Divorce, 1-12

10:1 Then Jesus left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan River. Again crowds gathered to him, and again, as was his custom, he taught them.

As Hendriksen points out, the sequence marriage (1-12), children (13-16), property (17-31) is readily apparent.

Jesus was on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. The Trans-Jordan area was ruled by Herod Antipas. Recall that it was John the Baptist’s preaching against Herod’s adulterous marriage that led to him (John) being beheaded, Mk 6:14-29. This fact may explain why the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with a question about divorce.

Mk 10:1-12 = Mt 19:1-12; cf. Lk 16:18.
10:2 Then some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Some Pharisees came and tested him – ‘Knowing Jesus’ views, they could expect him both to incriminate himself by apparently making light of the “law” of Deut 24:1-4, and to lose popular support by condemning the divorce which was freely practised by his contemporaries. Moreover, among those contemporaries was Antipas, whose recent divorce had already drawn the first of John the Baptist, with disastrous results, Mk 14:3-12. So it was an explosive question.’ (France)

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” – ‘It is important to remember that the issue was not “divorce” in the modern sense of a legally approved annulment of a marriage on the initiative of either partner (or both), but the right of the Jewish man (not the woman) to repudiate his wife by a simple”] unilateral declaration against which there was no appeal.’ (France)

‘There may have been more than one motive behind their question. Divorce was a burning question, a crux of rabbinic discussion, and it may well be that they honestly wished for Jesus’ opinion on it. They may have wished to test his orthodoxy. It may well be that Jesus had already had something to say on this matter. Mt 5:31-32, shows us Jesus speaking about marriage and re-marriage, and it may be that these Pharisees had the hope that he might contradict himself and entangle himself in his own words. It may be that they knew what he would answer and wished to involve him in enmity with Herod who had in fact divorced his wife and married another. It may well be that they wished to hear Jesus contradict the law of Moses, as indeed he did, and thereby to formulate a charge of heresy against him. One thing is certain-the question they asked Jesus was no academic one of interest only to the rabbinic schools. It was a question which dealt with one of the acutest issues of the time.’ (DSB)

If we take into account Matthew’s addition to the question, Mt 5:32, the issue was whether Jesus supported the stricter or less strict of the Rabbinic interpretations of Deut 24:1 (i.e. whether a man could divorce his wife only on grounds of adultery or on much more trivial grounds, such as burning his food). Note, however, that Jesus does not allow himself to get embroiled in that particular debate, but deals with the ‘big issues’ of marriage and divorce.

Note also that the question was not, “May a divorced woman marry again?” Among the Jews, remarriage after divorce was permitted and even expected.

‘In Jewish law a man had the right to divorce his wife (but not the wife her husband) by a simple”] declaration; there was no trial and no appeal. This was assumed to be the intention of Deut 24:1-4, but the ‘something indecent’ which that passage gave as the grounds for divorce left room for debate. Some teachers restricted this to adultery or other gross sexual misbehaviour, but in common practice, supported by some rabbis, it was virtually a matter of the husband’s whim, for any and every reason.’ (NBC)

‘The rabbis were divided on what were legitimate grounds for divorce. The followers of Shammai held that a man could not divorce his wife unless he found her guilty of sexual immorality. The followers of Hillel were more lax, allowing divorce for many, including trivial, reasons.’ (Ryrie)

‘Perhaps behind their question was the public scandal of Herodias, who had left her husband Philip in order to marry King Herod Antipas. John the Baptist had courageously denounced their union as “unlawful,” Mk 6:17 ff, and had been imprisoned as a result.’ (Stott). Jesus’ questioners wondered if he would be as outspoken, especially at a time when he was, it seems, within Herod’s jurisdiction, Mk 10:1. In any case, it is clear that the Pharisees wanted to embroil Jesus in the Shammai-Hillel debate.

10:3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 10:4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”

‘The law of Jewish divorce goes back to Deut 24:1. That passage was the foundation of the whole matter. It runs thus: “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house.”

At first the bill of divorcement was very simple. It read like this: “Let this be from me thy writ of divorce and letter of dismissal and deed of liberation, that thou mayest marry whatsoever man thou wilt.” In later days the bill became more elaborate: “On the …….. day, of the …….. week, of the …….. month, year …….. of the world, according to the calculation in use in the town of ……… situated by the river …….. I, A.B., son of C.D., and by whatsoever name I am called here, present this day ……… native of the town of …….. I acting of my free-will, and without any coercion, do repudiate, send back, and put away thee E.F., daughter of G.H., and by whatsoever name thou art called, and until this present time my wife. I send thee away now E.F., daughter of G.H., so that thou art free and thou canst at thy pleasure marry whom thou wilt and no one will hinder thee. This is thy letter of divorce, act of repudiation, certificate of separation, according to the law of Moses and of Israel.” In New Testament times this document took a skilled Rabbi to draw it up. It was afterwards proved by a court of three rabbis, and then lodged with the Sanhedrin. But the process of divorce remained on the whole exceedingly easy, and at the entire discretion of the man.’ (DSB)

10:5 But Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your hard hearts. 10:6 But from the beginning of creation he made them male and female. 10:7 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother, 10:8 and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 10:9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

‘In this and the following verses Jesus is not setting the commandment of God against that of Moses, nor is he brushing aside the scripture. Rather, he is bringing out the real meaning of Deut 24:1. A distinction has to be made between that which sets forth the absolute will of God, and those provisions which take account of men’s actual sinfulness and are designed to limit and control its consequences…Human conduct which falls short of the absolute command of God is sin and stands under the divine judgement. The provisions which God’s mercy has designed for the limitation of the consequences of man’s sin must not be interpreted as divine approval for sinning. When our sinfulness traps us in a position in which all the choices still open to us are evil, we are to choose that which is least evil, asking for God’s forgiveness and comforted by it, but not pretending that the evil is good.’ (Cranfield)

‘Jesus quoted the Mosaic regulation, and then he said that Moses laid that down only “to meet the hardness of your hearts.” That may mean one of two things. It may mean that Moses laid it down because it was the best that could be expected from people such as those for whom he was legislating. Or, it may mean that Moses laid it down in order to try to control a situation which even then was degenerating, that in fact it was not so much a permission to divorce as it was in the beginning an attempt to control divorce, to reduce it to some kind of law, and to make it more difficult.’ (DSB)

‘Jesus explained that Moses gave the divorce law because of the sinfulness of the human heart. The law protected the wife by restraining the husband from impulsively divorcing her and abusing her like an unwanted piece of furniture, instead of treating her like a human being. Without a bill of divorcement, a woman could easily become a social outcast and be treated like a harlot. No man would want to marry her, and she would be left defenseless and destitute.

By giving this commandment to Israel, God was not putting his approval on divorce or even encouraging it. Rather, he was seeking to restrain it and make it more difficult for men to dismiss their wives. He put sufficient regulations around divorce so that the wives would not become victims of their husbands’ whims.’ (Wiersbe)

‘Jesus made it quite clear that he regarded Deut 24:1, as being laid down for a definite situation and being in no sense permanently binding. The authorities which he quoted went much further back. For his authorities he went right back to the Creation story and quoted Gen 1:27 and Gen 2:24. It was his view that in the very nature of things marriage was a permanency which indissolubly united two people in such a way that the bond could never be broken by any human laws and regulations. It was his belief that in the very constitution of the universe marriage is meant to be an absolute permanency and unity, and no Mosaic regulation dealing with a temporary situation could alter that.’ (DSB)

Young Earth Creationists cite this verse as proving that God created man and woman at or near the time that he created the heavens and the earth.  But the parallel passage in Mt 19:4 clarifies what the present verse implies: that our Lord is referring to the creation of human beings rather than the creation of the cosmos.

“United” – ‘glued’, ‘cemented’: ‘a beautiful metaphor, forcibly intimating that nothing but death can separate them.’ (TSK)

“One flesh”Sarx could be taken as the equivalent of soma, and if so, the meaning is something like, ‘The two will become one person’; cf. 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:28-31. Or, in the light of Gen 29:14; 37:27; Jud 9:2; Rom 11:14, the meaning could be that by marriage a man and a woman cease to be merely members of different families and become one kindred. (Cranfield)

If this is at the heart of marriage, ‘then divorce can be understood as an agonizing exception, rather than an attractive temptation Instead of arguing about the indissolubility or dissolubility of faltering marriages, it is better to look for indissolubility where it really belongs, in the characteristic unity of a good marriage Fidelity is to a husband or wife, not to an impersonal duty.’ (Helen Oppenheimer)

“What God has joined together, let man not separate” – or, ‘yoked together’. ‘as oxen in the plough, where each must pull equally in order to bring it on. Among the ancients, they put a yoke upon the necks of a new married couple, or chains on their arms, to shew that they were to be one, closely united, and pulling equally together in all the concerns of life.’ (TSK)

‘To see divorce as man undoing the work of God puts the whole issue in a radically new perspective.’ (France) However, Jesus does not seem to be saying that man cannot separate what God has joined together (the indissolubilist position), but rather that he ought not to.

‘For man to dissolve such a union is something which inevitably stands under the divine judgement. It may nevertheless be proper for the state and also the Church to make provision for situations in which because of human sinfulness divorce may be the lesser evil.’ (Cranfield)

‘The real essence of the passage is that Jesus insisted that the loose sexual morality of his day must be mended. Those who sought marriage only for pleasure must be reminded that marriage is also for responsibility. Those who regarded marriage simply as a means of gratifying their physical passions must be reminded that it was also a spiritual unity. Jesus was building a rampart round the home.’ (DSB)

‘Mark 10:9 warns us that man cannot separate those who have been united in marriage, but God can. Since he established marriage, he has the right to lay down the rules. A divorce may be legal according to our laws and yet not be right in the eyes of God. He expects married people to practice commitment to each other (Mk 10:7) and to remain true to each other. Too many people view divorce as “an easy way out,” and do not take seriously their vows of commitment to each other and to the Lord.’ (Wiersbe)


Martin Davie writes:

In 2013 the Washington Post published an article proposing a new form of marriage which the author called a ‘wedlease.’ In a classic example of how our consumer culture is shaping our view of relationships, the author argues that we should have marriage leases in the same way as we have leases on our apartments.

Here’s how a marital lease could work: Two people commit themselves to marriage for a period of years—one year, five years, 10 years, whatever term suits them. The marital lease could be renewed at the end of the term however many times a couple likes. It could end up lasting a lifetime if the relationship is good and worth continuing. But if the relationship is bad, the couple could go their separate ways at the end of the term. The messiness of divorce is avoided and the end can be as simple as vacating a rental unit.

From a Christian perspective the fundamental objection to this proposal is its underlying assumption that marriage is something that human beings have the power to change (in this case by making marriage a temporary rather than a lifetime commitment). What this assumption ignores is the fact that human beings do not have the power to change what marriage is because they did not create it, any more than they created other important aspects of their existence such as the laws of physics.

10:10 In the house once again, the disciples asked him about this. 10:11 So he told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. 10:12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

“Commits adultery against her” – This goes beyond Rabbinic law, which did not allow for a man committing adultery against his wife.

‘Furthermore, Paul states that husband and wife have sexual obligations to one another (1 Cor 7:3–4), not merely the wife to the husband. Peter puts the point even more strongly by talking of husband and wife as joint heirs of the grace of life (1 Pet 3:7). We have, then, in the New Testament the beginnings of the development of a different understanding of marriage in which a wife is not her husband’s chattel, but they are mutually responsible partners.’ (Marshall, Discovering Biblical Equality)

“If she divorces her husband” – Not mentioned in Mt 19:9, which was written for a Jewish readership.

