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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Mark 8

Topics which make up the subject matter of Mark 8 are: the feeding of the 4,000 (Mark 8:1-9), the Lord's refusal to give the Pharisees the kind of sign they wanted (Mark 8:11-13), questions concerning the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod (Mark 8:14-21), healing the blind man of Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26), Peter's confession of Christ (Mark 8:37-30), and the first announcement of his Passion, resurrection, and second coming (Mark 8:31-38).

THE FEEDING OF THE FOUR THOUSAND

This miracle, recorded only by Mark and Matthew (Matthew 15:29-39), is similar to that of feeding the five thousand which was recorded by all four evangelists; and yet there are very significant differences. As Cranfield noted, the ground of our Saviour's compassion in the first miracle was "the fact that the people are like sheep without a shepherd"; whereas, in this, "it is the fact that they have been so long without food." F1 Trench called attention to the fact that the multitude here had been with the Lord three days; whereas, in the other, no such time lapse had occurred. He also stressed that "the numbers fed are fewer, the supply of food larger, and the number of baskets of fragments left over is less" than in the former miracle, drawing the significant conclusion that "Legend grows; the new outdoes the old; but here it does not even stand on an equality with it." F2 Bickersteth pointed out that the people Jesus here fed were commanded to sit down "on the ground, not on the `green grass' as before. It was a different season of the year." F3 Pertinent as are all of these differences, one has to go back to Augustine for perhaps the most significant difference of all, namely, that the people fed in this miracle were Gentiles in the principal part, whereas those fed in the other were principally Jews. This key fact explains why two such miracles were performed, showing God's fairness in dealing with Gentiles as he had dealt with the chosen people; and it also explains the apostles' reluctance to suppose that Christ would do such a thing, especially in the light of their having witnessed the other miracle so recently. The entire pattern of the Lord's ministry at this point demanded this second miracle of feeding the multitudes. He had just abolished distinctions between clean and unclean meats and extended mercy to the daughter of the Gentile woman of Syro-phoenicia, despite the apostles' reluctance to allow it; and in this marvel of feeding the four thousand, Christ wrought a wholesale wonder for the benefit of a whole Gentile multitude, just as he had done for Jews in the other case. The fact that both miracles were done on the same side of Galilee but with such diversity in the character of the multitudes benefited came about because the Jews were in that vicinity by reason of following Jesus from the west; but the Gentiles had followed from the Decapolis area in the east.

The significance of this miracle lies in the rich meaning of it for the Gentiles. Christ is the bread of life for all, not merely for Jews alone. The great overtones of the wonder which identified Christ as that Prophet like unto Moses and required all men to see in Jesus the very God himself - all these implications are as rich for the Gentiles as for the Jews.


 
Verse 1
In those days, when there was again a great multitude, and they had nothing to eat, he called unto them his disciples and said unto them.

Here is another notable difference from the former miracle. In this instance, it is Christ who provided the initiative.


 
Verse 2
I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have, nothing to eat.

Matthew's fuller account relates the countless miracles of healing which took place in the three days, thus explaining how it came about that so many people would remain in a desert place without food. What they were receiving from Christ was valued by them above food itself. See my Commentary on Matthew, p. 233.

I have compassion ...
This is one of the great words regarding Jesus Christ. His compassion was the source of every blessing, even that of his coming into the world.


 
Verse 3
And if I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint on the way; and some of them are come from far.

These words were plainly spoken by the Lord in a move to arouse pity in his apostles and to elicit from them a petition for the Lord to relieve the increasingly critical emergency.

Some of them come from far ...
Throughout the cities of the Decapolis, as far as Damascus, the people had come; but the fact of their being Gentiles would appear to have blinded the apostles to the urgency of their plight. In Mark 8:17, Christ asked them, "Have ye your heart hardened?"

The apostles, having so recently seen Jesus feed an even greater multitude, should have requested Christ to do the same thing here; and the viewpoint of this interpreter is that they would have done so except for the Gentile character of that multitude. In the light of such an obvious truth, how ridiculous are the allegations of skeptics that the reluctance of the apostles is the ground for denying that two miracles occurred.


 
Verse 4
And his disciples answered him, Whence shall one be able to fill these men with bread here in a desert place?

Whence ...?
Whence indeed are the supplies to feed any man or all men, if not from the Lord? The prejudice of the apostles is showing in this reply. They were not concerned at all with meeting the dire human need of the hungry multitude; they were Gentiles; so they dismissed the Lord's question with what amounts to a flippant remark that there was no place around there to buy bread for so many. However, Jesus had no intention of permitting such an attitude to prevail.


