By Peter & Vita Toon
Kingsway Bible Studies
Kingsway Publications, 1980
How to use the studies
Introduction to Mark
Study 1: The coming of Jesus Christ 1:1–13
Study 2: Galilean ministry–1 1:14–3:6
Study 3: Galilean ministry–2 3:7–4:34
Study 4: Ministry around the lake 4:35–6:56
Study 5: Ministry in the north and in Galilee 7:1–8:26
Study 6: The identity of Jesus 8:27–9:32
Study 7: Towards Jerusalem 9:33–10:52
Study 8: Ministry in Jerusalem 11:1–12:44
Study 9: Teaching about the future 13:1–37
Study 10: Crucifixion and resurrection 14:1–16:8
HOW TO USE THE STUDIES
1. Ensure that the aim is first to understand the text and then to make it meaningful and relevant. (The questions at the end of each study are intended to bring out the relevance for today.)
2. Begin with a prayer for the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
3. Have various English versions of the Bible available. At least one translation – e.g. the Revised Version, Revised Standard Version or New International Version – and at least one paraphrase – e.g. the Living Bible or Good News Bible – should be on hand for the group to use.
4. Choose one person to lead the discussion, preferably a mature Christian.
5. Encourage everyone to participate in the reading or the discussion.
6. Try the following method of approach:
(i) Begin the study by reading the whole passage in translation.
(ii) Then read each section (as indicated in the notes) from a paraphrase.
(iii) Also read aloud the notes themselves after each section.
(iv) Discuss the meaning of the passage.
This activity will involve several members of the group as readers.
7. Spend about ten minutes on each question with as many members as possible making a contribution. At the end of each discussion the leader should summarize the main points that have arisen.
8. Matters of concern which arise in the reading of the Scripture or in answering the questions could be made topics for prayer.
9. A balance must be kept between ascertaining what the Bible teaches and what are the opinions of participants. So the leader should make sure that there is an understanding of the passage before questions are raised. On some occasions this will mean that not all the questions can be answered.
INTRODUCTION TO MARK
This is the shortest of the four gospels and according to early Christian writers it was written by John Mark, who gained his information from the apostle Peter. John Mark is probably the young man of Mark 14:51 who fled naked as Jesus was arrested. He is also mentioned in other parts of the New Testament – Acts 12:25; 13:13; 15:39; Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24; 1 Peter 5:13.
It is probable that he wrote the gospel while he was in Rome at the time when Peter and Paul were martyred there. He had in mind the needs of Gentile Christians. He regularly explains Jewish customs and terms (7:2–4; 12:42; 14:12; 15:42) and he translated Aramaic words and sentences (3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 14:36; 15:22, 34).
The style is terse in order to appeal to the Romans and a greater emphasis is placed on the deeds of Jesus than on his words. Eighteen miracles are recorded but only four full-length parables. Also there are many examples of exorcisms. Nothing is said about the birth or upbringing of Jesus, and one third of the gospel is devoted to the last week of his earthly life. All this points to the fact that this is not a biography but a declaration of the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ for people of every nation.
The theme is that Jesus is the Son of God (1:11). He was proclaimed Son of God by the Father (1:11 and 9:7), by demons (3:11 and 5:7) and by himself (12:6 and 14:61–62). Finally he was acknowledged as such by a Roman centurion (15:39). Mark desired his Italian readers to make the same acknowledgement.
It would appear that the original gospel ended at 16:8 and that later scribes made additions using information taken from the other Gospels. In view of this, these studies stop at 16:8.
There are many commentaries on Mark – e.g. R. A. Cole in the Tyndale Series (IVP), J. A. Alexander in the Geneva Series (Banner of Truth), W. L. Lane in the New London Series (Eerdmans), together with the expositions in the various one volume Bible commentaries – e.g. New Bible Commentary (IVP) and the Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Moody Press).
Study I: The Coming Of Jesus Christ
Mark begins boldly by declaring the true nature of the One whose life, death and resurrection constitute the gospel – the good news of what God has done in Jesus his Son. Heralded by John the Baptist, identified with his people through baptism, Jesus is immediately challenged to decide what kind of Messiah he will be.
Jesus was a common Jewish name until the beginning of the second century A.D. when it disappeared from common usage. It is the Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua” meaning “the LORD is salvation”. Christ is the Greek form of the Hebrew Messiah, the “anointed One”.
1. 1:2–8 The Forerunner
The appearance of John in the wilderness, his manner of life and dress and his preaching indicated that he was the ordained forerunner of the Messiah – Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1. He emphasized his own inferiority to the One whose coming he announced.
Verse 4: a baptism of repentance. Washing was and still is a meaningful symbol of religious purification – cf. Ezekiel 36:25. John reinforced his call to repentance (turning from evil to God) by asking those who responded to submit to the outward sign of the inward change in their hearts.
