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The Gospel according to Mark

Mark's Gospel leads readers through a series of events, with little interpretation, apparently in the hope that the readers will gradually form their own opinions of who Jesus is, as did the people who were there are the time. The demons knew him at once; the common people were open-minded and regarded him as a prophet; but the powerful rejected him. Thus human power and faith appear to be in tension[34]. It has traditionally been associated with a lion (one of the four living creatures in Ezekiel 1:4–28 and Revelation chapters 4–6) which represents Jesus "rushing and roaring around Galilee, fighting against evil, until eventually he becomes passive in Jeruslaem, where he suffers and dies horribly alone" [19 p.7].

The disciples make many misguided remarks and questions; it is possible that these are rhetorical, giving context to responses by Jesus that reveal information that we would otherwise lack.

This Gospel is brief yet tells us more tiny details than other contemporary records, showing that it is based on eye-witness testimony. The recollection of Jesus saying the word "Ephphatha" in Mark 7:34 is accompanied by a translation, indicating that the Gospel was written for an audience that did not understand Aramaic. These details show that healing is not a magic wand being waved and all being well immediately, but a process involving struggle[33]. But this is only a hint at a deeper problem, the struggle to proclaim the gospel. In the early chapters of the book, Jesus acquires a reputation for healing which obstructs his freedom to teach. He counters this by appointing disciples (Mark 1:16f), whose task is to learn from him, and forbidding those who have been healed from publicising the fact (Mark 1:44).

The disciples are called (Mark 1:16f), chosen (Mark 3:13f) and sent (Mark 6:7f) — "classic steps in discipleship"; and Jesus shows increasing frustration at the disciples' failure to understand, in Mark 4:13, Mark 6:52, Mark 7:18, and Mark 8:17–18 [2 p.45–46]. Mark might emphasise the disciples' failures in order to goad the reader into trying to understand better than they did. This book announces in the first verse that Jesus is the Son of God, but never explains what that means or what difference it makes. The struggle is laid before every reader.

The author only seems interested in accurately portraying when things happened during Holy Week (p53). He reports John the Baptist's death (Mark 6:14) before Jesus had healed blindness for the first time (Mark 8:23), which John asked about from prison (Matthew 11:5). Others disagree, saying that its apparent simplicity is actually carefully crafted.

Jesus announces the Good News as "the kingdom of God has come near". Both Jesus's teaching (the first half of the book) and passion (the second half) enable us to be reconciled to God.

Origin

This Gospel was attributed in antiquity to John Mark (as in Acts 12:12f) by Papias, who added that it included Peter's recollections, though this cannot be confirmed[37 p.300].

The gospel according to Mark is now reckoned by many to be the earliest account, and is thought by some to have been influenced by St Peter. Its factual content is therefore held to be most reliable, but the interpretation of the facts is primitive. For example, when the women visited the tomb early on Easter Sunday, they found "a young man" according to Mark, whereas Matthew's Gospel is quite definite that they saw angels rather than humans. The other Gospel writers are thought to have had Mark's Gospel before them when they wrote, so it is instructive to examine the differences and consider why they were made. See comment on Mark 13:4.

The style of writing implies that the author thought in Aramaic[2 p.39]. He emphasises suddeness, using the word "immediately" frequently, as if he was keen to show that Jesus fulfilled Malachi 3:1–5.

Some theologians say that Mark's was the first Gospel to be written (ignoring Paul's fragment in 1 Corinthians 11). Mark gives no instructions about Christian worship: he omits the Lord's Prayer, the command to repeat communion, and the command to baptise is limited to the missions of the twelve and seventy. Perhaps Mark wrote when Christians were still worshipping with the Jews in the synagogues.

Fowke[1] says that the author was a "focussed" person of the type who lives very much in the present and is keenly observant, as shown by his mention of the grass being green at the time of the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6:39).

The first eight chapters have a different emphasis from the last eight; at first Jesus is portrayed as a dynamic leader who teaches the general public and performs miracles, but later he seems more passive and things are done to him, witnessed only by his followers, who hear his explanation. The change occurs at the Transfiguration in chapter 9, which is something that happens to Jesus rather than his own action.

Jesus only performs two healing miracles (9:20 and 10:46) in the second half of the gospel, compared with 22 recorded and many more hinted at in the first half. These miracles are dominated by various kinds of healing of individuals. In many cases it is possible to discern that the miracle not only confirms Jesus's power and authority, but also symbolises something that is happening. So for example the crowds of 5000 (6:38) and 4000 (8:1) stay listening to Jesus long enough to become hungry, because they give priority to their hunger for God; the feeding of the multitude (6:38) and subsequent walking on water (6:49) both fulfilled Old Testament expectations of God; the cursing of the unfruitful fig-tree (11:14) parallels the cleansing of the temple, and the healing of Blind Bartimaeus (10:46) illustrates the blindness of the audience.

Chapter 1 sets a scene of expectation arising from the Old Testament and the words of John the Baptist; chapters 2–7 show Jesus in a dynamic ministry, demonstrating increasing power (from curing a fever to raising the dead, and from calming a storm to walking on water) until he is recognised; the focus then shifts to suffering, and Jesus becomes less in control and increasingly manipulated. Finally the resurrection is announced, leaving us in what Mark saw as the present age.

Structure

1:1–13
Introduction, prophecies foretelling Jesus; Jesus baptised by the last of the prophets; sent to the Wilderness; infilling of the Holy Spirit.
1:14–45
Jesus begins to preach in Galilee, starting in Capernaum; first disciples called; Jesus recognised as "Holy One of God" and feared by unclean spirits; first miracles — power over spirits and sicknesses, leper healed during travels throughout Galilee; Mosaic law upheld.
2
Authority to forgive sins; eating with tax collectors and sinners.
3
Healing on the Sabbath; preaching and miracles continue; increasing fame; spirits say he is "Son of God"; Twelve chosen and given authority; dispute about whether Jesus's power is from God or Beelzebub.
4
Teaching from the boat. Teaching in parables, explained to the disciples only. Calming the storm (i.e. power over nature).
5
Healing of the man of the tombs in Gergesa; Gerasene swine. Miracles continue, including some with ramifications of ritual uncleanness. Jairus (Synagogue leader) has daughter raised from dead.
6
Jesus moves on to "his own country"; not well received; Twelve sent on first mission; interlude about the John the Baptist and Herod; trying unsuccessfully to escape the crowds; miracle of five loaves and two fish (feeding of 5,000); walking on the water.
7
Arguments with Pharisees; all foods declared clean; moved on to Tyre and Sidon, girl with an unclean spirit healed despite being a gentile ("dogs"); deaf and dumb man healed.
8
Miracle of seven loaves and "a few" fish (feeding of 4,000); Pharisees try to test Jesus; Peter acknowledges Jesus as the Christ; Jesus teaches about suffering.
9
Transfiguration; disciples unable to heal dumb man; increasing mention of secrecy; disciples discussing who would be the greatest.
10
Pharisees test Jesus again, this time about divorce; let children come to me; sell your possessions and give to the poor; afraid on approaching Jerusalem; Jesus predicts his death; disciples still focussed on greatness; Bartimaeus given sight.
11
Triumphal entry to Jerusalem fulfilling prophecy; staying in Bethany; fig tree cursed; cleansing of the temple.
12
More teaching in parables; Pharisees etc. trying to trap Jesus again, this time about marriage; greatest commandment; watching people making offerings.
13
Temple to be destroyed; signs of the end; persecution.
14
Authorities seek to arrest Jesus; anointed; betrayal arranged; Passover arranged; Gethsemane: distress, betrayal, arrest; disciples flee; unjust trial; Peter's denial.
15
Before Pilate; people choose to crucify Jesus; mocking and crucifixion; darkness; Jesus hailed as Son of God by Centurion; disciples watch; burial.
16
Empty tomb, "young man in white" announces resurrection.

Commentary

1:1

Mark starts his "gospel" (using the noun evangelion which is related to the verbs in Isaiah 40:9, 52:7, 60:6 and 61:1) with a bold claim about Jesus which is affirmed in Mark 1:11, Mark 3:11, Mark 9:7 and Mark 15:39.

1:2–3

Instead of tracing Jesus's genealogy like Matthew's and Luke's gospels, Mark points to his origins in scripture. He quotes phrases from Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1 (in :2, according to Hooker [5 p.35], cf. Matt 11:10, Luke 7:27, John 1:23) and Isaiah 40:3 (:3 cf. Matt 3:3 & Luke 3:4), indicating that he sees Isaiah as a herald of Jesus's good news. In so doing makes his Gospel's beginning parallel the start of "2nd Isaiah", in that the story starts with the herald. In this case, both Isaiah and John the Baptist can be seen as Jesus's heralds. Thus Mark uses Isaiah 40:3 to present the ministry of John the Baptist as the first public sign that Jesus is the Lord, that is, God.

