Book of MARK




Introduction to MARK

Geographical Structure and Primary Characteristics

Mark as a Gospel breaks into four basic categories that are mostly geographical.

  1. First, there’s a short discussion at the beginning on beginnings, which includes John the Baptist and Jesus’s baptism and his temptation.


  1. Second, you have for the most part a ministry in Galilee. From the Gospel of Mark and the other Synoptics, it appears that Jesus spent most of his ministry up in Galilee. We know from John’s Gospel that Jesus attended at least three Passovers, so most people say that his public ministry lasted three and a half years. Out of that, probably a year and a half to two is spent in Galilee. It’s in this first part of the ministry that you see a very public Jesus. He’s out where people can see him; he’s doing a lot of miracles at this time. He’s preaching mostly about the Kingdom of God. The miracles got people’s attention as well as alleviate pain; they also brought credibility to his very public preaching about the Kingdom of God.


  1. Third, you then move into what’s called the travel ministry, and starting at Mark 8:27, you have Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, which is the hinge of the entire gospel. We’ll talk about this next time. After Peter’s confession, everything changes. Jesus goes outside of ethnic Israel — that’s why it’s called “travel”; he’s traveling mostly through non–Jewish areas. It’s a very private time. You don’t find Jesus doing a lot of things in public at this point. Instead of talking about the Kingdom of God, Jesus is talking about discipleship. So, he spends the first part of his ministry proclaiming that God’s Kingdom had come, and then he spends the second part of it telling you what it’s like to live as a disciple inside the Kingdom of God. In very broad strokes that’s how his ministry breaks up. 


  1. Fourth, in Mark 11 you have what’s called the Jerusalem ministry; this is the last week of Jesus’s life — the Passion — his death and resurrection.

That’s the basic division of the Gospel of Mark, and pretty much Matthew and Luke as well. Luke’s treatment of the travel ministry is much larger, however, and John has a different structure altogether. 



John the Baptist

The Gospel of Mark starts with a story of John the Baptist. He comes and he says “I’m the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: ‘Behold I send my messenger before your face who will prepare your way. (This refers to John who is preparing for Jesus) The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ” And we start with the story of John the Baptist and his ministry and what he did.

The thing I want to stress at this point is that this is a phenomenally exciting time. The prophet Jeremiah had prophesied that at some point in the future, God was going to bring about his new covenant. It was going to be a new relationship that God was going to have with his people. It would be a time in which God’s Spirit would be more active than he had been in the past. It’s talked about in Joel and it’s talked about in Ezekiel as well. The Jews were looking forward to this new covenant, this new relationship, this Spirit–inspired time. The other prophecy about John is in Malachi; it’s at the very end as the last thing that’s said in the Old Testament. Malachi says Elijah is going to come before the great and terrible day of the LORD. Elijah’s going to come back.

So you have this prophecy of this coming new relationship, new covenant, that God’s going to have with his people through the power of his Spirit. You have Malachi saying that Elijah’s going to come back, and then you have about 400 years of silence between Malachi and Jesus. And then all of a sudden here’s John the Baptist. He’s dressing like Elijah—that’s the leather belt and the clothing. He’s eating like Elijah, and he’s claiming to be the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. All of this would have gone together and created a tremendous amount of excitement among the Jewish people. So when John came and started preaching the coming of the Kingdom of God, he’s getting people ready for the coming of the Messiah. (We’ll talk about what this means in a second).

John Baptizes Jesus

You could expect a real national excitement. It’s no wonder that the text says that everybody went out to be baptized by John. It was a major national movement. One of the people who went out to be baptized by John was Jesus. And I want to spend a little time on the voice that comes down from Heaven. In Mark 1 starting at verse 9 it says, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” The general idea is that John the Baptist’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, a confession of sins, that that’s how people were going to get ready for the coming of the Lord. Jesus had no sins to be baptized of, to repent of, but he was associating himself with John’s ministry, and he was specifically associating himself with people’s sin. So as a way to formally start his public ministry he went through this baptism. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the Heavens opening and he saw the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from Heaven (and this would have been the voice of God the Father): “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”

This is one of those passages that has a whole lot more going on than you or I would probably pick up on at a first reading, but if you were a first century Jew you would have picked up on these things almost immediately. What the voice from Heaven is claiming is that Jesus is the fulfillment of two different prophetic people in the Old Testament. There were two different prophecies, and the Jews had never put these two people together. The voice from Heaven is saying that Jesus is this prophetic person, and he is this prophetic person, and they’re the same person. What I want to do is to make sure you understand who those two people are. We’re in an area that is called ‘Christology,’ which is the study of Christ. One of the main ways we come to an understanding of who Christ is, is by looking at the names that are attached to him, because the names are full of meaning. So these two names are incredibly important.

“Beloved Son”

The first thing that would have caught their attention is the statement, “This is my beloved Son.” This is a quotation from Psalm 2. Originally the Psalm is addressed to the king on the day that he becomes king, and the Psalmist here calls the king God’s beloved son. The Jews came to understand over the years that the Psalmist was talking about much more than the king, but that he was talking about a future king, a king who had not come yet. In fact, he was talking about the word “Christ,” or the person Christ. Psalm 2 became understood as a prophetic psalm about who this Christ is. In Mark, the voice from Heaven is identifying Jesus as the Christ. Now, who is the Christ? First of all, the word Christ and the word Messiah refer to the same person. The Greek is Christos, the Hebrew is Mashiach—you can hear “Christ” and “Messiah” in those names. They are English versions for the same word—Christ and Messiah.

As far as what the Jews were expecting, they believed that there would be this prophetic figure, the Christ, the Messiah, who was going to usher in, or bring about, the Kingdom of God. He was going to come with God’s power and he was going to bring in God’s rule, his kingdom, on earth. The Jews didn’t expect the Messiah to be divine. They expected him to be a human being who was empowered by God. Their biggest mistake was that they conceived, for most part, of the Christ as a political, social, and economic leader. There were some people, like Simeon at the beginning of Luke, who understood God’s kingdom to be a spiritual thing, but most Jews thought in terms of materialistic ideas. They thought that the Christ, the Messiah, was going to be a great warrior, who would, with God’s power, lead the Jews into battle, who would conquer the nations, and would elevate Israel to being in the number one place in the world. Strongly nationalistic overtones were associated with this idea, just like they were with the Kingdom of God (we’ll talk about that in a second). For example, when Jesus feeds the 5000, what did the people want to do with him? They wanted to make him king, didn’t they? Because this is the thing they expected the Christ to do, to feed them. When Jesus feeds 5000 of them, they think, “This must be the Christ; let’s crown him king.” There certainly was no idea of suffering or human failure connected with the Christ. He was a nationalistic, earthly ruler.

What’s interesting is that Jesus does accept the title of Christ; he accepts the function of the Christ, in a sense. There’s another voice from Heaven at the transfiguration; Peter calls him the Christ; the demons know that he’s Christ and they cry it out sometimes. Jesus accepted the title and function of the Christ, although it’s interesting that he never uses the title of himself. His trial before Pilate is as close as he gets to it. The reason that he didn’t use the title is all wrapped up in what’s called the messianic secret. It appears that Jesus wants his messiahship to be a secret. For example, when Peter says, “We believe you’re the Christ, the son of the living God,” Jesus says, “Shh, don’t tell anyone.” The reason is that here were so many misconceptions attached to the title “Christ,” that if he openly said “Yes, I am the Christ,” then, with all the Jewish misunderstanding of that phrase, they would have crowned him king and thought purely in physical nationalistic terms. So, he accepted the function—he was the Christ, the Messiah, God’s agent for bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth—but it was a secret; he didn’t want the title used.

“Suffering Servant”

The other title that comes out of this voice from Heaven is wrapped up in the very end where it says, “With you I am well pleased.” When I first heard this, I scoffed at it, because I thought it was too detailed, but now I’m teaching it, so hang with me a second. You read that and you may think, “Okay, God’s happy with Jesus. Big deal, nothing else is there, right?” But if I were talking to you about God’s love for the world, and if I said “God so loved the world, he sent Jesus and Jesus died,” what did I just do? I made reference to John 3:16, didn’t I? It’s such a well–known passage. Because most of us are versed in John 3:16, all we really need to hear are a couple of words and our minds go to John 3:16. The Jews were extremely versed in their Old Testament so you could make slight references to Old Testament passages and expect the Jews to understand. This is one of those passages. And I’m saying this because to me this means, “Well, I’m happy with him,”, but the author is quoting Isaiah 42:1. The voice is referring to a prophetic figure in Isaiah, and we call him the suffering servant. The phrase ‘suffering servant’ doesn’t actually occur in the Old Testament, but this prophetic figure in Isaiah is called a servant, God’s servant, and he suffers, and so we call him the suffering servant. In four or five different places in Isaiah, Isaiah is prophesying about this person who’s going to be coming in the future and who will be God’s servant.

Turn, for example, to Isaiah 53. This is the last and the clearest of the servant passages in Isaiah. Again, this is Isaiah over 700 years before the time of Christ, prophesying that the servant was going to come. Here’s what was going to happen. Isaiah 53:3: “he (the servant) was despised and rejected by men. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. (In other words, the servant’s going to be rejected by people). Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. (In other words, we thought that God didn’t like him, God was punishing him, but actually, he was bearing our griefs and our sorrows.) he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way. And the Lord has laid on him (the servant) the iniquity (the sin) of us all.” We know that this is about Jesus. The suffering servant prophesied in Isaiah is about Jesus. Go back to the first of the servant songs in Isaiah 42, in verse 1: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights. I put my spirit on him.” That’s the reference that people believe that the voice from Heaven was making. By the way, when I tell you things that are controversial, I’ll tell you they are controversial. If I just go over something, I’m probably being mainstream. When I go out on a limb I’ll tell you. I’m not out on a limb right here. Any commentary you pick up will make this connection that I’m making.

You have this voice from Heaven on the one hand, which says that Jesus is the Christ, and on the other hand, says that Jesus is the suffering servant; You can see the problem, can’t you? The Jews never would have put these two together! In fact, what happened is that early on in the history of the church, the church saw that the suffering servant was Jesus and preached it, and so the Jews had to come up with any interpretation other than Jesus, and they eventually came to the conclusion that the nation of Israel is the suffering servant. Have you ever heard the Jewish belief that they are suffering for the sins of the world? This is where it comes from. This is first and second century AD. They had to come up with a different interpretation because the church kept saying, “Look at your prophet Isaiah, he’s talking about Jesus!”

The voice puts these two together. If he goes through Jesus’s life you see that all over the place he picks up the ideas of the servant. He’ll say for example in Mark 9:35, “Whoever wants to be first must be last and be a servant of all.” Mark 10:45: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus picked up the idea of the suffering servant. I think, outside of some passages in Paul, the Isaiah passage is the best place to go when you’re trying to show someone what happened on the cross, because it says it so clearly. It was those two prophetic figures, the Christ and the suffering servant, that the voice puts together at Jesus’s baptism. It is those two things that really set the stage for all the conflict in Jesus’s life. If Jesus had proclaimed himself a nationalistic worldly leader and used his miracles to feed the Jews and defeat the enemies, and if he had been that Christ, they never would’ve killed him. But ultimately they killed him, because Jesus was both the Christ and the suffering servant, and they didn’t want a suffering Christ, they wanted a victorious Christ.

