Posts Tagged 'Gospel'



The Gospel of John might well be the most amazing thing ever written.  Most people assume it is easy to read and understand, which is why new Christians are encouraged to read it and often given copies of it upon their conversion.   John’s simple way of writing—often using very short, simple words—is deceiving, however.  Consider the very first verse of John’s Gospel—

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

There is not one complicated word in that verse.  Taken individually, even a child can tell you what each word in verse 1 means.  But when we put them together the way John did, we come up with one of the most profound verses in the entire Bible.  St. Jerome observed:

John excels in the depths of divine mysteries.

St Jerome was, I think, making an understatement!

This Gospel was probably the last of the Gospels to have been written.  Its readers would have been second or third generation Christians and what they knew about the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ they gleaned from what John and the other Gospel writers wrote, what Paul and others wrote in letter form, and what they heard by word of mouth, either from their parents or from wandering, itinerant preachers.  There were no seminaries at this time, preachers were not taught by theology professors and they did not have racks of commentaries to study from or, in fact, a standardized Bible from with to teach.  Understandably, then, as some historical evidence suggests, there were some common misconceptions about Jesus circulating among the members of the early Church.  It was essential to set the record straight for future generations.  This was John’s burden.

Who exactly was John, the man behind the Gospel?  Biblical information tells us that he was the son of a man named Zebedee, a fisherman by trade, whose wife was named Salome (Mark 15:40; 16:1; also Matthew 27:56).  Most scholars believe that his older brother was named James.  It seems that the John’s family was a family of means; they had hired servants (Mark 1:20), and according to John 19:27, he took Mary in and cared for her after the death of Jesus.

He was probably a disciple of John the Baptist before becoming a follower of Jesus (John 1:35—40).   The Apostle John was a member of Jesus’ inner circle, along with his brother James and Peter.  On numerous occasions during the last half of Jesus’ ministry, these three men alone were drawn closer to Jesus in a relationship not enjoyed by the other disciples (Matthew 17:1—8; Mark 9:2—8; Luke 9:28—36, 49ff; 22:8).   Peter and John were the only disciples to follow Jesus to the place of judgment (John 18:15, 16); John alone went with Jesus to Golgotha (John 19:26); and it was John and his friend Peter who raced to the tomb on the first Easter morning (John 20:3—4).

The apostle is mentioned in the book of Acts nine times and there he is overshadowed by the leadership of Peter, though Paul names John as one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9)

The Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, a letter really, was written by the same John and is the only other book in the New Testament to reference the apostle.  Exiled on the rocky island of Patmos for a time, John is seen not only as an apostle, but as a prophet.

From bits and pieces of history, we know that John did not die on Patmos, but spent his declining years in Ephesus.  Early Church father Jerome mentions that in his “extreme old age,” John was helped to and from worship services by his loyal “disciples.”  To his dying day, John’s message was one of love; loving one another and loving God.

While most conservative Bible scholars place this Gospel’s composition around 95 AD, the events it records took place between 30 and 36.  That means it took John some 60 years to get around to writing his Gospel.  In fact, the other three Gospels, like John’s, were all written decades after the events they recorded.  The epistles or letters, even though they are located after the Gospels in our New Testaments, were mostly written long before the Gospels were.  Why did it take Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John so long to write their accounts of the life and times of Jesus Christ?  There were two main reasons:

  • The disciples and members of the first century Church took literally the promise made by Jesus Christ that He would return soon.   If a couple of angels came up to you and told you that Jesus Christ would return the same way He left, as they did the followers of Christ in Acts 1:11 at the time of His Ascension, you would probably go about your days keeping an eye open for this to happen.  We can imagine that as the first century drew to a close, the disciples, the eyewitnesses to the life of Christ, were getting old and feeble and they realized that they needed a permanent record of the things they saw, experienced, and subsequently taught.  So John and Matthew wrote their Gospels as old men.  Mark, who was not a disciple and considerably younger than any of the Twelve, wrote his Gospel and Luke, who traveled with and cared for Paul, and who spent years interviewing the men and women who knew Jesus personally, wrote his Gospel to “set the record straight” for a generation who never saw Jesus personally.
  • To correct false impressions and false teachings about the facts surrounding the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  By the mid-first century there were all kinds of myths and legends swirling around the Man called Jesus Christ.  Some of these false teachings were perpetrated in ignorance by men who were genuinely saved but preaching wrong things because they themselves had been mistaught.  Other false teachings were spread by Judaizers and Gnostics who sought to disrupt and eventually destroy the Church of Jesus Christ.

