching) were astonished, saying, "From where to this (MAN) did these (teachings come)? What (is) the wisdom that has been given to this (MAN)? And (there are) such great works having occurred through HIS hands! 3 Is this (MAN) not the craftsman, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon; are not his sisters here with us?" They took offense in HIM. 4 JESUS said to them, "A prophet has honor except in his hometown, with his relatives, and with his family." 5 HE was not able to do anything powerful there except a few feeble (that), having laid (HIS) hands on, HE healed. 6 HE was surprised at their mistrust. HE toured the surrounding villages, teaching.
Next, the author described the return of Jesus to Nazareth to teach in the synagogue. The hamlet was scandalized by his message and his power (Mk 6:2). Here, we must consider ancient culture as static. People did not trust change. They assumed the station they were born into was willed by the divine and was theirs for life. Jesus rose above the role of the "carpenter" (read "jack-of-all-trades") and gained a regional reputation as a holy man. He upset the "peeking order" of the village where everyone knew his family and, implicitly, their place in social order (Mk 6:3).
Jesus responded to their incredulity with a proverb which was equivalent to the modern saying, "Familiarity breeds contempt" (Mk 6:4, Mt 13:27, GTh 31). His ministry was stifled by the lack of faith so he traveled to the surrounding areas to spread his message (Mk 6:5-6, GTh 28).
4. 6:6b-8:21 Jesus's Ministry Expands (Chiasmus).
Ministry Expands LinksStep A1: Jesus sends out the Twelve (6:6b-13)
Step B1: Death of the Baptist (6:14-29)
Step C1: Jesus feeds the 5000 (6:30-44)
Step D1: Jesus walks on water (6:45-52)
Step E1: Jesus heals around Gennesaret (6:53-56)
Step F: Controversy with Pharisees over purity laws (7:1-23)
Step E2: Jesus exorcised the daugher of the Syrophoenician woman (7:24-30)
Step D2: Jesus heals deaf-mute in the Decapolis (7:31-37)
Step C2: Jesus feeds the 4000 (8:1-10)
Step B2: Pharisees ask for a sign (8:11-13)
Step A2: Disciples don't understand the yeast and bread of the Pharisees
This next section began and ended with the disciples, highlighted by two mass feedings. In Mk 6:6-13, they were sent out by Jesus to expand his mobile ministry, evangelizing and healing. But, in Mk 8:14-21, they didn't understand the import of their work because they still fell sway to the influence of the Pharisees. Indeed, they didn't fathom the challenge of the religious leaders who asked for a sign from Jesus (Mk 8:11-13). Their lack of awareness would remain a motif of Mark's gospel.
Report of the Baptist's death (Mk 6:14-29) acted as a transition to the a cycle of healings. Herod's questions about Jesus (Mk 6:14-16) foreshadowed the question of identity ("Who do you say I am?") Jesus would ask in Mk 8:27-30.
The two multiplication miracles (Mk 6:30-44, Mk 8:1-10) bookended the healing cycle. Notice Jesus performed his mighty deeds in Gentile territory. He walked on water (Mk 6:45-52) as he made his way to the Gennesaret, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. When he arrived, he cured all those who can to him (Mk 6:53-56). Next, he moved northwest of the Sea to southern Syria and exorcised the daughter of a pagan woman. Finally, he returned to the southeastern shore in an area known as the Decapolis to heal a deaf-mute. While he multiplied the loaves and fish for the 5000 in Galilee itself, he multiplied the food for the 4000 in Gentile territory.
At the peak of his Gentile ministry, the Pharisees from Jerusalem appeared to question Jesus over questions of ritual purity (Mk 7:1-6). This was really a struggle over the authority of interpretation. Who had the ultimate power to explain God's Law? The hinge point lie in the matter of "korban," setting aside property or money for the worship of God, thus exempting it from the support of parents. Jesus railed against his opponents who placed ritual worship over the obligations imposed by the Fourth Commandment (Mk 7:6-13). He followed with his principle of interpretation: intent over blind adherence (Mk 7:14-23).
Mark placed this section in the midst of the miracles to make a point about basis of authority. The expertise of the Pharisees lie in their learning. Jesus revealed his authority through his power, even before the Gentiles. To challenge that authority, the religious leaders demanded a sign of power (mentioned above). But, discipleship doesn't place demands; it accepts. So, he gave no sign.
Step A1: Jesus sends out the Twelve (6:6b-13, Mt 10:5-15, Lk 9:1-6)
7 HE summoned the Twelve, began to send them out two by two, and was giving them authority over unclean spirits. 8 He commanded them that they would not carry anything on the road, only except a staff, no bread, no bag, no copper in the belt, 9 but having strapped on sandals, you should not wear two tunics. 10 HE said to them, "Wherever you might go, into a house, stay there until you might leave from there. 11 Whatever place might not welcome you and not hear you, walking away, shake off the dust from your feet as a witness against them." 12 Leaving, they announced (the Good News) so (others) might repent. 13 They expelled many demons. They anointed many sick people with oil and healed (them).
After his rejection at Nazareth, Jesus delegated his message and power to the "Twelve" (Mk 6:7, see Mk 3:13-19) then sent them out. He instructed them to travel in pairs and only carry the bare necessities (Mk 6:8-9). This way, they would deter would-be thieves (not alone) and travel only during the day (no food and no extra clothing). When they arrived in a settlement, they would depend on local hospitality (Mk 6:10). If the locals rejected the messengers, they would make a show of indignation (Mk 6:11). After the commands of Jesus, the disciples proclaimed the Good News, exorcised demons, anointed the sick with oil to heal them (Mk 6:12-13).
Step B1: Death of the Baptist (6:14-29 WEB, Mt 14:1-12)
In the following passage, the evangelist implicitly compared John the Baptist with his nemesis, Herod Antipas. John had a prophetic role and, thus, was a paradigm of honor. In this pericope, he portrayed Herod as the exact opposite. The tetrarch was weak, dishonorable and even depraved.
14 King Herod heard this, for his name had become known, and he said, "John the Baptizer has risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him." 15 But others said, "He is Elijah." Others said, "He is a prophet, or like one of the prophets." 16 But Herod, when he heard this, said, "This is John, whom I beheaded. He has risen from the dead."
The author turned to the demise of the Baptist. He compared the long shadow of John to the growing reputation of Jesus, placing popular questions in the mouth of Herod Antipas (see Mk 8:27-28). Notice the tetrarch ("king") referenced John in the context of resurrection (Mk 6:14, Mk 6:16). The spirit of his nemesis still lived in Jesus even though the ruler had the Baptist dispatched. Popular opinion, of course, saw the Nazarene in a prophetic role like John, even in the spirit of Elijah who would return to herald the coming of the Messiah (Mk 6:15, see Micah 4:5).
17 For Herod himself had sent out and arrested John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, for he had married her. 18 For John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19 Herodias set herself against him and desired to kill him, but she couldn't, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he did many things, and he heard him gladly.
In the next section, the evangelist described the arrest of John in the context of palace intrigue. Herod arrested the Baptist at the behest of his new wife, Herodias. John criticized the tetrarch implicitly for the open affair he had with his brother's wife and explicitly for their marriage (Mk 6:17-18, see Lev 18:16, Lev 20:21). Herod divorced his first wife, Phasaelis in favor of Herodias; she divorced Herod II which was her right under Roman law. While Herodias wished to have John executed, Herod hesitated due to the popularity of the Baptist (Mk 6:19). On the one hand, the tetrarch enjoyed hearing the rants of the Baptist (Mk 6:20). On the other hand, he feared Rome. If the tetrarch lost control of the situation (riots and rebellion), Rome would brutally suppress any uprising, blame him for his weakness, and strip him of his power.
21 Then a convenient day came when Herod on his birthday made a supper for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and those sitting with him. The king said to the young lady, "Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you." 23 He swore to her, "Whatever you ask of me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom."
24 She went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask?"
She said, "The head of John the Baptizer."
25 She came in immediately with haste to the king and requested, "I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptizer on a platter."
26 The king was exceedingly sorry, but for the sake of his oaths and of his dinner guests, he didn't wish to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent out a soldier of his guard and commanded to bring John's head; and he went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the young lady; and the young lady gave it to her mother.
29 When his disciples heard this, they came and took up his corpse and laid it in a tomb.
When the timing was right, Herodias made her move. She implicitly knew of her husband's lust for his stepdaughter. So, the "queen" had the girl dance in the presence of the entire court as a birthday gift for the tetrarch. And, as planned, Herod gave into his passions before the nobles and promised the girl anything she wanted, even up to half his kingdom (Mk 6:21-23). What was her prize? The head of the Baptist (Mk 6:24-26). Realizing he was trapped based upon his promises to her in front of his guests, he felt he had no choice. So, he had John beheaded and presented his head on a platter. She, in turn, presented it to her mother as a trophy (Mk 6:26-28). In the end, Herodias won.
The passage ended with the burial of the Baptist (Mk 6:29).
Step C1: Jesus feeds 5000 (6:30-34, 6:35-44 WEB, Mt 14:13-21, Lk 9:10-17, Jn 6:1-15)
30 The apostles were brought together before JESUS and they told everything they did and they taught. 31 HE said to them, "Come, (just) you yourselves alone to an isolated place and rest a little." For many (people) were coming and leaving, and they did not have an opportunity to eat. 32 They went away by boat to an isolated place by themselves.
33 Many (people) saw them leave and recognized them. On foot, (the people) ran together there from the cities and arrived ahead of them. 34 Having come out (of the boat), HE saw the large crowd and felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So, he began to teach them many (things).
After the brief excursion into the death of the Baptist, the author returned to the ministry of Jesus. When the Apostles returned from their journeys, they made their reports to the Nazarene. In turn, he invited them to join him in the wilderness for rest. So many were coming and going, they didn't have time to even eat. They left by boat (Mk 6:30-32).
Yet, their efforts didn't stop the flow of the crowd who sought Jesus. The people arrived before the Nazarene and his disciples landed. When he made land, he saw the gathering, felt sorry for the people, and began to teach them (Mk 6:33-34).
This passage acted as a transition from the ministry to an early piece of oral tradition recorded in all four gospels: the multiplication of the loaves and fish.
35 When it was late in the day, his disciples came to him and said, "This place is deserted, and it is late in the day. 36 Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread, for they have nothing to eat."
37 But he answered them, "You give them something to eat."
They asked him, "Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?"
38 He said to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go see."
When they knew, they said, "Five, and two fish."
39 He commanded them that everyone should sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 They sat down in ranks, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 He took the five loaves and the two fish; and looking up to heaven, he blessed and broke the loaves, and he gave to his disciples to set before them, and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were filled. 43 They took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and also of the fish. 44 Those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
The passage began with the problem of the hungry crowd. The disciples saw the conditions and related them to Jesus, but he filled the concern back on them ("You give them something to eat"). They objected; it would take two hundred days wages to feed them all (Mk 6:35-37). (A "denarius" was the Roman coin for one day's wages.) Of course, the disciples could not gather that amount, much less coordinate the possible food distribution.
So Jesus took matters into his own hands. There were five loaves and two fish. First, he commanded the people sit in groups of defined numbers (Mk 6:39-40). Then, he performed a ritual that closely paralleled the Eucharist. He looked up to heaven, blessed the loaves by giving thanks to God, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples for distribution. He did the same with the fish (Mk 6:41, Mt 14:19, Lk 9:16, Jn 6:11; see Mk 14:22, Mt 26:26, Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:23). Finally, the people ate their fill and left overs far exceeded the original amount of food (Mk 6:42-43). (The number twelve in Jewish numerology represented fullness and completion; the twelve baskets denoted a sense not only of plenty but of God's will.) The number of the fed pointed to the vast reach of the Messianic mission (Mk 6:44)
Step D1: Jesus walks on water, calms fears of disciples (6:45-52 WEB, Mt 14:22-33, Jn 6:15-21)
45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat, and go ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he himself sent the multitude away. 46 After he had taken leave of them, he went up the mountain to pray.
47 When evening had come, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 Seeing them distressed in rowing, for the wind was contrary to them, about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea, and he would have passed by them, 49 but they, when they saw him walking on the sea, supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 for they all saw him, and were troubled. But he immediately spoke with them, and said to them, "Courage! I AM. Don't be afraid." 51 He got into the boat with them; and the wind ceased, and they were very amazed among themselves, and marveled; 52 for they hadn't understood about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
In Mark, Matthew, and John, the passage about Jesus walking on the water immediately followed the multiplication of the loaves and fish. Not only did it seem connected, it was also a part of an older oral tradition.
