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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible Coffman's Commentaries
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Mark 9". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ bcc/ mark-9.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Mark 9". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
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The transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8), teachings concerning Elijah (Mark 9:9-13), the cure of the lunatic boy (Mark 9:14-29), another prophecy of the Passion (Mark 9:30-32), discussion of who was the greatest (Mark 9:33-37), the unknown wonder-worker (Mark 9:38-42), and a collection of independent maxims uttered by our Lord (Mark 9:43-50), form the subject matter of Mark 9.
Mark 9:1 was discussed in Mark 8, but a little further attention is directed to it here.
And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There are some here of them that stand by, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God come with power. (Mark 9:1)
The final five verses of Mark 8 and Mark 9:1 are a collection of independent sayings of our Lord which Mark grouped together. This grouping on the part of the inspired evangelist, however, does not require that any connection be established in every case between two adjoining statements. Another such grouping of independent maxims is found at the end of this chapter (Mark 9:43-50). Regarding those verses, especially Mark 9:49-50, Barclay said:
What Barclay affirmed of Mark 9:49-50 is likewise true of Mark 8:38 and Mark 9:1; and, although they occur side by side in this gospel, the two verses are independent, having reference to two distinct and utterly different events which were both in the future. Mark 8:38 has reference to the final judgment of humanity, an event which is still future; but Mark 9:1 has reference to an event which occurred in that generation, now nineteen centuries in the past.
The efforts of some commentators to construe these verses as a reference in both cases to the final judgment, or any other event still in the future, has the effect of a charge of ignorance against the Saviour of the world. Interpreting Mark 9:1 as a reference to the final and glorious phase of the kingdom of God as ushered in by the second coming of Christ and the appearance of his holy angels leads to such conclusions as those of Grant who stated that "This expectation (the coming of Jesus in the glory of the Father) was universal in the early days of Christianity, and must go back to Jesus himself." Of course, such a view makes the Lord Jesus Christ to have been mistaken and incorrect in such a statement as Mark 9:1. This is ground enough for rejecting all such interpretations. There is no need whatever to construe Mark 9:1 as a reference to the second coming of Christ or the beginning of the glorious phase of the kingdom. The great preachers of the Restoration have long held Mark 9:1 to be a prophecy of the establishment of the church on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Dorris stated that argument as follows:
In order to deny the thesis so logically advocated by Dorris, one must hold the Lord of Life to have been in error in his alleged meaning in Mark 9:1. Therefore, it is mandatory to reject the application of Mark 9:1 to the subject matter of Mark 8:38. There is no connection between them, except in the matter of their lying alongside each other within the matrix of the sacred text. It is impossible to interpret certain paragraphs in Mark without regard to his occasionally grouping of disconnected saying of our Lord. See the final verses in this chapter.
 William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1956), p. 240.
 Frederick C. Grant, Interpreter's Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1951, en loco.
 C. E. W. Dorris, The Gospel according to Mark (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1970), p. 202.
And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them.
And after six days ... Luke placed this event as "eight days" afterward; but, as Barclay said, "There is no discrepancy here. They both mean what we would express by saying, `About a week afterward.'"
In counting up a week, Sunday to Sunday, one gets eight days if he counts the Sundays and six days if he counts between the Sundays. Both styles of time reckoning were in vogue in those days. Outside of particular times noted in Mark's account of the Passion, this "is the only precise note of time given by Mark." This fact, however, is no basis whatever for designating the transfiguration as a fulfillment of Mark 9:1.
Peter, and James, and John ... This is an example of Mark's stringing words, phrases, clauses, and episodes together by means of this simple connective. He also used "for" in the same manner, as in Mark 8:35-38. These three apostles formed somewhat of an "inner three" within the company of the Twelve, as also at the raising of Jairus' daughter, and in the Garden of Gethsemane. The special preferment given by the Lord to these three was doubtless prompted by the key roles that they would have in the church. James was the first to seal his testimony with his blood; Peter preached the first sermon; and John remained on earth the longest and delivered the final prophecy.