This is the only editorial scripture quotation in Mark. In some translations Mark appears to attribute the entire composite quotation to Isaiah, but it could be that he simply regards Isaiah as the main OT source of the Gospel. Also, there is a possible connection between the Exodus and Malachi quotations in that Mann[7] attempted a reconstruction of the first century Jewish lectionary and concluded that Malachi 3 was the haftorah that went with Exodus 20:32; perhaps it was seen as a commentary on it.

Moyise[8 p.22] adds that Isaiah also prophesied that the message would be rejected by many, e.g. Isaiah 6:9–10, cited in Mark 4:12; and in pages 30–31 he adds that the explicit and implicit references to Psalm 22 and Zechariah suggest that Mark wants us to read the Passion narrative with the whole of Psalm 22 and the later chapters (9–13 perhaps) of Zechariah in mind.

The Greek for making paths straight resembles Mark's much used word that is frequently translated as "immediately" [2 p.36]; AV has "straightway" which is closer.

1:4

John proclaimed the offer of forgiveness. In Luke 16:16 Jesus says that John's ministry marked the start of the New Testament era.

1:5

= Matthew 3:6. Sinners came and confessed their sins; Jesus was in their midst, but having no sins to confess, he kept silent and was affirmed by the Father (1:11).

1:6

See comments on Matthew 3:4.

1:8

cf. John 20:22.

1:9

= Matthew 3:13f, Luke 3:21f, John 1:29f.

Jesus described his crucifixion as another baptism in Luke 12:50. The use of the Jordan may recall Naaman washing seven times in the Jordan for cleansing from Leprosy (2 Kings 5:10) associating the Jordan with obedience, healing, and reaching the Gentiles (Luke 10:27).

1:10

See comment on Luke 3:21. Burridge[2 p.36] adds that the tearing of the heavens followed by announcement of Jesus's sonship is mirrored at the end of Mark by the tearing of the veil and the centurion's remark (Mark 15:39). The phrase "out of the water" quotes, perhaps deliberately, Exodus 2:10, making Jesus the new Moses. See also the comment on verse 13. Torn: cf. Matthew 27:51, Luke 21:20–28.

1:11

= Matthew 3:17, Luke 3:22. The words of God combine Psalm 2:7 with Isaiah 42:1; cf. Matthew 3. They confirm the claim about Jesus in verse 1, confirmed by evil spirits in Mark 3:11, the Father in Mark 9:7, and the centurion's comment in Mark 15:39, but contrast with Peter's identification of Jesus as the Messiah in Mark 8:29.

1:13

The most important aspect of Jesus gaining overcoming temptation is not mastery over his own desires, important though that is, but mastery over Satan. From this point on Jesus has complete authority over evil spirits, as well as natural forces and diseases[34].

Following on from the idea that verse 10 introduces Jesus as the new Moses, the forty days fasting in the wilderness parallels Moses' forty days fasting on the mountain top (Exodus 34:28) receiving the Law from God — the "Old Covenant". The reader is therefore invited to think that Jesus might be a new Moses through whom we receive a new Law — the "New Covenant". For a discussion of the importance of wilderness see comments on the parallel account in Matthew 4:1–11.

1:15

"Kingdom": see Appendix 2 Kingdom.

1:16

= Matthew 4:18. According to John's Gospel, the brothers had already met Jesus further south — see John 1:35–43. Perhaps when John was imprisoned his disciples went home. So at least some of the people Jesus called were already used to being disciples.

It is often assumed that the Galilean fishermen were simple folk. However, fish were valuable in the Roman empire, and traded widely, so Zebedee, Peter and Andrew would have been fluent in Greek and used to negotiating commercial deals. Verse 20 tells us that they had employees to whom the fishing could be delegated.[37 p.285]

1:19

The phrase at the end of this verse literally means "into a house" but it can mean "home", and since his family soon appear the second possible meaning seems more likely, as indicated by the NRSV reading[2 p.42].

1:21–22

See Essene concerning the terminology here.

1:24

The voice said "we" because it was speaking for all the forces the Jesus had come to defeat[2 p.45].

1:32

= Matthew 8:16. The people came at sunset because they were impatient to hear what Jesus had to say, and to receive healing, but had to wait until the Sabbath day was ended by the appearance of two stars. The healing ministry of Jesus is closely related to his work in creation; the one who made us with eyes and ears and feet and hands is able to put these right if they go wrong, so the healings point to Jesus having the power of the creator.

1:35

The pressure of the people's demands (:32) led Jesus to seek solitude. Dark: cf. Isaiah 50:4.

1:40–45

Jesus was being manipulated. The leper showed no sign of interest in Jesus's teaching; he just wanted Jesus to heal him. And when he spread the news of Jesus healing him, others who wanted to be healed came, rather than those who were interested in Jesus's teaching. It is ironic that the leper, who should have been segregated from others (Leviticus 13:45–46), transferred his segregation to Jesus, who became unable to work in towns. Only a priests was allowed to declare a leper healed (Leviticus 13:17).

2:5

The man and his friends came for healing, but Jesus shows that his (and God's) priorities are different: in this instance holiness comes before wholeness. But he healed the man as well.

C S Lewis points out[9 p.51] that when we sin, God is the offended party; therefore the only person who can forgive that offence is God himself. So when Jesus said he forgave the man his sins, he was claiming to be God. Mark says Jesus called the man "child" (often translated as "my son") perhaps identifying himself with the Father, unlike Luke who puts "man" (despite the fact that some modern translations show "friend") implying equality. See also John 8:58.

2:7

What Jesus is recorded as saying in verse 5 is not actually blasphemous. He did not say "I forgive your sins", but declared God's forgiveness, as priests do. Hebrews 7:15f discusses Jesus's priestly role.

2:9

This was one of the dew occasions when Jesus explained why he healed people: to prove that he has divine authority. In offering both forgiveness and healing, in that order, Jesus fulfilled Psalm 103:2–3, another pointer to his divinity. See comment on Mark 2:5.

2:10

The phrase "Son of Man" is a roundabout way of referring to oneself in Aramaic, like "one" in English[2 p.49]. However, the signs that Jesus is the subject of Daniel 7:13–14 seem too significant to overlook.

2:16

cf. Ecclesiasticus 9:16. See Essene concerning the terminology here.

2:17

Jesus did not wait for people to come to him, he went and found them. cf. Luke 14:16–24.

2:18–19

See Essene concerning the terminology here.

2:25

Jesus acts as Advocate, as in Matthew 26:11 and Luke 10:38–42, citing a precedent in 1 Samuel 21:6. The precedent set by David carries weight because he was "a man after God's heart" (1 Samuel 13:14). This verse parallels Matthew 12:3 and Luke 6:3.

2:26

Jesus seems to be referring to 1 Samuel 21, but the text there says that Ahimelech, not Abiathar, was high priest. Abiathar is first mentioned as a son of Ahimelech in 1 Samuel 22:20. In 1 Samuel 23:6 he fled to David's camp carrying an ephod. He is specifically identified as a priest in 1 Samuel 23:9 and 30:7. See also the comment on 1 Samuel 23:1.

3:1

The man with the withered hand would have been an outcast, because he could not reserve one hand for clean purposes and one for profane, so he would be regarded as unclean[39 p.9].

3:6

See Appendix 2 Essenes.

3:7–8

Jesus wanted to preach repentance, but the crowd wanted to see miracles. Nevertheless the miracles pointed to who Jesus is, and hence the validity of his preaching.

3:11–12

The evil spirits announce Jesus's identity as Son of God, echoing the introduction in Mark 1:1, the voice of God the Father in Mark 1:11 and 9:7, and the centurion's comment in Mark 15:39, but contrasting with Peter's identification of Jesus as the Messiah in Mark 8:29.

3:16–17

Generally the more powerful names the less powerful, so the fact that Jesus gave some of the disciples new names may be a sign of authority; cf. Genesis 2:19, Daniel 1:7.

3:18

"Canaanaean" (which also appears in Matthew 10:4) is a translation of the word "qana" meaning a zealous person, as Simon is described in Acts 1:13.[10]

Thaddaeus: see Appendix 1.

3:21

There is a connection between the idea that Jesus was "beside himself" and the allegation that he cast out devils by Beelzebub (verse 22). In an age when madness was regarded as a sign of demon-possession, Jesus seeming to be "beside himself" could be taken as evidence that evil spirits were affecting him.[35]

3:22

The authorities could not deny that the miracles had really happened. See Essene concerning escalation of concern over Jesus to the authorities in Jerusalem. See comment on verse 21 concerning Beelzebub.