‘Some have doubted the authenticity of Mk 10:12, since a Jewish wife could not normally divorce her husband. But a wife could appeal to the court against her husband’s treatment of her, and the court could compel the husband to divorce her. Moreover, Christ may have had Gk. and Rom. law in mind, and here the wife could divorce her husband, as Herodias had divorced her first husband.’ (NBD)

‘Is it wise to take Jesus’ rulings on this or other practical issues and give them legislative force? Perhaps not. The trouble is that, if they are given legislative force, exceptive clauses are bound to be added to cover special cases, and arguments will be prolonged about the various situations which are, or are not, included in the terms of those exceptive clauses. It is better, probably, to let his words stand in their uncompromising rigor as the ideal at which his followers ought to aim. Legislation has to make provision for the hardness of men’s hearts, but Jesus showed a more excellent way than the way of legislation and supplies the power to change the human heart and make his ideal a practical possibility.’ (F.F. Bruce, HSB)

Jesus and Little Children, 13-16

10:13 Now people were bringing little children to him for him to touch, but the disciples scolded those who brought them. 10:14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 10:15 I tell you the truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 10:16 After he took the children in his arms, he placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Mk 10:13–16 = Mt 19:13–15; Lk 18:15–17

To have him touch them – Jesus is often described as touching people or being touched by them, Mk 3:10; 5:27-28,30; 6:56; 7:33; 8:22.

The disciples rebuked them – Perhaps they were seeking to protect their Master, but in fact they were abusing their own authority. Clearly, they thought that children were of less importance than others. In what ways do we stand in the way of ‘little’ people coming to Christ, instead of helping and encouraging them to come?

He was indignant – This was not only a righteous indignation; it was also a loving indignation. He was indignant because he loved the children so deeply and so tenderly.

“The kingdom of God belongs to such as these” – ‘To find the reason why the kingdom of God belongs to children in any subjective qualities of the children is surely to misunderstand: the reason is rather to be found in their objective humbleness, the fact that they are weak and helpless and unimportant, and in the fact that God has chosen “the weak things of the world,” 1 Cor 1:26ff; cf. Mt 11:25-26 = Lk 10:21.’ (Cranfield)

This saying reveals ‘the startling character of the grace of God who wills to give the Kingdom to those who have no claim upon it.’ (Lane)

‘Some thought that the kingdom would be achieved by force of arms; others, by radical moral reform, and so on. But although Jewish people (unlike Greeks) respected humility, no one expected the kingdom to come by becoming powerless like children. The totally powerless can depend on no one but God.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)

Mk 10:13-16 = Mt 19:13-15; Lk 18:15-17.

“The kingdom of God” – The kingdom of God is God’s rule in our hearts and lives, together with all the blessings and benefits which that entails. ‘Entering into’ the kingdom means receiving eternal life, cp. Mt 19:24 and 19:25. It implies ‘having freedom of acces to his throne of grace, Rom 5:2 Heb 4:16, experiencing the love of God that is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Rom 5:5; being transformed into the image of Christ, 2 Cor 3:18, being illumined by the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, 2 Cor 4:6, possessing the peace of God that passes all understanding, Php 4:7, and the joy unspeakable and full of glory, 1 Pet 1:8. At Christ’s return a transformed body and a new heaven and a new earth for both body and soul are added, Rom 8:23; Eph 1:14; Php 3:1; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1-2.’ (Hendriksen)

What does it mean to receive the kingdom ‘like a child’? It is tempting to think of supposedly childlike qualities such as innocence and simplicity. But the fact that children are not innocent, coupled with the fact that the children here are small enough to be held in Jesus’ arms (Luke actually calls them brephe, ‘infants’), indicates that it is the quality of trust and dependence that is being taught here.

‘We enter God’s kingdom by faith, like little children: helpless, unable to save ourselves, totally dependent on the mercy and grace of God. We enjoy God’s kingdom by faith, believing that the Father loves us and will care for our daily needs. What does a child do when he or she has a hurt or a problem? Take it to Father and Mother! What an example for us to follow in our relationship with our Heavenly Father! Yes, God wants us to be childlike, but not childish! There is no suggestion here that Jesus baptized these children, for Jesus did not even baptize adults. (Jn 4:1-2) If the disciples had been accustomed to baptizing infants, they certainly would not have turned the people away. Jesus took these precious little ones in His loving arms and blessed them-and what a blessing that must have been!’ (Wiersbe)

The reference …is not to the receptiveness or humility or imaginativeness or trustfulness or unselfconsciousness of children, but to their objective littleness and helplessness. To receive the kingdom as a little child is to allow oneself to be given it, because one knows one cannot claim it as one’s right or attempt to earn it… Jn 3:3,5 seem to be the Johannine version of this saying and provide an illuminating comment upon it. Nicodemus has to learn that he cannot enter the kingdom of God as a learned theologian and highly respected religious leader; if he is to enter it at all, it must be as one who is helpless and small, without claim or merit.’ (Cranfield)

Note that our Lord speaks of ‘receiving’ and ‘entering’ the kingdom of God. Salvation is a gift to be received, and an experience to be entered into.

Mk 10:13-16 = Mt 19:13-15; Lk 18:15-17.

He took the children in his arms – presumably, he took each child in turn, cradled it in his arm, laid the other hand on its head, and offered a brief prayer of blessing. Jesus’ actions are consistent with his words. And these actions stand in stark contrast to the callous attitudes that prevailed in society at that time.

‘Jesus’ actions overturned the world’s priorities. Jesus was often criticized for spending too much time with the wrong people-children, tax collectors, and sinners. (Mt 9:11; Lk 15:1-2; 19:7) Some, including the disciples, thought Jesus should be spending more time with important leaders and the devout, because this was the way to improve his position and avoid criticism. But Jesus didn’t need to improve his position. He was God, and he wanted to speak to those who needed him most.’ (HBA)

The Rich Man, 17-31

10:17 Now as Jesus was starting out on his way, someone ran up to him, fell on his knees, and said, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Mk 10:17–31 = Mt 19:16–30; Lk 18:18–30

This account of ‘the Rich Young Ruler’ relates, as Matthew Henry points out, ‘a hopeful meeting’ and ‘a sorrowful parting.’

A man – According to v22, ‘he had great wealth’. Mt 19:20 informs us that he was young, Lk 18:18 that he was a ruler.

The man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. Would our own response to such an eager enquirer have anything like the incisiveness of Jesus’ response? The man’s eagerness is emphasised in the way he addresses the Master and in his focus on ‘eternal life’.

“Good teacher” – Such an address was common enough for the Greeks, but more unusual among the Jews, who were well aware that ‘goodness’ is, according to the OT, a characteristic of God himself. The man is paying Jesus a sincere compliment.

Every aspect of this man’s approach and address to Jesus suggests both respect and earnestness.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life” – The very question stands in contrast to Jesus’ teaching that the kingdom of God must be received, v15.  It is a question that ‘suggests that behind a facade of security there was a heart which had lost much of its security.’ (Lane)

‘”What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is often understood as a desire to “enter the kingdom” in its realized presence. While this is certainly part of the meaning, it does not exhaust its thrust. Jesus’ final statement in Mk 10:30 (par. Mt 19:29 and Lk 18:30), “and in the age to come eternal life,” forms an inclusio with the young man’s question and clearly refers to the afterlife.’ (DJG)

‘The two verbs “do” and “inherit” placed together, the list of moral achievements, and the young man’s understanding of goodness (cf Mk 10:18) indicate a religious outlook based on works righteousness.’ (New Geneva)

N.T. Wright (Jesus and the Victory of God) understands this this as question about the restoration of the nation.  As Stein remarks, this looks like an attempt to squeeze a text into a pre-determined theological scheme: the question shows every sign of being an enquiry about the man’s personal entrance into the kingdom of God.

10:18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 10:19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ”

“Why do you call me good?” – On Matthew seeming to correct his Markan source, see Mt 19:17n. Jesus appears to be pouring cold water on the enquirer’s eager question. Here, as is so often the case, Jesus’ response is intended to prompt deep reflection, rather than simply provide information. ‘The Lord, as usual, tries to draw from the man the full implications of his own words.’ (Cole)

‘A word that in its proper sense belonged to God alone should not be used lightly as a mere expression of courtesy, and Jesus suspected that it was simply as a polite form of address that the man used it. He himself did not refuse to describe people as good when he really meant “good.” If it be asked how such language squares with his assertion here that “No one is good but God alone,” the answer is plain: no one is altogether good, as God is, but men and women are good insofar as they reflect the goodness of God.’ (HSB)

‘It appears, indeed, that the form in which Mark (followed by Luke) preserves these words of Jesus was felt to present a difficulty at quite an early stage in the formation of the Gospels. In the parallel passage in Mt 19:16-17 the weight of the textual evidence favors the recasting of the man’s question as “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” – to which Jesus replies, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good” (RSV). This recasting of the question and answer, however, was not perpetuated. Whereas normally, in the process of transmitting the Gospel text, the tendency is for the wording of the other Evangelists to be conformed to that of Matthew, here the Matthean wording has been conformed to that of Mark and Luke in the majority of later manuscripts, followed by the KJV: “‘Good Master, what shall I do, that I may have eternal life?’ ‘Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.'” If the saying had been felt to be insuperably hard, the Matthean form would have prevailed throughout the Synoptic record of the incident.’ (HSB)

“Do not defraud” – The command in not found in the Ten Commandments but is consistent with OT teaching as found in Ex 20:17 and Deut 24:14.  It may have been added because of its relevance to Jesus’ hearer, given that wealth is so often obtained by dishonest means.

Again, this part of Jesus’ response is intended to provoke reflection. The Ten Commandments ‘are the answer to the question about eternal life, not because a man can keep them and so earn eternal life, but because, if he honestly tries to keep them, he will be brought to recognise his bankruptcy and prepared to receive the kingdom of God as a little child.’ (Cranfield)

Jesus cites commandments only from the second table. It is be obedience to these that conformity to the first table is to be demonstrated. (Cranfield)

‘Paul had discovered the futility of striving to win life by keeping the law, Rom 7:24, but had this young man as yet? If “ruler” (Lk 18:18) is to be taken as a member of the Sanhedrin, the religious council of Israel, then his position becomes even more like that of Saul of Tarsus, the brilliant young theological students, doubtless from a wealthy merchant home.’ (Cole)

10:20 The man said to him, “Teacher, I have wholeheartedly obeyed all these laws since my youth.”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy” – Such a claim was not uncommon amongst Jews of the time, and yet it shows a profound misunderstanding of the commandments. The Rabbis spoke of those who had kept the whole Law from A to Z. (Cranfield) And yet the man shows unusual perception in acknowledging that keeping the commandments still leaves him in need of eternal life.

‘Since I was a boy’ refers to the twelfth year of age when a youth assumed the yoke of the commandments and was held responsible for obedience to them.