 
Verse 5
And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven.

It would appear from Mark 8:7 that the apostles were even a little less than candid regarding what they did have, for they at first made no mention of the few small fishes which they also had; but, regardless of their evident reluctance, Jesus ordered the feast to proceed.


 
Verse 6
And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude.

The miracle here followed almost exactly the pattern of the previous wonder in that Christ appeared not as the waiter but as the provider of the bounty, the apostles giving to the multitude what they had first received from Jesus. Thus, it is also in the realm of spiritual food; no man can supply human need except as the teacher or preacher has first received of the Lord.


 
Verse 7
And they had a few small fishes: and having blessed them, he commanded to set these also before them.

One may only deplore the comment of a scholar like Cranfield who saw in this verse nothing more than awkwardness on the part of the sacred narrator. He said that the verse was "added rather awkwardly as an afterthought." F4 The fact of our Lord's blessing the fish, however, proves that he had not already done so, and that, for some reason, these had not been available at the initial giving of thanks. Perhaps, when the apostles saw what the Lord was doing, they warmed up a little for the occasion and brought out the fish also! It is impossible to understand this miracle without regarding the twin facts of the Gentile composition of the audience and the reluctance of the apostles.


 
Verse 8
And they ate, and were filled: and they took up, of broken pieces that remained over, seven baskets.

And were filled ...
Wycliffe rendered this passage "they were fulfilled," the original meaning of fulfill being to fill full.

Seven baskets ...
The word for basket in this miracle is from a different Greek word than the word translated "baskets" in the other wonder and has a sharp difference of meaning. Both refer to wicker containers, but the one meant here is flexible and much larger. This was the type of basket used to let Paul down over the Damascus wall (Acts 9:25), and it has been surmised that these were the equivalent of what we would call "sleeping bags," and probably being the property of the Twelve. The baskets in view in the other miracle seem to have been the picnic type of basket, twelve of them having been given by the multitude to contain the fragments of the first wonder. This is another significant difference in the two miracles and cannot be explained as a matter of the sacred writers' using different words for the same thing. Christ himself referred to the baskets with this distinction (Mark 8:19-20). The shade of meaning in English would be more evident if "baskets" were used in the first instance and "sacks" in the second.


 
Verses 9, 10
And they were about four thousand: and he sent them away. And straightway he entered into the boat with his disciples and came to Dalmanutha.

Dalmanutha ...
was the destination of the Lord and his apostles on this embarkation, which was a certain location in the borders of "Magadan" (Matthew 15:39) It is a mystery to this student of God's word why great scholars find here a "problem to which no really satisfactory solution has been found!" F5 What is the problem? Is it irrational to believe that ancient villages were known by various names now lost to history, especially in the light of the fact that many modern places are called by various names? Is it fair to assert that Dalmanutha was not in "the borders of Magadan," especially when the wisest scholars on earth cannot give us any certain information at all about where either was located? Is it honest to declare that Christ did not go to both places, if indeed they were two places and not one place with two names? Does not Matthew omit altogether the name of the place to which Jesus went, identifying it: only as some village in the borders of a district called Magadan? The problem here is not in the sacred text but in the malignant skepticism of some who criticize it. For more on this question see my Commentary on Matthew, p. 235.


 
Verse 11
And the Pharisees came forth and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, trying him.

JESUS REFUSING TO PERFORM THE SIGN DEMANDED BY THE PHARISEES

This verse shows that Dalmanutha was on the western side of Galilee, for Jesus was back in the territory of his old enemies who immediately confronted him and demanded that he show them a sign "from heaven." Such a sign they had already received when God himself spake out of heaven upon the occasion of Jesus' baptism, saying, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." What they no doubt meant, however, was some celestial display of gaudy and spectacular power totally lacking in moral value. Those hypocrites who found such miracles as feeding the multitudes, healing all manner of diseases, opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping the ears of the deaf, and raising the dead, to be in some manner insufficient, betrayed in this demand their own impenitence and spiritual blindness. By demanding some other type of wonder than the miracles our Lord had so generously performed among them, they were arrogating to themselves the right to decide the kind of proof Christ should provide regarding his divine Messiahship. There was no chance that Jesus would yield to such arrogance. The mighty prophets of the Old Testament had outlined the wonders that would occur when the Messiah came, and Jesus followed that pattern perfectly. The Pharisees were demanding some other kind of proof, but in so doing, they placed themselves at variance with their own Scriptures for which they pretended such great respect. See my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 237-38.


