By Leslie M. Grant
This Gospel has a beauty peculiar to itself, though it compares with Matthew in much of its content, and with both Matthew and Luke in its being synoptic of the Lord's activities , in contrast to John's more extensive record of His words. But it is the briefest of all the Gospels, for it emphasizes the service of the Lord Jesus. The circumstances of His birth are therefore omitted. These were needed in Matthew to establish His right to the throne of Israel (as King) and in Luke to show the reality of His Manhood; not in John however, for His birth has nothing to do with His eternal Godhead. Yet Mark makes it clear from the beginning that this perfect Servant of God is no less than the Son of God Himself. The history is concise and rapid, the words "straightway," "forthwith," "immediately" and "anon" being characteristic of His diligent labors continuing consistently. Fittingly, it is Mark, the servant who had once sadly failed in service (Acts 13:13) yet later restored (2 Tim.4:14) whom God chooses to write the record of the perfect Servant.
This beginning is not that of John 1:1, which speaks of the Lord's eternal existence "with God," and as being God; nor is it that of creation (Gen.1:1), but of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, coming in blessed Servant character. Its introduction is seen in the ministry of John the Baptist. There was no need for Mark to even mention John's birth (as in Luke), no more than that of the Lord Jesus; for it is simply John's service that is seen here in preparing the way before the Lord Jesus. Malachi 3:1 had prophesied of him (v.2); and so had Isaiah 40:3 (v.3). He is called "My messenger" and "a voice." The important thing about a messenger is the message he brings, and a voice is important for what it speaks. The Lord Jesus (though far more than a messenger) was bringing the matchless message of the grace of God. The way must be prepared for this, however, and John's message was that of calling men to repentance, the only attitude that will rightly appreciate God's grace.
It is not even mentioned that John was of a priestly family, but his service is foremost, as he baptized in the wilderness, preaching the baptism of repentance with a view to the remission of sins. Being a priest, he might have asked permission to preach in the temple, but he went instead to the wilderness, for this was consistent with the fact of the spiritual desolation of Israel. No imposing legal forms and ceremonies were present to attract men, but the solemn, serious declaration of men's guilt and God's requirement of their repentance. They were baptized, that is, figuratively buried in the muddy Jordan River, confessing their sins. Jordan is typically the river of death, running into the Dead Sea. It was God who brought the crowds from Judea and specially Jerusalem, to virtually accept the sentence of death against themselves, a death deserved because of their sins.
John's clothing is said to be of camel's hair, with a girdle of skin. The camel is a burden bearer, a suitable reminder of John's own character. The girdle speaks of his personal self-discipline. His food was locusts, the symbol of a desolate country, and wild honey, suggesting the sweetness of truth gathered independently of men. For he was a solitary witness sent from God.
The only words of John recorded in this Gospel are in verses 7 and 8, a witness to the person of the Lord Jesus as mightier than John, who was unworthy to do the least menial service for Him; and prophesying also of His great work of baptizing with the Holy Spirit in contrast to John's merely baptizing with water. John's words are much more fully reported in Matthew, Luke and John.
The baptism of the Lord Jesus by John is only briefly recorded also, with nothing mentioned of John's objection (Mt.3:14). The Lord was baptized with the baptism of repentance as identifying Himself with repentant Israelites, virtually binding Himself to take the responsibility for their sins, which would require the death of the cross. God bears witness to Him in this act of self-humiliation by the descent of the Spirit as a dove to dwell upon Him. This is the bird of love, of sorrow and sacrifice, involving the fact of the Father's full complacency in Him, as does the opened heavens and the Father's voice, "Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."
Matthew 4:1 speaks of the Lord's being "carried up" to the wilderness; Luke 4:1 of His being "led up;" but Mark of His being impelled by the Spirit. As King, the Spirit carried Him, as in a palanquin; as the Man He was led; as the Servant He was impelled, each of these being beautifully appropriate in its place. His forty days in the wilderness is almost passed over except to mention His being tempted of Satan and that He was with the wild beasts. Certainly they had no antagonism against Him, their Creator, as man does; but in being prepared for service for mankind He was totally away from man for the time. Angels however ministered to Him, not to provide food, but evidently to sustain Him physically, for He fasted the full forty days (Mt.4:2). Matthew mentions the angelic ministry only after the devil had left Him (Mt.4:11).
Mark passes over the time of the overlapping of John's ministry and that of the Lord Jesus in Judea (Compare John 3:22 to 4:2), and notices briefly John's imprisonment, then the Lord's going to Galilee to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God. Verse 15 shows the theme of his message, that the time foretold by the prophets was fulfilled and the kingdom of God had drawn near. This kingdom was certainly that prophesied of in the Old Testament, of which Israel was aware, though it was appearing in a different form than the Jews expected. But His message to the people was the same as John's -- repent and believe the gospel. He would not in any way minimize the importance of what John declared, though he surely had more to add, above all the great act of offering Himself.
Walking by the sea of Galilee, He met Simon Peter and Andrew. Their first meeting is recorded in John 1:37-42, when the Lord had changed Simon's name to Cephas, or Peter, when in Judea. Now the time had come for their being called to service in following the Lord. Their occupation was symbolical of the work to which they were called. Casting the net into the sea surely speaks of the work of the gospel, the drawing of souls to the Lord, as He Himself indicated by His words, "Follow Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men." His Word had precious effect: they immediately forsook their nets (their very means of livelihood) and followed Him. Later on, (in Luke 5:4-11) Peter needed a shaking experience and the Lord's further words, "Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men" before we are told that he, together with John and James "forsook all and followed Him." It appears that Andrew's work was personal evangelism, Peter's public.
Going a little further, the Lord called James and John as they were in the ship mending (or "restoring") their nets, which is an indication also of the work to which they were called. For if the nets were to be useful in catching fish, they must be kept in good repair. Does this not speak of pastoral work of restoring souls that they might continue to be useful in the Lord's work? They left their father, for natural relationships must give place to the Lord's authority. Still, they did not leave him alone, without help, for there were also servants in the boat. When the Lord calls, He does not ignore the proper needs of one's relatives. Verse 21 records the beginning of the Lord's ministry in Capernaum, where Matthew 4:13 tells us He came to dwell. His teaching in the synagogue immediately attracted the attention of the people as being unlike that of the scribes, who could not speak as persuaded of the truth of what they taught, for they mixed the Word of God with men's traditions. He spoke with authority, for He had the truth from God.
However, satanic power is quickly evident in opposition to Him, in the synagogue. A demon possessed man could be present there without fear of challenge by the scribes and Pharisees, but the power of the Lord Jesus in His ministry was a threat to the authority of the evil spirit. It is the demon's voice speaking in the man, admitting his fear that the Lord had come to destroy him and other unclean spirits, for he knew Christ was the Holy One of God. Yet he would not call Him "Lord" (Cf. 1 Cor. 12:3). The Lord Jesus then demonstrated His own Lordship over the spirit by rebuking and commanding him to come out of the man, a command the spirit could not disobey, though in doing so he callously shook his victim with one last convulsion.
Satan's power had been allowed to remain unchallenged in the Jewish synagogue: now when Satan is defeated, the people are amazed, asking, "What new doctrine is this?" Actually, the doctrine of the Old Testament, if obeyed, would have hindered the presence of evil spirits in Jewish places of worship; but once Satan is in, he is not easily expelled. Now however, a stronger than Satan had come. The report of this of course spread throughout the region of the Galilean Sea.
This same Servant of God is then seen to also have power over sickness, which is a result of sin. Simon and Andrew were living in the same house and Simon's wife's mother is quickly relieved of a fever that had put her in bed. The fever is typical of the restlessness occasioned by sin. In just taking her by the hand, the healing power of the Lord Jesus so fully restores her that she immediately rises and serves them, using her hands for His pleasure.
However, the day's work was not yet finished. The evening too was occupied with His healing many who were diseased and others possessed with demons, with the whole city gathering together evidently at the door of Peter's house. In casting out demons, we are told He did not allow them to speak because they knew Him. Verse 24 has indicated this, with verse 25 speaking of His silencing the demon. As to His person, He would not accept the testimony of demons (Compare Acts 16:16-18). More than this, He was acting in the capacity of God's Servant, not as the God of glory.
In spite of the long hours of labor that day, He rose early the next day, not to begin the day with service, but with prayer in a solitary place. How vital a need is this for every servant of God! Indeed, one would say, if necessary for Him, how much more so for us! Morning by morning He received guidance from God (Isa.50:4). But Simon and others with him were a little too anxious as regards service. If they had followed His example in being in prayer, they may have discerned the mind of God more accurately, as He did. Going out to find Him, they told Him that everyone was looking for Him. Men's apparent interest, however, does not decide His movements: He was guided entirely by His Father's will. The neighboring towns also must hear the Word of God from His lips, for He was sent for this purpose. Too often it is merely men's curiosity that moves them: He would not cater to this. Throughout all Galilee He preached in the synagogues and cast out demons, His power in service being proven superior to that of Satan.
The account of the leper in verses 40-44 is almost identical to that of Matthew 8:2-4. The man recognized himself to be subject to the Lord (he kneeled to Him), and that the Lord has authority even over a deadly sickness: He was able to heal him. His only question was as to whether the Lord Jesus was willing to do it. Thank God that the love of the Lord Jesus is no less great than His power Moved with compassion, He touched the leper, accompanying His healing touch with His assuring words, "I will: be thou clean." The dread disease immediately (not gradually) disappeared. This illustrates His great power over sin, of which leprosy is a type; though we know that more than His Word was required to remove the guilt and power of sin from mankind: His great atoning sufferings on Calvary would alone display both the power and love that were necessary to accomplish this work.
The Lord forbids the man to tell others of this, but tells him rather to show himself to the priest and conform to the law Moses had prescribed in case of the healing of leprosy. This would be solid testimony for the priests as regards the reality of the man's healing, without the excitement that many words might cause. The man however was not obedient, just as today there are some who put such emphasis on healing that the true work of God is hindered. Bodily healing is a simple thing for the Lord; but the deeper work of soul exercise is far more important, a work that may be stifled by the excitement occasioned by visible miracles. The miracles were generally signs intended to draw attention to the truth proclaimed by the Lord Jesus. His Word being put in the background by undue emphasis on His miracles, rather than on their significance, He could therefore not openly enter into the city, but remained in more deserted areas. Yet people came out to Him from every direction. This sober discernment and wisdom of God's Servant is precious to contemplate. Later we find the Lord returning to Capernaum, where many gathered at the house (no doubt Peter's house) when they heard of His presence there. The crowd became so large that the house was not adequate for them. As the true Servant of God, He preached the Word.
One paralyzed man who was dependent on the help of four men was now brought to Him. If leprosy is the type of sin's corruption, paralysis teaches us the helplessness occasioned by sin. Yet all five men realized there was help in one person. Nothing would hinder their getting the man into the presence of the Lord Jesus. Today too, though many surround the Lord Jesus, some genuine, others merely professors without reality, where pretense may be a hindrance to many, faith will overcome whatever obstacle that one in need may be brought to the Lord Jesus. Tearing up the tile roof was a drastic measure, but it accomplished the result. Peter would be faced with no small repair bill, yet likely he would feel this worthwhile when he saw the man healed.
The Lord's first words, however, did not address the question of the man's paralysis, but that of his sins, a matter far more important. He saw their faith, no doubt that of all five, and assured the man that his sins were forgiven. Scribes sitting there became most critical of this inwardly, though they did not have the boldness to speak out. Their reasoning ignored the fact of who Christ actually is, for it is true enough that only God can forgive sins.
Then they are given a sticking proof that He is God: He read their thoughts, which only God can do, and questioned them as to why they so reasoned in their hearts. Then He added another question as to which was easier to say, "Thy sins be forgiven" or "Arise, take up thy bed and walk." Of course, as to simply saying the words, there is no difference; yet neither could become effective by the word of a mere man. But the proof of the effectiveness of His first words is most evident when He tells the man, "Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house." For the man immediately responded, his helplessness being transformed into strength and capability. If the latter words were so manifestly effective, then certainly His first words were effective. Yet, He has told the scribes that it is as Son of Man He has authority on earth to forgive sins. He fully claims the title "Son of Man," but with it the evidence is clear that He is more than man: He is God. But their minds were blinded to the vital fact of His Manhood and Deity in one person. Still, His spoken word had produced marvellous results, and all the witnesses were amazed and glorified God.
Leaving the house He went to the seaside, with crowds coming to hear the teaching of the Word. This is only mentioned, then His observing Levi (Matthew) at his tax collecting desk, as He passed by. He spoke to him only two words, "Follow Me." His response was immediate. The voice of the Son of God had such effect on him that he unhesitatingly left his lucrative employment and followed the Lord.
Matthew himself then reports only that Jesus sat at meat in the house. Mark tells us that it was his (Matthew's) house, while Luke says that "Levi made Him a great feast in his own house," where he invited many tax gatherers and sinners to hear the Word of God. God considered it a great feast, though Matthew himself did not think of it in this way. The scribes and Pharisees give no credit to Matthew whatever for this unusual kindness, but are ready to strongly criticize the Lord of glory Himself for eating with tax gatherers (whom they considered unfaithful to their own nation because they collected taxes for the Romans) and others who were manifestly sinners. The self-righteous pride of scribes and Pharisees was certainly most serious sin, but religious zealots are commonly blind to their own sinful condition.
The answer of the Lord is clear and to the point: it is those who are sick who need a physician. Christ had come with the answer to the misery and sin of mankind, not calling the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Only the great grace and power of God can work this precious result. Scribes and Pharisees needed Him as much as any others, but their pretended righteousness kept them from Him. They had no heart whatever for repentance, just as some people, infected by cancer, strongly insist there is nothing wrong with them.
In verse 18 the Lord Jesus is now questioned by some of the people as to why the disciples of John the Baptist and of the Pharisees practiced fasting while His disciples did not do so. This illustrates the fact that people may have diverse reasons for fasting The disciples of John no doubt did so out of motives of self-judgment, for they were taught to judge the sin of the flesh. The motives of the disciples of the Pharisees were likely those of self-righteousness, a matter for boasting, as in Luke 18:11-12. This kind of thing was only an offense to God, while the former was honest and honorable.
Still, even this does not approach the preciousness of fasting simply for Christ's sake, as He intimates in His answer. While He, the Bridegroom, was present, His disciples, the children of the bride chamber, had cause for rejoicing, not fasting; but He would be taken away from them, as of course He has been now for nearly two thousand years. Believers therefore have very real reason to fast, out of motives of true affection for Christ. While He is rejected, self indulgence is unbecoming to His disciples. Their fasting too involves more than literally abstaining from food at certain times, but self-denial in many other ways. But the motive should always be that of love for the Lord, with no drawing attention to ourselves.
For Christianity is not a patching up of the old garment of law-keeping, but a totally new revelation from God that draws out the heart itself to the person of Christ. Therefore it was not correct to compare the disciples of John and of the Pharisees to those of the Lord Jesus. This was a matter of contrast, not comparison. Pharisees cling to their old garment. John the Baptist showed the old garment to be full of holes. But the Lord Jesus provided an entirely new garment. There was to be no mixture of the new with the old.
The garment illustrates what is external. The new wine speaks of the internal power of the ministry of Christ: it must be put into new vessels (wineskins), for old vessels could not be trusted to contain it. The new vessels are the true disciples of the Lord Jesus, those who have been born anew. Man in the flesh, though a zealous law-keeper, could not contain or value properly the preciousness of the ministry of Christ.
As He and His disciples pass through the grain fields, the disciples, in accordance with permission granted in Deuteronomy 23:25, began to pick the ears of grain, evidently eating them. This awakened the opposition of the Pharisees against Him, for they claimed that this was unlawful on the sabbath day. How ignorant they were of what is true service to God! Does God force His servants to fast on the sabbath day? The law had actually not forbidden this, but the traditions of the Pharisees.
However, the Lord's answer is remarkable. He refers them to David when he and his men were hungry, and were given the showbread by the high priest, though it was lawful only for priests to eat it. This was of course a ritualistic law and was in this exceptional case set aside because of human need. Of course it is evident that man cannot flagrantly set aside the moral principles of truth and righteousness in order to satisfy his temporal needs, but ritualistic laws were a different matter. In David's case, he was God's anointed king, but not being recognized by Israel, he was suffering rejection, and God cared for him. Now Christ, the Son of God had come, but was rejected as David had been, along with His disciples. Therefore even the ritualistic demands of law must give place to their needs. If so, how much more must the mere traditions of Pharisees be set aside!
He sums this up by announcing principles of vita! significance in verses 27 and 28. The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. It was in man's best interests to have a day during the week when he might rest, yet often he will not do this unless he is virtually forced to. God was seeking the blessing of man in providing him with one day of rest during the week. Now Pharisees were turning it into a virtual curse for man by their rigid traditions. More than this, the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath: His authority is far higher than that of the sabbath, and certainly infinitely higher than the assumed authority of Pharisees, little as the Pharisees were willing to recognize it.