10:21 As Jesus looked at him, he felt love for him and said, “You lack one thing. Go, sell whatever you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

“As Jesus looked at him, he felt love for him” – See Gen 34:19; Isa 63:8-10; Lk 19:41; 2 Cor 12:15. It would be a denial of our Lord’s true humanity to suppose that he had exactly the same attitude towards everyone who came into contact with him. Of the crowds who followed, he chose just twelve to be his disciples. Of the twelve, there were three who were especially close to him. And of these three, there was one who became known as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’

Jesus challenged him because he loved him

From other lips, the words that Jesus spoke to this man might have been harsh and unloving.  As Garland says, ‘We may look at those who are rich and envy them for their wealth, hate them for their privileges, or look down on them for their smugness. We may berate them because, unlike us, they are unwilling to give up all that they have to follow Jesus. By contrast, Jesus, who comes from the ranks of the poor and oppressed, loves this man whose wealth gives him opportunities denied others. The rich man turned his back on Jesus, but Jesus did not turn his back on the rich. He loved them enough to help them see the truth.’

‘Jesus’ love for the man does not lead him to spare his feelings, but expresses itself in a challenge which is at the same time stern and gracious. The man must be made to see his need. In Jesus’ words to him many things are combined, the sharp probe that will show the man his self-deception, the summons to repentance, the gracious offer of himself as the way, the command and the promise of that eternal live about which he had enquired.’ (Cranfield)

Jesus loves the rich as well as the poor…

‘…the righteous as much as the sinner, the up and out as much as the down and out. He does not love this man for the advantage his wealth might bring to him and his movement. He loves him for who he is and therefore tells him exactly what he needs to hear, even if it is not what he wants to hear. Love challenges others for their own good. A good physician prescribes what will bring health to the patient, even when it is unpleasant medicine or radical surgery.’ (Garland)

A convincing portrait

‘The word “love” is grossly overused in contemporary English and can so easily collapse into sentimentalism, not least in pious portraits of Jesus. But when we read a complex chapter in which Jesus sidesteps a tricky political issue, rebukes his followers for stopping children coming near him, and rebukes them again for arguing about who would be the greatest among them; then find Jesus welcoming children, hugging them, and blessing them; and then see him in dialogue with a sincere but misguided inquirer, looking hard at the man and loving him (Mark 10:16, 21), we find the portrait utterly convincing.’ (Wright, The Day the Revolution Began)

“One thing you lack” – See Lk 10:42; 18:22; Jas 2:10; Rev 2:4,14,20. Here is a man with everything, or so it seemed. Just one is lacking, yet that one thing ‘is the all-important thing, a single-hearted devotion to God, obedience to the first of the Ten Commandments. For the fact that the man goes away with darkened countenance is the sign that he has made his riches an idol, from which it is too hard to part.’ (Cranfield)

‘Looking at this young man, you would conclude that he had everything, but Jesus said that one thing was lacking: a living faith in God. Money was his god: he trusted it, worshiped it, and got his fulfillment from it. His morality and good manners only concealed a covetous heart.’ (Wiersbe)

“Go, sell everything you have”


A radical but reasonable command…  ‘The command to sell all sounds quite unreasonable to us, but most in the ancient world would have heard it as radical but sound advice for those who were seriously devout. The Dead Sea Scrolls required adherents to the sect to contribute their possessions to the common treasury. Acts reports that members of the first Christian community in Jerusalem did the same to assist the needs of their fellow believers (see Acts 4:32–37; 5:1–11).’ (Garland, who adds that Jesus ‘is inviting him to join a community of believers who will take care of one another’s material needs. He will not be left destitute and forced to fend for himself.’)

…but not a universal command…  ‘The counsel to sell all is given to a particular person: we are not to conclude that it applies equally to all. To recognise this is not to draw its sting, but rather to begin to see its full seriousness, for material wealth is not the only possible idol.’ (Cranfield)

…yet none of us can escape its implications.  ‘This demand for physical renunciation of earthly wealth and comfort is made potentially of all of us, and may be made literally of some. Christ demands of us an initial renunciation of all, when we follow him, Lk 14:33. What he then hands back to us is completely at his disposal; henceforth, we but hold it as stewards for him; it is his to give or withhold at will, Job 1:21.’ (Cole)

‘Yet Jesus did not require all his followers to be destitute. His demands varied for different individuals and situations. But we should beware of using this truth as a convenient escape route. ‘That Jesus did not command all his followers to sell all their possessions gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command’ (R. H. Gundry).’ (NBC)

“And you will have treasure in heaven” – See Mt 6:19-21; Lk 16:9; 1 Tim 6:17-19; Heb 10:34; 1 Pet 1:4,5. Not that giving to the poor makes a person worthy of heavenly reward, but rather that trusting reception of God’s good things cannot but express itself in acts of generous gratitude. The idiom used here was current in Judaism, and ‘allowed Jesus to enter the thought-world of his contemporaries. Here, however, it is stripped of its customary associations of merit (as if selling one’s property and giving the money received to the poor will earn a significant reward), since the promised treasure signifies the gift of eternal life or salvation at the revelation of the Kingdom of God.’ (Lane)

“Come, follow me” – Verse 18, with its apparent deflection of the epithet ‘good’ away from himself and towards God, is something of a proof text for Unitarians and others who deny the deity of the Lord Jesus.  But the riddle is unlocked by the present verse.  In the same breath, Jesus directs the man to observe the Decalogue and to follow him.  Brant Pitre comments: ‘What is most striking is that having established the one good God as the one who defines what is required of human beings, in the final analysis Jesus is the one who defines what is ultimately commanded…If God alone is good and able to give commandments, then Jesus does as well. By implication then, he is also good. And he is good not in the sense implied by the rich man, but in the absolute, divine sense used by Jesus himself.’  The Case for Jesus (Image 2016), 151-52.

‘The command is at the same time a gift.

Jesus offers himself to him: he is himself the answer to the man’s question, the way to eternal life.’ (Cranfield) This invitation is sharpened by the fact that this story is followed by a third prediction of the passion, v33f.

‘Good advice comes from those who genuinely love others. Jesus showed genuine love for this man, even though he knew he might not follow him. Those who love are able to give tough advice that doesn’t hedge around the truth. Christ loved us enough to die for us, and he also loves us enough to talk straight to us. If his love were superficial, he would give us only approval; but because his love is complete, he gives us life-changing challenges.’ (HBA)

10:22 But at this statement, the man looked sad and went away sorrowful, for he was very rich.

He went away sad – Here, as Cole points out, is the only recorded example of a person leaving Christ’s presence with sadness. Many came with sadness, such as those on the Emmaus Road, Lk 24:17, but were not left in the condition.

‘The conclusion to the interview with Jesus indicates that in the case of this man the Law had not yet fulfilled its function, for its historical task is to bring man’s satisfaction with this world to an end and the quicken within him a thirst for righteousness and life.’ (Lane)

No renegotiation of terms

He went away, ‘presumably in search of a second, more accommodating, opinion’ (Garland).  The same author adds: ‘Jesus will not renegotiate the terms, however. One can imagine the disciples standing with mouths agape as they observe this exchange. Jesus lets a good man slip away whose deep pockets could help advance the kingdom cause—or at least their meager treasury.’

‘The well-to-do young man was like many “First World” Christians today. We want God to affirm that we are religious enough without costing us anything more than we have already been offering him. We trust only tentatively the value of heaven’s kingdom and hence are prepared to sacrifice only little for it; but one who is not sufficiently convinced of the gospel’s truth to sacrifice everything will not prove worthy of it. This is not to say that we are justified by our merit-we must receive the kingdom like a child. But genuine, saving faith is practically shown not by merely reciting a prayer but by living consistently with what we profess.

Jesus promises to more than make up for our sacrifices; do we believe him enough to sacrifice whatever our calling demands? As Craig Blomberg comments: “This entire episode should challenge First-World Christians, virtually all of whom are among the wealthiest people in the history of the world, to radical changes in their personal and institutional spending.”‘ (IVP NT Commentary)

‘Wealth can easily become an idol. In response to the young man’s question about how to have eternal life, Jesus told him to keep God’s Ten Commandments. Jesus then listed six of them, all referring to relationships with others. When the young man replied that he had kept the commandments, Jesus told him that he must do something more-sell everything and give the money to the poor. Jesus’ statement exposed the man’s weakness. In reality, his wealth was his god, his idol, and he would not give it up. Thus he violated the first and greatest commandment.’ (Ex 20:3; Mt 22:34-40) (HBA)

When possessions become encumbrances

Annie Dillard tells of the ill-fated Franklin expedition to the Arctic in 1845. That odyssey was a turning point in Arctic exploration because of its well-publicized failure. The preparations made were more suitable for the Royal Navy officer’s club in England than for the frigid Arctic. The explorers made room on their ships for a large library, a hand organ, china place settings, cut-glass wine goblets, and sterling silver flatware instead of additional coal for their steam engines. The ornate silver flatware was engraved with the individual officer’s initials and family crests. Search parties found clumps of bodies of men who had set off to walk for help when their supplies ran out. One skeleton wore his fine blue cloth uniform edged with silk braid, hardly a match for the bitter arctic cold. Another apparently chose to carry with him the place setting of sterling silver flatware. What must he have been thinking to take sterling silver tableware in a search for help and food? One cannot imagine that any of these sailor adventurers would have said, as they neared death on the frozen landscape, “I wish I had brought more silver place settings.” Our hanging on to things that are ultimately useless will look no less foolish. Many cannot envision life without things they cherish. They are in danger of losing the only life that counts.


10:23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” – A textual variant reads, “How hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God”, but this must be regarded with suspicion, if only because it is the easier reading.

‘Wealth,’ remarks Garland, ‘can blind our moral judgment, harden the arteries of compassion, and lead to spiritual bankruptcy.’

Most things are easier for those with wealth and possession; but entry to the kingdom of God is harder. The original expression is broad, and refers to those who have ‘things’ or possessions.

‘In the OT there are two main attitudes toward riches: one regarding them as the sign of God’s favour, a reward for goodness, the other identifying the poor with the pious, the rich with the ungodly. Jesus’ attitude to the rich, as shown in this verse, is startingly fresh. He neither covets their wealth, nor hates them. Instead he pities them – for the rich man is to be pitied because of his specially great temptations and the frighting handicap in relation to the kingdom of God under which he labours. It is so easy for him to feel a false security and rely on his possessions and become so taken up with them that he forgets what is infinitely more important.’ (Cranfield)

‘It was widely accepted that wealth was a wonderful blessing; it was a sign that God approved of a person and prospered that person’s business affairs.’ (Morris)

‘Most Jews expected the rich to inherit eternal life, not because their wealth could buy their way in, but because their wealth testified to the blessing of the Lord on their lives.’ (Carson)

‘When we tell prospective disciples today, “Just ask Jesus to forgive your sins and you can go to heaven,” we are not telling the whole truth of the gospel. Jesus is available for the asking, but accepting Jesus means accepting the reign of God and God’s right to determine what we do with our lives. When we invite our Lord to free us from sin, we are inviting him to rule our life; and while we may yet fall short in submission to his will, we must actively acknowledge his right to determine our lives, acting on the knowledge that he has begun to transform us by his Spirit. If we accept Jesus’ terms of unconditional surrender to him, however, he promises an unlimited supply of what truly matters.’ (Mt 19:23-30) (IVP NT Cmt’y)

10:24 The disciples were astonished at these words. But again Jesus said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples were amazed at his words – and this, says Garland, matches most people’s response: ‘Even those who know in their heads that money does not buy happiness or heaven still wish in their hearts that they had more.’

The camel was the largest animal to be found in Palestine. The contrast then is between the largest animal and the smallest opening, giving us a picture that is ‘deliberately grotesque’ (NBC).