High mountain apart ... This was doubtless Mount Hermon, or one of its adjacent spurs. Only these mountains qualify as being in the vicinity where Jesus was placed in the sacred text and also as being "high." Mount Tabor, the traditional site, was not high, being only about 1,500 feet in elevation. Moreover, it was inhabited on top in the time of Christ, and it would not have been taking the apostles "apart" for the Lord to have led them up Mount Tabor. Mount Hermon is a snow-capped peak 9,200 in altitude.
Transfigured before them ... This word is found only in the New Testament records of this event and in Romans 12:2,2 Corinthians 3:18. "It means a change of form, an effulgence from within, not a mere `flood of glory' from without." Both Matthew and Luke give fuller accounts of this wonder than does Mark. The parallel references are Matthew 17:1-8 and Luke 9:28-36. Each gospel writer added the priceless ingredient of some detail omitted by the others. Matthew mentioned the Saviour's coming and touching the apostles; Mark threw in that homely detail that "no fuller on earth" could have made Jesus' garments so white; and Luke provided the pertinent conversation between the Lord and Moses and Elijah.
 William Barclay, op. cit.. p. 215:
 Henry E. Turlington, The Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1946), p. 338.
 Frederick C. Grant, op. cit., en loco.
And his garments became glistening, exceeding white so as no fuller on earth can whiten them.
This event should be understood as a factual, objective, historical event, in which Christ deliberately permitted three of his apostles to glimpse the Lord in this manifestation of his glorious heavenly nature. Speculation as to why this was done is fruitless. Christ himself evidently received strength and encouragement from the approving words of Moses and Elijah; and certainly, the apostles received in this event an experience they never forgot.
And there appeared unto them Elijah and Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.
The independence of the gospel narratives is further emphasized by the reversal of the names Elijah and Moses, and by Mark's mention of the conversation without naming the subject matter, and Luke's giving the content of it.
Elijah as a representative of the prophets, and Moses as the great lawgiver of Israel both appeared before the Son of God in this event and, in a sense, laid their authority at the Master's feet, resigning their commission in the presence of Christ. The theological implications of this are profound. When the bright cloud, symbolical of the presence of God himself, caught away the great prophet and the great lawgiver, leaving only Jesus visible, it was God's way of saying, "There is only one authority now, and that is Christ!" "This is my beloved Son; hear ye him!"
And Peter answereth and saith to Jesus, Rabbi, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
Of course, Peter was wrong in this suggestion, and yet it is easy to understand his feelings. It was a glorious thing they had just seen, and how natural it was that he should have desired to prolong such a glorious fellowship. As Erdman said:
Peter's desire was like that of many in all generations who experience some glorious achievement or magnificent event and thereafter seek to perpetuate endlessly the glory of that moment. Such a desire, even if it were possible of fulfillment, should not prevail. Life is not designed to freeze some glorious moment like the figures on a Grecian urn. Whatever sweet and precious moments may be provided by life on earth, they can never be permanent; there is always the journey down the mountain; and so it was for the blessed three who participated in the transfiguration.
Peter's failure here was in the supposition that Jesus AND Moses AND Elijah were in some manner a greater authority or more desirable fellowship than that of Jesus alone, a notion that was quickly corrected by the event of the cloud and the voice out of heaven, after which they saw "Jesus only." In our own times, the human temptation to mix the word and teachings of Christ with some other system exhibits the same error that Peter made here. It is not Christianity with something else that blesses people; it is Christianity alone.
Tabernacles ... This word was the one used to describe the arbors or booths in which the people of Israel dwelt briefly during the annual feast of Tabernacles; but the exact nature of what Peter here had in mind is unknown.
For he knew not what to answer; for they became sore afraid.
This is a classical example of Mark's use of "for" as a connective device for his narrative; and it should be noted that these two examples of it come right in the midst of a similar string of "ands" in the same paragraph. This is warning enough that these characteristic connectives in Mark cannot be made the basis of construing independent maxims as necessarily having any connection in thought or meaning.
