Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentMark 1
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The gospel ...
always means "the good news" in the New Testament. It is the joyful word of how men may receive the forgiveness of sins and restore the broken fellowship with God, a fellowship broken by the disaster in Eden. All kinds of collateral and tangential benefits flow out to men from the fountainhead in the gospel of Christ; but they are subordinately connected with it, the primary purpose of the gospel having ever been the redemption of men from sin and their endowment with the hope of eternal life. Social, political, and economic benefits, invariably associated with the spread of Christianity, do not appear in the New Testament as primary goals at all. This is not to decry such dividends as being in any way undesirable, but to emphasize the far greater concern for the souls' true redemption from sin.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God ...
The compound title of our Lord is of heavenly origin. It was announced, evidently for the first time on earth, in the Saviour's intercessory prayer (John 17:3) and was repeatedly called the "name" which God had "given" (John 17:6,11,12,26). From this, in all probability, derived the apostolical preference for the expression, "Jesus Christ."
Son of God ...
is a reference to the unique sonship of Jesus and is the equivalent of hailing him as a supernatural person and as having an equality with God. The Pharisees properly understood the implications of this expression, interpreting it as "making himself equal with God" (John 5:18).
Verses 2, 3
Even as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold. I send my messenger before thy face, Who shalt prepare thy way; The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ye ready the way of the Lord, Make his paths straight.
Some critics really have a problem with this passage, because Mark included with his quotation from Isaiah a passage from Malachi, and put it first at that! In fairness to Mark, it should be noted that he did not declare that Isaiah was the author of both passages, his only reason for mentioning Isaiah having apparently been for the purpose of identifying the quotation as Scriptural, which of course it is. One can only be amused at what a passage of this kind does to some critics, all of whom are dramatically reminded by such a passage that the sacred authors were untroubled by many of the punctilious rules so much respected and slavishly followed by themselves.
The passage from Isaiah is Isa. 40:3, a great prophecy which included in its many implications the prophecy in Malachi 3:1. As Bickersteth said:
The oracle of Malachi is, in fact,
contained in the oracle of Isaiah; for
what Malachi predicted, the same had
Isaiah more clearly and concisely
predicted in other words. And this is
the reason why Mark here, and other
evangelists elsewhere, when they cite
two prophets, and two or more
sentences from different places in the
same connection, cite them as one and
the same testimony. F1
The quotation from the Old Testament emphasizes the divine nature of the ministry of John the Baptist, the heavenly designate who went before the Lord to prepare Israel to recognize and receive the Messiah. The persistence of Israel even to this day of their expectation of Elijah's coming shows the genuineness of the prophecies, Elijah, of course, being the type of John the Baptist. Israel's mistake in their expectation of a literal return of Elijah was due to their failure to believe the revelation of Zacharias, to the effect that Elijah's return would be accomplished by John the Baptist who would go before the Lord "in the spirit and power of Elijah ... to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him" (Luke 1:17).
Verses 4, 5
John came, who baptized in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the country of Judaea, and all they of Jerusalem; and they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
The wilderness ...
That John was indeed the Elijah whose voice would cry "in the wilderness" is evident in the fact that, of all the great preachers in history, only one chose a wilderness as the scene of his ministry.
Baptism of repentance unto remission of sins ...
John's baptism was a heavenly device for gathering together out of the nation of Israel a prepared people to receive and adore the Messiah. This baptism was of God, and those who rejected it rejected God's message (Luke 7:30). In God's plan of redemption, a new birth was the essential prerequisite, a birth of water and of the Spirit (John 3:5). The birth of water (John's baptism) was available to men in the preaching of the herald; and, for those who accepted it, the birth from the Spirit would follow, in time, when it was made possible through the Saviour's death. The fact that those who rejected John's baptism did not follow Christ and did not receive the Holy Spirit is parallel with the truth that persons today who refuse the baptism Jesus commanded cannot receive the Spirit.
All the country ... all they ...
