Jesus goes up the Mount of Transfiguration. He heals a boy with severe demonic possession; he again predicts his death and suffering and resurrection, and the disciples don’t understand. Ironically, they argue over who is greatest. John tried to prevent a man who expelled demons, but Jesus replies that the man is doing good. Jesus teaches about removing hand, foot or eye, if it “causes” you to sin.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The translation is mine. I add yet another translation for one purpose: to learn. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
I ask Growth Application (GrowApp) questions after each section of Scripture, for discipleship.
I add some Greek word studies, in a nontechnical way. The Greek terms with brief definitions can also be looked up at biblehub.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-13)
1 Then he said to him: “I tell you the truth: There are some who are standing here who will in no way experience death until they see the kingdom of God come in power.”
2 After six days, Jesus took along Peter, James, and John and brought them up a high mountain by themselves, alone. He was transformed in front of them. 3 His clothes became extremely radiantly white, such that a refiner on earth could not whiten them like that. 4 Elijah along with Moses appeared to them, and they were conversing with Jesus. 5 Peter responded and said to Jesus: “Rabbi, it is great for us to be here. Let us make three shelters, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah!” 6 For he did not know what he was answering, for they were frightened. 7 And a cloud came and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” 8 Suddenly they looked around and saw no one but Jesus alone with them.
9 As they were coming down from the mountain, he ordered them that they must not relate what they saw, except when the Son of Man was raised from the dead. 10 So they kept the information to themselves, discussing what is “the raising of the dead.”
11 They asked him, saying: “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” 12 He said to them, “Elijah indeed has come first and restores all things. And how is it written about the Son of Man? That he must suffer many things and be treated with contempt. 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come and they did to him whatever they wanted, just as it has been written of him.
This table contrasts Jesus and Moses:
|Jesus takes three disciples up mountain (9:2)||Moses goes with three unnamed persons, plus seventy elders up the mountain (Exod. 24:1, 9)|
|Jesus is transfigured and his clothes become radiantly white. (9:2-3)||Moses’ skin shines when he descends from the mountain with God (Exod. 34:29)|
|God appears in veiled form in an overshadowing cloud (9:7)||God appears in veiled form in an overshadowing cloud (Exod. 24:15-16, 18)|
|A voice speaks from the cloud (9:7)||A voice speaks from cloud (Exod. 24:16)|
|The people are astonished when the see Jesus after he descends from mountain (9:15)||People are afraid to come near Moses after he descends from mountain (Exod. 35:30)|
|David E. Garland, p. 342|
In his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel David L. Turner provides a list of similarities between the transfiguration of Jesus and Moses on Sinai (Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Baker Academic, 2008], p. 419), slightly edited:
1.. The six-day interval (17:1; Exod. 24:16)
2.. The presence of three witnesses (Exod. 24:1)
3.. The high mountain (Exod. 24:1)
4.. The glorious appearing of the central figure (Exod. 34:29-30)
5.. The overshadowing cloud (Exod. 24:16)
6.. The fear of those who witnesses the glory (Exod. 34:29-30)
Here’s commentator R. T. France comment on the parallels with Moses:
More explicit are the repeated reminders of Moses’ experiences at Sinai in Ex. 24. Moses took three named companions (though also seventy others) up onto the high mountain to meet with God (Ex. 24:1, 9), and there they had a vision of divine glory (24:10); subsequently Moses went higher with only Joshua as companion (24:13–14); cloud covered the mountain (24:15), and after ‘six days’ Moses went up into it (24:16); there God spoke to Moses (Ex. 25ff.); when Moses relayed God’s words to the people, they promised to obey (24:3, 7). Mark’s narrative does not reproduce exactly the Exodus story, but there are enough verbal and conceptual echoes to trigger thoughts of a new Sinai experience, and perhaps of Jesus as a new Moses (see on v. 4). The fact that Elijah also met with God on the same mountain (1 Ki. 19:8–18) reinforces the link. (France’s comment on 9:2-13)
The last clause of Mark 8:38 (the last verse in Mark 8) reads: the Son of Man “comes in the glory of his Father and with the holy angels.” Most commentators connect 9:1 with 8:38, as if 9:1 belongs to the one pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section of Scripture: 8:31-9:1. So do 8:38 and 9:1 refer to the same event or to two separate events? Commentator Strauss lays out the options of interpretations.
(1).. Jesus’s proclamation and actions manifest the kingdom presence and must be seen with the eyes of faith. This is the already and not yet aspect of the kingdom. It is already here partly, but not yet here in full manifestation.
(2).. The transfiguration in 9:2-13 is a preview of the revealed glory of the kingdom of God come with power.
(3).. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as the inauguration of the kingdom come with power, and everyone alive when Jesus spoke 9:1 was still alive at that time.
(4).. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost is the beginning of the kingdom age come with power.
(5).. The kingdom come with power refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70; this is a preview of the time of final judgment when the kingdom will be fully manifest (as we wait two thousand years later and counting).
(6).. The coming of the Son of Man and the consummation of the kingdom (so Jesus miscalculated!). The problem is that Jesus will say that he does not know when the final, very end will happen (Mark 13:32), so he would not predict it now.
The most natural interpretation is the second one. The transfiguration on the high mountain is a precursor or forerunner of the fully manifested kingdom when Jesus returns in the glory of the Father and with the holy angels. However, then why would Jesus say that some would not experience death (literally “taste” death) until they see the coming kingdom? That’s an odd promise, since Mark writes: “after six days.” Reply: Peter, James, and John are contrasted with the other nine disciples. The three would not taste death before they experience the kingdom coming in power in this life during the transfiguration, while the nine will have to wait until the final resurrection.
Therefore, Jesus returning in the glory of the Father and with the holy angels (8:38) and the three disciples not experiencing death until they see the kingdom of God come in power (9:11) are two separate events. The transfiguration promised in 9:1 is a foretaste of the return in promised in 8:38. One more time, just to be clear: The transfiguration is a foretaste of his coming with the angels. Peter, James and John got to see the glorious kingdom at Jesus’s transfiguration before they died, while the nine will have died and will have to wait for his return to see his kingdom come with power.
The best support comes from 2 Peter 1:16-18:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. (2 Pet. 1:16-18)
Those verses in 2 Peter separate the Second Coming (Parousia) in v. 16 from the transfiguration. Peter and others were eyewitnesses to his majesty and the voice of God on the sacred mountain (vv. 17-18), which was a foretaste Jesus coming in power.
“I tell you the truth”: “Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). Used thirteen times in Mark, it expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “truly I tell you” or I tell you with certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. In the OT and later Jewish writings is indicates a solemn pronouncement. It means we must pay attention to it, for it is authoritative. He is about to declare an important and solemn message or statement. The clause appears only on the lips of Jesus.
That is, in Paul’s epistles, for example, he never says, “I truly say to you.” That phrasing had too much authority, which only Jesus had. The clause only appears on the lips of Jesus in the NT. The word appears in a Jewish culture and means “let it be so.” So Jesus speaks it out with special, divine emphasis. “Let this happen!” “Let what I’m about to say happen!” We better take it seriously and not just walk by it or read over it with a casual air.
“kingdom”: As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5). The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.