In terms of Christology these two ideas are very important in helping us understand who Jesus is. Messiah means “anointed one,” and you would anoint someone if you were getting them ready to go on a special task. You will actually find different people called “messiahs” in the Old Testament. Even the Persian king was called a messiah because he was anointed by God for a specific task. But the Jews came to believe there would come the Christ, the anointed one, and he would bring in the Kingdom of God. The question is, is this ultimately why they rejected him? Yes—(well on one hand, they rejected him because God ordained it before the beginning of time, but that’s Acts 1, we’ll take care of that later)—at a human level, that’s why he was rejected by them. And this whole nationalistic urge must’ve been really strong, because even in Acts 1 after the resurrection, the apostles say, “Is it now you’re going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” So they were still looking for an earthly kingdom. It took Pentecost for them to figure out what was going on.

The Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14–15)

Jesus has had the baptism, he’s associated himself with John the Baptist and the issue of sin. He leaves, Mark mentions the temptation, and then at verse 14 Jesus begins his ministry. It says “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel.” Gospel simply means good news. The basic message that Jesus was preaching was that God’s kingdom is at hand.

We need to spend a little bit of time understanding what the Kingdom of God is about. It is the central aspect of Jesus’s teaching. Especially during the Galilean ministry, this is what he preached about, that God’s kingdom had come. So, it’s important to have a good understanding of it. Most of the parables are about the Kingdom of God. I’ll show my hand; this is a little controversial, but not too much anymore. Matthew was a Jew, and didn’t want to say the word “God,” so in Matthew, it was called the “Kingdom of Heaven.” There are some old-time dispensationalists who want to say the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are two different things. I don’t believe that, so in Matthew, “Kingdom of Heaven,” is the same as Mark’s and Luke’s “Kingdom of God.” It is the central aspect of Jesus’s teaching.

It’s interesting that in the Old Testament (that’s where you always go when you want to understand the background to a New Testament concept), the expression “Kingdom of God” doesn’t actually occur there. It was an expression that developed in the 400 years between Malachi and the gospels. The Jews certainly had definite ideas about what the Kingdom of God was, but it’s not part of the Old Testament. However, the Old Testament does talk about God being king, and that is the antecedent of the concept of the Kingdom of God. It’s interesting how if you look at the concept of God as king in the Old Testament, there is both a present and a future idea attached to it. The Old Testament is very clear to say God is king here and now, but a lot of people don’t recognize it, they don’t see it, so there’s coming a time in the future when everyone will recognize that the Jewish God, Yahweh, is king. There’s a duality at work. (You’ll see why that’s important in a second).

When Jesus comes along, the concept had developed during those 400 years. Like the idea of Messiah, the Jews had developed the idea of the Kingdom of God as a primarily nationalistic, materialistic, economic, social, and military kingdom. So when they heard John the Baptist and Jesus say that the Kingdom of God was at hand, they were not thinking of a spiritual reality. They were thinking of a physical reality. They were expecting Jesus to gather his troops, and to go against the Romans and to kill them all. They believed that the Kingdom of God would be brought about on earth by the working of the Messiah, who would be a human being empowered by God to bring God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus meant something significantly different than what the Jews were expecting.

There is divergence on this point. If you know what the word dispensational means, I’m not a dispensationalist, and so I’m going to differ on this point. If you don’t know what the word means, I don’t want to go into a discussion of it right now. I believe that what Jesus did, just like he did with the concept of messiah, was to redefine what the Kingdom of God was about, because for him the Kingdom of God was not a physical reality, it was a spiritual reality. Pilate says to him, “Are you a king?” Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my people would have fought for me.” It’s not an earthly kingdom. The definition that I was taught in seminary was that the Kingdom of God is the reign of God in the lives of his disciples. In other words, the Kingdom of God is not some earthly kingdom that sits on Mount Zion and subjugates the Romans; it’s a spiritual reality of God ruling and reigning in the hearts of his disciples. As you read Jesus’s teaching on the Kingdom of God, you will see that there is a dual aspect on it. I have struggled to find a simple way to explain this, so I’m going to give you the same information that my seminary teachers gave me, and then you can work on it for the next thirty years.

Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God had come in his ministry. I remember Dr. Ladd, one of my seminary professors, liked to quote the verse, “If I by the finger of God cast out demons, you know that the Kingdom of God has come in your midst.” There are quite a few verses that talk about this Kingdom of God, this reigning of God, as an absolute present reality. It’s here, it’s now. Yet there are other passages that tend to talk about the coming of the kingdom as a future thing. For example, in the Lord’s prayer, when we pray “thy kingdom come,” we are asking God to send his kingdom. You might say, “well make up your mind. Is it here, or is it not here?” This is the same duality you have with the kingship of God in the Old Testament. He is king, although not everyone recognizes it, and someday he will be made king.

The dual nature of the kingdom can be explained as that God’s kingly rule has broken into history, but there’s still a wait for consummation, there’s still a wait of fulfillment of the promises. So the Kingdom of God is present here, it is working now – “If I by the finger of God cast out demons, you know the Kingdom of God has come in your midst.” You know that the kingdom is here. Yet there are many verses that talk about the future coming of God’s kingdom. In a sense, it’s what you have in Philippians 2. We know that Jesus is Lord; we know that he’s God. The hymn in Philippians 2 says, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” He is Lord, whether our friends know it or not, but there is some day when, in his fullness of the consummation, that everyone will know that he’s Lord. That’s the duality I’m talking about.

The reason I’m pointing this out is that it goes all the way through the New Testament. If you’re going to understand the heart of Paul’s theology, it’s that the future, the eschatological age, the eschaton, the last days, (there are all sorts of names for this); all the power of Heaven has been visited to earth, but we’re not yet at the fulfillment, we’re not at the consummation of things. So we live in the tension of being between these two ages: the current age where there’s still sin, where people don’t recognize God’s kingship, and yet knowing that at some time in the future, all sin is going to be removed and there’ll be full victory. We live in the tension of God’s kingdom having come to earth, but not yet in its fullness. We look forward to a time when we get to enjoy the kingdom in its fullness. This is a tremendously important concept. The ramifications are significant and you’ll see that as we go through. Here’s an illustration: when you drive a wedge into a tree and you leave it, at what point does the tree split? Evidently if you put a wedge in, eventually it will topple because of the force of the wedge. God’s kingdom has come, and so it’s just a matter of time until the kingdoms of the earth topple. So, this will provide you background as you come across Kingdom of God in your reading.

Two Days in the Life of Jesus (Mark 1:16 – 3:6)

One of my favorite sections in Mark is 1:16–3:6. Remember, the gospel writers could’ve told us a lot of stories, but they picked the ones they did because they wanted to communicate something to us. Many times, you can ask the question, “Why is this story included, or why is this series of stories included?” This is one of those passages. Mark is consumed with the question, although he never asks it this way, “Who is Jesus?” That’s what this gospel is all about. That’s one reason I like it so much. It’s a simple gospel. Matthew has a ton of good stuff unrelated to that question; Luke has a lot of stuff. Mark is preoccupied with presenting who Jesus is, and that’s a pretty good lesson for evangelism isn’t it—to not get pulled off onto the other areas, but to ask, “Who is Jesus?”

Starting off at 1:16, Mark has something like “a day in the life of Jesus.” Here you see Jesus doing a bunch of things: he calls men to follow him and they do; they become his disciples. He exorcises demons; he shows that he has authority. He heals a leper. He goes out and he preaches in many places. He’s not someone looking for fame; when the demons want to cry out who he is, he tells them to be quiet. These are all different stories, but what they’re doing is holding out a day in the life of Jesus, as if they’re saying, “This is who Jesus is. He’s a leader. He’s someone with authority. He can heal. He’s a preacher. He’s not into fame.” Look at verse 45: This is not only the conclusion to this paragraph, but it’s the conclusion to this day in the life of Jesus. He tells this leper not to let anyone know he’d been healed. “But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” People like Jesus. They like the healing, but they evidently flock to him. They wanted to hear what he was teaching as well as what he was doing. If you look at these verses, you think, “Wow, Jesus was really popular.” This is partly what Mark wants us to see, that Jesus was received well.

It’s interesting that, beginning in chapter 2, everything changes. Jesus heals the paralytic, and the scribes grumble and complain that he claims to be able to forgive sins. He calls Levi, or Matthew, a tax collector to be his disciple, and the scribes don’t like that either. “Why’s he associating with tax collectors and sinners?” Then find out that Jesus and his disciples aren’t fasting. The scribes and the Pharisees don’t like that, so they complain about that. Then, Jesus’s disciples are walking through a field on Saturday, the Sabbath. It’s legal—as long as they’re in the corners of the field they can strip the grain; by Old Testament law you can’t harvest the corners of your field, it’s for the poor. The disciples were harvesting the grain, and the scribes and the Pharisees said, “You’re not supposed to be doing that on Saturday.” Then he goes into a synagogue, and a man has a withered hand. By this time this scribes and Pharisees are so mad at him that they’re waiting to see what he does. Jesus gets mad at them. In Mark 3:4, Jesus says to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. They weren’t going to make a commitment. So he heals the man with a withered hand. Look at 3:6: “The Pharisees went out and immediately held council with the Herodians (political party) against him, how to destroy him.”

So, this is the second typical day in the life of Jesus, but what are the two big changes? First, there’s a change of audience. He’s not dealing with regular folk. He’s dealing with the pastors and seminary professors of his day. The second big difference is that they hate him, because he is a threat to their religious traditions and their personal religious power. He’s not doing what they want him to do. He’s not playing the game they want him to play, the way they want him to play it. And so instead of being overjoyed and coming from all over the place (like Mark 1:45), they go out to find a way to destroy Jesus. See, what Mark is doing is saying, “Here’s Jesus. These are the things that he did that people loved him for. These are the things that he did that religious leaders hated him for.” These are meant to be two contrasting pictures of who Jesus is. It’s interesting that, as you read through this, Jesus’s response is getting stronger and stronger. At first he talks to them. Then he starts getting sarcastic. Then he gets flat out mad at them. So you can see Jesus’s—we call it—’righteous indignation.’ Jesus is mad at them, and he’s justified in being so, and you can see it build as he goes.

When we talk about Christianity, the lesson from this passage is that our job is not so much to present the arguments and the doctrines and the theology about him—that’s all important, obviously—but we need to present Christ. There are some people that will be very open to the presentation of who he is and what he did. There will be others that will fight him tooth and nail.

“Son of Man” (Mark 2:1–12)

I want to go back to Mark 2, to the story of the Capernaum paralytic, because with our emphasis today in Christology, there’s something very important there. This is a great story. Jesus is teaching in Capernaum, these four men have a paralyzed friend, they want Jesus to heal him, they can’t get there so they dig a hole in the roof and let him down. I wonder how the owner felt as all this was going on. They lay him down, Jesus sees their faith, (verse 5), and he says to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” You’ve got to understand, God and God alone forgives sins. So this is Jesus picking a fight. He didn’t have to say it this way. This is Jesus looking for instructional conflict.

I think Jesus woke up Saturday morning full of the Spirit and goes, “I want to find someone to heal; I want to tick the Pharisees off.” It’s amazing how many of these miracle stories take place on a Saturday. The one day when you’re not supposed to do anything. So Jesus is picking a fight. And since Jesus did it, and he was without sin it was the right thing to do. “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? he is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins, but God alone?’” And the answer is, “Yes! That’s the point!” Remember, Mark is teaching Christology. He’s showing Jesus doing things and the only conclusion you can draw from what he does is that he is God. I’m getting ahead of myself. The passage continues: “Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” The answer is that it’s much harder to say, “Rise, take up your bed and walk,” because that’s proof that the sins were forgiven. “But that you may know that the Son of Man (and there’s the important phrase) has authority on earth to forgive sins, (he said to the paralytic), I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he did. So Jesus is trying to make a point that he is God, that he has the ability to forgive sins. People should see this man being healed and realize that Jesus is more than just a person. That’s what’s going on overall.

