9:1 When Jesus said some would not die before seeing the Kingdom of God arrive, he may have been referring
- to Peter, James, and John, who would witness the Transfiguration a few days later
- to all who would witness the Resurrection and Ascension
- to all who would take part in the spread of the church after Pentecost
Jesus’ Transfiguration, which immediately follows (9:2-8), was a preview of that coming glory. In the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw Jesus’ glory, identity, and power as the Son of God (see 2 Peter 1:16-18). So, certain disciples were eyewitnesses to the power and glory of Christ’s Kingdom. Jesus’ point was that his listeners would not have to wait for another, future Messiah because the Kingdom was among them, and it would soon come in power.
Jesus Is Transfigured on the Mountain / 9:2-13
Jesus revealed some of his most unusual demonstrations of power and divinity to his disciples alone. He stood up in their partly swamped boat and took command of the wind and the waves. He walked on water. On this occasion, he allowed three of them to witness his appearance without some of the limitations of his humanity. After teaching them the rigors of self-denial, he gave them a reassuring glimpse of his glory.
9:2-3 Rarely did Mark give exact times in his narrative, so his definite six days later is significant. This reference probably alludes to Exodus 24:16, where it is recorded that Moses waited for six days before meeting the Lord on Mount Sinai. The words also tie into 9:1, where Jesus probably was referring to his coming Transfiguration.
Jesus singled out Peter, James, and John. These three disciples comprised the inner circle of the group of Twelve. They were among the first to hear Jesus’ call (1:16-19), they headed the list of disciples (3:16), they were present at certain healings where others were excluded (5:37), and they were with Jesus as he prayed in Gethsemane (14:33). Seeing Jesus transfigured was an unforgettable experience for Peter (see 2 Peter 1:16). Jesus took these three disciples to the top of a mountain—either Mount Hermon or Mount Tabor. Mount Hermon is about twelve miles northeast of Caesarea Philippi (where Jesus had been in 8:27); Mount Tabor is in Galilee. A mountain was often associated with closeness to God and readiness to receive his words (see Exodus 24:12-18; 1 Kings 19:8-18).
The Transfiguration was a brief glimpse of Jesus’ true glory, God’s divine affirmation of everything Jesus had done and was about to do. The Transfiguration clearly revealed not only that the disciples were correct in believing Jesus to be the Messiah (8:29), but that their commitment was well placed and their eternity was secure. Jesus was truly the Messiah, the divine Son of God.
The Greek word translated [Jesus’] appearance changed is metamorphothe, from which we get our word “metamorphosis.” The verb refers to an outward change that comes from within. It was not a change merely in appearance, but it was a complete change into another form. On earth Jesus appeared as a man, but at the Transfiguration, Jesus’ body was transformed into the glorious radiance that he had before coming to earth (John 17:5; Philippians 2:6) and which he will have when he returns in glory (Revelation 1:14-15). The glory shone out from him and his clothes became dazzling white. The white was not of this earth; it was a white that no human had seen. The words, unique to Mark’s Gospel, reflect an eyewitness report (probably Peter’s). These were the radiant robes of God, clothing “white as snow” (Daniel 7:9).
9:4 Elijah and Moses were considered the two greatest prophets in the Old Testament. Moses represented the law, or the old covenant. He had written the Pentateuch and had predicted the coming of a great prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Elijah represented the prophets who had foretold the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6). Moses’ and Elijah’s presence with Jesus confirmed Jesus’ messianic mission to fulfill God’s law and the words of God’s prophets (Matthew 5:17). Their appearance also removed any thought that Jesus was a reincarnation of Elijah or Moses. He was not merely one of the prophets. As God’s only Son, he far surpassed them in authority and power. Also, their ability to talk to Jesus supports the promise of the resurrection of all believers.
9:5-6 There is no indication that Peter was addressed, but he impetuously interrupted when he suggested making three shrines, one for each of them. Peter had forgotten (or was hoping to put aside) Jesus’ words that suffering and death would come before glory. Peter saw the fulfillment of Christ’s glory for a moment, and he wanted the experience to continue. Also, Peter mistakenly made all three men equal. He had missed Jesus’ true identity as God himself. Peter called Jesus “Teacher,” obviously missing what Jesus was showing them by his revealed glory. His words, “This is wonderful,” revealed a further lack of understanding. He desired to prolong the experience, to keep Moses and Elijah there with them. But that was not the point of the experience nor the lesson to be learned by it. Peter had spoken impetuously, perhaps because the three disciples were all terribly afraid.