3:28–29

See comment on Matthew 12:31.

3:31–35

The summary of the Law "love God and love your neighbour as yourself" makes all relationships important. Jesus is not speaking against the value of the family, but pointing out that this is one of those occasions when those closest to us understand us least (John 4:44). At such times the fellowship of those who do understand is important.

4:1

cf. Exodus 24:11 and Revelation 4:1 where God was seen on a sea, and Matthew 14:25 where Jesus walked on the water.

4:3f

See comment on Mathew 13:18f. The sermon from the boat has a theme of listening running through it.

4:10–12

=Matthew 13:10–16. This passage suggests that some enjoy privileges, which sits uncomfortably with the universal gospel. Perhaps Jesus expects a sequence of events: his parables and miracles generate interest; some act on their interest and engage with him; and engagement with Jesus leads to better understanding. And the privilege is simple: the disciples had conversations with God incarnate, but the crowd only heard parables.

cf. Isaiah 6:9–10, quoted also in John 12:40 and Acts 28:26–27; see comment on Mark 1:2–3. "Kingdom": see Appendix 2 Kingdom.

4:22

See comments in Appendix 2 Judgement and cf. Matthew 12:36.

4:25

Graves[12] suggests Jesus was quoting a familiar contemporary proverb. He appears to mean "you can see for yourselves how the rich get richer, at the expense of the poor, by fleecing them; consider whether the same might be happening in spiritual matters". Jesus was teaching ordinary folk.

4:30–32

=Matthew 13:31–21, Luke 13:18–19.

4:36

What is the significance of the other boats? On the night that the Titanic sank, other ships were nearby and came to the rescue. But on this occasion the other boats were unable to save the disciples; only Jesus could do that. We all need salvation, and cannot rescue each other, but need God's help.

4:37–41

This short passage illustrates the Gospel beautifully: God was with the disciples, they saw that his power was helping them miraculously, they deduced his nature, and made a transition from despair and powerless fear to hope and empowering fear of God.

4:39

cf. Psalm 89:9. Since it is God who makes the sea rough (Isaiah 51:15) Jesus shows that he is God by commanding it to become calm again. See also Luke 8:24–25, John 6:21.

4:40

Jesus's words seem hard; the professional fishermen among his disciples knew that the danger was real. But would Jesus, the Good Shepherd, lead his flock to their deaths?

5:1

Gerasa must have been a Gentile area because they were farming pigs (:11). So Jesus went to Gentiles right at the start of his ministry.

5:16–17

The opposition to Jesus's ministry seems to be motivated partly by the lost value of the pigs. St Paul also faced financially motivated opposition in Acts 16:16–24.

5:19

The instruction to tell people is the opposite of what Jesus wanted done in Jewish areas, where people were told to tell no-one.

5:21–43

In these verses one episode (the woman touching Jesus's clothes) is deliberately enclosed within another (the healing of the daughter) to guide readers to consider the relationship between them[2 p.39].

Those of us who have heard the passage many times, and who are focussed on the nested literary structure, could easily miss the tension implicit in the situation: Jesus was on an urgent mission to save someone who was close to death, but was interrupted and so delayed. These must have been agonizing moments[30 p.20]. What should Jesus do? He demonstrated that God has time for everyone by allowing the interruption. Those of us who are imperfect may be unable to respond like that.

5:27

The bleeding made the woman unclean (Leviticus 15:25) and being unclean made it illegal for her to mix with other people (Leviticus 15:31).

5:29

What was unclean became clean when it touched Jesus.

5:30–32

Why did Jesus insist that the woman should admit what had happened to her? Perhaps this was a rite of passage: the crowd needed to know that she was no longer unclean and untouchable.

5:37

Jesus took the same three companions as he did at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2) and in Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).

5:43

John Pridmore[11] suggests that Jesus asked for the healing to be kept secret so as not to upset other parents whose sick children were not healed.

6:3

Describing Jesus as "son of Mary" is odd. Either it implies doubt about his parentage, or that Joseph was dead by this time. See comment on Luke 2:48.

6:5

Why could Jesus "do no mighty work" in a place dominated by unbelievers? This might be related to God's glory. Jesus did what he saw his Father doing (John 5:17). God seeks to get the glory for his work. Consequently he is reluctant to do miracles where they will be attibuted to some other power; cf. Matthew 5:16, John 14:10.

6:6–30

In these verses one episode (Herod's banquet) is deliberately "bracketted" by another (the disciples' mission) to guide readers to consider the relationship between them[2 p.39].

6:11

See comment on Matthew 10:14.

6:14

See Essene concerning escalation of concern over Jesus to Herod Antipas.

6:21–29

The description here of the death of John the Baptist under a weak king manipulated by women closely parallels the death of many prophets at the instigation of Ahab's wife Jezebel (e.g. 1 Kings 18:4).

6:21–44

Mark seems to be contrasting the feast hosted by Herod, which resulted in sin, with the feast where Jesus satisfies the needy.

6:23

=Matthew 14:7. Herod quotes Esther 5:3.

6:30

This (with its counterpart in Matthew 10:2 f) is the only time the Disciples are referred to as Apostles in the Gospels. The reason is clear: for once they have been acting as Sent Ones, not as students at the feet of a lecturer.

6:34

Jesus's compassion is another characteristic that points to him being like God: see Psalm 145:8. The mention of the lack of a shepherd prompts the reader to look for sheep-related themes to appear; see verse 39.

6:35–44

The feeding of the 4,000 in
Matthew 15:32–38, Mark 6:35–44
cf. the feeding of the 5,000, found in:
Matthew 14:14–21, Mark 8:1–9, Luke 9:12–17, John 6:1–14

6:38

=Matthew 14:17, Luke 9:13, John 6:1–14; cf. Mark 8. The hunger of the people for God was illustrated by their willingness to stay despite being physically hungry. Jesus's response recalls God feeding his people under Moses in the wilderness, and the following item about Jesus walking on water (Mark 6:49) also fulfils Old Testament expectations of God.

6:39

The mention of a shepherd in verse 34 helps the reader to understand that the green grass points to Jesus as a good shepherd who, even in a rempote place (verse 35), leads his flock to green grass so that they are not hungry. The significance of the miraculous feeding of the crowd is now apparent: it all points to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

6:40

When faced with a big problem, break it down into more manageable ones. Jesus is following the example of Moses in Exodus 18:21. It is interesting that the size of the groups is comparble with the size of many congregations.

6:41

=Matthew 14:17, Luke 9:13. cf. 1 Samuel 17:40, 1 Samuel 21:3. See also Psalm 23, and Psalm 145:15. Jesus is likely to have used the traditional words "Blessed are you, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth". Jesus has often said "the Kingdom of God is near" and now he shows it. Stephen Cottrell[13] says "Mark writes this story in a way that reminds us of the Eucharist, which supplies us for our journey". The idea seems to be that Jesus's self-sacrifice will supply the needs of many; cf. "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35). See also comment on verse 52.

6:43

Leftovers: see comment on 8:8.

6:48

cf. Matthew 14:22f, Isaiah 43:16. Nigel Hopper[14] says Jesus showed his superiority over Moses here, in that God had to part the sea for Moses to pass on dry land (Exodus 14:22), but Jesus just walked over it. Jesus is not going to help the disciples until they ask; had they failed to ask he would have passed them by; cf. Luke 17:12–14 for example.

6:49

cf. another occasion when the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost in Luke 24:37. Jesus is in fact fulfilling Old Testament descriptions of God (Psalm 77:19, Isaiah 43:16).

6:52

The reference to the loaves here is surprising, so we have something to learn from it.

In the miracle of the loaves Jesus produced "bread from heaven" and 12 baskets of left-overs were collected afterwards. This should have reminded the disciples of the bread from heaven for the 12 tribes in the desert (Exodus 16:4). In walking across Galilee Jesus is "crossing the sea" which again points back to Exodus (Exodus 14:22). Both events point to a new Moses, but "One greater than Moses is here" because modern translations have Jesus saying "I AM" as he gets into the boat in verse 50, as he tries to calm their fear. This is how God introduced himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. Compare also with 2 Kings 4:44, Psalm 145:15.

Jesus walking on water might also be compared with the Spirit "hovering over the waters" in creation (Genesis 1:2); remember that Jesus was the agent of creation, as indicated by Hebrews 1:10.

The general pattern of the Gospels is that one man, Jesus, supplies the needs of many. The feeding of the multitudes was one obvious example of that, but other passages, such as the way he breathed on them after the resurrection (John 20:22), continue the theme. Stephen Cottrell[15] says this passage points to "the transforming message of Jesus". A similar transformation occurs in Holy Communion — see verse 41.