And there came a cloud overshadowing them: and there came a voice out of the cloud, This is my beloved Son: hear ye him.
What is meant by the overshadowing cloud? Did it envelop all of the group or only Jesus, Moses, and Elijah? From the fact of God's presence in the Old Testament having been indicated by the pillar of a cloud by day (Exodus 13:21), as well as from other associations of clouds with the presence of God (Psalms 79:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:17, etc.), there is a strong inclination to make the same association here; but a comparison with the baptismal scene (Matthew 3:16,17) in which Christ as the Son of God, the Spirit as a dove, and the voice from the Father indicate the presence of the Trinity, suggests that the same is in view here. If so, Christ as the beloved Son and the voice from the Father would leave the overshadowing of the cloud as a symbol or manifestation of the Holy Spirit. This is not indicated absolutely, however, because the voice was said to have come "out of the cloud." In Luke 1:35, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Mary was linked with the statement that the power of the Most High would "overshadow" her.
Regarding the question of who was overshadowed, Cranfield, arguing from the premise that the disciples seemed to have been addressed outside the cloud, concluded that the enveloping included only Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Cranfield is wrong, for Luke records that "they feared as they entered into the cloud" (Luke 9:34).
Hear ye him ... These words indicate far more than a mere admonition to pay attention. As in Deuteronomy 18:15, they carry a very strong meaning, "Hear and obey." In context, they also have the equivalent meaning of "Do not hear Moses or Elijah, but hear Jesus only." Thus, Christians are released from any necessity of obeying Mosaic or prophetic requirements found in the Old Testament.
 C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel according to Saint Mark (Cambridge: University Press, 1966), p. 292.
And suddenly looking round about, they saw no one any more, save Jesus only with themselves.
See under preceding verses and also further comment on this episode in my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 17:1ff.
Jesus only ... Christ is all and in all. Necessary as Moses and Elijah were in the pre-Christian ages, humanity is no more required to heed the systems which those ancient worthies represent. They remain pertinent to Christian thought only in the sense of pointing the way to Christ. That pertinence, of course, is of vast significance and contains the most vivid and overwhelming evidence unfolding the purpose of God in Christ; but, despite this, the law and the prophets have given place to the Christ of the ages.
And as they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, save when the Son of man should have risen again from the dead.
TEACHINGS CONCERNING ELIJAH
The necessity for secrecy on the part of the apostles who had witnessed this wonder was inherent in the purpose of avoiding any further aggravation of jealousies among the Twelve (Mark 9:33-34) and in the Lord's determination not to precipitate an untimely confrontation with the Pharisees. The transfiguration had left no doubt whatever that Jesus was indeed the Christ of glory (not merely Elijah, Jeremiah. John the Baptist, or some great one, as in Mark 8:28); and, if all of the Twelve had been given this overwhelming proof at that time, they might have blazed it abroad with such rashness as to upset the divine schedule. It should be remembered that Judas was yet with the Twelve.
And as they were coming down from the mountain ... A great deal of Christian experience is suggested by this. It is not given that followers of the Lord should dwell perpetually in the glory of some mountain-top experience. Their pathway of service leads down into the valley where human need cries for relief, doubts and frustrations are acute, and enemies lie in wait to destroy. As Grant said, "Jesus spent his whole life going downhill from the high and lonely places where he held communion with God, to the level, crowded places of human need."
And they kept the saying, questioning among themselves what the rising again from the dead should mean.
And they kept the saying ... means that the three apostles obeyed the Saviour's injunction of secrecy.
Questioning ... The resurrection of Christ was an event utterly beyond the comprehension of the apostles because: (1) of the inherent preconditioning of the human race not to expect any such thing; (2) of the false idea they had concerning the Messiah and what he would do on earth; and (3) of their failure, at first, to believe Jesus' prophecies of his impending death. Commentators who themselves will not even believe the resurrection of Christ after the event are in a very sorry role when they criticize the apostles for their failure to believe it before the fact.
And they asked him, saying. How is it that the scribes say that Elijah must first come?