A Gentile convert to Judaism was usually baptized before being admitted to full membership of the Jewish community. The startling thing here is that John was calling Jews to repent and be baptized. Belonging to the covenant community of God did not exempt them from the need for repentance and true faith.
Verse 8: a baptism with the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament predicted an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last days – Joel 2:28–29; Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25–28. John taught that through Jesus as the Messiah, the Spirit would be given to God’s people – cf. Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16. The use of the symbol of fire may suggest that the coming of the Spirit would be the coming of the purging and judging presence of God.
2. 1:9–11 The baptism of Jesus
By his humble submission to baptism Jesus identified himself with sinful humanity. His action marks the beginning of his role of identifying with, and saving sinners. Immediately after the baptism, when his obedience to the Father had begun, he received the conviction and assurance that he was God’s appointed Messiah and that suffering was part of his calling (cf. Isaiah 42:1 and 52:13–53:12).
3. 1:12–13 The testing in the wilderness
Jesus’ recognition of his status and mission is directly challenged by his great spiritual opponent, the devil. For details of their confrontation see Matthew 4:1–11 and Luke 4:1–13. The Greek word used here means that he was both tested and tempted, tested in his calling and tempted to modify his understanding of it.
This testing was deliberate – “he was driven by the Spirit”. The forty days may be understood literally or as signifying a long period – see Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 9:9, 18. The devil, or Satan, or “the evil one”, were different names for that fallen angel whom the Jews recognized as truly personal. The angels who ministered to Jesus were not the fallen angels but those messengers and servants of the Lord in heaven who gladly served and worshipped him.
4. Questions for discussion
1. How can we make it clear that the gospel of Christ is still good news today?
2. Is baptism an outmoded religious symbol in our scientific age?
3. If Jesus was sinless, why did he submit to a baptism for sinners?
4. “The Lord tests us and the devil tempts us.” Is this true of Jesus and ourselves?
Study 2: Galilean Ministry — 1
Being clear as to what was involved in being the Messiah, Jesus began his work in Galilee.
1. 1:14–1:45 Success
Jesus proclaimed the nearness of God’s kingly rule, calling for repentance and faith as the means of entering the kingdom. Four fishermen responded. His teaching in the Jewish place of worship astounded his hearers and led to the identifying of Jesus as the Messiah by a man in whom there was a demon. The healing ministry of Jesus attracted great crowds, but this experience did not prevent him seeking quiet for prayer before he continued his preaching ministry.
Verse 15: “The time is fulfilled” – the time determined by God for the fulfillment of his promises through the Old Testament prophets.
“The kingdom of God” – this is both a present reality and a future hope. God’s rule over and in the world is real in obedient hearts and secret in the history of nations. With the coming of Jesus this rule is made obvious in his own lifestyle, in his triumph over evil and sin and in his ministry of healing and exorcism.
Verse 22 – “as one who had authority”. The accredited teachers or scribes had wide knowledge of the law and its interpretation. They did not give original exposition but quoted authorities of the past. Jesus gave a clear and new interpretation, showing spiritual insight into God’s purpose.
Verse 40 — “leprosy”. This could have been one of many skin diseases and not necessarily what is today called leprosy. The law of Moses provided for those who had been healed of skin diseases to be declared ritually clean and fit members of the community again (Leviticus 14:1–32).
2. 2:1–3:6 Opposition
In his ministry of reconciliation Jesus forgave sinners, had close fellowship with the outcasts of society and removed burdensome interpretations of the law of Moses. The result was a clash with the religious authorities who had a vested interest in the maintenance of religion as it was. They made plans to kill him.
(i) Healing the paralytic, 2:1–12. Jesus did not establish a necessary connection between sin and sickness (cf. John 9:2–3 where such a view is denied) although in this case there may have been a connection. Jews believed that only God could forgive sins, and so Jesus, in assuming the prerogative of God, was committing blasphemy. (Cf. Leviticus 24:16, where the penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning.) These scribes were blind to the truth that he who claimed to forgive sins was the Son of God.
(ii) Fellowship with tax collectors and sinners, 2:13–17. Tax collectors were despised by orthodox Jews because their work brought them into close contact with the foreign rulers of the country. Furthermore many of them appear to have cheated their fellows. So to eat with them brought ritual defilement. But Jesus did eat with Levi, also called Matthew (Matthew 9:9–13), his concern thus fulfilling the spirit of the law.
(iii) Fasting, 2:18–20. Fasting was considered to be a means of gaining the favour of God and receiving revelations from him. The point that Jesus made was that by his presence they were in fact receiving exactly what fasting was intended to bring. In him was divine favour and divine revelation. Jesus was not in fact opposing the practice of fasting.
(iv) Two parables, 2:21–22. The emphasis is on the newness of the situation. To confine the work of God within the constraints of Jewish piety was impossible.