The success of John the Baptist was sensational and extensive. Great crowds and widespread popularity marked his efforts. The great wilderness preacher aroused the nation from its slumber, arrested the attention of that whole generation, and created excitement throughout the country. Even the Pharisees at first accepted him and "were willing to rejoice for a season in his light" (John 5:35). This great popularity, however, did not last. As Ryle said:
The vast majority, in all probability,
died in their sins. Let us remember
this when we see a crowded church. It
is not enough to hear and admire
popular preachers. It is no proof of
our conversion that we always worship
in a place where there is a crowd.
Let us take care that we hear the
voice of Christ and follow him. F2
Verses 6, 7, 8
And John was clothed with camel's hair, and had a leathern girdle about his loins, and did eat locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, There cometh after me he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I baptized you in water; but he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit.
These verses conclude Mark's account of the ministry of John the Baptist, an account which is shorter than Matthew's, omitting such important details as John's proclamation of the kingdom of heaven being near at hand and the insistence of the Pharisees that fleshly descent from Abraham was all they needed (Matthew 3:1-12). John's prophecy of the rejection of national Israel was also omitted.
The clothing and diet of John were cited as fulfilling the typical characteristics of Elijah. There is no need to understand "locusts and wild honey" otherwise than in their ordinary sense.
Mightier than I ...
John the Baptist is unique among the world's great men in this view of himself as inferior to his successor. This is all the more remarkable in view of their close kinship and of their being approximately the same age.
Baptize you in the Holy Spirit ...
is a reference to the Spirit which Jesus would pour out on earth. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is variously understood as: (1) the experience on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), (2) an event like that in the home of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48), (3) the miraculous endowment of the apostles (Acts 8:18), or (4) the guidance of the church throughout the ages by God's Spirit through the word, including the indwelling earnest. Although including the latter, the baptism in view here exceeds it, affecting all mankind. Significantly, it is a promise of what Christ would do and not a commandment men were to obey. This is one of seven baptisms mentioned in the New Testament, the others being: (1) the baptism unto Moses (1 Corinthians 10:2), (2) that of sufferings (Mark 10:38,39), (3) that for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29), (4) that of fire (Matthew 3:11), (5) that of John the Baptist (Acts 19:3), and (6) that of the great commission (Mark 16:15,16; Matthew 28:18-20).
For fuller discussion of the ministry of John the Baptist, as related by Matthew, see Commentary on Matthew, (Matthew 3:1-14) pp. 23-31.
Verses 9, 10, 11
And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in the Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him: and a voice from out of the heavens, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Mark's account of the baptism of Jesus gives far less detail than Matthew, omitting the reluctance of John to baptize him and Jesus' statement of his purpose in it. Jesus was about thirty years of age when this event occurred (Luke 3:23).
In the Jordan ...
The baptism administered by John, and later that by the apostles, required that it be done "in" water, not merely "with" water, showing that immersion was the action called baptism.
And straightway coming up out of the water ...
Here is Mark's first use of "straightway," one of his favorite expressions, which recurs many times in this gospel. "Out of the water ..." indicates that Jesus was immersed; and, if such was not the case, there could have been no reason whatever for his coming "up out of the water." If any other "form" of baptism had been in vogue, neither Jesus nor John would have been in the water at all.
Spirit as a dove ...
The significance of this lies in the Spirit's choice of such a symbol of himself, the dove being associated with certain religious sacrifices, having been the messenger of hope for Noah, and a symbol of peace and gentleness in all ages. This was the sign by which John the Baptist recognized the Messiah (John 1:32).
And a voice out of the heavens ...
It will be noted that Mark's account makes the voice out of heaven to have been addressed directly to Jesus, "Thou art my beloved Son," whereas in Matthew it was stated generally, "This is my beloved Son." This is called a contradiction by some; but when it is recalled that each of the sacred writers reported in his own words what happened, such allegations are unjustified. As Halley said:
It is surprising with what utter
abandon the statement is made in many
present-day scholarly works that the
Four Gospels are "full of
contradictions." Then when we see the
things that are called contradictions,
we are almost tempted to lose respect
for some of the so-called scholarship.