Here are some of my posts about the kingdom of God:
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
“come”: the verb is actually a perfect active participle, so it has a past “feel” to it. So it is best to see the verb as meaning the kingdom at the transfiguration “come in power” or “will have come in power.” The past is measured against the full manifestation of the kingdom at his return in the future. So from the disciples’ point of view, six days later seems the near future, but from the full kingdom’s point of view (and even Mark’s point of view when he wrote), the transfiguration is in the past. That’s how I interpret Mark’s use of perfected action.
Luke says about eight days, which is based on a Greek way of speaking for “about a week” (Carson). So there is no conflict of chronology.
Which mountain? Traditions says Mt. Tabor, and it is only 1900 feet high (579m), but there was a Roman garrison there. Others say Mt. Hermon, but it is 9,232 feet high (2814m), and it is much too cold and in Gentile territory. A popular alternative is Mt. Meron, which is the highest mountain in Palestine at 3926 ft. (1197m).
“After six days”: Mark does not mention time markers like this, except in Mark 13, where he does numerous times. So in this verse he is referring to the six days of cloud covers on Mt. Sinai as Moses prepare to ascend (Exod. 24:15-16). Jesus is fulfilling and going past Moses. More practically, it would take about six days to get to Mt. Tabor, which commentator R. T. France favors.
In any case, Jesus is up on a high mountain, and both Moses and Elijah went up a high mountain, Mt. Horeb, an alternative name for Mt. Sinai: Exod. 19 for Moses and 1 Kings 19:8 for Elijah, who spent forty days and forty nights, as Moses did too. That’s one reason why Elijah and Moses appears here.
Mark (and Matthew 17:2) says that Jesus “metamorphized,” a Greek word that means to transform. His clothes were so bright that Peter, as recorded by Mark, who probably heard and wrote down what Peter preached, added the detail that the clothes were so bright that no laundryman could bleach them as white (9:3). Matthew says they became “white as light.” Moses’s face shone with the glory of God (Exod. 34:29-35).
I am reminded of this Scripture in 2 Cor. 3:7-11:
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Cor. 3:7-11, ESV)
“refiner”: BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT. It defines refiner as follows: “A specialist in one or more of the processes in the treatment of cloth, including fulling, carding, cleaning, bleaching. Since the English term ‘fuller’ refers to one who shrinks and thickens cloth, a more general rendering such as cloth refiner is required to cover the various components. In our literature (only Mark 9:3) reference is to the bleaching aspect without suggesting that the term applies only to one engaged in that particular feature. Hence such glosses as ‘bleacher’ or ‘fuller’ would overly limit the professional niche” (BDAG p. 202, slightly edited).
Yes, Jesus lost his “shine” at the end of the transfiguration because he was still unresurrected and unascended, but now we have a glimpse of the glory he gave up and the glory that was restored to him. The New Covenant, however, is much more glorious than the Sinai covenant which Moses ratified.
A little systematic theology: people debate or are confused about what Jesus gave up when he became incarnated. Did he give up his divine attributes? No. He retained them, but he surrendered their use to his Father in heaven. They were hidden behind his humanity; indeed, his humanity was added to his divinity. Then what did he give up? He gave up the glorious environment of heaven and the prerogative to use the divine attributes. And now the three disciples have a taste of it, and so do we. We will share in it when we die.
I have covered this topic at here:
4. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Took the Form of a Servant (a close reading of Phil. 2:6-8)
All three versions say that Peter knew who the men were without their being introduced to him. Either this is a deliberate omission, and Jesus told them who they were, but this detail was unrecorded, or there was something about Moses and Elijah that Peter instantly recognized. Jesus surpasses both of these visitors, particularly when the Father proclaims that Jesus is his beloved Son and to hear him.
Moses for sure represents the lawgiver, and someone greater than he is here—Jesus. What about Elijah? He also represents restoration in John the Baptist. He also did not experience death, but a chariot took him up (2 Kings 2). Jesus is greater than Solomon and the temple (Matt. 12:6, 42), but here in this pericope he is greater than Moses also. Mal. 4:4-5 says a prophet like Elijah would arise and Deut. 18:15-19 says that a prophet like Moses would arise or return.
The Greek places Elijah first. This fits the later discussion about Elijah’s coming.
And by the way, the sign that the Pharisees were looking for (Mark 8:11-13), could be answered right here on this mountain. The problem? They were not privileged enough to see it!
“shelters”: it is the Greek noun skēnē (pronounced skay-nay), and it means “tent” or “booth.” In Heb. 11:9 is means The Tent of Testimony or Tabernacle. It can also mean “dwelling” generally. Peter does not necessarily refer to the feast of tabernacles or booths (Exod. 23:16; 34:22; Lev. 23:39), but he wants to make temporary shelters with them. But if you want to make “tents” refer to the feast of booths or tabernacles, you may certainly do so.
Jesus accepted the title of Rabbi (cf. Matt. 23:8).
God’s glory covering or overshadowing or enveloping them reflects the doctrine of Shekinah, particularly in the desert tabernacle (Exod. 40:34-38). See 2 Chron. 6:1, which says the Lord dwells in thick darkness.
“Son”: Let’s briefly touch on systematic theology. Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters. On our repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
See a quick study of “Son of God,” click on these posts:
One more quick teaching in systematic theology about the Trinity. The Father in his role as the Father is over the Son; the Father guides the whole of creation and the plan of the ages. The Son carries out the plan, notably by being born as a man, humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 3:6-8). He humbled himself so deeply and thoroughly that he died a death on the cross, the instrument of the death penalty.
However, the Father and Son are equal in their essence or nature. The Father is fully God and the Son is fully God, in their essence. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant.
Function or role: the Father is over the Son in his incarnation and role in the redemptive plan
In their essence or essential nature: Father and Son are equal.
The Father proclaims his total delight and pleasure in his Son. In Matt. 3:17, the Father also delights or is pleased with his Son—the same wording. It is in the aorist tense, but it may have an atemporal sense, so you could translate it “in whom I delight” or “in whom I have been pleased,” as I do in 3:17.
The point for us is that when we are in Christ, the Father delights in us as well. We begin our journey from the position of the Father’s love.
The Father tells Moses and Elijah to listen to him. The verb has the connotation of “obeying or heeding” Jesus.
“listen”: the verb is the standard verb for “hear”: akouō (pronounced ah-koo-oh, and we get our word acoustics from it). It also means, depending on the context, “give careful attention to, listen to, heed” (BDAG). Recall that Jesus said that the one who hears and acts on his words is like the man who builds his house on a firm foundation, while the one who hears them and does not act on them is like a man who build his house on a weak foundation (Matt. 7:24-27). When the stormy flood waters rise, the first house will stand, while the second one will collapse. So hearing is more than just the physical act of hearing with your ears. It requires understanding and then obedience and action.
The visitation is over. He commands the three not to tell anyone, presumably also the other nine. Again, Jesus does not want disinformation to leak out. The disciples were not quite grasping who he was, but now that they got a clearer picture, he did not want them to prematurely reveal it.
The disciples just could not understand what the resurrection was. They discussed it among themselves. This time Jesus did not intervene to explain it to them. In just a short time later, they were see for themselves.
It was bodily, but his body was transformed and glorified.
“Son of Man”: it both means the powerful, divine Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14) and the human son of man—Ezekiel himself—in the book of Ezekiel (numerous references). Jesus was and still is in heaven both divine and human.
