The confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders has escalated. The Pharisees are watching Jesus on the Sabbath, hoping that he will do something that they can condemn. Jesus frustrates their plan by involving them in the decision to heal the man. Their anger drove the Pharisees to break the Sabbath by plotting Jesus’ murder. They commit the very sin they want to pin on him.
Jesus Heals a Man’s Hand on the Sabbath / 3:1-6
3:1-2 As was his regular custom (noted by the word again), Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath (see 3:2). As Jesus entered, he noticed a man with a deformed hand. Luke adds that it was the man’s right hand (Luke 6:6). Jesus’ enemies were the Pharisees (3:6). They were spying on Jesus with the intention of finding some fault in his actions so that they could condemn him.
Jesus’ reputation for healing (even on the Sabbath, see 1:21-26) preceded him, but would he dare heal on the Sabbath with the Pharisees watching? God’s law prohibited work on the seventh day of the week (Exodus 31:14-17); so, the religious leaders allowed no healing to be done on the Sabbath unless the person’s life was in danger. Healing, they argued, was practicing medicine, and a person could not practice his or her profession on the Sabbath.
3:3 Jesus didn’t avoid a confrontation with his adversaries; he needed to make the important point that he would not be bound by the Pharisees’ burdensome laws and that, as God, he would perform an act of kindness and healing, even on the Sabbath. So Jesus commanded the man with the deformed hand to come to the center of the crowd so everyone could see him and his deformity. The Pharisees would not miss anything of what Jesus was about to do.
3:4 To Jesus it didn’t matter that this man’s life was not threatened by the condition of his hand; it didn’t matter that he could have waited until the next day to perform this healing legally. If Jesus had waited until another day, he would have been submitting to the Pharisees’ authority, showing that their petty rules were equal to God’s law. God is a God of people, not of rules.
So Jesus asked a rhetorical question: “Is it legal to do good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing harm?” But the Pharisees wouldn’t answer him, for to answer would have left them without an accusation to pin on Jesus. Their own laws allowed people to do good and to save life on the Sabbath—the farmer who could rescue his only sheep from a pit on the Sabbath knew that (see Matthew 12:11-12). How absurd, then, to refuse to allow a person to do good to another person on the Sabbath.
3:5 The religious leaders, the guardians of the Jewish faith, the keepers of the law, the teachers of the people—these men with their hard hearts were so spiritually and morally blind and hardened that they could not see who Jesus really was, and they could not even acknowledge a man’s need and rejoice in his healing. No wonder Jesus was angry and disturbed. But the Pharisees’ stubbornness didn’t matter. Jesus planned to make his point and to heal this man. So Jesus told the man to reach out his hand.
In response to Jesus’ command and with all eyes focused on him, the man stretched his hand out in front of him. The moment he did so, it became normal again. Jesus gave this man his life back. He could work again, and he no longer had to face the embarrassment of his deformity.
3:6 No particular action of Jesus is recorded; he told the man to move and with that movement, healing arrived. Jesus did nothing that could be called “work,” but the Pharisees would not be swayed from their purpose. Jesus had embarrassed them. In their fury, the only option they saw was to kill him. Ironically, the Pharisees had accused Jesus of breaking their law about healing on the Sabbath, yet they themselves were discussing plans for killing Jesus. Their hatred, combined with their zeal for the law, drove them to plot murder—an act that was clearly against the law.
In an unlikely alliance, the Pharisees plotted with the supporters of Herod (or Herodians), a Jewish political party that hoped to restore Herod the Great’s line to the throne. Their support of Rome’s leadership over Palestine brought them into direct conflict with the Jewish religious leaders. These two groups had little in common—until Jesus posed a threat to them both. Jesus threatened the Pharisees’ authority over the people; Jesus threatened the Herodians’ political ambitions because his talk of a “kingdom” caused them to think that this popular and powerful man was planning to set himself up as a ruler. This would jeopardize their authority derived from Herod’s power. To get rid of Jesus, the Pharisees needed the support of people with some influence with the secular leaders. So the Pharisees and Herodians, normally enemies, joined forces to discuss how to get rid of Jesus.