(v) The sabbath, 2:23–28. Here Jesus revealed the true purpose of God’s law. Human need takes precedence over religious convention. As the Messiah, the Incarnate Lord, he had authority to determine the meaning and use of the law. For the incident involving David, see 1 Samuel 21:1–6. For the use of the term “Son of man”, see Daniel 7:13–14. It was a messianic title.
(vi) Healing of the man with the withered hand, 3:1–6. By their rigid interpretation of the law of Moses the Pharisees made it into something that opposed the true wellbeing of humanity. Jesus uncovered the true principles of sabbath law, rest and worship. Rather than contradicting these principles, he was fulfilling them.
3. Questions for discussion
1. “Discipleship is not an end in itself; it is the means to an end – the bringing of others to the Lord Jesus.” To what extent is this claim true?
2. Is what is known as instantaneous divine healing superior to that healing which comes through the work of doctors and nurses?
3. How can the churches minister to the outcasts of society today?
4. How does the example of Jesus on the sabbath help us to order our lives on Sundays?
Study 3: Galilean Ministry — 2
Continuing his ministry in Galilee Jesus met serious opposition from those who considered themselves to be God’s servants. He faithfully proclaimed the kingdom by action and teaching.
1. 3:7–3:35 Popularity and distrust
The ordinary people came in crowds to see and hear Jesus, but the religious leaders hated him.
(i) A crowd by the lakeside, verses 7–12. A look at a map of Palestine will show that these people had come long distances. The presence of the rule of God in Jesus is made clear by the recognition of it by the spiritual enemies of God – Satan and his devils.
(ii) The choice of the Twelve, verses 13–19. The Twelve were probably chosen to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and to form the nucleus of the people of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34). Jesus chose them to be with him and so to learn from him, and also to be sent out as preachers of the kingdom of God.
Simon’s new name of Peter – a rock – denotes the role he will play as spokesman for and representative of the Twelve.
(iii) The Beelzebub controversy, verses 20–27. Beelzebub (lit. “lord of flies”) was the name of the prince of demons. The two parables of Jesus demonstrate the absurdity of the accusation that he worked in the power of this prince of demons. Rather a greater than Satan and the devil was present.
(iv) Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, verses 28–30. By attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the work of the devil the scribes showed a lack of true judgement. They failed to discern good and evil and distinguish between them. Such a failure made it difficult, perhaps impossible, to recognize and acknowledge sin. This meant that repentance which requires acknowledgement of sin was impossible and without repentance there can be no forgiveness from God.
(v) The family of God, verses 31–35. This family transcends all ordinary human relationships, and its distinguishing feature is that it seeks always to do the will of God. After the birth of Jesus, Mary probably had children in the normal way and these are those who are mentioned here. Alternatively Joseph may have had children from an earlier marriage.
2. 4:1–34 Parables
Verses 1–2 set the scene for Mark to provide examples of the parables told by Jesus.
(i) The parable of the sower, verses 3–9. The most natural explanation seems to be that different types of soil represent different types of people and their varied responses to the challenging message of the kingdom of God. (See below (iii).)
(ii) The purpose of parables, verses 10–12. The key to the understanding of parables is the use of the word masal in the Hebrew Bible. It covers a wide range of meaning including short sentences of popular wisdom, proverbs, oracles, riddles, ethical maxims, etc. Likewise parables are of varied type. Normally, however, they are not allegories with each detail of a story conveying a spiritual message. Rather, they are intended to make one or two points only. They are analogies which are often drawn from the world of nature. In verses 10–12 it is possible to get the impression that Jesus taught in parables so as to prevent people from entering the kingdom. Isaiah 6:9–10 can be read in a similar way, and it is here quoted.
God had chosen to reveal himself in a veiled way in the words, works and person of Jesus. Those who responded to him recognized this and thus had the “secret”, but for others God’s revelation of himself remained a mystery. By his parables Jesus invited people to reflect upon his message in order that they might see God’s self-disclosure and kingdom in himself.
(iii) An explanation of the parable of the sower, verses 13–20. Here is one parable at least which appears to be an allegory. The explanation reflects not only the different responses to the ministry of Jesus but also similar responses to the ministry of the church over the centuries.
(iv) Three further parables, verses 21–34. The theme of the parable of the lamp is that those who have received the light of the kingdom are to share it with others. It is followed by two proverbs (verses 24–25) which emphasize our duty to use aright whatever God gives us. The theme of the parable of the seed growing of itself is similar to that of the parable of the solder; God gives the increase and in the end victory will be his. Finally the theme of the parable of the mustard seed illustrates the truth that though the kingdom appeared small and insignificant it would be very great at the end of the age.
3. Questions for discussion
1. Why did ordinary people appreciate Jesus?
2. In what circumstances would blasphemy against the Spirit be committed today?
3. Was the attitude of Jesus towards his blood relatives an example of bad manners; or did it have a profound meaning? If the latter, what was it?