We have seen that the sabbath was made for the purpose of ministering to the needs of men. Now the Lord in the synagogue encountered a man who was in manifestly serious need. But his need meant nothing to the Pharisees compared to their zeal for the sabbath day. Knowing His compassion, they suspect that He will heal the man in spite of their opposition. He does not tell the man to meet Him elsewhere out of sight of the Pharisees, but makes a decided issue of the matter. For they were contesting God's right to show mercy. Having the man stand forth, He asked them a simple question that was fully to the point. Did the law allow one to do good on the sabbath days or to do evil? -- to save life or to kill? So far as they were concerned, they would rather see one die on the sabbath than to see him healed. They would not answer, for they knew that an answer either way would incriminate them, unless they gave up their foolish prejudice.
He looked round about on them with anger. We may be sure that all in turn would avoid His eyes as He did so. But their hearts remained hard. The man, obedient to the Lord's command, stretched forth his hand, which was instantly healed. Seeing such a result, the Pharisees, instead of being rightfully ashamed of their hardness, were all the more hardened in enmity against Him. They reject grace (in which the power of God had been clearly shown) in favor of a cold, stern legality that prefers a withered state. They, the Pharisees, strict, orthodox ritualists, joined with Herodians, who were of a lax, worldly character, in plotting the death of this faithful Servant of God. Their motives were no doubt different, but they shared a common hatred toward Him.
He goes on doing the work of God, now going to the seaside, where crowds followed Him, not only from Galilee, but from further south in Judea, from Idumea (Edom) and east of Jordan, as well as from the west (Tyre and Sidon). Hearing of Him and His great works, people came from every direction and from long distances.
To avoid the crowds He asked His disciples to provide a small boat for Him. It is not here said that He preached from the boat (as in ch.4:1-2), but that because of His healing many, the crowd more intensely pressed upon Him, those specially anxious who had infirmities. Those with unclean spirits were drawn also by the crowds, and crying out that He was the Son of God. Though this was true, yet the Lord did not want the witness of evil spirits, nor was He there to display the greatness of His gory, but in serving mankind, He sought to draw the attention to the Word of God, that men should obey it. Their witness only caused excitement rather than sober exercise of heart and conscience. Therefore He silenced them.
Ascending to a higher level on the mountain, He called His disciples, choosing from them twelve who would first be with Him, then he sent out to preach, with power given them to heal the sick and to cast out demons. The first thing for the servant is always to be in his Master's presence. For this is the source of power as well as the place of instruction. Service must follow this.
In Matthew 10 these are recorded in groups of two emphasizing their witness to Christ the King, but here the order is different, though Simon is mentioned first, and his surname, then James and John, surnamed Boanerges, "the sons of thunder." Surnames of the others are not recorded here. The first three evidently have a special character, but Judas is mentioned last, and the fact of his being the betrayer.
Though going into a house, they could not so much as eat bread because of the crowds pressing on them. In this section (from verse 7 to 35) there are six obstacles raised to hinder the true service of Christ:
How beautiful to see this devoted Servant of God calmly going forward in spite of all this Close relatives (v.21) were alarmed as to His serving God as He did, mistaking His faithfulness for some mental aberration. Though His brothers (who did not believe on Him -- John 7:5) were so deluded, this ought not to have influenced His mother.
Scribes were attracted to come all the way from Jerusalem, for they knew there was manifest spiritual power in the Lord and in His works. Yet in cunning wickedness they attributed this power to satanic activity, asserting that He cast out demons by the prince of the demons. This was transparent nonsense, as the Lord shows them. Satan is not so foolish as to cast himself out. Is he divided against himself? Whether a kingdom or a house, if divided against itself, it will fall. Only a power opposed to Satan would cast Satan out. Moreover, this must be a power greater than Satan. Satan was the strong man who jealously guarded his goods. One must overcome his power first before he can spoil his goods. Satan's power was being manifestly annulled by the superior power of the Lord Jesus, which was therefore clearly the power of God.
The opposition of scribes is consequently seen to stem from vicious, unreasoning hatred, not from honest skepticism. The Lord's words in verses 28-29 are a solemn indictment against this deliberate antagonism toward the Spirit of God. Sin and blasphemy of many kinds might be forgiven (of course where there is repentance), but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would not be forgiven. This blasphemy was that of attributing to Satan what was the manifest work of the Spirit of God. One guilty of this had reached a point so hardened that he would not repent. How awful a state for any man.
The relatives of the Lord ("His brethren") mentioned in verse 21 now come to the house where He was, His mother with them, asking to see Him. Though they could not get in because of the crowd, the word was passed to Him. Of course He knew the reason for which they had come (v.21). Was their natural relationship to Him going to influence Him to cease declaring the Word of God? He asks rather, "Who is my mother my brethren?" Then He insists on the far higher claims of a spiritual relationship. Looking at those who sat to hear His Word, He said, "Behold my mother and my brethren!" He did not leave this matter at only hearing the Word, however, but declared that those who do the will of God were His real relatives: their relationship to Him was vital. Thank God His mother did have this vital relationship to Him also, but she needed the reminder that the mere natural relationship is much inferior to the spiritual.
His teaching now at the seaside corresponds to Matthew 13, but only two of the seven parables in Matthew are mentioned here, for Matthew gives a full dispensational picture, while Mark dwells simply on public service and its results. The Lord speaks from the boat to the crowd on land. The sower is certainly Himself, God's true Servant, faithfully sowing the seed of the Word of God (v.14) broadcast in the field, which is the world (Mt.13:38). This is not to be limited to the personal preaching of the Lord Jesus while He was on earth, but certainly extends into all of this dispensation of grace, in which He, by His servants, continues to sow the Word.
The seed falling on the hard, trodden ground of the wayside could not of course take root, and the birds devoured it. Verse 15 explains this as satanic activity in robbing away the seed intended for man's blessing. No impression whatever is made: the hearts and consciences of many are so hardened that the Word of God means nothing to them. How tragic a condition!
Some fell on rocky ground, having a thin covering of soil but rock beneath. Roots could not go down, therefore the plant sprang up quickly, but was as quickly withered by the sun. Verses 16 and 17 explain this as those who gladly receive the Word at first, but it is a mere surface work. One may be at first responsive and enthusiastic, and yet not have the root of the matter in him, being actually a stranger to the living work of the Spirit of God. When a little heat of opposition or persecution arises, he may be as willing to give up his profession as he was to assume it at first. If in the first case we see Satan's activity, in this case the flesh is prominent, first its energy, but followed by its weakness. How deeply important it is that the Word of God should sink well into a prepared heart, a heart tender and responsive instead of hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
The seed that fell among thorns may have begun to grow, but was choked by the preponderance of the thorns. Thorns are the result of an aborted attempt to bear fruit. Verse 19 shows them to symbolize the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the lusts of other things entering in. No room is left for the good seed of the Word. The enemy in this case is not Satan or the flesh, but the world with its many seductions. These things become an excuse for one's having no time to seriously take in the Word of God. But thorns can be piercing and wounding too, as 1Timothy 6:10 tells us.
Only in the fourth case is fruit brought forth. The seed falls on good ground, no doubt ground that has first been prepared by the plowshare of the Holy Spirit in stirring up the soul in true repentance toward God, so that the Word produces a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. All of the seed on good ground brings forth fruit, though the measure may be different in different cases, some 30 percent, some 60 and some 100, for it is perfectly true that some believers bring forth more fruit than others who are just as truly genuine believers.
In private the disciples inquired about the parable, to which the Lord answered that they were privileged to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but the crowd was addressed by parables so that they would not know. Though they might hear and see what was on the surface, yet they would not perceive the significance of these things, lest they would be converted and have their sins forgiven. This does not mean that these things were hidden from them because God desired them not to be converted. In fact, if men would only recognize their ignorance and seriously inquire, they too would be converted and find forgiveness of sins, while those who were willingly ignorant would remain that way.
Verse 13 however shows that this parable holds the key to understanding virtually all parables. It is fundamental to all the parables of the kingdom, as is clearly seen in Matthew 13. It shows the Word of God to be that which alone produces results of real value. It shows up Satan's activity in opposing the Word and the sad effects upon those who are deceived by him. It exposes the workings of the flesh, perhaps enthusiatic at first, then reverting to its dead state. Then the world's seductions in its cunning displacing of the Word of God are exposed; and finally the sovereign power of the Word in producing fruit is seen to triumph over all. How great is the wisdom of God, that one parable can embrace so comprehensive a view of spiritual truth!
Verses 21 and 22 then follow to emphasize the fact that the testimony of God exposes things precisely as they are. The candle of testimony is not to be put under a bushel, that is, obscured because of the necessities of' man's work, for we too easily make the excuse that we are too busy to bear the witness we should. On the other hand the candle was not be put under a bed, obscured by the laxity of self-indulgence. With the Lord Jesus there was nothing like this: His testimony manifested the truth plainly, however strongly men would have liked to keep it secret. If one had ears, let him hear this testimony.
To discern rightly what we should hear is of first importance. In the measure in which we hear the Word of God we shall receive blessing from it. We must receive first before we can give, yet in giving we shall receive more. For fruit comes from the Word of God: if I receive that Word in whatever small measure, I shall receive more: it will multiply. If I refuse it (as did the wayside, the rocky ground and the thorny ground hearers) I shall lose whatever I have seemed to receive, just as the birds robbed away the seed, etc.
Using the same parable, the Lord then emphasized the results of sowing on good ground. The seed is first sown, then patience must wait for its results, which are neither immediate or sudden. One day there may be the first slight sign, with earth's crust being almost imperceptibly pushed up a little. How the gradual growth takes-place is beyond our knowledge, but on the stock appears the blade, then soon the ear, and later the full grain in the ear. It is the work of an infinitely great and wise Creator.
Questioning as to what we might compare the kingdom of God, the Lord uses again a parable of nature. The grain of a mustard seed, so trifling in size, may grow into a large shrub that becomes virtually a tree. This does happen in the east, though it may be abnormal. Then the birds are found to lodge in it. Though growth may be slow, yet it may be great. This does not speak of the fruit of sowing in believers, however, but of the outward growth of the kingdom itself as such. Today it has become great. Christendom is now a widespread thing in the earth, but this does not mean the growth is good, for in this case it allows an influx of evil spirits (fowls of the air -- v.15) in the branches, just as Satan has taken advantage of the great growth of Christian profession to introduce his harmful doctrines.
Verse 33 mentions many other parables which the Lord spoke also. As we have seen, there are five more recorded in Matthew 13. But these two recorded in the Gospel of God's perfect Servant indicate to us, first, that no matter how faithful the sowing, the seed may sometimes not produce at all, or it may produce differently in different cases, depending on the soil; and secondly, the good work begun by the most faithful servant may be later taken advantage of by the wicked one and his evil spirits, to corrupt its condition.
Verse 34 lets us know that the Lord's teaching was always accompanied by parables, which He explained to the disciples in private. The explanation is for those who desire to take the truth to heart: others are left in their ignorance.
At His suggestion that they pass over to the other side of the sea of Galilee, the disciples take Him into their boat. In this case other little boats are mentioned as accompanying them. There is no indication that any of them sank in the storm, but the wind became so boisterous that the water beating into the boat was near to the point of swamping it. The Lord was evidently weary from His much preaching, and was asleep in the stern of the boat.
How weak was their faith in Him personally! With the Son of God in the boat it was not possible that they would perish, yet they blame Him for not caring whether they perish, But in tender compassion He did not rebuke them first for their lack of faith, but rose and rebuked the wind, saying to the sea, "Peace, be still." The immediate result in producing a great calm would of course be astonishing to anyone. Then He asked them why they were so fearful. How could It be possible that they had not learned from His many previous miracles that He was superior to all circumstances?
Then however they have fear of another kind, a subdued awe at the thought of what manner of man this was who had control over the wind and the sea. Though John the Baptist had before borne witness that He was the Son of God (Jn.1:34), and at least Nathanael had confessed Him as Son of God; and though they had heard even evil spirits declaring Him as such (Mk.3:11), yet the significance of this had little impressed their minds and hearts.As the Lord had said, they were to pass over to the other side. Nothing could hinder the fulfilment of His words. In the country of the Gadarenes a man met Him who, being possessed by evil spirits, chose to live in a graveyard, a picture of Israel's low spiritual state, choosing circumstances of the corruption of death because given up the callous deception of Satan. Attempts to restrain the man by chains and fetters had been hopeless because of his super-human strength. It was a case beyond the help of man. In this is a picture of the wild self-will of man's heart, while being in the mountains suggests the heights of man's self-exaltation; in the tombs, the depths of his corruption: crying, the complaining misery of his condition; and cutting himself with stones, the self-abuse to which sin always subjects a man.
He was drawn to run to the Lord Jesus in spite of the satanic power within him. It is a strange enigma that he worshiped Him. But it was the evil spirit that spoke within him, virtually disclaiming anything to do with the Lord Jesus, whom he calls, "Jesus, Son of the Most High God." But the evil spirit was tormented by the very presence of the Lord. The power of God in drawing the man was infinitely stronger than the power of Satan.
The demon-possessed man has been drawn by the sovereign power of God to face the Lord Jesus. The evil spirit within him is tormented by this very fact, and the Lord gives him the order to come out of the man. However, he first asks the name of the evil spirit. He answered, "My name is Legion, for we are many," but entreated the Lord not to send them out of the country, that is, that particular area. They asked permission to enter a large herd of swine feeding nearby. For some reason it seemed that they wanted a body in which to express their evil character. This did not last long, however, for their presence in the swine impelled them to rush together over a cliff into the sea, the evil spirits being unable to control this, for they would not have wanted the swine to drown. Though Satan deceives and torments men, he does not have absolute control over them, for they have minds of their own too, even though they often do not rise much above the level of the swine.
The swine-herders, left without employment, reported the matter in the city as well as in the countryside. This of course brought people to see the Lord and the man who had been possessed, finding him sitting clothed and in his right mind, a wonderful change from his former condition! Yet we are told they were afraid! Being informed of what had happened, the marvel of the man's deliverance from satanic power, but of the death of the large herd of swine because of the same demons, they urged the Lord to leave their area! The swine meant more to them than did a precious soul, though swine were unclean animals, which Israelites were forbidden to eat.
Though He is Lord of all, yet this blessed Servant of God acceded to their request and left their shores. How little they understood what they were refusing! The delivered man was wiser: he wanted to be with the Lord. However, the Lord at this time declined to have him with Him, but told him. to go home to his friends and tell them how great things the Lord had done for him. In some cases the Lord had forbidden those who were healed to tell it to others. Yet in this case there was no danger of His work being hindered by the reporting. More than this, the man's testimony of his previous condition and of his miraculous deliverance could hardly be exaggerated: the transformation would be clearly evident to his friends.
He was obedient to the Lord's words and began to publish in Decapolis (the ten cities of the area) the greatness of what the Lord Jesus had done for him. He did not go only to his close friends, but evidently considered virtually everyone he contacted as a friend, and this made a very real impression on all.
If, as we have seen, the power of Satan, the great enemy of God and of man, has been broken by this greater Servant of God, we find Him next challenged by another enemy, that of death. For as He returns to the west side of the sea of Galilee, with crowds again gathering around Him, Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, fell at His feet, deeply broken up because his little daughter was at the point of death. He did not have the faith of the Gentile centurion of Matthew 8:8-10, but considered it necessary for the Lord to come to his home in order to heal the young girl. The Lord graciously accompanied him.
But another matter intervenes which is surely intended by God to illustrate the fact that the question of death cannot be met until the question of another enemy is settled. The woman with the issue of blood reminds us of how the most serious disease of sin is draining away our very life-blood. Her many visits to physicians had proven of no help, just as people try every expedient to improve their sinful condition and find no help. Every human effort seems only to aggravate the condition. When one's conscience becomes honestly concerned as to his state and tries to change it, he will always experience this alarming effect. What should be our first resource then becomes the last.
Finally she came to the Lord Jesus, yet timidly, for she came behind Him, only touching His garment, having confidence that this would accomplish her healing. The result was immediate, and she felt in her body that she was healed. In this case her feelings were accurate, yet the Lord would not leave her to depend on her feelings. He must do further important work with her, so that she would have His own personal words to her to encourage her faith.
When the Lord asked who touched His clothes the disciples were surprised, for it seemed the whole crowd was touching Him. But He knew of one touch in genuine faith, and the woman knew of whom He spoke. When He looked around to see her, her eyes no doubt perceived the tender goodness in His eyes which encouraged her to fall down before Him and to tell Him all the truth, before the crowd. This was surely a confession, not only of her need and her blessing, but of His abounding grace.
Then she was given far more than her feelings to depend upon, His Word of absolute truth and goodness. He told her that her faith had healed her, not her feelings nor her works. She had His own authority to depend on that she could go in peace with the assurance that she was healed. We may be sure also that she not only received physical healing but a far more important spiritual healing -- simply and only through faith, by His abounding grace.
While this was taking place, we can easily imagine the feelings of impatience rising in the bosom of Jairus at this delay in the Lord's coming to his dying daughter. But at the same time one came from his house with the message that his daughter had already died, and asking a painful question that intimated it was useless to expect any help from the Lord now. What would be the feelings of Jairus then?
Wonderful is the Lord's own word then immediately spoken, "Be not afraid, only believe." Thank God that the One whose grace has met the question of sin has just as effectively met the question of death by the sacrifice of Himself and His own resurrection from among the dead. Though that sacrifice had not yet taken place, the One was present who would soon that great work.