7:6–7

cf. Isaiah 29:13 LXX.

7:10–14

cf. Exodus 20:12, Exodus 21:17, Isaiah 58:7. Jesus seems to draw a sharp distinction between the Mosaic Law and the Ten Commandments, in line with Deuteronomy 4:12–14.

7:18–19

cf. Matthew 6:33, John 4:32, Romans 14:2, Romans 14:17–22. Presumably Jesus overturned the food laws, despite their being within the Law of Moses, because they were of human origin (Colossians 2:22). Thus when he said that not one iota of the Law would pass away (Matthew 5:18), he did not mean the Law of Moses.

7:27

This is the only occasion in Mark where Jesus seems unwilling to heal when asked. But the woman did not take "no" for an answer, and got what she wanted.

The term translated "dogs" is actually softer here ("doggies") than the traditional insult by a Jew for a Gentile but Matthew 15:27 adopts the traditional word.

7:32f

Peter observed that Jesus healed by

  1. privacy
  2. prayer
  3. pronouncement

and did the same in Acts 9:36f.

7:33

Having attacked the Jewish purity rules in Mark 7:5f, Jesus confirmed his point by using spit to heal.

7:34

cf. Micah 5:2.

7:35

cf. Isaiah 35:6, Isaiah 43:8, but the object may have been to suggest he could also heal spiritual deafness.

8:1–9

The feeding of the 5,000, found in:
Matthew 14:14–21, Mark 8:1–9, Luke 9:12–17, and comments under John 6:1–14
cf. the feeding of the 4,000 in
Matthew 15:32–38, Mark 6:35–44

cf. 2 Kings 4:44 and Psalm 145:15.

8:4

By saying that this incident took place in the wilderness, Mark leads the reader to compare it with the Hebrews eating manna.

8:6

Jesus is likely to have used the traditional words "Blessed are you, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth".

8:8

Seven loaves were offered and seven baskets of leftovers were collected. After the feeding of the 5,000 there were twelve baskets of leftovers in 6:43. Perhaps this sign of God's generosity was limited by the generosity of the gift that was offered; if a loaf was a day's food, perhaps only seven of the disciples offered what they had brought. But also the disciples' action was a sign that God's gift should not be discarded as rubbish.

8:12

The word "generation" echoes Numbers 14:11 and 22, when the people who had been delivered from Egypt still looked or more signs.

8:22

This verse marks the end of wanderings around Galilee, and the beginning of a journey towards Jerusalem (Mark 10:32) via Jericho (Mark 10:46). As he left both Galilee (Mark 8:22f) and Jericho (Mark 10:46f) Jesus healed blind people, implying that many understood his mission, though the disciples often seemed blind to it during this journey. See also the comment on Jesus's arrival in Jerusalem in Mark 11:11.

8:23

This verse is puzzling because we are not told why Jesus took the man away from his neighbours. Verse 26 AV indicates that it was because his identity should not be known (verse 30), but alternatively the problem might be unbelief (Mark 6:6). Translations differ, suggesting that the original text is unclear.

8:24

Unlike some of the other blind people that Jesus healed, this one had not been blind from birth. He therefore knew what he ought to be seeing and could ask for fuller healing. There must be a lesson for us here somewhere!

This healing is only effective after a bit of struggle, paralleling the struggle of the disciples to understand Jesus[2 p.51].

The healing is immediately followed by Peter's "Great Confession", indicating that the disciples can at least "see" who Jesus is. This is a turning point in the Gospel, the beginning of the journey to the cross.

Perhaps we should learn that spiritual progress is also made in a number of stages rather than all at once.

8:27–30

cf. John 11:27. Jesus's question is a reminder that the journey of accepting the Gospel must begin where people are. Peter's insightful reply was followed by a switch-back of terrible low points (8:31–38), mountain-top experiences (9:1–13), and more lows (9:14f).

8:31f

When Peter identified Jesus as the Christ his mind filled with the Jewish expectations of what the Christ would do. They imagined a royal figure, who would gather an army, and drive out the Romans. They imagined someone who would lead them to victory, not to death. Jesus acted swiftly and decisively to refute this idea. God was doing something new and surprising and unpleasant. The disciples must go along with it.

8:33

Jesus turned to look at the disciples, so he had previously been striding on ahead.

8:34

This is a hard saying; presumably Jesus felt that something strong needed to be said as a correction to Peter's rebuke. The disciples had little or no idea of the Christian significance of the Cross at this stage of Jesus's ministry. "The cross was an instrument of torture and execution: to recover the shock of this command, we would have to say 'take up your electric chair' or '... your lethal injection'. Jesus, in fact, is asking us to take up a lifestyle so countercultural that it may get us killed." [32]

8:35

= Matthew 10:39, Matthew 16:25, Luke 9:24, and Luke 17:33. The teaching is also comparable with Luke 6:20.

9:2

Transfiguration: cf. Psalm 80:3, 7, 19, Ezekiel 1:26–27, Matthew 17:2, Luke 2:9, Luke 9:28, John 1:14, 2 Corinthians 3, 2 Peter 1:17–18, Revelation 1:12–16. There seems to be similarity between this event and Moses going up the mountain and coming back with his face radiant, only to find trouble on returning. Similar instances are reported in godly people up to the present day (Seraphim in Russia, for example), so perhaps the radiance indicates that these people have been with God. The radiance was frightening (Exodus 34:30) or perhaps just too much to look at. Moses later took seventy (70 represents all nations, and see also Numbers 11:24f) elders of Israel up the mountain and they saw God (Exodus 24:11). Jesus is presumably supplying the fulfilment of Moses's experience, and confirmation of Peter's "Great Confession" which immediately preceded it — a sort of "coming out" as the divine Son of God. Were Peter, James and John the elders of the Apostles?

Took three: cf. Exodus 17:5 and = Matthew 17:1.

Peter, James and John: Jesus selected three (see Matthew 18:20) difficult characters to witness the transfiguration: one who had told him not to go to Jerusalem (Mark 8:32), and two who later asked for places at his side in glory (Mark 10:35–37). (The same three accompanied him at the raising of Jairus's daughter in Mark 5:37 and in Gethsemane in Mark 14:33). Three other witnesses told them who Jesus was (Moses, Elijah and God). It may be that they were chosen on the basis that their faith was stronger at that time than that of the others; Peter had just made the Great Confession, but Thomas for example seems to have made no profession of belief until his famous "My Lord and my God" when he saw Jesus after the Resurrection. According to Luke 9:31, Moses and Elijah discussed with Jesus his imminent "departure", which some commentators cite as evidence that Jesus was being shown here as continuing and fulfilling the key ministries of the Old Testament. A further three witnesses, the three Gospels that record the Transfiguration, tell us about it. Three witnesses is sufficient to settle a matter of life and death under Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 17:6).

mountain: The ascent of the mountain for to meet God required effort to overcome obstacles, and recalls Exodus 24:9–11, Exodus 33:20, Isaiah 2:2–3, 1 Kings 19:11. Several bible characters went up mountains to meet God, including Abraham (to sacrifice Isaac to God — Genesis 22:2) and Moses (to meet God, many times, such as Exodus 24:9–11). It seems that in biblical times as now, those who wanted to escape the hurly-burly of everyday life went to deserts or up mountains. Jesus in particular had a reputation for praying in lonely places (Luke 5:16). Moses and Elijah both witnessed God's presence in a special way on mountains (Exodus 33:18–22, 1 Kings 19:11–13a).

9:3

"Transfigured" translates the Greek word metamorphosis (but Luke uses a different word from Matthew and Mark). The Transfiguration is a puzzling event in that the Gospel account would seem perfectly complete without it, yet three of the four Evangelists agree that it occurred, giving the account considerable credibility, and the fourth (who the other three say was an eye-witness) says "...and we beheld his glory" in John 1:14. The only significant disagreements between the three Synoptic Gospels concern the date when it happened and whether Jesus's face as well as his clothes became radiant; Matthew and Luke say that Jesus's face also became radiant. The transfiguration closely follows Peter's identification ("confession") of Jesus as Messiah (Mark 8:29–30), following which Jesus started to speak plainly about his coming death and resurrection, but the disciples could not believe that this was God's will (Mark 8:31–34).

Jesus looked radiant and white. Radiance is associated with the radiance of the glory of God (Daniel 7:9, Revelation 1:14–15 and Revelation 21:23), and the face of Moses shining (Exodus 34:29). It was anticipated in Psalm 80:3, 7, 19. Whiteness can symbolise purity as in Isaiah 1:18 and Revelation 19:8. Jesus did not change into something or someone else, rather the disciples were briefly allowed to see that his relationship with God closer than that of Moses or Elijah. Isaiah proclaimed a period of spiritual blindness on Israel (Isaiah 6:8–10), but also spoke of its end when light would dawn (Isaiah 9:2) which John identified with the coming of Jesus (John 1:5–9). Luke says that the disciples felt sleepy, so William Barclay says (Daily Study Bible, Gospel of Matthew Volume II) that this took place at night. Night would make the radiance more obvious.