John in his Gospel helps the reader understand exactly why he wrote his Gospel by stating his reason in John 20:30—31,

30Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

There are at least four key ideas expressed by John in these two verses that need to be examined in order to grasp why he wrote what he wrote and why what he wrote is so different from what Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote.

1.  Miraculous signs

These verses are really the conclusion of the Gospel, summarizing the author’s strategy, subject, and purpose in writing it.  Thomas’ glorious confession in verse 28 gives John’s purpose power.  Thomas realized who Jesus Christ was after seeing our Lord’s resurrection, the greatest miracle or sign of all.  The resurrection and subsequent appearances of Jesus to His followers and others led credence to the fact that Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be.  John realized how powerful the miracle of the resurrection was and in similar measure, how powerful the other miracles of Jesus were, and so he wrote about them in his Gospel, preserving them for all time for others to read about.

The Greek word John used in verse 30 was semeion, and in classical Greek literature usually meant:

  • A mark or sign by which something is known;
  • An omen or a sign from the gods;
  • A sign or signal to do something; ie., a signal for battle.

In Koine Greek, or the common Greek the New Testament was written in, semeion came to mean “miracle” or “wonder” and “a sign.”   As John used it in his statement of purpose, the word carries two distinct ideas.  First, John meticulously recorded many, but not all, of the miracles Jesus performed during His earthly ministry.  In fact, John records some miracles not mentioned in the other Gospels.  Second, John indicates why he recorded so many miracles:  That you many have faith that Jesus is the Christ, to Son of God (literal).  In John’s mind, the miracles of Jesus were really a “call to action,” and that action was the act of placing faith in Christ Jesus.

2.  Believe (or faith)

Even though “faith in Christ” is the key ingredient in all Christian preaching and teaching, it is odd that John never uses that word, “faith” (pistis)  in his Gospel.  However, he does use the verb pisteuo, “believe,” a derivative of pistis (the noun “faith”) almost 100 times.  In fact, “believe” is the key word in John’s history of Jesus Christ.  As far as John was concerned, “faith” had to be an action—a verb and not a noun.  Belief in Christ was to be the only appropriate response to the Son of God.  Faith or belief in Jesus Christ is really made up three ingredients:

  1. Belief
  2. Trust
  3. Loyalty

L.H. Marshall makes an interesting and helpful observation:

Just as gunpowder is not gunpowder if any of its three elements—carbon, saltpeter, or sulphur—is missing, so is faith a genuine faith only if all of its elements are present.

3.  Jesus is the Christ

He is the chief subject of the Gospel, not the signs and wonders.  John artfully presents Jesus as “the Christ,” or “the Messiah” and the “Son of God.”  The word “Christ” properly means “Anointed One,” and in Jewish literature always refers to the One chosen by God to be Israel’s Deliverer, who would come to free the nation from bondage and to restore the David Kingdom.  As recorded by John, Jesus was given this title very early on in His earthly ministry by the men He would later refer to as His Apostles—

41The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).  (John 1:41)

Interestingly, all of Jesus’ disciples knew who Jesus was, but in John’s Gospel, he seldom refers to Jesus as “the Christ” and, in fact, Jesus did not refer to Himself as “the Messiah.”  This was a shrewd calculation of our Lord’s part.  That appellation carried with it extreme political connotations that Jesus would not and did not fulfill during His first coming.   Jesus was very careful not to portray Himself as some kind “Jewish” political savior, leading some kind of political revolutionary movement.   Jesus made it clear to Pilate that His kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36).

However, in their zeal to find their political savior, the Jews of John’s day completely missed the spiritual aspect of their coming Messiah:  that of a spiritual deliverer.  This aspect of the Messiah’s mission Jesus fulfilled completely at His first coming.   John tells his readers in no uncertain terms their Savior had already come.  He does this by his style of writing; carefully choosing and ordering his words and the events of Christ’s ministry to show that God’s Son—the Incarnate Word—is the complete and final fulfillment of centuries of their own prophet words.

4.  Life

Zoe, “life,” is another favorite word John uses over 30 times.  Not only does he use it often, but “life” is a major theme of his Gospel.   It frequently means “the life of believers which proceeds from God and Christ” (Arndt and Gingrich).  As John used the word frequently, “life” designated the “new life” that an individual experienced as a result of faith in Jesus Christ even as they lived in this world.  Sometimes John wrote about life and eternal life, blurring them together, not distinguishing between the two!   In Johannine theology, the moment a person placed their trust and faith in Jesus Christ, they received a new life that they would carry into eternity.