There is no evidence to support two alternative (and softer) interpretations:-

(a) that kamelos (camel) should be read as kamilos (rope): the two words sounded the same in the days of koine Greek (Cole).  According to Garland, the words of ‘rope’ and ‘camel’ are also similar in Aramaic.  Calvin favoured this translation: ‘The word camel denotes, I think, a rope used by sailors, rather than the animal so named.’  But it has little to commend it, even though it does not materially affect the meaning of the saying.

(b) that the eye of the needle was the name of a narrow gate in the city wall.  In this case, a neat ‘spiritual lesson’ would be available: we can enter the kingdom of God if we shed our burdens and get down on our knees.

‘There is no historical evidence to suggest that “eye of the needle” refers to a narrow gateway for pedestrians. It is an example of hyperbole, familiar in rabbinic teachings, and signifying something both very unusual and very difficult. The Talmud speaks of an elephant passing through the eye of a needle to evoke an impossible situation, and a camel is portrayed as dancing in a very small measure.’ (DBI.  [I confess that I don’t understand what ‘dancing in a very small measure means’!])

‘The comment’s sheer absurdity is in alignment with Jesus’ parabolic speech (Mark 3:23; 4:1–34), as suggested by the Twelve’s flabbergasted query: “Then who can be saved?” (v. 26).’ (Feasting on the Word, Year B. Vol 4.)

Difficult?  No, impossible!

‘The humorous picture of a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle means, as the disciples rightly discerned, that it is not simply hard but impossible for a rich person to be saved. The answer lies in recognizing that the humanly impossible is possible for God. Salvation is not earned, either by wealth or by poverty; the kingdom of God overturns all human valuations and possibilities.’ (NBC)

Garland says, ‘If Jesus advised radical surgery on hands, feet, and eyes so that one can enter life, even if maimed (Mk 9:43–48), how much more should we get rid of possessions that anchor the soul to this world and will only fuel the flames of judgment?’

10:26 They were even more astonished and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”

The disciples were even more amazed – Notice that Jesus does not answer our questions, or ease our doubts, all at once. Sometimes, we have to become more puzzled, more confused, more perplexed, before we can become less so.

“Who then can be saved?” – Jesus will give an immediate answer to this question, and also illustrate it when blind Bartimaeus is healed (saved) through his faith, Mk 10:52.

Note that in this passage ‘to inherit eternal life’ (v17), ‘to enter the kingdom of God’ (vv23-26), and ‘to be saved’ (v26) appear to be used synonymously.

‘Here was another shock for the disciples’ scale of values. The man was rich, moral and eager for eternal life, the ideal recruit to the disciple band. To see him sent away by Jesus astonished them. If such a man could not be saved, who could be.’ (NBC)

‘Jesus had a few relatively wealthy followers (e.g., Joseph of Arimathea, Lazarus, Zacchaeus, and perhaps Matthew) and was happy to take advantage of their hospitality (cf. Luke 8:3). If it is not theoretically impossible that the rich can be saved (i.e., without giving up their wealth), it is practically the case that only a relative few are able by the grace of God to live with their riches in a way that does not compromise their full, undivided commitment to Jesus in discipleship. But to live with wealth in this way is tantamount to giving it all away…We should recognize that by the standards of first-century Palestine, most upper-middle-class Westerners and those on the Pacific rim would be considered wealthy. For all such persons the questions of wealth, discipleship, and the poor cannot be sidestepped if following Christ and his teaching means anything at all.’ (Hagner, on Matthew)

10:27 Jesus looked at them and replied, “This is impossible for mere humans, but not for God; all things are possible for God.”
10:28 Peter began to speak to him, “Look, we have left everything to follow you!” 10:29 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel 10:30 who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much—homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. 10:31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Peter must have been thinking, “Well, we disciples certainly don’t have any such hindrances of wealth!” Now what he wants is what has been called ‘a cost-benefit analysis of the Kingdom’.

“We have left everything to follow you!” – Well yes, they had, but there ‘appears to be a note of self-congratulation in this announcement. It reflects the same tendency to think of the honours that will be received in the Kingdom before the nature of the mission has been understood that was encountered in Mk 9:33.’ (Lane)

We gain much more than we lose

‘Certainly no man is or can be supposed to be a loser by conversion, seeing from that day, whatever Christ is or has becomes his. O what an inheritance are men possessed of by their new birth! Some men cry out, Religion will undo you; but with what eyes do these men see? Surely, you could never so reckon, except your souls were so incarnated, as to reckons pardon. Peace, adoption, holiness, and heaven, for nothing; that invisibles a non-entities, and temporals the only realities. It is true, the converted soul may lose his estate, his liberty, yea, his life for Christ but what then? Are they losers that exchange brass for gold? or part with their present comforts for an hundred-fold advantage? Mk 10:29. So that none need be frightened at religion, for t

he losses that attend it, whilst Christ and heaven are gained by it:they that count religion their loss have their portion in this life.’ (Flavel)

‘To conceive of discipleship solely in terms of its costs and sacrifices is to conceive of it wrongly—as though in marrying a beautiful bride a young man would think only of what he was giving up. To Peter’s plaintive assertion of having left “everything to follow” Jesus, Jesus promises “a hundred times as much.” The sacrifices they make in leaving “homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields” to follow Jesus (v. 29) are nothing compared to the returns they will receive in the community of faith now and in heaven in the life to come (Rom 8:18).’ (Edwards)

‘Jesus’ response defines Christian existence in terms of promise and persecution, and history as the interplay of blessedness and suffering. The contrast between the present age and the age to come is thoroughly Palestinian in character and expresses the tension between promise and fulfilment in the life of faith.’ (Lane)

‘The “first” are those who because of their wealth, education, position, prestige, talents, etc., are highly regarded by men in general, sometimes even by God’s children.’ (Hendriksen, on Matthew))

‘This may be a quiet word of reassurance to the disciples that God does not see as men do; the young man might be a ruler in this world, but the disciples who had stayed faithfully by the Lord, in his time of testing, Lk 22:28, would be “rulers” in the world to come.’ (Cole)

‘This entire episode should challenge First-World Christians, virtually all of whom are among the wealthiest people in the history of the world, to radical changes in their personal and institutional spending. The solemn warnings of Jas 2:14–17 and 1 John 3:17 demand much more serious attention, lest many professing Christians tragically find themselves damned on Judgment Day.’ (Blomberg, on Matthew)

Third Prediction of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, 32-34

10:32 They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem. Jesus was going ahead of them, and they were amazed, but those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was going to happen to him. 10:33 “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and experts in the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles. 10:34 They will mock him, spit on him, flog him severely, and kill him. Yet after three days, he will rise again.”
Mk 10:32–34 = Mt 20:17–19; Lk 18:31–33

Here (vv32-34) is the third prediction of the Passion (cf. Mk 8:31; 9:31). However, it is clear that the disciples still do not understand. The more they appreciated the Master’s divine power, the harder it must have been for them to accept that he would have to die. And the idea of resurrection was so remote from anything they had ever known or seen that it was even harder to accept.

Jesus leading the way – This was normal behaviour for a rabbi. However, ‘the description anticipates the action of the Risen Lord promised in Mk 14:28; 16:7, and evokes the image of the powerful Saviour who leads his people with purpose and direction.’ (Lane) Moreover, ‘the vivid picture of Jesus walking before his frightened disciples would no doubt have a special poignancy for Roman readers threatened by persecution.’ (Cranfield)

Our Lord’s eagerness to go up to Jerusalem is a measure of his eagerness to save sinners. For him, it meant all the rejection and pain referred to in v33f. For us, it means life and peace and joy. The death of the one meant life for the many, v45, and that was enough for him.

The disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid – Or, instead of two groups, just one may be referred to here; for the second clause maybe rendered, ‘and as they followed, they were afraid.’ Even the the disciples had not really understood the Passion predictions, they must have been filled with a sense of foreboding at what Jesus had said, and also at his flintlike resolution (cf. Lk 9:51, itself an echo of Isa 50:7). They were astonished, no doubt, that the Master was so eager to go to Jerusalem if he knew what would befall him there. There was fear, too, of what might befall the Master’s followers.

But at least the disciples continued to follow Jesus, albeit with astonishment and fear, while others turned back and walked no more with him, and the traitor began to think of making his own peace – at any cost – with the Master’s enemies.

Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen – ‘All the males of the Jews were required to be at this feast, Ex 23:17. The roads, therefore, on such occasions, would probably be thronged. It is probable also, that they would travel in companies, or that whole neighbourhoods would go together. See Lk 2:44. By his taking them apart is meant his taking them aside from the company. He had something to communicate which he did not wish the others to hear.’ (Barnes)

“We are going up to Jerusalem” – This journey would be different from earlier travels, in which the main aims had been to teach and heal. Here, Jesus is wel aware of what lay ahead and is at pains to explain this to the disciples. Although this is the third of the major predictions of the Passion, it is the first time that Jerusalem has been specified.

The prediction that follows is the most detailed and precise of the three (cf. Mk 8:31; 9:31). Accordingly, some have seen it is a ‘prophecy after the event’. This, however, is an unnecessary conclusion. The terms of this prediction are drawn from Messianic passages such as Ps 22:6-8 and Isa 50:6.

And hand him over to the Gentiles – A bitter pill for any Jew to swallow. Cf. Acts 2:23; 3:13ff. ‘Delivery to the Gentiles revelas that Jesus will be held in contempt by his own countrymen, for the Gentiles are the last people to whom the Messiah of the people of God should be handed over.’

“Mock…spit…flog…kill” – Peter, of all people, would have good reason later to recollect each detail of this grim prediction. Nothing is said here about crucifixion, but this could presupposed under the circumstances of Roman jurisdiction (Lane).

“Three days later he will rise” – So unlikely seemed this part of the prediction, and so final the death itself, that the disciples seemed to have discounted it almost completely in the days immediately following the crucifixion; Lk 24:21 is the one, plaintive and regretful exception to this.

The Request of James and John, 35-45

10:35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 10:36 He said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 10:37 They said to him, “Permit one of us to sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.”
Mk 10:35–45 = Mt 20:20–28

“We want you to do for us whatever we ask” – In other words, ‘Write us a blank cheque’. Mixed-up as the thinking of the disciples was at this time, James and John at least apprehended that Jesus was about to establish some kind of kingdom, and they wanted to sure that they would not miss out. But they misunderstood the nature of Christ’s kingdom, which was unlike those of this world, and they misunderstood the nature of Christ’s power, which they thought they could exploit as if he were some kind of magician.

Mt 20:20 informs us that it was their mother (Zebedee’s wife) who was behind this request.