4. Are sermon illustrations the equivalent of parables?
Study 4: Ministry Around The Lake
Not only is Jesus an authoritative teacher sent from God, he is also the Lord of nature and of life.
A map of Palestine should be available for this study.
1. 4:35–41 Jesus calms a storm
The crossing was undertaken at the command of Jesus and so the disciples were ready to blame him when they ran into trouble. The sleep of Jesus indicated his trust in God. And as the God of Israel had divided the Red Sea, so the Messiah of Israel calmed the storm for his disciples; their response was fear and reverence.
2. 5:1–20 Jesus heals a demoniac
For earlier references to devils, see 1:26, 32; 3:15. The condition of this man could be described in psychiatric terms, but the cause was demonic. The devils in him recognized the true reality of Jesus (cf. James 2:19).
The precise reason why Jesus sent the demons into the swine who perished is not clear. Certainly the rush of the pigs to disaster convinced the observers of the presence of devils. Thus the Gerasenes begged Jesus to leave them, and he did; the healed man begged to stay with Jesus but was sent instead to proclaim him as Messiah in the ten towns (Decapolis).
3. 5:21–43 Jesus heals a girl and a woman
Both Jairus and the sick woman had true faith, but that of the woman was initially greater. However, Jairus’ faith was strengthened by seeing Jesus, as the Lord of life, bring his beloved daughter back from the dead. For similar miracles, see Luke 7:14–15 and John 11:43–44.
Verse 37: The same three witnessed the transfiguration (9:2) and failed Jesus in Gethsemane (14:32–42).
Verse 41: “Talitha cumi (or koum)” is Aramaic, the language of Palestine. Other Aramaic words exist in 7:34; 14:36; 15:34.
4. 6:1–5 Jesus is rejected in Nazareth
Familiarity is said to breed contempt, and so it did in Nazareth towards the local carpenter. The Son of God was restricted in his ministry of healing by the lack of faith of his fellow Nazarenes.
5. 6:7–13 Jesus commissions the Twelve
Having visited the major towns of Galilee himself, Jesus sent the Twelve whom he had earlier called (3:14–19) as six units into the villages and small towns to continue his work. Oil (verse 13) was a symbol of the Holy Spirit – cf. James 5:14.
6. 6:14–29 The death of John the Baptist
We learn of Herod Antipas’ attitude in verses 14–16; he certainly believed in the resurrection of the dead! Mark has delayed the story of John and Herod to this point in order to be able to tell it as a unity and with dramatic effect.
7. 6:30–44 Jesus feeds the crowd
Again Jesus is presented as the Lord of nature and the disciples as men of little faith (verses 35–36) who recognize their own limitations (verse 37). Perhaps the baskets of food collected by them served as their food on the next day.
8. 6:45–52 Jesus walks on the water
As the Lord of nature Jesus walked on the waves; as the Lord of love he ministered to his disciples who rowed against a head wind. They still exhibited weakness of faith and lack of spiritual understanding and perception.
9. 6:53–56 Jesus heals in Gennesaret
Here in miniature is what he must have done in so many places.
10. Questions for discussion
1. What reasons can be put forward to explain why Jesus allowed the pigs to perish?
2. What can be learned of the true character of faith from 5:21–43 and 6:1–6?
3. How relevant for today’s preachers are the instructions given by Jesus to his disciples (6:7–13)?
4. What can we learn from this section of the lordship of Jesus?
Study 5: Ministry In The North And In Galilee
Jesus had to face unbelief not only in his opponents but also in some of his disciples. To his joy a Gentile woman revealed a genuine faith in him.
1. 7:1–13 Human tradition replaces the divine word
In their explanation of the law of Moses Jewish rabbis had created an oral tradition or interpretation which was passed on from teacher to disciples. The disciples of Jesus appeared ignorant of this tradition, or at least they disregarded it in what it taught about ritual washing.
Jesus saw in the attitude of the Pharisees who were committed to the whole oral tradition (later written down in the Talmud) the fulfillment of Isaiah 29:13. They obeyed the tradition instead of the true word of God, as the example given in verses 9–13 shows.
2. 7:14–23 The sinful heart
Jesus told the crowds that the basic source of sin or defilement in God’s eyes is not external but internal, in the very centre of human life, thought and action, the heart. He made no distinction between sins of thought (jealousy, pride, etc.) and of deed (murder, adultery, etc.). Also he abolished the distinction between so-called clean and unclean foods. Cf. Peter’s vision in Acts 11:5–10.
3. 7:24–30 The faith of a Gentile
On the Phoenician coast (see map) Jesus encountered true faith in a non-Jewish woman. She was ready to accept the conventional description of Gentiles as ‘dogs’. However, she believed that, though the Messiah’s first duty was to Israel, there was grace left over for Gentiles. She was complimented not for her wit (of which she was not lacking) but for her faith (verse 29).