These verses refer to Elijah, yes, but he is represented anew by John. John was the transitional figure and he was destined and called to restore all things, before Jesus entered his ministry and during his more powerful ministry. Estimates are that he baptized hundreds of thousands and up to one million, depending on the population of Israel at that time. Whatever the exact number, it was a revival. Yet John baptized them with water, while Jesus was about to baptize repentant people with great the Spirit and fire. Sadly, the national politicians did what they wanted to him, and they were about to do the same with Jesus.
John’s ministry can be summed up in his own words: He proclaimed that Jesus was to become greater and he lesser (John 3:25-30). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
But they did to him whatever they wanted. This refers to his arrest and execution (Mark 6:14-29). Jesus will likewise be mistreated and suffer many things. Jesus is drawing the parallels between himself and John.
The second half of v. 12 is very difficult to translate. Grammarian Decker translates it and puts it in parentheses as if it is an aside: (“Why then is it written about the Son of Man that he should suffer greatly and be rejected?”) In Decker’s notes he also suggests dividing the verse in two by long dashes: Elijah, indeed, coming first restoreth all things (so teach the scribes)—and how stands it written about the Son of Man?—that he should suffer many things and be set at nought!” (“Nought” is an older word meaning “nothing”). So in other words, divide the key sentence in two as I did.
One last note:
“teachers of the law”: they are also called scribes in other translations. To learn more about them, click here:
This group, among others, was the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7, ESV). Overdoing righteousness damages one’s relationship with God and others.
“I tell you”: this clause denotes an authoritative and solemn pronouncement that may surprise his listeners and make them uncomfortable.
There are many references in the rabbinic writings expecting Elijah to come. All of these views must come from Mal. 4:5-6.
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Mal. 4:5-6, NIV)
Elijah did suffer at the hands of Ahaz and Jezebel (1 Kings 19). Popular expectation says that he was not to be a suffering forerunner, but John’s life and Jesus’s assessment of his life turns him into a mini-suffering servant, like Jesus the Messiah is the Suffering Servant. Therefore it is probable that Jesus is radicalizing and overturning this popular non-suffering expectation of Elijah’s precursor ministry. John-Elijah’s suffering parallels Jesus’ suffering in the near future. Some believed that the Messiah would not suffer, much like Peter told Jesus that he must not predict his own suffering. It defied Messianic expectation. However, just as Elijah suffered under Jezebel, so John suffered under the oppression of Herod Antipas’s (unlawful) wife. The Herods did to him whatever they wanted. (I got some of these ideas from France, comment under 9:13).
GrowApp for Mark 9:1-14
A.. Have you experienced God more fully? What about at your conversion?
B.. God called Jesus his beloved Son. When we are in Christ and remain there, we share in God’s love. How do you respond to this truth?
Jesus Expels a Demon from a Boy (Mark 9:14-29)
14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a huge crowd around them and teachers of the law debating with them. 15 Immediately the entire crowd saw him, were excited, ran up, and greeted him. 16 He asked the disciples: “What were you debating about with them?” 17 One from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you; he has a mute spirit. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it will throw him down, and he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. I said to your disciples that they should expel it, but they were unable. 19 In reply, he said, “Unbelieving generation! How long will I be with you? How long will I put up with you? Bring him to me.” 20 They brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw Jesus, he instantly convulsed the boy, who, falling on the ground, rolled around and foamed at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “About how long has this happened to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And often he throws him in the fire and water in order to destroy him. But if you are able, help us, having pity on us!” 23 But Jesus replied, “‘If you are able!’ All things are possible to the one who believes!” 24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” 25 When Jesus saw the crowd was gathering, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Spirit that causes the boy to be deaf and mute, I order you: Come out of him and no longer enter into him!” 26 Crying out and convulsing him violently, it went out. He appeared dead, so that many said that he died. 27 But Jesus took hold of his hand and lifted him up, and he stood up.
28 And when he went into a house with his disciples by themselves, they asked him, “Why were we unable to expel it?” 29 He said to them, “This kind cannot come out except by prayer.”
I supplied some nouns in place of pronouns, to be clear how the action proceeded in sequence.
Jesus, Peter, James and John were coming down from the mountain. Always remember that after you have your mountaintop experience of a taste of glory, you will have to confront a demon or the trials of life. That is Satan’s or the world’s counterattack, designed to discourage and wear you down.
“teachers of the law”: see v. 11 for more comments. They are also called scribes.
Evidently, they were debating or arguing or discussing the disciples’ inability to expel the demon. Mark 6:13 says that the disciples expelled many demons. Here, none of the nine were able to expel this one. Jesus will explain why not in v. 29.
As for the crowd, Jesus was very popular. I wonder how you or I could handle so much popularity? Let’s pray for the grace and wisdom to handle so much fame and influence. It seems to me that the important thing to maintain sanity is to remain focused on the mission—Jerusalem and death for Jesus and preaching and healing and exorcizing on the road to Jerusalem. We may not die young and in Jerusalem, but we shall all one day die or he shall come back at any day, and we shall stand before God at judgment. Let’s remember that!
Jesus asked what the nine and the teachers of the law were discussing. Someone from the crowd answered before the nine could speak. Who was it? It was the boy’s father! He was desperate to interrupt the question! I really like his boldness.
“has a mute spirit”: There are two main ways in the Greek NT to express demonic attacks to varying degrees, from full possession to just attacks: “have a demon” and “demonized.” The latter term is used often in Matthew: 4:24; 8:16, 28, 35; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22, but only once in Luke (8:36), and Mark four times (132; 5:15, 16, 18). John uses the term once (10:21). In Luke 8:26-39, Luke uses both “have a demon” and “demonized,” so he sees the terms synonymously. “Demonized” comes from the verb daimonizomai (pronounced dy-mo-nee-zo-my), which just adds the suffix –iz- to the noun daimōn (pronounced dy-moan). It is a very convenient quality about Greek (English has this ability too: modern to modernize). Just add this suffix to a noun, and it turns into a verb. So it looks like “have a demon” and “be demonized” are synonyms. The context determines how severe the possession was. As it turns out, however, Matthew does mention those two verbs “demonized” or “have a demon.” I bring them up, just to remind the readers of what the other pericopes say in the four Gospels about demonization.
Here in this verse, Mark writes, “has a mute spirit.”
The father describes the condition and power that the demon exercises over his son. Here the demon is fighting against the boy and against health. Demons are awful beasts that hate humanity. Luke 9:39 also says the boy foamed and ground his teeth. Matthew says the boy is an epileptic (Matt. 17:15), but this was caused by a demon, not a strictly natural cause. In other words, all diseases hit the body naturally and has natural causes, but a few of the diseases also have a demonic cause—both natural and demonic. A demon causes it, but it manifests in the body. It takes discernment to figure out how to pray. Let the Holy Spirit guide you.
“unbelieving”: this could be translated as “faithless.” This language goes along with prophetic denunciations of ancient Israel (See Deut. 32:5; Jer. 5:21).
One has to have faith and trust in God. A good acronym:
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
See my word study and faith and faithfulness:
Jesus is speaking of the entire generation, not to the man himself or the disciples. “This generation” comes in for criticism in Mark 8:12 (twice) and 38. This generation has gone past the point of no return.