In Mark, Jesus sent his disciples towards Bethsaida, a village inland from the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee (Mk 6:45). Then, he went to pray alone on a mountain top (Mk 6:46).
At sunset, the boat sailed in the middle of the lake, but the men faced such a stiff wind they were still rowing early into the next morning (fourth watch was 3:00 to 6:00 AM). (See comments on 4:35-41 for an explanation of the wind storm.) Suddenly, they saw Jesus walk on the water but took him for a ghost (Mk 6:47-49; see Job 9:8). So, he called out to them in a chiasmus:
Step A1: Courage!
Step B: I AM (Ego eimi)
Step A2: Don't be afraid.
Note the two "A" steps conveyed the same meaning while the "B" step was a statement of revelation. Jesus identified himself as divine like YHWH did on Mount Horeb in the burning bush (Mk 6:50; see Exo 3:14). He entered the boat and the waters calmed thus showing his power over the sea (Mk 6:51; see Psa 65:7, Psa 89:9, Psa 107:29). Unfortunately, the disciples didn't understand the import of the miracle or even that of the multiplication of the loaves and fish (Mk 6:52). In other words, they did not read the passage allegorically as an experience of persecution.
Step E1: Jesus heals around Gennesaret (6:53-56 WEB, Mt 14:34-36)
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. 54 When they had come out of the boat, immediately the people recognized him, 55 and ran around that whole region, and began to bring those who were sick on their mats to where they heard he was. 56 Wherever he entered, into villages, or into cities, or into the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might just touch the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched him were made well.
According to the evangelist, the disciples did not land at the northern shore of the lake but turned west toward the fertile plain called Gennesaret (Mk 6:53). Here, the crowds gathered for Jesus to heal their sick (Mk 6:54-55). This scene would continue no matter where the Nazarene traveled (Mk 6:56).
Step F: Controversy with Pharisees over purity laws (7:1-23)
This passage is the high point of the ministry expansion chiasmus. We can divide it three ways: background on preparation traditions, the rabbinic controversy over the traditions, and the halakhic ruling from Jesus.
1 (They) gathered together (before) HIM, the Pharisees and some of the scribes, having come from Jerusalem, 2 having seen some of his disciples eat bread (with) common hands, this is unwashed. [3 Holding to the tradition of the elders, the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash (their) hands with the fist. 4 They do not eat (coming) from the marketplace unless they wash. There are many other (traditional rituals) which they received to adhere to: the washing of cups, pots, and copper kettles.]
A controversy arose about ritual cleansing. Pharisees strove to make faith a focus of the individual and part of that effort was to maximize the notion of kosher. In first century Judaism, ritual baths called "mikveh" were common. At the end of the day, a believer would walk down stairs into the bath, immerse himself, and walk out another set of stairs to living quarters. This way, he could wash off the "pollution" of daily interactions with the outside world and prepare to spend time with YHWH and family.
In the gospel, religious leaders criticized the disciples of Jesus for their meal preparation. They didn't bother to wash themselves. Instead, they ate with "common hands, that is unwashed" just like the Gentiles (Mk 7:4-2). They implied the Jesus movement lacked any real Jewish spirituality. In fact, they were as "unclean" as the pagans.
The author seemed to extend the notion of ritual washing not only to the person but to the hands, food preparation, and cooking utensils. No other references to such practices exist outside Mk 7:3-4 so we don't know the extent of the practices. Nevertheless, the comments set up the following discussion.
5 The Pharisees and the scribes asked HIM, "Why do your disciples not walk (in the way) of the elders, but eat bread with common hands?"
6 But HE said to them, "Isaiah spoke about you hypocrites in the right way, as it has been written,
The people revere me with their lips,
but their heart holds me off far away;
7 they worship me in vain,
teaching the rules of men as (God's) teaching.
8 Having abandoned God's Law, you hold (onto) the traditions of men."
(WEB) 10 For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother;' and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death. 11 But you say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban,"'" that is to say, given to God, 12 "then you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making void the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down. You do many things like this."
As indicated above, the leaders criticized the disciples as acting like the pagans ("common hands"; Mk 7:5). Jesus shot back with Isa 29:13 and charged the leadership with abandoning the Law (Mk 7:6-8). He continued his attack by comparing the Commandment duty to one's parents (Exo 20:12, Deu 5:16; Exo 21:17, Lev 20:9) to the notion of Corban (Mk 7:10-11). The latter held that any contribution of support given to the Temple could be taken from funds used to support family elders (Mk 7:12). In other words, tradition could trump demands of the Law. Jesus used this critique to undermine the authority of the Pharisees (Mk 7:13) and assert his own.
14 Having called out to the crowd again, HE said to them, "Everyone hear me and understand. 15 (There is) nothing outside a man going into him that is able to make him common.
(WEB) 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!"
(WEB) 17 When he had entered into a house away from the multitude, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, "Are you also without understanding? Don't you perceive that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it doesn't go into his heart, but into his stomach, then into the latrine, making all foods clean?" 20 He said, "That which proceeds out of the man, that defiles the man.
21 For, from inside the hearts of men journey the reasons (for their) evil: sexual vices, theft, murder, 22 adultery, covetousness, malicious acts, deceit, debauchery, an envious eye, slander, arrogance, (moral and spiritual) foolishness. 23 All these evils journey out from inside and make man common."
Jesus turned from the leaders to a general audience and declared that no food made someone "common" (Mk 7:14-16, GTh 14). Then, he addressed his disciples with a halakhic ruling which separated the moral sense of kosher from that of the ritual. Breaking dietary restrictions did not make someone "common." Food goes into then out of the body (Mk 7:17-19). The real measure of kosher was one's moral character which revealed one's inner intentions. An evil heart defiled the person and made him "common" (Mk 7:20-13).
Notice how Jesus asserted his authority as the true interpreter of the Law through this controversy in the same way he did with the Sabbath dispute (Mk 2:18-22). Both of these passages were the high points of their respective chiastic structures.
Step E2: Jesus exorcizes daughter of Syrophoenician woman (7:24-30 WEB, Mt 15:21-28)
24 From there he arose and went away into the borders of Tyre and Sidon. He entered into a house and didn't want anyone to know it, but he couldn't escape notice. 25 For a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, having heard of him, came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by race. She begged him that he would cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 But Jesus said to her, "Let the children be filled first, for it is not appropriate to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
28 But she answered him, "Yes, Lord. Yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."
29 He said to her, "For this saying, go your way. The demon has gone out of your daughter."
30 She went away to her house, and found the child having been laid on the bed, with the demon gone out.
Jesus traveled north beyond the Sea of Galilee along the coastal areas of Syria. He was in Gentile territory but his reputation preceded him (Mk 7:24). A Gentile woman, a Greek local, fell at his feet and begged him to heal her daughter (Mk 7:25-26). But Jesus put her off with a statement that could be interpreted as prejudiced. The phrase "children" in Mk 7:27 could refer to the people of Israel; the "dogs" could refer to Gentiles. Even today, the term "dog" in the Middle East is derogatory. But the woman flipped the term to mean "pet." Ancient people fed their pet dogs with the leftovers from the meal. In other words, the woman assumed the power of God was not limited to Jews alone (Mk 7:28). Jesus recognized that fact and granted her request (Mk 7:29-30).
b) Step D2: Jesus heals deaf-mute in Decapolis (7:31-37, Mt 15:29-31)
31 Again having gone out of the area of Tyre, HE went through Sidon to the sea of Galilee, up through the area of the Decapolis. 32 They carried to HIM a deaf and speech impaired (man); they begged HIM in order that HE might lay (HIS) hand on him. 33 Having taken him away from the crowd by himself, HE thrust HIS fingers into his ears and, having spit, HE touched his tongue. 34 Having looked up to heaven, HE groaned and said to him, "Ephphatha," which is be thoroughly opened. 35 His (ability to hear) was opened, the chain of his tongue was loosened, and he was speaking clearly.
36 HE commanded them that they might (not) speak to anyone (about the healing). But, the more he was commanding them, the more excessively they themselves were announcing (the healing). 37 They were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well, even the deaf he makes to hear and the speech impaired to speak."
Jesus journeyed south along the Mediterranean shore, inland to the Sea of Galilee, then to its southern shore. He went from Gentile territory to a Gentile territory called the Decapolis ("Ten Cities" in Greek, Mk 7:31). The people presented him with a man who could not hear and could barely speak. He took the man aside and performed a healing ritual. He touched the man's ears and tongue. He also spat (Mk 7:34). Note the author did not indicate where Jesus spat. There was a custom to spit on the ground as a warning against evil; this makes sense in this context. Finally, he looked up to heaven in a prayer stance and spoke that command to be open in Aramaic (Mk 7:34). The man could now hear clearly and speak plainly (Mk 7:35).
Like other times in Mark's gospel (see Mk 1:43-45 for example), Jesus directed the witnesses to keep news of the miracle to themselves. But, in their excitement, they could not (Mk 7:36-37).
Step C2: Jesus feeds 4000 (8:1-10 WEB, Mt 15:32-39)
1 In those days, when there was a very great multitude, and they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to himself and said to them, 2 "I have compassion on the multitude, because they have stayed with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint on the way, for some of them have come a long way."
4 His disciples answered him, "From where could one satisfy these people with bread here in a deserted place?"
5 He asked them, "How many loaves do you have?"
They said, "Seven."
6 He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves. Having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to serve, and they served the multitude. 7 They also had a few small fish. Having blessed them, he said to serve these also. 8 They ate and were filled. They took up seven baskets of broken pieces that were left over. 9 Those who had eaten were about four thousand. Then he sent them away.
This multiplication miracle was a bookend to the feeding of the 5000 (Mk 6:30-44). Unlike the prior passage, Jesus himself commented on their hunger (Mk 8:1-3). The disciples voiced their concern and Jesus countered with the question of available supply. Seven loaves this time, and a few fish (Mk 8:4-5). Then, he ordered the crowd to sit, blessed the food, and distributed it (Mk 8:6-7). After the people finished, the disciples collected seven baskets of leftovers (Mk 8:8)
Notice two items. First, even through the narrative was compressed compared with 6:30-44, the scene did have Eucharistic overtones. What seemed little fed the multitude after Jesus blessed it. Second, the author mentioned the number seven twice, one time for the amount of bread, the other time for the baskets of leftovers. Like the number twelve in Jewish numerology, the number seven represented fullness and completion. In other words, a small fullness would grow to an excess.
2) Step B2: Pharisees ask for sign (8:11-13 WEB, Mt 16:1-4)
10 Immediately he entered into the boat with his disciples and came into the region of Dalmanutha. 11 The Pharisees came out and began to question him, seeking from him a sign from heaven and testing him. 12 He sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Most certainly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation."
Jesus and his followers left Gentile territory and arrived at an unknown area called "Dalmanutha" (Mk 8:10). Scholars speculate it lies on the western shore of the lake near Magdala. There, he encountered opposition who demanded a heavenly sign from the Nazarene. This was more than a request, it was a challenge to his leadership meant to discredit him before the populace. No matter what "sign" he produced it would not be enough. After all, they didn't accept his healings and exorcisms. So, he denied the demand (Mk 8:12).
b. Step A2: Disciples don't understand yeast and bread of Pharisees (8:14-21 WEB, Mt 16:5-12)
13 He left them, and again entering into the boat, departed to the other side. 14 They forgot to take bread; and they didn't have more than one loaf in the boat with them. 15 He warned them, saying, "Take heed: beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod."
16 They reasoned with one another, saying, "It's because we have no bread."
17 Jesus, perceiving it, said to them, "Why do you reason that it's because you have no bread? Don't you perceive yet or understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 Having eyes, don't you see? Having ears, don't you hear? Don't you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?"
They told him, "Twelve."
20 "When the seven loaves fed the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?"
They told him, "Seven."
21 He asked them, "Don't you understand yet?"
In a way, this passage summed up the ministry chiasmus. The structure began with the mission of the Twelve to evangelize and heal (6:6-13). As the text progressed, opponents appeared three times: the death of the Baptist (6:14-29), controversy over purity laws (7:1-23), and the call for a sign (8:11-13). Along the way, Jesus performed great wonders, both in Jewish (6:30-56) and Gentile territories (7:24-8:10).
In light of the previous events, Jesus warned his followers against "the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod." He said this because they lacked bread for the boat journey (Mk 8:13-16). Note how he combined subjects of the opposition with multiplication of the loaves. In their ministries, the disciples would face the same enemies so they should not be swayed by their power (Herod), their logic (purity laws), or their demands (heavenly sign) especially when followers suffered from a lack of resources. Here, Jesus made two points. First, he chided his followers for focusing only on the literal level and not seeing the greater picture of divine activity (Mk 8:17-18). Second, he reminded them how God would care for them completely. For example, despite the hunger of the crowd, he fed the people with a fulfilling result (twelve and seven baskets respectfully; Mk 8:19-20). In the end, he was incredulous about his followers' lack of faith even with all the evidence before their eyes (Mk 8:21).