4. 7:31–37 The deaf and dumb man
The actions of Jesus (verses 33–34) were intended to help the deaf-mute fully to recognize that his healing came from God through the prayer of faith. “Ephphatha” is an Aramaic word.
5. 8:1–10 The feeding of the crowd
Though similar to the earlier feeding (6:30–44) this was a further miracle. It was performed to meet direct human need, for the crowd had been with Jesus for three days. Yet the disciples were still lacking in faith (verse 4)! Dalmanutha (verse 10) was on the opposite side of the lake.
6. 8:11–13 The Pharisees demand a miracle
The deep sigh or groan of Jesus was his reaction to the persistent unbelief and hardness of heart of these eminently religious people, the Pharisees. Cf. Mark 9:19, 23. To have performed a miracle here would have been to fall to the original and continuing temptation of Satan – see Luke 4:13.
7. 8:14–21 Warnings from Jesus
All leaven or yeast was removed from Jewish homes before the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread began. Paul was to speak of removing the old yeast of sin (1 Corinthians 5:7) and here Jesus probably had a similar thought. For the leaven of the Pharisees, see Matthew 16:12; Luke 12:1; for that of Herod, see his treatment of John (Mark 6:14–29).
8. 8:22–26 The blind man of Bethsaida
Bethsaida was the home of Peter (John 1:44). Touch is most important for a blind man and so Jesus moistened and touched the man’s eyes. Jesus persisted with the man until he was fully healed. Compare verse 26 with 7:36; Jesus did not want to be known as only a miracle-worker.
9. Questions for discussion
1. In what ways do churches today allow human traditions to dominate their worship, structures and outreach?
2. Why was the primary mission of Jesus to the Jewish people?
3. Which is correct for the Christian – “first see and then believe” or “first believe and then see” (8:11–13)?
4. Has the warning of Jesus in 8:15 any relevance for today? If so what is it?
Study 6: The Identity Of Jesus
Although the faith of the disciples was consistently weak, Jesus gave their spokesman, Peter, the opportunity to express the essence of that faith. Jesus then responded by explaining his mission and revealing his true identity.
1. 8:27–30 Peter’s declaration
Herod believed that Jesus was John raised from death (Mark 6:16). For the belief concerning Elijah, see Malachi 3:1; 4:5, explained by Matthew (17:10–13).
“Christ” (Messiah, the Anointed One of God) was a general term which summed up the expectation in the Old Testament of God’s appointed Saviour and King. Most Jews thought that their Messiah would be a political deliverer liberating them from Roman rule. Jesus preferred not to use the term because of its worldly, material associations.
2. 8:31–9:1 Jesus predicts his death
To describe himself and his work Jesus creatively fused two themes from the Old Testament, the heavenly Son of man (Daniel 7:13–14) and the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53). The Lord of glory had to suffer as a substitute for sinners.
Peter did not understand this, for he probably thought in terms of a political Messiah. The rebuke Jesus gave him was stronger than those he gave to Pharisees!
Christian discipleship is closely connected with the character of messiahship, involving suffering through obedience to the Lord. Verse 1 is difficult to interpret but may refer to the events described in Acts 2.
3. 9:2–13 Jesus is transfigured
Moses, who had prophesied that the Messiah would come (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:22) represented the law; Elijah who prepared the way for the Messiah (Malachi 3:1; 4:5; cf. Matthew 17:13; and verses 12–13 here) represented the prophets of Israel. From Luke 9:31 we learn that they discussed the death of Jesus as an exodus, a deliverance, a greater event than the exodus from Egypt. The cloud was the Shekinah, that which descended on the tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 40:38).
It was only after the resurrection that the disciples understood the meaning of the transfiguration and saw it in relation to his baptismal experience – Mark 1:11.
4. 9:14–29 Jesus heals an epileptic boy
The disciples were humiliated by failure. Jesus turned attention to himself, expressed his concern in words reminiscent of Psalm 95:10 (verse 19) and witnessed both the epileptic fits of the boy and the presence of the spirit within him.
The boy’s father was first rebuked (verse 23) before he acknowledged the weakness of his own faith and his total dependence on Jesus. A comparison with the faith of the Gentile woman – Mark 7:24–30 – is instructive here. When there was obvious dependence and trust, Jesus healed the boy.
5. 9:30–32 Jesus again predicts his death
This is the third prediction of the suffering and death of Jesus – see also 8:31 and 9:12. Only after the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit did the disciples truly appreciate what Jesus told them on occasions such as this.
6. Questions for discussion
1. What does denying self and taking up the cross mean in modern society?
2. What do you think the transfiguration meant to Jesus personally?
3. Should Christians always look for a medical/psychiatric explanation for apparent mental or physical illness, before claiming the presence of an unclean spirit?
4. What do we learn from 9:23–24 of the connection between faith and prayer?
Study 7: Towards Jerusalem
The Galilean ministry of Jesus is coming to an end. He has to go into Judea and Jerusalem to fulfill the Scriptures and God’s will.