If one was looking for a moral story rather than a symbolic one here, one might says that even Jesus needed two or three friends with whom he could be his true self.

It seems that the Transfiguration had four main objectives:

  1. To reveal Jesus as the pure Son of God, anticipated by Moses and Elijah;
  2. To confirm that the suffering of Jesus was all part of God's plan. The disciples had to go forward with Jesus in trust, rather than taking him aside and trying to persuade him to find another way;
  3. To mark the coming of the light of the world (John 8:12 and John 9:5) to end the curse of ignorance proclaimed by Isaiah. For generations God had only made himself known through prophetic imagery and, in Jesus's teaching, parables. Now Jesus starts to speak plainly of his death. The raw simplicity of the empty tomb contrasts sharply with the cloaked message of earlier parts of the Gospels. Gradually the knowledge of what God has done is spreading throughout the world. First Peter (the "confession"), then Peter, James and John (the Transfiguration), and so on.[16] As Isaiah put it, "Of the increase of his government ..." (Isaiah 9:7); see 2 Peter 1:19;
  4. and, (as suggested by Ian Aveyard[17 p.68]) to strengthen Jesus before his dreadful journey to Jerusalem and the Cross.
9:4

Three other witnesses confirmed who Jesus was (Elijah, Moses and God). We are not told how the disciples knew who these people were, and it seems futile to speculate. Moses and Elijah discussed with Jesus his imminent "departure" (Greek exodos, slang for death, but hinting at connections with the Old Testament Exodus). The Jews wanted to obey both the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:36–40); Moses gave the law, and Elijah was regarded the greatest prophet. Both had met God on mountains (Exodus 3 and 19; 1 Kings 19). Moses and Elijah confirmed that Jesus's death was part of God's plan. Both made their own "departure" before their work reached fulfilment; Moses died before the people entered the Promised land, and Elijah was caught up to heaven[27]. Peter should stop trying to tell Jesus that it was not God's will for him to suffer and die; the disciples needed to study their bibles (the Law and the Prophets) to understand what was going on around them. William Barclay[18] says that Jesus also needed confirmation from the Law and the Prophets that going to Jerusalem to die was the Father's will. So do we, so that we understand that his death ensured our salvation.

9:5

"three shelters" — a weird thing to say! God spoke to Moses from a cloud, firstly on the mountain (Exodus 24:16) and later in a tent (Exodus 33:7–9). Perhaps hearing God's voice from the cloud made Peter think that something like Exodus 24:16–18 was happening, which involved a lot of waiting around. His response seems to echo our tendency to "busy-ness"; he felt that he should be doing something. Also we may have a tendency to try to make a good thing permanent (like taking a photo); cf. the desire of to put God in a temple (2 Samuel 7:6–16) or to provide for a prophet (2 Kings 4:10). Jesus is not interested; he apparently ignores the offer of three shelters. Peter should just watch and do nothing.

9:6

They were right to be afraid in the presence of God — see Exodus 33:20. Evidence of God's power also frightened the shepherds when the nativity was announced (Luke 2:8–9), and those who visited the empty tomb after the Resurrection (Mark 16:8). Commentaries dismiss Peter's statement in verse 6 as babble, but recognise a possible connection with the Tent of Meeting of Exodus (booth or tabernacle meaning the same as tent).

9:7

The statement about a cloud inhabited by God reinforces the possibility that Peter was recalling the cloud visiting Moses at the Tent of Meeting in Exodus 33:7–9. Also God both appeared in dazzling light and spoke from a cloud in Exodus 24:16, cf. Psalm 18:9–11.

God's words on this occasion are similar to those at Jesus's baptism (Mark 1:11) but are addressed to the disciples nearby (and indirectly to us) rather than to Jesus. They confirm the statements in Mark 1:1, 3:11 and 15:39.

Peter in particular might have perceived the command "listen to him" as a rebuke for arguing in Mark 8:32 with Jesus about his coming death. One could regard this entire event as confirmation that what Jesus was about to undergo was the Father's will.

9:9

It must be no coincidence that the transfiguration immediately follows Peter's identification of Jesus with the Messiah (Mark 8:29) and Jesus trying to get the disciples to understand what that meant in terms of his suffering (Mark 8:31 to Mark 9:1). The connection seems to be confirmed by the command after Peter's answer (Mark 8:30), repeated here after the transfiguration, to keep Jesus's true identity secret cf. Matthew 13:11 and "I do not call you servants..." (John 15:15).

9:10

Peter, who had witnessed this event, made the news public after the resurrection (Mark 9:9, Acts 2:23) and mentioned it in 2 Peter 1:17–18. John seems to allude to it in John 1:14.

9:11–12

See comments on the equivalent passage in Matthew, Matthew 17:10–12.

9:33–34

The disciples' desire for greatness was directly opposed to the self-giving example set by Jesus, and led to the rejection of the ministry of others in verses 9:38–41 below. For a list of verses describing the qualities of great people, see Index G, Greatest Person.

9:35

See comment on John 13:1–17.

9:38–41

There is a connection between this and verses 33–34 above; the disciples hope that they would have greatness would naturally lead them to keep such privileges to themselves, rather than accept others joining the group or setting up parallel groups. This could be seen as the first signs of the schisms that divide Christianity today.

9:48

cf. Isaiah 66:24.

10:2f

The question was meant to be a trap: if Jesus took one side, the other would condemn him. So he took neither. But he did criticise the liberal divorce laws, the consequences of which can be guessed at from John 4:6f.

10:4–12

See comment on Deuteronomy 24:1. The NRSV is said to be misleading here; AV is a more literal translation. Jesus does not support divorce, as verses 11 and 12 make clear. Jesus condemns separation without due process, which would be cheap and easy for a hard-hearted husband (verse 5), but would leave the wife destitute. Also, without a proper divorce any future marriage is adulterous. Nevertheless Jesus's answer shows that God is prepared to be flexible in dealing with human weakness.

10:8

Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24. cf. Deuteronomy 24:1, 1 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 5:31 and Malachi 2:13–17 which says that the objective of the parents' unity is the children's godliness.

C S Lewis[9 p.93] says "one flesh" means "a single organism" and he compares the concept with a violin and bow representing one instrument, or a key and a lock, neither of which is complete without the other.

My wife Lynn believes that Jesus's reasoning is based on the idea that Adam was at first a hermaphrodite (see Genesis 2:7) before Eve was taken from his side in Genesis 2:21; the completeness that Adam originally had is restored when a man and a woman are united in marriage. Two conclusions follow from this: first, the chief purpose of marriage is not reproduction but completeness; second, same-sex relationships, though valuable, cannot be classed as "marriage" because they do not restore the gender completeness.

Thus Jesus gives Genesis priority over Deuteronomy, supporting the idea that Deuteronomy was a late interpretation.

The conclusion that sex is not essential to marriage fits in with the marriage vows, which are ended by death, not the onset of infertility in old age.

There is a deeper significance, in that the dual nature of a marriage partnership is a "type" of the dual nature of Christ; Origen hinted at this.

10:9

See comment on 1 Corinthians 7:10.

10:11

See comment on Matthew 19:9.

10:13–16

See comment on Matthew 19:13–15 and cf. Luke 18:15–17.

10:19

The inclusion of fraud in this list suggests that Jesus was not simply reciting the Ten Commandments but indicating where the man needed to change his ways.[36]

10:21

Buckley[30 p.103] points out that Jesus didn't say, as some would, sell all you have and give to us.

10:22

The man's desires to be right with God and wealthy at the same time co-existed happily until Jesus challenged him to choose between them. The same tension may be present in us.

10:25

See comment on Luke 18:25, and cf. Matthew 19:24.

10:30

See comment on John 11:25, and cf. Luke 18:30.

10:31

cf. Genesis 25:22–28, Matthew 19:30, Luke 13:30.

10:32

Jesus's wanderings around Galilee ended in Mark 8:22, and now Jesus declared that his objective was Jerusalem. He went via Jericho (Mark 10:46), arriving in Mark 11:11.

10:35

cf. Matthew 20:20 where it is the brothers' mother who does the speaking, and comments there. Mark places this incident next to another request to Jesus in verses 46 onwards, presumably leading us to compare them. The brothers made a selfish request, and received nothing more than words, while Bartimaeus asked what he really needed, and his prayer was answered.

10:43

For a list of verses describing the qualities of great people, see Index G, Greatest Person.