 
Verse 12
And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek a sign? verily I say unto you. There shall no sign be given unto this generation.

There shall no sign be given ...
This means "no sign like they wanted" would be given and does not conflict in any way with the exceptions cited in Matthew and Luke, nor should it be supposed that the other two evangelists were reporting exactly the same incident as here. Such a demand by the Pharisees was probably made over and over. Matthew made an exception in that "the sign of the prophet Jonah" would indeed be given that generation, as did also Luke (Matthew 12:38f; Luke 11:29f). Mark's inclusion of this demand in a different context, strongly suggests that this Pharisaical demand was repeated. It would not have been right for Jesus to have yielded to such a demand, and therefore he refused. It would also have been utterly futile to have yielded. As Luke recorded, Jesus said, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31).


 
Verse 13
And he left them, and again entering into the boat departed to the other side.

The sea of Galilee was only six or seven miles wide at the widest place, and Jesus and his apostles must have crossed it a hundred times. It was a natural barrier between Christ and the territory controlled by the Pharisees, and Jesus often found it expedient to place its sparkling waters between himself and his enemies until the time of his offering himself upon the cross arrived.

Departed to the other side ...
This was the eastern shore.


 
Verses 14, 15
And they forgot to take bread; and they had not in the boat with them more than one loaf. And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.

REGARDING THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES AND HEROD

Forgot to take bread ...
This lapse on the part of the Twelve led to their misunderstanding Jesus' reference to "leaven," but Jesus here used that term as a reference to the teachings, philosophy, and life-style of the Pharisees, Sadducees (Matthew 16:6) and Herod. It is very significant that Christ found it necessary here to utter this warning to his apostles.

The leaven of the Pharisees ...
has reference to their hypocrisy and deceit, and especially to the vicious campaign they had launched in an effort to refute Jesus' claim to be the divine Messiah of Israel. They were advocating the rejection of their Messiah with every cunning and lying argument possible. For a detailed catalogue of no less than twelve false charges they made against Christ, see my Commentary on Matthew, p. 240. Considering the power, respectability, and influence of those Jewish leaders, it was most appropriate that the Lord warn his apostles to prevent their deception by his unscrupulous foes.

The leaven of the Sadducees ...
mentioned, not here, but in Matthew, coincided with that of the Pharisees as far as it regarded opposition to Christ; but their teaching had additional dimensions of secularity and materialism beyond that of the Pharisees. They did not believe in the existence of angels, nor in the resurrection of the dead, and were as cold-blooded a group of crass materialists as ever lived on earth.

The leaven of Herod ...
This was the leaven of renunciation concerning all the vaunted hopes of Israel. The Herodians were a prominent sect of the Jews who were willing to give up their sacred inheritance and accommodate with the military power of the Romans, whose vassal Herod Antipas was. Herod Antipas (this son of Herod the Great) was also a profligate, licentious, and unprincipled prince whose sensuous life and dissolute family were a prime scandal of that whole generation.

How strange it is that the apostles failed, at first, to catch the Lord's meaning in these words. Needless to say, the same "leaven" is found in the teachings of men today.


 
Verse 16
And they reasoned one with another, saying, We have no bread.

Mark did not include Christ's repetition of his remarks concerning leaven, by which repetition he opened their eyes to the real meaning (see my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 241-242); but it is clear here, no less than in Matthew, that their failure to understand was due not to any fault of the Lord but to themselves. If Christ had meant "bread," he would have said "bread." His use of "leaven" in connection with the Pharisees and Herod Antipas required the term to be understood figuratively.


 
Verse 17
And Jesus perceiving it saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? do ye not yet perceive, neither understand? have ye your heart hardened?

The last clause of this verse carries the implication that the apostles had, in some degree, been hardened; and this would account for their failure to petition the Lord on behalf of the hungry multitude. The attitude of the world's Pharisees and Herods was somewhat with them. And what was the connection between the Pharisees and Herod Antipas, mentioned a moment earlier? To both classes, the world was all that mattered. The only kingdom was an earthly one.