9:7 A cloud suddenly appeared and enveloped this group on the mountain. This was not a vapor cloud, but was, in fact, the glory of God (see also Exodus 13:21; 19:9; 1 Kings 8:10). God’s voice came from the cloud, singling out Jesus from Moses and Elijah as the long-awaited Messiah who possessed divine authority. As he had done at Jesus’ baptism, God was giving verbal approval of his Son (see 1:11). At that time, the message had been addressed to Jesus (“You are my beloved Son”) and had benefited John the Baptist; here, the voice spoke to Peter and the other two disciples (“This is my beloved Son”). The voice then commanded Peter and the others to listen to Jesus and not to their own ideas and desires about what lay ahead.
9:8 Peter may have wanted to keep Jesus and Elijah and Moses there in glory on the mountainside, but his desire was wrong. The event was merely a glimpse of what was to come—no more. So, suddenly the glory came and went, and the prophets were gone. Jesus had been revealed as God’s glorious divine Son, but his mission on earth still had to be completed.
9:9 Jesus told Peter, James, and John not to tell anyone what they had seen, presumably not even the other disciples because they would not fully understand it until after he had risen from the dead. After the Resurrection, these three disciples would understand the Transfiguration and be able to correctly interpret and proclaim it. They would then realize that only through dying could Jesus show his power over death and his authority to be King of all. They knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but they had much more to learn about the significance of his death and resurrection.
9:10 The three disciples kept it to themselves, but they didn’t understand what Jesus meant by “rising from the dead.” They certainly believed in a future resurrection, but Jesus clearly was speaking of some other event, something that would happen to only him. The necessity of Jesus’ suffering and death was beyond their grasp.
9:11 The appearance of Elijah on the mountain caused a question in the disciples’ minds. Based on Malachi 4:5-6, the Jewish teachers believed that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes. Elijah had appeared on the mountain, but he had not come in person to prepare the people for the Messiah’s arrival (especially in the area of repentance). The disciples believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but they wondered where Elijah was.
9:12-13 Jesus answered that Elijah would come first and set everything in order. That the Messiah would suffer and be treated with utter contempt was written in Scripture (for example, Psalm 22:14, 16-17; Isaiah 53:1-12). Jesus explained that, in fact, Elijah had already come. Matthew explained that the disciples realized that Jesus meant John the Baptist (Matthew 17:13), who had taken on Elijah’s prophetic role—boldly confronting sin and pointing people to God.
As “Elijah” then, John the Baptist was badly mistreated. Elijah was severely persecuted by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and fled for his life (1 Kings 19). John the Baptist had been beheaded (6:14-29). All of this occurred as the Scriptures predicted.
Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy / 9:14-29
When they descended from the mountaintop of transfiguration to the flatland of common experience, the three disciples and Jesus found a scene of confusion. The other disciples had been asked to perform a miracle but had failed. This instance became a testing of faith, both for the child’s father as well as for the disciples. Christ regards even our weak faith. After all, it is not the quantity of our faith that makes the greatest difference, but the quality of him in whom our faith rests.
9:14 Jesus, Peter, James, and John came down from the mountain and returned to the other nine disciples. A great crowd surrounded the disciples and some teachers of religious law in a heated argument. The nature of the argument is not stated, but perhaps the teachers were arguing with the disciples about their power and authority, or the power and authority of their Master, because the disciples had tried and failed to cast out a demon (9:17-18).
9:15-17 When Jesus unexpectedly arrived on the scene, the people ran to greet him. Usually the people were in awe of his teaching and miracles; here they were in awe at his very presence with them (see also 1:27; 5:20). Jesus asked, “What is all this arguing about?” The word for “arguing” means “disputing.” The answer came from a man in the crowd, the father of the demon-possessed boy. He explained that he had come looking for Jesus to heal his son who was possessed by an evil spirit, making him unable to utter any sound (and he could not hear, see 9:25). This was not just a case of deafness and muteness; it was the work of an evil spirit, as the man explained.
9:18 The symptoms described by the father sound much like an epileptic convulsion, but the destructive intent of the demon described in 9:22 reveals that this was more than mere epilepsy. Having heard of Jesus’ power to cast out demons, the father had come to Jesus, hoping for a cure for his son. Not being able to find Jesus, he had asked the disciples to cast out the evil spirit, an appropriate request since the disciples had been given this power and had recently returned from a preaching tour where they had demonstrated that power (6:7, 13). The disciples couldn’t do it, however. This perplexed and upset them (Jesus explained why in 9:28-29). It also caused a commotion with the crowd and an argument with the Jewish leaders (9:14) who were seeking to discredit Jesus.