Then He took only three of His own witnesses with Him (those He took to the mount of transfiguration and the garden of Gethsemane -- ch.9:2; 14:33) to the house of Jairus. Already the house was surrounded by mourners who considered the loudest wailing the best proof of genuine mourning. The Lord Jesus reproved this useless noise, however, and told them the girl was not dead, but asleep. Foolishly then, the people scornfully laughed at Him, rather than recognizing that He had deeper reasons than they understood for so speaking. To Him death is no more a problem than is sleep.
For their unbelief they are all put out of the house. Only the father and mother and His three disciples are allowed inside to witness the miracle of His power over death. Taking the girl by the hand, He speaks simply, telling her to rise. The result was immediate: she rose and walked, not only restored to life, but in a condition of health and strength. In spite of the wonder of this miracle that so impressed them, however, He forbids them to advertise the matter, but is concerned for the girl's welfare, that she should be given food. When one is born anew from above, given divine life, it is vitally important also that he or she should be given spiritual food. Leaving the sea of Galilee the Lord returns to His own country, the area of Nazareth. No doubt it was in this city that He began to teach in the synagogues on the sabbath. Before the age of thirty He had never done this, and those who heard Him were astonished at the wisdom of what He had to say as well as by His mighty works. Yet, rather than paying close attention to His wisdom, they were offended by the fact that He had it. For that fact was plain, whatever may have been the means of His receiving it. They had known Him only as a carpenter, and knew His four brothers as well as His sisters, of which there were at least three (Mt. 13:56). Men will often refuse God His right to use whom He pleases as He pleases, and even the Son of God Himself was a prophet having no honor in His own country, among His own relatives or in His own house. How blinded are the natural hearts of men!
Because of their unbelief His works of power were greatly curtailed there: only a few sick folk received healing. The perfection of His Manhood is evident, however, in His marveling at men's unbelief, yet graciously giving opportunity to those in surrounding villages to hear the Word of God. Though despised and rejected, the grace of His heart continues to manifest itself.
This commission was confined to the land of Israel, therefore they were not to take provision for their journey, no scrip, that is, a leather bag to carry food, no bread, no money. Rather than shoes they were to wear sandals. For Israel, God's people, were responsible to care for the servants God sent to them. This commission was changed later (Lk.22:35) in view of Israel's rejection and crucifixion of Christ, and therefore the apostles sent to Gentiles also. Verse 11 has no application outside of Israel. For Israel was solemnly responsible to receive the message of their Messiah, and the refusal of any city was a gross insult to God, whom they professed to serve. For Sodom and Gomorrah the judgment would be more tolerable than for that city, for they had not been privileged with the same testimony from God. The burden of this preaching was the same as that of John the Baptist, that the Jews should repent. This was accompanied by the miracles of their casting out demons and their anointing with oil those who were sick, and healing them. This demonstrated the fact that their message was from Him whose power is greater than the sin that had occasioned demon possession and sickness.
News of the work of the Lord Jesus reaching King Herod causes alarm in the guilty man's conscience. He thought that John the Baptist, whom he had murdered, had been raised from the dead. Yet John had done no miracle (Jn.10:41). But the moral and spiritual Dower of John's testimony of Christ had left an indelible impression on Herod's mind that. he could not forget, though he ignored the theme of John's testimony, that of repentance toward God. Later, when he hoped to see some miracle performed by the Lord, with the Lord neither satisfying this curiosity nor even speaking to him, Herod then treated Him with contempt (Lk.23:8-11). The speculations of others were empty too, some saying He was Elijah, others simply "a prophet, or as one of the prophets." But Herod's thought was complete nonsense, for John and the Lord Jesus were contemporary, John having baptized Him. Herod could easily have gotten this information, but conscience was reminding him that he had not heard the last of his having murdered John.
The history of this is then told us. Influenced by his unlawful wife, he had imprisoned John for his testimony to him. Of course it was right that John should reprove Herod's adulterous marriage, for Herod was king of Israel, which claimed to be God's nation. The hatred of Herodias demanded John's death, but Herod feared John, whom he knew to be of a just and holy character. When John spoke to him, he did many things, no doubt trying to salve his conscience by acts of outward merit without his heart being reached, though he heard John gladly. It is one thing to recognize truth, another thing entirely to allow it to possess the heart.
He is put to the test when his birthday is celebrated with lavish pomp intended to impress the dignitaries of Galilee. Having the daughter of Herodias dance before them, he made the foolish vow that he would give her whatever she asked, to the half of his kingdom. First seeking the advice of her mother, the girl did not ask what he expected, but the head of John the Baptist. The King was exceedingly sorry, but not sorry enough to admit he had made a foolish oath and could not righteously keep it. His own pride and his fear of men decided him to have John murdered. If she had asked for Herod's head, would he have agreed? In fact, Herod did have a way out if he had had the least sense of responsibility to God. He might have told the girl that John's head was not his to give; but was proud enough to think that he had title over men's bodies
A guard of Herod's was sent as an executioner, who brought John's head in a dish, no doubt before the entire crowd of merry-makers, and gave it to the girl, who in turn carried it to her mother. Was there no-one there whose heart cried out against this horrible crime? Would the sight of that head not burn into Herod's conscience for the rest of his life? Could the girl or her mother ever banish from their minds the guilt of this enormous crime impressed on them by the sight of that head?
The burial of John the Baptist was no more ostentatious than was his short life: his disciples took his corpse and laid it in a grave. But he had been willing to decrease that his Lord might increase.
At this time we hear of the apostles gathering to the Lord Jesus, reporting to Him everything they had done and what they had taught. He does not then incite them to further afforts, but leads them apart into a deserted area in order to rest for a time. They (and we) need the quietness of the Lord's presence away from the crowd in order to have strength renewed for any further testimony for Him (cf.Isaiah 40:31). We may be too influenced by "many coming and going" to take time to eat our necessary spiritual food. Yet this private communion with the Lord Himself is indispensable: without it we shall collapse.
This rest was only short, however, for many people quickly followed, from surrounding cities, coming together to Him. Still, He Himself having been in the presence of God, He was moved with compassion toward the crowd, for their aimless confusion resembled the indecision of sheep without a shepherd. He began to teach them many things: this was what they really needed, rather than bodily healing.
The day being near its end, His disciples were concerned that the people should be dismissed in order to go to the more populated areas to buy food for themselves. He answered, "Give ye them to eat." Is this not His word to believers today? No matter how small we feel our resources are, yet in having Christ Himself we have just what everyone is in need of. Let us not hold back, but give what we are able. Too frequently we look in the wrong direction, as they did, as though a lesser source than Christ Himself might offer some hope of supplying the need.
However, He asks them as to what they actually have, which was five loaves of broad and two fishes. Of course the bread is typical of Christ as the bread of life, the result of a grain of wheat dying, springing up, being cut down, threshed and ground into flour, mixed with other ingredients, kneaded and exposed to the heat of the fire. It is Christ passing through suffering and death in order to be our necessary spiritual food. The fishes also typify Christ as the one who has passed through the waters of judgment to accomplish our eternal blessing. To simply present Christ and Him crucified to the world will produce such results that may make us marvel. For it is God who gives the increase.
The crowd was told to sit down by companies on the green grass. 1Peter 1:24 tells us that "all flesh is as grass." With the flesh therefore subdued under them, and all fleshly activity stopped, they were in a condition to receive freely what the Lord alone could freely give. The orderly way in which this was done (in ranks of hundreds and by fifties) is an appropriate comment on the wisdom of Him who is a God of order.
His looking up to heaven in blessing the food shows His interdependence with the Father in this miraculous display of grace to the multitude. He did nothing apart from communion with His Father. The disciples were given the privilege of distributing the loaves and fishes to the crowd, the amount apparently increasing as they did so, so that they needed no large container for distribution. As the need of one was met, there remained sufficient for others also. It may be that each disciple used a hand basket, for there were twelve of these full after all had eaten as much as they desired. Well might they be astounded at five thousand men (besides women and children -- Mt.14:21) being fed from so small a supply. But such is the truth spiritually. What we present to others of Christ God will multiply beyond anything we could imagine.
Rather than receiving any plaudits from the crowd, however, the Lord Jesus sends the crowd away, while instructing his disciples to go by boat to the other side of the sea of Galilee. Then alone He seeks the solitude of a mountain to pray. All of this is a picture of His showing marvellous grace in this present dispensation and His present work of intercession in the presence of God above. He remained alone there until the fourth watch of the night, which is the break of day. This corresponds to the last of the tribulation period, after Israel's enduring the contrary winds of that dreadful time.
How little did the disciples realize the great value of the Lord's intercessory prayer for them when He was in the mountain alone and they themselves toiling in rowing on a turbulent sea! About the fourth watch of the night, as dawn was breaking, He walked toward them on the surface of the sea. They were making very slow progress, and in walking he caught up with them and would have passed them by. They could not imagine anyone doing a thing like this, and cried out for fear, thinking that He must be a spirit. No less will the afflicted remnant of Israel be astounded when "they look upon Him whom they have pierced" coming in great grace and power to deliver them from great tribulation. But He soon quieted their fears by His gentle word, "Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid." Then He entered the boat, and the wind ceased, just as His own presence among His people in a coming day will silence all the storms of Gentile opposition. Also, just as Israel ignored the wonder of the grace of the Lord Jesus when He first came, so the disciples did not consider the miracle of the multiplying of the loaves and fishes. The miracle of power impresses them later, but was not the miracle of grace just as amazing? Their hearts were hardened, just as Israel's heart has been hardened at the present time.
Their coming into the land of Gennesaret (meaning "a harp") and the great blessing of His presence there in the healing of large numbers, is a picture of millennial blessing following the tribulation. This spreads to villages, cities and country, and every individual who only touched the border of His grament was healed of whatever disease he had.How cold and withering was the destructive criticism of Pharisees and scribes at a time when the Lord has shown such marvellous grace! They could not rise above the level of their ill-conceived legal thoughts. Because the disciples had not washed their hands before eating, the Pharisees considered this spiritually defiling. It is was not because their hands were soiled that they objected, but the Pharisees tradition called for a rigorous washing of their hands every time they ate, however clean they might have been, as well as for the washing of cups, pots, brazen utensils and couches. Of course if such things needed washing, it was sensible to wash them, but even if clean the Pharisees' tradition required that they be washed. It was evil to attach a spiritual significance to this, as though it was a part of God's law. But they challenged the Lord Himself because He did not require this of His disciples.
He did not take the defensive, however, but in turn challenged their hypochrisy, quoting the words of Isaiah as to their drawing near to God with their lips while their hearts were far distant from Him. This kind of worship was in vain, totally empty, their doctrines being the commandments of men, with God's rights ignored. Verse 8 shows that in insisting on their traditions they were setting aside God's commandments, and verse 9 emphasizes this as being the actual rejection of the commandment of God in order to enforce their own tradition
Then He refers to another example of this in the way in which they treated the plain commandment, "Honor thy father and thy mother." Though the law also demanded the death of one who showed contempt for his father or mother, yet the Pharisees had invented a doctrine that could get around the law of God. In the case of a man who had the means by which he might relieve the need of his parents, yet tradition allowed him to say "It is Corban," meaning that his money was a gift devoted to spiritual uses, and therefore not to be given to his parents. This was simply a matter of the tradition sanctifying the cold-hearted selfishness of the son. This kind of pretense is contemptible, of course, but Pharisees encouraged it, thereby making the Word of God of no effect. It was not merely a tradition added to the Word (which is bad enough), but a tradition opposing God's Word. The Lord adds, "and many such like things ye do." This was only one example, for when once the Word of God is despised in the smallest matter, it is not long before men's cunning deceit undermines anything and everything it pleases, not realizing the horror of this wicked contempt for God Himself.
Not only the Pharisees are included in the Lord's ministry that begins in verse 14. He called all the people to Him, to press upon them a matter of deepest importance, urging them to listen and to understand. Nothing from outside, entering into a man, can defile him. Spiritual defilement is not contracted in this way. Of course a man may eat food that is physically harmful to him: he may even take poison, but this in itself is not spiritually defiling. But the things that come out of a man (not physically of course) are those that defile him. The Lord does not further explain this to the crowd, but seeks to stir them with the words, "If any man have ears to hear, let him hear."
In the house, however, the disciples expose their own ignorance of the truth the Lord sought to impress on them How little we too seem to be able to take in such things of the most serious consequence The Lord reproves their lack of understanding, for believers should certainly discern this. Whatever physical food one eats does not have any spiritual effect. It affects the stomach, and thereby the physical condition of the individual, but not the heart (that is, the heart seen as symbolizing the spiritual inner being of the person). God had made provision for physical purging (or cleansing) in the disposal of waste. But there was a far more serious issue involved in spiritual defilement.
From the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride and foolishness. Jermiah had told Israel long before, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer.17:9). Man may blame every outward circumstance for his own sin, but it proceeds from within himself. How could this be cleansed? Let us learn to at least thoroughly judge ourselves rather than to blame our wrongs on others or on circumstances. Actual cleansing requires more than this, of course, the great sacrificial death of the Lord of glory; but they must learn the condition of their heart before they would be ready to receive the remedy.
For a time He goes to the coast of the Gentiles, though desirous not to advertise it. Yet He could not be hid. The very fact of His going there was an encouragement to the Syrophenician woman to come to Him. Her first words to Him are not mentioned here as they are in Matthew 15:22, but the fact that she fell at His feet as a dependent supplicant on behalf of her demon possessed daughter. His words to her, however, were intended to both put her in her true place and to encourage her faith. Gentiles must be made to realize that Israel did have a prime place in God's counsels, and they (the children) were not to be deprived of bread in order that dogs (Gentiles) might have it. Yet the Lord used a word referring to house-dogs, rather than dogs of the street. This was a clear encouragement to her to respond in the way she did.
She accepts the place of a dog, yet a dog desiring only the crumbs from the master's table. Taking this lowly place, she is immediately blessed, the Lord expressing His approval of her words and assuring her that her daughter was relieved of her demon possession. Returning home, she of course found His words to be true, her daughter laid on a bed, perhaps exhausted from her previous ordeal.
What else the Lord may have done in that area we are not told: it seems the importance of this one incident is intended to be emphasized. He takes the long journey back again to the sea of Galilee and into the region of Decapoils.
Here a man was brought to Him who was both deaf and suffering an impediment in his speech. Certainly if one cannot hear, neither will he be able to speak properly. This is as true spiritually as physically, for his ailment is typical of man's widespread inability to hear the Word of God because of unbelief. He is asked only to put His hand on the man, but the Lord does seven things for him. We may consider we know what souls need, and pray for them in this way, but the Lord knows better than we. Mark's Gospel emphasizes His service and we see therefore these seven steps as showing the patient persistence of His laboring for the blessing of an individual soul.
The Lord's seven-fold dealing with the deaf man who also had an impediment in his speech is spiritually instructive for us. First, He takes him aside from the crowd: he must be alone with the Lord, whose fingers in his ears then indicate divine work which alone can give the marvellous sense of hearing. Thirdly, spitting, an expression of contempt, is a reminder that sin has been the basic reason for this affliction, therefore that repentance is a requisite in salvation. Fourthly, the touching of his tongue implies that only the divine touch can heal one's speech. Fifthly, the Lord looks up to heaven, showing His dependence on the Father, and that all blessing must be from above. Sixth, He sighed, for He Himself felt the condition of the afflicted man as though it was His own trial. Finally, He speaks very simply, "Be opened," His own word consummating all that He had done. Certainly His word alone could have accomplished the result, but His labor with our souls is an important part of what He does.
Immediately the man's deafness was dispelled and his speech restored. Marvellous work indeed! Yet the Lord wanted no advertising: He charged them to tell no-one of this miracle, as we have seen He did on other occasions, though not in Chapter 5:18-19. But men were more impressed by what they saw than by the authority of the Lord's word. They appreciated Him and His power, but were not prepared to obey His Word. Today too this is a common illness. Four adulation of Him without obedience is an illness more serious than we imagine. This occasion of the feeding of the four thousand takes place evidently not long after the Lord's feeding of the five thousand (Ch.6:34-44). Again He speaks to His disciples of His compassion toward the crowd because of their having nothing to eat, and having been with Him for three days. This is certainly a proof of God's concern for the temporal welfare of His creatures. But the disciples had already forgotten the Lord's feeding of the five thousand, and question how the crowd can possibly be fed in the wilderness. Of course God had done this for Israel in the manna falling six days a week during their wilderness history. Is the Son of God more limited?
They had seven loaves, however, which was more than they had the previous time, though this of course made no difference one way or the other to the Lord. In this case the seven emphasizes the perfection of His care for the crowd, rather than administration being prominent as in the case of the five loaves and two fishes. A few fishes are added here, and again both types of food certainly speak of Christ and Him crucified, the only true spiritual food needed by man. Again all the crowd ate and were filled. The number seven is also seen in the number of baskets of food remaining, for grace is overabundant: they are sent away satisfied.