Commentator Strauss points out that this verse reveals high Christology. Jesus speaks from God’s perspective, differentiating himself from this generation—the one he was living in, but is not part of it. He can rise above it and denounce it.
As soon as the demon saw Jesus, it convulsed the boy, who fell on the ground and rolled around and foamed at the mouth. This is called a demonic manifestation. Don’t be afraid when it happens. Know that Jesus is with you and will back up his name and his love for oppressed people. He may not back up your reputation, but he will set the captives free to receive the glory.
Jesus had to ask the question of the father about how long he had the demon (v. 21). (I simplified what the Greek says: “How long is this that this has happened to him?”) And the father answered “from childhood.” I don’t know how this demon took root. It may have been a combination of a brain malfunction (epilepsy) and a demon that took advantage of him. Sometimes you have to interview the patient before you pray.
In v. 22 one must have compassion and the ability to help. If one has compassion but not anything to help, then the compassion goes nowhere. If one has the resources to help but does nothing, then nothing is accomplished.
Wow. Once again, Mark writes another description of the symptoms or manifestation of the power which the demons held over the boy. The message is clear. The demon was entrenched and deeply rooted in him.
The father cried out: “If you can, help us!” Jesus replied, “If you can! All things are possible to the one who believes.”
Then the father cried out with very comforting words, that must have stuck in Peter’s mind when he was preaching his stories about Jesus, and Mark was recording them. “I believe! Help my unbelief!” the father said. This cry is a perfect description of the dilemma that people—you and I—face when we see a great need and want to have faith in God, but our desperation and unbelief get in the way. Yes, God responds to desperation, as Jesus is doing here, but sooner or later the mind has to settle down and trust and believe. That’s the point Jesus was making. “All things are possible to them who believe!”
Desperation ≠ Faith
One good way to leave behind your desperation is to read up on Scriptures that talk about who God is, how much he loves you. Study Scriptures that promise healing.
Then Jesus saw the crowd running and gathering together. It may seem odd to repeat this point (v. 14), but it is probable that Jesus took the father and boy apart as he did before (8:23). In any case, he did not want a pyrotechnic display in front of gaping sightseers (Wessel and Strauss), so he rebuked the demon immediately.
“rebuked”: it is the verb epitimaō (pronounced eh-pea-tee-mah-oh), and it means “rebuke, censure, warn,” and even “punish” (see Jude 9). In exorcisms it may have developed a specialized meaning, so one should use it, as Jesus did. Be authoritative. In any case, he has given us authority to tread on the devil (Luke 9:1 and 10:19).
“unclean spirit” means a defiling spirit because it defiles the demonized person. It does not belong in any human because he or she is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).
Jesus named the spirit. But it’s not as if the spirit was deaf and mute, because it will cry out (v. 26). Instead, it causes the malady in the boy. In v. 29 he will say “this kind.” It is good to get the prayer on target. Get specific information. Ask a few questions of the relatives who brought the victim, even while the demonized person is convulsing.
Jesus ordered or commanded the spirit. Command the demons, like a stray dog. “Come out!” Jesus also added that the demon should never reenter the boy again. This command shut the door on another possession.
As for the command not to reenter the boy, France correctly writes:
Mt. 12:43-45 envisages the possibility of the return of an expelled demon, and the request of Legion’s demons for an alternative home (5:12) indicates the problem of homelessness for an evicted demon, a problem which an exorcist had to take into account, hence this specific command not to return. For the father it is a much-needed reassurance that a condition which has persisted [from childhood] is now at an end.
Yet another description of the manifestation. Mark really, really wants to drive home the point that the demon had a grip on the boy and was getting the last attention before it left. It wanted a demonic pyrotechnic display.
The boy was on the ground, limp, so limp and seemingly lifeless that he appeared to be dead. This is the opposite of “become rigid” (v.18). He no longer foamed at the mouth or ground his teeth. And evidently, he was able to regain his hearing and speech. That’s good news. The crowd drew the wrong conclusion that the boy was dead. Don’t listen to the crowd. They are often wrong.
For Jesus the solution was simple and practical. He took the boy by the hand and lifted him up. This process was done in 5:41-42: “grasping,” “raising,” “getting up” (Strauss). Then the boy stood up. It is a wonderful image of deliverance. Now the boy can live a normal life.
The nine disciples asked him privately why they were unable to expel it. As noted, Mark describes in several verses how deeply the demon gripped the boy. So “this kind” means extra-vicious and deeply rooted demons. Jesus answered that this kind comes out by nothing but prayer. Some manuscripts add: “fasting.” Whether by prayer or by prayer and fasting, you have to be prepared. I know of one balanced pastor-healer who used to say that all he did before going to his meeting is to drink a bottle of soda and turn off the TV and go downstairs to begin ministry. In other words, his gifting came from Jesus, not his worked-up prayer time. But this is rare. It is better to pray before ministry time. I follow Jesus.
Matthew adds that the nine were unable to expel it because of their little faith (17:20). Then Jesus taught about the tiny mustard seed and faith being so small. If they had had mustard-seed faith, they could move mountains. We can add both ideas together. Our faith is built up by our praying.
Please see my posts about Satan in the area of systematic theology and a little practical theology (deliverance):
GrowApp for Mark 9:14-29
A.. Have you ever prayed for a demon to be expelled? Have you seen it happen? What did you think about it?
B.. How has Jesus set you free from anything demonic, like drugs or other addictions? Tell your story.
Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection (Mark 9:30-32)
30 Leaving from there, they passed through Galilee and did not want anyone to know. 31 He was teaching his disciples and saying to them, “The Son of Man will be betrayed to the hands of men, and they will kill him, and when he is killed, after three days he shall rise.” 32 They did not understand this statement and were afraid to ask him.
Jesus was transitioning from Galilee to the rest of Israel, particularly towards the south: Judea and Jerusalem. But the transition was slow, for in v. 33 he goes back to Capernaum, his home base. But he was passing through, maybe as a kind of farewell and a last long look. His life would change forever, once he entered Jerusalem (11:11).
“disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (pronounced mah-they-tayss). and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
“Son of Man”: see v. 9 for more comments.
“hands”: they stand in for or symbolize power, because hands do things like make an object, throw a spear or hit someone else. Power and force reside in the hands. They shall arrest or “nab” him. It could be translated as “the Son of Man will be handed over to the power of men.”
“will be betrayed”: this is in the passive, and scholars say that often the passive is a divine passive, meaning that God is behind the scenes orchestrating the coming betrayal and arrest. Judas was going to betray or hand him over (14:10-11; 43-50), but the Father was orchestrating things behind the scene.
“men”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss, and we get our word anthropology from it). It is in the plural. In many verses it is generic, so it can be translated as “person” or “persons” or “people.” Here it should be men, because the context requires it. The authorities in Jerusalem were all men.
“after three days”: Some people take this to mean literally seventy-two hours, because Jonah spent three days and three nights in the big fish (Jnh. 1:17; Matt. 12:40), so Jesus must also spend seventy-two hours in the grave. But we over-read the intent here. The sign of Jonah was his coming out of the depths of the belly and the sea, which was a type of the resurrection. Let’s not over-analyze it. Jesus was crucified and died on Friday; he spent Saturday in the grave—or his body did—and it was raised from the dead early on Sunday morning: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—three days. They don’t have to be seventy-two hours. Go to biblegateway.com and look up “third day.” It is remarkable how many times it means something significant and redemptive. So of course the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus would be accomplished on the third day.