Large Crowds Follow Jesus / 3:7-12
In contrast to the rejection of Jesus by certain religious leaders, Mark described the attraction and adoration of Christ by the crowds. Mark’s details provide us a picture of the context of Jesus’ ministry. People were coming from literally every direction (from Tyre and Sidon in the north; from Judea, Jerusalem, and Idumea in the far south; from across the Jordan in the east). From this whirlwind of activity, Mark highlighted a number of smaller interactions between Jesus and those around him. The character of Jesus emerges under the constant scrutiny and demand of the crowds. Jesus was rarely alone.
3:7 Up to this point, Jesus had been aggressively confronting the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. Then he decided to withdraw from the synagogue before a major confrontation developed, because it was not time for him to die. Jesus had many lessons still to teach his disciples and the people. So he went out to the lake (that is, to the Sea of Galilee), followed by a huge crowd. The actual twelve disciples had not yet been called, but those closest to Jesus were marked as following him. They had separated themselves from the religious establishment and were sharing in the glow of Jesus’ popularity.
3:8 While Jesus was drawing fire from the religious leaders, he was gaining great popularity among the people—they came literally from all directions. News of Jesus had spread far beyond Galilee. People came from Judea (the southernmost region of Israel), Jerusalem (the key city of Israel, in Judea), Idumea (the region south of Judea), east of the Jordan River (which probably refers to Perea and Decapolis), and Tyre and Sidon (pagan cities to the far north on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea). The people came for various reasons with various motives. Some were simply curious, some sought healing, some wanted evidence to use against him, and others truly wanted to know if Jesus was the Messiah. Most of them could only dimly guess at the real meaning of what was happening among them.
3:9-10 Only Mark recorded this detail, suggesting that this was an eyewitness report from one of the disciples whom Jesus asked (possibly Peter). This boat was about the size of a rowboat. As Jesus walked along the shoreline with the crowds following, the little boat was rowed along close to the shore so it would always be ready in case the people crowded Jesus right into the water. Jesus’ reputation for healing had spread everywhere (see 3:8), and many sick people came from great distances just to touch Jesus and be healed. Picture people in the throng crowding around and shoving each other out of the way, reaching out at Jesus. They were so desperate to be healed that such rudeness made no difference.
3:11-12 Mark described a second encounter between Jesus and evil spirits (see also 1:23-24). The demons recognized who Jesus was, and whenever a possessed person saw Jesus, he or she would fall down in front of him, not in worship, but shrieking to everyone, “You are the Son of God!” The demons recognized Jesus and feared him (see James 2:19). They knew his power, and they were aware that he had the authority to cast them out of their lodgings (inside a person) and even to send them away permanently (see 5:9-10). Jesus didn’t want or need the demons to endorse him. His true identity would be revealed at the right time, at his resurrection. So, he spoke sternly to the demons and warned them not to say who he was (see also note 1:25).
Ironically, the demons recognized who Jesus was but the people didn’t. Jesus warned the evil (unclean) spirits not to reveal his identity because he did not want them to reinforce a popular misconception. The huge crowds were looking for a political and military leader who would free them from Rome’s control, and they thought that the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament prophets would be this kind of man. Jesus wanted to teach the people about the kind of Messiah he really was, because he was far different from what they expected. Christ’s Kingdom is spiritual. It begins, not with the overthrow of governments, but with the overthrow of sin in people’s hearts.
Jesus Chooses the Twelve Disciples / 3:13-19
Earlier in this Gospel, Jesus invited several persons to follow him (1:16-19; 2:14). Soon hundreds and thousands of others also tracked Jesus’ steps. Some were curious, some critical, and some were committed. From among all of them Jesus chose twelve.
The better we know the disciples, the more we come to see that God might actually choose us, too. Grace does not make humanness a disqualifying characteristic. As disappointing as the disciples may have been, they leave room for us to hope. When we are aware of our unworthiness to merit God’s mercy and love, we are in the best position to experience what he can do for us.
3:13 Jesus left the shore of the Sea of Galilee and went up on a mountain (probably referring to the hill country of Galilee instead of to one particular mountain). Luke records that Jesus “prayed to God all night” (Luke 6:12) before calling the ones he wanted to go with him—that is, the twelve disciples. Jesus did not take volunteers; he chose and called those he wanted. Jesus wanted these men; so he called them, and they came to him. They did not hesitate to obey.
3:14-15 Jesus had many disciples (learners), but he selected twelve of them to be his regular companions, calling them apostles (messengers). The apostles were Jesus’ inner circle. He gave them special training, and he sent them out with his own authority. From the hundreds of people who followed Jesus from place to place, he especially selected these twelve to receive the most intense training. We see the impact of these men throughout the rest of the New Testament, for they started the Christian church.
