Friday, March 08, 2013

Mark 9:2–13

Mark 9:2–13 (ESV): The Transfiguration


In the last passage Jesus had made a comment that some people would not taste death before they saw the kingdom of God come in power; the most common interpretation of that comment that I’ve heard is that he was referring to the event that takes place in this passage: The Transfiguration.

Jesus brings Peter, James and John up onto a high mountain, and is transfigured before them. We’re not told all of the details about what is different in Jesus’ appearance; Mark focuses on the fact that his clothes have become intensely white, whiter than anyone could possibly bleach them.

Not only has Jesus’ appearance changed, but Elijah and Moses also appear, and are talking to Jesus. The whole situation is terrifying to Peter, James and John, and Peter, not knowing what to say, offers to make three tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses.

I don’t know how long Moses and Elijah are there talking with Jesus, or how long his appearance is transfigured, but at some point a cloud overshadows them and a voice comes out of it, saying, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (verse 7 (ESV)). With that, everything goes back to normal and when the disciples look around they see that Elijah and Moses are gone.

As the come back down the mountain Jesus charges them to tell nobody what they’ve seen “until the Son of Man [has] risen from the dead,” but the disciples don’t understand “what this rising from the dead might mean” (verses 9–10 (ESV)). They don’t ask Jesus about that, though, instead they ask him a different question:

And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” (verses 11–13 (ESV))


Although we are not told much about Jesus’ appearance in this passage (other than his clothes), it seems obvious to me that what the disciples are seeing is Jesus as He truly is: the Son of God. Or, if not fully as he is, they’re at least seeing a glimpse of it; more than they usually see.

When Elijah and Moses appear, in a sense they are representing all of Old Testament history up to this point; Elijah representing the prophets and Moses representing the Law. (It’s not an original thought to me, but I’ve heard it mentioned that this is Moses’ chance to finally step foot in the Promised Land, since he was originally denied entry by God for his sin.)

When it comes to the disciples understanding (or not understanding) the events that were about to happen with Jesus’ crucifixion, it is becoming painfully obvious that the Spirit isn’t opening their eyes to what is about to happen; I think of God “hardening Pharoah’s heart” in Exodus, as a similar example. Jesus is telling the disciples plainly, over and over, that he is going to be executed and rise on the third day; in the last passage he told them so plainly that the rebuked him, thinking that could never happen, yet here he is mentioning that is is going to rise from the dead and they still don’t understand. When this keeps happening over and over again, it makes it impossible to think that I’m smarter than them, or that they were just stupid; this is obviously the work (or lack thereof) of God.

When Jesus says that Elijah has come, he doesn’t seem to be referring to the appearance of Elijah that we just saw a few minutes ago on the mountain, he is actually talking about John the Baptist. That would probably be more clear if Jesus hadn’t, literally, been physically talking to Elijah shortly before, but the fact that Jesus is mentioning that “they did to Elijah whatever they pleased,” which didn’t happen a few minutes ago on the mountain, makes it clear that Jesus is referring to something/someone else.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Mark 8:27–9:1

Mark 8:27–9:1 (ESV): Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ, and Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection


I’m combining these passages together because… well, let’s face it, any time people talk about these passages they always talk about them together. It’s just a perfect opportunity to contrast a very good reaction from Peter with a very bad reaction from Peter. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The passage starts with Jesus talking to his disciples. He asks them who people say that he is, and the disciples give a few answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. So then Jesus makes it more personal and asks them who they say he is, and Peter answers: “You are the Christ” (verse 29 (ESV)). In the parallel passage in Matthew, Jesus highly commends Peter for this answer:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17–19 (ESV))
That’s not recorded in this passage, Jesus simply tells the disciples not to tell anyone about him.

He then starts to get very explicit in explaining to them what is about to happen:

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. (verses 31–32a (ESV))
Peter, however, is having none of this, and “rebukes” Jesus (verse 32 (ESV)). You might expect that rebuking the Son of God would not go over well, and you’d be right: he first turns to see the disciples—the ESV Study Bible notes indicate that this means Jesus is making sure to include all of them in his rebuke, which I think is probably right—and tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (verse 33 (ESV)). You can see why this passage contrasts so plainly with the first one; Jesus goes from praising Peter to calling him Satan!