Also see my comments on 8:31.
“did not understand”: it could be translated “were ignorant.” It is the negation of the verb “know.” (Our word agnostic is related to it, but don’t impose an anachronistic definition on it.)
No more Peter wrongly rebuking Jesus, and the Lord correctly returning the rebuke (see Mark 8:32)!
“statement”: The Greek noun here is rhēma (pronounced rhay-mah), and the rhē– stem is related to speaking, and the –ma suffix means “the result of.” So combined, the noun means a “spoken word” (though it does not always mean that in every context). Jesus spoke out his foretelling of his death. So this word became a “saying.”
The disciples did not understand the statement that he would be arrested, because they believed in their deepest hearts that he was going to parade into Jerusalem, overpower the Romans, throw them out, and hold Jerusalem either by peace or force, forever. And he would bring peace to their whole world. Their deepest (false) beliefs blinded them. It is possible to be so blinded by your deepest convictions. Please be sure your convictions are right. Know Scripture.
“afraid”: Jesus had just rebuked them and the crowds for being unbelieving and twisted. They were nervous because they believed that they should understand and grasp his words, but they did not. And they knew that they did not understand. Maybe they thought that after he was arrested, he would shine forth with his glory and destroy the Romans. “See! I allowed myself to be arrested! But I have broken free by a mighty angel! And now I will call on God to destroy our enemies!” They didn’t understand that he came as the servant-king.
GrowApp for Mark 9:30-32
A.. Have you ever been blinded by your inadequate beliefs? How did you recover? What is your story?
Who Is the Greatest? (Mark 9:33-37)
33 They came into Capernaum and, after going into the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they were silent, for on the road they were arguing about who was greatest. 35 He sat down and summoned the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and a servant of all.” 36 Then, taking a child, he stood him in the middle of them and embraced him in his arms and said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me (only) but the one who sent me.”
Capernaum was his adoptive hometown. “The house” was probably Peter’s house, or Jesus may have bought or borrowed one (Mark 3:20). He seems to have come from a fairly prosperous family with a family business. But my guess is that it was Peter’s house.
He overheard them and asked them a question. He knew what they had been arguing or disputing about or discussing.
They knew that the topic was wrongheaded. They kept quiet. Their consciences stung them because they had been spending time with Jesus, and he develops anyone’s conscience when they learn his words and ways. It is widely believed that Mark got his Gospel from hearing Peter preach. Mark heard Peter fill in the missing element to the story. They were arguing over who was greater.
It is ironic that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to die there as a servant of all of humanity, while the disciples were arguing over who would be the greatest (Wessel and Strauss).
In this society, honor and shame and status were important, so the twelve are jockeying to come out on top.
Now this lesson is for all of the twelve.
A paradox is defined as placing seemingly contradictory ideas side by side (see also v. 23). Here are two possible paradoxes, but only one really is:
1.. To be great, you must use all your willpower and ambition and drive.
2.. To be great, you must become like a child, the least of all.
The paradox is the second statement. Everyone follows the first one, but the way of the kingdom leads to the second one. In the world, the paradox (no. 2) makes no sense. In the kingdom, God lifts you up.
“child”: it is the noun paidion (pronounced pye-dee-on). It can be translated as (1) “very young child, infant” or (2) “child.” The Shorter Lexicon suggests the second definition. Then it can even mean a figurative child, as we find in v. 3. We are supposed to enter the kingdom as a little child and then keep the childlike faith, without complications.
“him”: grammatically it could be “it” because the word for child is neuter, but I went with him, since Jesus is making the point to twelve men.
A child must have been nearby. Was it a boy or girl? Let’s say a boy. Did he belong to one of the disciples? What about one of the women’s child? Recall that women were following Jesus (Luke 8:2-3). Or was he a child from the crowd? We don’t know, but it is fun to speculate.
Jesus stood the child next to him. He was to be a living object lesson. Sweet scene.
In his comments on Luke 9:47, the parallel verse, commentator Darrell L. Bock cites a passage from the Mishnah (completed in about 200 AD, but reflecting earlier traditions) showing that it was a waste of time to chat with children: “Morning sleep, midday wine, chattering with children, and tarrying [dawdling] in places where men of the common people assemble destroy a man (Luke 1:1-9:50, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Baker, 1992], p. 895, m. ‘Abot 3.11). Jesus was overturning the cultural prejudice among the extra-devout.
In this society children had the lowest status, so the living lesson of this child was perfectly done, perfectly selected to drive home the point. Become like a child in your relentless pursuit of status in Christ’s kingdom, paradoxically speaking.
It is imperative to welcome a child in the name of Jesus. When we welcome the least child, we welcome Jesus. When we welcome Jesus, we welcome the Father who sent him. So we have a ladder of authority, and only the Father and Jesus can occupy the top rungs. If the disciples want to be great, they must occupy the rung that the child stands on. To be great, one must become last in the pecking order.
One quick point that is a little outside the main teaching here. Yes, we are initially to welcome or receive Jesus as children, but we must not remain children (1 Cor. 13:11).
“name”: this noun stands in for the person—a living, real person. Let’s develop this thought, so it can apply to you. What’s in a name?
You carry your earthly father’s name. If he is dysfunctional, his name is a disadvantage. If he is functional and impacting society for the better, then his name is an advantage. In Jesus’s case, he has the highest status in the universe, next to the Father (Col. 1:15-20). He is exalted above every principality and power (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). His character is perfection itself. His authority and power are absolute, under the Father. In his name you are seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Now down here on earth you walk and live as an ambassador in his name, in his stead, for he is no longer living on earth, so you have to represent him down here. We are his ambassadors who stand in for his name (2 Cor. 5:20). The good news is that he did not leave you without power and authority. He gave you his. Now you represent him in his name—his person, power and authority. Therefore under his authority we have his full authority to preach the gospel and set people free from bondages and satanic spirits and heal them of diseases.
In this case, we could simplify the use of “name” to mean as “I would welcome the little child.”
GrowApp for Mark 9:33-37
A.. To build your character, has God ever humbled you when you got above yourself?
He Who Is Not against Us Is for Us (Mark 9:38-41)
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone expelling demons in your name, and we forbad him because he does not follow us. 39 But Jesus said, “Don’t forbid him, for there is no one who will do a miracle in my name and will soon be capable of speaking badly of me. 40 For whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in my name because you belong to Christ—I tell you the truth: He will certainly not lose his reward.”
Why did John speak up? He was part of the Inner Three, so he may have seen the need to defend the entire group of twelve. John’s (needless) warning looks like Joshua telling Moses to curtail the prophesying of Eldad and Medad. Moses told Joshua to cool his jets (Num. 11:26-29). The two men were doing the right thing.
John’s wording seems a little off. “Because he did not follow us.” I expected him to say, “Because he did not follow you.” (Interestingly, Luke’s version says “with us.”) But Jesus does not rebuke John about “us,” so Jesus must gradually be allowing the disciples to have authority on their own, as followers of him, in preparation for the time when he will be resurrected and ascend. Yes, Jesus will lead the church from the throne of heaven, but he also delegates authority to his apostolic community.