C. Step C: Journey to Jerusalem (8:22-10:52)
Journey Links1. Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida (8:22-26)
2. Peter's confession "You are the Christ" at Caesarea Philippi (8:27-30)
3. First Passion prediction and teaching (8:31-9:1)
4. Transition (9:2-29)
5. Second Passion prediction and teaching (9:30-50)
6. Transition (10:1-31)
7. Third Passion prediction and teaching (10:32-45)
8. Jesus heals Bartimeaus at Jericho (10:46-52)
Two healing stories acted as bookends for Jesus's journey to Jerusalem; in combination with his remarks about the leaven of the Pharisees (Mk 8:14-21), the narrative addressed the lack of understanding ("blindness") on the part of the disciples. In other words, the thick heads of the disciples was the underlying theme of the journey.
After the sight healing at Bethsaida (Mk 8:22-26), Peter proclaimed Jesus as "the Christ" (Mk 8:27-30). But what did that title mean? More than what it meant to Jesus himself, what did it mean to the individual disciple, both in cost and in lifestyle? What did that mean to the community as a whole?
First, Jesus addressed the cost of discipleship. After his Passion prediction and rebuke of Peter's objection (Mk 8:31-33), he stated his suffering and death stood as examples to his followers (Mk 8:34-9:1). As he did, they were to do.
Second, Jesus spoke to the lifestyle of the disciple. After his second Passion prediction and the argument over greatness (Mk 9:31-34), he urged his followers to be childlike, allowing outsiders to speak in the name of the Lord and living righteous lives that did not give scandal nor seek to be scandalized (Mk 9:35-50). Such a lifestyle helped promote evangelization by example.
Third, Jesus addressed the community as a whole through its leadership. After his third Passion prediction and the controversy over who was to lead (Mk 10:35-40), he addressed the subject of how to lead: through service (Mk 10:41-45). Like the childlike lifestyle of the disciple, the servant model of leadership affected the tone and direction of the community. Leadership style evangelized.
Notice each of the prediction narratives possessed the same structure: prediction of suffering, controversy and, finally teaching. In each case, Jesus applied the prophecy to the question of discipleship.
The transitions between the predictions addressed revelation. The narrative between the first and second contained the Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-10), teaching on the appearance of Elijah (Mk 9:11-12) and the healing of the demonic boy, a mighty deed that required prayer (Mk 9:14-29). First, Jesus revealed his glory in the midst of Hebrew Scripture, the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) and before the divine presence. Next, the Elijah figure (the Baptist) who was prophesied to appear before the coming of the Messiah did arrive. Finally, the power of God flowed through him as it would through the disciples, only if they remained close in prayer.
The verses between the second and third narratives contained Jesus' teaching on family (marriage and children) as well as his observations on salvation. He discouraged divorce (Mk 10:1-12). He raised the place of children in society through his welcome (Mk 10:13-16). And he taught the disciple must depend upon God for salvation in the story of the rich man (Mk 10:17-31).
So, through both transitions, Jesus revealed himself through his presence, his relationship to Scripture, the one who prepared his way, his power over evil and his teaching. Yet, even after repeated demonstrations, the disciples still didn't "get it." They were blind.
28 From the fig tree learn its lesson; when its branches already become tender and sprout leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 Thus when you see these (things) happening, you also know it is near, at the door. 30 Amen, I say to you that, in no way, this generation will not pass (on) until which (time) these (things) might happen. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 But no one knows about that day or hour, not the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father. 33 Look out! Stay awake! For you do not know when it is the right moment.
Jesus used an agricultural image to encourage expectation of the end times. The fig tree represented Israel (Hos 9:10) and its fruit a time of blessing (1 King 4:25). Yet, a barren fig tree reflected punishment (Hab 3:17, Joel 1:7, Isa 34:4; see Mk 11:12-25). Here, the Nazarene used the green of the tree to point to the Tribulation (heat in the summer) and the Day of the Lord (implicit harvest of the fruit; Mk 13:28-29).
Next, Jesus pointed to the immanence of the end times (Mk 13:30). Scholars have debated the meaning of the term "generation" for centuries without a satisfying answer. Nevertheless, he contrasted the changing nature of culture and history with the eternal status of his own words (Mk 13:31).
Jesus stated that only the Father knew the time table for the end times (Mk 13:32). So, he stressed expectation of the parousia more than its realization (Mk 13:33).
34 (It is) like a traveling man, having left his house and having given his slaves responsibility for their own tasks and to the doorman he commanded to stay awake. 35 Stay awake, then! For you do not know when the Master of the house will come: the evening, the middle of the night, the cock-crowing time, or morning. 36 Having arrived suddenly, may he not find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you I say to everyone: Stay awake!
Jesus concluded the passage with another parable. A rich man went on a trip and left his servants in charge of his affairs. The man ordered his porter (a strong man in charge of security) to remain alert implicitly to nighttime thieves (Mk 13:34). Like the porter, the Nazarene urged his followers to maintain vigilance since they did not know the time table for the end times. They could not surmise its approach neither during persecution ("night watch") or good times ("sleeping"; Mk 13:35-36). So, they should "Stay awake!"
1. Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida (8:22-26 WEB)
22 He came to Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23 He took hold of the blind man by the hand, and brought him out of the village. When he had spat on his eyes, and laid his hands on him, he asked him if he saw anything.
24 He looked up, and said, "I see men, but I see them like walking trees."
25 Then again he laid his hands on his eyes. He looked intently, and was restored, and saw everyone clearly. 26 He sent him away to his house, saying, "Don't enter into the village, nor tell anyone in the village."
This healing paralleled that of the hearing and speech impaired man from Mk 7:31-37. As Jesus made his way north into Bethsaida, the people presented him with a blind man (Mk 8:22). The Nazarene took the blind man aside, spat on his eyes, laid hands on him, and asked him if he could see. When the man responded with uncertainty, Jesus again laid hands on the man's eyes. The man could now see (Mk 8:23-25). The Nazarene concluded with the instruction to keep the healing quiet (Mk 8:26).
This healing acted as an introduction to THE question of faith.
2. Peter's confession "You are the Christ" at Caesarea Philippi (8:27-30, Mt 16:13-20, Lk 9:18-21)
27 JESUS and his disciples went out into the villages (in the area) of Caesarea Philippi. On the way, HE was asking his disciples, saying, "Who do men claim me to be?" 28 The (disciples) said to HIM, "(Some say) John the Baptist, others (say) Elijah, but others (say) that (you are) one of the prophets." 29 (HE) HIMSELF was asking them, "But, you. Who do you claim me to be?" Peter said to him, "You are the Christ." 30 HE warned them so that they might (not) say (anything) about him to anyone.
Caesarea Philippi (also known as "Banias") was an ancient city that lie at the foot of Mount Hermon, the highest peak in Syria (9232 ft above sea level) and the home of the headwaters for the Jordan river. The city itself boasted a natural spring dedicated to the Roman god, Pan. It fed a tributary of the Jordan. Because it lie at a higher elevation, the city provided a cool retreat during the hot summer.
Along the way, Jesus asked the question, "Who do people say I am?" He didn't pose it as a means to bolster his ego but a way to gauge popular opinion. The disciples provided standard answers: the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets (Mk 8:27-28, see Mk 6:14-15). These sentiments were not literal but figurative. Jesus acted in the spirit of one of these men. The Baptist who preached the message of repentance. Elijah who would prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. Or, one of the other prophets who would guide the people back to the ways of righteousness. The question, then, begged a larger inquiry. Where did Jesus fit into the world of the common person?
Then, Jesus asked his disciples for their opinion. "Who do you claim me to be?" As the self-appointed leader of the followers, Simon answered, "You are the Christ" (Mk 8:29). With this statement, he not only defined who was, he also defined the followers as the party of the Messiah. This distinction would become clear in the first Passion prediction.
3. First Passion prediction and teaching (8:31-9:1, 8:36-9:1 WEB, Mt 16:21-28, Lk 9:22-27)
31 He began to teach them: "It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things, to be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribe, to be killed, and after three days to rise up (from the dead)." 32 HE was speaking (this) word freely. Having taken HIM (aside), Peter began to rebuke HIM. 33 Having turned and having seen his disciples, HE rebuked Peter and said, "Go away behind me, Satan, because you do not set your mind on the things of God, but the things of men."
First, Jesus defined his vision of the Messiah: the Suffering Servant (see Isa 52:13-53:12, Psa 22). He predicted his Passion, death and Resurrection (Mk 8:31). Of course, this was not Peter's idea of Christ. So, he and Jesus got into a public argument. The Nazarene ended it with a repudiation of Peter (Mk 32-33).
34 Having called out to the crowd with his disciples, HE said, "If someone wants to follow after me, let (him) give up any claims for himself, let (him) pick up his cross, and let (him) follow me. 35 For, whoever wants to save his life will destroy it. But, whoever destroys his life on account of me and the Good News will save it."
36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? 37 For what will a man give in exchange for his life? 38 For whoever will be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."
1 He said to them, "Most certainly I tell you, there are some standing here who will in no way taste death until they see God's Kingdom come with power."
Second, Jesus defined the place of the disciple. Jesus demanded not only total allegiance, he wanted his disciples to pick up their crosses and follow him to Golgotha. This was the only way disciples could save themselves for eternal life (Mk 8:34-35).
Jesus added to his teaching with rhetorical questions. What good was greed, avarice, or cowardice in the face of the Kingdom? Those who denied the Christ would receive the same before the throne of God (Mk 8:36-38). But, those who remained faithful would enjoy life everlasting (Mk 9:1).
4. Transition (9:2-29)
a. The Transfiguration (9:2-10, 9:11-13 WEB, Mt 17:1-13, Lk 9:28-36)
2 Six days later, JESUS took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain alone by themselves. HE was changed in front of them. 3 HIS clothes became shiny, very white, as any wool bleach on earth was not able to thus whiten. 4 There appeared to them Elijah with Moses and together they were talking to Jesus.
5 Having answered, Peter said to JESUS, "Rabbi! It is good that we are here. Let us make three tents: one for YOU, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 6 For he had not known what he answered, for they were very afraid. 7 There appeared a cloud, overshadowing them; and a voice came from heaven, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to HIM." 8 Suddenly, having looked around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.
9 As they descended the mountain, he commanded them so they might not relate what they saw to anyone, until after the Son of Man should rise from the dead. 10 They keep the command, discussing among themselves: "What is (this) 'rising from the dead?'"
We can divide the passage of the Transfiguration into two parts: the event itself and the dialogue after it. The event consisted of:
The place (the mountain top). The location of the Transfiguration recalled the reception of the Torah in the Exodus. Moses led the Hebrews to the base of Mt. Sinai so he could relate his encounters with YHWH to the people (Exo 19). Like Moses, three disciples climbed up to the high point for a moment of revelation (Mk 9:2).
The change (glowing white). On the peak, the appearance of Jesus changed (Mk 9:2-3). Note, in Mark's account, only his clothes shined as a bright white. The color represented righteousness (Dan 11:35, Mt 17:2, Rev 1:12-14), moral purity (Psa 51:7, Dan 11:35, Isa 1:18, Rev 3:18), and being set aside for God's purpose (Mk 16:5, Jn 20:12, Acts 1:10, Rev 1:14). Christians have equated the color white with the baptismal garment (see Rev 7:13-14, Rev 22:14).
The appearance of Moses and Elijah. The appearance of these two towering figures symbolized salvation history as recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. According to tradition, Moses wrote the Torah, Elijah was the greatest of the prophets. Indeed, these men together were images of Scripture. New Testament authors referred to Hebrew Scripture as "the Law and the Prophets" (Mt 7:12, Mt 22:40, Lk 24:44, Jn 1:45, Rom 3:21, Acts 13:15). The discussion between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus represented the interplay between Jewish traditions found in Scripture and the Christian movement (Mk 9:4).
The "tents." To a certain extent, Peter recognized the import of the event. He connected the mountain top, the change in Jesus's clothing, and the appearance of Moses and Elijah with the Exodus experience and its celebration, the feast of Sukkot. This was a week-long fall festival that celebrated the harvest (Exo 34:22) and the life of the Hebrews in the desert (Lev 23:39-41). The faithful ate meals and socialized in temporary shelters ("tents" known as "sukkah"; see Lev 23:42). In his clumsy way, Peter interpreted the scene through the lens of the holy days' celebration but he missed the greater picture (Mk 9:5-6).