Do ye not yet perceive ...
The apostles' perception had failed on two counts: (1) They had failed to perceive that Christ could and would supply bread for the four thousand men. (2) They had failed to perceive that the one loaf which they had on board, WITH JESUS, was far more than enough! They had not learned the true lessons which their experiences were designed to teach. In this, the perceptive words of Barclay are significant. He said:

Too often experience fills us with pessimism, teaches us what we cannot do. ... But there are other experiences. Sorrow came, and we came through it still erect. Temptation came, and somehow we did not fall. Illness took us, and somehow we recovered. A problem seemed insoluble, and somehow it was solved. We were at our wits' end, and somehow we went on. We reached the breaking point, and somehow we did not break. We, too, are blind. F6


 
Verse 18
Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?

The apostles were here afflicted with the natural blindness that so easily pertains to mortal life.

Do ye not remember ...?
This question should be burned into every conscience. Do we not remember days of weakness and humiliation, our infancy and childhood, the countless times in life when only the divine will stood between us and death or sorrow? Can we not remember prayers answered, dreams realized, strength provided, and hopes fulfilled - all through God's gracious blessing? Do we not remember the solemn commitment of our souls to God when we believed and were baptized into Christ? Have we forgotten the holy intention that brought us to the Lord? Have we forgotten God?


 
Verses 19, 20, 21
When I brake the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven among the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces took ye up? And they say unto him. Seven. And he said unto them, Do ye not yet understand?

Significantly, Christ here referred to two feedings of great multitudes, emphasizing salient features of both; and there can be no honest rationalizing of these accounts as descriptions of a single miracle. Only by a denial of the sacred record can one make the gospel narratives to be merely various accounts of a solitary wonder. For comment on Christ's use of two different words for "baskets" in these verses, see under Mark 8:8, above.

Mark left out of sight the fact that the apostles fully understood and appreciated the divine instruction they received in this connection; but it appears dramatically in Matthew's account.

THE BLIND MAN OF BETHSAIDA

This miracle is recorded only in Mark; but Matthew's account makes it clear enough that many mighty works were done in Bethsaida (Matthew 11:21), this doubtless being one of them.


 
Verse 22
And they came unto Bethsaida. And they bring to him a blind man, and beseech him to touch him.

Bethsaida ...
was one of the cities upbraided by Jesus for its unbelief. It was the native city of Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Philip, its name meaning "house of fish," and was located on the western shore of Galilee; and, if Peloubet is correct in identifying it with Scythopolis, it was the one member of the Decapolis west of Galilee.


 
Verse 23
And he took hold of the blind man by the hand, and brought him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes, and laid hands upon him, he asked him, Seest thou aught?

Took him out of the village ...
Although not so stated here, this was, in all probability, for the purpose of privacy, as in the case of the deaf-mute, and for the same purpose of preventing any allegation that the spittle was necessary to the cure. Just why Christ occasionally resorted to such practice is not known to us; but, as in the case of the deaf-mute, it appears to have been necessary for the instruction of the blind man. Dummelow observed that:

The man was healed in stages, probably because his faith was imperfect. Jesus first strengthened his faith by partly healing him, and then; when his faith was adequate, completed the cure. F7

In this connection, it should be remembered that they were the citizens of Bethsaida who brought this man to Jesus; and that city was noted for its unbelief and rejection of the Lord.


 
Verse 24
And he looked up, and said, I see men; for I behold them as trees, walking.

This is a rare case of Jesus' performance of such a wonder in stages, which can only be attributed to the lack of faith in the blind man, a fact that appears certain in the light of Jesus' forbidding him to re-enter the village noted for unbelief.


 
Verse 25
Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked stedfastly, and was restored, and saw all things clearly.

Despite the fact of there being two stages in the man's healing, it was nevertheless accomplished almost immediately, the cure itself being dramatic and complete, and bearing eloquent testimony to the power and godhead of him who wrought it.


 
Verse 26
And he sent him away to his home, saying, Do not even enter into the village.

The understanding of this commandment to the blind man lies in the identity of the village he was forbidden to enter, namely, Bethsaida. Jesus was reported in Matthew to have said:

Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you (Matthew 11:21,22).

The symbolism of this miracle therefore reflects upon the wicked unbelief of Bethsaida. In order to heal the blind man, Jesus had to take him by the hand and lead him out of the village. There are environments today where spiritual healing is a near impossibility, until men shall be led out of them.

Why was he not allowed to return to Bethsaida? More than enough had already been done for that wicked village; and Christ here heeded his own admonition regarding the casting of pearls before swine.

PETER'S CONFESSION AT CAESAREA PHILIPPI

This is a much briefer account of Peter's remarkable confession than is found in Matthew, indicating perhaps that Peter, who was Mark's mentor, had not stressed it as strongly as the other apostles, this possibly being due to considerations of modesty on Peter's part.