The fact of different details and
slight variations in describing the
same incident makes the testimony of
the various writers all the more
trustworthy, for it precludes the
possibility of pre-arranged collusion
among them F3
Alleged contradictions in the New Testament deserve designation as PSEUDOCONS, a fabricated word derived from "pseudo," meaning "sham" or pretended, and "con," the first syllable of "contradiction." In this instance of it, Matthew reported the voice from heaven from the standpoint of John the Baptist, and Mark from the standpoint of Jesus, the latter being proved by the fact that John the Baptist's words were not mentioned by Mark. If he had reported the conversation of the herald, as did Matthew, he would necessarily have reported the voice as saying, "This is my beloved Son," in order to avoid leaving the impression that this was said of John the Baptist.
Verses 12, 13
And straightway the Spirit driveth him forth into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days tempted of Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
This is all that Mark wrote concerning the temptation.
Driveth him ...
There is nothing inappropriate in this reference to the power with which the Spirit caused Jesus to go forth to meet the temptation. It means exactly the same thing that was meant in Matthew's statement that he was "led" of the Spirit into the wilderness. This is another pseudocon. The allegation of scholars that Matthew was offended by Mark's language here and that he "corrected" it is irresponsible. It should be remembered that the Holy Spirit did not use any kind of physical force to bring Jesus into the wilderness of his temptation; and it is just as correct and appropriate to refer to the force under which Jesus moved to the wilderness as his being either "driven" or "led," the sacred authors referring to the same force by either term. To make Mark and Matthew mean different things by these two terms is to suppose a difference not in existence. It is true that a horse may be driven or led and that his actions are different; but where have the scholars shown us any difference in one's being "driven" of the gentle and blessed Holy Spirit, from the fact of one's being "led" of him? The insistence on a difference here only emphasizes a failure to discern spiritual things.
With the wild beasts ...
contrasts the theater where Christ won the victory over Satan with the beautiful garden where Satan won the victory over the first Adam. The thought of any millennial overtones in this passage as insinuating that Jesus lived harmoniously with the wild beasts should be rejected.
The angels ministered unto him ...
The reality of the holy angels is affirmed throughout the New Testament. Angels announced the birth of Jesus Christ, ministered to him in the wilderness, strengthened him in Gethsemane, announced his resurrection, escorted him to glory, and announced the second coming. In this dispensation, angels do service for them that shall be the heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14).
Verses 14, 15
Now after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel.
The kingdom of God ...
This is Mark's favorite title of the kingdom, just as Matthew's favorite is "kingdom of heaven." The two expressions are one. Christ doubtless used both; and the Holy Spirit of inspiration upon the sacred authors guided them in the terminology which they employed. The near approach of the kingdom was announced in the earliest preaching of Jesus.
Repent ye, and believe in the gospel ...
These words, along with reference to repentance and faith (in that order) in Hebrews 6:1 and Acts 20:10, have led to some religious theories that repentance precedes faith in the sinner's heart; but such notions are refuted by the fact that no unbeliever in the history of the race was ever known to repent. We may not, therefore, take Mark's expression here as indicating the time sequence of the appearance of repentance and faith in human hearts. There is apostolical precedent for using expressions like this without regard to the chronology of things mentioned. Thus Peter spoke of Jesus Christ, "whom ye slew and hanged on a tree" (Acts 5:30,; 5:30, ).
In these verses, and through Mark 4:34, Mark takes up the Galilean ministry, especially that in the vicinity of Capernaum.
Verses 16, 17, 18
And passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they left the nets and followed him.
THE CALLING OF FOUR APOSTLES
This was not the first meeting of Jesus with these disciples; for the apostle John gives details of their first meeting in his gospel (John 1:35-51). The reference here is to a more formal calling to the apostleship and involved their leaving their occupation to attend Jesus continually.
For they were fishers ...