It’s the phrase “Son of Man” that I wanted to center on and talk about it. “Son of Man” is Jesus’s most common self–designation. While he never calls himself the Christ or the Messiah, he calls himself Son of Man a lot. Most people think that the reason for this is that the phrase “Son of Man” has meaning coming out of the Old Testament that accurately describes who Jesus is. Since the Jews had not developed a bunch of misunderstandings around the phrase, he could use it in a way that he could never use the term “Christ.”

If you go to the Old Testament, you’ll find Son of Man in two main places. First, you’ll find it used a lot in Ezekiel. God calls Ezekiel “son of man” a lot. And the reason for that is that God wants to emphasize Ezekiel’s humanity, that he’s nothing more than a mere mortal. That’s why, for example in the new RSV, with their inclusive language, they don’t want to use the word “man,” so they translate it “oh mortal.” That’s the point. God’s saying “you’re just a mortal; you’re just a human being.” Of course by translating it that way, you can’t connect the Son of Man sayings from the gospel with Ezekiel—that’s something else. It’s a common expression in Hebrew to use “son of” to describe someone’s characteristic. So someone was really rich they’d be called “son of wealth.” So by calling him “son of man,” he was emphasizing his humanity, his humility and lowliness.

On the other side of the spectrum is the use of the same phrase in Daniel. Turn please to Daniel 7. Daniel is having a vision. He’s been having a vision of a bunch of bizarre beasts and these contorted animals. Starting at verse 9, he has a vision of the Ancient of Days, which in our terminology is God the Father, and he’s on his throne. Then in verse 13 you have the actual vision: “I saw in the night visions and behold, with the clouds of Heaven, there came one like a Son of Man.” What the phrase initially means is that he’s not like the beasts, he looks human. “And he came to the Ancient of Days, and was presented before him. And to him (the Son of Man) was given dominion and glory and the kingdom, that all peoples should serve him.” In the NIV it says “worship” him. If you have an ESV cross out serve and put “worship” in there—it’s really important. “his dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

That’s Daniel’s prophecy of this Son of Man that he sees. Now what’s important is that there are some metaphors going on here again that you might not pick up straight away. The phrase “clouds of Heaven” suggests divinity. There’s a suggestion that this Son of Man is not a human being, but something else. You will notice that he comes into God’s presence. He’s given great authority. He’s given an eternal kingdom, and that’s important because in 2 Samuel 7:14, God promised David that one of his descendants would sit on the throne forever, and that the descendant of David is the Messiah, which is Christ. That’s the tie in between Christ and Son of Man—the eternal kingdom, and most importantly, that these people should worship him. And who do you worship? Do you worship a person? No, you worship God.

So what you have—and remember the Jews are strict monotheists—is the Son of Man who has a lot of characteristics of being divine: total authority, eternal kingdom, fulfilment of the prophecies, and worship. In other words, “Son of Man” in Daniel carries almost the exact opposite set of meanings from Ezekiel, because Son of Man in Daniel is glory and exaltation and authority and power and all those things. In Ezekiel, it’s humility. It’s those two ideas that Jesus blends together when he talks about himself as the Son of Man.

Sometimes when Jesus calls himself Son of Man, there’s an emphasis on his servanthood, his humility. For example, he says, “Birds of the air have nests, foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” Sometimes, when you come across these Son of Man sayings it’s a statement of servanthood and humility. And yet there are other times in which Jesus uses the Son of Man title and he’s expressing his divine authority. “The Son of Man has authority to forgive sins,” he tells people in this story. Later on in chapter 2, the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. In these other groups of sayings, there’s a tremendous amount of power and authority behind them.

There is a third category. Sometimes it appears that he calls himself the Son of Man so many times that he uses it instead of a personal pronoun: “You say the Son of Man came eating and drinking and you don’t listen to him. I came eating and drinking, and you won’t listen to me.” He’ll talk about the Son of Man being betrayed. So sometimes there doesn’t appear to be a lot of theological background. Really, it’s the first and second types of uses that are the most important. What’s interesting is that a lot of time these two things are blended. When Jesus says, “Birds of the air have nests, foxes have holes in the ground, the Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” it’s a statement that he is a humble servant, but there’s a contrast in there, that the Son of Man who has no place to sleep is someone who’s worthy of worship, is a ruler over an eternal kingdom, and comes and stands in the presence of God. So you have this conflict that yes indeed he’s this humble servant, but he also has this immense power and is an object of worship.

The Son of Man is a fascinating title, and these are the ideas that are floating around behind it. Whenever you come across Jesus calling himself the Son of Man, you have to stop and think of these two backgrounds: humility and servanthood, or exaltation and power, and how those two ideas feed into the story that you’re reading. As I said, this lesson’s a heavy one on Christology. And these are the dominant names of Christ. Christ or Messiah, servant, and Son of Man. These are three of the most important titles. “Lord” will come later.


As we continue on in Mark, we come to chapter 4. Chapter 4 is a collection of parables, so we need to stop and talk a bit about how parables are to be interpreted. He tells the parable of the sower. “There was a man who went out once to sow seed and he threw some on hard ground and the birds ate it. He threw some other on rocky soil where the soil was shallow and the wheat grew up and then died quickly. Others of it he threw among weeds and it got choked, and other seed he threw fell on good soil and it produced a crop.” It’s called the parable of the sower.

This is one of Jesus’s primary ways of teaching, certainly in public. He loved to tell parables, but parables can be rather frustrating to interpret, so we need to spend a little bit of time with them. By way of introduction, the Kingdom of God is the primary topic of parables. Most of the parables, especially outside the gospel of Luke are about the nature of the Kingdom of God. Here is the parable of the sower, and then he continues with a few other. If you want more information on how to understand parables, if this is something that’s bothered you and you want to read more, the very best book you can read is by Fee and Stuart. The book is called How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. They’re both professors at Gordon Cornwall Theological seminary, where I taught. This book is a marvelous book because it helps you understand how to understand parables as well as other ways in which the Bible discusses things.


A parable is a story taken from everyday life for the purpose of teaching one main point. In other words, as you look at this parable of the sower and you think, “That’s stupid, why would you sow seed on hard ground and on weeds and where the rocks are?” Well that’s the way they did it then because they sowed the seed and then they ploughed. So as Jesus was telling the story of the sower everyone listening would think, “Yeah, I see that all the time.” These are stories taken from everyday life of things that they could visualize.

They’re meant to teach a point and it’s one main point. This is where people get in trouble with parables, because parables are often full of details. It’s easy to get attached to figuring out what the details mean. When you look at parables, keep asking yourself, what’s the main thing the parable is saying. Don’t get lost in the details, but there’s always one central truth, and that’s what you’re supposed to get out of the parable. Sometimes the details have significance, sometimes not. But you want that one main point.


What about the details? Here’s what I mean by details: One of the parables is the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus was a beggar, and the rich man was, well, the rich man. They both died, and Lazarus, the poor beggar, went to Abraham’s bosom (Heaven). The rich man went to another place that wasn’t so nice. The rich man looks out and sees Lazarus and said, “Lazarus, give me a cup of water, it’s hot,” and “send Lazarus to talk to my brothers so they don’t come to this horrible place.” Jesus says no.

What’s that parable about? That people in Hell can see people in Heaven? That’s part of the detail of the story. Is it about the people in Hell, that it’s hot? Or the details that one was rich and one was poor? The main point of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is very simple. “The first will be last and the last will be first.” That’s what the parable is about. In Judaism, and in American culture, people think, “The rich are the ones that God’s obviously pleased with, I mean that’s why we all want to be rich, and they all should go to Heaven.” That’s why when Jesus says it’s impossible for a rich man to get to Heaven, Peter says, “Huh? Then we’re all going to go to Hell. If the rich can’t go, how can anyone go?” because that was part of their cultural thinking. If you’re rich, it was God’s pleasure, you’re going to go to Heaven. The parable was meant to tell us that there’s a flip flop that happens, and that what the world values is not necessarily what God values. Lazarus, the poor beggar, ends up in Heaven, and the rich man in Hell. Now you understand what I mean when I use the word “details.” You cannot expect the details to have significance. That’s going to be hard, because you may lose some of the favorite sermons you ever heard. I’ve heard some really powerful sermons preached where all the emphasis is on details, and I think, “but that’s not the point!” Otherwise, if the details of the story are necessarily true, if they’re necessarily theologically significant, you’ve got a real problem.

Take Luke 18, for example. Jesus wants to tell the disciples a parable about why they should pray often. It goes like this: There once was a widow and an unjust judge. The unjust judge wouldn’t do what the woman asked him to do. So what did she do? She nagged him. She nagged him and she nagged him and she nagged him, until finally the unjust judge says, “I don’t fear God or man, but to get this old bitty off my back, I’m going to give her what she wants.” (Paraphrase). What are the details in that parable? Who’s the unjust judge? God. Who’s the widow? You and me. So, is this parable teaching that God is unjust and that he views you and me as beggars and does only what we want when we nag him to death? No, of course not. I mean the details in this parable had no significance. It simply says, just as you can imagine someone at the lowest level of the social ladder, getting something that she deserved because she was persistent in asking, so also you should be persistent in asking your Heavenly Father. That’s all there is; there’s no significance in the details.

My favorite parable is the pearl of great worth, where a man finds a pearl of great worth and then sells everything that he has so he can buy the pearl. What does the pearl stand for? The Kingdom of God. “So, you can buy your way into Heaven. What—don’t you believe the Bible? You’re a bunch of liberals.” “The Bible says that you bought the pearl, so you should sell everything you should buy the Kingdom of God, and I’m taking your money.” No. See, if the details necessarily have meaning, you’ve got a real problem, because God’s unjust, we’re nags, and we’ve got to get money to buy our way into Heaven. The details don’t necessarily have significance. I don’t think this is that much of a controversy today—I think sometimes the details can have a significance, but they’re secondary, and they must be related to the main point. That’s the key.

For example, Jesus tells the parable of a man who had a vineyard. He goes away, and the farmers who were left to run it are supposed to give him his percentage because it’s his land. Every time he sends someone they beat him up, they don’t pay him, and sometimes they kill him. Finally, the owner says, I’ll send my son. Certainly they will respect my son. The farmers see the son coming and they say, “Hey, here’s the heir of the land! Let’s kill him and we get the land.” I don’t care how demented you are, but you’re probably not going to get an inheritance if you kill the owner’s son. As a general rule, that’s a dumb way to get an inheritance. So they kill the son, and what’s the owner going to do? he’s going to come out and cast them out of the vineyard and let new people have the vineyard.

What’s that parable about? The parable is a parable of rejection of the Jewish nation. God, the owner, had sent messenger after messenger after messenger, some they killed, some they beat. Who would that be? The prophets. He finally sends the son, Jesus. This is a prophecy that they’re going to kill the son, and then God’s going to turn them out and turn to the Gentiles. Which is exactly what happened in the Book of Acts. See, you’ve got one main point. The rejection of the Jewish nation and the going of the gospel to the Gentiles, to the non Jews. Is there significance in the details? Yes, because they all relate to the main point. And that’s the key.

Sometimes people can come up with meanings for the details that have no correlation at all to the main point. That’s when you have to be careful. My encouragement is, in your Bible study, ask “what’s the main point?” and be happy with that, because that’s safe. Sometimes, you’ll find that yes, there are cares of the world that choke out the message of the gospel, as in the parable of the sower. The parable of the sower is really easy because Jesus explains it. And he says yes the seed stands for this, the bird stands for Satan, and he goes down.