The cloud and the voice from heaven. The cloud (Exo 13:21-22) and the voice (Exo 20:22, Deu 4:36) represented the presence of God from the Exodus experience. The heavenly message revealed the relationship Jesus had with the Father ("beloved Son") and commanded his followers to head his words ("listen to him"; Mk 9:7). This was a moment of revelation.
The command of Jesus to remain silent. Suddenly, the images were gone and it was time to descend the mountain (Mk 9:9). But, Jesus ordered silence about the event until he had risen from the dead (Mk 9:10). This statement was the key to understanding the passage. The experience foreshadowed the Resurrection and the life the disciples would receive. As Jesus changed through death so would the baptized; both wore white to signify that metamorphosis. The Scriptures (Moses and Elijah) pointed to risen life. The presence of God urged followers to hear the Resurrection message and put it into practice. This was the core of the Christian life but the disciples still didn't understand its import (Mk 9:10).
11 They asked him, saying, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"
12 He said to them, "Elijah indeed comes first, and restores all things. How is it written about the Son of Man, that he should suffer many things and be despised? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they have also done to him whatever they wanted to, even as it is written about him."
On their way, the disciples asked about the status of Elijah. According to 2 Kings 2:1-18, the prophet didn't die but was swept up to heaven on a fiery chariot. He would return to prepare the people for the Messiah (Mal 4:5-6). Jesus, however, spoke of Elijah in the past tense, implying John the Baptist fulfilled that role. And, as they had done to John (Mk 9:13), they would do to the Son of Man (Mk 9:12).
b. Healing of demoniac boy (9:14-29 WEB, Mt 17:14-21, Lk 9:37-43)
14 Coming to the disciples, he saw a great multitude around them, and scribes questioning them. 15 Immediately all the multitude, when they saw him, were greatly amazed, and running to him, greeted him. 16 He asked the scribes, "What are you asking them?"
17 One of the multitude answered, "Teacher, I brought to you my son, who has a mute spirit; 18 and wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they weren't able."
19 He answered him, "Unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to me."
20 They brought him to him, and when he saw him, immediately the spirit convulsed him and he fell on the ground, wallowing and foaming at the mouth.
21 He asked his father, "How long has it been since this has been happening to him?"
He said, "From childhood. 22 Often it has cast him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
23 Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes."
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out with tears, "I believe. Help my unbelief!"
25 When Jesus saw that a multitude came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to him, "You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!"
26 After crying out and convulsing him greatly, it came out of him. The boy became like one dead, so much that most of them said, "He is dead." 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him up; and he arose.
28 When he had come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we cast it out?"
29 He said to them, "This kind can come out by nothing but by prayer and fasting."
In the midst of argument between the religious leaders and the disciples, a large crowd rushed to greet him (9:14-15). The two groups argued over the power of a particular exorcism for a man in the crowd that just arrived. The demoniac boy was so possessed he was deaf and acted in a schizoid manner so sever that posed a danger to himself and those around him. The disciples could not drive the demon away (Mk 9:16-18).
Jesus chided the crowd (including his disciples) for their lack of faith and asked to see the boy (Mk 9:19). The demoniac continued his display. The boy's father informed Jesus that behavior was much worse and begged for help (Mk 9:20-22). Jesus responded with the challenge of faith; the impossible was possible (Mk 9:23). The boy's father asked for that level of belief (Mk 9:24). In response, Jesus exorcised the demon. The boy collapsed. Many feared he was dead but Jesus raised him up (Mk 9: 25-26; see Mk 5:38-42).
Alone, the disciples wondered why their efforts were fruitless. Jesus answered with the need for prayer and fasting (Mk 9:28-29)
This pericope addressed a greater issue than a mere exorcism. It faced the problem of failure. Why couldn't a disciple's efforts always lead to success? Jesus implicitly answered that dilemma in two ways: spiritual preparation and persistence. Pray and humble one's self. Then, don't give up. Evil would put up a fight but would be defeated in the end.
5. Second Passion prediction and teaching (9:30-50)
a. The prediction itself (9:31-32, Mt 17:22-23, Lk 9:44-45)
30 Having gone out from there, they went through Galilee, and HE did not want that some might know (it). 31 For, HE was teaching his disciples, and HE was saying to them, "The SON OF MAN is handed over into the hands of men, and they will kill HIM. Having been killed, HE will rise up after three days." 32 They did not understand HIS (statement) and they were afraid to ask HIM (about it).
In the second prediction of his Passion, Jesus ministered on two tracks. On the one hand, he tried to keep his movements quiet (Mk 9:30). On the other hand, he informed his disciples of his pending death and resurrection (Mk 9:31). Note he made the prediction in the present tense as if his demise was already occurring. In other words, he framed his notion of the Messiah in terms of present suffering (see Isa 52:13-53:12). Of course, his followers didn't understand (Mk 9:32).
b. Teaching about leadership and children (9:33-37, Mt 18:1-2, Mt 18:5, Lk 9:46-48)
33 They went into Capernaum. Having come (home), HE asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" 34 But they were silent. For, along the way, they argued with each other who (was) greater. 35 Having sat, HE called the twelve (together) and said to them, "If someone wants to be first, he will be the last of all and the servant of all." 36 Having taken a small child, HE stood (the child) in their midst. And having embraced (the child), HE said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one of such small children in MY name welcomes ME. And whoever welcomes ME does not welcome ME but the One having sent ME."
Just as Jesus defined himself and his followers in the first prediction (Mk 8:30, Mk 8:34-38), he defined leadership in the shadow of his second prediction. Like Peter who misunderstood what it meant to be the Christ (Mk 8:32-33), the disciples misunderstood the nature of leadership. They equated it with importance (Mk 9:33-34). Jesus, however, defined leaders with servants, whose who were willing to assist even the least in their society, children (Mk 9:35-36). Notice he framed such leadership in terms of hospitality. Those who served the mere disciple served the Christ and his Father (Mk 9:37).
c. The extent of evangelization (9:38-41, Lk 9:49-50)
38 John said to HIM, "TEACHER, we saw someone expelling demons in YOUR name and we were forbidding him because he was not following us." 39 But JESUS said, "Do not forbid him. For there is no one who will do powerful things in my name and will be able to quickly speak ill of me. 40 For, who is not against us is on behalf of us. 41 For, whoever might give you drink (from) a cup of water on the grounds that you are of Christ, Amen, I say to you that he will (definitely) not lose his earnings."
A controversy arose about the power of the name. In ancient culture, names revealed a person's character and inner abilities. A name would evoke a reaction in society, either positive or negative, that was linked to a reputation. Hence, guarding one's name protected one's public status. So, a disciple naturally tried to control who could call upon the name, the reputation and the power of their leader (Mk 9:38). As a corollary, as the reputation of the leader went, so did those of his followers.
Jesus objected to John's efforts of control. The Nazarene equated the power behind his name with evangelization. If non-Christian practitioners wished to exorcise in the name of Jesus, let them for they promoted the Good News (Mk 9:39). Then, Jesus stated the obvious. Those who did not actively oppose him were at least open to his name and his message (Mk 9:40). That worked especially among those who showed the least amount of hospitality ("cup of water"). In a society that assumed reciprocity even in acts of charity, the host would receive something for his kind act (Mk 9:41).
d. Scandal in the community (9:42-50, 9:49-50 WEB, Mt 18:8-9)
42 Whoever might scandalize one of these little ones trusting [in ME], it is better for him rather if the milestone of a donkey had been set around his neck and he had been thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand scandalizes you, cut it off. It is better (that) you go into (eternal) life deformed than, having two hands, to go off into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. 44 (Blank) 45 And if your foot scandalizes you, cut it off. It is better to go into (eternal) life lame than, having two feet, to be thrown into Gehenna. 46 (Blank) 47 And if your eye scandalizes you, throw it out. For it is better to go into the Kingdom of God one-eyed than, having two eyes, to be thrown into Gehenna, 48 'where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"
In this section, Jesus turned the subject of scandal from outsiders to insiders. In the typical fashion of the Semitic extreme metaphor, he compared the scandal maker with the prisoner condemned to death (Mk 9:42). Such verbal excess would continue with parallels about sinful hands (Mk 9:43-44), feet (Mk 9:45-46), and eyes (Mk 9:47-48). Each parallel contained the offending body part, its loss in order to enter the Kingdom, and condemnation with the body intact to a destiny of rot ("worm never dies") and fiery punishment ("never quenched"). Note 9:44 and 9:46 are listed as "Blank" because the earliest manuscripts did not contain the parallel phrase found in Mk 9:48 (see Isa 66:24). Of course, the extreme metaphor pointed out an irony. The deformed, blind or crippled could not act as priest in the presence of YHWH (Lev 21:16-23). Yet, Jesus seemed to encourage self mutilation to enter the Kingdom. But, he meant the term "mutilate" figuratively. "Cutting off the hand...eye...foot" referred to avoiding situations of sin. In this sense, his language pointed to self-control.
49 For everyone will be salted with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, with what will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."
Jesus shifted from the metaphors about self-mutilation to one of salt. This presented some issues of interpretation because of changing images. Mk 9:49 indicated disciples would be "seasoned" with opposition, even persecution ("fire"). Many early manuscripts didn't contain the last clause "every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt." This seemed to be a later scribal addition from Lev 2:13. Like "salted with fire," the opposition believers would face created struggles that fed into the spiritual life; these were like "sacrifices" offered to God. The day-to-day challenges of being a Christian were metaphors for worship.
As a seasoning, salt did not lose its properties. But it could leach out of a source leaving only impurities. In Mk 9:50, Jesus used salt as a metaphor for faith. He recognized its virtue. However, he also saw that it had limited value to the person who left the community ("lose it saltiness, with what will you season with it?"). So, he encouraged disciples to believe ("have salt in yourselves") and live peacefully within the community.
6. 10:1-31 Transition
a. On divorce and children (10:2-12, 10:1 WEB, 10:13-16 WEB, Mt 19:1-9, Mt 19:13-15, Lk 18:15-17, GTh 22)
1 He arose from there and came into the borders of Judea and beyond the Jordan. Multitudes came together to him again. As he usually did, he was again teaching them.
2 Having come, the Pharisees were asking HIM, testing HIM, "Is it permitted (in the Law) for a man to dismiss a woman (in divorce)?" 3 But, having answered them, HE said, "What command did Moses give to you?" 4 They said, "Moses allowed (one) to write a document to send (his marriage) aside and to dismiss (his wife)." 5 JESUS said to them, "He wrote this command for you because of your hard heart. 6 From the beginning of creation, "God made them male and female. 7 'Because of this, a man will leave behind his father and mother, [he will be joined to his woman], 8 and the two will become one flesh.' So, they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 So, that (union) which God yoked together, let not man separate." 10 At home again, the disciples were asking HIM about this (teaching). 11 HE said to them, "Whoever dismisses his woman and marries another commits adultery against (the first wife); 12 and if she, having (divorced) her man might marry another, commits adultery."
As Jesus approached Judea, the religious leaders challenged him on the subject of divorce (Mk 10:1-2). The practice was not uncommon in first century Palestine and had serious social ramifications. An ex-wife and her children would either return to her family in disgrace or would become homeless. The fate of the former spouse and her offspring depended on the whims and interests of the man. He simply presented his wife with a note that announced the end of the marriage (Mk 10:3-4; see Deu 24:1).
Because of the problems divorce caused and the ease it could be undertaken, the leaders could quickly create a controversy around it. What did Jesus think? Did he side with the man or the woman? In this rabbinical style argument, each side would defend its position not only through logic but by citing Scripture. And, the closer the verse occurred to the activity of God in the Bible (in this case creation itself), the more the verse represented the clean intent of the divine will. So, Jesus cited Gen 2:24 which spelled out the reason for marriage (Mk 10:5-8). And, because God's Law was eternal and unchanging, he argued the institution of matrimony should also be (Mk 10:9).
After Jesus won the contest, his disciples asked him to expound on his statements (Mk 10:10). Here, the Nazarene connected divorce with the commandment on adultery. Remarriage was infidelity (Mk 10:11-12; see Exo 20:14).