These words figure prominently in the allegations regarding the priority of Mark; but it should ever be remembered that the extensive oral traditions of the early church were available to all the gospel writers, and that certain set expressions, as this, derived from common usage throughout the church and not from one writer's reliance upon a document written by another. The notion that Matthew copied Mark leads to the supposition that one of the apostles, such as Matthew, who was an eyewitness to all that Jesus did, and who had orally taught the gospel to countless Christians throughout the world of that era, and who was one of the group of men whose words formed the oral traditions which prevailed in the first two or three decades of the Christian era ... the incredible supposition that such an author would have needed to consult Mark is ridiculous and is in no wise proved by such expressions common to two, or even three, of the synoptics. The necessary existence of oral traditions before any of the gospels was written is a more than sufficient explanation of the common expressions such as this.
Fishers of men ...
This purpose of the Master to make the men here mentioned to be "fishers of men" indicates this as a more formal call to the apostleship, contrasting with the first meeting recorded in John. They promptly obeyed the call.
Verses 19, 20
And going a little further, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending the nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him.
These brothers also were among those whose first meeting with Jesus was recorded by John; and it is true of them, as of Peter and Andrew, that this was a formal call to the apostleship, significantly afterward. Their response, like that of the others, was prompt and obedient.
And they go into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue and taught.
CONTINUATION OF JESUS' GALILEAN MINISTRY
Mark does not relate what Jesus taught on this occasion, but it may be assumed that his teaching was identical with such teaching as that found in the sermon on the mount and in the parables and other discourses. Significantly, the first teaching of Jesus (as recorded by Mark) occurred in a synagogue provided by a liberal and God-fearing Gentile (Luke 7:5).
And they were astonished at his teaching: for he taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes.
Matthew reported the close of the sermon on the mount in almost these exact words. Why? Both Matthew, Mark, and all the gospel writers drew freely upon the established oral tradition which existed for about a decade before Matthew wrote and about three decades before Mark wrote. Such an expression as this verse had been repeated perhaps millions of times by believers in recounting the wonderful story of Jesus; and there can be no marvel at all that it is found in both gospels, with just enough variation to show that both authors wrote independently, Matthew writing, "their scribes," and Mark writing "the scribes." It is obvious that nobody copied anybody!
Having authority ...
Jesus' teaching was promulgated by him as being superior to that of Moses. He took up the great precepts of the law, repeated them, and then added, "But I say unto you," going on to indicate his own teachings as superior to those of the law (Matthew 5:32,34,39,44; 5:32,34,39,44 ).
Verses 23, 24
And straightway there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus thou Nazarene? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the holy one of God.
THE HEALING OF THE DEMONIAC IN THE SYNAGOGUE
With an unclean spirit ...
Luke's account of this (Luke 4:31-37) calls this "an unclean demon," the expressions being synonymous.
What have we to do with thee ...
The plural indicates that the demon was speaking either upon behalf of himself and other demons, or for his victim and himself. Regarding other demon possession, of which there is so much in Mark, the following observations are in order.
Our Lord used language in addressing demons which is not reconcilable with any explanation of such maladies as mere diseases or mental disturbances. He addressed the demon as distinct from the man (Mark 1:25); and, in private conversations with the Twelve, indicated that particularly malignant demons could not be expelled except by "fasting and prayer" (Matthew 17:21). Any scheme that confounds such diseases as epilepsy, insanity, paranoia, etc., with demon possession as related in the New Testament is refuted by the words and actions of Christ who clearly regarded the phenomenon of demon possession as real.