But the suffering doesn’t stop with Jesus. After this blistering rebuke of the disciples Jesus calls the crowd together, and tells them that anyone who follows him needs to deny himself, and “take up his cross” and follow Jesus—in other words, be willing to die.

Then, in a pretty familiar passage, Jesus says:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (verses 35–38 (ESV))
Finally, Jesus tells his listeners that the kingdom of God is quite imminent: that there are people standing right there with him who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God “after it has come with power” (verse 9:1 (ESV)).


One of the things I like about this passage is how plain Jesus is speaking to his disciples about his imminent crucifixion. There are numerous passages in the Gospels where Jesus tries to explain these things to the disciples ahead of time and they don’t get it; in this passage he’s being as explicit as possible. However, instead of having an “aha” moment and finally believing him, they simply disregard him and assume that he must be wrong. And to be clear, though it is Peter speaking, I’m sure they are all in agreement with him.

Speaking of Peter, I’m sure his praise from Jesus for recognizing him as the Messiah is probably what prompts Peter to be so bold in this passage. Jesus has just finished confirming that yes, he’s the Messiah, so… surely he’s not going to suffer many things, or be killed. (Somehow I think the disciples just plain missed the part about him rising from the dead.)

I wonder, when reading this passage, if Jesus calls Peter “Satan” because Peter is tempting Jesus to forgo his crucifixion. This is yet another case where the fact that Jesus is fully man and fully God adds some room for confusion, for me, and I wonder if the “man” part of Jesus is being tempted to skip something that he obviously doesn’t want to do—we see that in Gethsemane. I don’t mean “tempted” in the sinful sense, that Jesus was really thinking about not doing it, I mean “tempted” in an external sense: Satan tempted Jesus in the dessert, but Jesus wasn’t tempted to do the things Satan suggested; Peter tempted Jesus here, but Jesus wasn’t tempted to do what Peter suggests. And to be clear, it would have been in Jesus’ power to not go through with it; he allowed himself to be crucified, which means that he could have decided not to allow it.

Later on, when Jesus talks about losing one’s life vs. saving it, we have to remember that he is using the word “life” in different ways; there is our earthly life, while we’re on this planet, which is inextricably tied to sin, and there is our eternal life with God (or lack thereof). If you cling to this life, you are going to forfeit the eternal life with God, but giving up your sinful life—dying to your sin—will bring you eternal life with God. When Jesus says that “whoever would save his life will lose it,” there is also a bit of a double meaning: If you cling to life on this planet, you have to be aware that no matter what you do, no matter how much you enjoy yourself or avoid enjoyment, no matter what you do or refrain from doing, however you choose to life your life, you are going to die.

Finally, when Jesus talks about those who will “not taste death” before they see the “kingdom of God after it has come with power,” this is a potentially confusing statement. The most common interpretation I’ve seen is that Jesus is talking about the three disciples who were with him and saw the Transfiguration; they actually saw Jesus as He is, God Incarnate. The post on Matthew 16:24–28 listed some other possible interpretations of this statement.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Mark 8:22–26

Mark 8:22–26 (ESV): Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida


I don’t have much to say about this passage because it’s so similar in nature to 7:31–37; in that passage Jesus healed a deaf man and in this passage he heals a blind man, but the circumstances are very similar:
  • He brings both men to a more isolated place to perform the healing
  • In both cases Jesus has to do something, rather than just saying “be healed” and having the men be healed
  • In both cases Jesus tells the men to keep it to themselves, though they may or may not have the same reaction. (In the 7:31–37 passage the people don’t follow Jesus’ direction, but we’re not told here whether they do or don’t. For the sake of giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’ll go ahead and assume that they listen to him and do what he says…)


As mentioned above, I don’t have anything interesting to add that I wouldn’t already have said for the 7:31–37 passage. Except that I smile whenever I read verse 24 (ESV); Jesus asks the man if he sees anything, and the man says, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.”