1. 9:33–37 True greatness
The standards of the kingdom of God are so different from the standards of ordinary human society. Greatness lies not in being served but in serving (cf. Mark 10:45; John 13:5). The example of the child emphasizes humility and trust (cf. Matthew 18:4) in accepting the rule of God in our lives. And to receive Jesus is to submit to the Father.
2. 9:38–41 Discerning the work of the Spirit
While the scribes denied that the power of Jesus was that of God (3:22), the disciples wanted to deny that the Spirit of God could work outside their circle – cf. Matthew 12:30.
3. 9:42–50 Causing to sin
The child of verse 36 is again the focus of attention. Jesus spoke metaphorically, referring to stumbling-blocks or means of temptations to sin, which the true disciple has to face. The kingdom of God must have priority always, and anything which prevents this has to be rejected or given up.
Verse 48 is a quotation from Isaiah 66:24. Gehenna was the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem which was constantly smouldering. It was a symbol of hell. For verses 49–50, cf. Matthew 5:13 and Luke 14:34–35.
4. 10:1–12 Marriage and divorce
Verse 1 introduces the reader to the Judean ministry of Jesus.
Divorce is presented as the lesser of two evils; the greater evil is the depreciation or abandonment of marriage in a society. What Moses allowed was a concession (Deuteronomy 24:1–4): God’s perfect will, revealed at the creation of the world, was for a lifelong union of man and woman (Genesis 1:27; 2:24; 5:2). Verses 11–12 should be compared with Matthew 5:32 which may allow remarriage in certain cases.
5. 10:13–16 Children and the kingdom
Again children are presented as trustful and honest and so having qualities which believers should have.
6. 10:17–31 The rich young man
The story of this young man, probably of royal blood, is told also by Matthew (19:16–30) and Luke (18:18–30), suggesting it made an impact on the disciples. He was eager (verse 17) and devout (verse 20). Yet his religion was only half-hearted, for he was unwilling to renounce all his possessions in order to give priority to the kingdom (cf. Luke 14:33).
In verses 29–31 Jesus emphasized the blessings which money cannot buy – the true fellowship of believers and the hope of eternal life.
7. 10:32–34 A further prediction of the Passion
This is the fourth – see 8:31; 9:12; 9:31.
8. 10:35–45 A request from James and John
Although the two disciples misunderstood the nature of the kingdom, they certainly believed that Christ would establish it! Both “cup” and “baptism” are used in the Old Testament of experiencing the wrath of God – see Isaiah 51:17 and Psalm 69:15. On the cross Jesus suffered for us the wrath of God and died for our sins (verse 45). We are baptized, said Paul, into the death of Christ (Romans 6:3).
9. 10:46–52 Blind Bartimaeus
Knowing that Jesus alone could help him, Bartimaeus persisted until he reached Jesus. “Son of David” was a title for the Messiah (2 Samuel 7:12–16; 1 Kings 2:4; Jeremiah 33:17).
10. Questions for discussion
1. How can modern Christians exhibit the teaching of Jesus on greatness?
2. Is remarriage after divorce allowed by Jesus? If so, on what grounds?
3. “Christ demands all our worldly possessions and then gives us a part or all back to hold in stewardship for him.” Is this what Jesus teaches?
4. What has the attitude of Bartimaeus to teach us about our relationship to God?
Study 8: Ministry In Jerusalem
After nearly three years’ ministry outside Jerusalem Jesus entered the great and holy city to complete the saving work in which he was wholly engaged.
1. 11:1–11 The triumphal entry into Jerusalem
As pilgrims from all parts of Palestine entered the city Jesus dramatically fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. It was probably the pilgrims from Galilee where he was well known who gave him the tremendous welcome. Their cry was taken from Psalm 118:25–26. Although now a general term of praise, Hosanna literally meant “save us, we beg you”. See further Luke 19:39–40. They wanted the Messiah to set up his earthly kingdom there and then, not realizing what kind of kingdom he would inaugurate by his death and resurrection.
2. 11:12–25 The cleansing of the Temple
The cursing of the fig tree was an acted parable. As the tree was rich in foliage but without fruit, so Judaism was rich in religious practice but lacking in true godliness. God’s judgement came on Jerusalem in its destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70. Jesus also used the cursing of the tree as an illustration of effectual prayer (verses 22–24); cf. James 5:17–18.
The part of the Temple used for the exchange of Roman money into the special Temple-money, and for the sale of birds for sacrifices, was intended as the court in which Gentiles could pray. Jesus quoted from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.
3. 11:27–33 The authority of Jesus
Jesus had no official commission as a rabbi. However, his whole manner of life and teaching, as was the case with John the Baptist, revealed that he spoke from God. It was this fundamental fact which the religious authorities refused to recognize.