John’s Gospel is not only amazing; it is beautiful.  We see Jesus Christ, the Word, in His pre-incarnate glory, so that we may appreciate His love in coming to earth with the sole purpose of saving sinners.  During His earthly ministry, we see Jesus revealing Himself to more and more people, yet rejected by His own.  Nevertheless, the all-powerful Son of God did not lash out in anger, but tenderly appealed to them, sinners all, to accept Him by faith.   Despite His messages of peace, militant forces marshaled against Him in bitter opposition.  By the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, He manifested Himself to be precisely who He claimed to be.   Mathew, Mark, and Luke all record the same story, but John’s account is most touching and most assiduous.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

Studies in Mark’s Gospel, Part 7

The Last Hours, Part Two

After Judas the betrayer had left to do what he had to do—betray the Son of God—Jesus and His friends finished their Passover meal and sung a hymn and left for the Mount of Olives—

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:26)

1. A disturbing prediction, Mark 14:27—31

As they were walking along, Jesus knew full-well what was going to happen to Him. He knew Judas had gone, betrayed Him, and sealed his deal with both the chief priest and Satan himself. Jesus also knew the words of Zachariah 13:7—

Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who is close to me!”
declares the LORD Almighty.
“Strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered,
and I will turn my hand against the little ones. (Zechariah 13:7)

Jesus knew that He, the Great Shepherd, was to brutally killed and that His friends, the sheep of His flock, would be scattered. But Jesus also knew human nature—

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:

” ‘I will strike the shepherd,

and the sheep will be scattered.’ (Mark 14:27)

These words must have caused confusion and distress in the disciples. Only slowly, after all this time with Jesus, did they begin to see the faintest glimmer of what Jesus had been alluding to all evening: He would be the Suffering Servant. But “suffering” was not our Lord’s last word. Notice the very last sentence—

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (Mark 14:28)

Jesus told them clearly that he would rise, and would meet them in Galilee, their home province, some ways away, to the north. As has been noted, Jesus almost never referred to His death without looking beyond it, and though His death would scatter His sheep, His resurrection would unite them.

But Peter, apparently ignoring the resurrection statement, was greatly wounded by the fact that Jesus implied they, the disciples, would “fall away.”

Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”

But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. (Mark 14:27—31)

To borrow a phrase from William Shakespeare, Peter protests “too much, methinks.” But we often overlook the last sentence: “And all the others said the same.” We know, of course, that indeed Peter did disown Jesus exactly as predicted. We may learn a couple of valuable lessons here. First, the experiences of both Judas and Peter remind us of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:12—

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

Both of these men were intimate friends of Jesus, yet both faced the very real possibility of apostasy. Peter is the classic illustration of a believer, though he may backslide, may repent and be restored, and in the process become an even stronger believer for his experience. We also learn something of divine foreknowledge; it is consistent with human freedom and responsibility. Though Jesus knew about the coming events in every detail, He was not the cause of them.

2. The agony of Gethsemane, Mark 14:32—42

Finally, they reached Gethsemane, which means “oil press,” an apt name for the place where Jesus would spend praying about His future. It was probably a walled-in private garden full of olive trees. It was place Jesus and His disciples have visited often. Upon entering the garden, Jesus left eight of His friends near the entrance, but took Peter, James, and John with Him into the garden.

He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” (Mark 14:33—34)

We can’t be sure why Jesus asked those three disciples to be with Him; we may speculate, however, that by now the full import of the Cross and what it meant to bear the sin of the whole world was beginning to weigh heavily on Him and, perhaps, Jesus felt the need for moral support. The two verbs translated “deeply distressed and troubled” taken together “describe an extremely acute emotion, a compound of bewilderment, fear, uncertainty and anxiety (Bratcher and Nida). For some reason, Jesus wanted the privileged three, His inner circle, to know something of the agony He was experiencing.

How severe was this agony? Jesus Himself said that He was “overwhelmed” with sorrow “to the point of death.” This was no mere exaggeration. What Jesus prayed may be interpreted two ways—

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:35—46)

The traditional interpretation is that Jesus was staggering under the weight of the realization that in a short time, the awful wrath of God was going to let lose upon Him, and that He was about to suffer an agonizing, lonely death. This is the “cup,” His death on the Cross. Here, they say, we see Jesus submitting to God’s will.