13 They were bringing to him little children, that he should touch them, but the disciples rebuked those who were bringing them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was moved with indignation and said to them, "Allow the little children to come to me! Don't forbid them, for God's Kingdom belongs to such as these. 15 Most certainly I tell you, whoever will not receive God's Kingdom like a little child, he will in no way enter into it." 16 He took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
Male dominated clans formed the basis for ancient cultures. A pecking order existed within the clan. Males were first in importance, women were second, underage children were third. In fact, boys were considered property of the clan until they reached the age of adulthood. This fact explained the attitude of the disciples when the crowds brought their children to encounter Jesus. "Don't bother the Master with the unimportant," they seemed to say (Mk 10:13). Jesus would have none of it. Not only did he invite children to come closer, he declared their privileged place in the Kingdom (Mk 10:14). In fact, they were the paradigm of complete trust God's reign required (Mk 10:15). So, he held them close and blessed them (Mk 10:16).
b. The rich man seeking eternal life (10:17-22, 10:28-31 WEB, Mt 19:16-30, Lk 18:18-30, GTh 22, GTh 110, GTh 55, GTh 4)
17 As HE (first) traveled out on the road, a man, having run toward and having fallen on the knees (before) HIM, was asking HIM, "Good Teacher, what must I do to receive an inheritance (from God of) eternal life?" 18 But JESUS said to him, "Why do you call ME 'good?' No one is 'good' except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: 'Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not deprive (others of their property or their just wages). Honor your father and mother." 20 The man said to HIM, "Teacher, I have observed these since my youth." 21 JESUS, having looked upon him, loved him and said to him, "One (thing) lacks in you. Leave, sell as much as you have, and give (the profit of the sale) to the poor. You will have treasure in heaven. (Then,) come, follow me." 22 The man, having become gloomy at (JESUS') word, left, being sad for he had many possessions.
The rich man in this pericope represented the ideal Jew. He was a man blessed by God with means (Mk 10:22) who faithfully followed the Law. People looked up to him. But, clearly, he was not satisfied with his spiritual life. So, he sought out Jesus with the question of destiny. What did he need to do in order to receive eternal life? (Mk 10:17) Note he assumed Jesus, based upon his reputation, had the answer so the man's intent was sincerely. Jesus objected to the accolade "good" then asked the man if he obeyed the Commandments (Mk 10:18-19; see Exo 20:12-17). When the man answered "yes," Jesus moved to the next step, discipleship. Despite the feelings of affection the man might have felt from Jesus, he could not follow him for the cost was too high. The sale of his possessions meant more than liquefying his assets and giving the proceeds to the poor. It mean turning his back on his family, friends, and business contacts. It meant a complete break from his life up to that point (Mk 10:21-22).
23 Having looked around, JESUS said to his disciples, "How (much) difficulty will those having wealth enter the Kingdom of God." 24 The disciples were amazed by HIS words. So, having answered again, JESUS said to them, "Children, how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of God. 25 It is easier for a camel to go through an eye of the needle than (for) the rich to enter the Kingdom of God." 26 They were very astonished, saying to each other, "Who is able to be saved?" 27 Having looked at them, JESUS said, "For men (salvation) is not possible, but not for God. For 'all things are possible with God.'"
Jesus turned to his disciples and upended the common wisdom. The righteous man who God blessed with wealth, the one whom they admired, would struggle to enter the Kingdom (Mk 10:23). Noticing their incredulity, the Nazarene had to repeat his teaching and include hyperbole. Entering the Kingdom based upon one's own efforts was an impossible task like "a camel going through the eye of a needle" (Mk 10:24-25). They understood the problem and this created a teachable moment. Entry into the Kingdom depended upon divine initiative, not human endeavors (Mk 10:26-27).
28 Peter began to tell him, "Behold, we have left all and have followed you."
29 Jesus said, "Most certainly I tell you, there is no one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or land, for my sake, and for the sake of the Good News, 30 but he will receive one hundred times more now in this time: houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land, with persecutions; and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
In the light of Jesus's teaching, Peter objected. The disciples had made great sacrifices to follow Jesus. Didn't that fact mean anything? (Mk 10:28) Of course it did. Jesus promised his followers who gave up everything even greater blessings in the present life and in the Kingdom. But those blessings came at a cost, opposition (Mk 10:29-30). Finally, he returned to the subject of social expectation. The first, like the rich man, would be the last in line to enter the Kingdom. But the last, the impoverished disciple, would be the first to gain entry (Mk 10:31).
7. Third Passion prediction and teaching (10:32-45)
a. The prediction itself (10:32-34 WEB, Mt 20:17-19, Lk 18:31-34)
32 They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus was going in front of them, and they were amazed; and those who followed were afraid. He again took the twelve, and began to tell them the things that were going to happen to him. 33 "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death, and will deliver him to the Gentiles. 34 They will mock him, spit on him, scourge him, and kill him. On the third day he will rise again."
On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus confided his Passion prediction to the Twelve.
b. Teaching about power in the Kingdom (10:35-40, Mt 20:20-28)
35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached HIM, saying to HIM, "TEACHER, we wish that YOU will do for us what we ask (of) YOU." 36 HE said to them, "What do you wish [of] ME] that I will do for you?" 37 They said to him, "Grant to us that, one (of us) on YOUR right and one (of us) on YOUR left, we might sit (beside YOU) in YOUR glory." 38 JESUS said to them, "You do not know what you ask (for). Are you able to drink the cup which I drink or to be baptized in the baptism (in) which I am baptized?" 39 They said to HIM, "We are able." JESUS said to them, "The cup which I drink, you will drink, and the baptism in which I am baptized, you will be baptized in. 40 To sit on my right or my left is not MINE to give, but to whom it has been prepared."
Like the other two predictions of suffering, the passage that followed created a teachable moment. The sons of Zebedee requested a share in the Kingdom's power arrangements. Seats to the right and the left of a ruler were reserved for the second and third in command (Mk 10:35-37). Jesus responded with a question of suffering described in sacramental images. Here, he linked baptism and Eucharist ("cup") with his Passion. As disciples, they too would suffer in union with Christ (Mk 10:38-39) just as the liturgical signs celebrated. But, the arrangements in the Kingdom depended upon the will of the Father (Mk 10:40).
41 Having heard (the discussion), the (other) ten began to become angry at James and John. 42 Having called them towards (HIMSELF), JESUS said to them, "You know that the ones regarded as rulers of the nations show mastery over them and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 It is not thus among you. But, whoever might want to become great among you will be your servant, 44 and whoever might want to be the first will be the slave of all. 45 For even the SON OF MAN not come to serve, but to serve and to give HIS life (as a) ransom on behalf of many."
When the other Apostles overheard the request of James and John, they became irate (Mk 10:41). So, Jesus used this moment to teach them about true leadership. It was not an exercise of power but one of service even to the point of putting the interests of others above those of the self (Mk 10:42-44). Jesus pointed to himself as the prime example of such leadership (Mk 10:45; "as a ransom on behalf of many" see Mk 14:24).
8. Jesus heals Bartimeaus at Jericho (10:46-52, Mt 20:29-34, Lk 18:35-43)
46 They came into Jericho. As HE, HIS disciples, and a large crowd left Jericho, Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, sat alongside the road. 47 Having heard that it was JESUS the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, "JESUS, SON OF DAVID, have mercy on me!" 48 Many were commanding him that he might be quiet. But he was shouting all the more, "SON OF DAVID, have mercy on me!" 49 Having stood still, JESUS said "Call him (over here)" They called the blind (man), saying to him, "Courage! Rise Up! HE calls you." 50 Throwing off his cloak, having jumped up, he went to JESUS. 51 Having answered him, JESUS said, "What do you want that I might do for you?" The blind (man) said to him, "Rabboni, (I want) that I might see again." 52 JESUS said to him, "Leave. Your trust (in ME) has cured you." Immediately, he saw again and he was following him on the way.
The last major city on the road to Jerusalem was Jericho. As Jesus left the city, a blind man, only known by his last name, cried out to get the attention of Jesus. Note he called Jesus by his first name, modified that name with the phrase "Son of David," and begged for mercy (Mk 10:46-47). Even when an embarrassed crowd tried to silence him, he insisted by repeating the title and the call for mercy (Mk 10:48).
Let's take a moment and consider what the man's cry meant. The phrase "Son of David" could refer to the lineage of Jesus from David but, more likely, it pointed to the next ruler in the Davidic line, Solomon. Solomon amassed power based upon his God-given wisdom. Along the same lines, Jesus had a reputation as a folk healer and a preacher of God's message. Many assumed his power grew out of his message, that is, God's wisdom (see Mk 1:27). So, the cry of Bartimaeus was a challenge to Jesus. The blind man seemed to say, "Jesus, you preach God's wisdom. Use the power of that wisdom to show me mercy!"
When Jesus heard Bartimaeus, he called for the blind man. With the encouragement of the crowd, Bartimaeus jumped up, threw off his cloak, ran to Jesus, and requested his sight. Because of his faith in Jesus, Bartimaeus received his sight and became a disciple ("followed HIM on the Way"; Mk 10:49-52).
D. Step B2: Jerusalem Ministry (11:1-13:37)
Jerusalem Ministry Links
1. Entry into Jerusalem and Cleansing of the Temple (11:1-26)a. Entry into Jerusalem (11:1-11)
b. Jesus cursed the fig tree (11:12-14)
c. Cleansing of the Temple (11:15-19)
d. Withered fig tree (11:20-25)
2. Further Controversies (11-27-12:44)a. Temple leaders challenge Jesus' authority (11:27-33)
b. Parable of the Wicked Tenant (12:1-12)
c. Paying taxes (12:13-17)
d. The resurrection of the dead (12:18-27)
e. The Great Commandment (12:28-34)
f. "Son of David" (12:35-37)
g. The Scribes and The Poor Widow's offering (12:38-44)
3. The Eschatological Discourse (13:1-37)a. Double Introduction (13:1-4)
b. The Tribulation (13:5-23)
c. Coming of the Son of Man (13:24-27)
d. Double Conclusion Parables (13:28-37)1) Parable of the Fig Tree (13:28-33)
2) Parable of the Door Keeper (13:34-37)
In Mark's gospel, Jesus' time in Jerusalem revolved about the Temple, either in the holy site or on the Mount of Olives in sight of the Temple. When he entered the city, he processed as the humble king on donkey (Mk 11:1-10), echoing Zechariah 9:9,
Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King comes to you! He is righteous, and having salvation; lowly, and riding on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (World English Bible)
After the ceremony, Jesus headed to the Temple, the seat of power in Judaism. From end of the Babylonian Exile (539 BCE), the high priest wielded political, social and religious authority in Judea, even in the Diaspora. Even when the Hasmoneans gained freedom from the Greek-Syrians in 160 BCE, they ruled though the high priest; only one of their number dared to crown himself king (Judah Aristobulus I, ruled 104-103 BCE).
With the Cleansing of the Temple (Mk 11:15-19), Jesus asserted his authority. He invoked Isa 56:7 and Jer 7:11 to justify his actions, upsetting commerce just outside the Temple gates. However, he did not cause as much scandal as many modern readers assume. Many accused the priesthood of economic and political corruption. The leaders did not move against Jesus at that moment because they feared the power of the mob.
Note, the curse of the fig tree bookended the cleansing. In Hebrew Scripture, the fig tree represented fullness in the Promised Land (Deu 8:8-10) and prosperity (1 Kings 4:25). When Jesus cursed the fig tree (Mk 11:12-15) he symbolically stripped the Temple (his next stop) of its fullness. When his disciples remarked on the withered tree, he pointed to the power of faith (Mk 11:20-25), which implicitly trumped any piety associated with the Temple.
In the next sections, Jesus would challenge (and be challenged by) the leaders. In Mk 11:27-33, he deflected their objections to his actions by connecting his ministry to that of the Baptist. In Mk 12:1-12, he went on the attack with the parable of the Tenants, a highly symbolic story that tied the leadership (the tenants) to acts of murder against the prophets (the rich man's messengers) and, eventually, against the Son of God. The leaders struck back with the question of taxes (Mk 12:13-17) and the belief in the resurrection itself (Mk 12:18-27). In the midst of the controversies, one scribe saw the wisdom of Jesus in the question of the Great Commandment (Mk 12:28-34); some in the leadership were open to the Good News. Then, Jesus turned his attention to the faithful in the Temple, teaching them the true identity of the Messiah (Mk 12:35-37) and warning them about the duplicity of the leaders (Mk 13:38-40).
Jesus ended his time in the Temple with his comments on true piety, the mere offering of the Poor Widow (Mk 12:41-44). Through her offering, she placed all she had into the hands of God.
1. Entry into Jerusalem and Cleansing of the Temple (11:1-26)
a. Entry into Jerusalem (11:1-11, Mt 21:1-10, Lk 19:28-39, Jn 12:12-15)
1 When they came near to Jerusalem, to Bethsphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, "Go your way into the village that is opposite you. Immediately as you enter into it, you will find a young donkey tied, on which no one has sat. Untie him and bring him. 3 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord needs him;' and immediately he will send him back here."