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Mark 8:14–21

Mark 8:14–21 (ESV): The Leaven of the Pharisees and Herod


When it comes to the differences between different Protestant denominations, or between Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christians and Mormons, or between Covenant Theology and New Covenant Theology, I think a lot of our disagreements come from differences of opinion as to when a specific passage should be taken literally vs. taken figuratively. This is a very blatant example of Jesus using a metaphor which his disciples think should be taken literally.

The metaphor is that Jesus warns the disciples to beware of “the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (verse 15 (ESV)). What he means is that the disciples should beware of the teachings of the Pharisees and Herod; the ESV Study Bible notes say that he is referring to their self-centred self-reliance, which I think is a good explanation. (They also point out 1 Corinthians 5:6–7 (ESV), where we’re told that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump,” which also seems applicable here.)

Unfortunately, the disciples have forgotten to bring bread and have only one loaf to share, and this seems to be on their minds, so they assume that Jesus is telling them this because they have no bread. They seem to think that Jesus is worried that they’re going to borrow yeast from the Pharisees or Herod to make some more.

Jesus is not amused, however.

And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (verses 16–21 (ESV))


This passage is remarkable, to me, simply because of how short Jesus is with the disciples. It’s one of those passages where you can just hear the tone of Jesus’ voice, when he asks them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?” He’s exasperated with them; why does he have to keep explaining things to them? Why are they not understanding? Why are they so slow of heart? It’s true that he’s not using the type of scathing language he uses with the Pharisees, whom he calls vipers and hypocrites and other such names, but he is clearly expecting that the disciples should understand what he is saying in this instance, and they don’t.

To me, there is a simple and obvious lesson that comes from this passage: When we read our Bibles, we should really pray for the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and our ears, to hear what is being said and to see the truth of it. We may have no idea what spiritual lessons we’re missing; we won’t know that we missed them until we understand, and then we can look back and realize that we’d been misunderstanding them. It’s true that we don’t have Jesus physically here with us, to explain our misunderstandings and correct our mistakes, but the Bible tells us that we don’t need that—we have the Word, and we have the Holy Spirit. We just have to make use of these gifts.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Mark 8:11–13

Mark 8:11–13 (ESV): The Pharisees Demand a Sign


Jesus has just fed the four thousand, then gotten into a boat and travelled somewhere else. When he lands the Pharisees find him, and begin to argue with him, demanding “a sign from heaven to test him” (verse 11 (ESV)).

Jesus’ response is to sigh “deeply in his spirit,” and ask aloud why this generation seeks a sign—and then to follow up by declaring that no sign will be given to it (verse 12 (ESV)). He then gets right back into his boat, and heads for the other side of the sea.


A fairly short passage, partially because Jesus simply refuses to interact with the Pharisees on this point. “Give us a sign from heaven that you are you who say you are!” they demand. “No,” Jesus replies.

Regular blog readers might be used to me trying to give the Pharisees the benefit of the doubt; I’ll do so again: On a certain level, you can see where the Pharisees are coming from. Jesus is making some big claims, claims that, if true, fundamentally change their entire relationship with God. What proof does He offer that these claims are true? I don’t think Jesus’ issue with the Pharisees is with this line of thinking; I don’t think He’d even disagree with them on this… up to a point. But by this point there have been a number of proofs offered, combining Jesus’ miraculous power with His knowledge of the Scriptures. The Pharisees should have had enough, by this point, to believe. If they didn’t, it must have been because they refused to believe—and in that case, what miracle could Jesus perform, what argument could He offer, what divine sign from the Father could he show, that would force them to give up their stubbornness? If the Pharisees were open to believing they would have done so by now; if they don’t, it’s because they weren’t open to believing.