‘They sought a monarch’s boon, a sort of “blank cheque” upon his favour. This was the way of kings; it befitted their majesty; it is not by accident that Latin generosus, “high-born,” has come to mean “generous,” i.e. open-handed, in modern English. Nevertheless a wise king would put a top limit on such blank cheques; witness Herod’s “unto the half of my kingdom” to the dancing girl, Mk 6:23.’ (Cole)

‘As, on the one hand, there are some that do not use, so, on the other hand, there are some that abuse, the great encouragements Christ has given us in prayer. He hath said, Ask, and it shall be given you; and it is a commendable faith to ask for the great things he has promised; but it was a culpable presumption in these disciples to make such a boundless demand upon their Master; we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. We had much better leave it to him to do for us what he sees fit, and he will do more than we can desire, Eph 3:20.’ (MHC)

‘When we have said all that is to be said against James and John, this story tells us one shining thing about them-bewildered as they might be, they still believed in Jesus. It is amazing that they could still connect glory with a Galilean carpenter who had incurred the enmity and the bitter opposition of the orthodox religious leaders and who was apparently heading for a cross. There is amazing confidence and amazing loyalty there. Misguided James and John might be but their hearts were in the right place. They never doubted Jesus’ ultimate triumph.’ (DSB)

‘This incident reveals than in spite of Jesus’ repeated efforts since Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi to inculcate in his disciples the spirit of self-renunciation demanded by the cross, the sons of Zebedee have understood his intention very superficially. Their ambitious request brings discredit upon them, while the indignation fo the other ten disciples reflects a similar preoccupation with their own dignity.’ (Lane)

This request is consistent with the attitude of the world, which expresses itself as, “Every man for himself;” “Look after number one.”

‘The Lord, as usual, allows men to display their own spiritual depth or shallowness by disclosing their aims; for it is by his aims rather than by his achievements that a man stands judged.’ (Cole)

From their own point of view, the request was not unreasonable: they were not only members of the Twelve, but also members of the inner circle of Three. And for John this request would have been seen as a natural extension of his role as ‘beloved disciple’. But the two are motivated by ambition, not loyalty.

‘The question of rank, involving an inflated understanding of their own position, is best explained in the context of royal messiahship. The request may be for the places of honour at the messianic banquet or for the positions of eminence and authority at the parousia, when Jesus is enthroned as the eschatological judge (see Mk 8:38; 13:26).’ (Lane)

‘Their request is, to use Calvin’s words, “a bright mirror of human vanity;” for it shows that in following Jesus they “have a different object in view from what they ought to have.”‘ (Cranfield)

‘Their father was well enough off to employ hired servants, (Mk 1:20) and it may be that they rather snobbishly thought that their social superiority entitled them to the first place. In any event they show themselves as men in whose hearts there was ambition for the first place in an earthly kingdom.’ (DSB)

‘Many have been led into a snare by false notions of Christ’s kingdom, as if it were of this world, and like the kingdoms of the potentates of this world.’ (MHC)

‘In the light of our Lord’s announcement of his death, we are embarrassed and ashamed to read of James and John asking for thrones. How could they and their mother (Mt 20:20-21) be so callous and selfish? Peter had responded to the first announcement by arguing with Jesus; after the second announcement, the disciples responded by arguing among themselves over who was the greatest. (Mk 9:30-34) These men seemed blind to the meaning of the Cross.

Actually, Salome and her two sons were claiming the promise Jesus had given that, in the future kingdom, the disciples would sit on twelve thrones with the Lord Jesus. (See Mt 19:28. Since Mark was writing especially for the Gentiles, he did not include this promise.) It took a great deal of faith on their part to claim the promise, especially since Jesus had just reminded them of his impending death. The three of them were in agreement, (Mt 18:19) and they had his Word to encourage them, so there was no reason why Jesus should not grant their request.

Except for one thing: they were praying selfishly, and God does not answer selfish prayers. (Jas 4:2-3) If he does, it is only that he might discipline us and teach us how to pray in his will. (Ps 106:15; 1 Jn 5:14-15) James, John, and Salome did not realize that it costs something to get answers to prayer. For Jesus to grant their request, he would have to suffer and die. Why should he pay such a great price just so they could enjoy free thrones? Is that the way to glorify God?’ (Wiersbe)

Think of the things that the world prizes: wealth, beauty, intelligence, power, achievement, status, reputation.

Two kinds of prayer

1. My great plan.  Jesus asks us, as he asked James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?”  I have worked out what I want him to do for me.  I want him to sanctify my request and bless my plan.  So often we pray, “Lord, help me to…”, where we have decided in advance what God’s best and wisest course of action will be.

2.  My great need.  In v51, Jesus asks blind Bartimaeus the same thing, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Bartimaeus has already been calling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  He has some conception of who Jesus is, and he lays his great need before the Saviour.

The question before us is simple enough: who knows best what is good for us?  Jesus, or ourselves?

Based on this post by Peter Mead.

10:38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I experience?” 10:39 They said to him, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I experience, 10:40 but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give. It is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

“You don’t know what you are asking” – Jesus must have been deeply wounded and disappointed by the selfishness of James and John. Yet his answer to them is gentler that that of the other disciples, v41. Compare the ‘If you knew…’ of Jn 4:10 and Lk 19:42.

The request to sit on Jesus right and left hand becomes deeply ironic when we think that on the right and left hand of our Lord at the great moment towards which all this is moving would be two thieves.

“Can you…?” – The question calls for a negative reply.

Jesus is saying, in effect, ‘You do not know that in requesting to participate in my glory you ask at the same time to share my painful destiny, and indispensable condition of my glorification.’ (Lane)

“The cup” – According to Cranfield, this refers to the cup of God’s wrath, Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17-23; Jer 25:15-28; 49:12; 51:7; La 4:21-22; Eze 23:31-34; Hab 2:16; Zec 12:2, etc. Lane says that to share someone’s cup was to share in his fate.

‘In interpreting v38 it is necessary to see the cup as a designation of judgement. Jesus boldly applied to himself the image of the cup used by the prophets to threaten the enemies of God with his divine vengeance. The cup which Jesus must drink has reference to divine punishment of sins which he bears in place of the guilty, cf. Mk 10:45; 14:24.’ (Lane) See also Isa 53:5.

“The baptism” – The leading thought here, says Cranfield, is that of being overwhelmed by disaster. The word is used in extrabiblical Greek of various calamities, including floods. The meaning is ‘of the divinely appointed tribulation culminating in Jesus death through which he must pass.’ On baptism with reference to Christ’s suffering and death, see Lk 12:50. Note also that John the Baptist linked baptism with divine judgement.

‘The metaphors of the cup and baptism in particular refer to the impending crisis in terms of a severe yet temporary outpouring of divine judgement. Against the background of the OT (For cup see e.g., Isa 51:17-23; Jer 25:15-29. For flood/baptism: Job 9:31; Ps 18:17; 32:6; 42:8; 69:2,14-15; 124:4-5; 144:7; Isa 8:7-8; 43:2; Jon 2:4) these metaphors refer to internal (cup) and external (baptism) inundation in the wrath of God. Lk 12:49-50 clearly establishes the fact that this event of divine judgment is temporary and not permanent. Jesus’ inundation in judgment is followed by the outpouring of the fire of division upon the earth as well as suffering for the disciples.’ (see Mk 10:38-39) (DJG)

“We can” – ‘Their self-confident reply showed that they had not understood Jesus’ meaning. That he was referring to sufferings which had to be endured they no doubt realised; but, whereas he was thinking of a shameful death under the curse of the Law and in abandonment by God (cf. Mk 15:34), they were thinking of heroic and glorious sufferings in he cause of the messianic kingdom, something which could be faced in the mood of the martyrs of Maccabean days.’ (Cranfield)

“You will drink the cup I drink…” – Although only he could suffer and die for the sins of the world, they would need to be prepared to face suffering and death themselves if they were to remain faithful to him, cf. 1 Pet 4:13. ‘There must be solidarity between the Son of Man and his disciples, and this is expressed not only by their grateful acceptance of his protection and favour, but also by their following his example of humility and service, if necessary to the extent of death.’ (Lane) See Acts 12:2; Rev 1:9.

For some commentators, this verse is a prediction (possibly after the event) of martyrdom. But it is not necessary to take Jesus’ meaning in this way. James was later the first of the twelve martyred, (Ac 12:2) but according to church tradition John lived into the nineties, but was forced into exile, Rev 1:9.

‘This is a reminder that even the Son is in loving subjection to his Father.’ (Cole) Not surprisingly, this saying has been twisted by Arians and others to make it teach subordinationism.

“…those for whom they have been prepared” – According to Wright (The Day the Revolution Began), these places have, ironically, been assigned to those who are crucified on either side of him, with “King of the Jews” above his head.  Hooker similarly: ‘The request to sit at Jesus’ right and left reminds us inevitably of the account of the death of Jesus, when two robbers are crucified on his right and left. This is probably deliberate irony, though the promise that the seats of glory belong to those for whom they have been prepared refers to places of honour in the Kingdom of God.’

10:41 Now when the other ten heard this, they became angry with James and John. 10:42 Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. 10:43 But it is not this way among you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 10:44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all.

They became indignant with James and John – Was this a righteous indignation, or was it that they wanted the best places for themselves? If the latter, as seems likely, ‘their insensitivity to the seriousness of the moment links them with James and John, and suggests the cruel loneliness with which Jesus faced the journey to Jerusalem. It also indicates the degree to which selfish ambition and rivalry were the raw material from which Jesus had to fashion the leadership for the incipient Church.’ (Lane)

‘Like many people today, the disciples were making the mistake of following the wrong examples. Instead of modeling themselves after Jesus, they were admiring the glory and authority of the Roman rulers, men who loved position and authority.’ (Wiersbe)

“Servant”diakonos. ‘One whose activities are not directed to his own interest but to that of another. To Greek ears the word had an ignoble ring.’ (Cranfield)

The term itself is suggestive of waiting at table, and is reminiscent of the the occasion when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, Jn 13:4ff. Indeed, the first recorded ordination to Christian ministry was to the ‘serving of tables’, Acts 6:2.

‘In the kingdoms of the world the standard of greatness was power. The test was: How many people does a man control? How great an army of servants has he at his beck and call? On how many people can he impose his will? Not very much later than this, Galba was to sum up the heathen idea of kingship and greatness when he said that now he was emperor he could do what he liked and do it to anyone. In the Kingdom of Jesus the standard was that of service. Greatness consisted, not in reducing other men to one’s service, but in reducing oneself to their service. The test was not, What service can I extract?, but, What service can I give?’ (DSB)

“Slave of all” – ‘By doulos is expressed the truth that the apostle belongs to the congregation. It does not belong to him, but he to it; he owes it his life and work as his bounded duty.’ (Schlatter, quoted by Cranfield)

‘Like many people today, the disciples were making the mistake of following the wrong examples. Instead of modeling themselves after Jesus, they were admiring the glory and authority of the Roman rulers, men who loved position and authority. While there is nothing wrong with aspiring to greatness, we must be careful how we define “greatness” and why we want to achieve it.’ (Wiersbe)

‘”Servant” in our English New Testament usually represents the Greek doulos (bondslave). Sometimes it means diakonos (deacon or minister); this is strictly accurate, for doulos and diakonos are synonyms. Both words denote a man who is not at his own disposal, but is his master’s purchased property. Bought to serve his master’s needs, to be at his beck and call every moment, the slave’s sole business is to do as he is told. Christian service therefore means, first and foremost, living out a slave relationship to one’s Savior. (1 Cor 6:19-20)

What work does Christ set his servants to do? The way that they serve him, he tells them, is by becoming the slaves of their fellow-servants and being willing to do literally anything, however costly, irksome, or undignified, in order to help them. This is what love means, as he himself showed at the Last supper when he played the slave’s part and washed the disciples’ feet.