Why, then, it may be asked, are there no examples of demon-possession in the current era? A double reply to this is as follows: (1) It is by no means certain that demon-possession has disappeared from the earth. As Trench said, "The assumption that there are none now, itself remains to be proved." F4 In the same vein of thought, William James, noted philosopher and psychologist, said:
The refusal of modern "enlightenment"
to treat possession as an hypothesis,
to be spoken of as even possible, in
spite of the massive human tradition
based on concrete human experience in
its favor, has always seemed to me a
curious example of the power of
fashion in things scientific. That
the demon theory will have its innings
again is to my mind absolutely
certain. One has to be "scientific"
indeed to be blind and ignorant enough
to deny its possibility. F5
Moreover, Worcester and McComb affirm that:
There are today educated and skilled
physicians who believe in obsession by
an extraneous intelligence and whose
therapeutic system is based on this
(2) Aside from the fact that demon possession indeed might still exist on earth, there must be added the inference that even if it should be proved impossible today, such would not deny its existence then. At a time when the true Spirit was coming into the world as a Redeemer, it is certainly fully reasonable to expect that the most intensive activity of Satan would have been multiplied in opposition to the Lord's work. The triumph of Christ would therefore explain the disappearance of the phenomenon in our own times. Either of the solutions to this problem presented here could be correct.
Despite the fact that Jesus Christ obviously treated demon-possession as a reality in certain cases, he certainly did not refer all diseases to such a cause; and there were notable instances in which he went out of the way to demonstrate his rejection of popular notions of his day regarding demons. Thus, he commanded the crumbs to be taken up after the feeding of multitudes, defying the superstition that demons lurked in crumbs; also the popular notion that demons could take advantage of people who borrowed water was flaunted by our Lord's borrowing water from the woman of Samaria. The Saviour himself represented demons as preferring "waterless places" (Matthew 12:43); but he did not hesitate to frequent waterless places, or desert places.
The child of faith will not be intimidated by the accusations of those who would make of our Lord a mere child of his age, ignorantly making their own prejudices his own, and falling in with an erroneous superstition regarding demon possession. The dogmatism and arrogance with which some allege such things cannot fail to raise the thought that possibly such men might be an example of what they are denying. For further discussion of this subject, see Commentary on Matthew, (Matthew 8:21-32).
I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God ...
appears as the testimony of the demon himself, and, as such, is one of the most interesting things in Scripture. Scribes and Pharisees at that point in time did not recognize heaven's messenger, and not even his closest disciples fully knew him. Yet heaven had shouted the message from God himself that here was the Son beloved; and here darkness itself acknowledged the light; hell bore witness of the Christ, although he received it not. At Gadara also, demons confessed Christ as "Son of God"; but there too, it may be assumed, Jesus did not receive their testimony. The apostles likewise followed in this same pattern of rejecting the testimony of demoniacs (Acts 16:16-18). Paul did not allow the girl with the spirit of divination to bear witness of his preaching, although her words were true: "These men are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation." Paul cast the spirit out of her, thus ending her witness. Thus, neither Christ nor his apostles permitted hell to witness of heaven, nor the kingdom of evil to testify of the kingdom of God.
What motivation produced the remarkable testimony of demons? If men had written the New Testament, it is incredible that the enemies of all light and truth should have appeared in such a role. Why would they have confessed the One who had entered the world to destroy their works? Every human thought inclines to the view that demons would have avoided such a confession at all cost. Why, then, did they do it? Certainly, they were not forced to do it by Christ, because he expressly forbade them. Trench understood their motivation to have been in the "hope that the truth itself might be brought into suspicion and discredit in thus receiving attestation from the spirit of lies." F7 The purpose of Satan in prompting such testimony of demons comes to light in a similar instance of it in Mark 3:11, followed quickly by the Pharisees' charge that Jesus cast out demons by the prince of demons (Mark 3:22). Thus, the use which Satan attempted to make of the alleged rapport of the demons with Christ reveals the diabolical purpose which instigated the kind of confessions which might have aided the devil. That such is the truth appears from the fact of Jesus' unequivocal rejection of them.
Art thou come to destroy us ...?
The fear of the demons was also noted by Matthew who recorded the complaint of the Gadarene demons, "Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?" (Matthew 8:29). The faith of demons must therefore be viewed as something exceeding that of many so-called Christians. Various New Testament references reveal them as believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, having absolute authority over them, having also judged them, consigning them to destruction, a fate already determined to be executed upon them at a given time. The destruction envisaged in this passage is hell; and the fact that demons believe in such destruction should give pause to sinners who deny any such place, supposing that their conception of a "loving God" negates any possibility of eternal condemnation. As Ryle wrote:
It is a sorrowful thought that on
these points some professed Christians
have even less faith than the devil.
