Mark 8:31-38


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. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 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."  4 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."  5  "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it."  

Part of this text has already been covered in the Notes for Pentecost XVII, Mark 8:27-35. Please consult those Notes for the exposition of verses 31-35. (The Notes for Pentecost Season, Series B, were written before the Notes for the Festival Season). Perhaps the user of these Notes would also like to consult the Notes for Pentecost XV, Series A, Matthew 16:21-26, the parallel text to Mark 8:31-37 and the Notes for Pentecost V, Series C, Luke 9:18-24, the parallel text to Mark 8:27-35. A fuller picture of the account is gained by studying the parallel texts. If the Notes for the parallel texts are studied first, the user will find that he has studied all except what is found in Mark 8:38. But the exposition which follows here treats Mark 8:36-38. If the preacher does not wish to preach on verses 31-38 in their entirety, verses 36-38 are sufficient as a sermon text.

The account in Mark 8:27-38 is found also in Matthew and Luke. It happened less than a year before Jesus' death. In the environs of Caesarea Philippi, north of Galilee, Jesus asked His disciples who people thought He, the Son of man, was. They gave a rundown of the various opinions, all false. But then the pointed question: "Who do YOU think I am?" Peter, in the name of all, said: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." (Thus in Matthew). Jesus did not object. In fact He commended Peter for this confession. Thus, here He is called the Son of man, the Messiah, and the Son of God. Never was there a clearer confession as to who He was. Then, for the first of three times, He plainly told them that, of necessity (according to the will of His Father), He would have to suffer, be rejected, die and rise on the third day. Peter took offense at this statement. Then Jesus turned on Peter, charging him with satanic thoughts, the thoughts of mere (unregenerate) men, not those of God. Peter must have repented at this point for there is no record of objection.

That Jesus was speaking about the universal atonement when He announced His impending death and resurrection becomes clear in verses 34-38. Note "if ANYONE" in verse 34. "WHOEVER" in verse 35, "A HUMAN BEING" in verses 36 and 37, and "WHOEVER" in verse 38. These are blanket statements, made to all people of all generations. Peter had been offended about what Jesus said would happen to Him. Now Jesus warns both the disciples and the crowds concerning being offended at His Person and Work. They are words of starkest Law. They are words pertinent to the Lenten Season, and should be preached with full force. To wish to follow Jesus means to believe in Him. To believe in Him must be followed by denial of self and taking up one's cross and following Him. To lose one's life for Jesus' sake and the Gospel results in saving one's soul. And, conversely, to save one's life selfishly results in loss of soul. Hard words indeed! But they must be taken seriously.

One other point must be stressed before we go on to the exposition. According to the parallel passage in Matthew 16:13 Jesus, on this occasion, implicitly called Himself the Son of man. And in the final verse of our pericope (verse 38) Jesus uses the same title of Himself with reference to the Final Judgment. There is no doubting that Jesus Himself derived this title for Himself from Daniel 7:13.14 where it is used only in an eschatological sense, in the state of exaltation. But the same term is used at Psalm 8:4, plainly applied to Jesus at Hebrews 2:6.7, concerning Jesus' state of humiliation. This is the interpretation of Luther and our LC-MS fathers. This interpretation is reflected in AAT at Hebrews 2:6.7 (The personal and possessive pronouns are capitalized, Him, His.)

Not all Lutherans today accept this interpretation. Lenski accepted Daniel 7:13.14 as Messianic, but not Psalm 8:4. We are saying that the title "Son of man" is used in the Old Testament of Jesus concerning both His humiliation and His exaltation. And likewise in our pericope (and its parallels). Jesus is saying that taking habitual offense at the Son of man as to His Person and Work in the state of humiliation inevitably leads to being rejected by the same Son of man in the state of exaltation. That is done by refusing to deny one's self, refusing to bear one's cross, and by considering this life more important than Jesus and His Gospel.

Now to the text.

Mark 8:36  "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?" 

In the parallel texts (Matthew 16:26 and Luke 9:25) this verse reads as a conditional sentence, whereas Mark uses an infinitive. The KJV and the NKJV both follow the Koine text at this point and therefore make this verse, like its parallels, a conditional sentence. The Nestle reading (Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) is reflected in the RSV: "For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life." It is not a serious difference. We are merely pointing out a difference between KJV and RSV.

Note that verse 34 contains a blanket statement. Then follow four explanatory sentences, each introduced by explanatory "for" in verses 35, 36, 37 and 38. Jesus carefully explains the statement in verse 34b with four explanatory sentences. Verse 36 contains the second explanatory sentence.

Hendriksen: The urgent appeal of verse 34 is never lost sight of. Let no one therefore reject this appeal. Let no one disobey the command or refuse the implied invitation.

If one were to preach on verses 34-38, it might be a good idea to repeat verse 34b between 35-36, 36-37 and 37-38. Note that Jesus uses "a man" or better "any human being." 

Note the antithesis between "to gain and to lose" and between "the world and his own soul."  Note that  "his" is used with soul, not with world. Nothing in this world is his by right. His own soul has been entrusted to him. What Jesus states here has really never happened. The rich man in the parable of  The Rich Man and Lazarus  did not gain the world in it entirety but lost his soul. The rich man in the parable of  The Rich Man Who Built More Barns  did not gain the whole world but spoke flippantly to his own soul and lost it. To gain the whole world would mean to be its total ruler, total owner, enjoying all its privileges and pleasures. No man can possibly do that. But, even if he could, he could not preserve his soul for eternity.