4 They went away, and found a young donkey tied at the door outside in the open street, and they untied him. 5 Some of those who stood there asked them, "What are you doing, untying the young donkey?" 6 They said to them just as Jesus had said, and they let them go.
7 They brought the young donkey to Jesus and threw their garments on it, and Jesus sat on it. 8 Many spread their garments on the way, and others were cutting down branches from the trees and spreading them on the road. 9 Those who went in front and those who followed cried out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
11 Jesus entered into the temple in Jerusalem. When he had looked around at everything, it being now evening, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
As he approached Jerusalem from the east, Jesus instructed two disciples to fetch a young donkey that had never been ridden for his entrance into the city. If the two heard any objection, they were to say, "The Lord needs him" and they would be able to complete their task (Mk 11:1-6). This exchange appeared to be pre-arranged like the signal to prepare for the Last Supper (Mk 14:12-15).
The entrance scene echoed the prophecy of Zech 9:9:
Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King comes to you!
He is righteous, and having salvation;
lowly, and riding on a donkey,
even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The author portrayed the entrance as a raucous celebration. People laid tree branches and their outer cloaks on the ground so the Nazarene would not sully the hoofs of his ride (Mk 11:7-8). Others declared their joy by quoting Psa 118:25-26; the word "Hosanna" meant "help, I pray" (Mk 11:9). But, then the crowd qualified the shout with a reference to the immanent Kingdom; they described it as Davidic and implied it would be the "Day of YHWH," a time of the final judgment ("in the name of the Lord"; Mk 11:10). The author closed the scene with a brief visit to the Temple then left the city for the village of Bethany (Mk 11:11).
b. Jesus cursed the fig tree (11:12-14 WEB, Mt 21:17-19)
12 The next day, when they had come out from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 Seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came to see if perhaps he might find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 Jesus told it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again!" and his disciples heard it.
In this short passage, Jesus cursed the fig tree even in springtime when it had not borne fruit. As we will see in Mk 13:28, the fig tree represented Israel (Hos 9:10) but the barren tree pointed to punishment (Hab 3:17, Joel 1:7, Isa 34:4). Using this metaphor, readers saw Jesus found the leadership of the nation "fruitless" thus worthy of a curse (Mk 11:12-14). This foreshadowed the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 CE.
c. Cleansing of the Temple (11:15-19 WEB, Mt 21:10-16, Lk 19:45-48)
15 They came to Jerusalem, and Jesus entered into the temple and began to throw out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and overthrew the money changers' tables and the seats of those who sold the doves. 16 He would not allow anyone to carry a container through the temple. 17 He taught, saying to them, "Isn't it written, 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers!"
18 The chief priests and the scribes heard it, and sought how they might destroy him. For they feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching.
19 When evening came, he went out of the city.
With the fig tree metaphor in mind, the author turned to the Temple leadership. Jesus entered the Temple mount and overturned the commerce that served the religious pilgrims (Mk 11:15-16). Some scholars speculate authorities franchised booth areas for merchants in front of the Temple Gates. This was an area known as the "Court of Gentile," a place meant for non-Jews to worship YHWH. According to these thinkers, the cacophony of trade made worship impossible. In this light, Jesus could have equated the space outside the Temple with its inner courtyards. Thus, he could combine Isa 56:7 with Jer 7:11 as a justification for his actions (Mk 11:17)
Why didn't the leaders move against Jesus at that moment? Quite simply, they feared the people who saw the priests as corrupt and compromised. They also feared imperial retaliation for any threat to the Pax Romana. Let's address the former. Shortly after the return of the faithful from the Babylonian Exile, the locus of power shifted from the royal family to the high priest. After the successful revolt of the Maccabees in the 160's BCE, their Hasmonean successors assumed the mantle of the high priest as their power base. But, since they did not descend from Solomon's high priest, Zadok, many priestly clans rejected their claims to the office and considered the Hasmoneans illegitimate. After the reign of Herod and his son, Herod Antipas, Rome took direct control of the province and required all major appointments in Jerusalem to have imperial blessing. So, the people considered the high priest an imperial stooge. Now, add to that perception the craven attempts to profit from religious pilgrimage featured in the passage. No wonder the people hated the Temple elite and supported the move of Jesus to cleanse corruption from the holy place.
As to the latter point, the leaders hesitated because they knew the Roman mind. Any major disturbance in the city would be met with swift Roman retaliation. As such, it would threaten their own power and wealth. So they waited for a more opportune time to strike back.
d. Withered fig tree (11:20-25 WEB, Mt 21:20-22, GTh 48, GTh 106)
20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away from the roots. 21 Peter, remembering, said to him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered away."
22 Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God. 23 For most certainly I tell you, whoever may tell this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and doesn't doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is happening, he shall have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I tell you, all things whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you have received them, and you shall have them. 25 Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father, who is in heaven, may also forgive you your transgressions." 26 (Blank)
The next morning, the disciples noticed the fig tree withered (Mk 11:20-21). Metaphorically, God cursed the nation for rejecting the Good News (see Mk 11:12-14). But, Jesus shifted the focus to a teaching on faith. He insisted their prayers had power and their faith should reflect that assurance (Mk 11:22-24). But the core of that certain prayer was the petition for personal forgiveness. Yet, it had a catch. To receive power in forgiveness required forgiving others (Mk 11:25). (Note that 11:26 is missing in the best manuscripts.)
2. Further Controversies (11:27-12:44)
a. Temple leaders challenge Jesus' authority (11:27-33, Mt 21:23-27, Lk 20:1-8)
27 They came again to Jerusalem, and as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him, 28 and they began saying to him, "By what authority do you do these things? Or who gave you this authority to do these things?"
29 Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 The baptism of John was it from heaven, or from men? Answer me."
31 They reasoned with themselves, saying, "If we should say, 'From heaven;' he will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?' 32 If we should say, 'From men' "they feared the people, for all held John to really be a prophet. 33 They answered Jesus, "We don't know."
Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
In response to the cleansing of the Temple, the leaders demanded accountability from Jesus. Who or what gave him the right to disrupt the daily business of the Temple (Mk 11:27-28). He turned the tables on the leaders with a simple question about the origins of John's ministry. Was it from John himself? Or was it from God? (Mk 11:29-30). If they answered the Baptist came from God, why didn't they yield to his authority and repent? (Mk 11:31) If they answered from John ("men"), the people might riot for they considered him a prophetic voice (Mk 11:32). So, they declined to answer. Jesus did the same (Mk 11:33).
b. Parable of the Wicked Tenant (12:1-12, Mt 21:23-27, Lk 20:1-8, GTh 65, GTh 66)
12:1 He began to speak to them in parables. "A man planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a pit for the wine press, built a tower, rented it out to a farmer, and went into another country. 2 When it was time, he sent a servant to the farmer to get from the farmer his share of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 They took him, beat him, and sent him away empty. 4 Again, he sent another servant to them; and they threw stones at him, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. 5 Again he sent another, and they killed him, and many others, beating some, and killing some. 6 Therefore, still having one, his beloved son, he sent him last to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' 7 But those farmers said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 8 They took him, killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. 9 What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the farmers, and will give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven't you even read this Scripture:
'The stone which the builders rejected
was made the head of the corner.
11 This was from the Lord.
It is marvelous in our eyes'?"
12 They tried to seize him, but they feared the multitude; for they perceived that he spoke the parable against them. They left him and went away.
Jesus inserted a parable that had many symbolic overtones. The image of the vineyard represented Israel (see Isa 5:1-7). But he shifted the focus to a situation familiar to the his contemporaries. An absentee landlord rented his vineyard out to tenants (Mk 12:1); here the landlord represented God and the tenants stood in for the religious leaders. At harvest time, the landlord sent his servants ("prophets") to collect his profits but the tenants revolted (Mk 12:2-5). So, the landlord sent his son ("Jesus") but he suffered the same dire fate as the servants simply because of the tenants' greed (Mk 12:6-8).
Jesus ended the parable with the rhetorical question about the fate of the tenants that he answered himself (Mk 12:9). He turned the focus from the leaders to himself with a quote from Psa 118:22-23. In the context of the psalm, the rejected cornerstone referred to Israel being abused by foreign powers. But, in the context of Mk 12:10-11, it pointed to the Passion of the Christ.
For a moment, let's consider the impact of the parable. A large portion of the population would have cheered the actions of the tenants since absentee landlords controlled a majority of the agricultural land in Palestine; a major slice of the owners were Gentiles. In other words, unclean pagans owned the land promised to the faithful by YHWH. However, considering the hatred the people had for the Temple leadership, most sided with Jesus (Mk 12:12).
c. Pharisees and Herodians question Jesus about paying taxes (12:13-17 WEB, Mt 22:15-22, Lk 20:20-26, GTh 100)
13 They sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to him, that they might trap him with words. 14 When they had come, they asked him, "Teacher, we know that you are honest, and don't defer to anyone; for you aren't partial to anyone, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? 15 Shall we give, or shall we not give?"
But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why do you test me? Bring me a denarius, that I may see it."
16 They brought it.
He said to them, "Whose is this image and inscription?"
They said to him, "Caesar's."
17 Jesus answered them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
They marveled greatly at him.
As the opposition to Jesus grew, his enemies created strange alliances. The Pharisees were "separatists" who endeavored to live distinct lives from pagan culture as much as humanly possible. They created a maze of rules and regulations meant to keep the faithful from directly breaking the Law. Herodians, were in many cases, fully invested in Hellenistic cult, thus were Jews in name only. As the descendants of King Herod and his court, their interests lay in power politics, not in piety. So the religious and irreligious joined forces to trip up Jesus over the question of taxes (Mk 12:13-14).
In response, Jesus called for the tax in question. Since the yearly tax represented a single day's wages, his opponents produced a denarius, the coin used for a day's pay. He asked for the image and inscription on it. Of course, their answer was "Caesar's" (Mk 12:15-16). So, Jesus answered with the famous line, "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but give to God what belongs to God" (Mk 12:17). Implicilty, he called for the wisdom to separate one's civil responsibilities from his religious ones.
Note the author cast the opponents in a negative light not only because their gambit failed but because they produced a coin with an image most Jews considered idolatrous. Merely holding it made them unclean. But, on a deeper level, Jesus called out his enemies for their hypocrisy. Both Pharisees and Herodians had to pay the imperial tax with the denarius, whether directly or indirectly. When Jesus stated his famous line, he simply acknowledged what pious Jews already did at the time. They gave to Caesar his tax but gave to God their devotion.
d. Sadduccees question Jesus about the resurrection (12:18-27 WEB, Mt 22:23-33, Lk 20:27-40)
18 Some Sadducees, who say that there is no resurrection, came to him. They asked him, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote to us, ‘If a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife behind him, and leaves no children, that his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 20 There were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and dying left no offspring. 21 The second took her, and died, leaving no children behind him. The third likewise; 22 and the seven took her and left no children. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be of them? For the seven had her as a wife.”
24 Jesus answered them, “Isn’t this because you are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they will rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 But about the dead, that they are raised, haven’t you read in the book of Moses about the Bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are therefore badly mistaken.”
The author presented another controversy, this time with the Sadducees. This was a smaller but very powerful group based upon its political connections in Rome. As the Temple leadership and the city fathers in Jerusalem, they based their focus on the Torah itself not on the Prophets or Wisdom literature. They rejected any doctrine outside the words of the Law including the resurrection (see Acts 23:6-8; Josephus Antiquities XVIII:16-17). So their dispute with Jesus was as much ideological as it was a defense of their authority (Mk 12:18).
The evangelist framed the controversy as a rabbinical debate over points of the Law. The Sadducees argued the notion of the resurrection wasn’t compatible with the Torah in three steps. First, they cited Deu 25:5 which commanded a man to marry his brothers’ widow in order to preserve the name of the deceased and provide for the needs of the woman (Mk 12:19). Second, they posed a scenario where seven brothers married a woman then died. Third, they ended it with a rhetorical question: “In the resurrection, whose wife is she?” (Mk 12:20-23) Philosophers call this argument an “reductio ad absurdum,” pushing a line of reasoning to its extreme and contradictory conclusion. To the Sadducees, the notion of the resurrection was antithetical to the Law.
Jesus charged the Sadducees neither understood Scripture nor God’s power (Mk 12:24). He fought back in two ways. First, he denied the existence of the married state in the afterlife. The risen would transcend terrestrial existence (Mk 12:25). Second, he appealed to the foundational revelation of Judaism, the burning bush. Before Moses, YHWH declared “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Mk 12:26) For Jews, he was the Living God (see Jer 10:10, Jer 23:36, Dan 6:26, Josh 3:10, Psa 42:2). As such, only the living could give him his proper due, not the dead (Mk 12:27; see Psa 88:10-12). Thus as the patriarchs somehow lived even after death so would the righteous in the resurrection.