9:19 Jesus cried out in exasperation (see 3:5; 8:12). His unusual words carry a biting rebuke. They parallel Moses’ frustration as intercessor for God’s people (Deuteronomy 32:5, 20) and portray God’s frustration with his people (Numbers 14:11; Isaiah 63:8-10). The disciples had been given the authority to do the healing, but they had not yet learned how to appropriate God’s power. The disciples were not singled out for criticism because Jesus did not rebuke them (9:28-29), but merely answered their question. Jesus would not leave the young boy in the power of the demon, so he told the father to bring the boy.
9:20-22 When the evil spirit saw Jesus, it knew that its rule over the boy would soon end. The demon responded with one last attack, throwing the boy into a violent convulsion. While it may seem odd that Jesus would ask how long the boy had been like this, Jesus asked it not for his own sake, but for the father’s sake. By answering the question, the father was indicating just what a difficult and seemingly hopeless case this was. Jesus was truly the man’s only hope. The boy had been possessed by the demon since he was very small. That this was not merely epilepsy is revealed in the demon’s destructive intent as it made the boy fall into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. The poor father had probably saved his son’s life numerous times, constantly having to watch the boy in order to protect him. Beyond that he had been unable to do anything. So he came to Jesus and pled, “Do something if you can.”
9:23 Jesus repeated the father’s words and turned them around to put doubt in the right place. In a sense, Jesus was saying that while he could do anything, it would depend on the father’s belief. Spiritual power comes only when a person turns from self to God in faith. This father had placed limits on God’s power, but with belief, anything is possible. Jesus’ words do not mean that we can automatically obtain anything we want if we just think positively. Jesus meant that anything is possible if we believe because nothing is too difficult for God, even when our experience seems to indicate otherwise. We are free to ask whatever we want, as long as we realize that God will answer according to his will (1 John 3:21-22; 5:14).
9:24 Contrary to the patterns of confusion and unbelief the disciples had displayed, this father modeled the faith required of true discipleship. The father immediately understood Jesus’ meaning. He had not meant to doubt the Master. The father instantly replied, “I do believe,” declaring his faith in Jesus power. Then he added honestly and humbly, “Help me not to doubt!” At the feet of the Master, the man cried out with tears, confessing both his faith and its weakness.
9:25-27 Jesus tried to keep the miracle from becoming a circus; so when he saw the crowd growing, he quickly rebuked the evil spirit, commanding it to come out and never return. After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse. After the terrible convulsion, probably prolonged by the angered demon, the child’s exhausted body went limp as the demon left him. In fact, he was so still and quiet that most of the people in the crowd thought he was dead. Jesus took the child by the hand and helped him to his feet. That he stood up indicates not only that the demon had left, but that Jesus had given strength back to the child’s body. As always, the cure was complete.
9:28-29 The disciples must have been very perplexed. They had cast out demons before (6:7, 13); why hadn’t this demon responded? Jesus pointed to their lack of faith. Perhaps the disciples had tried to drive out the demon with their own ability rather than God’s. If so, their hearts and minds were not in tune with God, so their words had no power. Their question revealed their error; they centered on themselves (“we”), not on Christ. Jesus explained that this kind can be cast out only by prayer, and the disciples had not depended on God’s power through prayer. God’s power must be requested and relied upon in each instance. This presents a strong message to our present-day church: Arguing among ourselves disables (9:14); prayer enables. The disciples had been debating and not praying.
Prayer is the key that unlocks and reveals faith. Effective prayer needs both an attitude of complete dependence and the action of asking. Prayer demonstrates complete reliance on God. So, there is no substitute for prayer, especially in situations that seem impossible. Often the disciples would face difficult situations that could be resolved only through prayer. Their humiliation made this a painful lesson to learn.
Jesus Predicts His Death the Second Time / 9:30-32
Jesus clearly warned his disciples that he would eventually die. His assurance that death would only hold him three days did not allay the disciples’ confusion.
9:30-31 Jesus and the disciples left that region, perhaps somewhere near Caesarea Philippi (see 8:27), and passed through Galilee, going toward Capernaum (9:33). Jesus had ended his public ministry and So began his final journey toward Jerusalem. Jesus desired to avoid all publicity so that he would have time to focus on teaching the disciples. He needed to equip them to carry on the ministry when he returned to heaven and to prepare them for coming events so they would not be taken by surprise.
The disciples had persisted in their resistance to Jesus’ predictions of his suffering and death. He had already told them that he would die (8:31), so this was the second time he clearly told the disciples that he would be betrayed and killed. Whereas Jesus had spoken before about being rejected, this time he added the element of betrayal. He again said that he would rise from the dead after three days. There was always the assurance of victory, although the disciples seemed to miss this point in their concern over Jesus’ talk of death.