The Lord then returns by boat to the west side of the sea of Galilee, to Dalmanutha, which Matthew calls "the coast of Magdala" (Mk.15:36). Here the Pharisees come to Him with tempting questions, asking for a sign from heaven. But signs were not lacking: the Lord had shown them large numbers of miraculous signs. It was faith that was lacking. He did not even mention this, however, but sighed deeply in His spirit, profoundly feeling the sadness of their callous unbelief. His only answer is that no sign would be given to this generation. Matthew reports the exceptional sign of the prophet Jonah (Mt.16:4). That was not a sign the Lord would show them on earth, however, but one that was typical of His death and resurrection. Of course they did not understand this and were not concerned enough to enquire. Mark does not even refer to it, but speaks of the Lord again leaving for the other side of Lake Galilee.
On the boat, since His spirit had been so affected by the hardness of the Pharisees, He warned His disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. They sadly mistake His motives and feel that He is hinting as regards their forgetting to take bread with them. He was genuinely concerned about their spiritual welfare, and they mistook this for a concern for His own temporal need! Let us be careful about imputing wrong motives to one who ministers the Word of God to us.
The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy (Lk.12:1), a self-righteous formalism that was devoid of reality. The leaven of Herod was worldliness, as Matthew 14:3-10 indicates. These two things often go hand in hand (Mk.3:6). Matthew speaks on this occasion of the leaven of the Sadducees rather than of Herod. No doubt the Lord actually spoke of all three at this time, but each writer records only what God led him to.
The Lord Jesus firmly reproves the empty reasoning of His disciples. Did they have no perception or understanding? Was their heart hardened in unbelief? They certainly ought to have learned before that His words were never in any way vain or selfish Were their eyes so blinded to the wonder of all that they had seen Him do, and their ears so blocked as to not discern the purity of all His words? Where was their memory of His multiplying the loaves and fishes on two successive occasions, and of the fact of twelve baskets and seven baskets of food being left over? In fact they did remember these two cases, and answer Him as to the baskets. Well might He say, "How is it that ye do not understand?" Was He, the Son of God, dependent on them?
Their very attitude at this time exposed their need of His warning. They were not learning the vital truths He had sought to teach them, but treated them in a formal, academic way. This is the breeding ground of hypocrisy. More than that, their minds failed to discern His teaching because they were set on material things, thinking merely of bread. This is the attitude that leads to worldliness. How we all need the warnings of the Lord!
Now He comes to Bethsaida on the same western sea-coast. Its name has two meanings, either "the house of nets" or "the house of provision," being of course a fishing town. It pictures the world in its claim of providing for men's needs, but by this very means it snares men into its entangling nets. If we make an object of being rich in this world's goods, we shall soon find ourselves badly entangled.
When some bring a blind man to Him they ask only that He touch him. As in Chapter 7:32 they assume they know what he needs. Of course the Lord could have healed him without even touching him; but again He acts as the perfect Servant of God, showing the grace that labors with the man, again doing seven things before the man is perfectly restored. First, He takes him by the hand, and surely no-one was ever more gently led. There is always a preliminary work of the Lord Jesus In leading a precious soul in the direction in which he may find eventual blessing. We may not realize it at the time, but such is His sovereign wisdom. Secondly, He led him out of the town. Bethsaida was to have no part in the blessing of the man, for conversion is emphatically "out of this world," and it is good that we learn this deeply in our hearts. Next, He spit on the man's eyes. Only the Lord Jesus has a right to do such a thing. It is a reminder that our contemptible condition of spiritual blindness is a result of the disease of sin, and calls for our humbling ourselves in repentance before God, recognizing that we deserve to be spit on by the Son of God. Fourthly, He put His hands on him, which was positive contact that actually gave the man sight, for it is only direct contact with the Lord Jesus that will communicate any true blessing to us. Fifth, He asked him if he saw anything: He desires a response.
The man's answer was clear: he did see. Yet his sight was not clear: he saw men as trees walking. This is out of proportion, just as newly converted souls often see certain men as too tall, giving them an undue place of prominence. The Lord has to deal with us too about this question, as He further dealt with this dear man, putting His hands on him a second time. The seventh thing He did was to make him look up. As he did so, he saw every man clearly. All of these things illustrate the way the Lord labors with us to bring us to a clear vision spiritually, from a state of darkness.
As we have seen before, the Lord desires no advertising of what He has done: the man is told not to return to the town, and not to tell anyone in the town of the miracle. It is evident his home was not in the town, for he sent him to his house. His new-found sight he is to enjoy first in his own personal circumstances.
Going much further north now to the towns of Caesarea Philippi, in the area of Mount Hermon, the Lord on the way asks His disciples as to whom men said that He was. The answer indicates the vanity of men's speculations. Some said He was John the Baptist, though He and John had been seen together (Mt.3:13-17; Jn.1:29, 35-36). Others said He was Elijah, others still, one of the prophets. Men were blinded and unable to see a distinct personal glory in this blessed Son of God. Though they witnessed unusual spiritual power in Him, yet they wanted to reduce Him to the level of mere men who had come before.
Then the Lord asks the pertinent question: "But whom say ye that I am?" Peter unhesitatingly replies, "Thou art the Christ." Yet true as this was, the Lord forbids them to tell men of Him. Why was this? Because as the Christ ("the Anointed One") He was entitled to take the throne of Israel, which in fact He will eventually do. But He then uses a different title, "the Son of Man," which involves His relationship with all mankind, not only Israel; and He speaks of what must take place before the time of reigning could be. He must suffer many things, be rejected by the rulers of Israel and be killed. However, He does not end the matter there: He adds, "and after three days rise again."
Peter evidently totally missed the last expression, but began to rebuke his Lord, a most unseemly blunder, which deserved a far more serious rebuke from the Lord's lips. Yet He looked on His disciples as He rebuked Peter, for they all no doubt had similar thoughts, though they were not so bold as Peter to express them. His solemn words, "Get thee behind me, Satan". would surely shock them all, but it was Satan's suggestion that the Lord could avoid the sufferings of the cross, and Peter had unwittingly allowed Satan to speak through him. The Lord had spoken the things that were of God. Peter, in indulging merely men's thoughts, had fallen into Satan's snare.
In verse 34 both His disciples and all the people need what He tells them. If one wants to come after Him, he is called upon to deny himself (not only to deny certain pleasures or advantages, but himself), take up his cross and follow Him. This involves wholehearted, willing self-denial for Christ's sake. There are those who consider this matter of taking up the cross as having to bear trials and afflictions that we cannot avoid. This is not the case. Rather it is a question of our voluntarily accepting the reproach of Christ by a clear confession of Him before a world that rejects Him. Let us do this gladly, cheerfully, out of honest affection for the Lord Jesus. He who would save his life is the one who wants to use it for his own personal advantage. After all, he will only lose it in the end, and what does he have? On the other hand, he who would lose his life is one who is willing to give up the present personal advantages of it for Christ's sake and for the sake of the gospel. In the end this would be actually saving his life, for it would produce lasting, profitable results. Selfishness always defeats its own ends, while unselfish devotion to Christ gains far more than we have any desire to gain.
Verses 36 and 37 of course refer to one who seeks to save his own life. Profit is his consuming objective. But supposing his profits in this world increase so tremendously as to give him control of the whole world, what real profit is this when he loses his own soul in pursuit of it! Could he then give his great wealth in exchange for his soul? No: death leaves him utterly destitute. He has foolishly set his sights on the brief span of his earthly life, and loses it.
The center of the whole matter is what one thinks of Christ. How many are ashamed of Him before an adulterous and sinful generation! They are more afraid of the sneers of ungodly sinners than they are of the judgment of God! They will not confess Jesus as Lord, though His truth, His faithfulness, His grace and mercy are plainly demonstrated for all the world to see. What folly to be ashamed of One who is the only real Friend and protector available to mankind What can they expect but that the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in the glory of His Father with His holy angels? For the Father will confess Him in such a way as all creation will recognize, and all unfallen angels.Verse 1 stands in contrast to Chapter 8:38. The coming of the Son of Man in glory, spoken of in that verse, would have some witnesses who stood there at the time, those who were not ashamed of Him and who would not die till they had seen the kingdom of God come with power The answer to this is seen immediately following. It was a pre-vision of the kingdom that Peter, James and John saw.
The central and vital feature of the kingdom is the King Himself. In the high mountain the Lord Jesus was transfigured. The lowly humility of His servant-character was exchanged for the brightness of majestic glory, His clothing shining with radiant whiteness. Matthew mentions His face shining as the sun, emphasizing His personal glory. Mark speaks only of His clothing, that with which He is invested, a contrast to His garments of low service on earth.
Miraculously also Elijah and Moses appear, speaking with the Lord. This presents a striking picture of true heavenly side of the kingdom; the Lord Himself the glorious Center, Elijah representing the saints who have been caught up to heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:11), and Moses representing those who have died and been raised again, though Moses had not personally been raised. In what body he appeared we do not know, Peter, James and John illustrate the earthly side of the coming kingdom.
Peter, though fearful and not knowing what to say (v.8) apparently thought he should say something. How much better it would have been for him to be silent (Cf.Eccl.5:1-2). First he emphasizes "it is good for us to be here," rather than to focus on the greatness of his Lord. Secondly, he speaks of mere human work, "let us make three tabernacles." Thirdly, this would be merely building for earth. Fourthly, to build a tabernacle for the Lord Jesus would be virtually confining Him to human limits. Fifthly, his suggestion would give some glory to others, rather than rightly giving every honor to Him.
God answers this (v.7) by bringing a cloud over them, from which He speaks those memorable words, "This is my beloved Son: hear Him." God will allow no others to share the glory of His Son. Moses, Elijah, and all others must pale into utter insignificance in the light of His presence. Also, rather than men making suggestions to Him, men must be silent and hear what He says. Immediately the great vision passes. Moses and Elijah were no longer there and Jesus is seen no longer in the brightness of glory in which He had been transfigured. Clearly, the three disciples were not prepared for this glory: they must first see their Lord crucified: without this, neither they nor we can properly appreciate His glory. Later, after the Lord Jesus had risen arid was glorified, Peter writes of this great occasion in 2 Peter 1:17-18, at a time when he could far more deeply value what he had seen, since his Lord had been crucified and had risen again. We too may now look back upon this sight with thankful and adoring worship, for we have known the value of His sacrifice.
For this reason the Lord charged the three disciples that they should be silent about this vision until He should rise from among- the dead. They evidently obeyed His injunction, but were apparently bewildered as to what the rising from among the dead should mean. No doubt they thought this had some spiritual explanation, for they had no conception of its being. literally true. After His death they considered no possibility of His resurrection in three, days, though He had told them of it (Ch.8:31).
The three disciples (v.11) recognized however that His words had something to do with His reign as Messiah, and question Him as to the claim of the scribes that Elijah should first come. Of course this was stated in Malachi 4:5, and the Lord confirms it, to be fact, but adds that the Son of Man must suffer many and be treated with contempt. Yet He declares that Elijah had already come and men had done to him as they pleased, as Scripture had signified. Matthew 17:13 shows that He speaks of John the Baptist at, and Luke 1:17 explains this, not as John being the same person as Elijah, but as his having the same spirit and power, therefore being a prophet of the same type.
Returning to the other disciples (v.14), the Lord finds a large crowd, and scribes questioning with them. They were evidently waiting for some answer to a case that had awakened great concern. It may be that they were greatly amazed because He had come just at the time that this problem arose. In answer to His question to the scribes, one of the crowd responded that he had brought his son who was possessed by a dumb spirit. Evidently the boy was not normally dumb, but the evil spirit had inflicted him with dumbness as well as causing other painful symptoms through convulsions. His physical condition is a picture of the spiritual state of many today who are influenced by Satan's power. Foaming at the mouth reminds us of the shameful words that issue from mens mouths, as in Jude 13. Gnashing with his teeth speaks of the bitter rebellion seen in every level of mankind. His pining away indicates that such people are damaging themselves, yet have no power to stop it. How sad is the state of men who are deceived by Satan's influence
The disciples, though sent to cast out demons (Mt.10:1), had failed to do so in this case. No doubt it was to these that the Lord spoke, just as much as to the father, "0 faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?" Where was the faith that rightly give the Lord His place? He deeply felt the pain of enduring their faithlessness, as on another occasion we are told, "He marveled because of their unbelief" (Mk.6:6). What a trial to Him were those years of His bearing with the unbelief both of the world and of His own disciples
As the boy was brought to Him, the evil spirit viciously convulsed him, causing him to fall and to wallow, foaming at the mouth. To the Lord's question the father answers that this affliction had been present since childhood, often driving his son into fire or into water. The spirit was evidently of a hateful, vindictive character, seeking to induce the boy to destroy himself. The father had come to the point of utter distraction, and appealed to the Lord, if he could do anything. to have compassion and help them. The Lord's answer is more rightly translated in J.N.D's version, "The if thou couldst's (if thou couldst) believe: all things are possible to him that believes" (v.23). There was no question of the Lord's ability, but of the man's faith.
How appropriate then was the response of the father, made with tears, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief," for it shows reality of faith, yet an acknowledgement of the weakness of his faith. The Lord, seeing the people running together, drawn by this pitiful case, then commanded the dumb and deaf spirit to come out of the boy and remain out. In doing so, the spirit made one last cruel thrust in convulsing him greatly, leaving him so exhausted that he appeared to be dead. Tenderly, however, the Lord took him by the hand and lifted him up. But the case does show the cruel tenacity of Satanic power, over which the blessed Lord of glory has supreme power.
The disciples in the house questioned the Lord as to why they were not able to cast out the demon, and were told, "This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting." There are therefore different kinds of spirits. However, the connection of this verse and verse 19 shows that we are faithless if we lack prayer and fasting. For prayer expresses dependence on God, while fasting emphasizes self-denial or no confidence in the flesh.
Passing through Galilee, He desires that no attention should be drawn to them, for He had serious instructions that surely required the fullest attention of His disciples. Though He had told them this before (Ch.8:31), He seeks to deeply impress upon them the fact that He would be delivered into the hands of men, be killed, and the third day rise again. Apart from the crowd they surely ought to have taken this to heart, but again they had no comprehension of what He was saying, no doubt because pre-occupied with contrary thoughts. Later these facts would give them the deepest joy and courage in bearing witness to Him (Acts 4:33), but meanwhile they could not believe that He was going to be cruelly killed, nor even when He was crucified could they believe He was going to rise again. However, though they did not understand His words, they were afraid to ask Him what they meant. Do we too fail to understand because we do not ask?
Verses 33 and 34 indicate painfully why the disciples did not understand His words. They had been disputing as they walked, apparently not thinking that He was aware that they were arguing over which of them should be the greatest. When He asked them of this they were ashamed to answer. He sat down therefore, taking time to impress on them that which needed their close attention. One who desired to be first should be content to be last and servant of all. How seriously we all need such a reminder today! -- for our natural fleshly pride wants a place of superiority and recognition.
He uses a child as an object lesson, setting him in the midst, then taking him in His arms. A child could not confer the dignity of greatness on a man, but one's genuine care for little ones indicates whether he is morally great. Receiving one of these was receiving the Lord Himself, whose heart is tender toward the weakest, and all who received Him received the Father who sent Him.
But if John had been discouraged from seeking to be greatest in his own company, he was still desirous of considering his company the only right one. He tells the Lord they had seen one casting out demons in Christs' name, and ordered him not to do so because he did not follow them. But they themselves had just before failed to cast out a demon! (v.18). We may be puzzled to know who this man was, and why the Lord gave him power to cast out demons. But we are not intended to know: it is for us to follow the Lord, and leave the Lord in control of His servants, rather than to dare to give them orders ourselves.
The Lord answers , "Forbid him not:" if the man had power to cast out demons in Christ's name, then he was not an enemy of Christ. He was not against them, therefore he was for them. Matthew 12:30 on the other hand tells us, "He that is not with me is against Me." For He speaks there of the determined opposition of Satan's power: there could be no compromise in this. If one did not stand with the Lord Jesus when He was accused of having a demon, then he was against Him. But one casting out demons in Christ's name was certainly not against Him or against His disciples.
Then He links the simplest kind act to this matter. A drink of water given them because they belonged to Christ would merit a reward from Him. He does not forget any such respect shown for His name. Compare Matthew 25:40.
Conversely, rather than one stumbling the weakest believer, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea weighted with a millstone. For our treatment of believers shows our attitude toward Christ. Self-judgment therefore is absolutely imperative. "If thy foot serve as a snare to thee, cut it off." One's own conscience can discern this. If the foot goes in the wrong direction, the sharp knife is to be used: I must ruthlessly judge it. If one never learns self-judgment he will be cast into hell, into unquenchable fire. The same is said concerning the hand, which speaks of actions. If the actions of the hand are never judged, the end is the awful fire of hell. The offending eye is to be plucked out. If the eye sees what is evil (and the world makes provision for this in its pictures, its television and often in public displays) our one resource is to judge it and turn from it. "Turn away thine eyes from beholding vanity" (Ps.119:37). If one never judges his own evil propensities, he will never recognize his need of the salvation of God: the end of such a man is the torment of hell. The worm dying not speaks of the interminable writings of his accusing conscience, a significant factor in the torment that never ceases. The fire is the holiness of God, who because of His very nature must judge sin. The same fire that in some cases brings warmth and blessing will in this case bring heat and torment.
Salt is an antiseptic and preservative. So fire will counteract the foul disease of sin, preserving man too from indulging in the evil he desires, for though in hell his nature remains evil, he will not be allowed to express this as he wants. Miserable existence!