When the New Testament speaks of ministering to the saints, it means not primarily preaching to them but devoting time, trouble, and substance to giving them all the practical help possible. The essence of Christian service is loyalty to the king expressing itself in care for his servants. (Mt 25:31-46)

Only the Holy Spirit can create in us the kind of love toward our Savior that will overflow in imaginative sympathy and practical helpfulness towards his people. Unless the spirit is training us in love, we are not fit persons to go to college or a training class to learn the know-how or particular branches of Christian work. Gifted leaders who are self-centered and loveless are a blight to the church rather than a blessing.’ (J.I. Packer)

10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Blomberg (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 306f) cites Sydney Page as outlining four reasons why many scholars do not accept that the words recorded in this verse came from the lips of Jesus:

  • the two clauses do not fit well together, the first speaking only of service, rather than atonement;
  • the past tense “came” betrays a post-crucifixion provenance;
  • neither the word nor the concept of “ransom” is found elsewhere in the teaching of Jesus; and
  • Luke’s parallel (Lk 22:27) shows no knowledge of the second clause.

According to Blomberg, ‘none of these four objections proves very weighty’, which is putting it mildly.  The concept of sacrifice flows quite naturally from that of servanthood (and cf. Isa 53:10, which may well provide the background for Jesus’ saying here); the Gospels frequently record Jesus as saying that he ‘came’ (past tense), as in Lk 12:49; it is not reasonable to suppose that a person must say everything at least twice before historians could believe that he had said it at all, and, in any case, Jesus does broach the topic in Lk 22:20 even though the language is different; and, finally, it is not at all clear that Lk 22:27 is a parallel to Mk 10:45, because the contexts are different.  (Note also that, as Hooker remarks, Luke’s version is set in the context of the Last Supper, where the theme of Jesus’ death is prominent).

Hooker thinks that the authenticity of this verse hinges upon whether it can be shown that Jesus saw himself as the Suffering Servant of Isa 53.  If he did (as most commentators agree) then we would be likely to conclude that it is authentic.  Hooker herself, however, thinks that the link has been ‘grossly exaggerated’.

The link with Isaiah 53

What, then, do we make of the proposed link between this saying and Isa 53?

Until the middle of the last century, there was a near-consensus in favour of a clear link.  Then scholars such as Hooker and Barrett objected that (quoting CNTUOT)

  1. the key word diakoneō is not found in Isa. 53;
  2. in the NT it means “domestic service”;
  3. the servant serves God, not people;
  4. diakoneō is best explained by a contrast with Dan. 7’s ruling son of man.


diakoneō is rare and late in the OT, and is not found in Dan 7 anyway.

a range of terms is used in Isa 53 to indicate service, suggesting that it is inappropriate to adopt a rigid approach.

the word douleuō in Isa 53 cannot form the passive, suggesting that an alternative is needed in the present context.

Mk 10:43 and Mk 10:44 clearly have diakonos and doulos as parallels, and therefore synonyms.

None of this suggests that Jesus cannot have also had Dan 7 (and perhaps other OT scriptures) in mind.  Our Lord was nothing if not a profound and creative exegete!

Hooker observes that this verse contains a new idea, in that up until this point, Jesus has spoken of the necessity of his death, but not of its significance or meaning.

Be it noted that, like the great Christological statement in Phil 2, this utterance was prompted by a desire to underscore a very human and practical appeal. ‘Worldly ideas of rank and privilege are out of order in the new Israel because they are inconsistent with the mission of the Son of Man.’ (Cranfield)

‘The reversal of all human ideas of greatness and rank was achieved when Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve. He voluntarily veiled his glory as the Son of Man, Mk 8:38; 13:26; 14:62, and assumed the form of a slave who performed his service unto death because this was the will of God, cf. Phil 2:6-8.’ (Lane)

‘This…saying is pregnant with meaning; the Son of man concept, found in the Psalms, Ezekiel and Daniel, is linked with the Servant concept of Isaiah and both are here linked with the great ransom concept of Old Testament days. (Ps 49:7) Even the for many is a memory of Isa 53:11f. The New Testament gathers into one, as it were, all these strands of Old Testament thought, and uses all in combination to explain the full meaning of Messiahship.’ (Cole)

‘Like many of the teachings of Jesus, the saying dramatically extends the answer to an immediate question or problem (that of the selfishness and pride of the apostles) to include something that no one would have linked to that problem (the ransom nature of the cross). The saying of course primarily relates the death of Christ to the metaphor of service; giving his life is the greatest example of servanthood that can be imagined. The fact that his death is also a ransom links the idea of atonement to the servant spirit of the Christ, probably in the light of the famous servant song of Isaiah 53.’ (EDBT)

‘By calling himself a “servant” and defining his mission as “giving his life a ransom for the many,” Jesus identifies himself with the suffering servant of Isa 53:10-12 (despite the contrary view of some interpreters today). Although the servant’s mission had been given to Israel as a whole, (Isa 41:8; 43:10; 44:2,21; 49:3) Israel through disobedience could not fulfill it, (Isa 42:19) so that the one who would fulfill it had to restore Israel as well as bring light to the Gentiles. (Isa 49:5-7; 52:13-53:12) Because hardly anyone else had yet applied this passage to the Messiah, Jesus is trying to redefine their expectation about his messianic mission.’ (IVP Background Cmt’y)

“The Son of Man” – An exalted title, indicating that Jesus had the right to be served. This formulation ‘places the entire statement in the context of Jesus’ messianic mission, cf. Mk 2:17…His death has infinite value because he dies not as a mere martyr but as the transcendent Son of Man.’ (Lane)

‘In the Synoptics references to the Son of Man may be loosely grouped into three categories: those which speak of him as:

(1) present with authority and power; (Mk 2:10,27)

(2) suffering rejection and death by crucifixion at the hands of humans as a ransom for many; (Mk 8:31; 9:12,31; 10:45; 14:41) and

(3) returning at some future time in glory to judge, and bring the consummation of all things. (Mk 8:38 13:26 14:62)

Son of Man references in John fall roughly into the same categories but with some special emphases. Jn 3:13 and 6:27, 62 allude to the eternal existence of the Son of Man; Jn 1:51 and Jn 8:28 imply an invisible continuing relation with God not found in the Synoptics; Jn 12:23 and Jn 13:31 speak of his glorification during his earthly life; and Jn 3:13-16 and Jn 6:53 make plain that the Son of Man’s work brings eternal life.’ (EDBT)

“Did not come” – The idea of Christ ‘coming’ into the world implied his pre-existence and incarnation; in other words, his Messianic mission.

And, as the following pregnant statement shows, Christ came with a purpose, and that purpose was to ‘give his life as a ransom for many.’  This was his life-purpose.

Not come to be served but to serve – In Dan 7:14, the Son of Man is given kingly authority and glory.  But, for the time being, at least, the emphasis is serving (not being served).

“To give his life” – ‘The New Testament never presses the imagery to the point of indicating to whom the ransom was paid, but it leaves us in no doubt about the price: it was Christ himself. To begin with, there was the cost of the incarnation, of entering into our condition in order to reach us. Certainly we are told that when God sent his Son, he was “born under law, to redeem those under law,” Gal 4:4f…Beyond the incarnation, however, lay the atonement. To accomplish this he gave “himself,” 1 Tim 2:6; Tit 2:14, or his “life” (his psyche, Mk 10:45), dying under the law’s curse to redeem us from it, Gal 3:13.’ (Stott, The Cross of Christ, 179)

“A ransom” – The word means the release of those in captivity (i.e. prisoners or slaves) by the payment of a price. ‘In the context of v45a, with its reference to the service of the Son of Man, it is appropriate to find an allusion to the Servant of the Lord in Isa 53, who vicariously and voluntarily suffered and gave his life for the sins of others. The specific thought underlying the reference to the ransom is expressed in Isa 53:10 which speaks of “making his life an offering for sin.”…The release effected by this offering overcomes man’s alienation from God, his subjection to death, and his bondage to sin. Jesus’ service is offered to God to release men from their indebtedness to God.’ (Lane)

Many of the ancient theologians (such as Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Great, and Peter Lombard) pushed this idea too far by enquiring as to whom the ransom was paid. Barclay, characteristically, underplays the theology. However, he has a point when he asks, ‘Suppose we say, “Sorrow is the price of love,” we mean that love cannot exist without the possibility of sorrow, but we never even think of trying to explain to whom that price is paid. Suppose we say that freedom can be obtained only at the price of blood, toil, tears and sweat, we never think of investigating to whom that price is paid. This saying of Jesus is a simple and pictorial way of saying that it cost the life of Jesus to bring men back from their sin into the love of God. It means that the cost of our salvation was the Cross of Christ. Beyond that we cannot go, and beyond that we do not need to go. We know only that something happened on the Cross which opened for us the way to God.’ (DSB)

Origen (quoted by Bolt, The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel, p74): ‘If therefore we were ‘bought with a price’, as Paul agrees [1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23], then without a doubt we were bought from someone whose slaves we were, and who demanded whatever price he wished in order to release from his power those whom he held. Now it was the devil, to whom we had been sold by our sins, who held us. He demanded therefore as our price the blood of Christ.’

‘The New Testament…speaks of the costliness of our redemption. (1 Pet 1:18-19) Jesus speaks of the Son of Man giving himself “as a ransom for many,” (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45) and Paul can speak of our being “bought at a price” (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23; cf. Acts 20:28; Rev 5:9 14:4), although the metaphor is never pressed to the point of to whom the price was paid.’ (EDBT)

Lyon (EDT) notes that although the idea of the payment of a price is inherent in the usage of the word ‘ransom’ when referring to the release of slaves of prisoners, when it is used to refer to the deliverance of God’s people at the time of the Exodus, or from the exile, ‘the focus is no longer on the price paid but on the deliverance achieved and the freedom obtained.’

Lyon continues: ‘When the NT, therefore, speaks of ransom with reference to the work of Christ, the idea is not one of transaction, as though a deal is arranged and a price paid. Rather the focus is on the power (1 Cor. 1:18) of the cross to save. In the famous ransom saying of Mark 10:45, Jesus speaks of his coming death as the means of release for many. The contrast is between his own solitary death and the deliverance of the many. In the NT the terms of ransom and purchase, which in other contexts suggest an economic or financial exchange, speak of the consequences or results (cf. 1 Cor. 7:23). The release is from judgment (Rom. 3:25–26), sin (Eph. 1:7), and death (Rom. 8:2).’

Finally, ‘There is no need, then, to ask the question posed so often in the past: To whom was the ransom paid? It is not possible to consider payment to Satan as though God were obligated to meet Satan’s demands or “asking price.” And since the texts speak always of the activity of God in Christ, we cannot speak of God paying himself. While the sacrifice of Christ is rooted in the holiness and justice of God, it is not to be seen against the background of law only but more especially of covenant. In Christ, God takes upon himself the freedom, the release from bondage, of his people. He meets the demands of his own being.’

‘A ransom was the price paid to release a slave from bondage. Jesus often told his disciples that he must die, but here he told them why – to redeem all people from the bondage of sin and death. The disciples thought that as long as Jesus was alive, he could save them. But Jesus revealed that only his death would save them and the world.’ (Life Application Bible)

‘The imagery implies that we are held in a captivity from which only the payment of a ransom can set us free, and that the ransom is nothing less than the Messiah’s own life. Our lives are forfeit; his life will be sacrificed instead.’ (Stott, The Cross of Christ, 177)

‘It is not a question, therefore, of the inspiring example of his life. Something has been forfeited which must be redeemed, and Christ has paid the price. Nor is this done only on behalf of many, but in exchange for them. So then the crucifixion is not a sad incident in a great career; it is the mark towards which Jesus moved, the power by which he redeemed the world.’ (Expositor’s Bible)

“For” – ‘anti‘, which can mean either ‘in the place of’ or ‘on behalf of’.  If the former is the meaning here, then a doctrine of substitution is asserted.  However, as Brooks (NAC) notes, the distinction may not be made in Aramaic, which was the language Jesus generally would have used.