10:45

Jesus adopts Isaiah's job-description of the Messiah as a "suffering servant" (Isaiah 53:11); he pays a ransom of suffering for us. If Jesus was paying the ransom to set us free from our sins, how can that be just?

This question has two facets: how was it just for him to suffer when he was innocent, and how is it just for us to go free when we are guilty?

Jesus could take responsibility for our sins firstly because he was active in creation and can take responsibility for his creations, and secondly because he has adopted us into his family, so he has assumed responsibility for us. God, the ultimate judge, has the power to declare those who sin but repent in faith (Genesis 15:6) not guilty.

Thus we may go free because, though we have been sinful, we repent and accept the work of the Holy Spirit making us increasingly holy.

10:46

Jesus was passing through Jericho on his way from Galilee (Mark 8:22) to Jerusalem (Mark 10:10; two of the three routes from Galilee to Jerusalem passed through Jericho; the other route was hilly[20]). As he left both Galilee (Mark 8:22f) and Jericho (Mark 10:46f) Jesus healed blind people, implying that many understood his mission, though the disciples often seemed blind to it during this journey. See also the comment on Jesus's arrival in Jerusalem in Mark 11:11.

cf. Matthew 20:29–30 where it says that there was also a second, unnamed, blind man. "Bartimaeus" means "son of Timaeus" so it is odd that Mark writes both; perhaps he was writing for an audience that was unfamiliar with Jewish culture. Before the advent of the Welfare State, anybody unable to earn their living had to rely on the generosity of their neighbours for survival (Deuteronomy 15:7).

John Proctor[21] draws attention to Bartimaeus addressing Jesus as "Son of David" (a royal title) and comments "Blind Bartimaeus? I think not. This man saw some important things very clearly indeed". Perhaps the healing of a blind man drew attention to the blindness of many to who Jesus is and what God was doing.

10:47

Bartimaeus had apparently heard enough about Jesus to respond to the news that he was nearby. The phrase "Jesus of Nazareth" appears so many times in the New Testament, including Pilate's statement on the cross (John 19:19), that "of Nazareth" seems to be used simply as Jesus's surname, signifying no more than which Jesus is meant. "Son of David", however, is a rare instance of a Messianic title used publicly[22 p.619] — so the gradual revelation of Jesus's identity through Mark's Gospel [22 p.597] is almost complete — harking back to the military hero and king who established the nation, perhaps implying a hope that Jesus would follow in his ancestor's footsteps and re-establish its independence. Perhaps Jesus would have passed by if Bartimaeus had not shouted, as in Mark 6:48–49.

10:48

Perhaps the shouting of the beggar seemed an unnecessary interruption to those straining to hear Jesus's words as he walked along. But Bartimaeus could tell that Jesus was leaving Jericho (v.46) perhaps never to return, so attracting his attention was urgent. The crowd wanted to hear Jesus teaching (Mark 11:18), and discouraged Bartimaeus's shouting, inadvertently testing his faith[3 p.245]. It seems he was not valued as a full member of the community, or the crowd was too selfish to be willing to share what they were enjoying.

10:49

Certain Old Testament characters were terrified when they were asked for healing (2 Kings 5:7), but Jesus is greater, calmly coping with all demands. Jesus forces the crowd to encourage the beggar, challenging their uncharitable attitude.

This story is as much about calling as healing[22 p.619]. Bartimaeus was blind and helpless until Jesus called him to be a whole person and a disciple[23 p.908]. He invited Bartimaeus to take a step of faith toward him; if this invitation had been refused, it is hard to see how Bartimaeus would receive anything.

10:50

Bartimaeus moved energetically at Jesus's call, throwing off hindrances; his cloak, though useful, was insignificant compared with sight. Beggars used their cloaks as a receptacle for alms, so Bartimaeus left behind his earlier means of financial support[6 p.253]; he was symbolically leaving his old life behind. The portrayal of speed and energy is typical of Mark's portrayal of the Gospel as something urgent[2 p.36–37].

10:51

Jesus made Bartimaeus say what he wanted — made him "pray". Like Mary at Cana (Luke 2:3), Bartimaeus wisely stated the problem (indicating trust), leaving the detailed solution to Jesus.

Aveyard[17 p.35] says that some disabled people have a vested interest in staying disabled and do not want to be healed, but Bartimaeus's request ("again" implying that at one time he could see) seems genuine.

Mark presents Jesus as a teacher[2 p.41] and reports Bartimaeus using that word, as well as a miracle-worker[22 p.597]. Jesus made no comment, consistently with the way his identity is generally kept secret in Mark.

Faith is consistently connected with healing in Mark[3 p.80]. "My" suggests that Bartimaeus was prepared to receive Jesus's teaching as well as healing, which again is consistent with whole-hearted faith in a Jesus who teaches and performs miracles, leading to discipleship[23 p.908], all themes of Mark.

10:52

Jesus's word was effective, like the voice of God (e.g. Genesis 1 and Psalm 29. Healing by word alone is untypical in Mark; usually Jesus carries out symbolic actions when healing[20 p.267]. Perhaps as his identity becomes known he can more overtly act as God does, and expect those being healed to show corresponding faith by accepting his word alone.) However, Matthew 20:34 says that Jesus touched him, contradicting this point.

Mark emphasises the importance of faith for receiving healing[3 p.80]. "Mark wrote his Gospel to deepen the faith of the members of his community" and "his healings appear as anticipations of what life in God's kingdom will be like" [22 p.597].

Burridge[2 p.52] paraphrases this verse to clarify the Greek pun on "the way" which Isaiah prophesied would be made straight, in that the blind man was healed "straightaway" and then walked "on the way". This pun suggests that the healing of physical blindness illustrates the healing of spiritual blindness, leading to a changed life. Paul (who had himself been blinded on the road to Damascus) uses a related analogy in 2 Corinthians 3:16.

The passage demonstrates the effect of Jesus's ministry on those it touched: it transformed Bartimaeus's life, made the selfish crowd help the beggar, and glorified Jesus.

11

Chapter 11 is in five sections arranged in nested pairs to convey meaning:[2 p.39]
  a) who Jesus is (:1–11);
      b) the fig tree (:12–14);
          c) cleansing the Temple (:15–19);
      d) fig tree again (:20–25);
  e) who Jesus is again (:26–33);

and the beginning of Chapter 12 gives Jesus's explanation.

Section (a) identifies Jesus as King, perhaps intent on destruction, and in (b) he is uncharacteristically judgmental. Then the subject of his destructive anger becomes clear: it is the Temple, and particularly the things done there. Jesus's actions and words foretold the utter destruction of the Temple and its system, fulfilled in 70 CE[16 p.417].

This chapter explores the question of who Jesus is, and particularly his relationship with King David; thought-provoking references to David, explicit or implicit, are scattered throughout the chapter[8 p.25]. See also Mark 12:35–37 where Jesus raises the same point.

11:1f

Jesus fulfils Zechariah 9:9 and Isaiah 62:11, but attracts emotional worship that had no depth of commitment (see comment on Proverbs 14:30 concerning emotion.). They happily shout various Old Testament quotations (e.g. Psalm 118:26), but a few days later they will be shouting "release for us Barabbas" and "crucify". Isaiah 63:8–10 was thereby fulfilled also; cf. Malachi 4:5–6.

11:2

Jesus travels in the same way as Mary did when travelling to Bethlehem when pregnant. cf. Matthew 21:2–7, Luke 19:35, John 12:12–16. Jesus tells the disciples what to expect when they untie the animal, and the disciples believe him and obey, showing that they already trust him as master and prophet[3 p.247].

11:7

Successfully riding an untrained animal is a miracle that is easily overlooked. Jesus's humility in riding everyday animals echoes his humility in being born as a powerless baby.

11:8

The crowd made the road pretty and perhaps level, but not straight (Isaiah 40:3). They were not ready to allow Jesus to be the sort of king he wanted to be.

11:9

See comment on Matthew 21:9.

11:11

This verse marks the end of a journey that started in Galilee in Mark 8:22, going by Jericho in Mark 10:46. cf. Isaiah 39:4–6. The visiting King who sees everything will come back and remove everything.

The mention of the end of the day suggests that the end of the day of temple worship, the end of an era, had come.

11:12–21

= Matthew 21:18f. It seems out of character for Jesus to curse a fig-tree. To understand this event, compare it with Psalm 37:35–36, Jeremiah 8:13, Micah 7:1, Joel 1:12 and Luke 13:6–9. The cursing of the fig tree for bearing no fruit out of season must be a symbol of the cursing of Judah for bearing no fruit out of season. They should have borne fruit but did not. Are we God's servants whether it suits us or not? Judah's actions were incompatible with God's will so they were rejected. The destruction seems absolute and permanent.