However, there is another interpretation. Jesus had already submitted to His Father’s will. Jesus was no mere martyr; He was no victim of circumstances. In fact, recall these words Jesus spoke—

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17—18)

Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen and He was in total control of the events. The “cup” to which Jesus referred may not have been His death upon the Cross, but rather what was happening in the garden at that exact moment. Here was Jesus, falling to the ground, unable to stand, literally dying. This was not His time to die. This was not the cup Jesus was meant to drink from. Jesus was praying to His Father for physical strength and endurance to complete His mission and die, not in the garden, but on the Cross. No mere man can ever know what Jesus must have felt as He lie, sprawled out on the ground. It is one thing to know death is near, but Jesus’ mission was not just to die, but to bear the sin of the world and experience the full wrath of God.

Three times Jesus prayed, and three times His friends fell asleep on Him. We can imagine Jesus was just as tired as they were; tired from lack of sleep, stress, and drained because of the emotions they were all feeling that night. Finally, the time had come—

“Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:41—42)

Verse 42 is amazing. It wasn’t enough that Judas and the soldiers were coming to get Him, Jesus had to go and meet them! Once again, Jesus is the One in charge.

3. The arrest, Mark 14:43—51

It is significant that Mark states Jesus’ betrayer was “one of the Twelve.” It is a fact that he never wants his readers to forget. Judas had thought of everything to make his mission a success. Soldiers, priests and a mob all came for Jesus, and a pre-arranged sign, a kiss, would ensure that in the confusion of darkness no mistake could be made.

Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. (Mark 14:45)

In fact, the original says that Judas “kissed Jesus repeatedly.” As if to protest the lawless, unruly nature of His arrest, Jesus confronted the crowd with a statement that must have staggered them—

“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” (Mark 14:48—49)

The crowd had weapons—clubs and swords—as they approached Jesus. They were treating Him as some kind of anarchist or insurrectionist, as if He were dangerous. This must have both angered and disappointed Jesus. He never hid His intentions from anybody, yet here came the very people who heard His teachings, brandishing weapons. They knew the truth, they had seen and heard His words of peace, yet the crowd obviously did not understand.

When the disciples realized that Jesus did not intend to resist and that, apparently, there would be no divine intervention forthcoming, they all ran away, to the last man. The awful words of verse 50 drive home the absolute failure of the disciples. Sanner has noted that their failure was not so much one of courage but of faith. Doubt may remove courage, but the disciples fled because their faith wavered, as was evidenced by Peter’s denial of Jesus later on.

A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. (Mark 14:51—52)

Only Mark includes this brief incident. Matthew and Luke incorporate almost all of Mark’s Gospel leave these verses out. This is probably a personal reminiscence; it is Mark’s way of saying, “I was there, too.” (Hunter). Sanner surmises that given the fact that the earliest center of the Jerusalem church was the home of Mary, the mother of Mark (Acts 12:12), it is probable that the Last Supper actually took place in the upper room of her home. It is also probable that young John Mark had followed Jesus and His disciples to the garden and was an eye witness to all that happened there.

4. Trials and denials, Mark 14:53—15:20

The arrest was over, and apparently two of the disciples, John and Peter, returned to follow the crowd to the home of the high priest, where Jesus was to have His first hearing, which was illegal according to the law of the land; but the high priests, usually so intent on enforcing the letter of the law, were concerned with one thing only: getting rid of Jesus. Mark does not mention John, who was related to Caiaphas, and who entered his house, Peter hang back, preferring to sit with the servants around a fire as the night was now chilly.

There were a total four “trials” before Jesus was finally executed. The first one was before Annas, a former high priest, John 18:12—13, 19—24). The second one was conducted before the sitting high priest, Caiaphas. Mark begins with this one; it is also found in Matthew 26:57 and John 18:13. The third trial was the one before Pilate, recorded in all the Gospels, and the fourth was before Herod Antipas, noted only in Luke 23:6—12.

The fix was in from the outset, with a myriad of false accusations and false witnesses. All through the mock trials, Jesus held His peace and said nothing in His defense. However, when Caiaphas commented about the claim that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus answered openly—

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62)

With one sentence, Jesus gave His enemies all the evidence needed to convict Him, and Jesus was condemned to death.

Peter’s denial of Jesus, which really began back in verse 54, is fully developed in verses 66—72. Some make much of Peter’s denial, but one wonders if we would have faired any better, given the circumstances. It should be noted that like John, Peter actually showed great courage in following Jesus into the courtyard of the palace where the trial was taking place. Moreover, since Peter was the only one present when the three denials took place, only he could have told the others what he had done. A lesser man might not have told anybody. His honesty preserved his downfall for all time, but is also a testament to his understanding of God’s forgiveness.