9:32 The disciples didn’t understand why Jesus would keep talking about dying because they expected him to set up a political kingdom. They didn’t know that Jesus’ death and resurrection would make his spiritual Kingdom possible. If Jesus died, the kingdom as they imagined it could not come. But they were afraid to ask him what he meant.
The Disciples Argue about Who Would Be the Greatest / 9:33-37
Although this incident is included in the first three Gospels, each one recorded the exchange from a slightly different perspective. Though Mark does not record Jesus’ comments about the humility of a little child, Jesus’ use of the child as an example provided a clear rebuke to the petty arguments about status among his followers.
9:33-34 Jesus and the disciples arrived in Capernaum. Apparently the disciples had kept somewhat to themselves as they followed Jesus along the road, but Jesus knew they were having a heated discussion. They had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. Apparently Jesus already knew what the disciples had been discussing; for even though he asked the question, they didn’t answer him. But he then gave them an unforgettable lesson in true greatness.
9:35 Clearly Jesus had his work cut out for him in teaching these disciples who would be responsible to carry on his mission. So he sat down in the house and called the disciples to sit at his feet. In a sentence, he taught the essence of true greatness, “Anyone who wants to be the first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else” (see 10:45). Greatness is determined by servanthood. The true leader willingly serves, as Jesus exemplified in his life and in his death. Being a “servant” did not mean occupying a servile position; rather it meant having an attitude of life that freely attended to others’ needs without expecting or demanding anything in return. Seeking honor, respect, and the attention of others runs contrary to Jesus’ requirements for his servants. An attitude of service brings true greatness in God’s Kingdom.
9:36-37 When Jesus took a little child in his arms, the explanation of greatness was made even more distinct. Only Mark mentions Jesus taking the child in his arms. When we receive Jesus, we actually “enter” or are “received into” his Kingdom. The way into this Kingdom is to turn to God from sin in the same spirit of humility that a child exhibits when he shows simple trust in someone he loves. We must humbly recognize that Jesus already paid the price for our entrance into his Kingdom. Any greatness we might have comes only from humble service to our Savior and Lord.
The disciples had become so preoccupied with the organization of Jesus’ earthly kingdom that they had lost sight of its divine purpose. Instead of seeking a place of service, they were seeking positions of advantage. Jesus used a child to help his self-centered disciples get the point. They were to have servant attitudes, being not “childish” (arguing over petty issues), but “childlike,” with humble and sincere hearts.
In addition, Jesus taught the disciples to welcome children. This was a new approach in a society where children were usually treated as second-class citizens. Jesus equated the attitude of receiving children with a willingness to receive him. Hidden in this statement is a profound truth of Jesus’ identity: Anyone who welcomes me welcomes my Father who sent me. Jesus and God the Father are one.
The Disciples Forbid Another to Use Jesus’ Name / 9:38-41
Minor conflicts over leadership positions among the disciples also had their public aspect. In this case, the disciples displayed the tendency to become a closed group. They challenged the “credentials” of an outsider. But Jesus rebuked their attempt to be exclusive. We must welcome and encourage all who serve in the name of Christ. Having the same Lord covers a multitude of differences.
9:38 John, brother of James the son of Zebedee, one of the inner circle of three among the disciples, told Jesus of a recent event. They had seen a man casting out demons by using Jesus’ name and had told the man to stop because he was not one of the group, that is, not one of the chosen Twelve. The incident has special irony considering that this unknown man apparently had success driving out demons while the disciples, who had been given special power to do so, had recently failed (9:18).
9:39 The disciples had been incorrect to stop the man from exorcising demons in Jesus’ name; and incidentally, they were also incorrect in their supposition that they alone should have a monopoly on Jesus’ power. Jesus explained that no one would do such a miracle as exorcising a demon in Jesus’ name and then turn around and publicly speak evil against Jesus. The man, whatever his motivation, had at least done a deed of mercy for a possessed person and had stood against Satan. When Jesus had been accused of casting out demons because he was in league with Satan, he had said that Satan would not work against himself (3:22-29). The man, therefore, was on Jesus’ side.
9:40 Jesus explained to his disciples, “Anyone who is not against us is for us.” By this statement, he was pointing out that neutrality toward him is not possible. His followers would not all resemble each other or belong to the same groups. People who are on Jesus’ side have the common goal of building up the Kingdom of God, and they should not let their differences interfere with this goal.