Several things of great importance surface in this verse: (1) The three were now fully and completely convinced that Jesus is the Christ, a fact that the scribes had been diligently trying to contradict. (2) The opposition of the scribes had made some headway in the minds of the apostles who were unable to answer their arguments. (3) The apostles here sought the answer that would refute the scribes. (4) The argument of the scribes was based on the final verses of the Old Testament which prophesied that Elijah would come and restore all things before the Messiah arrived. (5) The argument of the scribes was false in that they had interpreted the prophecy to mean that Elijah would literally rise from the dead before Messiah came, the same being a false view which thy should have known to be false because of the prophecy that attended the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:17), which prophecy had plainly identified John the Baptist as the fulfillment of the prophecy regarding Elijah.
And he said unto them, Elijah indeed cometh first, and restoreth all things: and how is it written of the Son of man, that he should suffer many things and be set at naught?
It would seem that Cranfield is correct in understanding the second half of this verse as a statement, not a question (punctuation being a human additive to the text). The meaning would thus be:
 C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 298.
But I say unto you that Elijah is come, and they have also done unto him whatsoever they would, even as it is written of him.
Mark omitted the statement (Matthew 17:13) that the apostles then understood that Jesus spake of John the Baptist. Thus, the fallacious arguments of the scribes were exposed and refuted. Jesus even went further here and indicated that the death of John the Baptist was a prophecy of what would happen to himself. "As Elijah's coming was a heralding of the Lord's coming, so Elijah's rejection was a warning of the Lord's rejection." All of these things were prophesied in Scripture.
And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great multitude about them, and scribes questioning with them.
THE CURE OF A LUNATIC BOY
The scene which greeted the Lord and the three when they came down from the mountain is a miniature of the world itself: parental anguish, youth under the power of evil, disciples unable to do anything, scribes raising questions and discussing the situation but also powerless to do anything helpful. All in all, it was a miserable situation.
And straightway all the multitude, when they saw him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him.
Greatly amazed ... This has been taken by some to indicate that Jesus' face still bore some traces of the glory of the transfiguration; but, since that would have been to nullify the Saviour's injunction of secrecy imposed on the three, their amazement must have derived from something else. Perhaps it was in the fact that, when they looked up from the mess they were in, they were amazed to find the answer to their problems, not in themselves, but in the Lord. It was certainly so with the nine frustrated disciples who had failed to cure the boy.
And he asked them, What question ye with them? And one of the multitude answered him, Teacher. I brought unto thee my son, who hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever it taketh him, it dasheth him down: and he foameth, and grindeth his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast it out; and they were not able.
The nature of the malady which afflicted this child seems to have been compound. The symptoms certainly suggest epilepsy; but the Greek word which describes it is literally "moonstruck" and much more reasonably bears the translation "lunatic." (Both the Emphatic Diaglott and the Nestle Greek text concur in this). Further, there is the phenomenon of demon possession, confirmed by our Savior's conversation with the Twelve afterward. The complicated nature of the malady, as well as the evident slackening of the apostles' faith, perhaps due to the campaign of the scribes, seems to have entered into the failure of the disciples to effect a cure. See under Mark 9:29.
And he answered them and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I bear with you? bring him to me.
The evident exasperation of Jesus here is understandable. All of Israel were in the process of rejecting the Lord. The scribes, so diligent in the situation, were opposing the Lord with every conceivable device, their efforts having had a perceptible influence even on the Twelve, and only the Saviour's great love of mankind motivated him to go forward. How frustrating such a situation must have been for Jesus.
And they brought him unto him; and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him grievously; and he fell on the ground and wallowed foaming.
The hatred of the evil spirit for the Lord is evident in his malignant tearing of his victim in anticipation of his impending cure. The implications of the text cannot be explained as the normal ravages of any disease. Demonic possession and affliction of humanity are indicated. The physical phenomenon evident here in the demon's aggressiveness before the boy's healing has its counterpart in the spiritual realm also. When any soul is in the act of turning to Jesus for life and redemption, evil restraints and impediments against it are always multiplied. Souls on the brink of salvation always confront the active hostility and opposition of the evil one. Spurgeon devoted an entire sermon to this phenomenon.