This is directly applicable to people in our day. We’ve all known people who say that they’d believe if they just had proof, or if they could just see it with their own eyes. The Bible teaches us, however, that no amount of proof will be enough to soften a heart which is hard, whereas God is able to soften any heart that He wants. In other words, it’s not the amount or quality of the proof, it’s only a question of the work of the Holy Spirit: where He has softened a heart a person will believe, and where He hasn’t a person will refuse to believe. (This is good news when we give the Gospel. It means that all we have to do is deliver as much truth as we can, and let the Holy Spirit work; it’s not up to us to do all of the work of convincing someone to believe, though we should definitely try. At the end of the day, even if we explain things poorly, the Spirit can still use that to open a person’s heart.)

As for someone refusing to believe unless they see with their own eyes, I wonder: Does this mean that Jesus would need to come back, die for our sins, and rise from the dead in every single generation, so that people would believe in Him? As soon as a generation or two has gone by, people would be starting to doubt the accounts of His coming and rising from the dead, so it would have to be a repeat performance for Him to convince people generation after generation.

The fact is, although the Bible does offer proofs of its authenticity, the main thrust is not to convince us through argument, it’s to promote faith. By no means are we required to follow blindly, we should think about the things that we believe, and wrestle with difficult passages of the Bible, but neither is it ultimately up to us to be convinced. It’s up to us to have faith in God. This issue of trust vs. faith always brings me back to God leading the people out of Egypt; He parts the Red Sea, drowns Pharoah’s army, and then physically leads His people in their travels as a pillar of fire. He brings the people to a mountain and speaks to them, delivering the Ten Commandments. At this point the Israelites had no doubt whatsoever that there was a God, and that He had delivered them out of Egypt. Then God and Moses leave them alone for a little while, and the people immediately fashion an idol for themselves, and start giving it credit for their deliverance out of Egypt. In the entire history of the world I don’t think anyone ever had more proof of God’s existence than they did, but it wasn’t enough for them to trust Him.

By nature we’re all like that, to a greater or lesser extent.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Mark 8:1–10

Mark 8:1–10 (ESV): Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand


The last passage was interesting (to me) not because of what Jesus did, but because of how he did it. This passage is interesting to me not because of what happens (though it is a true miracle), but because of what came before. How can we not read this passage without thinking about 6:30–44 in which Jesus fed the 5,000? With that event in mind it’s completely shocking when…

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Similar to the previous miraculous healing, this episode begins with Jesus teaching a large crowd in a remote place, and him then having compassion on them because they have nothing to eat. It might even be worse this time because Jesus mentions that the crowd has been with him for three days; he tells his disciples that he’s afraid to send them home for fear that they might faint with hunger on the way. In the previous feeding Jesus had told his disciples to feed the crowd, but in this instance he doesn’t even get that far: they preempt his question before he can even ask it, and ask him how they can possibly feed this crowd.

Similar to the previous passage, Jesus asks them how much bread they have, has the crowd sit, and divides the bread amongst the people. Similarly, there are also some fish, which he also divides among them. At the end they end up with seven baskets of leftovers.

Jesus then sends the crowd away, and moves on to his next destination.


The parallels between this passage and the previous one are startling; if both stories weren’t in the same book—for example if Matthew had written about the feeding of the 5,000 and Mark had written about the feeding of the 4,000—I would have thought that it was the same incident with a simple disagreement about the size of the crowd. The two events are almost exactly the same, so that’s why I’m so flabbergasted when the disciples seem to have the same reaction they had the first time: “How are we supposed to feed all of these people?!?” When they had that reaction the first time I can understand it; whenever Jesus did anything new that they hadn’t seen before I can understand them being shocked. But in this case they’re in exactly the same situation they were the first time, so why would they be shocked that Jesus is going to do this?

Well… almost the same situation. In this case, just to make the irony even deeper, the crowd is smaller and they start off with more food than they’d had the last time.

The only thing I can think of is that when they ask Jesus, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” (verse 4 (ESV)), maybe it was an honest question. Meaning that they weren’t being disbelieving, they were honestly asking Jesus, “how do you want to go about this?” It doesn’t sound that way, the way it’s worded, but it’s possible.

And to nail the point home, before I start feeling superior to the disciples, how many times do we all do this? Get into a situation we’ve been in numerous times before, and then start to wonder how God could possibly get us out of it? Sometimes it seems silly or strange when someone else does it, but not when we ourselves do it.