Also, the two mentions of the fig tree bracket the cleansing of the temple, implying that the temple has been judged also[2 p.39]. Jesus's violent action foretells the utter destruction of the temple system.

The fig tree incidents are in turn bracketted by questions about Jesus's identity and authority, at the beginning and end of this chapter, linking all these ideas into a thought structure.

11:15

The Messiah had been expected to start restoring Judah by evicting gentiles from the Temple, but instead Jesus evicted the traders from the Court provided for gentiles to worship[16 p.78].

Some commentators point out that Mark places the cleansing of the temple soon after Jesus declares that he will give his life as a ransom for many (10:45), and argue that Mark sees the cleansing as Jesus rejecting the temple sacrificial system, in order to replace it with his own sacrifice.

11:17

The traders were profiting from changing Roman coinage into the special money with which sacrifices had to be purchased, and selling animals reared for sacrifice, a process which typified a materialistic relationship with God[16 p.154].

Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. This should call to mind the result of such behaviour in Jeremiah 7:14: like the ancient shrine at Shiloh, the Lord would depart (Psalm 78:60) and the place where he used to meet with people would become a mere memory.

11:20–25

Several prophets had used fruitlessness as an allegory for God's people's failure to please him. It is apparent from the structure of chapter 11 that the cursing of the fig tree for fruitlessness must show that Judah is cursed for bearing no fruit, and the result will be the total destruction of the Temple.

11:21

The disciples seem surprised that Jesus's curse on the tree was effective quickly. Jesus wants them to learn from this that spiritual power, both for doing miracles and for receiving forgiveness, depends on faith. He also connects receiving forgiveness with being forgiving, as in the Lord's Prayer, particularly the wording in Luke 11:4.

11:22

Hudson Taylor said that Jesus's words in this verse should be translated "Hold the faithfulness of God". The distinction is important because the essential faithfulness is God's, not ours (cf. Isaiah 9:7, 1 Thessalonians 5:24).

11:23

cf. Isaiah 40:3; perhaps Jesus is talking about the things that appear to us to be an immovable obstacle to the gospel. cf. Hebrews 11:6 — prayer needs faith.

11:25

cf. the Lord's Prayer: Matthew 6:12 (= Luke 11:4), and Matthew 6:14–15, Matthew 18:35, Luke 6:37, John 20:23.

11:26–33

Jesus's action leads to conflict with the Temple authorities, and they ask him to explain himself. Asking about authority seems peculiar at this point, and Jesus's evasive response implies that he thought it was devious. The parallel passage Luke 19:47 adds that they were looking for a way to kill Jesus, presumably by getting him to say something blasphemous.

12:1–11

cf. Isaiah 5:1–2. This parable warns the church that if it fails to deliver the fruits of the spirit it will be destroyed[4 p.118]. It continues the previous chapter's theme of fruitlessness[2 p.56].

12:10

cf. Psalm 118:22–23 (quoting the version in LXX where it is numbered Ps 117). The change of subject from a son (ben) to a stone (eben) is justified by similarity of the Hebrew words, making a pun. See comments on Luke 24:25–27 and Acts 4:11–12.

12:12

Verse 12 shows that this parable was understood at the time as prophesying the destruction of the Jewish authorities in some way, and yet they show no sign of repentance.

12:13–17

We are citizens of earthly countries and of Heaven. We have duties to each (Romans 13:1–7). However if the authorities try to contradict God then we must obey God rather than men (Acts 4:18–20, Acts 5:29).

Herodains: see Appendix 2 Essenes.

12:16

By drawing attention to the image of Caesar on the coin, Jesus might be indicating that it did not meet Jewish law (Exodus 20:4), and was thus not something for a Jew to cling to.

12:28–31

= Matthew 22:36, cf. Psalms 133-134 and 1 John 3:23.

12:31

cf. Leviticus 19:18. In Romans 12:19 Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35, which makes the same point. The word "second" does not necessarily mean that loving our neighbour is of secondary importance.

12:34b

cf. Job 42:3: when we get the opportunity to question God we discover we are totally out of our depth. This verse must mean that nobody thereafter questioned Jesus publicly; the disciples continued to ask questions privately, as in Mark 13:3.

12:35–36

cf. Psalm 110:1. See comment on Luke 24:25–27.

12:40–44

Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams is quoted[25] as saying that this incident shows "You don't have to make every kind of difference, but you do have to make the difference that only you can make". cf. Jesus's costly anointing in Mark 14:3–6.

12:41–42

The widow's mite = Luke 21:1–2. This brief incident teaches more than one moral: the widow's genosity (as a proportion of her resources) pleased God, but the pressure from the authorities that led to her giving all she had must be questioned; "people like her continue to be ground down by those who should protect them" [31].

13

See also the parallel passage in Matthew 24. The themes of this chapter are also taken up in Revelation, especially Revelation 6. The themes here are linked by a focus on seeing.

13:2

The temple looked solid and permanent, but had a very limited life-span. Similarly the religion focussed on it was temporary.

13:4

= Matthew 24:3 and Luke 21:7. The fact that Mark in his fairly short Gospel relates the question about when the Temple would be destroyed shows that he wrote it before the event happened in 70 C.E., while Matthew 24:3 makes the question refer to the Second Coming, so it seems he was writing after 70 C.E.[4 p.202].

13:14

=Matthew 24:15; cf. Ezekiel 8:3–6, 1 Maccabees 4:36.

13:20

Since it will be necessary to shorten the tribulation to save God's people, they will not have already been taken to heaven beforehand.

13:24

Sun and Moon: cf. Isaiah 13:10, Joel 2:10, 3:4 and 4:15. Stars falling: Isaiah 34:4.

13:26–27

cf. Zechariah 2:6, Daniel 7:13, Luke 17:25–37. There has been much debate about whether Jesus was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 or the end of the world. His reference to "this generation" in 13:30 suggests the former, but Jesus's use of the third person word "they" suggests that he knew that the end would not come within the lifetime of the people he was speaking to.

The vision resembles that when Elijah was taken up into heaven, seen by Elisha (2 Kings 2:11); perhaps only those who will inherit God's kingdom will see the arrival of his Son. This might remove some of the apparent contradictions in the descriptions of the "Rapture".

13:35

Watches: see Appendix 2: Watches.

14:3–6

Since "Messiah" means "anointed", it was appropriate that the woman should anoint Jesus. cf. Matthew 26:8–9, John 12:3. Breaking the jar was traditionally done after the person had died; it is an irrevocable action, and indicates that none of the perfume has been held back. We should yield everything we have to God; cf. the widow's mite in Mark 12:40–44.

In Matthew 26:7 and Mark 14:3 the ointment is poured onto Jesus's head (soon to be disfigured by the crown of thorns), but John 12:3 emphasizes the anointing of his feet, suggesting a link with the coming washing of the disciples' feet in John 13. See also Appendix 1 Mary Martha and Lazarus.

14:8

Psalm 23:5–6 seems to say that the righteous are blessed, but other interpretations are possible; Jesus was anointed "for burial" while surrounded by opposition and evil, as implied by the earlier verses of Psalm 23. This is unexpected, because we might expect Jesus to be anointed as a priest or king.

14:13

= Luke 22:10. See comments on Mark 14:42.

14:22

This passage parallels Matthew 26:26, 1 Corinthians 11:24, and Luke 22:19 which has additional detail. Jesus is likely to have used the traditional words "Blessed are you, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth". Notice that Mark says "take..." requiring response; other accounts lack this. Mark's account preserves the asymmetry between the statements about the bread and the wine — see comments on 1 Corinthians 11:24 and 1 Corinthians 11:25.

There has been much debate over the years about whether this means that the bread and wine actually change substance becoming the flesh and blood of Jesus ("transubstantiation"). Thomas Cranmer wrote "He be transubstantiate in us" implying that it is as we digest the bread and wine that they become the body and blood of Jesus.[26 p.131]

14:23

= Matthew 26:27, Luke 22:17, 1 Corinthians 11:25. The Passover celebrations involved four ceremonial cups; it is not clear which one is referred to. It may be that the similar passage in Luke 22:17 actually refers to a different episode within the same meal.

14:27

cf. Zechariah 13:7.

14:28

Jesus's reference to his resurrection seems to go in one of the disciples ears and out of the other; they ignore it in the following verses. It seems they simply couldn't get their heads around what he was saying.

14:33

Jesus took the same three companions in Gethsemane as he did at the raising of Jairus's daughter (Mark 5:37) and at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2).

14:35

=Matthew 26:39, Luke 22:41; cf. Genesis 22:5.