When it comes to the main point and details, parables have different rules of interpretation, and you have to follow their rules of interpretation. If you and I still spoke in parables, these rules of interpretation—one main point; details are secondary—would all be automatic to us, because we would understand them. For example, if I said, once upon a time in a faraway land, there lived a fairy princess, how do you understand what I’m saying? Do I really believe that there is a pixie with wings that lives somewhere? No. You understand that I’m using a different genre. I’m in the genre of fairytales. Fairytales tell the story as if it’s true, but everyone knows that it’s not, because their point isn’t to tell history, it’s to do something else. Likewise, parables have their own rules of interpretation.

Three Rules for Interpreting Parables

There are three rules for interpreting parables. One, a parable has one main point. In your Bible studies and your Sunday school, make sure you talk about that first. Ask, “What’s the main point?”

Secondly, the details are not necessarily significant. The key for me is that if they’re interpreted by Jesus as significant, as with the parable of the sower, then the details are significant. The details are significant only if they relate to the main point, and they’re still secondary. What’s the point of the parable of the sower? To teach you that you can’t lose your salvation? No. To teach you that you can lose your salvation? None of the above. In the parable of the sower, if you’re a farmer, which of the four soils is acceptable? There’s only one. The purpose of spreading the gospel is that fruit be borne, that there be a crop. The first three soils are worthless to a farmer. Only the soil that stands for hearing the word of God and it producing fruit in your life has value. That’s the whole point; that’s what God accepts. That’s the main point of the parable of the sower. It’s not to talk about all the ways in which seed fails to produce a crop. There is one main point.

Third, the parable must have made sense in Jesus’s day. Some of the interpretations of parables are so crazy that no one would ever have figured it out in the first century. Here’s a good example from Augustine in the fourth century. He’s interpreting the parable of the good Samaritan. There was a someone who fell among thieves, and two Jewish leaders walked by and didn’t help him. A Samaritan walked past, the social outcast as far as the Jews are concerned, and he helped this guy who’d gotten beaten up. He put him in an inn and gave him two coins and said, I’ll pay the rest when I come back. Augustine says that when it says a man comes from Jerusalem to Jericho, that that’s Adam that Jesus is talking about, because Jerusalem stands for the Heavenly city of peace. Jericho means the moon and signifies the fact that we’re human beings. The thieves that beat up Adam are the devil and his angels. When the thieves strip the man, it means they made him mortal. The priests and the Levite who passed him by stood for the priesthood of the Old Testament (I think he probably got that one right). The Samaritan is Jesus, the inn is the church, and the two coins are the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper. This is how parables were handled for 1500 years.

The main point of the parable of the good Samaritan is to ask, “Who’s my neighbor?” I mean the good Samaritan was told to answer the question, “Who’s my neighbor? Who do I have to help?” The parable of the good Samaritan says, your neighbor is anyone who needs you. Anyone who it is within your power to help. He tells a story where all the people that a Jew would expect to be the heroes—the priests and the Levites—walk by the beat up man and they ignore him. But one of those Samaritans stopped to help. This is an example of an outcast in society treating this man as his neighbor, and that’s what you’re supposed to do.

When I taught at Azusa, we were rivals with Biola University, so I used to retell this story of the good Biola student: There once was an AP student on his way to go surfing at San Notre, and he fell among the gangs who beat him up and left him. A professor walked by, but he was late for a meeting. Then a Free Methodist minister walked by, but he was late for choir. Then the Biola student stopped and helped the Azusa student, and put him in equality and gave him his credit card. You know, that’s the neat thing, if you understand parables properly, you can change all the specifics and they still mean exactly the same thing. Who’s my neighbor? Whoever it is in your power to help. That’s what the parable of the good Samaritan is about. The fact that it’s two coins doesn’t matter.

What are stories called where you should give attention to all the details? They’re not parables, but allegories. A parable does it teaching by issuing one main point, and allegories do all their teaching in the details. The tendency is to treat parables as allegories, and that’s where we get into trouble. What is the number two selling book of all time? The Bible is number one, second is Pilgrim’s Progress, a book by John Bunyan, written when he was in jail. He was thrown in jail because he was a preacher, and back then you couldn’t just preach, you had to be licensed. It’s a story of Christian leaving his home town and going to the Celestial City. He goes through the gates, and one of the first things he does he falls into the Slough of Despond. A friend comes by named Help. Help and pulls him up. Mom read Little Pilgrim’s Progress to us all the time, where the friend was called Help.

Is there any significance in the city being called Celestial City? Yes, it’s Heaven. Is there any significance that he goes on a trip? Yes, this is a Christian’s life from conversion to death. The significance of going through a gate is that it’s the point of conversion. What happens often when somebody becomes a new Christian? After several months, they get depressed, despondent. Something happens. They think, “I didn’t know this was what it was going to be like to be a Christian.” And they fall into the Slough of Despond. When that happens to us, what does God often do? he sends a helper, someone to help pull us out. See Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory; all the details mean something. Parables are not allegories. They’re there to teach one major point. And the details may do nothing more than make the picture come alive in the hearer’s eyes.

Summary of Jesus’s Parables

Let me give you a quick summary of some of Jesus’s parables so you can see this one main thing in action. Many of Jesus’s parables were told against a backdrop of Jewish misunderstandings, meaning that if you really want to understand the parables, you’re probably going to need a commentary. You’re probably not going to know how the Jews thought about the Kingdom of God. Jesus is using parables to correct their misunderstandings about the Kingdom of God. If you don’t understand the background, it’s hard to interpret them, so you generally need commentaries for parables. For example, the Jews believed that the Kingdom of God would come instantaneously. It would come and it would cover the earth and God would be in control. So Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed, where the Kingdom of God is like the smallest of seeds that slowly, but methodically grows into the biggest of bushes. The Kingdom of God doesn’t come instantly, it starts small and will grow and will permeate society.

The Jews believed that when the Kingdom of God was going to come, that evil would be rooted out immediately. All evil would be gone. Jesus says no, and he tells them the parable of the weeds, where a man sows a crop and the enemy comes while the man is sleeping and sows weeds. When the weeds start to grow, the workers say, “An enemy has done this, do you want to pull out the weeds now?” And the master says, “No, we’ll wait until harvest; at harvest time there will be a separation of the wheat and the weeds.” Evil will be rooted out, but not at the inception of the Kingdom of God, at the culmination of the Kingdom of God. The Jews believed that if you were a Jew, you would instantly receive the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells the parable of the sower, and says “No, only certain people, only certain kinds of soil, will receive the message of the Kingdom of God.”

The Jews believed that all Jews were going to get into the Kingdom of God. So Jesus tells parables like the parable of the tenants that I told you earlier. He say, “No, not all the Jews are going to make it, in fact many of them are going to be kicked out, because they’re not going to be the soil that produces a crop. So the moral of the story on parables is make sure you’ve checked your commentary.

Miracle Stories (Mark 4:35 – 5:43)

I’ve used the word Christology several times and I want to go back to it. In Christology, the, the “ology” means “the study of,” so Christology is the study of Christ, who Christ is. Christology is the study of the question, “Who is Jesus?” As I said earlier, we usually look at the names of Jesus to figure out what he is like. It’s interesting how Mark starts his gospel. He says, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It appears that Mark 1:1 is the title of the gospel. The point, and one of the points that Mark wants to make, is to show us that Jesus is in fact the Son of God. What’s very interesting is that the phrase “Son of God” almost doesn’t occur anywhere else in Mark. It appears on the lips of one of the demon–possessed men, and the only other time it occurs is at Jesus’s death the centurion says, “Surely this man must’ve been the Son of God.” Someone like me who’s propositional, who wants logical, theological statements, thinks, “Mark, you did a really bad job. I have no conviction that Jesus is the Son of God when I read this.” That’s because I’m Greek; I’m propositional in my thinking. Most of the world does not think this way; most of the world is narrative; most of the world is story. That’s how they learn. And what Mark is doing is telling stories about Jesus, and as you look at what Jesus did, there’s only one possible answer to the question of who is Jesus, and that is, that he is God.

There is some propositional meaning in “Son of Man,” and “Messiah” and “the Son of God,”, but what’s interesting is that when you look at Mark 4, at the end of the parable starting at verse 35, there’s a marvelous group of miracle stories. From 4:35 through the end of chapter 5 is the story of Jesus calming the storm—he’s out there, and the winds come up, and the disciples are scared that the boat is going to sink. Jesus stands up and calms the storm. Then, he arrives on the other side, to the region of the Gerasenes. There’s a demon–possessed man that nobody can handle. He exorcises the demon. Then, Jesus is on the way to meet Jairus, who’s the synagogue ruler, to heal his daughter. Along the way, a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years touches him and is made whole. He gets to Jairus’s daughter, and it turns out that she has died, so he brings her back to life. Those are some powerful stories on their own, but when you realize that those four stories form a unit, you can see what Mark is saying:

Who is Jesus? he is someone who has power over the physical world.
Who is Jesus? he is someone who has the power to exorcise demons.
Who is Jesus? he’s someone who can heal the sick.
Who is Jesus? he’s someone who can raise the dead back to life.
Who is Jesus? Who can do all that? God

By the kinds of stories that Mark is including, by the narrative, he’s teaching us that Jesus is God, that he’s the Son of God. Christology is very important, but it’s often taught in Mark through stories. Sometimes, you talk to someone and you ask, “Well who do you think Jesus is?” “he’s a good man.” “That’s interesting. When I read this story of him, he can calm seas. He can raise the dead. He can heal. That sounds to me like more than just a good man. What do you think of this?” In this way, you can get away from this farce of Jesus just being a good man, and get into the ‘meat and potatoes’ of Mark’s Christology.

Mark 6:1–8:26

We’re going to look at Mark 6 through the first part of chapter 11. We left Mark at the end of chapter 5 last time. Starting in Mark 6, we have a series of miracle stories. We have some very important teachings there that I won’t have time to cover, on religious and human traditions and how legalism doesn’t work, because it only works on the outside and not on the inside. There are some more conflict with the Pharisees, and then in Mark 8:27 we enter the second major phase of Jesus’s life.

You remember when I introduced Mark, I said that Mark was broken down into 3 chunks: after the beginning, then there’s the Galilean ministry, then the travel ministry, and then the Jerusalem ministry. Mark 8:27 is the ending of the Galilean ministry, and it’s the beginning of the travel ministry.

Second Major Phase of Jesus’s Life (Mark 8:27-11:11)

Peter’s Confession as the Hinge

The structure of 8:27 through 11:11 is a fascinating thing. Mark 8:27-30 is called Peter’s confession, it’s a very important part in the overall flow of the theology of Mark. Jesus has been teaching publically about the Kingdom of God. He’s been doing miracles and talking about the Kingdom of God. Then in 8:27, he has the disciples alone, and he says, “Okay, guys, it’s time to fess up. Do you believe what I’m talking about or not?” he asks, “Who do people say that I am?” They go through this process, and then in verse 29, Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ,” and he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. So they had been with Jesus perhaps a couple of years at this point, and Peter, probably speaking for all the disciples, was willing to finally say, “Yes, we believe you’re the Messiah; we believe you are the Christ.” Jesus, as we said last time, accepted the title, but he just doesn’t want them to use it in public.

Peter’s confession is a hinge. Sometimes you’ll find that commentaries put Peter’s confession with the Galilean ministry, whereas sometimes they put it with the travel ministry, because it really is a hinge story. It is a hinge in that it is a culmination of the Galilean ministry—it brings it to conclusion—but in the process, it also introduces this new phase, this travel ministry. Things are different from here on out: Jesus’s ministry for the most part is private and Jesus is dealing, not with the Kingdom of God, but with discipleship. It’s as if Jesus says, “Okay Peter, you understand that I am the Christ, I am the Messiah, I brought in the Kingdom of God; now from here on out I’m going to teach you what the Kingdom of God is like, specifically what is it like to be a disciple in the Kingdom of God.” That’s the change.

