We left off yesterday with Mark’s account of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ. The first verse of chapter 9 continues Jesus’s discourse from the previous chapter. While many believe that Jesus is speaking of the kingdom of God coming in power as the Second Coming, that is clearly not the case. He is speaking of the inauguration of the end times, which Jesus will accomplish with the death He just spoke of (8:31). And Jesus shows the power at work in God’s plan of redemption through the transfiguration (9:2-7), which He follows with another prediction of His coming suffering and death (v. 12). Note that they waited six days to ascend the mountain (v. 2), hearkening back to Moses waiting to encounter the glory of God at Mount Sinai (see Ex 24:16).
In the following account of the demon possessed boy, Mark gives more detail than Matthew (see Matt 17:14-20). We see here that there are scribes arguing with Jesus’s disciples (v. 14). Remember, this is not in Israel, this is in Caesarea Philippi (see 8:27). The religious leaders are now following Jesus pretty much everywhere. The argument appears to be about the disciples attempts to exorcise the demon (vv. 16-17).
Mark also records Jesus’s exchange with the father of the demoniac. The father asks for Jesus’s help “if you can do anything” (v. 22). Jesus responds by telling him that with faith, it is possible (v. 23). The man’s beautiful response regarding his reliance on God for his faith speaks volumes about what faith is (v. 24). It is a gift of God. Then Jesus exorcises the demon (vv. 25-26). Again, this is not Israel, but a foreign land. The Apostles were able to exert authority over the demons in Israel (see 6:13), but here they could not exert that authority in the territory allotted to the powers of darkness. The gates of hell prevailed, in this case. Jesus then tells them that the reason they failed to defeat the demon is because they did not pray (v. 29). He is referring to their lack of reliance on God for their faith. Understand, this is part of their training. They need full reliance on God when they are sent into all the world to defeat the powers of darkness and reclaim the nations for God Most High.
Mark follows this up with the argument about who is the greatest among the disciples (vv. 33-37). Their self-reliance is evident. Then, the disciples tell Jesus that they found someone casting out demons – not trying to cast out demons – casting out demons in the name of Jesus (v. 38). This anonymous believer is the foil to the self-reliant disciples. He relied on God and was able to do what Jesus wants all of His disciples to do. Jesus’s assertion that those not against His people are for us (v. 40), combined with His teaching that whoever is not with Him is against Him (see Matt 12:30), excludes any middle ground. There are only two types of people. And those who are for Jesus and with His people are, along with all of His disciples, part of the war against the powers of darkness.
In verses 42-50, Mark combines Jesus’s teaching about causing a disciple to stumble with imagery from the Sermon on the Mount. Removing the cause for sin (vv. 43-47) is the salting Jesus refers to in Matthew 5:13. The fire is the refining God does to us in the here and now (v. 49). The purpose is God’s preservation of His people (like salt preserves).
Chapter 10 parallels the same stories in Matthew, with two exceptions. In the account of the request of the sons of Zebedee, Mark says it was the men themselves that ask Jesus for the seats of honor (v. 37) whereas Matthew says it was their mother (Matt 20:20). It would seem that they came with their mother to ask the question together. Then, in the account of the healing of the blind at Jericho, Matthew tells of two nameless blind men (Matt 20:30), whereas Mark mentions only one of them by name (v. 46). This is similar to the account of the demoniac (5:1-20, Matt 8:28-9:1) where Matthew mentions two nameless men and Mark mentions one (and gives the demons’ name), or the account of Jairus (5:21-43, Matt 9:18-26). Mark appears to want to make these miracles more personal than Matthew by focusing on individuals and giving their names.
Chapter 11 begins with the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Whereas Matthew focused on the colt to show how this fulfilled the words of the prophet Zechariah (see Matt 21:5, Zec 9:9), Mark here focuses on the fulfillment of Jesus’s own words (11:5-6). Then (again for theological reasons) Mark separates the fig tree incident with the cleansing of the Temple. Mark does this to show the symbolism of the fig tree. The tree is physical Israel. Note that Mark includes “for all the nations” in his quote of Isaiah 56:7 (compare Matt 21:13). Also note that the “den of robbers” quote is from Jeremiah 7:11, which is part of God breaking the news to Judah that, just like with Israel, the covenant has been broken and He has forsaken them as a people (see Jer 7:1-15). That this is bookended by the fig tree miracle shows that Israel’s problem is – and always has been – a lack of faith.
The challenge to Jesus’s authority (vv. 27-33) closely parallels Matthew’s account. In the Parable of the Tenants (12:1-12), the only difference between Mark and Matthew is that Mark says Jesus answered His own question (v. 9) whereas Matthew says the people answered Him (Matt 21:41). The encounter with the Pharisees about taxes and with the Sadducees about the resurrection are substantially the same as Matthew’s account. In the exposition of the Great Commandment, Mark adds the exchange of Jesus with the scribe who is seemingly on his way to becoming a believer. Mark greatly abridges Jesus’s teaching about the scribes (vv. 38-40 – compare Matthew 23:1-36).
Mark then includes the account of the widow’s offering (vv. 41-44 – this is also included in Luke – see Luke 21:1-4). This is the last general teaching of the disciples that Mark records (Mark says the Olivet Discourse is only given to the inner four of the Apostles, and he records none of the upper room teaching the Gospel according to John does). Mark chooses to end the training of the disciples with a positive teaching. Mark wants to end the training with Jesus’s call for us to give Him everything, even as He is about to give us everything. That is the final preparation for the life of the church.