Is the doctrine of penal substitution taught in this text?

Tom Schreiner thinks so:

‘The preposition anti (“ for”) often denotes “in place of” (Mt 17: 27; Lk 11: 11; Rom 12: 17; 1 Cor 11: 15), and it most naturally has that meaning here. Christ in his death suffered in the place of others.  Furthermore, the text teaches penal substitution since Christ’s death is described as a ransom (lytron).  The term ransom indicates that Christ by his death paid the price necessary to liberate sinners from the dominion of sin.  By his death he freed us from the power of sin and death. 80 He paid the price that we owed, so that we might go free.’ (in The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, p107)

Scott McKnight, however, faults Schreiner for reading his own theological convictions into the text:

‘The Greek word anti might mean “substitutionary” but logically Jesus doesn’t become a “ransom” instead of us because, after all, we aren’t ransoms in this text. We are prisoners, not ransoms. So he doesn’t logically became a “ransom” instead of us, he becomes a “ransom” so we don’t have to be prisoners. There’s a difference. So on purely logical grounds, the word anti more likely means “for us” or “for our benefit.” He became a ransom in order to liberate us from imprisonment.’

‘People speak with horror of ‘the penal theory of the atonement’. But what happened to Christ on the cross? He died! And what is death? It is the penalty for sin! The question of whether Christ endured the penalty for sin is not a question of theory. It is a question of fact. On that cross he was dealt with as sin deserved. The glory of it is, it wasn’t his own sin. It was our sin. He bore the sin of the world. (Jn 1:29) John Duncan once said that the best expression of the gospel he had ever heard was the simple and unforgettable statement of a black American Christian: ‘Either I die, or he die. He die, me no die.’ He was the sacrifice, without blemish, who bore our sin and endured its penalty.’ (McLeod, A Faith To Live By)

“Many” – or ‘the many’, in comparison with ‘the few’, or even ‘the one’ (rather than in comparison with ‘all’). ‘The word ‘many’ (pollon) is not put definitely for a fixed number, but for a large number; for he contrasts himself with all others. And in this sense it is used in Rom 5:15, where Paul does not speak of any part of men, but embraces the whole human race.’ (Calvin) Paul’s version of this saying, 1 Tim 2:6, uses panton.

The contrast here is probably not between ‘the many’ and ‘the few’, but between ‘the many’ and ‘the one’ (i.e. the Son of Man, who gives his life as a ransom).  Hooker: ‘In Semitic thought, the emphasis is more likely to be inclusive: the contrast is not between the many who are saved and others who are not, but between the many and the one who acts on their behalf.’  Schnabel takes the same view.

So also Lyon (EDT): ‘The contrast is between his own solitary death and the deliverance of the many.’

According to this verse, then, the work of Christ was divinely appointed, substitutionary, costly, exemplary, and far-reaching in its effects.

The character and purpose of Jesus’ ministry as summarised in this verse:-

1. the voluntariness of the act as a deliberate sacrifice of self;

2. the costliness of it, using the word employed to describe the price to be paid for the release of of prisoners or the manumission of slaves;

3. something done for the many which they could not do for themselves but must have done if they were to have hope; the use of the preposition “for,” requiring the ordinary meaning of “in place of the many,” suggests a substitutionary idea which is elsewhere expressed by reference to what Christ bore for men, Rom 3:24; Gal 3:13; 2 Cor 5:21;

4. the scope of redemption which is for many; this word does not conflict with the idea that it is for all men (cf. 1 Jn 2:2) and not merely for a select few. Behind such a saying lie the ideas and language of the Suffering Servant passage in Isa 53 and possibly Ps 49:7-9. The language in Mk 10:45 is distinctly sacrificial in tone, and it is to be observed that in two important NT passages, Rom 3:24-25 and 1 Pet 1:18f, ransom and sacrifice are brought together in the effort to elucidate the meaning of the redemption that is in Christ, Eph 1:7 and to show how God can forgive sin without compromising his righteousness. (F.J. Taylor, TWBB)

‘This painful and glorious destiny of the Son of Man is something unique to his mission and in a definite sense is incommunicable: only he can accomplish this service. Nevertheless, his submission to the servant’s vocation is here proposed as an example to the Twelve, who are summoned to pattern their lives after the humility of the Son of Man. Jesus’ sacrifice of his own glory is the ground of a renewal of life to self-sacrificial obedience. The disciples were to experience this power of his death in themselves. That John, the son of Zebedee, ultimately understood Jesus’ intention is clear from 1 Jn 3:16 “He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”‘ (Lane)

‘In a paradoxical way the idea of ransom expresses both our liberation and our obligation. We are free from the bondage of sin and death, and yet precisely in that real freedom “we are not our own,” being freed to serve as “bondslaves of Jesus Christ,” whose service is perfect freedom.’ (Lewis, The Glory of Christ, 295)

Healing Blind Bartimaeus, 46-52

10:46 They came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. 10:47 When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 10:48 Many scolded him to get him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

In the opinion of 17th-century commentator Matthew Poole, ‘this history is a mere narrative of a matter of fact.’  To be sure, it is ‘a narrative of a matter of fact’, but there is nothing ‘mere’ about it.  Its place in the overall flow of the story, together with its implied contrast between the faith and insight of Bartimaeus and the unbelief and obtuseness of so many others, make it an object lesson in discipleship.

This is the last of Jesus’ healing miracles in Mark.  It comes, as Hurtado remarks, at the end, and as the climax of, a long section (Mk 8:27–10:52) in which Jesus taught about his coming sufferings and the path of discipleship.

Indeed, this important section (Mk 8:22-10:52) is framed by two accounts of the healing of the blind.  O this point, at least, we can agree with Borg: ‘The two stories frame the great central section of Mark’s Gospel: Jesus’ teaching about the way of discipleship as he makes his final journey to Jerusalem. As the framework for this section, the two stories suggest that regaining one’s sight involves seeing the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus, the path of discipleship, involves following him to Jerusalem, the place of death and resurrection, of endings and beginnings.’ (Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: a Critical Assessment…).

Hooker remarks that this story not only forms the climax of a long section in which the theme of discipleship is prominent, but also introduces a section in which highlight Jesus’ messianic status: ‘Jesus rides into Jerusalem to the acclamation of the crowd (Mk 11:1–11) and pronounces judgement on Jewish worship (Mk 11:12–25); then follow various disputes which centre on the unique authority of Jesus (Mk 11:27–12:44), in the course of which the ‘claims’ of Jesus come to the fore. So the true identity of Jesus becomes clearer the closer we move to the Cross.’

Bauckham notes that ‘In form, Mark’s story of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) resembles a story of the call of a disciple as much as or perhaps more than a story of a healing miracle.’ (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses)

Mk 10:46–52 = Mt 20:29–34; Lk 18:35–43

Jericho – Jericho is 15 or so miles northeast of the capital.  It is important to notice that this encounter occurred ‘on the way’ (cf. Mk 8:27; 10:33, 52). to Jerusalem.

As Jesus and his disciples…were leaving the city – According to Luke, this happened as they were entering Jericho.  There was, in fact, an old city and a new city, and so this even may have occurred between the two.

The large crowd probably consisted of pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem for Passover.

A blind man – In Matthew, Jesus heals two blind men along the Jericho road, Mt 20:30; in Mark he heals one, Mk 10:46. But, of course, the latter does not exclude the former.

With regard to the differences between the accounts of the three Evangelists, Taylor wisely remarks: ‘As it usual in all such cases, many hypotheses have been devised by the Harmonists, with the view of showing that there is no contradiction involved in the several accounts.  But I cannot say that I am satisfied with any one of them.  If we were in possession of all the fact as they really occurred, it is quite likely that we should see at once how all the three accounts are consistent with truth, and with each others; but as it is, I prefer to make no attempt at removing the difficulties.’  This, adds Taylor, is because all such attempts involve unnatural straining of the accounts, and also because the existence of such diversities demonstrates the independence of the Gospel writers, and shows that they did not collude in foisting a forgery upon their readers.  David Brown (JFB) makes very similar observations.

Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timeus) – Mark’s care in explaining Aramaic expressions is consistent with the theory that he wrote for a mainly Gentile readership. See also Mk 3:17; 5:41; 7:11; 9:43; 14:36; 15:22,34.  In only one other place (Mk 5:22) does this Evangelist give the name of one whom Jesus healed.   Augustine conjectured that the mention of this man’s name, and that of his father, ‘fallen from some position of great prosperity, and was now regarded as an object of the most notorious and the most remarkable wretchedness, because, in addition to being blind, he had also to sit begging.’  More reasonably, the preservation of his name may be both an eyewitness touch and a hint that this man was known in the early church.  Even so, he was known only by his father’s name: some of us may feel virtually anonymous in a clamouring world, but Jesus knows who we are, and cares about us just as he cared about this man.

Sitting by the roadside, begging – He would have been hoping to call on the generosity of pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem.  He would, as Garland says, have been totally dependent on others for guidance and protection.

When he heard – Although he could not see, he used what faculty he had to find out what was going on around him.

Jesus of Nazareth – This certainly seems to reflect the ways in which Jesus was referred to at the time.  Also: ‘the prophet from Nazareth’, Matt. 21:11; ‘the carpenter’s son’, Matt. 13:55; ‘Joseph’s son’ Luke 4:22.

The point is, of course, that when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he knew that this was a man who made blind men see.  He realised the precious opportunity that was presenting itself, if only he could get the Teacher’s attention.

“Jesus, Son of David” – A messianic title, 2 Sam 7:11-14; Isa 11:1, 10; Jer 23:5–6; Eze 34:23–24.   See also Mt 1:1–17; 9:27; Lk 1:32; 2:4; 3:23–38; Jn 7:41–43.

Though not (as many commentators have pointed out) a full-orbed, unambiguous designation of messiahship, this is the first public and unrebuked confession of Jesus as royal Messiah (Harper’s Bible Commentary).  David is mentioned in connection with Jesus in Mk 11:10.  In Mk 12:35 this title will become the focus of dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees.  Bartimaeus may have been aware that Jesus was known to be of Davidic descent: Jesus’ descent from David was a matter of common repute during his lifetime, and this is affirmed in Mt 1:1 and Lk 2:4.  On the other hand, people who were not direct descendents of David could claim him as their ‘father’ (Mk 11:10).  Although the crowd attempts to silence him, Jesus makes no attempt to do so: he was approaching the climax of his messianic mission, and no longer needed to draw a veil of secrecy over his identity (so Lane and others).

There may be some significance in Jesus being called ‘Son of David’ as he makes his last approach to the holy city.  What kind of royal prince Jesus is will be made clear (to those with eyes to see) during his ‘triumphal entry’.