Three Cycles

One of the reasons that I enjoy Mark so much is that the structure of this passage is so clear. What you have are three units of teaching, and these three units of teaching are all structured the same way. They all begin with a death prediction. That would really have thrown the disciples, who would’ve thought, “I said you’re the Christ, you’re not going to die!” “No, I am going to die.” In each of these cycles, each of these units starts with a death prediction. This is followed by a misunderstanding of what discipleship is, where, in light of Jesus’s prophecy of the cross, a disciple says something that obviously shows they don’t understand yet what discipleship is all about. Then that’s followed by a new teaching on discipleship. So there’s a very clear cycle going on through the middle part of Mark. Sometimes there are a few extra stories, but then the cycle starts all over again. We’re going to walk through those three cycles, those three units, and you’ll see that pattern established.

Unit 1: Mark 8:31-9:29

The first unit is in Mark 8:31-9:29. This is the unit of material following on the heels of Peter’s confession. I’m going to spend most of the time tonight with this passage. I think that if you can understand this passage, you’ll understand all the other passages about discipleship, and what it’s really like to be a disciple in the Kingdom of God. This has probably been the most formative passage for me in the Bible over the last 10 years. I think I always read Jesus through Paul’s eyes, and he never made sense to me, because I always just struggled with getting a grasp on what the gospels were doing. Then I started teaching New Testament Survey at my old seminary, and so I had to deal with the gospels as gospels; that threw my Pauline grid. What happened was I came to see how Jesus uses different words and different metaphors and somewhat different concepts to express himself. A large part of this reorientation in my own theology was about what Jesus teaches on discipleship. When I went back to look at Paul, after I had figured this out, I started reading Paul differently too, which was interesting. This has been the formative passage over the last ten years of my life, and you’ll see why.

The message of this passage is about what it is to be a disciple, and there are three words that I’m going to use here. First, I think Jesus teaches that discipleship is total. In other words, Jesus expects his disciples to be fully devoted. There’s no part-time discipleship in Jesus. I can’t find it anywhere. It’s a total commitment to Jesus as Master. Second, discipleship is essential. It is essential for your salvation. As I read about Jesus talking about disciples, the way I like to say it is, only disciples are in Heaven. There is no other category of “Christians” that make it into Heaven, except for disciples. Third, discipleship is life long. We are called to persevere in our walk with Jesus. We’re not supposed to give up; it’s supposed to be our entire life. Discipleship is total, it’s essential, and it’s life long. Those commitments on my part come primarily out of this passage, and then filter out through the rest of the Gospels.

In this passage, Jesus starts with his first death prediction in verse 31. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer (31)). Can you hear the contrast in that? Daniel’s Son of Man, who comes into the presence of God the Almighty and who holds the eternal kingdom and who is worshiped, that’s the Son of Man who will suffer—many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days, rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him (32). But turning and seeing his disciples, (in other words, Jesus wanted to make sure the other eleven were listening), he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ (How do you think Peter felt right then?) ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man (33).’” Jesus is predicting his death; he’s combining the Son of Man and suffering servant concept. Peter in his response shows that he didn’t really understand what he had said when he said that Jesus was the Christ. Again for him the Christ is a victorious leader. Jesus is saying that he’s dying, and Peter starts to rebuke him. There’s your misunderstanding of discipleship. Then what follows is the new teaching on discipleship, which addresses the question, “What is it like to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God?” Let’s examine verses 34 to the end of the chapter, slowly. “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples,” you understand there was a much larger group that followed Jesus, not just the twelve. So he called everyone, not just the twelve, “he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me(34). For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it (35). For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life(36)? For what can a man give in return for his life(37)? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (38).’” Jesus spoke in a way that was designed to make people reflect. There is so much crammed into a few words that he probably said this and the people looked at him and thought “What?” But he’s speaking in this way because he wants the people to mull over and to think.

Let’s mull it over. Verse 34, I think, is the thesis statement. I think verse 34 is the heart of what Jesus is trying to say. He says, “If anyone would come after me,”—notice that Jesus thinks in terms of following. He thinks in terms of discipleship. That’s his frame of reference. Notice he doesn’t say, there are certain things that you have to believe if you want to be my disciple. It’s not an issue of specific theological truths, it’s an issue of following him, it’s an issue of being his disciple. That’s how he pictures things, as being a disciple. “If you want to be my disciple then you have to do 2 things, the first is that you have to deny yourself.” He says, “Let him deny himself.” Now what on earth does that mean? It’s one of these phrases that, if you were raised in a church, you’re probably use to hearing. But it’s a phrase that’s hard to define. In fact, what makes it even more difficult is that Jesus uses other terms throughout this paragraph to mean the same thing. For example, in verse 35, he’s talking about somebody who loses his life. That’s the same thing as denying. In verse 38, he’s talking about people who are ashamed of him. These are different ways of saying the same fundamental thing. What does it mean to deny yourself? It means to lose your life for the sake of the gospel. It means to not be ashamed of me.

I don’t think Jesus is talking about the denial of things in general. This is not asceticism; this isn’t like Lent where you give up something for Jesus; that’s not what he’s talking about. There is a hint in verse 36 that denying yourself means to not pursue the things of this world. You see that in verse 36: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” You might think, “Jesus, why are you talking about this? Gaining the whole world is the opposite of denying yourself.” Here’s what I think it means. To deny yourself means to say to no to your very self; to say no to the very core of your own being; to say no to your own ambitions; no to your own desires. In the words of Jesus in Gethsemane, it is to say to God, “Not my will, but yours be done.” You’re going to have to spend some time reflecting on this paragraph because it’s very condensed, but I think what to deny yourself means is to not to pursue the things of this world. But it’s more than that. It’s also saying no to my will. I’m going to say no to me as an independent individual, after all, who am I now? I’m a follower, I’m a disciple, and followers or disciples don’t go off in the direction they want to go. Followers follow. That’s what’s going on in this paragraph. To deny yourself is to say I am a follower, not my will, but God’s be done. To say it another way, to deny yourself is to make a wholehearted commitment to the Lordship of Christ. He is now Lord, I am not. I know some people have baggage with that phrase, and in many cases justifiably so, but Lord is a great word—a biblical word after all. If you don’t want to use that word, another passage you can look at is Matthew 10, which is another way I think that Jesus is saying the same thing. Matthew 10:34 says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (35). And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household(36). Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (37). And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me (38). Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It’s those passages that say that what Jesus requires is a complete and total and unconditional commitment to Jesus as Lord, to Jesus as master. The life of a disciple is to be someone who lives in subjection to his master, saying not my will, but yours be done (39).

When we follow Jesus, we take on his goals, his ambitions, and his desires. We don’t live a life independent from him, we follow him and we try to do his will. That’s a brief definition of the word deny. It’s a very deep, very powerful concept. It is something you really need to mull over, at least I did. It took me about three years to get to this position of teaching this class and saying what does that mean. I know it’s central to what Jesus is saying, and I think that’s what it means. So if you want to be a follower of Jesus, you have to first of all deny yourself. The four spiritual laws provide another way to look at it: You’re sitting on throne of your own life, and then conversion means that you are no longer on the throne of your life, God’s on the throne of your life. This is a picture—another way of saying the same thing. So if you want to be a follower of Jesus, you must deny yourself, say no to yourself, and then secondly you must take up your cross. In the parallel passage in Luke 9:23, Luke adds, “Take up his cross daily.” In other words, Luke is trying to help us understand with completeness what Jesus is saying that this is a daily action that we are going to take.

What does it mean to take up your cross? Does it mean that you need to wear a crucifix around your neck? No. It’s easier to understand the imagery, knowing that Jesus is going to be dying on a cross. To take up your cross means to daily live out the fact that you do not live for yourself, to daily live out the fact that you are no longer central in your life, to daily live out the fact that you have died to yourself. Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ.” I’ve not been maimed, I’ve not been cut, I’ve been crucified, completely and totally killed. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Paul is saying the same thing in Galatians that Jesus is saying here. To take up your cross means to live every day as someone who is denying themselves. David Garland in his commentary carries the imagery a little bit further, I don’t know what to think of it, but I’ll share it with you. He says, “Jesus expects them to be willing to join the ranks of the despised and condemned. They must be read to deny themselves, even to the point of giving their lives.” David thinks that the imagery can even be stronger, in that it means that you must daily die to yourself and live for me, even if that means you do actually die on a cross. Possible. If you want to be a follower of Jesus Christ you must deny yourself, take up your cross. It’s like Jesus says, and in that way, this is how you follow me. We don’t have time to go into it more, but it’s one of the reflection questions and I would encourage you to think about it and that is you know what does this look like. What does it look like to live a life of denial? I heard about a teacher the other day who has made a commitment to simplicity. He doesn’t own a car (I think his wife has one, but he doesn’t have one). He rides a bike to work. He doesn’t have a TV. There are many things that Roger doesn’t have, because he has made a commitment to simplicity—a life of denial. An interesting question to reflect on is, “What does it really mean to deny? How would this impact all the different areas of my life?” Something worth thinking about; you can do that later on.

The passage continues. He states this thesis verse about denial, and then in verses 35-37 he gives the rational. He tells us why verse 34 is true. He does it two different ways. First of all, in verse 35, he points out that if you attempt to save your life, you’re going to lose it. In other words, if you refuse to deny yourself, if you think you’re going to save your life, you are actually going to lose it. The opposite of what you think is going to happen is going to happen. He says, “For whoever would save his life”—if you want to use the same imagery as 34, if you refuse to deny yourself,—”you’re going to lose your life, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s”—whoever denies himself,—”that person will save his life.” The imagery is changed, but it’s still making the same point. If you attempt to save your life, if you refuse to follow, if you insist that you still have control of your life, if you insist on not being a fully committed follower of Jesus Christ, you are going to lose your life. But if you chose to lose your life for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel, in other words, if you chose to be his follower, then you’re going to save your life. It is good to take time for reflection on these verses, since they can be a bit overwhelming.

What does it mean to save your life? Verse 38 shows at least one way in which you and I save our lives by being fully committed disciples of Jesus Christ, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation”—if you refused to deny yourself,—”of him will the Son of Man”—remember, Son of Man from Daniel implies judgment—”will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Certainly part of what it means to save your life has to do with saving your life at the final judgment. Certainly saving your life has something to do with where you’re going to spend eternity; that’s what verse 38 is getting at. I told you this might be a challenge. If you attempt to save your life, if you attempt to keep control of your life, if you refuse to give up control of your life to your master, you’re going to lose your life. But if you lose your life for the sake of the Gospel, if you deny yourself, if you do truly follow him, then you’re going to save it, and that means at the final judgment. Because you were not ashamed of God during your life, he will not be ashamed of you at the final judgment. The ramifications of that are immense. This is why I say that discipleship is essential for salvation, and that only disciples are in Heaven, because Jesus says it in verse 38.

Verses 36-37 say there’s nothing more important than your life. Why would you gamble with your life? What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What does it matter if you refuse to deny yourself, hang on to your own worldly aspirations, and even if you even got control of the entire world, what’s the point? You’re going to forfeit your life—you’re going to go to Hell. What can a man give in return for your life? What can you give of equal value to your soul? Nothing. So that’s what is at stake in this whole issue of discipleship. Why pursue the things of the world? Why maintain control of your life? Look what it’s going to cost you. Then when you get to verse 38, verse 38 is a warning. It says be really careful how you decide on this whole issue of discipleship. He’s using Son of Man terminology from Daniel that we talked about last time—the Son of Man coming in judgment, coming in power. Jesus is saying that if in this really lousy generation this adulterous and sinful generation, you’re ashamed of me, then when I come as judge, I’m going to be ashamed of you. What does it mean to be ashamed of someone? It means you’re going to distance yourself from them. It means you’re not going to want to be connected with them, you’re going to want to separate yourself from them. What are ways in which we separate from or are ashamed of Jesus here and now? We don’t stand up for him if we think it’s going to cause us trouble; there are all kinds of ways in which people are ashamed of Jesus. In the language of this passage, the person who is ashamed of Jesus, the person who doesn’t want anything to do with him, the person who is wants to be disconnected from him is the person who refuses to deny himself. That’s the thread running through the passage. He says if you live out your life ashamed of me, if you live out your life separated from me, not wanting anything to do with me, then when I come in judgment, I’m going to be ashamed of you. I’m going to cut myself off from you, I’m going to have nothing to do with you. What happens when the judge totally disassociates himself from you at judgment? You’re condemned. He’s the only person who can give us life. This is why only followers of Jesus, only disciples, are in Heaven. What I’m trying to do is to use biblical language.