The choice of twelve men is highly symbolic. The number twelve corresponds to the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), showing the continuity between the old religious system and the new one based on Jesus’ message. Jesus looked upon this as the gathering of the true people of God. These men were the righteous remnant who would carry on the work the twelve tribes were chosen to do—to build the community of God.
Jesus did not choose these twelve to be his disciples because of their faith—it often faltered. He didn’t choose them because of their talent and ability—no one stood out with unusual ability. The disciples represented a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences, but apparently they may have had no more leadership potential than those who were not chosen. The one characteristic they all shared was their willingness to obey Jesus.
The apostles remained with Jesus for the purpose of being trained, so that Jesus could then send them out as his ambassadors or representatives to preach. Their message was the Good News of salvation; they were to proclaim that message publicly and with the authority given to them by Christ himself. Not only did the disciples go out trained in the message of the gospel, they also had Jesus’ authority to cast out demons. This power was given to the disciples by Jesus; it was delegated authority. The disciples could speak the word, and God’s power would cast out the demons.
3:16 Mark listed these disciples by name or family name (“son of”). It is interesting to note the almost complete silence of the Gospels and the Epistles as to the future work of the vast majority of these twelve men. We know some about Peter, James, and John in the book of Acts; we know from 3:19 that Judas would betray Jesus. Otherwise, the Bible is silent about many of the disciples’ activities. One reason for this silence is that many of the twelve apostles, according to tradition, went far beyond the regions focused on in the book of Acts and the Epistles.
The first name recorded was Simon, whom Jesus renamed Peter (see John 1:42). Jesus gave him a name in addition to the one he already had—he did not change Simon’s name. Sometimes Peter is referred to as Cephas. “Peter” is the Greek equivalent of the Aramaic Cephas—a word meaning stone or rock. Peter had been a fisherman (1:16). He became one of three in Jesus’ core group among the disciples. He also confessed that Jesus was the Messiah (8:29). Although Peter would deny ever knowing Jesus, he would eventually become a leader in the Jerusalem church, write two letters that appear in the Bible (1 and 2 Peter), and be crucified for his faith.
3:17 James and John had also been fishermen (1:19). James would become the first martyr for the Christian faith (Acts 12:2). John would write the Gospel of John, the letters of 1, 2, and 3 John, and the book of Revelation. They may have been related to Jesus (distant cousins); so, at one point they requested special places in Christ’s Kingdom (10:35, 37). These brothers were nicknamed Sons of Thunder. Scripture gives glimpses of these men, revealing that they were somewhat short-tempered and judgmental; for example, they wanted to call fire down from heaven on an inhospitable Samaritan village (Luke 9:52-56). So Jesus gave them an appropriate name.
3:18-19 Andrew was Peter’s brother and also a fisherman (1:16). Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist. He left John to follow Jesus, and then brought his brother Simon Peter to Jesus (John 1:35-39). Philip was the fourth to meet Jesus (John 1:43). Philip probably knew Andrew and Peter because they were from the same town, Bethsaida (John 1:44). Philip then brought Bartholomew (also called Nathanael) as recorded in John 1:45-47. Bartholomew at first rejected Jesus because Jesus was from Nazareth. But upon meeting Jesus, his attitude changed (John 1:49). Matthew was also known as Levi. He had been a tax collector (Mark 2:14). He had been a despised outcast because of his dishonest career, but he abandoned that corrupt (though lucrative) way of life to follow Jesus. He would later write the Gospel of Matthew. Thomas is sometimes called “Doubting Thomas” because he doubted Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:24-25). But he also loved the Lord and was a man of great courage (John 11:16). Thomas was tough and committed, even if he tended to be pessimistic. So, when the other disciples said that Jesus was alive, Thomas didn’t believe them. However, when Thomas saw and touched the living Christ, doubting Thomas became believing Thomas. James is designated as son of Alphaeus to differentiate him from James the son of Zebedee (and brother of John) in 3:17. Thaddaeus is also called “Judas son of James” (see Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13). Simon was probably not a member of the party of Zealots, for that political party did not appear until a.d. 68. Most likely the word Zealot used here indicates zeal for God’s honor and not extreme nationalism; it was an affectionate nickname.