Note the argument meant not only to win a debate but to assert authority in public. The Sadducees appealed to a minor edict in the Law. Jesus focused directly on the heart of the Law. Popular sensibilities favored the idea of a general resurrection and life in the Kingdom for the faithful. The Nazarene welded that common opinion to the very core of Jewish identity.
e. The Great Commandment (12:28-34, Mt 22:34-40, GTh 25)
After he had heard them disputing, having seen that HE answered them well, one of the scribes, having approached (HIM), asked HIM, "What sort of commandment is first of all?" 29 JESUS answered, "First is: 'Hear Israel, the Lord (is) our God; the Lord is one. 30 You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul,' all your mind, 'and all your strength.'"
31 "The second (is) this: 'You will love your neighbor as yourself.' There is not another commandment greater than these."
32 The scribe said to HIM, "Well (done), TEACHER. Truly you spoke (he) is one and there is no other except him, 33 and to love him with your whole heart, with your whole understanding, and with all your strength, and to love (one's) neighbor as (one's) self is much more (than) of all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34 JESUS, seeing that he answered wisely, said to him, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." No one dared to ask him (anything) any longer.
In the midst of the Temple controversies, a scribe approached Jesus with the question of priorities. What was the most important edict in the Law? (Mk 12:28) The answer to this question would yield insight into the thinking of Jesus, the ways he interpreted and lived out the Scriptures. He answered in two ways: total devotion to God (Mk 12:29-30, Deu 6:4-5) and respect for the neighbor (Mk 12:31; Lev 19:18). Note the word “love” (“agapeo” in Greek) was flexible in meaning but turned the intent of the believer away from the self; love was not conditional. The “other-focused” nature of the commandments allowed the scribe to assert a theme of the prophetic tradition. An ethical life outstripped the Temple cult (Mk 12:32-33; see Micah 6:8). Jesus responded to the scribe’s insight. The man was not far from the Kingdom. And, so, the attacks of his opponents came to a close (Mk 12:34).
f. "Son of David" (12:35-37, Mt 22:41-46, Lk 20:41-44)
Jesus responded, as he taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 For David himself said in the Holy Spirit,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies the footstool of your feet.”'
37 Therefore David himself calls him Lord, so how can he be his son?”
The common people heard him gladly.
Since the scribe legitimized Jesus as an authority on the Scripture (see above), the Nazarene could now address a popular question. Who was the Messiah? Didn’t he have a Davidic pedigree? (12:35) An assumption lay beneath the inquiry. Religious leaders controlled the legitimacy of descendant lines. Only they could differentiate who was a true heir to the great king and who was an usurper. Only they had the power to anoint Christ. By employing Psa 110:1, Jesus refuted the implication (Mk 12:36). This was one of the so-called “royal” psalms; tradition held David himself wrote the hymn. So, Jesus used the words of the great king himself to refute the authority of the Temple leadership over the question of the Messiah’s identity.
g. Condemnation of the Scribes and the Widow’s offering (12:38-44, Lk 20:45-21:4)
In HIS (Temple) teaching, HE said (to the crowd), "Look out for the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, (who like) greetings in the marketplaces, 39 the leaders' chairs in the synagogue, and the places of honor at banquets, 40 (the scribes) exploiting the houses of widows and praying long (showing themselves) pretentious. These (men) will receive greater condemnation."
41 Having sat opposite the (collection) box of the treasury, HE was watching how the crowd threw coins into the treasury box. Many rich (people) were throwing in many (coins). 42 Having approached, a poor widow threw in two small coins, which is a quadrans. 43 Having called together HIS disciples, HE said to them, "Amen, I say to you that this poor widow tossed in more than all those throwing (money) into the treasury box (put together). 44 For all those threw in from their abundance. But this one out of her need threw in everything she had, her whole means of support."
Jesus blocked the authority of the religious leaders to define the identity of the Messiah. Now he would criticize them for their hubris.
Pharisees were “separatists” who wished to create a lifestyle for urban Jews to live as faithfully to the Law as possible. This meant living in close communities even in the midst of pagans with recognizable leaders. Such leaders would dress (“long robes”), act (“greetings...seats”) and demonstrate piety (public “prayer”) in a way to inspire the faithful. In this passage, Jesus chided those who took used their position to feed their egos and their wallets over the good of the people. He also pointed to the legalism of the scribes as a detriment to the poor (“houses of the widows”). He condemned these men for their pride and their insensitivity (Mk 12:38-40).
As a counterpoint, Jesus noticed the charitable donations made at the Temple (Mk 12:41). The Midrash Shekalim 6:5, the entrance area to the Court of Women contained 13 boxes for collections; each box was in the shape of a trumpet (see Josephus Jewish Wars 5:200, 6:282, Antiquities 19:294, 1 Macc 14:49, 2 Macc 3:6-40). The passage implied the rich made a show of their generosity by slowly placing coin after coin into the collection boxes.
Then, a poor widow contributed two “lepta” coins (Mk 12:42). These copper pieces were the smallest denomination in circulation, worth 1/128 of a denarius (the pay for a day’s labor). In the overall scheme of things, they would make very little difference in the effort to care for the widows and orphans. Jesus pointed to her as an example of true charity which came out of need and from the heart, not out of excess and ego like the rich (Mk 12:43-44).
3. The Eschatological Discourse (13:1-37)
We can construct an overview of the Eschatological Discourse in the following manner:
a. Double Introduction: Temple prophecy and disciples' question about the end time. (13:1-4)
b. The Tribulation
1) Warning of false Christs. (13:5-6)
i. Reports of wars and natural disasters (13:7-8)
ii. Persecution of the disciples
a) by officials. (13:9-11)
b) within their clans. (13:12-13)
iii. The coming tribulation.
a) Sight of the "the abomination of desolation" and hasty escape from tribulation. (13:14-16)
b) Suffering under tribulation. (13:17-20)
2) Warning of false Christs. (13:21-23)
c. The cosmic signs of the end times and the coming of the Son of Man (answer to the disciples' question (13:24-27)
d. 13:28-37 Double conclusion.
1) Parable of the Fig Tree (13:28-33)
2) Parable of the Door Keeper (13:34-37)
Notice in the flow of the discussion of the Tribulation, the mention of false Messiahs acted as bookends. Thematically, these pseudo holy men would appear throughout these tough times to tempt the faithful. Stylistically, these verses define 13:5-23 as a "step up, step down" structure; the verses highlight the message between them. Also notice the parallels between the political-natural dimensions and the personal dimension of the tribulation; political chaos and natural upheavals reflected persecution of the disciple; the pagan sign of the "the abomination of desolation" resulted in personal suffering. The end times would only arrive after the tribulation played out.
With these thoughts in mind, let's explore the text itself.
a. Temple Prophecy and the Disciples' Question about the End Time (13:1-4, Mt 24:1-3, Lk 21:5-7, GTh 18, GTh 51)
1 As HE departed from the Temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Teacher, look at the (great) manner of stones and buildings!" 2 JESUS said to them, "Do you see these great buildings? A stone will not lay atop (another) stone which will not be demolished."
3 As HE sat on the Mount of Olives directly opposite the Temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked HIM in private, 4 "Tell us when these things will be and what sign is about to fulfill all these (events)?"
Most scholars recognize 13:2 referred to the destruction of the Temple by the Seventh Roman legion in 70 A.D., a result of the Great Jewish Wars. The statement itself was remarkable as the destruction of the Temple signaled the end times. Such a sentiment doesn't exist anywhere else in the Hebrew Scriptures or in Jewish apocalyptic writings. Indeed the opposite was true; Jews assumed the centrality of the holy site when the Messiah came to usher in the Kingdom. In his apocalyptic vision (chapters 40-48), Ezekiel saw the shekinah, the holy presence of YHWH, in the Temple (Eze 43:3-5; Eze 44:5), received instructions on sacrifices offered there (Eze 43:18-27; Eze 45:13-46:15), and witnessed a torrent of life-giving water from its foundation (Eze 47:1-12). While the Essences considered the priestly leadership in Jerusalem corrupt, they prepared to replace those leaders after the final battle of the end times, not the destruction of the Temple itself. Only one other gospel verse could be connected to Mark 13:2: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up" (Mark 14:58, Mark 15:29, Matthew 26:61, John 2:19). While John's gospel interpreted the phrase as a prophecy for the Resurrection (John 2:21), the other instances used the phrase as an accusation against Jesus in his trial before Caiaphas. At the time, people assumed Jesus claimed that, if enemies destroyed the Temple, the Messiah would rebuild it within three days with the power of God. Accusing him of such a phrase implied messianic claims, hence justified the charge of blasphemy. Notice, however, even in this case, the Temple remained central to belief in the Apocalypse. Now, he disconnected the holy site from the final days.
The disciples' question in response was equally puzzling. Why would those who stood in awe of the great structure jump to the conclusion that its demise marked the beginning of the end times? If no reference existed before Jesus' remark in 30 CE, how did his followers "connect the dots" now?
b. The Tribulation (13:5-23)
1) Warnings of False Messiahs (13:5-6, Mt 24:5-6, Lk 21:8-9, GTh 51)
5 JESUS began to say to them, "Watch out that no one misleads you. Many will come (using) my name, saying, "I am (the ONE)" and (they) will mislead many."
13:5b "I am (the ONE)" is literally "I AM," the same language Jesus used in John's gospel to describe himself. While the author of the fourth Gospel employed the phrase to denote the divinity of the Christ, here Mark used it to simply communicate a false identity.
In 13:5-6 and 13:21-23, Mark couched the subject of the Tribulation in terms of pseudo-Messiahs. Here, he inferred the persuasive rhetorical power these charlatans would have. And he warned his disciples not only against following their leads but implicitly leaving the faith. His statement, then, challenged Christians to remain faithful, despite the flash of false Christs.
2) Wars and Natural Disasters (13:7-8, Mt 24:6-8, Lk 21:9-11, GTh 18)
7 When you hear of wars (nearby) and reports of wars (far away), do not be afraid. It is necessary (for all these events) to happen (in this way), but the end (is) not yet. 8 For nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom; (there) will be earthquakes in different places; (there) will be famines; These (are) the beginning of birth pangs.
3:8a " For nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom..." This is an echo of Isaiah 19:2.
I will stir up the Egyptians against the Egyptians, and they will fight everyone against his brother, and everyone against his neighbor; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom.
3:8 "birth pangs" are the torments of tribulation before the coming of the Messiah.
a) By synagogues and civic courts (13:9-11, Mt 24:9, Lk 21:12-15)
9 Beware (of the dangers you) yourselves (face). (First,) they will hand you over to the councils; (then,) you will be beaten in synagogues; (finally, in court) before governors and kings you will stand because of me as a witness to them. 10 It is first necessary to proclaim (as a town crier) the gospel to all nations. 11 When they arrest you and give you over (to the courts), do not be concerned beforehand what you should say, but whatever you should be given to you in that hour, say (it), for it is not you the (one) speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
3:9 "councils...synagogues" While these two nouns are in independent clauses, they are associated together. The council was a gathering of Jewish elders associated with a synagogue. The disciple would be judged, then punishment would be administered in the sight of the assembly.
"governors and kings" After disciples were judged and punished at the religious level in the synagogue, the elders would present them before secular officials and accuse them of impiety, along with other crimes.
3:9-10 Even persecution would become a vehicle to fulfill the prophecy of Jesus for a universal proclamation of the gospel. Notice the process began with Jewish Christians being dragged before the synagogue, then brought before civilian courts of the Gentiles.
b) Within clans (13:12-13, Mt 24:10-14, Lk 21:16-19)
12 Brother will give over brother to death and a father (his) child; children will rise up against (their) parents and have them killed, 13 and (you) will be hated by all because of my name. But the (one) remaining to the end, this (one) will be saved.
3:12 This is an echo of Micah 7:6:
For the son dishonors the father, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man's enemies are the men of his own house. (WEB)
3:13 "because of my name" referred not merely to identity as a Christian, but to adherence and devotion to the Lord. In a sense, the disciple took the name of Christ and wore it proudly.
iii. The coming Tribulation
a) Sight of "the abomination of desolation" (13:14-16, Mt 24:15-18, Lk 21:20-21, Lk 21:31-32)
14 When you see 'the abomination of desolation' standing where is need not be, understand the (one) reading aloud (to the assembly), then the (ones) in Judea flee into the hill country, 15 the (one standing) on the (flat) rooftop come down, (definitely) do not enter (and) take anything out of his house, 16 the (one) in the field do not turn back (and) take his cloak.