The argument is somewhat like that of Luke 17:10: "Even if you could do everything which God commands and demands you would still have to admit that you are an unprofitable servant." God and God alone owns the world. Insofar as the world of men is fallen, Satan owns men. But he really owns nothing. But he deludes men into thinking that he can give the world to men. That's the argument he tried to use on Jesus at Matthew 4:9. But he adds: "If you'll worship me." Unregenerate man worships Satan but Satan can't keep his promise. Even if it's millions of dollars, it's not all. But even if it were "all," it isn't even a beginning of saving a man's soul. A man's treasure is where his heart is. Luke 12:34. If a man refuses to do as verse 34b says, his treasure and heart are in the wrong place.

On the twin ideas of gain and loss, cf. Philippians 3:4-11. As a Pharisee Paul considered himself to have gained everything he needed by his self-righteousness. But when he became a child of God he considered his former gain as loss, as dung. He had found true gain, the righteousness of Mark 8:34. He denied himself, he bore the cross of persecution from the Jews and the Judaizers. He truly followed Jesus, though he himself admits that he followed imperfectly.

Mark 8:37  "Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" 

Repeat verse 34b before this verse. Here Jesus uses another argument in addition to the two found in verses 35 and 36. He supposes the case of a man who has lost his soul and now wants to regain it. It's a rhetorical question. The reader readily answers: "Nothing. It's lost." By the way, the unregenerate man pays no attention to what Jesus says in verses 34-38. He says to himself: "Who would be such a fool as to listen to such silly questions?" But Jesus is here speaking to people (the crowds and the disciples) who had already heard and were following Him ( or thought so ). What we are saying is that these statements amount to soul-searching second use of the law. Lex semper accusat. If at any point the reader or hearer says to himself: "Lord have mercy on me for I am guilty of refusal to deny myself, to take up my cross, to follow you, etc.," that person is a fit subject for hearing the Gospel. That should not be forgotten.

Mark 8:38  "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." 

Repeat verse 34b before this verse once more. Note the beauty of Jesus' sermonette on this occasion: verse 34 states the basic principle. Notice the rhetorical question which the hearer is to ask himself and answer. The other rhetorical question which the hearer can answer himself. The questions dwell on the vast preciousness of the soul.

Note the antithesis between "for My sake and that of the Gospel" in verse 35 and "Me and My Words" in this verse. In the first instance it denotes what Christ and His Gospel give. In the second instance it denotes the grave danger of being ashamed of Christ and His Gospel. Human nature dreads shame. To be ashamed means to look in disdain at the shameful object. People fear being considered an object of shame. To be ashamed of Jesus and His Words means to turn one's back on Jesus and His Words as an object of shame. By the way, both verses 35 and 38 imply that you can't separate Jesus' Person and Word. You can't have one without the other and vice versa. What He says is what He is. 

And now, a difficult question: Is the "generation" a certain kind of people, or is it limited to people Jesus' day? LB makes it purely temporal: "And anyone who is ashamed of me and my message in these days of unbelief and sin," and likewise TEV: "If, then, a man is ashamed of me and of my teaching in this godless and wicked day." AAT is better: "If among the unfaithful and sinful people of today you're ashamed of Me and what I say, etc." The phrase denotes a type of people in any generation.

"Adulterous" is metaphorical, though that may result in its literal sense. Jesus is speaking of spiritual adultery. Hendriksen cites Isaiah 50:1ff; Jeremiah 3:8; 13:27; 31:32; Ezekiel 16:32, 35ff; Hosea 2:1ff. as Old Testament examples of what is meant.

Lenski: 'Adulterous' fits them as Jews, who were unfaithful to the covenant God had made with them. In the Old Testament this covenant is described by a betrothal, yea, a marriage of Israel to God. But Israel was an adulterous bride and wife.

Jesus uses the picture of an unfaithful bride or wife, not the mere fornication of unmarried people. It denotes the spiritual adultery of rejecting the saving message of the Scripture after hearing and espousing it. The word "adulterous" means more than the sinfulness of unregenerate man. Read John 9:39-41. "Adulterous" there does not denote the sinfulness of man, but rather the awful sin of rejection of the Gospel. That will receive the greater damnation. It's something like a bride leaving her husband on their wedding day and committing adultery with another man, not just the whoredom of an unmarried person.

"Also." This one word denotes justice. If the Son of man and His words be rejected after being heard, true justice sets in. Here "the Son of man" is used eschatologically, in the state of exaltation, the state in which the Son of man fully and always uses all the attributes of the divine nature. He will look in disdain at the shameful object. Hebrews 2:11, which dwells on Christ's work of the universal atonement says: "He is not ashamed to call them (all people) His brothers." He was not ashamed to become man, to take the place of all people, to redeem them. And Hebrews 11: 16: "God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them." By the way, Hebrews 11:13-16 is a wonderful antidote to the kind of worldly avarice pictured in Mark 8:36.

Jesus had this glory from all eternity. John 17:5. When He became incarnate His human nature received this glory from the divine nature but did not always and fully use it. In the exaltation His human nature fully uses it. He is very God of very God.

The point here is that not only will Jesus appear in glory but will also be surrounded by glory. It will be a glorious, lasting judgment, open to all men. There can be no greater shame than to be disowned in such a situation. We've all witnessed the shame of public officials or pastors who have brought shame upon themselves and their good name by something which they did or failed to do. This is only temporal (unless the individual is impenitent). But just shame pronounced upon a person by the Trinity, in the presence of the holy angels and all men is far, far greater than that.

This text is searching Law, second use of the Law, and should be preached with all its severity to make people aware of the sins they've committed against this text. When they are brought to a knowledge of their sins, the sermon should not end unless and until the Gospel, too, has been clearly preached.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 64-67. Used with permission.

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index