‘This story indicates that

  1. Jesus is in the lineage of David;
  2. he fulfills Jewish expectations that the Son of David would bring wholeness to the oppressed; and
  3. he wields his royal power by humbly submitting to those in need rather than by “exercising authority,” like the rulers of the Gentiles (Mk 10:35–45).’ (DJG, art. ‘Son of David’)

The same article continues:- ‘Mark employs the healing of Bartimaeus as an introduction to the triumphal entry (Mk 11:1–11; cf. Mk 10:52). As such, Jesus enters Jerusalem as the Son of David. By presenting Jesus as one who enters upon his kingship riding a colt (Zech 9:9; cf. 2 Kings 9:13; see Triumphal Entry), Mark indicates that Jesus is the type of Davidic king described by Zechariah: a humble savior who brings peace* and blessing to the nations. Although the people properly hail Jesus as the Davidic prince who brings God’s kingdom of salvation to them (11:9–10), subsequent events indicate that the people have an entirely different understanding of this kingdom and of the Son of David who introduces this kingdom than does Jesus. In the passion narrative (see Passion Narrative) the crowds reject Jesus’ conception of a suffering and dying king who saves others by refusing to save himself (Mk 15:6–15, 25–39).’

Noting that Jesus does not attempt to silence this man’s confession, Hooker remarks that ‘secrecy is no longer appropriate, because Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem, where his identity will be openly proclaimed, even though no one believes the proclamation (Mk 11:1–10; 12:1–9; 35–7; 14:61f.; 15:2, 9, 12, 16–19, 26, 32), until the moment of his death, when one man finally sees the truth (Mk 15:39).’

We may conclude that even though this man’s understanding of Jesus’ identity was limited and ambiguous, there were in his words more than hints of the full messiahship that the Christian church would come to understand of its Lord and Saviour.  He had more insight than most with regard to the question of Who Jesus Is (cf. Mk 8:28).

A blind man would not be able to read the law for himself, and therefore would have been regarded as an unreligious person (Keener).  Interesting, then, that this confession comes from the lips of such a person.

Mark and his readers know that what Jesus accomplished in Jerusalem, ‘the City of David’, will fill out the meaning that is already implicit in this appellation.

All who hear, or read this account might ask themselves whether they are so decisive and determined in turning momentary opportunities to good effect.

Ryle remarks that although Bartimaeus was blind in body, he was not blind in soul.  He say far more clearly than the Jewish leaders, than the crowds, than even the disciples.  We too, although we have not seen Jesus with our physical eyes, have heard of his power and grace.  Let us seek him and trust him as single-mindedly as this man did.

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet – To them, (the disciples probably included, cf. Mk 10:13) he was merely a nuisance, an irritation.  After all, he was just one of many such roadside beggars.  They saw him as a ‘nothing’, and supposed that it would be beneath Jesus’ dignity to help him.  How mistaken they were!

In what ways do we silence (intentionally or otherwise) the voices of the underprivileged, the undervalued?  How could we help their voices to be heard?  ‘Like Jesus, we must be willing to listen, to stop, and to respond.’ (Garland)

He shouted all the more – Among other things, Bartimaeus has ‘the grace of perseverance’ (Cole).  He was determined to ‘seize the moment’, for the opportunity might never present itself again.  In his determination to seek help, he threw caution to the wind, and didn’t think twice about ‘making a scene’.

Garland comments on the theme of ‘dogged determination’ in this Gospel: ‘The Syrophoenician woman will not give up hope that Jesus will heal her daughter even though she is not a Jew and Jesus initially rebuffs her (Mk 7:24–30). Jairus must ignore the mockery of the mourners that Jesus can do nothing for his dead child (Mk 5:35–43). Friends must force their way through a crowd and a roof to bring their paralyzed companion to Jesus (Mk 2:1–12). The leper and the woman with the flow of blood must disregard laws that forbid them from having contact with Jesus to receive his help (Mk 1:40–45; 5:25–34). A desperate father must overcome his doubt that Jesus can do anything to help his tormented son when the disciples have already failed (Mk 9:14–29).’

“Have mercy on me!” – Such a simple”], primitive plea!  Let us eschew speculation.  Let us set aside both our supposed merit and our real demerit.  Let us not suppose that we are either too important or not important enough to gain his attention.  Let us not worry overmuch about how the Lord will satisfy our needs.  But let us, like this man, cast ourselves upon his mercy.

10:49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up! He is calling you.” 10:50 He threw off his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus. 10:51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied, “Rabbi, let me see again.”

Jesus stopped – lit. ‘stood still’.

Although the crowd tried to silence the man, Jesus did not.  This implies that he accepted the title of ‘Son of David’.

We might have thought that Jesus would have been totally occupied with his own anxieties, Mt 20:17–19; cf. Lk 12:50.  But his heart still overflows with sympathy for others.  Matthew indicates that Jesus was ‘moved with compassion’ towards this man.

The vivid details in this verse are omitted from Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts.  The cloak served either as a bedroll or as a receptacle for alms.  It would rarely need to be worn during the daytime in Jericho.  As Hooker says, rather than taking it off he probably cast it to one side: ‘like others who are called by Jesus, he abandons everything he has (cf. Mk 1:18, 20; 2:14; 10:21, 28).

‘There is a joyous extravagance and recklessness of response, when the soul becomes suddenly responsive to the call of Jesus; Simon and Andrew leave their nets (Mk 1:18), James and John leave their boat (Mk 1:20), Levi leaves his tax office (Mk 2:14).’ (Cole)

“What do you want me to do for you?” – This is the same question Jesus asked of James and John, v36, but with a very different reply.  They asked for glory, Bartimaeus asked not for glory, nor for money, but simply for normal health to be restored.

In an article which pays close attention to the larger context (in which miracles of healing of sight are contrasted with the disciples’ lack of spiritual sight, Kelly R. Iverson writes:

‘In the exchange with James and John (Mark 10:35-45) and his conversation with blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), Jesus addresses the parties with essentially the same question: “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36; see also Mark 10:51). To their shame, James and John request positions of power. In stark contrast, Bartimaeus simply requests to see. The profound irony and discrepancy between the responses is not lost on the audience, who recognizes that only Bartimaeus has responded appropriately, for to “see”—to discern spiritual matters—is far more important than political maneuvering.’

Jesus frequently held brief conversation with those he healed (Mk 2:5-11; 5:30-34; 7:27-29; 9:21-24).  This confirms that he ‘did not exercise his power arbitrarily or impersonally but in the context of a genuine involvement which established the existence of faith sufficient to receive the gift of healing from God’ (Lane).

This question makes perfect sense in the context of Mk 10.  ‘The Pharisees wanted to outsmart him and trap him (Mk 10:2). The rich man wanted eternal security at minimum cost (Mk 10:17). James and John wanted to be the top officials in the kingdom bureaucracy (Mk 10:35–36). A blind beggar might want only money, but Bartimaeus wants to see again.’ (Garland)

Presumably, the man’s need was obvious to Jesus.  But he does not assume that the man wants to be healed, nor that he think it possible.  Too often we are comfortable with sub-normal lives.  Or, if we are uncomfortable with them, we do not think that change is possible.

The blessing of normality

‘In humble trust Bartimaeus asks not for wealth, power, or success, but only for sight; he asks not to be superhuman, but simply human. For the well, normalcy may seem the bare minimum, but for the ill and troubled normalcy is God’s greatest gift.’ (Edwards)

“Rabbi” – ‘Rabbouni‘ in the original.  A particularly reverent form of address.  Not a specifically messianic designation, yet more often used with reference to God than to other human beings.  Cf. Jn 20:16.

“I want to see” – ‘Here is a man who knows what he wants; no wavering in prayer for him (Jas 1:6).’ (Cole)

10:52 Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has healed you.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the road.

“Go”, said Jesus – but Bartimaeus stayed, and followed Jesus.

“Your faith has healed you” – ‘Healed’ is sozo, ‘saved’, as also in Mt 9:22; Mk 5:34; Lk 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42.  Although in each instance, apart from Lk 7:50, the words occur in the context of physical healing, there are clear indications that more than physical healing has taken place.  This is confirmed in the present case by the fact that the man follows Jesus in discipleship, v52.  The overall context, too, suggests that we ought to see physical healing as symbolising spiritual wholeness.  Earlier in the present chapter ‘to inherit eternal life’ (v17), ‘to enter the kingdom of God’ (vv23-26), and ‘to be saved’ (v26) appear to be used synonymously.  See also Mk 2:10, with its clear link between physical healing and the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus stresses not his own power, but the man’s faith.  Mk 6:5 gives the negative side of the link between faith and healing.  A further aspect of this link is that Jesus refused to perform miracles ‘on demand’, Mk 8:11f.

Immediately he received his sight – There is a conspicuous lack of detail regarding the miracle itself – no word, no gesture, no command.  The detail is in the sorry and desperate plight of the man, and in the way in which he models faith and discipleship.

He…followed Jesus along the road – From being marginalised, ‘sitting by the roadside’, v45, he is now included, following Jesus ‘along the road’.  That road led, of course, to Jerusalem.  ‘it is most appropriate that on this note Jesus should commence his Jerusalem ministry: the Son of David will enter the city of David, and the passion story will begin. In a sense, all that has gone before has been but a preparation for this.’ (Cole)

Although Jesus was rejected by Israel’s leaders, ‘as for those who follow, the narrative is crowded with unlikely and peripheral characters: an erstwhile demoniac (Mk 5:20); a Syrophoenician woman (Mk 7:29); blind Bartimaeus calling out for the *Son of David (Mk 10:47); an anonymous woman who anoints Jesus at Bethany (Mk 14:1–9); and a Roman centurion (Mk 15:39), the embodiment of Gentile oppression and power.’ (DJG, 2nd ed. art. ‘Mark, Gospel of’).

Lane thinks that the man’s intention in following Jesus along the road was to join the band of pilgrims in attending the Passover, and in doing so to offer thanks to God for the restoration of his sight.  But there are many hints in the passage (such as the inclusion of his name, and the statement that he followed Jesus) that he did indeed become a life-long follower of the Lord.

Although we have an account here only of the very beginnings of discipleship, the inclusion of this man’s name (v46) is an indication that he became a committed follower of Jesus.

His recognition of Jesus as Messiah, his instantaneous recovery of sight, his faith, and his discipleship all stand in stark contrast to the wavering of the Twelve, and even more so to the entrenched unbelief of the Jewish authorities Jesus is about to encounter.

As Hendriksen comments, we have here a notable confirmation of Isaiah’s Messianic promise (Isa 35:5).  This account, accordingly, ‘is a most fitting preface to “the Son of David’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem” (11:1–11) and to the immediately following events; see especially 12:35–37. Mark’s purpose is to indicate that “the Son of David” is not merely David’s offspring; he is David’s Lord. He is in fact “the Son of God.” Everyone, therefore, should follow him, as did Bartimaeus, who followed him “in the way,” the very way which for the Master led to Calvary. But the cross leads to the crown. It leads home.’

Garland says: ‘Leaving just a garment may seem easier that selling all that one has (Mk 10:21), but that is why Jesus indicated how hard it was for those having possessions to enter the kingdom (Mk 10:24–25).’

‘Mark’s contrast between bar-Timaeus and the brothers Zebedee, between the new disciples and the older ones who thought they deserved privileged positions in the dominion, could hardly be more clear or provide a more devastating critique of those who think that longevity in discipleship entitles one to certain perks from the Lord.’ (Witherington)

Lane concludes: ‘ the healing of Bartimaeus displays, without any concealment, the messianic dignity of Jesus and his compassion on those who believe in him, and throws in bold relief the blindness of the leaders of Israel, whose eyes remained closed to his glory.’