The name Iscariot is probably a compound word meaning “the man from Kerioth.” So, Judas’s hometown was Kerioth in southern Judea (see Joshua 15:25), making him the only one of the Twelve who was not from Galilee. It was Judas, son of Simon Iscariot (John 6:71), who betrayed Jesus to his enemies and then committed suicide (Luke 22:47-48; Matthew 27:3-5).
Mark presents a paradoxical picture of the disciples. They doubted and they failed, yet they were used to build the church. Some died for him, one betrayed him. The message is, what kind of disciple will you be?
Religious Leaders Accuse Jesus of Getting His Power from Satan / 3:20-30
Mark never allowed his readers to get far from the fact that Jesus’ ministry was constantly being opposed. He balanced Jesus’ choice of disciples with the evolving group of opposition. The religious leadership chose to add the accusation of demon possession. He neutralized his enemies’ charge with a counterattack. How, he asked them, could he possibly be serving Satan when his presence and his actions were causing such devastating damage to Satan’s kingdom? Further, he pointed out that their failure to recognize the Spirit, under whose influence he was actually operating, indicated that they were committing the unforgivable sin. By identifying the Holy Spirit as Satan in Jesus’ life, the religious leaders were committing unspeakable blasphemy.
3:20 The house Jesus entered was most likely in Capernaum and may have, once again, been Peter’s house. As had happened twice previously, crowds began to gather (see 1:33; 2:1-2). Again, the demand of the people in the crowd made it impossible for Jesus and the disciples to have any quiet, to spend time in training, or even to eat.
3:21 Thinking Jesus had gone out of his mind, his family came to him. John recorded that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5), although some later did believe (Acts 1:14). In fact, Jesus’ brother James became one of the leaders in the church in Jerusalem and the writer of the book of James. Mary believed that her son was special, but she didn’t understand his mission. Perhaps she thought the situation was getting out of hand, and she needed to protect her son from himself, from the demands of his ministry, or even from the relentless crowds. Jesus’ family decided that they needed to take him home with them.
3:22 These teachers of religious law probably had been summoned by the Pharisees and Herodians who were already in league to destroy Jesus (3:6). The teachers and Pharisees could not deny the reality of Jesus’ miracles and supernatural power—he had indeed been driving out demons. But they refused to believe that his power was from God because then they would have had to accept him as the Messiah. Their pride would not let them do that. So in an attempt to destroy Jesus’ popularity among the people, the teachers accused him of being possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That is why, they said, he was able to cast out demons.
3:23-26 Jesus first addressed their second accusation—that he was driving out demons by Satan’s power—by simply asking, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” By the question, Jesus implied that it is impossible for Satan to cast out himself (or his own followers, demons). Why would Satan work against himself? Following the obvious conclusion of the accusation—that Satan was driving himself out of people—Jesus indicates that would then mean there was civil war in the kingdom of evil. His kingdom would then collapse. In the same way, a home, with people working against one another, is doomed. The answer to Jesus’ question is that Satan doesn’t and would not cast out his own, for to do so would mean the end of his power. He would never survive. The teachers’ charge that Jesus was driving out demons by Satan’s power was obviously false. But Jesus wasn’t finished.
3:27 This picture reflects a situation in the ancient world where wealthy people’s homes were virtual fortresses, and their servants could form a small army. Jesus pictured Satan as the wealthy man and his demons as his servants and possessions. The only way those possessions could be carried off would be for someone to first tie up the strong man—the only way for the demons to be cast out is for someone to first limit Satan’s power. Satan would not do that to himself.
Although God permits Satan to work in our world, God is in control. Jesus, as God, has “tied up” Satan; Jesus is able to drive out demons and end their terrible work in people’s lives. As such, every exorcism was a binding of Satan; one day Satan will be bound forever (Revelation 20:10). Jesus was not in league with Satan, as the teachers of the law tried to claim; rather, he had overpowered Satan by refusing his temptations and by constantly freeing people held in Satan’s grasp—either through demon possession or through the power of sin.
3:28-30 I assure you is a recurring phrase used only by Jesus prior to a solemn warning or pronouncement. No longer was Jesus reasoning with his accusers; he was giving them a solemn warning. Jesus had just been accused of being in league with Satan and had soundly refuted those charges. Here he had a few words for these so-called teachers of religious law, the Jewish leaders.