And he asked his father, How long time is it since this hath come unto him? And he saith, From a child.
We cannot know by what power Satan was able to dominate and possess the life of a child; but it may be that God permitted this in order that "the works of God might be manifest in him" (John 9:3).
And oft-times it hath cast him both into the fire and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.
If thou canst do anything ... By such a remark, the father of the afflicted boy would have made the burden of responsibility for his son's healing to rest upon the Lord; but he was not correct in such an insinuation, as Jesus' following words quickly showed. There are many in all generations who would like to shift the burden of all betterment to some other than themselves, but they too are wrong. A great deal of the improvement of the human condition is inherently incumbent upon the needy themselves, who under every circumstance of whatever extremity must first do everything possible to alleviate their own affliction, that being the basic and invariable precondition to any effective help from without. Here, the thing required of the father was faith in the Lord.
Have compassion on us, and help us ... The use of possessive pronouns here is very poignant and touching and shows that the whole family of the unfortunate lad had identified themselves with the afflicted and considered his distress as also their own. This is an expressive picture of all members of a family suffering with one of its members.
And Jesus said unto him, If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth.
These words must be understood as Jesus' rebuke of the father's lack of faith, and so the father accepted them. It is as if Jesus had said, "Look, any man who has faith will not set any limit on what the Lord is able to do." As Cranfield observed: "The father, instead of doubting the power of Jesus to help him, ought to have had a faith like that of the leper in Mark 1:40."
Straightway the father of the child cried out, and said, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
Who is he who cannot identify with this distraught parent in his experience of faith with an admixture of doubt? Unbelief is never very far away from faith; and their name is legion who, like Peter of old, walk over tempestuous waves one moment and sink into faithless despair the next. This doubting believer properly appealed to the Lord as the only source of strengthening his faith.
And when Jesus saw that a multitude came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I command thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.
The multitude mentioned here is not exactly identified; and Barclay and others have suggested that "Jesus must have taken the father and son apart"; and the crowd, already mentioned in Mark 9:14, would in such a case have been trying to catch up with the action. Jesus did not wait for them but cast out the evil spirit at once. From the Lord's command, it is evident that the son was also mute. His words must have been of the greatest consolation to the father, for they included the assurance that there would be no recurrence of the lad's pitiful condition. Thus, his halting faith, greatly strengthened by Jesus, was richly rewarded.
And having cried out, and torn him much, he came out: and the boy became as one dead; insomuch that the more part said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and raised him up; and he arose.
Regarding the terminal activity of the evil spirit, see under Mark 9:20. Mark mentioned Jesus' taking the lad by the hand, and Luke added the detail that Jesus restored the boy to his father. It is foolish to make anything of the variable nature of these accounts except that they are the certain evidence of independent narratives. This writer rejects the allegation that Mark's account is in any sense more original than the others. All three are original accounts, and the most complicated system of comparisons ever devised fails to prove anything else.
And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, How is it that we could not cast it out? And he said unto them, This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer.
Asked him privately ... It was well for the reputation of the apostles that they sought a private answer, for they were grievously at fault. Matthew quoted Jesus as saying their failure was due to their "little faith" (Matthew 17:20), and Mark's words indicate either a failure to pray at all or some serious lack in their prayers. Even the greatest miracles performed by Jesus were done so in answer to prayer (John 9:31; John 11:41); and, although the mention of the Saviour's prayers in connection with his mighty deeds was not always included by the sacred writers, the assumption must ever be that all of them included the Saviour's asking of God in prayer the accomplishment of the wonders recorded. The failure of the apostles here seems to have been that of omitting prayer. That they fully expected to succeed is evident, so their faith was not that of failing to expect success, but of taking it for granted that they could succeed without praying to God for the expected blessing. The apostles had often succeeded before (Mark 6:13,30); and they perhaps believed that they had the power IN THEMSELVES to continue doing such things.