Peter ultimately denied his Lord three times, just as Jesus had predicted. There probably isn’t a man alive, besides Jesus Himself, who could grasp the sorrow expressed in verse 72—

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

The cowardice of Peter’s heart would later be corrected when he was gloriously baptized in the Holy Spirit, becoming a fearless preacher of the Gospel of Christ.

Here we see the glaring difference backsliding and apostasy in the actions of Judas and Peter. Apostasy is the complete rejection of the truth, which is ultimately the rejection of the One who is the Truth. As in the case of Judas, a person may have the outward appearance of being born again, but during a time of severe trial or temptation, this kind of person may apostatize; repudiate everything they once claimed to believe. This is to become an apostate, and there is no hope of restoration or forgiveness for the apostate. Backsliding, on the other hand, is forgivable, as demonstrated by Peter. Peter lowered his spiritual standing before God and man by knowingly lying; he was too weak to take a stand. To such a person, the Lord is bound, and will forgive and eventually restore.

“Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion.” (Jeremiah 3:14)

Peter was the backslider. Even though his sin was serious, he realized what he had done and returned with a deep sense of humility and repentance. The Lord, whom he denied, never denied Peter.

(c) 2009 WitzEnd

A Survey of Mark’s Gospel

The Last Hours, Part One

Mark is such a lopsided Gospel. He spends fully one third of his Gospel on the last week of Jesus on Earth. He spends two full chapters on just the last 24 hours of His life alone! Mark gives almost no information about the life of Jesus before His ministry began, yet gives every excruciating detail surrounding Peter’s denial of Jesus. He rushes through Jesus’ teachings at breakneck speed but then slows down to a crawl as he describes the Last Supper. If we only had Mark’s Gospel, we would no virtually nothing about Jesus’ family but everything about a woman who washed His feet. Why did Mark write such a lopsided Gospel? To him, it wasn’t lopsided at all. To Mark, the most important event in the life of Christ was His death; far more important than childhood details and incidents during His life. Mark tells us everything we need to know surround the death of Christ.

This was important in the first century, given the fact that a new religion was founded by some fanatic who appeared to be criminal. To enemies of this new faith, this kind of gossip was prefect for discouraging new believers, whether Jew or Gentile. After all, who wants their good name associated with a criminal? That’s why Mark gives so many details about the conspiracy against our Lord, about His innocence in the face of jealous and petty religious leaders.

Theologically, the Gospel of Mark is a true masterpiece. Unlike the other two Gospels and John, Mark shows the degree to which God is willing go in order to save man and establish His Kingdom. Consider the irony: Jesus had taught that in His Father’s Kingdom the least would be the greatest. Hanging on the Cross, Jesus became the very least of all men.

1. Judas, 14:10—11

The priests had already decided to destroy Jesus—

Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or the people may riot.” (14:1—2)

But how would they do it? Jesus was still very popular among the people. A solution would present itself in the person of Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ friends, in fact, Judas was the only one of the Twelve Jesus ever referred to as His “friend.” In Matthew’s account of Judas’ meeting with the chief priests, it is Judas himself who suggests betrayal for money. But who was this man?

Judas was one of the Twelve, and he was the treasurer of group (John 12:6). He was apparently trusted by all the rest, followed Jesus during His earthly ministry, but was never fully committed to Christ—

Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70)

Professing to be a son of God, Judas was in reality the son of perdition (John 17:12). He was destined because of his unrepentant heart to a lost eternity. Luke said this of Judas in Acts 1:25—

… Judas left to go where he belongs.

That is a very cryptic way of saying that Judas never belong in the family of God; he followed Jesus, but had never given his life to Jesus. But that still doesn’t explain why Judas did such a thing: betray an innocent man for money. Many scholars have suggested a variety of reasons: jealousy, greed, disappointment with Jesus’ mission, and although we can never know what was in his mind, we know what was in his heart. At some point, Judas yielded to the dark thoughts of his soul and opened the door for Satan to come in. Judas, whose name literally means “Judah,” which itself means, ironically, “praise,” was about set in motion events that would change the world.

2. A long dinner, 14:12—21

Time was winding down for “the Lamb of God.” Very soon, He would be slain as “our Passover.” In the interim, Jesus would have one last opportunity to fellowship with His closest friends; that opportunity would be the Passover meal. They were all visitors to Jerusalem, and it was customary for many larger households to open up guestrooms for groups, such as Jesus as the Twelve so they could observe this most solemn of Jewish rites.