4. 12:1–12 A parable of the rejection of the Son
This was a message for those who refused to recognize the source of the authority of Jesus. Probably Jesus had the parable of Isaiah 5:1–7 in mind as he portrayed the rejection of the prophets and of himself. The quotation in verses 10–11 is from Psalm 118:22–23 from which the cry of Hosanna also came (11:1–11).
5. 12:13–37 Four questions
(i) Paying taxes. The Herodians supported Herod as a puppet king under Roman rule. By the use of coins of the Roman empire the Jews were accepting Roman rule. Jesus built on this fact but added the further dimension of giving God his due also. Cf. Romans 13:1–2.
(ii) Resurrection. A political question failed and so a theological question was asked. Sadducees, mostly priestly families and their supporters, did not believe in the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age. So theirs was a theoretical question. They referred to levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5–10), i.e. where a man married his brother’s widow. Jesus not only showed the foolishness of their question, but also the reality of the resurrection and life with God (Exodus 3:6).
(iii) The commandments. Jesus combined Deuteronomy 6:4–5 with Leviticus 19:18 in a creative synthesis.
(iv) Lord and Messiah. Now Jesus took the initiative, asking a question that appeared to be not only difficult but unanswerable. Jews accepted that Psalm 110 described the Messiah, but they did not accept Jesus as Messiah. Nevertheless he was the Messiah and also the Lord, the divine Son made man.
6. 12:38–40 A warning
Matthew 23 is an extended version of this. The scribes were experts in the Scriptures but they lacked truth and love in their hearts.
7. 12:41–44 The widow’s offering
Having condemned hypocrisy Jesus commended true religion. The Lord measures giving not by what we give but by what we keep for ourselves.
8. Questions for discussion
1. In what way do faith and forgiveness make prayer effective (11:22–24)?
2. What is the actual argument used by James to show resurrection and life after death?
3. How could Jesus be a physical descendant of David and still be addressed as “Lord” by David?
4. What kind of relevance do the warnings of Jesus in 12:38–40 have for religious people today?
Study 9: Teaching About The Future
The death of Jesus was to be a decisive act of God in human history. As he prepared for it Jesus spoke of two other acts of God – the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the age.
1. 13:1–2 The destruction of the Temple
The third Temple, a magnificent example of architecture, had been built by Herod the Great and was not yet completely finished. It was destroyed by the Romans when the city was taken by Titus in A.D. 70.
2. 13:3–8 Signs of the end
The question of the four disciples may have betrayed unhealthy curiosity – cf. the question in Luke 13:23. Jesus provided an answer (verses 5–37) which, though lacking precise details of timing, gave the early Christians enough warning in order to be able to flee from Jerusalem when the Roman armies arrived to begin the siege in A.D. 66. He also provided principles valid for Christians of all times.
The “signs” (verse 4) are: worthless claims made by false Messiahs; an increase in local and international wars; and a concentration of natural disasters. In the face of these trials Christians are to be at peace in their hearts (John 14:1) knowing that God is in control of the world and his purpose will triumph.
The signs were evident in A.D. 66–70, and in a sense they are always evident in the sinful world as the church waits for the return of her Lord. Cf. Romans 8:22; Hebrews 12:26.
3. 13:9–13 Troubles and persecution
The best commentary on these verses is the Acts of the Apostles – e.g. 4:8–22. Being a Christian involves both taking up the cross to follow Jesus (Mark 8:34) and being filled with his Spirit (John 14:15–17).
4. 13:14–20 The abomination of desolation
This refers to the arrival of Roman armies around Jerusalem. Historically it referred to the idol set up by Antiochus Epiphanes in the Temple in 167 B.C. and the sacrifice of swine to it.
In these words Jesus combined God’s judgement on Judaism with his judgement on the whole world. This is known as the prophetic foreshortening of history: two events separated by centuries are brought together as though they were happening at once. In fact by A.D. 70 the church of Jerusalem had fled to Pella in Transjordan and thereby survived.
5. 13:21–23 False Messiahs and false prophets
Here the theme of verse 6 is renewed. These words applied primarily to the situation in A.D. 66–70, but they have relevance for the church of all periods as it faces heresy, false teaching, etc.
6. 13:24–27 The second coming of the Lord Jesus
The language here is based on the Old Testament – see e.g. Isaiah 13:10; 24:23; Daniel 7:10–13; Joel 2:30–32. It is known as apocalyptic language.
7. 13:28–29 The parable of the fig tree
This is an illustration intended to simplify the point of Christ’s teaching. Unlike Mark 11:12–14, where the context suggests otherwise, the fig tree here probably does not represent Judaism.
8. 13:30–37 The time of the second coming
Christians are to refrain from useless speculation but they are to watch – “to be wakeful”. Part of the humility of the Son of God as Jesus of Nazareth was that he condescended not to know the time of his return in glory to earth.
9. Questions for discussion
1. Why do Christians sometimes get over-involved and over-interested in speculation about the signs of the times and the end of the age?