 
Verse 27
And Jesus went forth, and his disciples, into the villages of Caesarea Philippi: and on the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Who do men say that I am?

Caesarea Philippi ...
is mentioned only here and in Matthew 16:13, these being the only New Testament references to the place. It was built by Herod Philip and named after Caesar, with his own name added to distinguish it from another Caesarea on the seacoast. It was situated in a beautiful valley near the base of Mt. Hermon some twenty miles north of the sea of Galilee, and was founded upon a massive limestone ledge, or terrace, the same having probably suggested Jesus' metaphor of making Peter's confession of Christ as the Son of God to be the "ledge" or "rock" upon which he built the church.

Who do men say that I am ...?
This is the most important question which confronts people of all generations; and it was particularly important that the apostles should be instructed in the all-important fact of WHO Jesus is, and was, and shall be forever.


 
Verse 28
And they told him, saying, John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.

Significantly, the popular appraisal of Jesus' identity had been eroded and compromised by the savage campaign of vilification and misrepresentation which the religious leaders were so vigorously prosecuting against Jesus. From implications in all the synoptics, and from the most powerful assertions in John, it is clear that in Jesus' early contacts with the people he was readily hailed as the Messiah, or the Son of God, or King of Israel, as in the case of Nathaniel; but the evil campaign of the Pharisees had taken its toll, and at this point, the popular view extolled Christ merely as a prophet, or Elijah, Jeremiah, or John the Baptist, thus according him a noble place of honor but falling short of hailing him as the Son of God. Satan was pleased to have the Lord hailed as some great one, as long as he was not recognized as the Greatest One.

The episode recorded here provides the watershed of Mark's gospel; Cranfield stated that here "the second half of the gospel begins." F8 To this point, the great thrust of the gospel was directed to the establishment of our Lord as a divine person, reaching its glorious climax in Peter's confession of "the Christ." The second half of the gospel is the road to Calvary, marked here at the outset with the first announcement of his Passion and a dramatic shift of the Master's teaching to the phase of personal instructions for the apostles and away from teaching the multitudes.

This verse regarding the popular opinions of our Lord's identity has been seized upon by skeptics who have made it the basis of alleging a contradiction between John and the synoptics; but such allegations are illogical and irresponsible. The point in the synoptics is not that Jesus had never been publicly recognized as the Christ but that the counter-campaign of the religious hierarchy which was directed against the general recognition of his Messiahship had, to this point, been very successful. Their campaign against it proves that the recognition of Jesus as the Christ was sufficiently widespread to demand their campaign. See more on this in my Commentary on Matthew, p. 243.


 
Verse 29
And he asked them, But who say ye that I am? Peter answered and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.

It is never enough to know what others believe regarding the identity of our Lord; and the answer to the question here pressed upon his apostles by the Saviour is exactly the pivot upon which the destiny of every soul on earth is turned. Peter, apparently speaking for all of the Twelve, confessed, "Thou art the Christ." The record in Mark is a summary which omits the following references to: the Son of the living God, Christ's confession of Peter, the promise to build his church on the rock, the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the gates of Hades, and binding and loosing on earth. This commentator's volume on Matthew has some eleven pages of text devoted to the discussion of these things and of such related topics as the primacy of Peter, the so-called Petrine succession, and other questions raised by Matthew's more complete account of this key episode. See my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 243-253.

Thou art the Christ ...
is shorter than the confession as given by Matthew, "Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God"; but it is in no sense inadequate, summarizing, as it does in these four words, the grand total of the power and godhead of the Son of God. As Cranfield declared:

This title (The Christ), in spite of all the false and narrow hopes which had become attached to it (in the popular thought of that day), was peculiarly fitted to express his true relation both to the Old Testament and to the people of God. F9


 
Verse 30
And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.

Although Mark did not record Jesus' acceptance of Peter's confession as did Matthew, he nevertheless indicated it emphatically by this charge. Again from Cranfield, "(This) implies that Jesus did accept Peter's confession as true."" F10

THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE PASSION, RESURRECTION, AND SECOND COMING

This paragraph beginning with Mark 8:31 and continuing through Mark 9:1 is characteristic of Mark in that several unrelated things are gathered together in it, as in Mark 5:21-25.