There are some who doubt the reality
of hell and the eternity of
punishment. Such doubts find no place
except in the hearts of self-willed
men and women. There is no infidelity
among devils. "They believe and
tremble" (James 2:19). F8
Verses 25, 26
And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of the man. And the unclean spirit, tearing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
It was necessary that Jesus show his absolute power over the evil spirits, and as Bickersteth said, "also that he should show that he had nothing to do with them." F9 There were two excellent reasons why Christ forbade the testimony of evil spirits: (1) it was not the proper time that Christ should be made known as the Son of God, and (2) if it had been permitted, it would have been alleged as proof by the Pharisees that Christ was in league with Satan (Mark 3:22).
Hold thy peace and come out ...
Christ ordered the evil spirit not to speak, and no further word was uttered by him, the loud cry being merely a wail and not an intelligible utterance.
Tearing him ...
Luke recorded this, "And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst, he came out of him, having done him no hurt" (Luke 4:35). "Tearing him" is therefore a reference to the man's being convulsed and thrown down. Mark preferred the more dramatic word as in Mark 1:12. The Greek word here rendered "tearing" may also be translated "convulsed," F10 according to Bickersteth. This action by the evil spirit showed his malignity and that he departed from the man unwillingly, solely upon the authority of Jesus. The convulsing of the man also demonstrated that he was actually possessed of a demon. The entire incident therefore provided an effective witness of the power of the Son of God over evil spirits.
And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What is this? a new teaching! with authority he commandeth even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.
Mark thus testified to the effect of such mighty deeds upon the people who saw them. The mention of "teaching," here, indicates that:
The bystanders inferred that this new
and unexampled power indicated the
accompanying gift of "a new teaching,"
a new revelation. More, it indicated
that he who wrought these miracles
must be the promised Messiah, the true
God; for he alone by his power could
rule the evil spirits. F11
And the report of him went out straightway everywhere into all the region of Galilee round about.
anticipates the world-wide spread of the gospel, but the primary meaning is here restricted to Galilee.
Verses 29, 30, 31
And straightway, when they were come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever; and straightway they tell him of her: and he came and took her by the hand, and raised her up; and the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.
THE HEALING OF PETER'S MOTHER-IN-LAW
Simon's wife's mother ...
points up the fact that Peter was a married man, a fact further corroborated by Paul's mention of Peter's wife in 1 Corinthians 9:5.
Lay sick of a fever ...
Luke, being a physician, was more technical in describing this malady, referring to it as "a great fever," the medical designation of those times for such a malady as typhoid. Luke also recorded the fact of Jesus' standing over her, and the information that others had interceded on her behalf. Thus, it is Luke who provided the delicate little touches alleged to be found principally in Mark. This account and those of Matthew 8:14-17 and Luke 4:38-40 exhibit the superlative effect of interlocking narratives by independent writers combining to give a composite record of undeniable truth and beauty. Luke said it was Simon's house; Matthew said it was Peter's; and Mark related that it was Simon's and Andrew's. This is another pseudocon, explained by the fact that Peter and Andrew, as brothers, owned a house jointly.
This is the ninth usage of this expression by Mark in this chapter.
They tell him of her ...
Luke gives what they told him, namely, that she was ill and including a request that Christ would heal her.
The fever left her ...
It did not merely abate but disappeared. The power of Christ did not merely make people better but entirely whole and healthy.
And she ministered unto them ...
The spiritual implications of this are extensive and are suggestive of many expressions found in the gospel of John. All people are saved to save others. Jesus did not heal people for their benefit only, but he healed them to serve others, as exemplified by the behavior of Peter's mother-in-law here.
And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were sick, and them that were possessed of demons.
When the sun did set ...