14:36

=Matthew 26:39, Luke 22:42. Jesus clearly had a will that was independent of his Father's. Perhaps he hoped a last-minute reprieve like Isaac (Genesis 22:13).

14:42

See comments on Matthew 26:46. It has been suggested that Judas was unable to betray Jesus earlier because the venue of his Passover meal had been kept secret (Mark 14:13)[28].

14:45

Judas's greeting "Master, master" resembles "Lord, lord" in Matthew 7:21–22 and Luke 6:46.

14:46

The phrase "laid hands on" may be a deliberate reference to Leviticus 16:21 where the laying-on of hands passes the consequences of sin to the scapegoat.

14:51–52

It has been suggested that the young man was Mark[3 p.22].

14:53

This was not a formal trial according to Essene, though Luke disagrees.

14:54–72

In these verses one episode (Jesus's trial) is deliberately "bracketted" by another (Peter's denials) to guide readers to consider the relationship between them[2 p.39].

14:61

See comment on Isaiah 53:7, and cf. Psalm 38:13. Perhaps the High Priest's question recognises Jesus's silence as fulfilling messianic prophecy.

14:62

= Matthew 26:64. The phrase "I am" repeats God's name in Exodus 3:14[2 p.59]. cf. Psalm 110:1, Daniel 7:13.

14:63

The High Priest was forbidden to tear his clothes by Leviticus 21:10.

14:72

We now associate Jesus's dreadful remark in Mark 14:21 with Judas, but at the time it might have seemed that it applied equally to Peter.

15:15

"Just as Gollum in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings has been reduced to a thin, wretched creature through his longing to possess the ring ('my own, my precious'), so Pilate's political ambitions and need for power have reduced him to little more than a puppet, pulled by the strings of public opinion. The man who stands before him, a prisoner, bound and beaten, is yet more free than Pilate can ever be."[38]

15:17

Exodus 28:38 indicates that wearing something on the forehead indicates that sin is being dealt with. Jesus bore our sins and the crown of thorns (also related in Matthew 27:29 and John 19:2) meant that his forehead was stained with his own blood. Perhaps the crown of thorns symbolises the way Jesus was bearing our sins — or the punishment due for them.

15:21

=Matthew 27:32, Luke 23:26. It is interesting that the names are recorded; Simon is a Jewish name but Rufus and Alexander are not, suggesting that sometime in Simon's lifetime the family was converted from Jewish to Christian.

15:26

See comment on John 19:19.

15:32

There are people who claim that the evidence for Christianity's truth is insufficient, because in reality they have no intention of taking the required leap of faith, and are looking for excuses to justify their choice. The Centurion (:39) seems to have been more open-minded. Open-mindedness does not say "I require this proof" (because coming down from the cross was not God's will, so the fact that Jesus did not do it is a proof rather than a denial of his divinity), but examines the available evidence.

15:33

See comment on Matthew 27:45.

15:34

cf. Matthew 27:46. Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 expressing his distress. It is interesting to look at the end of Psalm 22 to see the hope that kept him going. See also the comment on Genesis 15:9–17. Deuteronomy 31:5 indicates that God does not actually forsake anyone.

See comment on Luke 24:25–27.

15:38

Hooker[6 p.19] argues that the tearing of the curtain was a portent of the coming destruction of the whole temple, but it can also be seen as the inauguration of the priesthood of all believers (Revelation 1:6), because the barrier between the place where worshippers went and where only priests could go was broken down.

15:39

The centurion's words echo those in Mark 1:1, 1:11, 3:11 and 9:7. See comments on Mark 15:32 and Mark 1:10.

15:43f

See comment on Luke 23:51.

15:47

Matthew 27:61 explains how the women "saw where he was laid" here and in Luke 23:55, which confims that the tomb that was found empty was the correct one.

16:7

This verse implies that Peter, having denied that he knew Jesus, was no longer considered to be one of his disciples.

16:8

This is the end of the shortest, and possibly original, version of the Gospel. It seems reasonable to suppose that other endings were added because "they were afraid" seems a bad ending. It has been suggested, however, that the word translated "afraid" should be read as something like "awe-struck", and perhaps the Gospel was originally written in Aramaic and the ending read well in that language. The account doesn't come to a final and satisfying ending, from which one walks away and carries on ordinary life, but ends with movement and feeling and unresolved business, urging further action.

16:12

This appears to be an passing reference to the appearance to Cleopas and his partner on the road to Emmaus, told more fully in Luke 24:13f.

16:13

=Luke 24:11. cf. Psalm 68:11.

16:16

See comments in Appendix 2 Judgement.

References:

  1. Fowke, Ruth Personality and Prayer (Guildford: Eagle 1997) p.25
  2. Burridge, Revd Dr Richard Four Gospels, One Jesus? (London: SPCK, 1994)
  3. Cole, Rev Canon R Alan Mark (Leicester: IVP Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, revised edition 1989)
  4. Swete, Dr H. B. The Parables of the Kingdom (Glasgow University Press, 1920)
  5. Hooker, Morna "Isaiah in Mark's Gospel" in Moysie-Menken (ed) Isaiah in the New Testament
  6. Hooker, Morna The Gospel according to St Mark London: A&C Black, 1991 in the series Black's New Testament Commentaries (Chadwick H, ed)
  7. Mann, J. 1940 The Bible as Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue: A Study in the Cycles of the Readings from Rabbinic Literature, Hebrew Bible and Jewish Scriptures Torah and Prophets, as well as from Psalms, and in the Structure of the Midrashic Homilies
  8. Moyise, S. "The Old Testament in Mark" in Moyisey, S Jesus and Scripture
  9. Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity (Glasgow: Fontana 1952/London: Fount, 1977)
  10. John Pridmore writing in Church Times 26 October 2007 p.16
  11. John Pridmore writing in Church Times 30 June 2006 p.17
  12. Graves, P. writing in New Daylight Bible notes, 9 September 2005
  13. Stephen Cottrell writing in BRF New Daylight bible notes on 19 August 2009
  14. Nigel Hopper writing in Closer to God 20 April 2006
  15. Stephen Cottrell writing in BRF New Daylight bible notes on 20 August 2009
  16. John Drane Introduction to the New Testament (Oxford: Lion, 1986 & 1999)
  17. Ian Aveyard God Thoughts — a starter course on theological reflection (Nottingham: St John's Extension Studies, 1997)
  18. William Barclay Gospel of Matthew Volume II in Daily Study Bible series (Edinburgh: St Andrew, 1975 edn)
  19. Burridge, Revd Dr Richard Four Ministries, One Jesus? London: SPCK 2017 (sampler edition) p.7
  20. Sanders Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London: SCM, 1989) p.40
  21. John Proctor writing in New Daylight 17 August 2012
  22. Harrington, D. "Chapter 41: Mark" in Brown et al (eds) New Jerome Biblical Commentary (New Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 1990)
  23. Tuckett Chapter 58: Mark" in Barton and Muddiman (eds) The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford: OUP, 2001)
  24. not used
  25. Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams quoted in Church Times 16 March 2007 p.30
  26. Waller, R. and Ward B. (editors) An Introduction to Christian Spirituality (London: SPCK, 1999) p.131
  27. Nichols, Bridget (Lay Chaplain and Research Assistant to the Bishop of Ely) "Transfiguring embarrassed humanity" in Church Times 13 February 2015 p.17
  28. Nichols, Bridget (Lay Chaplain and Research Assistant to the Bishop of Ely) "Setting the scene for the Passover" in Church Times 27 March 2015 p.20, quoting Borg and Crossman "The Last Week" (SPCK, 2008)
  29. France, R Matthew – Evangelist and Teacher Paternoster Press 1989
  30. Buckley, Anthony Worthy of Trust – 40 reflections on our loyalties and credibility Godalming: Highland Books 2016
  31. Nichols, Bridget (Lay Chaplain and Research Assistant to the Bishop of Ely) (citing Brendan Byrne "The Hospitality of God", Liturgical Press, 2000) "Jesus in control of time" in Church Times 11 November 2016 p.18
  32. Zundel, Veronica writing in New Daylight Bible notes, 7 March 2017
  33. Revd John Thewlis, in a sermon at Carshalton All Saints
  34. Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon, speaking at a Croydon Area Clergy Study Day at Carshalton Good Shepherd on 20 February 2018
  35. Revd Angus Ritchie Sunday's readings: Binding the strong man in Church Times 8 June 2018 page 18
  36. Revd Angus Ritchie Sunday's readings: The cost of single fatherhood in Church Times 12 October 2018 page 31
  37. Paula Gooder Phoebe London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2018
  38. Welch, Sally writing in New Daylight Bible notes, 23 June 2018
  39. Morisy, Ann Beyond the Good Samaritan (London: Mowbray, 1997)

© David Billin 2002–2020