 
Verse 31
And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Scholars have a custom of formalizing three definite announcements of Jesus' approaching death, resurrection, and second coming; and despite the fact of Matthew's detailing three distinct occasions when such prophecies were given (Matthew 16:21; 17:22; and 20:17), it is the conviction here that Christ spoke frequently of those epic events which at that time began to loom so ominously upon the horizon of our Lord's public ministry. Therefore, the only way to view these various prophecies is completely, taking them all together, here is such a summary:

Death would occur in Jerusalem.
It would come with his own consent.
It would follow his rejection by Israel.
The elders would participate in it.
The chief priests would cause it.
The scribes would approve it.
He would be killed (not merely die).
He would be crucified.
He would suffer many things.
He would be condemned to death (indicating trials).
He would be "delivered up" (betrayed).
Gentiles would also be instruments of his death.
He would be mocked.
He would be scourged.
He would rise from the dead "after three days".

After three days ...
Cranfield's view that these words are "an indefinite expression for a short time" F11 is unacceptable, being unsupported by any logical argument. The tradition of Friday crucifixion underlies all such meanings imported into words like these. See under Mark 15:42 for extensive discussion of "Christ Crucified on Thursday."

In the entire history of humanity, there is no comparable example of one so precisely detailing in advance the circumstances of his judicial murder, and with the unique promise of rising from the dead after three days! Who but God come in the flesh could have done such a thing as this?

WHY JESUS PREFERRED THE TITLE OF "THE SON OF MAN"

The Son of Man ...
We have capitalized the whole title as should have been done in the sacred text; because, as Cranfield said, "Jesus by `the Son of Man' always means himself." F12 It was the title Jesus preferred, as evidenced by his substitution of it in this passage for "Christ" (Messiah) which Peter had just used in his confession. As to why Jesus preferred this title, it may be noted that: (1) It is more majestic than "Messiah," a title accurate enough in its biblical context but somewhat inadequate because of the false notions the Jewish leaders had fastened upon it. (2) This title uniquely combined the ideas of transcendant and glorious majesty with vicarious suffering for the benefit of others. (3) During his humiliation as a man, it was the most appropriate badge of his humanity, stressing his perfect manhood and emphasizing his office as the sin-bearer for all men. (4) The very ambiguity (in Jewish idiom, the expression `son of man' often had the meaning of `a mere man,' as in Psalms 8:4) of the title was especially valuable to Jesus' purpose of proclaiming himself in such a manner that the spiritual mind would perceive his glory and the unspiritual mind would not perceive it. The meaning of the title would thus appear to some hearers in capitals, SON OF MAN, and to others in lower case, "son of man." It was thus a most effective instrument for polarizing his hearers. The double meaning of the title is also found in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, Daniel 7:13 having a definite reference to the Messiah: "One like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of days." (5) The title "Son of Man" also had the advantage of a subtle but exceedingly significant connection with the suffering Servant of the prophecy of Isaiah 53, categorically refuting the bias of Bultmann who said that "Jesus' sayings reveal no trace of a consciousness on his part of being the Servant of God of Isaiah 53." F13 "It seems scarcely open to doubt that Jesus did apply Isaiah 53 to himself." F14 There can be no doubt at all that by Jesus' use of the title `Son of Man' he meant everything that pertains to human redemption.


 
Verse 32
And he spake the saying openly. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him.

Openly ...
would indicate that Jesus' prophecy of his death and resurrection was made available to the public as well as to the apostles; and, from this, it would seem that Peter was concerned about the erosion of our Lord's popular image that would necessarily result from such a prophecy. It was part of the divine wisdom, however, that all men should know of Jesus' prophecies in this sector. The Pharisees and other leaders were well aware of what he taught in this context, and from their knowledge of it there came the sealing of the tomb and placement of the watch upon our Lord's grave.

And began to rebuke him ...
Matthew related the nature of Peter's rebuke: "Be it far from the Lord; this shall never be unto thee" (Matthew 16:22). Thus Peter rejected the idea of the cross; and the fact of Jesus' noblest disciples being opposed to it was a definite temptation to the Lord himself. He said, "Thou art a stumbling block unto me." This shows that some of man's greatest temptations gain access to him through friends and intimates.

And Peter took him ...
indicates that Peter probably took our Lord by the hand, or in some other manner led him apart to make this protest. However, the other apostles, as seen in the next verse, had followed and were witnesses of the entire incident.


 
Verse 33
But he turning about, and seeing his disciples, rebuked Peter, and saith, Get thee behind me, Satan; for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men.