Sometimes we have to use non-biblical language, for example, we have to talk about the Trinity, even the word doesn’t appear in the Bible. Trinity is a made up word that means three-ness so it works. There are some times that we can’t use language that is strictly biblical, but I think some of this non-biblical language that we have inherited as Christian is very confusing. One of the things that I try to do is to try to use biblical language to describe biblical issues. It tends to keep me out of trouble, at least a little. Jesus talks about discipleship. Jesus talks about following me. Jesus talks about not being ashamed of me and Jesus talks about judgment being based on the fact that we are or aren’t disciples, or followers of him. I think it’s important to pick up that language. Those of you who go to church here may notice that when I preach, I talk about disciples a lot. I don’t generally talk about being a Christian, I don’t talk about getting saved, I talk about becoming a disciple, living as a disciple, dying as a disciple, because that’s the biblical way of expressing how you and I relate to our master. I think it’s really important.

When you talk about discipleship in this way, you understand discipleship is a life-long thing. Discipleship is not just raising a hand at camp and thinking that’s all there is to it. I believe there are many people who think they are going to Heaven, but because they were mis-taught the Gospel and hence not challenged with the true Gospel, they will end up, much to their surprise, in Hell. If you want to know what pushes me so hard when I preach and teach, that’s it. Even if you disagree with me, understand my heart. It’s like John Piper, I asked him once, “I thought I was aggressive, but I’m lazy compared to you, what pushes you so hard?” Piper said, “I’m convinced that the church is full of people going to Hell.” If you will share the Gospel, the question is if you respond to it, will you go to Heaven or Hell? If somebody says, “Are you sorry for your sins?” and you say, “Yes,” are you on your way to Heaven that easily? That person is going to get to the gates of Heaven and Jesus is going to say, “There’s no such thing as salvation by sorrow, it doesn’t exist.” Sometimes I think that all preachers should stand by the judgment seat, and everyone they have ever preached to should walk by, and the pastor should have to listen to the judgment, and then live out our lives with that picture in our mind. I can imagine what it would be like standing by the throne of judgment and having Larry Kaufman be told, “I know you did everything the preacher ask you to do, but guess what, he didn’t tell you the Gospel, and you’ve got to go to Hell,” and have Larry turn and look at me and say, “I did what you told me to do.” Forgive me if I get a little aggressive on this point, but I think only disciples go to Heaven, and I think that because I think that’s what Jesus says. My job as a pastor and my job as a preacher is to use his language, and to speak in his categories, and to let you know that you can’t be ashamed of God, or he’s going to be ashamed of you at judgment.

Student Question: Don’t you have to be saved, don’t you have to have Christ as your Savior before you can become a disciple of Christ?

Response: I think that you become a disciple and then live as a disciple; yes, there is a beginning point, which the language of “getting saved” expresses.

Student Question: Wait a minute, you act like saying that I have received Christ as my Savior is something that is rather insignificant.

Response: I don’t think it is insignificant at all, in fact, I am going to address that particular issue, but the problem is, in my mind, that in the American church, this passage doesn’t exist. I think that for decades it has been preached that if you make a profession of faith, somehow that’s all there is to getting into Heaven. It’s just not what the text says, I don’t think, and I think it’s very clear. I’m going to come back and talk specifically about that, but this is what is driving me and pushing me in all of this. I think Jesus teaches that only disciples get to Heaven, and so my job is to preach that. Becoming a disciple, living not being ashamed of Jesus, and dying as a disciple—those are the biblical categories, I think.

What we’re going to do is to finish out the text, and then we’re going to come back and talk about the issue of what’s called sanctification, specifically Don’s question about the relationship between becoming a disciple and living a disciple.

Jesus tells the story in verse 38 and then he concludes in 9:1, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” These things that he is telling the disciples are difficult for them, as it is for us. He says “In order to confirm that what I’m saying is true, you will see the Kingdom of God come in its power before you die.” he’s probably referring to the initial growth of the church in the Book of Acts. What’s interesting is that the story of the transfiguration comes next where Jesus goes up with Peter, James, and John to a high mountain and he’s transfigured; he gets very bright, and ends up talking to two Old Testament figures. A voice comes from the cloud and it’s the voice of God the Father, “This is my beloved Son,” and then the voice says, “Listen to him.” Who do you think the voice was directed at? Probably Peter, because Peter was the one who rebuked Jesus, so God the Father is saying, “he’s my beloved Son, and he knows what he’s talking about. I know this discussion on discipleship is difficult for you; I know you thought you were going to sit on twelve thrones and judge the nation of Israel and everyone else. He knows what he talking about.” So you have an initial taste of the power of God in the story of transfiguration, but he’s probably talking mostly about the spirit of the church. They come down from the mountain, and there’s a story about the exorcism of a boy. It’s got one of the greatest verses in all of the Bible. In verse 24, the dad says, “…if you will you can exercise the demon.” Then Jesus says, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes. Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” There’s a prayer that you can always pray from the story of this exorcism.

Unit 2: Mark 9:30-10:31

Then in Mark 9:30, there is the second cycle, and you get another death prediction followed by a misunderstanding on discipleship. In verse 33, Jesus says, “What were you all talking about?” Of course they got really embarrassed, because they had been talking about who was the greatest. Wouldn’t that have been an interesting discussion to have the apostles arguing, about which one really was the greatest? Certainly Peter, James and John being the inner-circle would have had most of the votes, but who knows.

Then you move into his new teaching on discipleship, and again verse 35 is the thesis verse. He knew exactly, by the way, what they were saying. In verse 35, he said, “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’” Then in order to illustrate what discipleship looks like it says, “And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me, but him who sent me (37).’” If you’re going to use the language of denial, back in chapter 8, you can say that one way in which denying yourself shows itself is that you’re willing to be servant of others, that you’re not going to assert that you’re the greatest or that you should be served, but rather that you are a servant of others. Almost all of Jesus’s teaching is the exact opposite of the world’s, isn’t it? It almost like you can take whatever the world says and flip it around and you’ll get the truth.

Student Question: It’s not like servant hood, but it looks like it’s servant hood to those you think are normally under you isn’t it?

Response: I think the illustration of a child answers the question. Children can be illustrations of a lot things in Jesus’s talking, like humility. Here, I think it’s an illustration of absolute helplessness, of someone who has no assumption of greatness. The exact opposite of what the disciples were doing and saying—”this is what it means to be a servant of all, that you’d be willing to serve even the lowliest in society—children.” I think I’d want to be more general along those lines. This is what discipleship is about, this is what it means to deny yourself—it means to not want to be first, but to be willing to be last as the world sees it. It means that you must be willing to serve even the lowliest and the most humble in the social cast system, and that being children.

The stories go on, and there’s another illustration of bad discipleship starting in verse 38. There are discussions of the value of children, the conflict with Pharisees, and the story of the rich young ruler.

Let me just mention the rich young ruler. What you get from this story are the rewards of discipleship. Jesus tells the rich young ruler that you have to sell everything in order to get into Heaven, and he leaves the way sad. Jesus says in verse 23, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God.” The disciples were amazed at his words because they always associated wealth with God’s pleasure—if you were rich, therefore God was happy with you. He explains how difficult it would be to enter the Kingdom of God: “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” By the way, there is no such thing as a small door inside a door that if you take the bags off the camel and it gets on its knees it can get through—that’s a completely made up story and I have no idea who started it. It doesn’t exist. The whole point is that it is impossible for the largest of animals to get through the smallest openings, and likewise, it is impossible to get into Heaven by human ability. That’s the whole point—it’s impossible. Peter and the disciples are pretty pleased. Verse 28: Peter said, “‘See, we have left everything, here you want to pat me on the back, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you (here are the rewards of discipleship), there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel (29)(and he’s not talking just about missionaries to foreign countries. In most countries, China, Indonesia, I mean you go through a lot of the countries today if you become a Christian you have left everything), who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, (here’s your earthly reward you’re going to get), houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands (30).’” What’s that? That’s the church. That’s the whole new set of family relationships that exist within the church, but you’re also going to get “persecutions,” he adds, “and in the age to come, eternal life.” There it is again: the gift of eternal life is theirs because they became disciples and gave up everything and followed him.

Unit 3: Mark 10:32-11:11

And right away we start the third cycle. I love how Mark has structured his Gospel. Mark 10:32 through 11:11 is the third cycle. It starts with another death prediction, and then beginning at Mark 10:35, you get another misunderstanding of discipleship. Here is one of the all time great questions in the Bible. I always thought it was really silly until my kids started asking me the same thing, and I’m sure I asked my parents the same thing. James and John come to Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” It’s like Tyler coming to me and saying, “Dad, will you do me a favor?” “What’s your favor?” “Just say you’ll do it.” No, Tyler, I’m not going to say I’m going to do it; you tell me what you want.” So they are asking Jesus for a favor and just commit to it without it. They wanted to sit at the right and left-side of him. They wanted the two positions of honor and power. They still aren’t understanding. It’s not that they’re stupid. You and I have the Holy Spirit, that’s why we get it. They don’t have the Holy Spirit yet. That’s how hard it is to learn the things of God on a human level. They’ve been with Jesus for two to two and half years and they’re still not getting it. They don’t have the Spirit.

In order to answer that desire for fame and power, you get the new teaching starting at verse 41. The really important verses are down in 43 and following, where it talks about how in this world, people lorded over people. Verse 43: “But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” This is the first is last and the last is first stuff. ”and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all (44). For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (45).” So the basic teaching is clear enough that if you want to be great in the Kingdom of God, greatness is an issue of serving, of denying yourself, of putting your will aside, and putting other people in front. Verse 45 is an especially important verse. It’s one of those verses that gets quoted a lot when it comes to trying to understand what Jesus did on the cross. “For the Son of Man” (I) in other words, “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The word ransom was a well-known metaphor. It would have been connected with the slave market. If you would have gone to the market and you might see an old friend for sale; you would ransom them. The the two ideas connected the ransom are that a price was paid and freedom was secured. Those are the two parts of what it means to ransom. When Jesus provided a ransom for you and for me, the price paid was his life and his death, both of them, and the freedom secured for you and for me was freedom from sin. It’s a powerful metaphor. Now you and I don’t have to imitate the ransom; we’re not called to die on the cross, but certainly implicit in this verse and the previous one is that we are not here in order to be served, but to serve. We are not here to put ourselves first, but to put the good of others ahead of ourselves, loving our neighbor as ourselves. That’s the end of the teaching on discipleship.

The next story is the story of blind Bartimaeus and then the story of the triumphal entry, which again is a hinge passage: It’s a conclusion of the travel ministry—he got to where he was traveling—but then it’s the beginning of the third ministry, the ministry in Jerusalem.

Heart Issues

Most of what I’ve been covering comes under the head category. Let’s move into the heart category or theology. Let’s go back from a theological point of view to some of what we’ve covered.

