Mark 8:27-35


At the conclusion of the study of this text we give a summary of what liberal and rationalistic scholars have said about this text. It is incumbent on every preacher to be loyal to Christ.

In the Nestle Greek text note the gap between verses 26 and 27. From this point on, about nine months before His crucifixion, Jesus devotes most of His time to the disciples, preparing them for the crucifixion. He announces the passion again at 9:13 and 10:32-34. In the Nestle text there are two other "gap divisions," 14:1 and 16:1. The reason should be obvious.

For a fuller understanding read the parallel accounts in Matthew 16:13-28 and Luke 9:18-27.

Mark 8:27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?"

"Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi."  NEB. This is not Caesarea on the coast of the Mediterranean. The quotation is familiar intercourse which is indicated by the imperfect tense of the verb. Jesus asks this question simply to bring out their own confession more prominently. A good teaching device. It makes one think.

Mark 8:28 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."

Judea and Galilee, generally, had rejected the Messiah. The answer indicates that the people considered Jesus a mere man, even though they recognized that He had exceptional powers and gifts. The disciples must often have been tempted by the erroneous ideas of the people.

Mark 8:29 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ."

In verses 27 and 29 we have the infinitive with subject accusative construction after verbs of saying. This is peculiar to Latin and Greek. The variant at the end of the verse has been introduced from the parallel at Matthew 16:16.

Mark 8:30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

"Warned" means to admonish sharply. NEB:  "Gave strict orders." Beck, NASB, NIV: "Warned." Jesus did this surely because of the false Messianic ideas of the people. Unbelief, indicated in verse 28, would use the term "Messiah" wrongly.

Mark 8:31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.

The Nestle text rightly begins a subparagraph at this point. For one thing, it is the first time that Jesus spoke plainly about His suffering, death and resurrection. Secondly, they were not ready for this information until they had confessed His person. Thirdly, they had just confessed His Person, now He informs them as to His crowning Work.

They had confessed Him before, John 1:41 and three months before at 6:69. But, on this occasion, the confession needed to be repeated. Furthermore, there had been references to His suffering, death and resurrection before, but the references were oblique. Look at John 2:19; Matthew 12:39-40; John 3:14.

"Then began to teach them." He began continuous teaching. This expression is not found at 9:31 but is repeated at 10:32. "He must," it was necessary because God will it and it had been prophesied. Look at Luke 24:26-27.

Peter, verse 32, did not comprehend this necessity. Bengel calls attention to the fact that Jesus here calls Himself "the Son of man," a humble title not used of Himself after the resurrection. "Rejected" means "to reject after careful scrutiny." Of course, their scrutiny was false. That makes the rejection the more terrible.

Mark 8:32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

NASB: "He was stating the matter plainly." The tense denotes Peter's sincere, though mistaken, interest in Jesus. Look at Acts 18:26. Here Peter acts as master, though what he does is satanic.

Mark 8:33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

Jesus' first concern, in rebuking Peter, is for all of the disciples. At John 6:70 Judas was a danger to the disciples. Now it is Peter. There Judas was called a "devil." Here Peter is call "satan." Note that "rebuke" is used of both Peter and Jesus. It means "to censure." Beck: "Corrected." It has a different meaning here than at verse 30. Jesus tells Peter precisely what He told Satan in Matthew 4:10. There Satan was malicious, trying to keep Jesus from His course. Here, Peter, though meaning well, is doing precisely the same thing. Beck: "You're not thinking of what God thinks but what men think," or NIV: "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." 

Mark 8:34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

"Then He called" denotes a gracious invitation to hear words of comfort and warning. Both the crowd and the disciples are invited. It's a general invitation. "Come after me" means the same as: "believes in Me." The final thought is "And thus let him constantly attend Me." "Deny" is a very strong intensive verb: "Turn back on completely" just as Peter did to Christ in the night when Christ was betrayed. For a number of contextual reasons "cross" must mean that which a Christian bears simply because he is a Christian. Verses 31 and 34 have suffering in common, though of a different type.

Mark 8:35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.

This is the explanation to verse 34. This verse contains a paradox. Stoeckhardt says that "life" is used in a twofold sense: "Whoever wishes to save his life, will lose his soul." The same in the next sentence. "The will of the flesh," verse 34, is a warning. This verb is not used in 35. "Loses his life for me and for the gospel" is the total devotion of believer toward Christ's person and message. "Save" here means to keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction. Of course, Christ does not mean that a person can save himself. The first sentence is a warning, the second a promise. Note again that it is universal: "whoever." 

The preacher must be aware of the devastating treatment which the rationalists, including the negative higher critics, have given this pericope. Herewith a summary of their observations:

  1. This passage utterly conflicts with John 1:35-51 where we are told that the first disciples believed Jesus to be the Messiah.

  2. The prophecy of Jesus in verse 31 must be spurious; for if Jesus had thus definitely foretold His death and resurrection, the disciples would not have become so disconcerted when the promise was fulfilled.

  3. The attitude of Jesus, during the passion, does not bear out this detailed prevision of the circumstances.

  4. If Mark recorded matters as they actually happened "the quality of Jesus' martyr death is neutralized, and his heroism is made unreal and reduced to the mere histrionic performance of an assigned role, if he foresaw in advance the full details of his passion and the eventual denouement of his career." (IB)

  5. Mark either composed this account to suit his dramatic theological purpose, or at least modified it to suite the passion narrative.

  6. Mark may see in Peter's rebuke a reflection of the conflict between the two ideas of Messiah and the Son of man, a conflict which may have existed in the early Palestinian church.

  7. Mark added the words: "For my sake and the Gospel's " in order to make clearer the specific reference to Christian martyrdom . . . What this must have meant to Mark's readers, faced with persecution, can readily be imagined. (IB)

Summary: The critics accuse Scripture of contradictions; are oblivious to the weakness of human nature, including that of Christians; tell Christ how He should act; cast real doubt on the historic nature of Scripture; manufacture spurious Sitz im Leben in the early church; and, imply that Mark put words into Jesus' mouth.

These Notes do not say, of course, that Mark's original audience was not facing persecution. They very likely were. But we insist that what Mark recorded truly happened, just as he says.

If the critics truly believe their own observations, they must listen to verse 35a, for that is what they face.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B Mark-John, Sundays after Pentecost, Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 55-57

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