“follow us”: Luke’s version says, “follow with us” (9:49). The stranger disciple was not part of the group. Recall that Jesus also had seventy-(two) additional disciples than the twelve (Luke 10:1-12). Evidently this stranger was not even part of the larger group to be commissioned and given authority over demons. What is so impressive is that the stranger used the name of Jesus to triumph over demons. Somehow the stranger must have caught on to the power that resides in that name.
This is a general rule, because the seven sons of Sceva used Jesus’s name and got pummeled by a demonized man, who was “supernaturally” strengthened by the demon to overpower the seven sons (Acts 19:11-16). Who knows? Maybe the seven sons and their father converted, though Acts says only that Jews and Greeks feared and threw their book and scrolls on a fire. Presumably, these crowds also converted to Jesus. One hopes that the eight men also did, but we don’t know. In any case, don’t make an iron rule out of a general statement, as if it is true one hundred percent. General rules always allow for exceptions. It is possible that some people dabble too deeply into the dark arts and invoke the name of Jesus deceptively. But I really like how Jesus promises that the woman who does will not soon speak badly of Jesus. To me, this indicates she is close to converting to him.
Notice how Jesus broadens the pronoun to “us.” He identifies with his group, his team. This refers to the delegated authority that he gave them during their commissioning (Mark 3:13-15; 6:7-13).
“miracle”: it could be translated as “an act of power.”
A drink from a cup of water indicates hospitality. But it has to be specific. The welcomer gives you a cup of water because you belong to Jesus. That’s when the reward kicks in. I urge caution in saying that the reward is automatic by virtue of handing the cup of water to anyone (though God approves of any good deed). In this case, the giver must recognize who Jesus is and who the disciple is, first, and then the giver can have a reward.
“I tell you the truth”: see v. 1 for more comments.
“the one who sent me”: this refers to the Father. The representative stands in for the person represented. Wessel and Strauss say this is a Jewish concept. John’s Gospel makes Jesus mission being sent by the Father from to the world very clear, while the Synoptic Gospels are more subtle. On the differences between the Synoptics and John, and how this does not pose a real problem, please see this post:
GrowApp for Mark 9:38-41
A.. Whose side are you on? Your own or Jesus’? How do you move over to his side?
Temptation to Sin (Mark 9:42-50)
42 “And whoever causes one of these little believers in me to sin, it would be better for him if a large millstone were placed around his neck and thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than to have two hands and go away into Gehenna, into inextinguishable fire, 44 [‘where the worm does not die and the fire is not extinguished’ (Is. 66:24).] 45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into Gehenna. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, remove it. It is better for you to be one-eyed and enter into the kingdom of God than to have two eyes and be thrown into Gehenna, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not extinguished.’ [Is. 66:24] 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if salt becomes unsalty, by what will it be seasoned? You have salt among yourselves and be peaceful with one another.”
In vv. 42-50 Jesus is speaking metaphorically and hyperbolically. Hyperbole (pronounced hy-PER-boh-lee) means a deliberate and “extravagant exaggeration” (Webster’s Dictionary) to make a strong point and startle the listener. Modern example: “The ice cream seller is really generous! He piled the ice cream on my cone a mile-high!” No, a “mile high” (1.6 km) is not to be taken literally. Judaism prohibited self-mutilation (Deut. 14:1; 1 Kings 18:28; Zech. 13:6), so Jesus is teaching us a different lesson (Garland, p. 369). It is to deal ruthlessly with sin.
Followers of Jesus must learn to read the Bible on its own terms, without their wearing monochrome glasses, in which every word appears the same literal color in different contexts. Yes, most of Scripture can be taken literally, like the histories or the commands of the Torah and Epistles. But in significant sections of Scripture, the Bible is not a “flat,” one-dimensional book, on one simplistic level. It is multi-layered. And vv. 43-50 is a case in point. These verses are not to be interpreted literally and simplistically.
Please note that some interpreters say the “little ones” are weak disciples, perhaps as we find in Rom. 14. Their conscience is so weak that they cannot eat various foods, or they have to keep some days as holy (Rom. 14:5-7). Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind (v. 5). Everyone with their different practices and convictions about food “should make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification” (Rom. 14:19).
However, I would like to think that literal children can trust in the Lord, and it is a very bad idea to talk them out of their belief. Remember—this is spoken in a Jewish culture, and anyone who converts to Jesus may be in trouble, when the child gets older. But you may certainly see this passage as shifting the focus from children to weak disciples, if you wish.
“believers” could be translated as “those who believe in me.”
Once again, an excellent saying:
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
Then what does it mean to cause them to sin (or it could be translated as “causing them to stumble”)?
“stumbling stones”: The Greek noun for the stumbling block or stone is skandalon (pronounced scan-dah-lon), and it is clear we get our word scandal from it, but the meaning back then is not quite the same. The noun means, depending on the context: (1) “trap (symbolically)”; (2) “temptation to sin, enticement”; (3) “that which gives offense or causes revulsion, that which causes opposition, an object of anger or disapproval.”
We are supposed to get angry at and feel revulsion for a skandalon.
“stumble”: some translations say, “causes to sin.” The Greek language adds the suffix –izō to a noun and changes it into a verb. We do that too: modern – modernize. So the noun becomes skandalizō (pronounced scan-dah-lee-zoh). And it means, depending on the context, (1) “cause to be caught … to fall, i.e. cause to sin” a. … Passive: “be led into sin … fall away”; b. “be led into sin or repelled by someone, take offense at someone”; (2) give offense to, anger, shock.”
Let’s apply the idea that Jesus is talking about literal children. Jesus does not specify what a skandalon or skandalizō are in this context, but it must be turning children away from believing in him. What would do that? Hypocrisy (talking one way but living another)? Dysfunction and fighting in the household? Meanness?
“great millstone”: the Greek indicates that it is worked by a donkey. At first I translated the phrase as “a millstone worked by a donkey.” Or I could have written “a donkey millstone,” but either one of those seemed awkward. So I went with what Grammarian Olmstead suggested. In any case, the stone had to be big to be worked by a donkey.
Apparently this verse is not in the best manuscripts or it was inserted by a copyist just to provide clarity and harmony with v. 48.
Let’s take all these verses together, since they are about the same truth behind the hyperbolic metaphors.
As noted, the Bible deploys all sorts of literary techniques to get its points across, and one of them is hyperbole. The technique is designed to startle the listener with exaggerated imagery to compel him to act. In this case, the hand and foot and eye do not literally cause someone to sin, and everyone in the first century knew this (Matt. 5:28 says a man commits adultery in his heart or inner being, first). Instead, Jesus intends his listeners to act brutally and swiftly against sin in the heart. Cut off the hand (most people work with their hands, so it represents the man’s strength), now! Remove the foot (which is how we walk, and walking is an expression for how we live), right now! Gouge out the eye (and the eye indicates the person’s main channel of truth and reception of facts which the mind turns into ideas), now! Cut out and cut off the sin growing in your heart, now! Do it long before you turn your covetousness into action!