First of all, and this is something that I had not realized until I started teaching this class, the Gospels are radical aren’t they. They are radical; they are counter-cultural. Jesus taught in a way to make us uncomfortable. That was the whole point. “Blessed are the poor.” What? God’s blessing goes on people who don’t have money? I’m not saying that’s what it means, but the way in which Jesus says things and more importantly the impact behind them is extremely counter-cultural. It’s very radical. When you read it and see it in those terms you can realize why the Jewish leaders hated him so much. He was so radically, fundamentally different from who they were.

The Gospels are not for the half-hearted. Luke 9:57: “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’” I’ll be your disciple. Jesus said to them, “Hey, glad to have you along, jump on board.?” No. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” You want to follow me? Do you really want to follow me? I don’t even have a place to sleep. Do you really want to be that radical in your commitment to me? If I have no place to sleep, then you have no place to sleep. “To another he said,” and the he is Jesus, “‘Follow me.’ But he,” the person that Jesus spoke to, “said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’” One of the most fundamental obligations of a good Jewish kid. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” Jesus is radical. He’s counter-cultural. If you’re reading Jesus and he’s comfortable and easy, you’re probably misreading him. I really want to stress that this is radical stuff.

Student Question: What are the implications of that, the fact that the Gospel is radical in terms of the movement of seeker sensitivity of the mega church whose desire is to make the whole service comfortable for the non-Christian?

Response: In light of the radicalness of the Gospel, what about the seeker-driven services where they’re trying to make people comfortable and not be offensive to them? The answer is, the Gospel is offensive. Woe be to any church and any preacher who waters down the Gospel. That’s what I was talking about earlier. I believe that when people come into the church, they are supposed to feel welcome, they are supposed to feel that we want you here. Some churches don’t want non-Christians. Ever been in one of those churches? It’s their own little closed group and they don’t want anyone else. I think they are supposed to feel welcome, meaning, “you’re welcome to come in,”, but they are supposed to feel outside. I know of one church where the pastor’s altar call is, “Do you believe? If you believe stand up.” Now if somebody stands up are they a Christian, necessarily? If you believe what? Or in my more caustic moments, “Good, at least the demons are standing up.” The demons believe. We are not a seeker-driven church, and again this is one of our real concerns for Spokane. We have to proclaim the Gospel so clearly such as if somebody responds to it they are on their way to Heaven, and not just one step closer to maybe getting in. It is radical.


Let’s move on to the issue of sanctification. This is article 7 in the BTI Statement of Faith, and this is a topic we are going to talk a lot about as we go through this class. Maybe I don’t say this enough, and I should say it more. I don’t ever mean to devalue the conversion experience. I don’t ever want you all to hear me devalue that experience. It is absolutely crucial, and without the conversion experience you’re going to go to Hell. This year at camp, Tyler held the hands of one of his best friends and this kid was sitting there shaking with joy, praying to become a Christian. I talk about camp a lot in a derogatory; I don’t really mean I; I’m working against a stereotype that I despise. The conversion experience is valid. It’s important. I didn’t actually get to hear this, but a very good friend was present at the First Baptist Church of Bowling Green, KY where the pastor preached that if you come down the aisle and sign the roll book of the first Baptist Church you shall be saved. In other words, if you want, you can go out and live a good Christian life and that’s nice, but the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is once you’ve signed the roll book of the church you can go out and live any way you want, it doesn’t matter you’re still going to Heaven. I hate that! What he did was he lulled, in my theology, in Jesus’s theology, he lulled people into complacency. He did not challenge them with the full Gospel, and people are going to Hell thinking they’re going to Heaven. That’s why this thing bugs me so much.

My question is, is there any place in Jesus’s teaching for the American (and I know it’s not true of all America, but it is a peculiar phenomenon in America) version of salvation where, if you’re sorry for your sins at camp, you got your ‘get out of Hell free’ card and you can live any way you want to. Or perhaps you raised a hand or you came forward at a revival meeting, or you prayed a magic prayer, and somehow in this country we’ve gotten the idea that if that’s a single event in your life, then nothing else matters. That’s really what Christianity is and you’re going to go to Heaven. There’s a man, I think he’s in Texas, who teaches that if you have a moment of positive volition you’re eternally saved. If you have one positive thought about God, you’re in Heaven. It’s not in Scripture at all. We’ve got to learn to think biblically, and I believe the biblical way to think about conversion is that Carolee became a disciple, she is living as a disciple, she is growing as a disciple and she, by the grace of God, will die a disciple of Jesus Christ. That’s Jesus’s way of describing the Christian life, not a moment of positive volition.

Perseverance and Assurance

That raises all kinds of interesting theological questions, like, do you believe in the idea that once you’re saved, you’re always saved? This is just me processing, do with it as you will, but I believe in perseverance and I think the language is extremely significant. I believe that God perseveres with me. God saved me; no one can snatch me out of his hand. He did a regenerating work in my spirit, in my life. I’ve been given a new birth. I believe that God did the work of salvation; I didn’t do it. He is going to persevere with me; he is going to continue to empower me, he is going to continue to give me desires to grow. In response to him I will continue to persevere. In the words of Paul, “I will continue to pummel my body, lest having preached the word I be denied the prize.” I think for Paul in the final verse of 1 Corinthians 9, the prize is Heaven. Paul says, I’m going to hang in there, I’m going to run the race, I’m going to fight the fight. I’m going to hang in there until the end. God is persevering with me; I’m a saint; I’ve been changed, and changed people live in a changed way, so I will live a changed life until the day that I die. That’s what I believe. I say that at first, so you won’t stone me with what I’m about to say.

I do not believe in the idea of once saved, always saved. It is not biblical language. I have never used it except as a license to sin. Over years of people saying they believe in once saved always saved, it has always been a license to sin. “I have my ‘get out of Hell free’ card and so I can live any way I want.” For that reason, I don’t believe it. I think the distinction of language is critical. ‘Once saved, always saved’ sounds like a license to sin. ‘Persevere; God is going to persevere with me and I’m going to persevere because he enables me’ is biblical language, and I think it’s right. That’s why again I talk so much about discipleship. In the Bible Jesus says, “he who perseveres to the end will be saved.” How does that fit in a once saved always saved theology? It doesn’t. It can’t. It’s impossible. So we talk about becoming a disciple, living a disciple, and dying a disciple; persevering to the end. That’s why our Statement of Faith uses that phrase, persevering to the end. So, I believe in perseverance, I don’t believe in once saved always saved.

Student Question: What are some of the passages that people use for ‘once saved, always saved’?

Response: They will use the ‘believe’ language in John as the main place they are going to go. They will say, “When I was twelve, I raised my hand and I believed,”, but they’re misunderstanding what ‘believe’ in John means. That’s where Hodge and some of these people who write on this go, to John, before they go anywhere else. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you shall be saved.” Also, Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized.” But I think these verses are taken out of context, and you know, if you confess that Jesus is Lord, you’re confessing that he’s master, that he’s God, you know that that’s going to fundamentally changed how you live your life.

What about carnality then? We say, “Well, he’s a carnal Christian.” (Carnal means fleshly, or not walking with Jesus). The question is, is carnality an acceptable lifestyle? Is it okay to say, “I became a Christian, and that’s all that really matters, and it is okay to let sin have an ongoing role in my life.” “I’m going to take a front seat on earth and I’ll take a back seat in Heaven, that’s okay.” They are going to be shocked, I believe, when they get to Heaven and there are no back seats. “It’s okay to live in sin, I raised my hand and prayed the prayer.” Is that an acceptable lifestyle? Obviously, my answer is no. Carnality is described in 1 Corinthians 3. I do not believe that it is my role to judge your salvation; I don’t think it’s your role to judge me. I’d have to say that perhaps there comes a time when the church as a whole has to make a pronouncement on something, there are verses that imply that there may be times. I’ve seen people make the decision as to whether you’re a Christian or not; I can’t do it and neither can you. I know that some people like to pass judgment, “You’re not showing enough works in your life, so I’m not sure you’re a Christian.” That is not my role to play.

But what I will say about carnality, on living with ongoing sin in your life, is that the issue is assurance. How can you know you’re a Christian? If you’re living in constant sin, how can you know that you really are a child of God? Again, I’m not going to pass judgment, at least I don’t want to pass judgment on whether you are or aren’t a Christian, but what I can say is that you have no assurance at all that you really are a child of God. This is because assurance is wrapped up in the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, whispering to me that I’m a child of God (Romans 8) and my changed life. 1 John 2:3-6 says, “And by this we know that we have come to know him,” this is how we know that we are in a relationship with him, “if we keep his commandments. 4Whoever says ‘I know him,’” whoever claims to be a Christian, “but does not keep his commandments,” is a carnal Christian who will barely get into Heaven, and have a small house during the millennium? No—”is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” That’s really strong isn’t it, because in John’s language, if the truth isn’t in you, you’re not going to get into Heaven. “But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” If you’re keeping his word, if you’re striving to live as he is calling you to live, this means that the love of God is being perfected in you, it is changing you into what God wants you to always be. “By this we may know that we are in him: 6whoever says he abides in him,” whoever says I am a Christian, “ought to walk” (probably not a great translation, ought in the sense of must) “in the same way in which he walked.”

The same thing occurs in 1 John 3:6. We were pretty interpretive in translating the ESV to help you understand: “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” These are the verses that I think are really crucial to balance all of this mis-teaching that is going on. If you are living in sin—and again John’s not talking about a sin, confession, and repentance; see John 1:9; he’s not talking about that otherwise we’d all be in a lot of trouble, right? Has anyone not sinned today? he’s talking about someone who says, “Sin is okay. I’m going to live in it,” where sin is an ongoing characteristic of their life. No ones who abides in Jesus keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. In 1 John 2, he says that these people went out from our midst because they were never part of us; they were never Christians to begin with. As far as Jesus is concerned, we are to be fully devoted disciples. If we are not growing in that direction, if that process is not part of our lives, there cannot be an assurance of salvation, certainly not based on a profession of faith forty years earlier.

This does not imply that we’re earning salvation. None of this obedience that John is talking about is doing something to get God to love us more. We can’t do anything to make him love us more or love us less; that’s grace. What we’re talking about is that when God converted me, when I became a child of God, I was fundamentally changed. I was regenerated, and the expectation of Paul, and the expectation of Jesus, is that changed people live in a changed way.

Head Issues: Presenting the Gospel

One last statement and then we’ll see if you have any questions. This has many ramifications. I think one of the most significant is how we present the Gospel. One of the most humbling, most frustrating, experiences of my life was when I was in grad school for my PhD, so of course I had all the answers, right? No. It was the end of my first year and I was waiting for the bus to come to the dorm where I was living, and a 17-year old girl came up, she was a Freshman in the university, and she said, “You’re one of those divinity people, aren’t you?” (Over there it’s called the school of divinity). I said, “Yeah, I guess so.” She said, “So you’re a Christian.” I said, “yeah.” She said, “What’s that all about?” I knew the bus was going to get there in 2 minutes. I didn’t have an answer. At 24-25 years old, I had not figured out how I wanted to share the Gospel. I never saw her again, I figured out an answer that I could give in 2 minutes, but I never saw here again. I lost the opportunity.