Salt illustrates the important principle of righteousness, which is indispensable in every aspect of the sacrifice of Christ. Only by that sacrifice can anyone escape the damnation of hell. Salt is good -- only when used in proper measure, of course. Like salt, righteousness must not lose its savor, or it would be useless.Leaving Capernaum in Galilee, the Lord Jesus comes into Judea near the Jordan river. Judea claimed to be strictly scriptural in contrast to the looseness of Samaria and Galilee; but it was here they needed the instruction concerning marriage, for in Judea there was corruption of fundamental relationships under a thin veneer of correctness. The subdivision from verse 1 to 45 embraces six sections, all dealing with God's creatorial rights, beginning with the first relationship He established among men.
The Pharisees raised the question as to the legality of one's divorcing his wife. Their motives were bad, for they wanted to catch Him in His words, a most foolish thing in dealing with the Son of God. Since it was the law they appealed to, then He asks them, "What did Moses command you?" They were aware of Deuteronomy 24:1-2, and answered that Moses had allowed it. They did not say Moses commanded it, for he had actually commanded that if one did put away his wife, he must give her a bill of divorcement.
The Lord answers that because of the hardness of their hearts Moses had written this. The second giving of the law (on Mt.Horeb -- Ex.34:1-7) included such concessions, and was not therefore absolute law, but law tempered with mercy. It recognized the hardness in man that it had no power to correct. But He refers back to the original creation of man and his wife, reminding them of God's declaration, "for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife." Adam was absolutely confined to having one wife, and Eve to having one husband. They were God's gift to each other. He had joined them together: man has no right therefore to separate them. Governments may publicly do this as a concession to the hardness of men's hearts also, but they do not have God as their authority.
The Lord has spoken this to Pharisees, but inside the house His disciples questioned Him further, to whom He answers that a man putting away his wife and marrying another has committed adultery against his first wife. A wife doing the same would be guilty of adultery against her husband. The Lord does not here mention the exception noted in Matthew 19:9, "except for fornication," because it is, practically' speaking, not even an exception.
Fornication would virtually itself be a breaking of the marriage bond, which is only confirmed by a divorce in this case. The partner who was not guilty would not therefore be committing adultery in marrying another after divorce, though generally there may have been fault on both sides, and before another marriage, one should be broken before God, seeking only His will. 1Corinthians 7:15 shows also that desertion is considered a breaking of the marriage bond, so that the one who was deserted would be left no longer under that bond.
Family relationships also are seen to be precious to the Lord Jesus in verses 13 to 16. Parents desired that He should touch their little ones, and the disciples, out of harmony with the Lord's thoughts, rebuked them for bringing them. Evidently they thought that children were of little consequence in comparison to men. But they are created by God, and given to parents as a heritage from the Lord (Ps.127:3), to be cared for and trained as for the Lord Himself.
The Lord was much displeased with His disciples' attitude, and insisted that little children be permitted to come to Him, and not hindered in any way, "for of such is the kingdom of God." People may say that little children cannot know anything about the kingdom of God, but the Lord makes it clear that this kingdom is for them just as positively as for adults. The child may know almost nothing concerning his own family, but his place in the family is just as proper as that of the most intelligent in it. Of course the church, the assembly of God, includes only those who have been baptized by the Spirit into one body, a much different thing than the kingdom, which is not only for those born again, but for families of believers.
More than this, the Lord admonishes His disciples that everyone who receives the kingdom must do so as a little child. As a little one submits to the authority of its parents, so every entrant into the kingdom must submit to the authority of the King, the Lord Jesus. These submissive little ones He therefore takes into His arms, puts His hands on them and blesses them.
In verses 1-12 the thoughts of the Pharisees had to be corrected in regard to marriage, then in verses 13-16 it was disciples who needed correction in reference to their attitude toward little children. Now in verses 17-22 it is a man of comparatively good character, but unbelieving, who needs correction in reference to God's rights as to man's temporal possessions; while in verses 23-27 disciples must have their thoughts corrected as to the same matter.
There is no doubt of the earnestness of the man who came to the Lord, for his running and kneeling bear witness of this. He addressed the Lord as "Good Teacher," asking what he should do in order to inherit eternal life. He did not realize that the One he was addressing was infinitely more than a good teacher. For this reason the Lord asked him why he called Him good, for only God is good. If only he could have given the proper answer that Jesus is God, how much would have been solved for him! But he did not think of Jesus as One who could satisfy the depths of his soul's need, but only as a teacher who could give him good instruction as to what he should do.
God had long ago given Israel a standard as to what man should do; therefore the Lord Jesus refers the man back to the commandments given through Moses, telling him he already knew them. Observe however that He only mentions five commandments dealing with one's relationship to others, not those relating directly to God, or the last commandment as to covetousness. But He does not say that this would give the man eternal life: man's doings could not ever accomplish this. However, since the man wanted something to do, the Lord reminds him of God's standard of "doing."
Could this satisfy the man? Not at all: for he answered that he had observed these things from his youth, so that it was evident that these things did not provide the answer to what was really troubling him. There was evidently that in the man that drew out the Lord's particular love on this occasion. He told him he lacked one thing, and that he should sell what he had, give the proceeds to the poor, and come, take up the cross and follow Him. No doubt this was a matter of doing something. It was not the gospel, for the man felt no need of the gospel of grace, which asks us to do nothing, but to receive what God freely gives.
What did the man lack? He shows us this himself when he went away sad because of his great possessions. His lack was that of a genuine faith in the person of the Lord Jesus as Son of God. No doubt the Lord, rather than giving him the gospel, was seeking to awaken him to a realization of this serious lack, that he might give up his object of "doing" and acknowledge his need of the mercy of the Lord. We may well hope that the Lord's word would produce this eventual result in the man, but we do not know.
In verse 23 the Lord seeks to impress the same lesson upon disciples that the man had failed to learn, for we are often too insensible to the fact that riches tend to become an obstacle to one's receiving the blessings of the kingdom of God. Men place such value on their riches that often it becomes an issue as to which they will choose, their riches or the kingdom of God. The disciples were astonished when He told them how hard it was for rich men to enter the kingdom, for under law the possession of wealth was considered a mark of God's particular blessing (See Deut.28:1-8).
The heart of the matter is however seen in His next words, "how hard it is for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God." The danger of having riches is that it becomes too easy for us to put our trust in them, while we should remember that God is Creator and His creatorial rights should be recognized in whatever possessions we may be entrusted with. Of course it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, and just as impossible for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. But in answer to the incredulous question of His disciples, the Lord assures them that though this is impossible with men, it is not so with God, with whom all things are possible. Therefore, a totally divine work of grace is needed to bring a rich man into the kingdom of God. But poor men who have a will to be rich require the same sovereign work of God in their hearts (1Tim.6:9). Indeed, all require it, for it is a universal disease to prefer something else to a path of faith.
In verses 28 to 31 another matter arises in which again God's rights must be affirmed. For Peter reminds the Lord that they (the disciples) were a contrast to the rich man, and evidently felt some self-satisfaction in having left all to follow Him. Of course it had not been such riches that Peter had left, but whatever it was, it is wiser to take Paul's attitude, "forgetting those things which are behind" (Phil.3:13).
The Lord's answer is not confined to the disciples, for many others have done similarly, but He answers them that the faith of any who have left anything for His sake and the gospels' will be more than fully rewarded. No-one will have to remind God of their self-sacrifice. He knows it well, and even on earth will reward it one hundredfold. Of all that they have left, everything is said to be replaced abundantly except fathers and wives. Of course the relationships of brethren, sisters, mothers and children speak of spiritual relationships, which are far more precious than those natural. Yet another blessing is added that may not be so attractive, "with persecutions." If we have spiritual appreciation of the Lord's thoughts, then in being persecuted we shall "rejoice and be exceeding glad" (Mt.5:11-12). Therefore, in giving up anything for Christ's sake the results are all abundant gain.
The Lord adds a word of caution here, however. If one desired the recognition of being first, this might reduce him to the last place. We may hope that Peter did not have this in his thoughts when he spoke as he did, but one who willingly accepted the last place now would very likely eventually be given the first.
In verse 32 the time has come for His last journey to Jerusalem. They were "in the way," but He was before them. They did follow, but evidently not too willingly. It seems this was the same occasion when they objected to Him that the Jews had only recently sought to stone Him (John 10:8). For this reason they were amazed that He would return so soon. Though they followed, they were afraid. As to their fears of His being killed, He does not allay these, but tells them emphatically that this will indeed take place, but that He would rise again on the third day. In chapter 8:31, in chapter 9:9 and in chapter 9:31 He had sought to prepare them for this, but they could not take it in; and even in this case, though they feared for His life, they seemed unable to believe His plain words that He would be delivered to the Gentiles by the chief priests, mocked, scourged, spit upon and killed; and the third day rise again. When a teacher repeats a lesson four times over at varying intervals, students usually remember it, but pre-occupation with natural thoughts can too easily blind us to spiritual truth of far more importance.
Verses 35-37 show a painful contrast to the Lord's willingness to take the lowest place in suffering and death. James and John had entirely missed the spirit of the Lord's words, and ask rather that He will do for them whatever they desire. Instead of responding with a similar spirit of self-sacrifice, they want the Lord to indulge their selfish desires! He spoke of suffering and death: they speak of glory and honor in His kingdom, with they themselves in higher positions than others.
The Lord's reproof is not stern, but firm. First He tells them that such a request stemmed from ignorance. A more important matter at the time was whether they could drink of the cup of which He drank and be baptized with the baptism with which He was baptized. Little did they understand this either, for He referred to His taking the cup of suffering from His Father's hand and being baptized with the death of crucifixion. How great a contrast was this to their desire for glory and honor! Yet they confidently answer, "We can." Yet He did not explain to them what they did not understand: they would not learn this without the necessity of hard experience They would indeed drink of the same cup as He, and be baptized with the same baptism, which actually meant their being identified with Him in His suffering and death. This was not because they were able for it, but because His grace would sustain them in it. Later looking back, they would deeply realize this, and marvel that they had been so ignorant.
As to the desire of James and John to sit on the right hand and on the left of the Lord in His kingdom, He tells them that this was not His to give, but would be given to those for whom it was before prepared. As the lowly Servant of God He had not come to hand out honors to men. In fact, to desire honor is a sure way of not getting it (Cf.Mt.23:12).
However, verse 41 reveals the same desire for honor in the other disciples, for they were much displeased with James and John for requesting this Such a spirit of rivalry is not faith. It would no doubt be right to be genuinely sorry that any believer (including ourselves) should aspire to such recognition, but to be displeased shows that we need the same reproof.
The kindness with which the Lord speaks to them is precious, however. He first calls them to Him: He does not drive them away with censuring words, but wants them near Himself. Then He reminds them of what they knew concerning the world's principles of government. Though men are called "public servants," they are given places of dignity and authority above the common people. Of course they saw this in the rule of the Gentiles over Israel.
But this was not to be so among the followers of the Lord Jesus. If one would be great, he must take the lowly place of ministering, not of ruling. The one who would be first would be servant of all. They had seen this in the Lord Jesus Himself, though they had not really taken it to heart. He, the Son of Man (showing His relationship to all mankind) had come, not to receive service and honor from others, but to minister to them and to give His life a ransom for many. Marvellous service indeed What an example to subdue every believing heart in desire to follow Him in a path of self-sacrificing service to His glory and for the blessing of others
This service is beautifully seen now even at Jericho, the city of the curse, in the case of Bartimeaus, a blind beggar, who is a picture of the reduced condition of Israel at the very time, and a picture of us all while we were unsaved. How blind we were to the light of God's truth, not knowing where we were going, destitute of the spiritual wealth that belongs to those redeemed by the blood of Christ At least the man did not deceive himself into thinking there was nothing wrong with him. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth who passed by, he cried out for mercy.
However, he did not say, "Jesus of Nazareth," but "Jesus, Son of David." As "Jesus of Nazareth" He was the prophet who came from a place despised by the Jews (Jn.1:46), but Bartimaeus recognized Him as Israel's true King, "Son of David," and gave Him this rightful honor. His loud crying out irritated many who demanded that he be silent, but he was not to be turned away by people's opinions: he cried out the more for mercy from the son of David. Certainly the Lord Jesus had heard him at his first cry, yet waited to have him called until he had proven the persistence of his faith.
"Jesus stood still." Precious response of genuine care for one in confessed need! He commanded the man to be called. Bartimaeus threw away his garment, rose and came to Jesus. No doubt he felt it unfitting that he should present himself to the Lord in beggar's clothing, which reminds us that "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isa.64:6). The Lord's question to him drew out the request concerning his most deeply felt need, that he might receive his sight. Who but the great Messiah of Israel, the Son of David, could be expected to answer such a prayer? The answer is however immediate, "Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole." On the part of the man nothing but faith had resulted in the giving of his sight, which took place simultaneously with the Lord's words to him. Wonderful miracle of grace!
Certainly the giving of spiritual sight is no less a marvellous miracle accomplished in every soul who receives Christ as a personal Savior. There is no doubt that this man received both natural sight and spiritual sight on that memorable day. The way he chose then was to "follow Jesus in the way." We may be sure that the extremely steep climb from Jericho to Jerusalem (about 3600 feet in 13 miles) meant nothing to him in comparison to his joy in following the Lord Jesus.Bethphage and Bethany were near to Jerusalem. No mention is made by Mark of the supper made for the Lord Jesus at Bethany, which no doubt took place at this time, for it was more appropriate that John should speak of this (Jn.12:1-8). In this area He instructs two of His disciples to go to a village where on entering they would find an unbroken colt tied, and to bring it to Him. Only the Lord of glory could give such an order, for He is Creator, therefore Master of all creation. If any objection was made, they had only to say "The Lord hath need of him," and there would be no problem
They found the colt tied by a door in a place where two ways met. The colt of a donkey is no doubt typical of Israel in her unbroken state of rebellion, yet restrained by being tied (under bondage to law). The two ways meeting there indicate that Israel was now brought to the crossroads: which way would she take? She was outside the door, not having entered into the blessings that God has provided for that nation. They loose the colt (typically from legal bondage), so that the Lord Jesus might be given rightful control. The disciples' garments provide a saddle for Him, and the colt is uncharacteristically submissive. The Lord Jesus takes the reins, and the donkey becomes thoroughly docile. How precious is this picture of what His grace is able to accomplish in the heart of a stubborn person! Of course it is typical too of what Psalm 110:3 says concerning Israel in the future, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power."
This is indicated also in verse 8, with many spreading their garments in the way He was riding, and others cutting down branches of trees to form an avenue of royal welcome for Him. The accolade given Him, though He was presented in lowly humility, is worthy of the King presented in majesty and glory. Of course a king presented in royal splendor was likely to be riding a magnificant war horse rather than a donkey. But Zechariah 9:9 had prophesied this unusually striking event, and God's hand in roving the scenes is unmistakable.
Entering into the temple, the Lord did nothing that day except to scrutinize everything that was to be observed there. Of course He saw the merchants trading there, and the money changers. He had driven these Out of the temple earlier in His ministry (John 2:13-17); and His steady, searching gaze now was surely a warning to these people which they evidently foolishly ignored; for if they had not come back the next day to ply their trade, they may have escaped the humiliation of being ejected again. That evening however the Lord returned to Bethany (about three miles) with the twelve. Luke 21:37 tells us that during this last six days of His life on earth He went every night to the mount of Olives (where Bethany was situated -- Mk.11:1).
Returning the next day to Jerusalem, on the way He saw a fig tree and came to it with the desire of eating some of its fruit. But though it had leaves, He found no fruit on it. There ought to have been fruit, "for the time of figs was not yet," that is, the time for harvesting them had not arrived. The fig tree is typical of the nation Israel: leaves speak of its fair outward profession. But in spite of Israel's show of godliness, when the Lord Jesus came the nation was producing no fruit for God. He pronounced such a curse on the tree as to preclude its bearing fruit forever.
Does this mean that Israel can never be restored? No, it does not. For though a tree may die, and therefore in its first state be reduced to never bearing fruit, yet "there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again and that the tender branch thereof will not cease; though the root thereof wax old in the earth and the stock thereof die in the ground" (Job 14:7-8). Israel will rise again in a different state than that which brought her to desolation: this will be truly "life from the dead" (Romans 11:15).
In Jerusalem He comes again to the temple, this time ejecting from the temple those who were selling and buying, overthrowing the tables of the money-changers and the seats of the dove sellers; also stopping the carrying of vessels through the temple. He firmly reproves this greed for money by referring to Isaiah 56:7, "My house shall be called the house of prayer."
In expelling the merchants from the temple, the Lord did not act precipitately, but showed the calm deliberation of observing first; yet when He acts, He does so decidedly and firmly, telling them that though His house was the house of prayer, they had made it a den of thieves. The scribes and Pharisees had no answer to His sobering insistence in God's rights, but they are only more infuriated against Him, plotting as to how to get rid of Him. They were afraid of Him, not because of His being God's true witness, but because His teaching had evident influence on the people, of whose approval they were envious. How sad it is that God's approval meant nothing to them!