9:41 Not only did the man who exorcised demons serve Christ’s Kingdom in his stand against Satan, but even someone who offered a cup of water to a person because he belongs to the Messiah was also serving the Kingdom. Good treatment of Christ’s representatives is important to God (9:37). The Twelve did indeed have a special calling, but God willingly uses all people and all gifts for furthering his Kingdom. There are no “trivial” or unimportant services to God.
Jesus Warns against Temptation / 9:42-50
This teaching ties closely to the two preceding ones. In 9:33-37, Jesus held up a child as an example of servanthood and a standard for judging our openness. In 9:38-41, Jesus confronted exclusions of others who name Christ as Lord. Failure in any of the cases above puts believers in danger of causing others to lose faith (9:42).
9:42 While even small acts of kindness to believers carry great rewards, so acts of misguidance toward believers carry great penalties. Little ones could mean children or anyone considered to be insignificant or weak in faith. To cause a child or someone weak in the faith to lose faith means to purposely put a stumbling block in the way to make him or her trip and fall. Jesus warned that anyone who turns someone away from him will receive severe punishment. A millstone was a heavy, flat stone used to grind grain. To have a millstone tied around one’s neck and then be thrown into the sea meant certain death. Even the horror of such a death was minor compared to what this person would face in eternity.
9:43, 45, 47 The Greek word for to sin is the same one used in 9:42 translated “to lose faith.” In this verse, it seems as though Jesus was adding even more condemnation to the disciples’ ambition. While prideful ambition is bad, Jesus’ statement here includes anything that might cause another person to stumble.
All who desire to follow Jesus must remove any stumbling blocks that cause sin. Jesus did not mean to literally cut off a part of the body; he meant that any relationship, practice, or activity that leads to sin should be stopped. As a person would submit to losing a diseased appendage (hand or foot) or a sense (eyes) in order to save his or her life, so believers should be just as willing to “cut off” any temptation, habit, or part of their nature that could lead them to hold onto this world and turn away from Christ. Just cutting off a limb that committed sin or gouging out an eye that looked lustfully would still not get rid of sin, for that begins in the heart and mind. Jesus was saying that people need to take drastic action to keep from stumbling.
The reason? Jesus explained that it would be better to have lost some worldly possession, attitude, or action than to keep it and be thrown into hell because of it. This is true, radical discipleship. While none of us will ever be completely sin-free until we get new bodies, what God wants is an attitude that renounces sin instead of one that holds on to sin. (Verses 44 and 46 are not included in the best manuscripts.)
9:48 Still describing “hell,” Jesus spoke of a place, like the garbage dump in the valley outside of Jerusalem, where the worm never dies and the fire never goes out. With these strange words, taken from Isaiah 66:24, Jesus pictured the serious and eternal consequences of sin and the absolute destruction of God’s enemies (see also Matthew 3:12; 5:30). Worms and fire represented both internal and external pain. Hell will be a place of unbearable and unending torment reserved for those who refuse to believe in Jesus Christ and the salvation and eternal life he offers.
9:49 This verse, exclusive to Mark, has received dozens of interpretations. The most probable are included here. Some have suggested that everyone refers to every person. The meaning would be that every person will be purified with fire either with the unquenchable fire of hell or with the painful but life-giving power of self-discipline for the sake of the Kingdom.
Another view is that everyone refers to believers who will be purified with the fire of trials in order to purify them. The fire that purified them probably referred to trials and persecutions that made them fit for service (see Matthew 5:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:7; 4:12). This third view is most probable in light of the following verse.
“Salt is good for seasoning,” Jesus said, for in the ancient world salt was both a condiment and a preservative for food. Jesus had said to the disciples, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). They were to be life-producing agents in a dying world; they were to be preservatives in a world spoiled by sin. However, if salt loses its flavor, the flavor cannot be returned and it is of no value to anyone. Jesus stressed the responsibility of each disciple toward God. The disciples will be held accountable by God to maintain their “saltiness” (that is, their usefulness) by maintaining a close relationship with him. Finally, the disciples were told to have the qualities of salt. They must allow God’s purifying work to be done in them. They, in turn, would be purifying agents in the community and in the world. The result, then, would be peace with each other. If the disciples had the “salt” in themselves, then they would not be arguing about who would be the greatest in Christ’s Kingdom (9:34). They must not allow the salt within them to be made useless by their wrangling over position and concerns of this world. Instead, they must serve Christ; then they would be doing their duty in the world and be at peace with each other. This peace among the disciples would be of vital importance after Christ’s return to heaven (see 1 Thessalonians 5:13). The future of the gospel and of Christianity would be left in their hands.
Tomorrow we’ll check out chapter 10. I am praying that you will continue to GROW in Christ.
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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