These two verses may clarify the practical theology here:
14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it is conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (Jas. 1:14-15, ESV)
“life”: Jesus means it to be the same as “the kingdom of God (see v. 47). Now let’s explore the noun. It is zoē (pronounced zoh-ay, and girls are named after it, e.g. Zoey) and is very versatile. BDAG says that it has two senses, depending on the context: a physical life (e.g. life and breath) and a transcendent life. By physical life the editors mean the period from birth to death, human activity, a way or manner of living, a period of usefulness, earning a living. By transcendent life the lexicographers mean these four elements: first, God himself is life and offers us everlasting life. Second, Christ is life, who received life from God, and now we can receive life from Christ. Third, it is new life of holiness and righteousness and grace. God’s life filling us through Christ changes our behavior. Fourth, zoē means life in the age to come, or eschatological life. So our new life now will continue into the next age, which God fully and finally ushers in when Christ returns. We will never experience mere existence or death, but we will be fully and eternally alive in God.
Jesus is not talking about going into heaven but entering new life in Christ in the here and now. It is about entering his kingdom right now.
“Gehenna”: Matthew uses it in 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 23:33. The term comes from the Valley of Sons of Hinnom (= Gehenna), a ravine south and west of Jerusalem that was a trash heap where refuse and dead criminals were discarded and burned. At this dump wicked kings of Israel / Judea worshipped Baal-Molech, including offering children in fiery sacrifices—they put children to the flames (2 Kings 16:3; 23:10; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; Is. 66:24; Jer. 7:31-32; 19:4-6; 32:34-35). So it is apt to say that Gehenna is the place where people go who have done wicked deeds and are not saved, after final judgment.
Now what about inextinguishable fire and the worm? This refers to the Septuagint (pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent and is a third-to-second century translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek) and Is. 66:24, which refers to dead bodies that people will look on. The bodies are of those who rebelled against the Lord. The worms (maggots) consume them. Keep in mind, however, that worms eat and then complete their gruesome business. And keep in mind that the fire really did go out—the fire in the ash heap is still not burning but was extinguished by time and society moving on. In other words, this imagery of maggots and inextinguishable fire is a poetic and visual way of saying that punishment for rebellion lasts only for an age.
The fire may be everlasting (or age-long), but this verse about fiery Gehenna says nothing of burning things forever. The moment a soul touches the fire, it could be consumed like paper.
Sincere and devout and equally intelligent Bible-believing Evangelicals today are shifting their focus away from the eternal, conscious torment in hades (and then the lake of fire), because the eternality of conscious torment does not carry as much weight in Scripture as they had once believed. The two alternative scenarios in the afterlife also have strong Scriptural support, as follows. One theory says that after people are punished in hades for a duration that corresponds to their sins, they will be annihilated or “vaporized” or become nonexistent. They will not be tormented consciously or eternally. The other theory says that unbelievers will be punished in hades to the degree of their deeds on earth; then they will be restored or reconciled to God and admitted into heaven. So hades is a purging of bad character and deeds. It is easy to imagine that 99% of people suffering eternal, conscious torment would take the deal to enter a life of relief in heaven.
Is it possible to mix the latter two theories? If so, then people like your kindhearted grandmother who never got around to completely surrendering to Jesus will be punished for a little while in Gehenna and then restored to God in heaven, while Hitler will be punished for a long time in Gehenna and then vaporized.
For a discussion of all three theories, please see these posts:
Please read a three-part series, each of which has plenty of Scriptural support:
Each theory teaches punishment in the afterlife, but the debate is over the duration of punishment. It may be surprising to many traditional Christians, but the latter two theories have plenty of Scriptural support. But whichever theory you decide on, please don’t call the other theories heretical or unorthodox, particularly if you believe in eternal, conscious torment. The theory of eternal, conscious torment did not gain momentum until Augustine’s time in the fifth century. Until then, church leaders easily believed in the other theories of annihilation or restoration.
Charismatic theologian and Presbyterian minister J. Rodman Williams (d. 2008) says fire and darkness are just metaphors, which cannot be taken literally, for separation from God and punishment:
These two terms, “darkness” and “fire,” that point to the final state of the lost might seem to be opposites, because darkness, even black darkness, suggests nothing like fire or the light of a blazing fire. Thus again we must guard against identifying the particular terms with literal reality, such as a place of black darkness or of blazing fire. Rather, darkness and fire are metaphors that express the profound truth, on the one hand, of terrible estrangement and isolation from God, and on the other, the pain and misery of unrelieved punishment. It is significant that Jesus in His portrayals of darkness and fire often adds the statement “There men will weep and gnash their teeth.” This weeping and gnashing … vividly suggests both suffering and despair. So whether the metaphor is darkness or fire, the picture is indeed a grim one, even beyond the ability of any figure of speech to express.
One further word: both darkness and fire refer to the basic situation of the lost after Last Judgment. However, we have already observed that there will be degrees of punishment; hence in some sense the darkness and fire will not be wholly the same. Some punishment will be more tolerable than other punishment: some people will receive a greater condemnation, while some (to change the figure) will be “beaten with few blows” [Luke 12:48]. Thus we should not understand the overall picture of the state of the lost to exclude differences in degree of punishment. Even as for the righteous in the world to come, there will be varying rewards, so for the unrighteous, the punishment will not be the same. (Renewal Theology, vol. 3, 470-71).
For the record, Williams did not believe in annihilationism (or terminalism or conditionalism) or universal reconciliation (or restorationism).
However, if you insist on taking the darkness and the fire literally, then you may certainly do so.
Personally, I believe that the topic of punishment in the afterlife is secondary or nonessential, so I like this saying:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
Give people space to choose one of these nonessential, Bible-supported theories. You can still have fellowship with them.
For the believers in Jesus, however, they immediately go into heaven after they die to await their rewards (or no rewards) at the judgment for Christians. At this judgment, no believer in Jesus will be thrown into hades, but will remain in heaven and be rewarded (or not) according to the deeds they did in their bodies or on earth.
Finally, as I wrote at Matt. 5:29-30: It is a sad fact that even modern pastors have misinterpreted these verses. I heard one say something like: “I wish Jesus hadn’t said this! I know someone who cut off his hand!” Both the preacher and the guy who mutilated himself were wrong. The latter shouldn’t have done it, and the pastor should have explained it better. Seriously wishing that Jesus didn’t say key words is a defective idea. It’s a signal that someone is misinterpreting the Scriptures.
Scholars are not sure what these verses mean, exactly, but the two verses probably have the background of Lev. 2:13 and salting all sacrifices: “Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your gain offerings; add salt to all your offerings” (NIV). Salt is a purifying agent (see Ezek. 16:4; 43:24). Salt also preserves and seasons and fertilizes. So the disciple must preserve good thing and seasons his life and the lives of others with the good things of the kingdom and contribute to spiritual and moral growth in himself and others.
See my post on Lev. 2, which briefly touches on the “salt of the covenant.”
“becomes unsalty”: Salt in the area had impurities in it. But that’s not Jesus’ point. Instead it’s this: If, hypothetically, something like this were to happen, then how can any human find a solution?
Further, salt is a stable compound, and it does not lose its saltiness necessarily. So two solutions have been proposed: (1) Jesus is speaking hypothetically (If salt were to lose its saltiness, what good would it be?”). (2) Jesus refers to salt near the Dead Sea. Salt there has various compounds, so when “water evaporates, the sodium crystallizes first and can be removed, leaving gypsum and other impurities. What remains is ‘salt’ that has lost its saltiness” (Strauss, p. 415). (3) A third possibility: this saying refers to the salt blocks of Arab bakers. These blocks under the heat eventually crystallize and undergo a chemical change. It is thrown out because it is useless (NET).