Again spending the night outside the city, they return in the morning to find the fig tree the Lord had cursed dried up from the roots. Peter drew the Lord's attention to this strikingly rapid result of His words. The Lord answers, "Have faith in God," and assures them absolutely that one could say to a specific mountain, "Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea," and if he had no doubts about the matter, if would definitely take place. Of course the Lord is not speaking of a literal mountain, but "this mountain" is clearly the obstacle of Israel's condition at the time, lust as the fig tree spoke of her condition. The obstacle was Israel's opposition to the Lord Jesus. Its being removed and cast into the sea actually took place not long after the death of Christ, when the nation was driven from her land and absorbed by the sea of the Gentile nations.
Verse 23 then insist that faith is a most vital matter if one expects answers to prayer. We must remember that it is impossible to have actual faith for what is not the will of God. Of course we find His will expressed in His Word. That Word had declared before that Israel would be scattered among the Gentiles (Deut.28:63-64). Let us know His Word well and believe it: this will be a precious help in rightly directing out prayers and receiving answers.
We are to be guarded, however, against any vindictive spirit in our prayers. Though Israel was to be scattered, we must not have hard thoughts against them, as Paul shows in Romans 10:1. Similarly, whoever it may be that we have anything against, we must have a thoroughly forgiving spirit toward them. This does not mean that God's assembly should restore them to fellowship while they maintain a state of sinful disobedience, but our personal attitude must be one of willingness to forgive. If it is not so, how can we expect God to forgive our own trespasses and answer our prayers favorably? Only in a state of humble submission to Him can we expect fruitful answers to prayer.
In Jerusalem again, in the temple, the chief priests, scribes and elders concertedly confront Him, demanding to know by what authority He was doing what He did, that is, His driving the merchants from the temple, teaching in the temple, etc. Of course, being blind as they were, they were thinking only of man's authority. The Lord therefore, with admirable wisdom, asks them a question in return, promising that, if they will answer, then He would answer their question. "The baptism of John, was it from heaven or of men?" Where did John get his authority? Since heaven's authority had not entered their earth-bound minds, they find themselves in a serious dilemma. If they admitted the truth, that John's authority came from heaven, they would condemn their own unbelief. On the other hand, if they lied, saying that it was from men, the common people, who knew better, would oppose them. Their disbelief of God and their fear of the people therefore moved them to answer, "We cannot tell."
How glaring an exposure of themselves they made by this answer They were actually confessing themselves incompetent to judge as to the question of authority. It was as clear as can be that no man gave John his authority: the Pharisees themselves could have suggested no-one who might have done so. The fact is of course that the Lord's authority came from the same source as did John's, from heaven. But since the Pharisees would not acknowledge heaven's authority in John's case, then of what use would it be for the Lord to tell them He had heaven's authority? He therefore tells them flatly that He will not tell them the source of His authority. But this did not stop His teaching and acting for God, though it left them frustrated and helpless to do anything about it.The Lord Jesus, the faithful servant of the living God, the only One who knew how to be perfectly subject to proper authority, now speaks a parable that shows up the awful fact that all through the history of Israel their leaders had despised the authority of God, and this in subjection was on the point of culminating in their rejection and murder of the Son of God.
The truth of the vineyard planted by a man is clearly explained in Isaiah 5:1-7: "the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the whole house of Israel" (v.7). The hedge speaks of her separation from the nations; the place for the winefat telling of the provision God had made for Israel's rendering to Him some return for His great goodness; the tower indicating watchfulness against the intrusion of evil. The husbandmen are of course the elders of the people who were given responsibility to care for the nation on behalf of God, who left Israel without His direct intervention for centuries.
However, at the season when fruit should be rendered, the owner sent a servant to collect this. He was beaten and given nothing. Another servant was still more violently treated, another killed, then many others either beaten or killed. These are of course prophets whom God sent to the Jews over a period of many years, urging upon them at least some recognition of the rights of God. This was only consistent with the law which Israel had promised to keep; but rather than obey, they treated God's servants with shameful contempt.
In all of this the patience of God has been marvellous. Finally, He sends His well beloved only Son. Will they not at least give some real recognition and respect to Him? But the husbandmen, because they want authority exclusively for themselves, think that, if they kill the heir, they can usurp His inheritance. How vain is the pride of men in thinking they can actually get rid of the Son of God and take over the rights that God has decreed are His! So Israel has been guilty of tragic folly in crucifying the blessed Lord of glory, the Son of God.
Could the Jews think that the owner of the vineyard would do nothing about this enormous insult and violence against his son? Similarly, can they imagine God having no concern about their crucifying His own Son? Just as the owner of the vineyard would come and destroy those husbandmen and give the vineyard to others, so indeed would God act in solemn judgment against Israel's murderous leaders, and put others in their place. How different will things be when God restores Israel in a coming day, and reliable, born again men will be given the lead in caring for that revived, rejoicing nation!
The Lord asks them then if they had not read the scripture (Psalm 118:22-23): "The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner. This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes." The stone was a well known figure for Israel's Messiah, the Son of God. Certainly the stone made the head of the corner could be only the Messiah. The prophecy then is plain, the Messiah would be rejected by the builders before eventually being given His place of rightful honor. Did they not stop to consider that they were the very "builders" of whom the prophecy spoke?
How unreasoning was the blindness of their hatred, however! Realizing He had spoken this parable against them, they desire to immediately fulfil His prophecy, without thinking they were only confirming what He had said! But for the moment they are restrained by their fear of the people. It was not His time, though that time was only a few days away.
Pharisees and Herodians (usually opposed to each other) now unite in an effort to trap the Lord into speaking words they might use to incriminate Him. Yet they bear witness to the fact that He is true, that He was not a respecter of men, and that He taught the way of God in truth. (Why did they not then submit to His teaching?) Of course their subtle wickedness only intended these words as flattery, hoping this would influence His answer to their question, "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?" They hoped that, since He had a genuine care for His own nation Israel, He would object to the domination of Caesar. If so, they could accuse Him of rebellion against Caesar, though they themselves greatly resented Caesar's authority.
When the Pharisees and Herodians ask their crafty question of the Lord as to whether or not to give tribute to Caesar, how well He knew their treacherous hypocrisy He asks why they tempt Him, then tells them to show Him the common currency. They can only answer that it bears Caesar's image and superscription. Here was plain evidence that Israel was under the bondage of the Roman Emperor, a humilating matter, but resulting from their own disobedience to God. What could Israel rightly do but bow to the shame of this? The answer of the Lord then shows His perfect wisdom and righteousness, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's," but He adds what is of more vital importance still, "and to God the things that are God's." This was a matter which they gave little consideration, and no doubt His faithful words made them feel uncomfortable They could only marvel at Him.
The Sadducees then confront Him with the bold self-assurance of ignorance, thinking they have a question that will involve the Lord in confusion. They were determined to prove there is no resurrection, and had thought up a case that was very unlikely, to say the least. Deuteronomy 25:5 had made provision for a man (if his brother died) to marry his brother's wife in order for her to have children to take his brother's name. They assume a case of seven brothers dying after they had all in succession had the same wife. In the resurrection, they ask, which man would have her? Of course if only two had her they could have asked the same question, but they wanted to make the truth of resurrection appear as ludicrous as they possibly could.
Their earthbound minds were not prepared for the simplicity of the Lord's answer. He tells them their very question was in error because of their ignorance of scripture and of the power of God. Marriage was a provision of God only for earth. In resurrection there is no such thing, but people are as the angels. Scripture had told them that "men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, 0 God, beside thee, what He hath prepared for him that waiteth for Him" (Isa.64:4). At least they should have given God credit for the ability to introduce greater things than were seen on earth.
The Lord then declares to them the positive proof of resurrection, reminding them that at the burning bush God told Moses, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex.3:6). Though these had died, God said, "I am their God, not "I was."
Then He settles the matter absolutely with the decisive statement, "He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living." Though the bodies of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have died, their spirits live; and this fact necessitates their being eventually raised, for man is not complete without his spirit and soul and body (1Thess.5:23). The Lord therefore emphasized a second time the greatness of the error of the Sadducees.
At least one of the scribes was more honorable than those who had sought to trap the Lord. He realizes the wisdom of the Lord's answers, and comes with a question that was manifestly honest. When asking which is the first commandment, he evidently has in mind that which is first in importance. The Lord's answer is from Deuteronomy 6:5. Notice, however, how vital to the whole matter are the first words here, "Hear, 0 Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord." This is basic to all obedience on man's part. If the unity of the Godhead is not confessed, the very spirit of obedience is lacking. This is consistent with the words of the Lord Jesus, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30). This involves therefore the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as one indivisible God.
In verse 30 the first four of the ten commandments are embraced, for these speak of responsibility toward God, loving Him with all the heart, soul, mind and strength. Is this not a tremendous thing to be demanded of men? It is a standard of obedience of absolute perfection. Who can dare to assume that he does it? But the Lord goes on to insist that the second is like the first, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Who does this? Today's "permissive society" is flatly contradictory of this, for it says "live for yourself: forget your neighbor." Certainly only the Lord Jesus has ever obeyed this law.
It is good to see the scribe's response to the Lord's declaration as to the law. He honestly recognizes the truth of the Lord's words, first, in regard to the unity of God, then as to genuine love for God and men. He adds that this is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices, that is, that the formal observances were not as vital as the inward malty of the heart. The Lord answered him that he was not far from the kingdom of God. In fact, all that he needed was to realize that the One who stood before him was the true God. He had an honest respect for the Lord Jesus, which was not far from a true submission of heart to Him.
The Lord's answers to men's questions having left men silent, He now takes the initiative in asking a most vital question. He reminds the people that the scribes taught that Christ is the son of David. But he quotes David writing in Psalm 110:1, "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool." Therefore, He asks, if David called Christ Lord, how is He David's son? There was no-one to give an answer to this. Certainly, the Lord did not imply that Christ was not David's son, but He asks how this can be when He is David's Lord. Faith can answer without hesitation that both are perfectly true, but the scribes had no discernment of this. According to flesh Christ came from David's line, therefore a true Man. But He is David's Lord because He is "the root of David," that is, He is God, the Source of all (Cf.Revelation 22:16). The Old Testament teaches, just as distinctly as the New, that Christ is both God and Man. Scribes, because of their ignorance, did not teach it, but the common people heard the Lord Jesus gladly. One wonders if the scribe of verses 28-34 took to heart this vital question of the Lord.
Now He warns the people to beware of the scribes. Their doctrinal unsoundness was accompanied by a love for display and recognition by the people. The scribe of verse 26 then should beware of his own company and of his own heart! The common people were not able to read and write, and scribes took advantage of their own ability to do so, by a childish show in wearing long clothing and of desiring the admiration of the people in the market places, in the synagogues and at feasts. Yet they devoured widow's houses. Using their spiritual prestige, as many do today, they knew how to extort money from the public, even including widows, who suffered from such oppression. Together with this they made a vain show with long, empty prayers. Such men would receive greater judgment than those who did not accompany their sin with pretensions of spirituality.
A beautiful contrast to these is seen in verses 41 to 44. The Lord Jesus watched as the people were throwing their money into the temple treasury. Many rich were donating large amounts in contrast to a poor widow who threw in two mites, the value of a few cents today. The Lord then told His disciples (not the crowd) that the poor widow's donation was more than those of others; for her gift was a very real sacrifice: theirs were only a relatively small amount compared to the abundance of their resources. Let every believer take to heart the fact that the Lord observes everything about our giving; not only the amount given, but what we withhold, and what our motives are.With the sorrows of the cross looming solemnly before the eyes of the Lord Jesus, it is fitting that this chapter should affirm His own eventual triumph in glory over the evil that was accompanied by the pride of Jewish confidence in their own institutions. His disciples drew His attention to the manner of stones and buildings connected with the temple. Their words were a reflection of the pride of the Jewish nation, which must be brought low before ever the nation would find blessing from God.
The Lord solemnly declares to them that not one stone would be left upon another, but all thrown down. Certainly at that time there was no apparent likelihood of this happening. This was no mere observing of evident trends, but a clear prophecy independently of any circumstances, for the Lord Jesus speaks as the Servant of God, declaring the truth God has given Him to reveal.
The Lord's prophecy in verse 2 was partially fulfilled in A.D.70 when Jerusalem was sacked by the Roman general Titus, the temple being burnt and badly damaged, but with many stones remaining. It has been reported that the emperor Julian, who had first embraced then rejected Christianity (therefore called "Julian the Apostate"), in order to prove Christ's prophecy false, commissioned many Jews to return and rebuild the temple. When they found the it so greatly damaged, they decided to completely demolish and build it anew. They therefore literally fulfilled Christ's prophecy by taking every stone away. Then an unexpected occasion arose that prohibited their building. Julian's enmity only fulfilled the Lord's prophecy that he sought to overthrow!
Sitting on the mount of, Olives, the Lord Jesus is asked privately by Peter, James, John and Andrew when all these things should take place, and what sign they should look for. Just as in Matthew 24:3, the Lord's outline of prophetic events is intended, not for the crowd, but for disciples, and here in Mark for disciples who are particularly concerned; for prophecy is never rightly perceived apart from serious spiritual exercise.
His first words are striking, "Take heed lest any man deceive you." History has proven the great necessity of such a warning, for there are virtually countless prophetic deceptions today, having particularly multiplied since the 1800's. Many have already come claiming to be Christ, some of them not using this specific title, yet exalting themselves to the position of taking the place that is only rightly that of the Lord Jesus. Many have been deceived by them. These first words of the Lord's prophecy have already been abundantly fulfilled.
Wars and rumors of wars have troubled the world continually since then, but this itself is not a sign of the end, though their increase is ominous as "the beginning of sorrows." Earthquakes are mentioned, and the great increase of these in recent years has been a matter of common observation. Famines have also affected great areas of the world, so that a tremendous percentage of the world's population is suffering from malnutrition.
These prophecies however merge into the 3 1/2 years just preceding the great tribulation. Verse 9 was true of the disciples in the book of Acts, and the same will be evidently the case with the godly remnant of Israel who bear a testimony for God after the Church is raptured to heaven. Councils of the Jews will be then just as bitterly opposed to them as to the early apostles. Though we know that almost 2000 years has intervened in which God is gathering out the Church, this parenthetical period is not considered in this prophecy, except in the mention of general troubles such as wars, earthquakes and famines. Certainly they would not have expected so many centuries to pass before the fulfilment of the Lord's words; but the dispensation of the grace of God has been lengthened far beyond what would naturally be expected. How great is His patience and grace!
As to verse 10, during this dispensation the gospel has been published among all nations; and also, following the rapture of the Church the gospel of the kingdom (not the gospel of the grace of God) will be preached in all the world for a witness just before the end (Mt.24:14). Mark's gospel seems to speak in a more general way, and Matthew more specifically. But whether before or after the rapture of the Church, the instruction of the Lord remains effective, that His servants should not premeditate what to answer when brought before rulers and kings, but should depend simply upon the power of the Spirit of God, who would supply the words suitable for the occasion. Because of the hostility of governments toward the name of Jesus, one would betray his own brother to be killed, a father betray his son, and children their parents.
The increase of the hatred of all men generally will be more marked after the Church is gone, and the remnant of Israel will suffer severely. It is in this connection that we are told, "he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." One bearing the suffering of the tribulation and enduring this to the end would be saved for earthly blessing in the millennium.
Verse 14 goes back to the middle of the seven year period of Daniel's seventieth week of years, when the Anti Christ will set up an image to the Beast in the temple area of Jerusalem, called "the abomination of desolation," that is, an idol that brings desolation (See Revelation 13:11-18). Interestingly, one "who reads" (not "hears") is urged to understand. The Lord therefore intended this to be written for others than the apostles. Those in Judea are warned to flee to the mountains, and one on his housetop told not to even delay to save anything from his house, not even a garment to be claimed if one were in the field. For this image will be a brazen challenge against the living God, and He will immediately send the king of the north like a whirlwind against Israel (Daniel 11:40). When they say "Peace and safety," then sudden destruction comes (1Thess.5:3). The desolation will be awesome.
Mothers with unborn children or with little ones will experience greatest distress, and if in winter, this would add to the ordeal. This is the time of "the great tribulation," with its greater affliction than has ever been or ever will be, a time so awesome that no flesh should be saved unless the days were shortened. For the sake of the elect (those elect for blessing in the millennial earth) the days will be shortened, however. This is in contrast to the great lengthening of "the dispensation of the grace of God" far beyond what anyone would have imagined in reading the Old Testament prophecies.
Just as during the present dispensation (v.6) false christs and false prophets will arise, even showing signs and wonders so convincing as to deceive (if it were possible) even the elect. The qualifying clause "if it were possible" evidently infers that they would be deceived if it were not for the protection of the grace and power of God. For God has decreed that the elect will not be carried away in spite of their being so close to it. At this time the chief of all false christs, the Anti Christ, will entice great numbers "with all power and signs and lying wonders" (2 Thess.2:9). Believers however have no excuse for accepting such deception, for the Lord has forewarned them of its subtle character, and their protection is in His Word.