And they went forth from thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. For he taught his disciples and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered up into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he shall rise again. But they understood not the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
ANOTHER PREDICTION OF THE PASSION
These verses show the Lord's great need for privacy and the opportunity to instruct his apostles regarding the forthcoming Passion. Here Christ again mentioned, more briefly, the teachings given in Mark 8:31, which see. For their lack of understanding, see under Mark 9:10.
And they came to Capernaum: and when he was in the house he asked them, What were ye reasoning on the way?
A DISCUSSION OF WHO WAS THE GREATEST
The omniscience of Christ is evident in that he already knew the subject of their conversation. He asked, not for information, but for the purpose of requiring them to bring the matter up in his presence.
But they held their peace: for they had disputed one with another on the way, who was the greatest?
About the only thing accomplished thus far by Jesus' repeated reference to his approaching death was the development of an argument among the Twelve over who would be the head man afterward. Human ambition had reared its ugly head, James and John, particularly, demanding to be accounted the greatest, a post also evidently desired by Peter.
And he sat down, and called the twelve; and he saith unto them, If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.
Alas, the disciples of the Lord in all ages have invariably lost their spirituality in just such a manner as this, falling into all kinds of vanity in the pursuit of human ambition. There has hardly ever been a congregation on earth in which the question of who would be the "greatest" did not at one time or another hinder the work of God. Against such ambitions, the Lord has imposed a standard of greatness that depends upon service and not upon position. However this was not a problem that the Lord confronted only once. A comparison of several New Testament references (Luke 9:48; 22:26; Matthew 20:26; 23:11; and Mark 10:43) indicates that this question came up frequently in different situations, the instance before us being, in all probability, "an independent saying."
And he took a little child, and set him in the midst of them: and taking him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name receiveth me, and whosoever receiveth me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.
This was an acted parable teaching the same lesson which the Lord stated verbally in Matthew 18:4-6. True greatness is not a matter of position and power but in the child-like qualities of innocence, trustfulness, humility, lack of prejudice, lovableness, faith and teachableness. Receiving a little child in Jesus' name includes the unselfish care and support given for little children and also the quality of receiving an humble believer on the basis of his simple trust in the Lord, and without regard to any lack of earthly preeminence on his part.
John said unto him, Teacher, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followed not us.
THE MAN WHO DID NOT FOLLOW US
This was another outcropping of party spirit and jealousy on the part of the Lord's disciples. The human temptation to channel all good through our own hands and to despise all groups except our own is evident here.
But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.
There is no special approval here for the unknown exorcist, who, for all that is stated, might indeed have proved eventually to have been an enemy of the Lord; but rather there is a prohibition against the servants of God making it their business to monitor and pass judgment upon the works of others. The lesson here is the same as that against pulling up tares, as forbidden in the parable (Matthew 13:39f).
For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink, because ye are Christ's, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.
The totality of humanity belongs to God: and the divine purpose condescends to accept any human aid of that purpose, affirming the certainty that every gracious act shall receive its due reward.
And whosoever shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it were better for him if a great millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.
In this whole paragraph, and especially beginning here, there are a number of maxims in which no clearly discernible connective theme exists. They are isolated sayings of the type that Jesus uttered frequently and in various contexts, and they seem to have been written down here in the order of Mark's remembrance of them. See under Mark 9:1.
The teaching of this verse regards the extreme gravity of causing any humble believer to lose his faith in the Lord. Persons guilty of such a breach of the will of God would be better off drowned in the sea. The word for "millstone" here means "a millstone drawn by an ass," that is, a very large one, and contrasting with the smaller "hand millstone."
And if thy hand cause thee to stumble, cut it off; it is good for thee to enter life maimed, rather than having thy two hands to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire.
Stumble ... was a prominent word in Mark 9:41, referring not to some inconsequential stumbling, but to a complete falling away from God so as to be lost eternally. This is another maxim related not to causing another to stumble, but to one's stumbling himself. The teaching is that whatever must be sacrificed to maintain faith and loyalty to God must be renounced and given up by the disciple, regardless of the personal loss or cost to himself.