First he made the incredible promise that any sin can be forgiven, including blasphemy. Too often people miss this promise and worry about the warning in the next verse. But the fact is, those who believe in Jesus will be forgiven of all sins (evil acts, wrong actions, good actions not done, evil thoughts, evil motives, etc.) and of all blasphemies (evil words said against God). When there is confession and repentance, no sin is beyond God’s forgiveness.
There is one sin, however, that cannot be forgiven. Anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit refers not so much to a single action or word as to an attitude. Those who defiantly deny Jesus’ divine power and instead attribute it to Satan are blaspheming the Holy Spirit (see also Matthew 12:32). Jesus was not talking about rejecting him, but of rejecting the power behind him. Jewish history tells us that Jesus’ generation acknowledged that he performed miracles but that he did it by the power of the devil. So, the Jewish leaders rejected him as being the Messiah and thereby blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ words were addressed directly to these teachers of religious law because they were saying he had an evil spirit. They had blasphemed the Spirit by attributing the power by which Christ did miracles to Satan instead of to the Holy Spirit. This is the unforgivable sin—the deliberate refusal to acknowledge God’s power in Christ. It indicates an irreversible hardness of heart. Deliberate, ongoing rejection of the work of the Holy Spirit is blasphemy because it is rejecting God himself. The religious leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy (see also 14:63-64), but ironically they were the guilty ones when they looked Jesus in the face and accused him of being possessed by Satan.
Sometimes believers worry that they have accidentally committed this unforgivable sin. But only those who have turned their back on God and rejected all faith have any need to worry. Jesus said they can’t be forgiven—not because their sin is worse than any other, but because they will never ask for forgiveness.
Jesus Describes His True Family / 3:31-35
Jesus turned his rejection by his family into a compassionate invitation to recognize his true nature. They came to claim him as their family member; he challenged them to be members of God’s true family. The conflict between Jesus and his family continues in our lives. Do we avoid Jesus’ claim on us as the powerful Lord by reducing him to friendship status? Jesus is our friend and brother, but he is also our Lord. By treating him as any less, we may be neutralizing his rightful ownership of our thoughts and actions.
3:31-33 This verse continues from 3:20-21 when Jesus’ family arrived to take him home because he was “out of his mind.” Jesus’ mother was Mary (Luke 1:30-31), and his brothers were probably the other children Mary and Joseph had after Jesus (see also 6:3).
Apparently Mary had gathered her family, and they went to find Jesus. Mary hoped to use her personal relationship with Jesus to influence him. She saw her son occupied in a busy ministry that was taking its toll on him—to the point that he had no time to eat (3:20). They arrived at the house but could not get in. So they stood outside and sent their message in to Jesus. Obviously Jesus’ family thought that their relationship with him precluded all others and that he would immediately answer their request.
Instead of immediately going outside to see what his family members wanted, Jesus looked at the crowd and asked an odd question, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Jesus knew why his family had come, and he wasn’t about to be dragged home because they thought he’d gone crazy. So he used their visit as a lesson in discipleship. A relationship with Jesus is not limited to those in his immediate family. Jesus opened this relationship to all people.
3:34-35 Jesus looked at those seated around him (not the entire crowd, but probably his disciples who were seated closest to him) and answered his own question. The types of people who can have a relationship with him are those who listen, learn, believe, and follow. In these words, “These are my mother and brothers,” Jesus explained that in his spiritual family, the relationships are ultimately more important and longer lasting than those formed in his physical family. The key to discipleship in Mark’s Gospel is radical obedience to God’s will. While Jesus looked upon his disciples seated around him as members of his family, he broadened the scope to include anyone who does God’s will.
Jesus was not denying his responsibility to his earthly family. On the contrary, he was criticizing the religious leaders for not following the Old Testament command to honor their parents (Matthew 15:1-9). He provided for his mother’s security as he hung on the cross (John 19:25-27). His mother and brothers were present in the upper room at Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Instead, Jesus was pointing out that spiritual relationships are as binding as physical ones, and he was paving the way for a new community of believers to be formed as Jesus’ spiritual family. This family would be characterized by love; the members should desire to be together, work together, and share one another’s’ burdens.
We’ll look at chapter4 tomorrow. Praying that you to KNOW Christ better.
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Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary
Life Application Bible Notes
New American Commentary
Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible – Commentary
Preaching the Word Commentary