The Gospel according to Mark

Chapter 9

9:1 As Mark continued his interview with Peter, he may have asked "What was the meaning of Jesus' words about coming in the glory of the Father?" (8:38). The Messiah's glory would be seen when the Kingdom of God had come (a Greek perfect participle) with power, and that would be in the lifetime of the disciples (as in 13:30). Later Jesus would define this as the time when they will see "the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory" (see comment on 13:26 where this refers to the Messiah's coming in the toppling of the temple, as in Matthew 24:30, 34). Presumably Peter did not grasp the meaning of this prophecy till it happened forty years later in AD 70.

9:2 "Apart from the miracles you have described did you have any experiences of seeing Jesus' glory?" On one occasion Jesus took his inner circle of three disciples (as in 5:37, 14:33) up a high mountain (Caesarea Philippi, 8:27, was in the foothills of Mount Hermon). There he was transfigured (compare Moses in Exodus 34:29, see 2 Corinthians 3:18, and Stephen in Acts 6:15).

9:3 "What did he look like when he was transfigured?" The glory shone right through his clothes which became dazzling white (as in Revelation 1:14).

9:4 "Did he say anything when this happened?" He did not talk to Peter, James, and John but they heard him talking with Moses and Elijah (these represented the Law and the Prophets). Perhaps by interviewing the apostle John, Luke recorded the topic of their conversation, which was Jesus' imminent exodus (Luke 9:31-3). It may be significant that Moses was buried but his body was never found (Deuteronomy 34:5-6), and Elijah was taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:11)

9:5-6 "What was your reaction to this?" Perhaps with a view to preserving the occasion, and in great terror, Peter wanted to make three shrines. But Jesus ignored this suggestion.

9:7-8 Then an awesome cloud descended upon them (see clouds as a sign of God's presence in Exodus 13:21, 19:9, Psalm 104:3, Isaiah 19:1, Jeremiah 4:13, and in the ascension, Acts 1:9) This is why Jesus described the coming events of the fall of Jerusalem (AD70) as "They will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory" (Mark 13:26 as in Matthew 24:30, Joel 2:2, Revelation 14:14). "Was there a voice from God?" Yes, the words "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." Matthew remembered that they were so awed that they fell on their faces, but Jesus came and touched them, and told them not to be afraid (Matthew 17:6-7). Then when the disciples looked around Jesus was with them alone.

9:9-10 On the way down from the mountain Jesus told them to keep this experience secret till after he had risen from the dead. Which they did, but they wondered among themselves what the rising from the dead could mean. Later Peter wrote "We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father . . . While we were with him on the holy mountain" (2 Peter 1:16-18).

9:11-13 Peter remembered asking about the tradition based on the ending of Malachi, "Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes" (Malachi 4:5). Jesus explained that Elijah (referring to John the Baptist) had indeed come and been killed. But they should realize the restoring of all things must be preceded by the sufferings of the Son of Man and his being treated with contempt (see note on 8:31, which was perhaps based on the prophecy in Isaiah 53:3-4).

9:14 "What happened when Jesus and the three apostles came down from the mountain?" They found a great crowd with some scribes (religious teachers) engaged in a discussion with the other disciples.

9:15 When Matthew and Luke used Mark's account they omitted the words "they were immediately overcome with awe." Perhaps the crowd had seen that Jesus' face was still radiant from the transfiguration experience.

9:16-18 "What was the topic of discussion with the religious leaders?" A man had brought his son who would foam at the mouth and grind his teeth when he was possessed, but the disciples had been unable to cast out the evil spirit (they were probably taunted by the rabbis for being unable to help in the name of their leader).

9:19 "What did Jesus say about their failure to cast out the evil spirit?" Jesus was upset by their lack of faith.

9:20-22 When the boy was brought to Jesus he fell into a convulsion and foamed at the mouth. "Did Jesus heal the boy there and then?" No, he first asked the father how long the boy had had these convulsions, and the father said "from childhood" and he described the terrible symptoms. He begged Jesus, if he could, to have mercy on them.

9:23-24 Jesus said it was not a question of whether he could heal the boy. Did the father believe Jesus had he power to do this? Anything was possible if there was faith. The man said he had some faith, but he asked the Lord to increase his faith. That is still a good prescription when we have doubts in our day.