Hell, into the unquenchable fire ... The saddest teaching in the word of God relates to the subject introduced here. The word Gehenna (which is translated as "hell" or "hell-fire") refers to the Valley of Hinnon near Jerusalem, a place where the city's garbage was burned, and a valley tarnished by many unsavory memories for the Jews. Here a king made his son pass through the fire to Molech (2 Kings 23:10; see also 2 Chronicles 28:3). It was a place of defilement and horror. Perhaps it is in this place's character as a garbage dump that the most appropriate likeness to HELL is found; because hell is God's cosmic disposal device for that which is finally unconformable to His holy will. Here also is seen the necessity for it. No industry, no kitchen, no household were ever possible without the means of disposing of the refuse; and it would be illogical to suppose that God could run the whole universe without some means of taking care of the refuse. For a more extensive discussion of this, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 25:41ff.
And if thy foot cause thee to stumble, cut it off: it is good for thee to enter into life halt, rather than having thy two feet to be cast into hell.
The teaching here is identical with that of Mark 9:43. The personal force of such an admonition was reduced by the interpretation favored by some of the ancients who applied it to the church as meaning that the church should excommunicate undesirable members whose sins demanded it. However, it seems to this writer that the Saviour had in view the need of personal sacrifice to maintain loyalty to God. The metaphor of cutting off hands and feet, and plucking out eyes, is not any more severe than that of "eating and drinking" Christ's flesh and blood (John 6:53); and it was doubtless used to emphasize the extreme importance of loyalty to Christ, as well as the awful consequences of failure.
And if thine eye cause thee to stumble, cast it out: it is good for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell.
The teaching is the same as that in Mark 9:43,45; and the repetition of it by these astonishing metaphors stresses its importance.
Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
These words were repeated in Mark 9:44 and Mark 9:46, both of which are omitted in the English Revised Version (1885). They are a description of Gehenna, the valley of Hinnom (translated "hell" in this version), and were added to emphasize the undesirability and the awfulness of the place where the wicked shall be punished with "everlasting destruction." It should be noted that like other descriptions of hell in the New Testament, the purpose is not that of describing hell but rather showing its awful nature. Worms and fire, in nature, do not exist in the same place; and thus, as in the case of "fire and brimstone" and "outer darkness," are actually opposed to each other. It is thus clear that Christ is not here describing hell but warning people of its horrible character. When it is considered that hell is such an awful place that Christ had recourse to such terrible words as these in his warnings against it, the soul draws back at the very contemplation of such a place.
For every one shall be salted with fire.
This maxim seems to have been triggered in Mark's mind by the mention of fire in the previous verses. And what is the meaning? If we understand "fire" as a reference to the persecutions and tribulations that invariably beset the Christian pilgrimage, it means that none shall be saved except through the endurance of the world's scorn and opposition. Paul expressed this thought as "All that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). Of course, this is a difficult verse, and all kinds of notions have been advocated as the meaning of it. Certainly, we may set aside the superstition that this is a reference to all souls passing through the fires of purgatory!
Salt is good: but if the salt has lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another.
Jesus said of his disciples, "Ye are the salt of the earth," and their saltness would therefore be their quality of having in themselves the likeness and teachings of Jesus. Such salt is indeed good for this world.
Christians are the salt of the earth in the sense of their preserving it from destruction.
If the salt have lost its saltness ... is a metaphor based upon the salt commonly used in Jesus' day, which was not a pure product at all, but mixed with other elements. If the true salt had been leached out, only a worthless residue was left, a perfect metaphor of the Christian who has lost his identity with the Lord.
Have salt in yourselves ... is a reference to the Christian's necessity of keeping his identity with Christ and of continuing faithfully in his teachings.
And be at peace one with another ... is an admonition to brother-love and forbearance, a requirement frequently stressed by the Lord, and absolutely mandatory for all who would follow in his steps.