From this, and from the fact that the evil spirit had been cast out of a man on the sabbath day (apparently) only a short while previously, it is frequently considered that the people waited until after sundown to avoid violation of the sabbath; but this inference is by no means certain. True, Mark's "straightway" sometimes means "in the very next sequence of time," or "immediately"; but it is by no means a necessary meaning in Mark's every use of the word. This sacred author apparently used the term also as a simple connective. For example, "straightway" in Mark 1:28 can hardly mean "on the same day." Chrysostom thought that the mention of sunset here was to give "evidence of the faith and eagerness of the people, who, even when the day was spent, still came streaming to Christ." F12 Either this view, or that it was indeed the sabbath day, could be correct.
Verses 33, 34
And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick with divers diseases, and cast out many demons; and he suffered not the demons to speak, because they knew him.
Here it was Matthew who provided the sparkling details that: (1) all the sick were healed; (2) the demons were cast out by a word; and (3) there was here a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy (Isaiah 53:4). This is contrary to the view that Mark more fully reported material common with the other synoptics. Luke more fully reported the incident of the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, and Matthew more fully reported this.
He suffered not the demons to speak ...
See under Mark 1:24-26.
Matthew's reference to this evening's work of healing as a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our diseases," should not be thought of as limiting the vicarious work of Christ to the mere removal of bodily suffering, but rather this was viewed as a sign of the far greater service of "taking" and "bearing" the sins of all men, the very sins which are the root cause of all suffering. Supporting this view is the meaning of the original verbs in Isaiah where far more than mere removal is meant, for Messiah is there represented as actually taking upon himself all the disabilities of mankind. Peter also vindicates this understanding of the place (1 Peter 2:24).
And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed.
A great while before day ...
Christ gave the top of the day to meditation and prayer, and his followers could do no better than to follow his example. It might be speculated that Christ arose thus early to escape the applause of men so profusely available following his miracles, but there was the far more important message of the kingdom to be advertised; and Christ's prayers were preparatory to his first missionary journey in Galilee.
A desert place ...
Deserts were the wandering place of demons, but Jesus feared them not.
And there prayed ...
The prayer life of Christ was entensively stressed by the sacred writers. Once, he continued all night in prayer (Luke 6:12).
Verses 36, 37
And Simon and they that were with him followed after him; and they found him, and say unto him, All are seeking thee.
They that were with him ...
would mean at least the other three disciples called in this chapter. Luke reported in this context the coming of a multitude who sought to restrain Christ's departure from them (Luke 4:42).
Verses 38, 39
And he saith unto them, Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth. And he went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons.
The extent and duration of this journey must have been considerable. Josephus relates that there were nearly 200 villages in the area, each with several thousand inhabitants. Christ's words here indicated the priority of preaching over the work of healing the sick and casting out demons, his works being related, of course, to his preaching; but it was the preaching for which the miracles were wrought, and not the other way around. Luke indicated the subject matter of Jesus' preaching in these words: "I must preach the good tidings of the kingdom of God to the other cities also: for therefore was I sent."
And there cometh to him a leper, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
THE CLEANSING OF THE LEPER
This wonder is recorded in all the synoptics; and, although Mark is credited with giving "more full details," F13 it is not amiss to point out that of the eight or nine sections in this chapter which are reported by one or both of the other synoptics, this is the first instance of Mark's having, in any sense, a fuller account; and, even here, it was Matthew and Luke who gave the most vivid details of the leper's "worshipping" Christ (Matthew 8:2) and of his falling "on his face" in order to do so (Luke 5:12), thus associating worship with a humble posture of the body.
If one counts the words, or measures the text, of the three synoptic accounts of this miracle, he might fall in with the view that "Mark's account is fuller"; but this apparent fullness actually results, not from information conveyed by the author, but from his manner of relating it. Take the charge to the cleansed man:
"And he strictly charged him, and
straightway sent him out, and saith
unto him, See thou say nothing to any
man: but go show thyself to the
priest, and offer for thy cleansing
the things which Moses commanded, for
a testimony unto them." - Mark
"And he charged him to tell no man:
but go thy way and show thyself to the
priest, and offer for thy cleansing,
according as Moses commanded, for a
testimony unto them." - Luke.
