Greatness: understanding

jesus-and-child30 They left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. 31 He was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.

In the scene immediately preceding our Gospel, the disciples experienced an inability to cast out a demon from a young child – a great change from their initial missionary experience. They are perplexed and do not understand. While Jesus’ answer is simple (v.29), it is a teaching moment for the disciples – more prayer is needed. The disciples are equipped with more witness that the average person Jesus encounters in this Galilean ministry, still they are perplexed about the meta-narrative that is the story of Jesus.

Although Jesus has already told them of his coming suffering and death, here in v.31 he is more descriptive: ““The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise.” If the disciples had been listening to the prediction in Mark 8 they would remember the divine imperative: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” (Mark 8:31). If the first prediction spoke to the divine intent, this second prediction specifies that the passion will be at the hands of men (lit. in Greek) – something that comes to pass during Passion Week (14:41). The second prediction is briefer and lacking the stress on suffering and rejection. Lane [337] speculates that these elements are already restated in 9:12 and given Mark’s sparse narrative style would not be repeated again.

Lane holds that reader should not too quickly pass over the language of 9:31 using “to deliver up” or “hand over.” This is the language that appears in the context of lawsuits, but more importantly appears in the Jewish theology of martyrdom. It is in the context of martyrdom that “handing over” is more than simply coming under the power of another. Rather the term points to the fulfillment of God’s will as expressed in Scripture. Particularly in martyrdom, God is the one who permits (or hinders) the handing over in fulfillment of his deeper purposes. “Into the hands of men” reinforces the concept of abandonment, as is evident in Jer 33 where the full phrase occurs: “given over into the hands of the people to be put to death.” After the betrayal by Judas and Jesus’ arrest, it was natural to associate the terminology of “handing over” with that act of treachery (cf. Chs. 3:19; 14:41). The background of the term in Scripture, however, indicates that the thought is more profound: Jesus will be delivered into the hands of men by God, and what takes place on the level of historical occurrence has ultimate significance because it reveals the eschatological action of God. The precise wording of verse 31 may have been influenced by Isa. 53:6, 12, where the expiatory death of the Suffering Servant serves as a keen memory of the people. Jesus’ statement indicates that God’s redemptive will provides the key to understanding his passion.

In any case, the disciples do not understand. As noted earlier, this is a response that is increasingly present among the disciples. It was the reaction at the Transfiguration (9:2-8) and lead to a discussion on the way down the mountainside. The discussion coming down the mountain (9:9-13) centers on Jesus’ comment about “rising from the dead.” At least in that context there is some connection. Even if these disciples, who were with Jesus when he raised a twelve-year-old girl from the dead (5:35-43), and they had just witnessed Jesus speaking with “the dead” (Moses and Elijah) but who were quite alive – even if they are having trouble processing it all, they are speaking among themselves about what it all means.

Notes

Mark 9:31 crucified: Some scholars speculate that Jesus, speaking Aramaic, might have used a word that could be understood as either “exaltation” or as “crucifixion.” They argue that this dual meaning might be the source of confusion and questioning.

Mark 9:31 “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise.” This is the second of three predictions in this central unit of Mark (8:31; 10:32–34). There is also mention of the Son of Man’s rising from the dead in 9:9, which (according to 9:10) the disciples did not understand. This is the briefest of the three predictive passages. The note of betrayal may echo Isa 53:6, 12 (also in Paul, Rom 4:25; 8:32).

Mark 9:32 They didn’t understand … they were afraid to ask. As in 9:10, the disciples did not comprehend the remarks about the resurrection.

Sources

  • William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974) 336-41
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