The words of Christ here do not mean that Peter was satanic and depraved, but that in opposing the cross he was unconsciously taking the part of Satan in opposing the divine will. He was looking at things in the light of mere human wisdom and not from the perspective of the will of God. As Erdman said:

The offense of the cross has never ceased. It is still human and natural to insist that the death of Christ was not necessary; but the preaching of the cross is the very wisdom and the power of God. F15

It should be noted that Christ did not pause to justify the cross by citing the benefits that would be achieved through such a means, setting forth the principle that it was the will of God, that being the only justification needed.

Turning about ...
The presence of the other apostles was noted by Christ, and it therefore became necessary to rebuke Peter before them all and in terms that could leave no misunderstanding of the truth.

Get thee behind me, Satan ...
This is generally interpreted to mean that Peter had gone out in front of the Lord in an effort to guide him, and the Lord was here ordering Peter to assume his proper place behind the Lord as a devoted follower and disciple.


 
Verses 34, 35
And he called unto him the multitude with his disciples, and said unto them, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's shall save it.

The cross was not merely for our Lord but for all who would enter into eternal life.

Deny himself ...
Egocentric pride is the bane of human life; and `God's plan of salvation requires the renunciation of self by all who would be saved. It is not merely confessing Christ that is "unto salvation," but confessing "Jesus as LORD" (Romans 10:9) that makes the difference. No man who ever lived can be saved as Joe Doakes or John Doe, or Susie Smith. Salvation is "in Christ." One is saved not in his own sinful human identity but "as Christ," "in him" and through positive and complete identity with him.

Take up his cross ...
Cross-bearing is the soul's assumption of the role of Jesus Christ throughout life, the reception of his Holy Spirit, the indwelling of "the mind that was in him" (Philippians 2:5), the permitting of the word of Christ to dwell in the soul richly (Colossians 3:16). Taking up the cross has no reference to the wearing of any ornament, nor to the trials of life, nor the common misfortunes of humanity, but to the conscious acceptance of the Saviour's total will.

The teaching in this passage is not a prescription of martyrdom for all who would be saved; but, in this original context of the words, it surely carried that implication. Cranfield said: "The meaning here is that the disciple must be ready to face martyrdom"; F16 nor should it ever be ruled out completely as potentially applicable to every Christian.

Whosoever would save his life ...
The point of the final clauses here is that any disciple who would save his life by denying the Lord will lose eternal life, while any disciple who might lose his life through faithfulness to Christ and the gospel would gain eternal life.


 
Verses 36, 37
For what doth it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? For what should a man give in exchange for his life?

These verses stress the incomparable value of the soul, worth more than the whole world; and if, through disloyalty to Christ, one should forfeit his soul to eternal night, there is nothing with which he could hope to reclaim it. The loss would be irrevocable. Even if he should have gained the planet itself, such would be insufficient to purchase again the forfeited life.

The overwhelming significance of the teachings in this entire paragraph lies in the absolute loyalty to his Person which was required by Jesus Christ. Only God could righteously demand and receive such adoration and fidelity from men; and therefore the passage is heavily freighted with overtones of the Saviour's godhead.


 
Verse 38
For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man also shall be ashamed of him, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

This verse is actually the conclusion of this paragraph, having no connection whatever with Mark 9:1. The paragraphing here has spawned much error. Mark 8:38 and Mark 9:1 regard utterly different subjects, and one may regret the gratuitous extension of this paragraph by the later versions to make Mark 9:1 appear in this context. Mark, it would appear, reported Jesus' admonition against men's being ashamed of him, either because Jesus himself repeated the admonition in this context, or because it was an oft-repeated warning by Jesus which Mark considered to be appropriate in context. Either way, it is authentic and inspired. A similar warning was recorded by Matt. 10:32-33.

That human pride should lead men to be ashamed of the sinless Son of God and his holy teachings is one of the mysteries of iniquity; yet the fact of its doing so is evident everywhere. Satan has indeed deceived and deluded men in whom such being ashamed occurs.

When he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels ...
This is a clear and dramatic reference to the second coming of Christ at the end of the dispensation when he shall appear apart from sin and with the purpose of executing eternal justice upon his creation. The presence of the holy angels in conjunction with the second coming is affirmed throughout the New Testament. It appears in the parables of the kingdom (Matt. 13) and in the writings of Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:7f). It is the function of the angels to separate the precious from the vile at the time of the final judgment (Matthew 13:41,49). Therefore, the coming of Christ in this verse must be identified with "the judgment" so frequently mentioned by Jesus (Matthew 12:41,42, etc.).

Mark 9:1 states: "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."