“becomes unsalty” is a deliberate hyperbole or surprising image of salt losing its saltiness. True disciples keep their kingdom saltiness and kingdom harmony. Don’t lose your witness–saltiness–by strife and discord.
So what does it mean to be “salted” with “fire”? Fire also purifies. We must live purified lives, even if we have to go through fiery trials or like gold tested by fire and is purified (1 Pet. 1:7).
Jesus then says to have salt among ourselves and be at peace or have peace with one another. This probably refers to eating meals together, in peace. Disciples should not argue over who is the greatest (v. 24), in protecting their own authority (v. 38) or go in for actions that cause little believers to sin (v. 42). Instead, as v. 50 says, we are supposed to be servants of all (v. 35), welcome the unimportant and humble (v. 37) and offer a cup of water to the needy (v. 41), These positive characteristics reveal a true servant-leader and produce peace among the family of God (Strauss, p. 415).
Yet I don’t want to overlook Lev. 2:13 and salting all sacrifices. We are supposed to be sacrificed on the altar of God—sacrificing our selfishness and sinfulness and stubbornness and all sorts of vices that grip the human soul. God salts us with purity and seasoning and growth (fertilizes us) while we allow ourselves to be burned at the altar with fire. Remember, fire purifies and so does salt. If we don’t let the fire and salt purify us, we may be thrown on the ash heap or dump of Gehenna. A severe warning. So let’s surrender to him all of our self and soul and body and allow him to burn the junk and impurities all away with divine fire and then salt us to preserve us and season us and cause growth, so we can preserve and season others and cause growth in others. Then we can have peace with one another—only when our selfishness is burned up and our soul is purified.
Let’s end this chapter with Commentator R.T. France’s explanation of v. 49 about salt and fire:
Their [the worshippers’] dedication to the service of their suffering Messiah is like that of a burnt offering, total and irrevocable. Fire occurs frequently as an image for eschatological suffering. The inclusion of the imagery of salt surprises the modern reader, since fire alone would have made this point. But anyone familiar with sacrificial ritual would not find it out of place. And once introduced, it contributes further nuances. The salt of Lv. 2:13 is described as ‘salt of the covenant with your God’ (cf. ‘covenant of salt’, Nu. 18:19; 2 Ch. 13:5), while in Ex. 30:35 salt, as an ingredient of the sacred incense, is linked with the qualities ‘pure and holy’. These are among the resonances which the striking image of salting with fire might evoke from someone familiar with OT sacrificial language, and indeed with the ritual as it actually continued in Jerusalem up to A.D. 70. In this context it speaks of one who follows Jesus as totally dedicated to God’s service, and warns that such dedication will inevitably be costly in terms of personal suffering.
Summary and Conclusion
The Mount of Transfiguration was a foretaste of the Second Coming or Parousia (pronounced pah-roo-see-ah). So Mark 8:38 and 9:1 are two different but related events. The event in 9:1-8 is a small and brief picture of the coming of the Son of Man with his angels in 8:38. In any case, Peter, James and John now know that Jesus is the Son of God, so they are not confused about Jesus’s true identity. What is confusing them is that he had to suffer and die (v. 32). Why would the promised Messiah, now for sure revealed as the Son of God, of whom God himself said that Jesus was his beloved or loved Son, has to suffer and die? It did not make any sense. The resurrected Jesus himself had to deliver an extended Bible lesson to straighten them out (Luke 24:27, 44-46). Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). Yes, his suffering and death and resurrection were all part of God’s plan.
John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Elijah, and now John’s suffering and death will be a forerunner of Jesus’s suffering and death, but not in exact parallel—but the general idea is the same. Are we disciples ready to go through what Jesus did—suffer and possibly die?
The Pharisees started trouble. The nine disciples could not expel a demon, and the Pharisees must have asked them why they could not. Perhaps the religious leaders even mocked them. Jesus arrived and asked what the issue was. The boy’s father answers for them. Jesus has to take his time to expel a demon from the poor boy, as his father has belief, but then goes back to unbelief. “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” I like that because I experience the same thing. Next, Mark writes about the demonic manifestation four different times in that pericope, indicating how severe the possession was. While the boy was thrown to the ground, Jesus calmly asked how long the demon did that to him. The father said from childhood. Pastors who have a healing and deliverance ministry use this pericope to ask questions before the healing and deliverance comes. I see nothing wrong with their practice.
Then Jesus took action against the demon, when he saw more of the crowd regathering around him. He authoritatively commanded the demon to go and not reenter the child. It is a mystery how a demon can enter a child from a very early age. Yes, he showed signs of epilepsy, a physical ailment, but a demon took advantage of the brain malfunction and possessed the boy. Other than that, we don’t know when and why and how the demon took hold of him from childhood. Parents, you need to pray protection over your children.
In the same context that Jesus tells of his suffering and death and then resurrection, the disciples argue over who will be the greatest in the kingdom. Of course this misses the point. They could not see his suffering and death, but instead were jockeying for the highest position in the new kingdom Jesus was about to usher in, after he overthrew the Romans. Right? Wrong! They need to become like children. In those days children had the lowest status, yet ancient Israel, like other nations was an honor-and-shame nation. One has to avoid shame or public humiliation, and the best way to accomplish this was to honor oneself. They wanted the highest honor in their vision of an earthly kingdom. Jesus showed the path of humility and servanthood.
John protected the sphere of the twelve by rebuking a man who successfully expelled demons in Jesus’s name. The other eleven joined John in telling the stranger to stop. Jesus told them the unnamed disciple was doing well and had success. The man was not far from the kingdom and would not speak badly of the Messiah. The man recognized there was power in Jesus’s name.
Finally, Jesus uses hyperbole to emphasize how important it is to deal with sin—remove it ruthlessly, just as ruthlessly as if you had to remove a hand, foot or eye. No, this is not to be taken literally, because Judaism forbad self-mutilation. Instead the lesson is moral, not physical. He then uses salt and fire as physical objects to teach spiritual and moral truths. Salt preserves, fertilizes, seasons, and cleans. The application to our lives is obvious now. We need to preserve our faith, our bodies, and other people from their doom and destruction. We need to allow God to grow us (the function of fertilizers). We need to be seasoned with grace and truth. And we need to cleanse our lives from sin. Fire is also a purifying agent. It burns away our sin and selfishness. Both salt and fire appear in the context of sacrifices in the OT (e.g. Lev. 2:13). We must allow God to burn away our self and consume us like burnt offerings. As usual, Jesus taught with physical objects to convey spiritual and moral truths (note the parables, for numerous examples). The Bible can be taken literally in most books (e.g. the history books and the commands in the Torah and large portions of the four Gospels and Epistles), but even scattered throughout those books, some passages cannot be taken literally. The Bible is not one-dimensional or flat. It is multi-layered.
The people of God must learn to interpret the Bible properly.
Now on to the next chapter, where we find Jesus heading towards Jerusalem.
Decker, Rodney J. Mark 9-16: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor UP, 2014).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Eerdmans, 2002).
Garland, David E. Mark: The NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 1996).
Lane, William L. Mark: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Eerdmans, 1974).
Strauss, Mark L. Mark: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2014).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 1993).
Wessel, Walter W. and Mark L. Strauss. Mark: The Bible’s Expositor’s Commentary, Vol. 9, Rev. ed. (Zondervan 2010).