2. In the light of verse 13b can we affirm the certainty of our salvation here and now? Cf. Matthew 10:22; Luke 21:19; Romans 14:4; Revelation 2:10.
3. Is symbolic or apocalyptic language the only language that can be used when we speak of the second coming of Christ?
4. How should disciples of Christ be watchful?
Study 10: Crucifixion And Resurrection
Mark’s presentation reaches its climax here. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus there would be no gospel. The scene for the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus is set in 14:1–2.
1. 14:3–11 Jesus is anointed
In anticipation of what she believed he was to achieve, the woman anointed Jesus. Kings (1 Samuel 10:1) and high priests (Exodus 29:7) were anointed with oil under the old covenant. As the king of peace and righteousness and as the priest who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice Jesus was anointed. But Judas was not impressed with this seeming waste of money – see Matthew 26:15.
2. 14:12–26 Passover and the Lord’s Supper
It is Thursday evening. The instructions to the disciples should be compared with those given for Palm Sunday – 11:1–7.
How Jesus identified Judas as the betrayer is told by John in 13:21–26.
In the institution of the Lord’s Supper Jesus identified three ways in which his death should be understood. (i) As the final passover lamb by whose death judgement is taken away – cf. Exodus 12:21–28. (ii) As the sacrifice by which a covenant between God and man is inaugurated – see Exodus 24:8; Jeremiah 31:31–34; Ezekiel 37:26–28. (iii) As the Suffering Servant by whose substitutionary death salvation is achieved – Isaiah 53:11.
3. 14:27–42 Jesus prays
Here the humanity of Jesus is seen as genuine. As the eternal Son he was truly ‘made man’. Ahead was physical and spiritual suffering. There was also the great sin of the Jews in crucifying their very own Messiah and the failure of the disciples to support him in his time of need. Before all this Jesus submitted to the Father.
4. 14:43–52 Jesus is arrested
Judas used the sign of love as the means of betrayal! It was Peter’s sword which cut off the ear, and Jesus restored it (John 18:10–11). The prophecy made by Jesus (14:27) began to be fulfilled (verse 50). The young man of verses 51–52 was probably John Mark, author of the gospel.
5. 14:53–65 Jesus before the Sanhedrin
In order to have Jesus put to death the Jewish leaders had to produce for the Romans a convincing legal case (verses 55–59). Jesus was placed under a special oath by the High Priest (cf. Matthew 26:63) and required to answer whether or not he was the Messiah. In reply, Jesus not only reverted to his self-designation as “Son of man” but also used the divine name of “I am” (cf. Exodus 3:14).
6. 14:66–72 Peter’s denial
The prophecy of 14:30 is fulfilled. Peter failed miserably. His tears of remorse had to be removed by the restoring grace of Christ (John 21:15–19).
7. 15:1–20 Jesus before Pilate
In the Roman empire local kings only ruled by permission of Rome. A charge of claiming to be king had to be taken seriously by Pilate. The crowd may not have been the same as that of Galilean pilgrims on Palm Sunday; perhaps here it was heavily infiltrated by relatives and servants of the priests.
8. 15:21–32 Jesus is crucified
“Calvarium” (Calvary) is the Latin equivalent of Golgotha, “the place of a skull”. Jesus would not take any anaesthetic (myrrh) for he needed to be in full charge of himself. He was the crowned King reigning from the cross, the King of love. The temptation (verses 29–32) echoes Matthew 4:6; 16:23 and Mark 14:34–36.
9. 15:33–41 Jesus dies
There was a solar eclipse (Luke 23:45). Jesus quoted from Psalm 22;1. His sense of abandonment was because he was enduring the wrath of God against human sin (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:28). As Psalm 22 ends in confidence so Jesus knew that in God his own future was assured. The tearing of the veil covering the entrance into the Holy of Holies symbolized the opening of the new and living way to God and the breaking down of barriers between Jew and Gentile in Christ (see Ephesians 2:14; Hebrews 10:20).
10. 15:42–47 Jesus is buried
On the Friday evening Joseph moved quickly to bury the body before the sabbath began at sunset. The normal burial procedures had to wait until after the sabbath. Like Esther (Esther 4:14) Joseph had been prepared in God’s providence for this act.
11. 16:1–8 The empty tomb
Our oldest Greek manuscripts of the gospel of Mark all end at verse 8. In other manuscripts the account of resurrection appearances is given in the additional verses 9–20, appearances which are related in the other gospels. Possibly Mark wanted to leave his readers at the point of the empty tomb – “He is not here — he has been raised!”
12. Questions for discussion
1. How could Judas have betrayed Jesus after being so close to him for three years?
2. In what way can we best explain the meaning of the death of Jesus?
3. What do you see of yourself in the behaviour of Peter?
4. Why is the resurrection of such fundamental importance for Christian faith?
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