Jesus foresaw all of this, and He sent two disciples into the heart of the city with very specific instructions to find a man carrying a water jug. How many men in Jerusalem that night would be carrying a pitcher of water? Probably not very many, it any at all, as that was considered part of the woman’s duties; to see a man carrying a large pitcher of water would be strange indeed.

After all the food was purchased and the preparations made, that evening, the 14th of Nisan, the same day Jesus would die, He dined with His twelve friends for the last time on earth. This meal commemorated Israel’s escape from Egypt and the birth of her nationhood. It was a sacred hour intended to strengthen the family unit and bind God’s chosen people to Himself.

The guests at the Passover meal reclined on small couches on a level with the tables, each person leaning on his left arm with his feet extending outward. As they ate and fellowshipped together, Jesus suddenly made this awful prediction—

[O]ne of you will betray me—one who is eating with me. (vs. 18b)

Of course all the disciples were shocked and saddened. It was surely unbelievable that one them could do such a heinous thing. Jesus further identified the one who would betray Him as “one who is eating with me.” As Wessel noted, to betray a friend was bad enough, but to do it after eating a meal like this was regarded as the worst kind of treachery in the Middle East. It reminds us of heartbreaking words of Psalm 41:

Even my close friend, whom I trusted,
he who shared my bread,
has lifted up his heel against me. (vs. 9)

Each of the Twelve wondered it would be them, and Matthew, in his account, records that even Judas asked the question. The disciples were a fearful bunch, prone to bouts of doubt and faithlessness and their concern was probably that in a moment of weakness they would inadvertently do Jesus harm. Judas, of course, merely went along with the others. Jesus doesn’t identify His betrayer by name, just gives a clue—

[O]ne who dips bread into the bowl with me. (vs. 20)

Then Jesus added words that would burn into even the hardest of hearts—

It would be better for him if he had not been born. (vs. 21)

We wonder what Judas felt at that very moment. A little later, Jesus would turn to Judas and say to him—

“What you are about to do, do quickly.” (John 13:27)

And we are told at that moment, Satan entered Judas and left into the night. Immediately after Judas left, Jesus instituted the Last Supper.

3. The Last Supper, 14:22—25

There are a total of four versions of the Last Supper in the New Testament: Matthew 26:26—30; Mark 14:22—26; Luke 22:19—20; 1 Corinthians 11:23—25. Both Matthew and Mark parallel each other and Luke and Paul have certain similarities. All four accounts speak of the bread, the wine and the blessing. Only Paul and Luke record Jesus’ command to observe this Supper until He returns.

The Bread

Jesus used the type of bread associated with this meal, unleavened bread. The first thing He did was “give thanks.” Mark used two different Greek verbs which are translated as “give thanks,” but both come from a single Hebrew word barak, which means to “bless” or to “praise God.” The Passover blessing went like this—

Praised be Thou, O Lord, Sovereign of the World, who causes bread to come forth from the earth.

After the blessing, Jesus divided up the unleavened bread in the customary fashion and gave a piece to each of His disciples and said, “This is my body.” What did Jesus mean by that? He did not mean to imply that the bread had literally become His body; He was, after all, standing right in front of them! Previously Jesus told His disciples, “I am the vine,” and we surely know that was a symbolic statement; Jesus was not literally a piece of vegetation! The significant thing about the bread was not what He said, but rather what He did with it: He broke and He distributed it. The bread represented His body, that is, His abiding presence, promised to the disciples on the night of His crucifixion; and His words would become a pledge that whenever His followers gathered together to celebrate this meal in the future, He would be with them.

The cup

The “cup” in verses 23—24 is actually the third cup of the evening and was drunk after the meal was eaten. Jesus again gave the customary “thanksgiving,” this time using the word eucharisteo, from which we get the word Eucharist. The meaning of the cup is somewhat different than that of the bread. Jesus’ words concerning the cup—“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (vs. 24)—sound a lot like the words of Exodus 24:8—”This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” The word “covenant” suggests an agreement between two parties and also friendship. This is significant in light of Hebrews 9:22—

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

There could be no covenant and no friendship between God and His people without blood being shed. Reconciliation with God always requires a blood sacrifice, which is an atoning sacrifice. Since man himself cannot be that sacrifice— he cannot shed his own blood as the sacrifice — a substitutionary offering, accepted by faith, is required. The Lord established this covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:7; Psalm 105:9), and all who by faith are counted as Abraham’s descendents (Galatians 3:7; 29).