Cranfield identified this verse as an "independent saying," F17 thus giving scholarly confirmation of evident implications of the text itself. This verse can have no connection whatever with the verse (Mark 8:38) to which it is artificially joined by the unjustifiable distortion of the paragraph. The second coming of Christ in glory with ten thousand of his holy angels did not occur during the lifetime of the Twelve; therefore the coming of the kingdom of God in this verse is impossible of understanding as a reference to Mark 8:38.

Having incorrectly joined the two verses (Mark 8:38; 8:38 and 9:1), the commentators have found it impossible to give a logical interpretation. Cranfield took notice of no less than eight radical and diverse explanations of Mark 9:1, which is here summarized:

  1. Jesus here taught that the second coming would occur within a very short while (this interpretation demeans the Lord of glory).

  2. The seeing of the kingdom of God come with power refers not to physical seeing of it but to intellectual perception of it!

  3. The "taste" of death mentioned in Mark 9:1 does not refer to physical death but to spiritual death.

  4. The persons who will not taste of death until the kingdom comes with power are those who will be alive and caught up, without death, at the second coming.

  5. The coming of the kingdom with power refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

  6. Others have thought of Pentecost and the spread of the gospel.

  7. The coming of the kingdom promised here is a visible manifestation of the Rule of God displayed in the life of the Elect Community.

  8. Mark 9:1 is a reference to the Transfiguration!

Cranfield, Erdman, and others favor understanding the Transfiguration as the fulfillment of Mark 9:1; but there is no way that such a view can be satisfactory. As Bickersteth said, "The solemnity of these words (Mark 9:1) forbids us to limit them to an event that would occur within eight days." F18 Only the most imaginative devices can construe the transfiguration of Jesus Christ, witnessed by only three persons, as the coming of the kingdom of God with power.

All of the above interpretations are advocated by renowned scholars; and the very proliferation of their explanations suggests a fundamental misunderstanding. It is the opinion here that "the kingdom of God" is a reference to the church of Jesus Christ. The failure of the scholars to see this derives from their failure to include the light which falls upon this place from the parallel in Matthew where Christ used the terms "church" and "kingdom" interchangeably (Matthew 16:18,19). For an extended examination of this thesis, the reader is referred to my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 337-341.

Understanding the church and the kingdom as one and the same thing satisfies all the teachings in Mark 9:1. The kingdom of God coming with power on Pentecost took place at a time after both Jesus himself and Judas had tasted death, and also within the lives of the others. There is no other explanation that this student has ever encountered which so completely fulfills all the requirements of the sacred text as does this.


Footnotes for Mark 8
1: C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel according to St. Mark (Cambridge: The University Press, 1966), p. 255.
2: Richard Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming R. Revell Company, 1943), p. 387.
3: E. Bickersteth, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 16, p. 331.
4: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 256.
5: Ibid., p. 257.
6: William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1956), p. 192.
7: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 728.
8: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 266.
9: Ibid., p. 270.
10: Ibid., p. 271.
11: Ibid., p. 278.
12: Ibid., p. 273
13: R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, I (1948: English translation by K. Grobel, London: 1952), p. 31.
14: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 277.
15: Charles R. Erdman, The Gospel of Mark (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966), p. 134.
16: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 282.
17: Ibid., p. 285.
18: E. Bickersteth, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 16 (II), p. 1.
19: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 245.
20: Encyclopaedia Britannica, (Chicago: William Benton, Publishers, 1961), Vol. 11, p. 510.
21: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. lxxxvi.
22: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 151.
23: Ibid., p. 153.
24: Ibid.
25: Henry E. Turlington, Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1946), p. 317.
26: Ibid., p. 317.
27: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 246.
28: Ibid,
29: Ibid.
30: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 213.
31: Marvin Vincent, Word Studies of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1946), Vol. I, p. 175.
32: Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1955), Mark-Luke, p. 344.
33: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 249.
34: Henry E. Turlington, op. cit., p. 322.
35: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 229.
36: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 164.
37: W. N. Clarke, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 63.
38: Richard C. Trench, op. cit., p. 294.
39: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 159.
40: Elwood Sanner, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1964), p. 305.
41: Ibid.
42: F. N. Peloubet, Peloubet's Bible Dictionary (Chicago: The John C. Winston Company, 1925), p. 208.
43: W. N. Clarke, op. cit., p. 302.
44: A. Elwood Sanner, op. cit., p. 306.
45: Henry E. Turlington, op. cit., p. 306.
46: Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Jesus (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1943), p. 156.
47: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 655.
48: Ibid., p. 723.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Mark 8". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=mr&chapter=008>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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