Mark 9:30-37


Mark 9:30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were,

They left the area around Caesarea Philippi. From this point on Jesus spends much time with the disciples.

Mark 9:31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise."

Here is the reason. "He continued to teach them in particular." Note again that he uses the term "Son of man." 

Bengel: It is already being plotted. Look at John 6:60-71.

"Into the hands of" is metaphorical for "power." "Men" will exercise this power at God's permission.  "Although He be killed He will rise." In the Matthew account the verb for "kill" occurs only once and "rise" is the passive "will be raised." For a parallel thought, applied to the believer, look at John 11:25: "Though he die, he shall live." At Mark 8:31 Jesus indicated the necessity. Here He speaks of the certainty and adds the element of betrayal.

Mark 9:32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

There was constant misunderstanding. And "afraid" is a constant state of fear even to ask a single question. By the way, their lack of understanding cannot be blamed on Jesus. Look at Matthew 17:23 and Luke 9:45. The amazing thing is that Jesus was so patient (and still is with us.) Lack of faith was displaced by fear which led to the pride about to be revealed in the next verses.

Mark 9:33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?"

This is His last time there. And it's in private at that. The Galilean ministry is over. Many commentaries, but not all, indicate that it was Jesus' house, but that's not the important thing. What is important is that it was in private.

Now a soft question: "What were you discussing on the way?" The translations are perhaps confusing at this point. Of course Jesus knew. Look at Luke 9:47. He asks the question to make them face their sin. The very fact that He asks them shows that they discussed this out of His ear shot.

Mark 9:34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

There was an embarrassing pause at this juncture though Matthew 18:1 clearly indicates that someone of the disciples finally broke the silence. "Because" explains the painful silence. "They had argued" denotes close reciprocal associational. Jesus hadn't actually heard it. "Argued" means to discuss in the sense of arguing. Although it happened along the way, Jesus confronts them in private. He did not intervene while they were making fools of themselves but waited for a quiet moment. Furthermore, perhaps He foresaw that He needed a little child to teach them a lesson. The child becomes available in the house.

Mark 9:35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."

"Sitting down" denotes the deliberate care with which He treated the matter. Judas was there and had heard Jesus prophesy the betrayal in verse 31. What a beautiful veiled warning! "And said," Mark has 151 historic presents, Matthew 78 and Luke only 4. No wonder Mark's account is so vivid. "Anyone" is universal, pertaining to all people. That is amazing. The next two verbs have caused translations and commentators a problem: Does "wants" mean "wishes" or "wills" (has the will and determination)? Does "must be" means "shall" "will" (by his own volition) or "must?" Compare the translations for these various ideas. The problem is solved by noting the "and" is epexegetical: "namely a servant to all." There is the key to the whole sentence.

At this point the disciples were likely influence by false notions about the Kingdom. Compare Matthew 18:1. They were still thinking of an earthly kingdom with earthly rulers and wondered what they rank would be in this kingdom. They were thinking of anything but service. They were oblivious to being like Jesus. Mark 10:44-45; Luke 22:27; John 13:1-15; Philippians 2:5-8. By the way, Mark 9:35 does not speak of how one becomes to Christian. It denotes Christian living. But the disciples needed to repent of their pride. See Matthew 18:3.

Jesus is actually inviting the disciples to be first, but on terms radically opposite those of the flesh and the world. Anyone can be first. According to the world very few are. But firstness in the Kingdom means lastness of all and service to all. That requires repentance, constant repentance.

Mark 9:36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them,

A little child was used as an object lesson for the Apostles. KJV, RSV, NIV, NASB:  "Took him in his arms." But NEB: "Put his arm round him." The latter is weak. Don't water it down.

Mark 9:37 "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."

"Welcome," four times in this verse, does not speak of justification, becoming a Christian, but rather sanctification, the attitude with which we deal with others. Furthermore, it is not limited to children for verse 35 says: "Servant of all." Our attitude toward all, and in this instance a child, actually denotes our attitude toward the Father and the Son. And our whole attitude is indicated by our attitude toward just ONE such child. The receiving and dealing with the child is based on knowledge of and faith in what Jesus has revealed. Note again that this is open to anyone, "whoever." It is not a limitation but an invitation.

What underlies the thought of the whole verse is that the receiver must be like the child, humble, the antithesis to pride and arrogance. Is the verse best translated: "Not only Me but also the One who sent Me" or "Not Me but the One who sent Me." ? Lenski, Beck, Hendriksen and the Peschitto prefer the first. The other translations prefer the second.

Suggestion: What is overlooked in this argument is that Jesus Himself is the greatest example of humility. He humbly did what He did to have us deal directly with the Father in heaven. This does not mean that He is downgrading His necessary Mediator role. Not at all. The truly humble person does not downgrade the importance of what he is doing or what he is.

Stoeckhardt: The disciples, of course, were repentant and were of the true faith but thought too highly of themselves and therefore they had to take care that they would not lose the faith and the Kingdom through pride and arrogance. And so it behooves all believers, who still have the proud flesh, to be admonished to repent and to become as little children, small and humble in their own estimation, as simple and modest as children. Above all, before God we should be truly humble but also should make ourselves subject to each other, each one be servant of the next person.


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. 58-59

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