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul records the ceremony as the Lord revealed it to Him, and he recorded Jesus’ words slightly differently than did Mark—

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” (vs. 25)

The word “new” may be small, but it is loaded with meaning. Wessel noted that the death of Jesus inaugurated a new era, and therefore a new covenant was needed. To whom was this “new covenant” made? The first covenant was made a Mt. Sinai, and it was between God and the nation of Israel. This new covenant, established by Christ, was prophesied by Jeremiah many centuries before the Last Supper was celebrated—

“The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD.

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:31—33)

Obviously the fulfillment of this new covenant between God and Israel will not occur until Christ returns as Messiah to establish His Kingdom on Earth, Christ instituted it the night He was betrayed. But while this new covenant is related to the restoration of Israel in the future, note what Jesus said—

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:24)

The word Jesus used was “many,” not “all.” There are two schools of thought about why Jesus chose “many.” First, as might be expected, John Calvin believes that while Jesus may have said “many” He really meant “all;” Calvin—

By the word “many,” he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race.

I prefer to let Jesus speak for Himself; He said “many” and He meant “many,” not all. Consider—

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12)

But while Jesus may have said “many,” He did not say “few.” The blood of the new covenant is for all who respond in faith believing in what Jesus did for them on the Cross.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Studies in Mark’s Gospel, Continued


A study of Mark 9:33—50

This is an eye-opening passage of Scripture for a couple of reasons. First, we see how far the disciples were from understanding the real meaning of Jesus’ Messiahship. Time and time Jesus had talked to His disciples about what would happen to Him in Jerusalem, but as this section of Mark’s Gospel makes clear, they were still thinking of Jesus’ kingdom in terms of an earthly, strictly political kingdom. Secondly, we have to stunning teaching from Jesus about greatness and true priorities.

1. Greatness, 9:33—37

33They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. 35Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”   36He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus and His disciples have returned to where His Galilean ministry began: Capernaum. The last time He was in town, He ministered to the crowds, but now Jesus is taking time to teach His friends. Time is short, and they still had so much to learn. They met at what was probably Peter’s home, and what is particularly heartbreaking is that here was Jesus, on His way to His death, and His good friends were arguing about “who was the greatest.”

Human nature is on full display here. Jesus asked His friends what they had been arguing about, and they “kept quiet.” Obviously Jesus knew full well what they had been discussing, and equally as obvious they were embarrassed and ashamed. Jesus had just told them about the suffering He was going to have to endure, and instead of wondering about that, they were concerned with greatness in God’s kingdom. That is disturbing, given how close these men were to Jesus, but it even more disturbing because it shows us how strongly influenced these men were by the culture of their day. Such questions about the future Messianic kingdom were common in the Palestine of Jesus’ day, and the disciples, instead of paying attention to what Jesus was trying to teach them, they remained firmly mired in their culture. Not much has changed in Christ’s followers in the two millennia since this incident occurred!

Verse 35 is interesting, for we see Jesus assuming the typical rabbinic position for teaching; He sat down. Today, when we teach, we generally stand, but in Jesus’ day, the Rabbis sat down and his students sat all around him. But there was another, very illustrative reason for Jesus sitting down, and all had to do with His definition of “greatness.”

Jesus was not the least bit offended by their argument; they were needlessly embarrassed. In fact, instead of berating His friends for their spurious argument, Jesus saw this as a teachable moment. Greatness, said Jesus, does not come to those who tower over others, but simple acts of service to others. Swete comments—

The spirit of service is the passport to eminence in the Kingdom of God, for it is the spirit of the Master Who Himself became the “servant of all.”

This shows how radically different the Christ’s Kingdom will be from anything man has ever dreamed of.

In a moment of inspiration, Jesus, to illustrate this kingdom principle, He took a child who was nearby. Just who this child belonged to, we do not know. Perhaps he was the child of a family who came to hear Jesus teaching. Much has been made about this teaching, usually focusing on the child, and turning this teaching of Jesus into something He did not intend: a treatise on how to properly treat a child. However, Jesus is simply using this child like a sermon illustration.

In Aramaic, “child” and “servant” spring from the same word and so Jesus’ little parable is full of meaning, especially for the Twelve. They, like all followers of Jesus, must become like children, like servants, in their discipleship; and Jesus promises that if they can do that, then they will truly be His representatives on earth, and whoever welcomes them (the disciples) welcomes Christ, and in welcoming Christ, they are welcoming God Himself.