"And Jesus saith unto him, See thou
tell no man; but go, show thyself to
the priest, and offer the gift that
Moses commanded, for a testimony unto
them." - Matthew
It will be noted that the information given is the same in all three accounts. All three recorded the same miracle which had been incorporated into the oral tradition of the church which necessarily preceded all of the gospels. The recurrence in the synoptics of words, phrases and expressions common to them all has no explanation whatever apart from the prior oral tradition upon which all of them partially relied. The critical hypothesis which would make Mark the first of the gospels and the principal source of the other two synoptics is altogether ridiculous and unconvincing for those who have a thorough knowledge of the gospels. For more on the synoptic problem, see the introduction.
A leper ...
This dreadful malady was incurable by any art or device of men. In the holy Scriptures, it appears like blindness as a type of sin; but this did not imply any greater guilt in those afflicted. The dreadful affliction itself in its ravage of the unfortunate victim was the type. That only God could cure leprosy was a fact stated in anger by Jehoram the King of Israel on the occasion when Naaman appeared and demanded that he be healed of his leprosy. The king said, "Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy?" (2 Kings 5:7).
If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean ...
The faith of the leper was very great. He did not suggest that Jesus intercede with God on his behalf but that he should cleanse him. He did not merely petition Jesus but worshipped him, falling on his face, and kneeling to him.
And being moved with compassion, he stretched forth his hand and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou made clean.
And touched him ...
It was not sinful to touch dead bodies, or lepers; but to do so brought ceremonial defilement (Lev. 13-14). In the case of Christ's touch, it brought cleansing and not defilement. The power and godhead of the Son of God shine in a miracle such as this; and, moreover, this sign suggests the far greater thing that Jesus did in touching our human nature by means of his incarnation and thus bringing eternal life to all men.
And straightway the leprosy departed from him, and he was made clean.
In this verse also, Mark's "fuller account" consists of relating in twelve words what Luke gave in seven and Matthew in six words.
And he strictly charged him, and straightway sent him out.
is an emphatic term, indicating that the Master instructed the healed man in the most specific and urgent terms.
And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing the things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
Say nothing to any man ...
This prohibition by the Saviour was for his own protection against the irresponsible crowds who would have declared him king if they had been given the lightest pretext for doing so (see John 6:15).
The things which Moses commanded ...
The sacrifice commanded by Moses was a triple offering of two male lambs without blemish and one ewe lamb without blemish (Lev. 14).
For a testimony unto them ...
The priests would by such a cleansing know of the power of Jesus; and Jesus did everything that even God could do in order to induce faith in the religious leaders. The prohibition to "tell no man" did not refer to the testimony which would of necessity be given to the priests.
But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to spread abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into a city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.
The cleansed man could then go everywhere, but the Lord who had healed him had to retire to the desert and avoid populated places. One may only marvel at the disobedience and vanity of the cleansed man who so vigorously flaunted the command of the Lord who healed him. Mark brought out the connection between the man's disobedience and the necessity of Jesus' retirement from populated areas; but the same thing is inferred in Luke where "the report concerning Jesus" by the cleansed man "went abroad," the "great multitudes" coming to him, and the fact that he "withdrew" into the deserts are all recorded. It is incorrect, therefore, to say that Mark alone related this.
Footnotes for Mark 1
1: E. Bickersteth, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 16, p. 1.
2: J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 5.
3: Henry H. Halley, Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961), p. 419.
4: Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Miracles (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1943), p. 174.
5: Quoted by Elwood Worcester, Making Life Better (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936), p. 45.
6: Samuel McComb, Body, Mind and Spirit (New Hampshire: Marshall Jones and Company, 1931), p. 272.
7: Richard C. Trench, op. cit., p. 250.
8: J. C. Ryle, op. cit., p. 12.
9: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 5.
10: Ibid., p. 6.
12: Quoted by R. C. Trench, op. cit., p. 254.
13: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 7.