Verse 24 shows that there will be conditions at the end of that great tribulation period that will be similar to those under the Sixth seal of Revelation 6:12-17, which will take place before the great tribulation begins. The sun, the supreme source of light, is darkened, indicating that the light of God will be darkened by the atheistic folly of men's minds. The moon giving no light is typical of Israel's being reduced to a state of such darkness as to bear no testimony whatever to the light of God. The moon's light is of course the reflection of the light of the sun, as Israel ought to reflect God's glory in some measure. The stars of heaven falling implies the apostasy of those who once claimed to recognize the authority of heaven, but gave that up in favor of earthly-mindedness. The powers of heaven being shaken reminds us of Daniel's words, "the heavens do rule" (Dan.4:26). This may involve some striking physical portents, but does it not suggest the deeper spiritual lesson that man's rebellion has reached such determined proportions that heaven's authority is shaken? It is not removed, and only in men's eyes is it shaken; for the Lord Himself will be very soon revealed from heaven in flaming fire taking vengeance on the ungodly (2 Thess.1:7-8).
At least, conditions will have so developed and culminated in wickedness that this will all cry out for the direct intervention of God in sending the Son of Man in clouds with great power and glory. When this happens, men will see Him: it will be no "secret coming," as some false teachers like to imagine, but the Lord Jesus personally being manifested to judge the living nations in righteousness. This judgment is not at all described in this chapter, as it is in Revelation 19:11-21, but the fact of His being manifested in power and glory. Certainly this will mean judgment, for the events leading up to this have exposed the wicked, determined rebellion of man, and when once things have been fully exposed as they are, then judgment must be swift and decisive. However, just the sight of the once meek and lowly Son of Man being manifested in great glory will strike terror into the hearts of His enemies.
The coming of the Son of Man in His great power will have wonderful effects in blessing for His people Israel, as verse 27 indicates. For the "elect" who are gathered together by His angels are gathered for earthly blessing. Particularly among the ten "lost tribes" of Israel there will be a great awakening in their being brought out from their places of dispersion, coming from every direction and from greatest distances back to the land of promise. This will be a miraculous work of divine power. Verse 20 has already spoken of the elect who suffer during the tribulation: this evidently refers to Judah and Benjamin.
In verse 28 we are urged to learn a parable from the fig tree. The fig tree is the returned remnant of Israel planted in the vineyard (Lk.13:6). The vineyard speaks of Israel's estate as planted by God originally (Isa.5:1-7). It may be that Judah and Benjamin are specially represented in the fig tree. When these begin to put forth leaves of the profession of the knowledge of God, then the summer of God's millennial blessing is near. Even now we see the clear signs of this in Israel having so revived from her dormant state of centuries that she finds a prominent place in world politics.
Verse 30 presses the nearness of all these things finding their accomplishment. It seems to infer that the generation that sees the beginning of this revival will also see its culmination. On the other hand, it is possible that the Lord is speaking of a generation from a moral standpoint, that is, that an "adulterous and sinful generation" (Mark 8:38) would continue Until His coming in power and glory. Yet who can doubt that this is near, "even at the doors?" Though heaven and earth pass away, the words of the Lord Jesus must be absolutely fulfilled.
But lest anyone should dare to suggest a date for His coming (as many have foolishly attempted), He emphatically insists that no-one knows the day nor the hour, not the angels, nor even the Son, but the Father. The Son was here in the place of Servant, as Mark has presented Him. In this place He knew only those things that the Father had given Him as a matter of revelation, therefore the knowledge of the time of His coming could not be available from Him. We see this same devoted servant-character in Paul, who told the Corinthians, "I determined not to Know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1Cor.2:2). "Though in Deity the Lord Jesus is omniscient (all knowing), yet in Manhood He has willingly accepted the limitations of a Servant. In serving the Corinthians Paul also accepted a servant's limitations.
We too are to have a servant's attitude, paying close attention, watching, praying, for we do not know the time of His coming. It is good for us not to know, for this tests and encourages our servant character of devoted subjection to Him while He is absent (v.34). The Lord is a man having left His house under the authority of His servants, while taking a long journey. Each has been given his work, and the porter commanded to watch. All should therefore have their work always in such order as if they expected Him immediately.
The Lord suggests His coming in one of the four night watches, when men are most likely to be sleeping. The time of His absence is looked at as "night" in the world (Romans 13:12). The evening would be the earlier days of the church's history, and midnight the more advanced time of darkness. Matthew 25:6 tells us that at midnight the cry went forth, "Behold the Bridegroom." The great awakening to the truth of the Lord's coming in the 19th century evidently answers to this midnight watch. Therefore it seems clear that today we are in the third watch, the cock crowing. In Luke 12:38 the Lord suggests His coming for His saints in the second or third watch -- not as early as impatience might desire, nor as late as laxity might think. It seems then that He will come for us in the third watch, therefore at any time now. This is reinforced by Matthew's mention of the Lord's going forth in the fourth watch of the night, just as morning is about to break (Mt.14:25), walking on the sea to meet the disciples. This is a picture of His coming to Israel when they have been tossed by the waves of the great tribulation. If therefore He will come in the fourth watch to deliver Israel, it must be in the third watch that the rapture will take place. "I say unto all, Watch."The prophecies of Chapter 13 have been spoken only two days before the Passover, which indicates the serious importance of them. We are told again of the plotting of the chief priests and scribes to underhandedly arrest the Lord Jesus and kill Him. Only their fear of the people had restrained them before this, and the same fear moves them to want to avoid arresting Him on the Passover day. But God had decreed that He must be sacrificed on that day, and nothing could change this.
Verse 3 tells us of the same occasion as is recorded in John 12:1-8 in more precious detail. John says, "six days before the Passover," so that Mark evidently does not follow a chronological order in this case. It could be however that John speaks of the Lord's first coming to Bethany, to which He returned at nights during those six days, so that the supper might have been made for Him just two days before the Passover.
This supper took place in the house of Simon the leper (who had likely been healed by the Lord Jesus), though we know Lazarus and Martha were there as well as Mary, who brought the expensive box of ointment, breaking the box and pouring the ointment on His head. John speaks of her anointing His feet with it. No doubt she did both, but Mark writes of what is becoming to His servant character, and John shows the side of her worshipping at the feet of the Son of God. There too we read of her wiping His feet with her hair. This was not giving to the Lord's work, but to the Lord Himself.
Some were indignant at what they called "waste." How sad that even disciples would deny the Lord the honor that is rightly His. Evidently Judas was foremost in this (Jn.12:4-5), but others were willing to follow his materialistic reasoning. Its value was evidently equivalent to a man's wages for about one year, and it sounds plausible that this might have been given to the poor. But man's wisdom is ignorance compared to God's thoughts.
Mary does not have to defend herself: the Lord did that. "Let her alone," He says; "she hath wrought a good work on me." Did any of the disciples have the affection for the Lord that she had shown? Well might they be ashamed when He speaks to them as He does. They had the poor always with them: they had opportunity at any time to give to the poor. (Of course they were not suggesting that they should give to the poor, but that Mary should!)
But the Lord would not always be with them: in fact He was to be very soon put to death. Mary had done what she could, coming even before His death to anoint His body for burial. One wonders if she understood better than the disciples that He was going to die, as He told them; and if the death and resurrection of her brother Lazarus had perhaps spoken deeply to her heart in this regard.
Nor did the Lord consider this sufficient commendation of her act, but added with an emphatic, "Verily" that wherever the gospel was preached throughout the whole world, this lowly, affectionate action would be spoken of for a memorial of her. How beautifully true this has been! Indeed, this is enshrined in the Word of God for eternity, and countless thousands have delighted in this simple, loving sacrifice of her faith toward the person of the Lord Jesus Himself. What a contrast to the somber end of the history of Judas!
This unhappy man is seen now as acting in contrasting greed and avarice. He had been stealing from the common fund of the disciples (Jn.12:6), and now sees three hundred denanii slip through his fingers. His intuition is keen enough also to discern that popular opinion, influenced by chief priests and scribes) is turning against the Lord: the cause appears to be lost In callous unbelief he decides to sell out cheap. Little does he consider that in selling the Lord for money he is selling his own soul to Satan. Chief priests, who ought to have had honest concern for the spiritual help of souls, were instead glad to welcome a man who would betray his friend for money, and they strike this unholy bargain with him. How cold and hard have become the consciences of spiritual leaders in Israel! Blinded willingly by Satanic power, their hatred toward the blessed Lord of glory impels them on toward the pit of their own destruction. Judas watches for a time that he might betray his Master, but it is God who has set the time. How good that He is above all circumstances!
The most solemn, awesome day of history arrives. To prepare for the evening (when the day actually began) the Lord sends two of His disciples, in answer to their desire to know His will as to making these preparations How well it is for us also to depend on His guidance as regards any gathering of His people together; for we surely ought to realize our incompetence to decide this.
His instructions are strangely unusual, for it was customary for women, not men, to carry water. But God designed this for a spiritual reason, we may be sure. Vessels of water are often spoken of in the Old Testament, and they symbolize a small measure of the ministry of the Word of God, while in the New Testament "a well of water" and "rivers of living water" indicate the unlimited flowing forth of the ministry of God's Word by the power of the Spirit of God (John 4:14; 7:38-39). However, the man bearing the pitcher of water indicates that the limited ministry of the Old Testament leads somewhere, that is, to the "large upper room furnished and prepared," a type of the heavenly character of the church in contrast to Israel's earthly inheritance and blessings. One who rightly read the Old Testament would certainly discern that it was leading to something better and higher than it could possibly then reveal.
As they were eating the Passover the Lord Jesus told them .solemnly that one them would betray Him. No doubt Mark writes in order that these things transpired. Luke writes of the Lord's saying this after he gives the account of the Lord's introducing His supper (Lk.22:21); but Luke's order is always moral, not chronological, as Mark's usually is. The response of the disciples ("Is it I?") is interesting, and seems to indicate some proper distrust of their own hearts, except for Judas, who would only speak because the others did. The Lord tells them that the betrayer is one of the twelve who dipped with Him in the dish. Sad is this vain show of fellowship with the Lord on the part of Judas, when he was at the time contemplating His betrayal! While the Son of Man would certainly go to the cross as scripture had sovereignly declared, yet He pronounces a dreadfully solemn woe upon the betrayer, saying it would have been good for that man never to have been born. After hearing this from the Lord's lips, what must have been the cold stubbornness of the heart of Judas that he would go on with his dastardly plan? Scripture holds no slightest ray of hope for that man's soul. He is a most solemn warning to those who would dare to take a place outwardly near to the Lord while having no heart for Him personally.
It would appear that at this point Judas went out, if we compare John 13:27-30. Then the Lord Jesus introduces a new observance for His disciples, altogether distinct from the Passover feast. Mark records the facts of His giving them the loaf and the cup and that these symbolize His body and His blood, but does not mention their doing this for a remembrance of Himself, as Luke does. None of the Gospels actually insist on this being a continual observance but God's direct revelation to Paul clearly does so (1Cor.11:26), and 1Corinthians 10:16-17 shows that this is an observance for the assembly, "the communion of the body of Christ. For we being many are one bread, one body." It is the central expression of the fellowship of the body of Christ, the assembly.
Verse 25 is no doubt specially to be looked at from a spiritual viewpoint. The Lord's drinking of the fruit of the vine speaks of His finding spiritual joy and refreshment. From that time until the kingdom of God should come in power and glory, He meanwhile finds no joy in the nation Israel, for whom the Passover had been instituted. The Passover is therefore set aside while the Lord's supper is given to the church during all this dispensation of grace. The Lord had prayed, He had spoken to them the Word of God, and they sang a hymn together. At the time of the breaking of bread,. these three activities are therefore becoming. Nothing is given us as to the order of this observance, no distinctive pattern such as has been sometimes urged. This must be left for the leading of the Spirit of God in each gathering, worship being real, not formal.
As the Lord goes out with His disciples, He solemnly warns them that on that very night they would all be offended, that is, that every one would fail him in the hour of greatest trial. He quotes Zechariah 13:7, the Word of God that would certainly be fulfilled, "I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." Little did they realize the awful seriousness of that hour and the power of the enemy against them. The only One who could stand in that hour would be left utterly alone. But He does not leave it there: He tells them, as He had done before, that He will rise again; and also that He would go before them into Galilee. He would meet them in the place that reminds us that Judea had rejected Him: though He is King, He is yet the King rejected by the nation Israel: He would not take His throne even though raised from the dead.
Peter however strongly objects to the Lord's words, even daring to favorably contrast himself to all others who might deny the Lord. How little he knew of his own heart! It was because of this suggesting that he would be more faithful than others that the Lord later asked him, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?" (John 21:15). But at this time the Lord solemnly affirmed to Peter that he would deny Him three times before the cock crew. Yet Peter brashly at the very time denied what the Lord said Had he not before declared Him to be the Son of the living God? Now he virtually says that the Son of God is not telling the truth! Thus self-confidence always accompanies lack of confidence in God. the Lord has spoken calmly, but decisively: Peter speaks vehemently. Yet we must not forget that the others spoke similarly, though Peter was the most outspoken, no doubt.
This loud talk however is silenced when they come to Gethsemane. Leaving the other disciples to wait, He lakes with Him Peter, James and John. They who had witnessed the glory of His transfiguration (Mt.17:1-8) must also witness the contrasting agony of His soul in view of the greater agony of the cross. For He tells them His soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death, and asks that they watch. Why did His unusual words not have more serious effect upon them? Did they not realize this was no ordinary occasion?
He expected some exercise on their part, though He went further than they. They could certainly not enter into His agonies on the cross, nor can we. Nor could they even go so far as He in regard to the sorrow of anticipating the cross; but He did expect some measure of sympathetic fellowship in this time of grief.
Mark consistently with his presenting the Lord Jesus in servant character, is simply straightforward in stating the facts, rather than mentioning the agony of the Lord as Luke does, nor of an angel strengthening Him. Prostrate on the ground, however, He prays in confiding faith to His Father, with whom all things are possible, yet adding that the Father's will should be done rather than His own. What was possible therefore did not decide the matter; for of course it was possible that He could have avoided the cross, but it was not possible that if He did so the solemn question of sin could ever be settled or sinful creatures ever be saved.
Returning to the disciples He found them sleeping, and singled out Peter to speak directly to him, for he had been the most forward in affirming his devotion to the Lord. Could he not watch one hour? The Lord was preparing for an ordeal of the greatest magnitude: Peter was insensible to the need of preparation. Was this real devotion? Without watching and prayer they would enter into temptation, as their experience proved. In spirit they were ready, and considered themselves so, but they did not realize the weakness of their sinful flesh.
The second time He finds them asleep again, and the third time, when He says, "Sleep on now, and take your rest." Thank God the victory over sin and Satan does not depend on them! They may sleep on now, resting on the perfect sufficiency of their Lord's triumph over every enemy. In spirit He had gone through the conflict: there remained no doubt of His perfectly finishing the matter of redemption on the cross. Now He announces to them that the hour has come: He will face that hour with no hesitation.
In calm firmness of faith the Lord Jesus says, "Rise, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand." As the true Servant of God He will face the enemy. Immediately Judas comes with a great crowd of armed men sent by the chief priests, scribes and elders. Yet it seems that Judas was still acting in foolish deceitfulness, wanting to give the impression that he was not actually connected with these temple soldiers, so he goes in advance with the pre-arranged signal of his kissing the Lord. How could he think that such miserable treachery could remained concealed? However, though the Lord knew his every motive, when he used the fawning words, "Teacher, Teacher" and kissed Him, the Lord did not respond angrily: in fact Mark makes no mention of any response, as do Matthew (ch.26:50) and Luke (ch.2:48)
Mark does not tell us of the Lord's word that laid these men flat on the ground (Jn.18:5-6) before He allowed them to take Him captive, for it is John who emphasizes His divine power. Neither does Mark tell who it was who cut off the ear of the high priest's servant, as John does (Jn.18:10), nor of the Lord's healing of his ear, as is told by Luke (ch.23:51). But the Lord's words in verses 48 and 49 could hardly be dismissed by anyone whose conscience was not seared. Not only was the way they took Him unjust, but the fact of arresting Him was as unrighteous. Of course connected with this was their fear of the righteous anger of the people. All of this, however, as the Lord says, was to fulfil scripture, which cannot be broken. When the Lord only speaks with calm simplicity rather than fighting, the disciples give way to such fear as to forsake Him and flee. Mere human strength could not stand in such an hour. In the Lord Jesus is seen the pure reality of dependence upon the living God: He does not waver. Now Mark alone records the strange case of a young man following Him, who had only a linen cloth to cover him. When the soldiers try to arrest him, they are left only with the linen cloth, while he escapes from them naked. It has been suggested that this is a picture of the fact that though Israel condemned and crucified the Lord of glory, He would in resurrection escape from their hands, leaving only the reminder of His holy, spotless life, which the linen symbolizes, - just as only the linen grave clothes were left when the Lord rose from among the dead.
The Jewish soldiers led Him to the high priest, and though the hour was late, yet the chief priests, elders and scribes were gathered together, for their hatred toward the Son of God could not wait to have Him condemned. He had not been arrested because of any accusation of wrong doing, but after arresting Him His enemies try to find some evidence against Him, ready to welcome any false witness. However, though many false witnesses accused Him, their falsehood was evident because of disagreement among themselves.