This very dramatic lesson in true greatness turned the disciple’s ideas upside down and was a gentle, yet very stern rebuke for their worldly thinking.

2. Driving out demons, 9:38—42

38“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

42“And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

These verses have been called a “lesson in tolerance.” But since it follows on the heels of Jesus’ teaching about greatness in His Kingdom, so that theme carries over. As we have already learned, in Jesus’ day, just about everybody in Palestine believed in the existence of demons and the supernatural in general.

This is the only time Mark mentions John alone, and the fact that John used the word “we” shows that he is speaking for all the disciples. John and the disciples were really irked because they had seen a man driving out demons in the name of Jesus. John, the Son of Thunder, was particularly exorcised because this man was not a part of the Twelve, although obviously the exorcist was a believer in Christ. The Twelve were so upset by this man that they literally tried to “stop him” from doing it!

Jesus, unlike His friends, did not see His mission as restrictive. To the disciples, if a person was going to do something like this, they needed to be part of “the group.” This man should be following Jesus around, being taught, just like they were. But Jesus, who did not think like men think, said this—

[W]hoever is not against us is for us.

An interesting parallel is found in Numbers 11:26—29—

However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

As Sanner noted, it is difficult for some people so devoted to their cause to let others in to share the devotion. But in the case of the Church, such an effort has Christ’s blessing. Edwin Markham, the famous American poet and author said it best—

He drew a circle that shut me out—

Rebel, heretic, thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win—

We drew a circle that took him in.

What the man did show was that he was not against Jesus, and quite to the contrary, he was doing exactly what Jesus would have done, and he was doing it successfully! Unlike the disciples, who had some difficulty driving out demons. Jesus forces nobody to follow Him. Some come when they are called, like the disciples. Some come like this man, who obviously heard the call of salvation and made the decision to serve Christ without the benefit of an altar call or catechism classes.

Verse 41 is the summation of Jesus’ teaching on this. Christians should welcome sincere help and co-operation in the work of the Lord, even if it comes from the most unexpected sources. If somebody should offer even a glass of cold water to a believer on the ground that he is a follower of Christ, that person will be rewarded.

Verse 42, though, is a not so veiled warning from Jesus. The “little ones” do not represent children, but rather followers of Jesus, and “to sin” is taken from the word skandalizein, suggesting something that would prevent another from acting in Jesus’ Name. That offense—preventing somebody from doing something for the Lord because you don’t like them—is so serious it would be better for one to simply drown then to commit it. The millstone Jesus referred to was the kind donkeys turned because it was to large and heavy. In other words, if a believer thinks that he is so indispensable to the work of the Lord that he won’t recognize another’s gifts and talents and tries to discourage that other one, he may only hurt that person, but he greatly offends God. Nobody is great enough to get away with that!

3. The requirements of discipleship, 9:43—45

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48where
” ‘their worm does not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’ 49Everyone will be salted with fire.

50“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

Following Christ comes with a fearful responsibility to help and encourage fellow believers, not to hinder them. If we are tempted to disparage another follower of Christ, this section is for us.

If your hand would cause another to stumble, cut it off. If your feet lead you in the direction of sin, cut them off. If your eyes cause you to sin, gouge them out of your head. These, of course, are exaggerations, but considering their source, quite startling. Jesus, so meek and so mild, the most gentle and gracious Man ever to have walked the earth had more to say about eternal damnation and punishment than anyone else in all of Scripture!

As far as Jesus was concerned, it was better to get into heaven maimed than to risk being damned eternally because of sinful arrogance and pride. Remember, these three incidents all have to do with the general theme of “greatness.”

The remaining two verses may seem obscure to us, but they serve as an apt conclusion to a series of real-life illustrations of true greatness.

Everyone will be salted with fire. “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

To the disciples, Jesus’ thought was clear. Every sacrifice—everything done for Christ in Christ’s Name—should be salted with salt. What did Jesus mean? Leviticus 2:13 deals with the sacrifice:

Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.

Salt preserves from corruption, and everything we do for the Lord should be salted with righteousness. Jesus had previously spoken about “the salt of the earth” and says here to—

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.

The so-called believer who is not characterized by righteousness is of no value at all, that is why Jesus said, “Have salt in yourselves”—that is, let your life and actions manifest righteousness that will glorify God, not yourself. Instead of believers seeking their own interests or preserving their imagined position within the hierarchy of the Kingdom of God, they should seek the good of others, and thus be at peace with one another.

The only One truly great in the Kingdom of God should be God Himself.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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