3:14 "the abomination of desolation" The Greek phrase Mark employed was the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew "shiquc shomen" that is found in Daniel 11:31: "Forces shall stand on his part, and they shall profane the sanctuary, even the fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering, and they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate." (World English Bible) Most scholars agree Daniel referred to a pagan altar erected in the Temple by the order of Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BCE (see 1 Maccabees 1:54-61). "Shiquc" referred to an idol or pagan god; "shomen" meant to appall or to cause horror.
3:15 This clause could be translated: "The person on the flat rooftop should neither come down nor enter and take anything out of his house." While this translation is literally true, it makes no sense in context. The driving imperative of the sentence can be found in 13:14, "flee." When the "abomination of desolation" occurred, the residents should flee Jerusalem for the hill country, leaving their homes with all haste, without retrieving anything of value. So the two negatives act emphatically with the verb imperatives "enter" and "take." They should definitely not enter the house and take anything of value.
b) Suffering under the Tribuation (13:17-20, Mt 24:19-22, Lk 21:23)
17 Woe to the (ones) being with child and the (ones) nursing in those days. 18 Pray so that (it) might not be in winter. 19 For, in those days, (there) will be tribulation the like of which has neither been from the beginning of creation when God created (everything) until now nor might (ever) be. 20 If the Lord had not shortened the days (of the tribulation), all flesh would not be saved. But, because of the elect who were elected (by God), (he) shortened the days.
13:18 "in winter" In Palestine, the winter was the rainy season with torrential rains and flooding, making escape more difficult.
3:19 "tribulation" In context, Jesus spoke to the immediate crisis the faithful faced, but he could have considered that crisis to be part of the end time scenario.
After the question about the destruction of the Temple, Jesus expounded on his Tribulation scenario with two predictions about suffering and a comment about the "shortness of days." First he warned his followers of personal persecution. Family members would denounce and reject believers; opposition to faith would tear families apart, destroying the building blocks of society, the clan.
Next would come the "abomination of desolation." As the comment above noted, this phrase referred to the presence of a pagan images in the Temple, ordered by the Greek king of Syria. What could replicate such blasphemy in the mind of Jews or Christians? They saw the presence of the Roman standard on the Temple Mount in 70 CE as that abomination, but on a much larger scale. Titus ordered the capture of the Temple after the savage siege on Jerusalem. Whether the general intended to convert the holy site for pagan purposes, as Josephus recorded in his "Jewish Wars," or urged its destruction, as Sulpicius Severus recorded in his Chronicles (403 CE), the victory of the pagan legions and the looting of the Temple caused scandal among the faithful. The Romans made sure their enemies would not forget the conquest; they enshrined their victory in reliefs found on Titus' arch.
The history of imperial brutality might have inspired 13:14-18. Rome rewarded its friends, but butchered its enemies. The onslaught was coming; the faithful should get out while they could. The tactics and savagery of the legions painted such a bleak picture, people could not see anything worse (13:19). Only divine mercy could shorten the tribulation, for the sake of the disciples (13:20).
Certainly, the followers of Jesus knew Rome's reputation for bloody retribution, but could they imagine such as they stood in awe of the holy place, accompanied by the man they considered the Messiah? Wouldn't this great edifice serve as his Temple? Could they conceive of a scenario otherwise?
2) Second Warning about False Messiahs (13:21-23, Mt 24:23-25)
21 Then, if someone says to you, "Look! The Christ" or "Look! There (he is)" do not believe (them). 22 (They) will rise up, pseudo-Christs and pseudo-prophets, and (they) will cause signs and wonders to appear to deceive, if possible, the elect. 23 Watch out! I told you everything beforehand.
Between his teaching on personal/political tribulation and cosmic upheaval, Jesus warned his followers against false Messiahs. We've already seen such figures in Theudas and the Egyptian; certainly more would appear on the scene. Yet, he flagged not individual leaders but the temptation to follow such men, either from the lack of commitment to the faith or social pressure from their Jewish brethren to abandon the Church and return to the safety of the synagogue (see the comments on Hebrews).
Of course, the Hebrew scriptures railed against false prophets and the Christian books warned against pseudo-Messiahs, but note the appearance of these men coincided with the end times, in the midst of the Tribulation. These men appealed not only to a sense of relief for their followers, they promised salvation. Of course, their message remained an illusion. Jesus did not promise an escape from the tough times, but an implicit perseverance through them.
c. Chaos in the Cosmic Order and the Coming of the Son of Man (13:24-27, Mt 24:29-32, Lk 21:25-28)
24 In those days, after that tribulation,
"The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give off its light 25 the stars will be" out of heaven "falling and the powers in the heavens" will be shaken.
26 Then (they) will see "the SON OF MAN coming on the clouds" with great power "and glory." 27 Then, HE will send out the angels and (they) will gather [his] elect from the four winds, from the (extreme) end of earth to the (extreme) end of heaven.
3:24-25. 13:24 quotes Isaiah 13:10:
"For the stars of the sky and its constellations will not give their light. The sun will be darkened in its going out, and the moon will not cause its light to shine." WEB
3:25 parallels Isaiah 34:4:
"All of the army of the sky will be dissolved. The sky will be rolled up like a scroll, and all its armies will fade away, as a leaf fades from off a vine or a fig tree." WEB
3:25 "the stars will be [out of heaven] falling and the powers in the heavens [will be shaken]" Two clauses in the verse refer to the same event. Since ancient people believed spiritual beings (called "powers") moved the constellations around the sky, falling stars (meteor showers) meant these spirits lost power. Ancients would see a massive meteor shower as chaos in the heavens (powers will be shaken).
3:26 "the Son of Man coming on the clouds (with) glory." See Daniel 7:13: "
I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him" WEB
3:27 "from the (extreme) end of earth to the (extreme) end of heaven" Ancient Jews believed the earth sat flat, like a plate, while the sky was an inverted cone, like a bowl sat on top of the plate. (From their viewpoint, everyone lived underneath the "bowl.") They believed, at some point, the earth and sky met. The phrase above could have referred to that point of intersection. This is speculation since most scholars don't know what the phrase actually means.
The final phase of the Tribulation came with a cosmic upheaval that matched the political disruptions and personal persecutions. On this level, divine judgment cuts through every segment of creation. The capstone would arrive with the Son of Man who would gather his disciples from the four corners of the world; implicitly, the remainder of humanity would face damnation. Note they saw Daniel's vision as a prophecy, fulfilled at the end of time.
d. Double Conclusion in Parables 13:28-37)
1) Parable of the Fig Tree (13:28-33, Mt 24:32-36, Lk 21:29-34)
28 From the fig tree learn its lesson; when its branches already become tender and sprout leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 Thus when you see these (things) happening, you also know it is near, at the door. 30 Amen, I say to you that, in no way, this generation will not pass (on) until which (time) these (things) might happen. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 But no one knows about that day or hour, not the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father."
33 Look out! Stay awake! For you do not know when it is the right moment.
Jesus used an agricultural image to encourage expectation of the end times. The fig tree represented Israel (Hos 9:10) and its fruit a time of blessing (1 Kings 4:25). Yet, a barren fig tree reflected punishment (Hab 3:17, Joel 1:7, Isa 34:4; see Mk 11:12-25). Here, the Nazarene used the green of the tree to point to the approaching Tribulation (heat in the summer) and the eventual Day of the Lord (implicit harvest of the fruit; Mk 13:28-29).
Next, Jesus pointed to the immanence of the end times (Mk 13:30). Scholars have debated the meaning of the term “generation” for centuries without a satisfying answer. Nevertheless, he contrasted the changing nature of culture and history with the eternal status of his own words (Mk 13:31).
Jesus stated that only the Father knew the time table for the end times (Mk 13:32). So, he stressed expectation of the parousia more than its realization (Mk 13:33).
2) Parable of the Door Keeper (13:34-37, Mt 24:42, Lk 21:36)
34 (It is) like a traveling man, having left his house and having given his slaves responsibility for their own tasks and to the doorman he commanded to stay awake. 35 Stay awake, then! For you do not know when the Master of the house will come: the evening, the middle of the night, the cock-crowing time, or morning. 36 Having arrived suddenly, may he not find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you I say to everyone: Stay awake!
Jesus concluded the passage with another parable. A rich man went on a trip and left his servants in charge of his affairs. The man ordered his porter (a strong man in charge of security) to remain alert implicitly to nighttime thieves (Mk 13:34). Like the porter, the Nazarene urged his followers to maintain vigilance since they did not know the timetable for the end times. They could not surmise its approach either during persecution (“night watch”) or good times (“sleeping”; Mk 13:35-36). So, they should “Stay awake!” (Mk 13:37)
E. Step A2a: Passion Narrative (14:1-15:47)
This section will be revised soon.
1. 14:1-11 Preparing for Passover.
a. 14:1-2 Plot against Jesus.
b. 14:3-9 Anointing at Bethany
c. 14:10-11 Judas agrees to betray Jesus.
2. 14:12-25 Last Supper.
a. 14:12-16 Jesus sends two disciples to prepare Passover.
b. 14:17-21 Jesus predicts betrayal.
c. 14:22-25 Last Supper.
3. 14:26-52 Gethesmane.
a. 14:26-31 At Mount of Olives, Jesus predicted Peter's denial.
b. 14:32-42 Jesus' prayer.
c. 14:43-50 Jesus is arrested.
d. 14:51-52 Naked man runs away.
4. 14:53-72 High Priest's interrogation, Peter's denials.
a. 14:53 Jesus led to high priest's home.
b. 14:54 Peter enters courtyard.
c. 14:55-65 High priest interrogates and condemns Jesus.
d. 14:66-72 Peter's denials.
5. 15:1-15 Before Pilate
a. 15:1 Sanhedrin condemns Jesus
b. 15:2-5 Pilate questions Jesus.
c. 15:6-14 Pilate's dialogue mob.
d. 15:15 Barabbas is released.
6. 15:16-23 The Way to Calvary
a. 15:16-20a Soldiers mocked Jesus
b. 15:20b-22 On the way, Simon the Cyrene carries cross.
c. 15:23 Jesus refuses to drink drugged wine.
7. 15:24-32 Crucifixion
a. 15:24-25 Jesus is crucified, soldiers gamble for clothes.
b. 15:26 Inscription "king of the Jews."
c. 15:27 Two criminals crucified with Jesus.
d. 15:29-32 By-passers, religious leaders and criminals mock Jesus.
8. 15:33-37 Death of Jesus.
a. 15:33 Time frame of death.
b. 15:34 Jesus cried "My God, my God..."
c. 15:35-36 Call for Elijah, offering of vinegar.
d. 15:37 Jesus dies.
9. 15:38-41 Three types of witnesses.
a. 15:38 Temple curtain torn.
b. 15:39 Centurion's confession of faith.
c. 15:40-41 Women witnesses.
10. 15:42-47 Burial of Jesus.
a. 15:42-45 Joseph of Arimathea asks for Jesus' body.
b. 15:46-47 Jesus is buried.
I covered Mark's Passion Narrative in greater detail here. Overall, the Passion represented the Passover of the Messiah, a shift from remembrance of the liberation from slavery to a realization of the eschaton in the person of the Christ. In other words, the Passion ritualized (in the Last Supper) and actualized (in the Crucifixion) the Tribulation that early Christians believed they witnessed in real time.
F. Step A2b: Resurrection - Conclusion (16:1-8)
This section will be revised soon.
1. 16:1-4 Mary Magdalene and two others visit tomb.
2. 16:5-7 Women encounter young witness in white.
3. 16:8 Fear-filled women flee.
The segments above are addressed in Passion and Resurrection reconstruction. Note that alternate endings that scholars believe ancient scribes added to the gospel (Mk 16:9-20 and the Freer Logion in 16:14-15) were not found in such early manuscripts as Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus; in addition, the language and syntax of the additions did not cohere with the rest of the gospel. Hence, most scholars believe the evangelist ended his gospel with verse 16:8.
Mark actually created two narratives: 2) a tightly woven tapestry of stories and sayings about the early ministry of the Christ and 2) the linear Passion (which many scholars insist predated the gospel's publication). He integrated these two in order to challenge his audience to serious consider their commitment to the Nazarene. Did disciples really understand who Jesus was? And, if they did, would they give up everything, including their lives, to follow him? These questions, as well as the need for a new source for faith witness, drove the author to put pen to paper.
Bratcher, Robert G. A Translators Guide to the Gospel of Mark. United Bible Societies, 1981.
Felix, Just. "ENTER: Electronic New Testament Educational Resources." Catholic Resources - Felix Just, S.J. Web.
Mark the Evangelist. Meister des Evangeliars von Echternach [Public domain]