9:25-27 By then the crowd had stopped discussing with each other and came to where Jesus was with the father and the oppressed boy. "What did Jesus say to heal him?" He addressed the evil spirit directly and commanded it to leave and never return. "What happened then. After a terrible convulsion the boy seemed to have died. But Jesus took him by the hand (as with the little girl in 5:41) and the boy got up, obviously freed from the terrible possession.

9:28-29 Back in the house the apostles wanted to know why they had failed. Evidently this was not the ordinary form of possession that they had been able to cast out in Jesus' name (as they had successfully done in 6:13). This needed the kind of prayer communion with the Father that Jesus enjoyed (as in 1:35, 6:46, 9:2). When we fail in our ministry of healing, it does not mean the Lord has failed.

9:30-32 "You mentioned the first of three predictions of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection (8:31). When was the second time he made this announcement?" On the way down from Mount Hermon and Caesarea (8:27, 9:2) Jesus and the twelve came south through Galilee, perhaps down the west side of the Jordan Valley through Hazor which Joshua had allotted to the tribe of Naphtali (Joshua 11:1-10, 19:35-39, 2 Kings 15:29). During this walk Jesus again broached the subject of his death, but the disciples couldn't understand, and preferred not to ask.

9:33-35 Actually their main topic of discussion on the way home to Capernaum was who was the greatest in the team of twelve apostles. Jesus explained that the greatest person in a team is the one who serves and makes possible the work of the others (this is taken up in more detail in 10:42-44).

9:36-37 "How did Jesus deal with the question of greatness among those who served him?" He invited a little child to their circle and hugged it. Then he explained that children are the supreme examples of what discipleship is about. They play together without evaluating each other's importance (in the next chapter he will point to children as the heart of the Kingdom of Heaven and what faith is about,10:13-16). The welcoming and care of children is an essential part of the church. After a brief interruption, Jesus quickly returned to the seriousness of child abuse (9:42).

9:38-40 It seems as if John wanted to change the topic of conversation from welcoming little children to whether someone who did not join them had a right to perform exorcisms in Jesus' names. This is a perennial question in our churches. What do we do about people who engage in spiritual healing without our denominational authorization? Jesus' answer was very radical. If people are not actively against our work and good news, they are on our side.

9:41 As an aside Jesus added the fact that those who in any way (even a drink of water) help our work for the Kingdom are rewarded with us.

9:42 "You mentioned Jesus went back to the topic of little children. What did he say?" He explained that those who cause a little child to stumble would be better tied to a millstone and thrown into the sea. (the NRSV stumbling block translates the Greek verb skandalizo from the noun skandalon which means enticement, a trap, that which causes revulsion, stain, and all these meanings refer to what we now call child abuse).

9:43-48 "Why do you think Jesus assigned such a terrible fate to child abusers?" He repeated three times that it would result in being thrown into Gehenna (Greek geenna which transliterates the Hebrew ge hinnom which means the valley of Hinnom). That was where garbage was thrown over the south wall of Jerusalem. The dump was burning continuously from the cinders that were pitched into it. In wet weather it was crawling with maggots. Mark must have seen this, and added the note "Where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched." The idea of being thrown into this stinking inferno was the worst fate imaginable (as in Matthew 5:22, 29; 23:33). In some Christian circles it became metaphorical of burning in the fires of hell for ever (as in Dante's Inferno). On this website we teach that God assigns terrible consequences (wrath), but he does not delight in torturing anyone for ever. That is an essential part of Islamic teaching, but it is incompatible with a God who is love. That does not reduce the seriousness of the temptation to abuse a child, and drastic action is needed. The hand must be metaphorically cut off from wrong touching. The foot must be cut off from going into temptation. The pornographic eye must be metaphorically plucked out.

9:49-50 "Did Jesus explain what this meant?" Jesus gave us some enigmatic metaphorical illustrations. Each of us understood them differently. I remembered that John had said the Holy Spirit would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (reported in Matthew 3:11). We know that cooking with fire and salt gives flavor to meat. As fishermen we use salt to preserve fish from rotting. Metals are purified by burning off the dross (see 1 Corinthians 3:13-15). We are to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). Our conversation with children and adults is meant to be salty (as in Colossians 4:6), but it should be totally loving and that leaves no room for child abuse of any kind. I am not sure if I got it right, but that is what I understood.

Chapter 10