The high priest tried to put Him on the defensive, as though He needed to defend Himself against such manifestly empty charges; but He wisely answered nothing. However, the high priest then goes further to question Him, not concerning any charges of wrongdoing (to which a judge should confine his investigations), but concerning who He actually was: was He the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? He does answer this question with absolute, positive finality, "I am." He bore clear witness to the truth. More than this, He adds the positive, clear declaration that His accusers would yet see, not only the Son of God, but the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven. Though being the Son of God, He had come in lowly humility as the Son of Man. But as Son of Man He would come again, no longer in lowliness, but as the Man of God's right hand in power and majesty.
Such words from such lips ought to have subdued the high priest in broken contrition, but instead he put on a despicable, unlawful show of being scandalized by rending his clothes and charging the Lord of glory with blasphemy. He had no interest in honestly inquiring if it was true that Jesus was the Son of God. As to rending his clothes, the law forbid him to do this (Lev.10:6). In flagrant disregard for the law, the council agreed together in their condemnation of the Son of God.
Having grossly violated their own law by condemning the Lord Jesus, some of the council, though members of the highest court in Israel, lower their dignity further in resorting to physical abuse, spitting and mockery, venting their hateful spite against this gentle, faithful, unoffending Man of sorrows. This is the resource of moral weakness, but on the part of those who took the place of religious prominence in the land.
In verse 66 our thoughts are for the moment directed to Peter. His natural boldness proves totally inadequate at an hour when he finds his Lord rejected by the religious authorities. When a girl speaks positively to the effect that he also had been with Jesus of Nazareth, he just as positively denies it. The courage of this bold, strong fisherman is defeated by the words of a girl. Then another girl told those who stood nearby that Peter was one of them. They evidently took this up and spoke directly to Peter about his being a disciple of Jesus (John 18:25). Having once succumbed to his fear, what could he do now but deny it a second time?
However, he still did not take the serious warning to heart by going out and pouring out his heart in confession to God. He remained long enough to be accused the third time, with evidence added that he could not refute. Instead of attempting to refute it, he resorted to the folly of strong language, cursing and swearing in denying any knowledge of the Lord Jesus. His first falsehood had trapped him and there can be no escape apart from honest confession to God. For the second time the cock crew. Of course the words of the Lord came back strongly to his mind. How could he not weep? Luke tells us he went out and wept bitterly (Lk.22:62).The Lord Jesus goes through this terrible ordeal in calm unshaken confidence in the living God. The chief priests consulted together to have Him arraigned before the Roman governor. They could have legally imprisoned Him, but were determined to have Him put to death, and could not legally do this under Roman law. Sentence for this would have to be passed by the Roman governor.
To Pilate's question as to who He is, He does not hesitate to answer, yes, He is King of the Jews. But this had nothing to do with any accusation of guilt against Him. Then the chief priests bring their many accusations, all of them being so trivial to Pilate that he would not take even one of them seriously. To all of these the Lord answers nothing. Why should He answer? If Pilate were so unjust as to condemn Him on the basis of such things, this would be only Pilate's folly. Yet Pilate had never before faced a prisoner who would not be anxious to defend himself. He marveled at this, but failed to take to heart its significance.
At the Passover feast it was the custom of the Roman government (as a flattering concession to the people) to release any prisoner whom the people chose. Therefore at this same time they began to clamor for the release of a prisoner. Pilate saw in this an opportunity to get out of a difficult situation, and proposed his releasing the Lord Jesus. Actually, this was thoroughly dishonorable: he ought to have released Him independently of this, for there was no reason that He should be a prisoner.
However, the crowd, influenced by the unprincipled chief priests, demand instead the release of Barabbas, a notorious traitor and murderer. How clearly this history of the Lord Jesus reveals the depths of evil to which religious prejudice will descend in hatred toward God. The Lord's words are proven true, "They have both seen and hated both Me and my Father" (John 15:24).
If the traitorous murderer is allowed to go free, then Pilate asks, what about the King of the Jews? The vindictive cry comes without hesitation, "Crucify Him." Pilate, attempting to reason with the unreasoning crowd, puts the pertinent question, "What evil hath He done?" They override the question as of no importance, and more vehemently cry out for His crucifixion. Where was the sober decorum befitting a hall of justice? Where was the control of the judge over his own court? Ought he not to have silenced the crowd and told them that the claims of honest justice must be observed?
Pilate, having already weakened himself by his indecisive wavering, found himself powerless to resist the vicious determination of the unruly crowd: his desire for their approval moved him to release Barabbas and to both scourge the Lord Jesus and give Him up to be crucified. Thus this man who represented the Roman government which strongly prided itself on its justice, was guilty of the most wicked abuse of justice the world has ever seen
However, before His crucifixion the Roman soldiers add their malicious abuse. This was not done to criminals, but again this exposes the cruel hatred of man toward his Creator. His own perfect truth and goodness seems to be the very reason for their harsh violence, contempt and mockery. They find some purple garment with which to clothe Him in mockery of the fact that He is King of Israel, and with this a crown of piercing thorns pressed on His head. All of this brings forth no sign of His being intimidated with fear, as they no doubt hoped, and they add to it the striking of His head with a reed, evidently intended to further press the thorns into His flesh; spitting upon Him and in mockery worshipping Him. The believing heart can picture without difficulty the calm dignity with which the blessed Lord of glory bore all this. In reality, His was a precious moral triumph, while His enemies little realized how great a defeat they were suffering when their wickedness rose to such a height. They know this well now
Again putting His own clothes on Him, they lead Him outside the city to carry out the sentence of crucifixion. Of course the Jews were guilty of this murder of the Son of God, but Gentiles as willingly joined in His condemnation. The whole world is represented in this solemn, hateful rejection of God as revealed in matchless grace.
John 19:17 tells us that "He bearing His cross went forth." Some have supposed that the reason that Simon the Cyrenian was comandeered to bear His cross was that the strength of the Lord Jesus gave way under it. This is only men's imagination: no such thing is indicated in the record. But Simon's bearing His cross does illustrate the fact that there is a certain sense in which believers are privileged to bear the cross of the Lord Jesus. Certainly this does not involve His atoning sufferings, but a path of rejection by the world for His sake. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14). The believer is also told to take up his own cross daily and follow the Lord. This is his personal response to the truth concerning the cross of Christ, for which he bears willing reproach in order to follow the Lord Jesus.
The place of a skull is reached, where they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh, but He refused it, evidently because of its stupifying character. Crucifying Him, they cast lots for His clothing, as prophecy had before declared (Ps.22:18). All night long He had been subjected to the cruel treatment of chief priests, Jews and Roman soldiers, the trial being pushed through peremptorily, so that by 9.00 a.m. He was put on the cross. The striking superscription "THE KING OF THE JEWS" was also placed where all could read it. We know from John 19:19 that it was Pilate who wrote this, evidently not in mockery, but to aggravate the Jews, for Philate was fearful of the fact that it was true that Christ was indeed the King of Israel. See John 19:7-8; 12-13; 14-15; 20.
With a view to humiliating the Lord Jesus, they crucified Him between two robbers, in this way numbering Him with the transgressors. Mark mentions nothing more of this, but Luke 23:39-43 shows us that God's sovereign power and grace was over this in using it to bring one of these men to genuine repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus; and in illustrating the solemn fact that Christ crucified is the great Divider between the lost and the saved.
Here is the most marvellous willing sacrifice the universe will ever be privileged to witness, yet who was present to give Him the honor of which such a sacrifice is worthy? There was nothing for Him but the cold contempt and mockery of the people generally and of the chief priests and scribes in particular, who were foremost in heaping abuse on One sacrificing Himself for their sake
As the holy Lord of glory hung there on Calvary's cross, the people passing by continued to abuse Him with their contemptuous words, making a mockery of what He had said: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Actually, at the very time, they were engaged in destroying that temple, which was His body, and He would indeed raise it up, as He did in three days. He would wait for the three days: He would not save Himself and come down from the cross, as they suggested. He would willingly bear its agony for the sake of the sinful souls of men! They fully admit, "He saved others," yet dare to mock Him because, as they say, "Himself He cannot save." How sadly ignorant they were that, though He had power to save Himself from their hands, yet because of His love for them He could not save Himself! Marvellous, voluntary sacrifice of infinite wisdom and infinite love! But the robbers also reviled Him. Whether the elite religious class or the lowest of despised criminals, all are on one level in their united opposition to the One whose truth and grace should awaken the deepest respect.
For three hours, as He hung on the cross, this contemptuous mockery of men continued. But at the sixth hour (noon) God imposed a complete black-out, and darkness covered the land until 3.00 p.m. Who could fail to take to heart the awesomeness of this? But no eye could see, and no heart understand the depth of agony and suffering through which the Lord Jesus passed in those hours. For this was not merely suffering from the hands of men, but suffering from God the unmitigated judgment that God must pour out against sin, the judgment also against our many sins. Absolutely alone He bore this anguish, and at the ninth hour cried out, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
This cry is surely intended to awaken every human heart to question what is the reason that not only did men abandon Him, but that God did so. The answer is clear for us today. This was the only way by which God could totally judge sin and at the same time save sinners from the awful consequences of their sins. The contemplation of His suffering may well bow our hearts in adoring wonder
Hearing His cry, some thought he was calling for Elias (Elijah). This must have been Romans who did not understand Hebrew, for Jews would know full well that He was crying to God. In His thirst they gave Him vinegar to drink, evidently in response to His words, "I thirst" (John 19:28-29).
Aloud cry of a contrasting kind then comes from the same lips. John tell us this cry was "It is finished" (Jn.19:30), a cry of exultant victory. Luke then adds to this that He said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Lk.23:46). His great work of redeeming grace was completed on that cross. Nothing could be added to it. Then, as Mark says, He "expired" (J.N.D.trans.). John says, "He delivered up His spirit" (Jn.19:30--J.N.D.). He had authority to lay down His life: by His own act He gave up His spirit. His death was therefore a miracle. He was not subject to death, for He was without sin, but by grace He became subject to death for our sakes. Another miracle takes place at the same time. The veil of the temple was torn in the middle from top to bottom, not from bottom to top, for it was God's hand that did this. This signifies that the way into God's presence has been opened by the death of Christ.
How many others were greatly affected by that sight only eternity will reveal, but a great upheaval took place in the heart of the centurion who was in charge of the execution. No doubt he had seen others die by crucifixion, but never one like this. For crucifixion is known to be extremely exhausting, yet the Lord cried out in apparent vigor of strength. More than this, only when reduced to complete exhaustion would one normally die, but He dismissed His spirit when manifestly not in a greatly weakened condition. The man declares, "Truly this Man was the Son of God." If this confession came from his heart, then the centurion. had been born of God (1John 4:15). Wonderful grace!
Women are mentioned as watching from a distance, three of them by name. It is recorded that they had followed Him and ministered to Him in Galilee; but no more is said. We are left to imagine what thoughts of unutterable sorrow pierced their hearts.
At evening, because the day of the Lord's crucifixion was "the preparation," and the sabbath would begin at 6.00 p.m., God had His servant prepared for the great honor of taking the body of the Lord Jesus to its burial. Joseph of Arimathaea was an honorable counsellor, a rich man (Mt.27:57), a member of Israel's Sanhedrin, but one who had not consented to their condemnation of Christ (Lk.23:51). Now he takes the place of positively identifying himself with Christ rejected and crucified! Precious energy of faith! This was clearly God's work in his soul. Though men had appointed Christ's grave with the wicked, this was not to be so: He was with the rich in his death (Isa.53:9).
Joseph pled with Pilate that he might be given the body of Jesus. Pilate, being surprised that He had died so soon, called the executioner to be sure of the certainty of His death. It was God who moved Pilate then to give Joseph permission to take the body; for the Romans had appointed His grave to be with the wicked. Precious it is that God allowed no unholy hands to touch Him after He had died. They had done their worst: only after that did God intervene. With what reverent affection we may be sure Joseph handled that body. From John's gospel we know too that Nicodemus came with him, another Pharisee who now took his place in open confession of the rejected Messiah of Israel (Jn.19:39). Joseph had bought fine linen in which to wrap the body, which he laid in a new sepulchre hewn out of the rock. Then he rolled a large stone slab over the entrance. It was this that Matthew tells us was sealed by the chief priests and Pharisees, who also left a four man watch to guard against His disciples stealing the body (Mt.27:66).
At least two women were deeply concerned to witness where His body was laid, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus. We may wonder why there were not many more than this.Only the sabbath intervened after His death and before the women came early on the first day of the week to the grave. Mary Magdalene is first mentioned in every account of the resurrection. Mary the mother of James is evidently the mother of Joses also (Ch.15:40,47). Salome is also mentioned in Ch.15:40. They had bought sweet spices with the object of anointing His body, but they would never use them. Mary of Bethany had anointed Him before, and He credited her with doing this in view of His burial (Ch.14:8). Perhaps they had no knowledge that the stone had been sealed and a watch set. But they knew the great difficulty of rolling the stone away, and question as to who is to do this. Yet their love for Him brought them there.
By this time the watch had left, for the great stone had been rolled away by an angel, to reveal an empty tomb (Mt.28:2). They had nothing left to guard! The women entered the grave, to see there a young man sitting, clothed in a long white garment. Of course this was an angel, manifested in human form, and they were frightened. His words were intended to calm and reassure them, with the message not to fear, for Jesus of Nazareth whom they sought was risen from the dead. They were to observe the place where He had been laid, for the evidence of this was still there in the burial garments, then to go and give the information of His resurrection to His disciples "and Peter," with the reminder that He would go before them into Galilee; for the Lord had told them this before His death (Mt.26:32). The words "and Peter" are precious, for Peter would no doubt be feeling at this time that he was no longer entitled to be a disciple, and he is specially included.
However, the women were no more calm in leaving the grave than they had been in coming. They trembled and were amazed, too afraid even to speak to others of it at the moment. Eventually they did bring the message to the disciples (Lk.24:1-10). There is difficulty in understanding clearly the order of events that day, for John 20:2 tells us that when Mary Magdalene saw the stone rolled away from the grave, she ran to tell Peter and John. Other details too we may find difficult to fit into their place; but each account is given from a different viewpoint, but each is truth, inspired by God. Verse 9 connects with John 20:14-19, and is deeply precious for its declaration of the Lord's appearance first to a woman, in resurrection. She is the striking illustration of a heart utterly broken, yet of sorrow turned to unutterable joy. It is mentioned here also that the Lord had cast seven demons out of her. She had reason to love much. She became His messenger with a message that ought to have deeply impressed the disciples (John 20:17); but their mourning and weeping were not allayed by this: they did not believe. Peter and John ought to have been the exceptions since they had before seen the empty grave (Jn.20:3-9).
After this, on the same afternoon, He appeared to two disciples as they were walking into the country. This was evidently the two spoken of in Luke 24:13-33, Cleopas and his companion. It is said that He appeared in another form. Neither Mary nor they knew Him when they first saw Him. Also, we are told in Luke 24:16: "their eyes were holden that they should not know Him." But what is the reason for "another form" I do not know. When these disciples told the others of their seeing Him, the disciples still did not believe. There were evidently some exceptions to this, however, for Luke 24:33-34 indicates that some told them the Lord was risen and had appeared to Simon. At least some had believed Simon when he told his experience. But Mark does not mention this.
Verse 14 refers to the same evening: Luke and John also speak of this event of the Lord's appearing to the gathered disciples, which He did miraculously, the doors being closed. Mark does not speak of His reassuring them, but rather of His upbraiding them for their unbelief and hardness of heart in not receiving the testimony of other disciples concerning His resurrection. There was no excuse for this, for the Lord had told them often before that He would rise again. The comfort of disciples was not Mark's theme, but service, in which they had been badly lacking because of not taking to hear! His Word. They needed the stirring that we need also.
The Lord's commission beginning in verse 15 is not the same as in Matthew or in Luke. Matthew gives us the kingdom aspect of that commission, Luke more specially its moral aspect, while Mark emphasizes their service. He tells them to go into all the world and preach the gospel to the entire creation. He that believed and was baptized should be saved. Notice He does not say that he who believed and was saved should be baptized. Rather, there is an aspect of salvation that is found in being baptized. Compare 1Peter 3:21 and Acts 2:40. In this latter verse the Jews were urged to save themselves from "this untoward generation." In being baptized they were saving themselves (not saving their souls) from a generation that had rejected the Lord Jesus. The Lord's words in Mark 16:16 include this outward aspect of salvation. Added here is the solemn declaration that one who believed not would be judged. Nothing is said of baptism in this case, for one might be baptized and yet be judged; or one might not be baptized, and not be judged.
Certain signs also would follow those who believed. In Christ's name they would cast out demons (power over Satanic influence). They should speak with new tongues (power over separative influences among men, for such speaking would bring about an understanding between those who normally did not understand one another). They should take up serpents, and would not be hurt by drinking deadly poison (power over lower creation, animate and inanimate). They should recover the sick by laying on of their hands (power over the consequences of sin in men).
Verse 19 records the Lord's ascension, but with no mention of the 40 days intervening before this took place. Luke has more to say about this (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11).
The last verse speaks of the following work of God in disciples as seen in the book of Acts, but does not mention the coming of the Spirit of God. The preaching of Christ is seen to be accompanied by His own working with the disciples and confirming His Word with signs following. This fulfils what the Lord said in verses 17 and 18, and is declared also in Hebrews 2:4. This being fulfilled, there is no reason for us to expect such miracles today. The service of the Lord Jesus continues, but that service is seen in His own servants.