My last couple of years of teaching in seminary I was a real pain in the neck on many different levels, but one of them was going around asking everybody, “What’s the minimum it takes to get into Heaven?” Of half of the seminary professors that I ask that question of, their answer was, “That’s not a good question; that’s not the right question, Bill.” I said, “Yes it is. A seventeen-year-old just asked you how to become a Christian. The bus is going to be here in 2 minutes. Go.” “Bill, that’s just not the right way to approach it.” “What’s the minimum it takes to get to Heaven. I said you’ve got a minute and fifty seconds—you’re losing.” “But Bill…” “A minute 45.” It was interesting who knew an answer and who didn’t know an answer. I talked to one teacher who taught Evangelism—he had no answer. I thought that was pretty unusual. I asked a youth pastor and he said, “That’s easy, A, B, C – admit you’re a sinner, believe that Jesus’s death paid the penalty for your sins on the cross, and commit your life to him. Wow, I’ve got a lot of time for discussion.” But all of that is background. How are you going to present the Gospel? Is it A B or is it A B C? I don’t know of anyone who would say that by admitting you’re a sinner, you’re saved. There has to be something about Jesus in there.

The question that I have to come to the conclusion of, is whether, in my two-minute sharing of the Gospel am I going to tell the person to count the cost. Jesus said ‘count the cost,’, but are you and I going to say ‘count the cost,’ because it makes it a little harder to get it in 2 minutes. To say, “You know, when God changes you, do you understand that he’s going to change you from the inside out and that he’s going to put his power, his Spirit, within you and that Spirit is going to be changing your life and your life is never going to be the same. Are you willing to make that commitment to him as your Lord? Because he doesn’t come just as Savior, he comes as Savior and Lord, that’s the whole package if you believe that.”

I guess there’s another side to it too where some people might unnecessarily add stuff. “There’s A B C and then of course there’s B again, like being baptized.” I was in a church the other day, it was honest at least, on their bulletin it said that the Holy Spirit enters upon your water baptism. Their communion table has a top and it opens up to the baptistery. So if you come forward, you get wet really fast. At least they’re being consistent. But do you have to repent and be baptized, as Peter told the Jews in Acts 2? For some people they are going to want to add more to this it as well. I think there are a lot of ramifications to this.

Student Question: Let’s say you have a conversion experience and you receive Christ as your Savior. I believe the Scripture says that that salvation is sealed by the Holy Spirit.

Response: I believe that too.

Student Question: In addition to that, you become the adopted sons of God because of that. If you’re sealed, your conversion and your soul is sealed by the Holy Spirit, you’ve been adopted into God’s presence as an adopted son, how can you lose your salvation?

Response: I don’t believe you can lose your salvation, (the verse he’s referring to is in Ephesians 1: “the Holy Spirit is our guarantee, it’s our seal”). Part of the trouble with this concept is that there are a lot of verses we can throw around: “he who perseveres to the end will be saved.” How are you going to deal with that? I taught in a Wesleyan School for 10 years, so I’ve had this discussion before. I think that the Bible teaches that you have a conversion experience, God regenerates you, and he makes you new, not because of anything you’ve done, but because of his grace and mercy and election (we’ll talk about that later). God by his grace and his mercy saves us not because of anything we deserve, but while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. He changes us, he regenerates our heart, and he seals that with the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to continue the work of us having faith and responding to God in faith. The problem is when someone starts living in sin. Scripture is equally clear that if they live in sin, they never were a Christian to begin with. It is explicitly stated in 1 John 2, but it’s all the way through John, that a Christian’s life cannot be characterized by sin, because Christians don’t go on sinning. The question is, how do you put those together? The answer is that a person who is truly saved will change, and that’s where the assurance is. Unfortunately, there are people who think they are going to Heaven and aren’t. Matthew 25: “But Jesus, we did miracles in your name and we cast out demons….” Jesus can say “I have no idea who you are.” So what you have is the problem of people who went through a conversion experience that wasn’t valid, that wasn’t real. The way that you know it’s real is that, as you go on your life past conversion, Romans 8, the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart confirming that God is Abba and you are the child of God. The confirmation is that your life changes. In the middle between these two things, the sealing of the Spirit in 1 John, is where assurance lies. A person who is living in sin can’t have any assurance that their conversion was real. I don’t believe that you can lose your salvation, but I don’t talk in that language because the closest that comes to it is John 10, “No one can snatch them out of my Father’s hands.” Again, the argument in the Wesleyan school is, “I can snatch myself out.” No, that’s not what it says. No one can snatch you out of my Father’s hands, if you truly are a child of God. But if you are truly a child of God, you don’t want anyone to snatch you out of his hand and you don’t want to snatch yourself, because God is at work in you and you are growing and changing. The thing that always concerns me the most as I’ve come out of the discussion of discipleship, is whether people understand that conversion is essential and critical, even if you can’t nail it down to the second, but that it’s the beginning, it’s not the end. That’s why, for example, I’ll say it’s not so much how you start, it’s how you finish.

Student Question: I’ve heard from people who are evangelizing that the word repent means to stop and turn, which carries the connotation of commitment or changing the direction of your life. Is that a true translation of the word?

Response: Yes, there are some people that will say that repent means to change your mind, and that’s one of the primary illustrations we use in seminary of how you don’t discover what a word means. The word means to turn, that’s the basic meaning of the word, so to repent is to acknowledge that you’re going in a wrong way, and if you really want to be careful, to commit to turning. Right at the point of conversion is right where you did it. Not that I’m going to turn on my own power, but my ability to turn is because of God’s empowering me to turn. So repentance is to change your direction by God’s strength. If anybody says it means just to change your mind they are very wrong. 

In this lesson, we’re going to deal with a topic called Eschatology, which means the study of last things. We will focus specifically on Mark 13. We left off last time was at Mark 11. Jesus had been traveling to Jerusalem. He finally gets there in chapter 11, and we start what is called the Passion Week, the week before his Passion, or death. The triumphal entry is the conclusion of the travel ministry and the beginning of this Passion Week.

Cursing the Fig Tree

First, you have this story of the cursing of the fig tree and then the cleansing of the temple and then more discussion about the cursed fig tree—I’ll mention a couple of things in passing about that. The text says that it wasn’t the season for figs, but that Jesus saw a fig tree in leaf and he went over to see if there were any figs on it. Then when it didn’t have any figs, he said, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” In other words, he cursed this poor little helpless fig tree that didn’t have fruit because it was out of season. This always struck me as a strange story when I was a kid. It turns out there are fig trees that do have fruit out of season, and so it wasn’t a completely unrealistic thing for him to do.

The story’s not in there because he’s against fig trees. He goes into the temple and he cleanses it. The court of the Gentiles is the only place that a non-Jew, a Gentile, could go. The Jews, because of the lack of concern for the Gentiles, had turned it into a market place. Jesus went and cleansed it, he overturned tables, he chased the animals out. What he was doing was pronouncing judgment on the Jewish nation. The next day when they come back into Jerusalem, in Mark 11, we see the fig tree is dead, and the disciples say, “Look, Rabbi, the fig tree that you cursed is withered.” That is interesting. What on earth is going on with this poor little fig tree? What’s going on is that this is called an enacted parable—he’s acting out a parable. Usually he would say the parable, but in this case he was acting it out. The important piece of background information is that the fig tree in the Old Testament is a metaphor for Israel. So he’s looking at a fig tree that’s fruitless, then he goes into the city of Jerusalem and it too was fruitless. So just as he cursed the fig tree, so also he was in the process of cursing Israel. He was going to pronounce condemnation on it, and turn to the Gentiles. In other words, if you’re going to give the appearance of fruit, like having leaves, you’d better have the fruit. That typifies this whole Passion Week. Most of it is conflict, most of it is Jesus arguing with the religious leaders and so at the very beginning of this Passion Week he lays out the fact that they are fruitless and that he is going to curse them for their lack of fruit because they should have produced fruit for God. He’s acting out the spiritual condition of Israel.

Conflict Stories

This story goes on for a while, then there are some conflict stories. In chapter 12, he tells the parable of the talents, which is another parable of the rejection of Judaism, you can see that they’re trying to trick him up with questions about taxes and the resurrection and the greatest commandment, and so forth and so on. Jesus turns the tables on them and says, “Beware of the scribes,” and enters into a continued condemnation.

Mark 13: The Olivet Discourse

We get to chapter 13. Chapter 13 is called the Olivet Discourse because he was on the Mount of Olives when he spoke it. It’s also called the Apocalyptic Discourse. If you know your geography of Israel, when you come out of the Kidron Valley, and at the bottom of the valley is the Garden of Gethsemane and then up the other side is the Mount of Olives. He’s gone down in the valley, and he’s back up on the other side. That’s why they call it the Olivet Discourse. They also call it the Apocalyptic Discourse because this is an apocalyptic passage. Let me give you some background to apocalyptic literature before we jump into what is going on in Mark 13.

Apocalyptic Literature

Apocalyptic literature is a genre of literature. As is true of any genre, apocalyptic literature has its own rules for interpretation. If I were, for example to say, “Once upon a time in a far, far away land, lived a fairy princess,” what genre am I in? I’m in the fairy tale genre. Am I claiming that there actually is a little pixie with translucent wings somewhere? No, I’m not. Because you understand that one of the rules of interpretation of fairy tales is that there is no attempt to say this actually is true. The genre of fairy tales is for a different purpose; they are not historical or scientific. If I were to tell you one of Aesop’s fable would you get mad at me that it may not be historically accurate? No. It’s a different genre, it has a different set of rules of interpretation it doesn’t claim, in this case, to be historical.

What genre did Jesus use a lot of that was misunderstood frequently? Parables. Parable is just another genre, it’s just another type of literature. When Jesus says, “There once was a man going from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among thieves,” if there actually wasn’t a historical figure who went from Jerusalem to Jericho and got beat up on the road, would you be mad at Jesus? No. These are all genres, different kinds of literature. They all have their own rules of interpretation. Because we are familiar with the genre, we know those rules of interpretation for the most part. So for example, we don’t assume then that they are historical.

The problem with apocalyptic literature is that it’s not a genre that we use any more. People just don’t write apocalyptic literature. The problem is that when we come to this genre, it’s hard to know the rules of interpretation. In Jesus’s day, they understood it. What other books in the Bible re apocalyptic? Daniel and Revelation, both of them have pieces of apocalyptic literature. There were many other examples in Judaism and non-Judaism of apocalyptic literature. It was a common genre, so, for example, when Revelation says that Jesus is coming on a horse with a sword out of his mouth, they would have instinctively have known what that picture was meant to convey. For you and for me if we have no background apocalyptic literature it’s a little more difficult.

Let me tell you some of the characteristics of apocalyptic literature. First, it deals with end times. Apocalyptic literature was the hope of the beaten down nation; when Israel was under someone else’s thumb they started writing Apocalyptic literature. It was their way of talking about at the end of time and being freed from the tyranny of Rome or of Egypt or of whoever was controlling them. Apocalyptic literature tends to deal with end times. Second, it uses very strange pictures. I’m being interpretive in saying that—I don’t think that Jesus is literally going to be on a horse with a Wilkinson sword coming out of his mouth. This literature uses bizarre, weird images like beasts with feet made out of one thing and legs made out of bronze. This genre teaches by using all these strange images. Third, apocalyptic literature has to do with supernatural intervention. Apocalyptic literature is when God’s decides to force his way into history and he’s going to act. Fourth, Apocalyptic literature doesn’t claim to be sequential or orderly. It doesn’t claim to tell the whole picture. Apocalyptic literature is visionary, we see one thing, then another. It’s not sequential; it doesn’t go from event A to event B to event C. For example, one of the interpretations of Revelation is that it represents three or four cycles through history. It’s the same story over and over and over again, and it’s a consistent way to look at the Book of Revelation.

Apocalyptic literature is like a dream world; it’s an image here and a saying there and a voice here. It’s strange literature. It deals with end times; it has strange images; it’s about God intervening in history; it’s not history. It’s not sequential; it doesn’t claim to tell the whole story. For example, in the Book of Joel, he makes a prophecy about the coming Day of the LORD. I’m going to use this as an illustration later, but it will give you an example here: “And the Day of the LORD is going to come when God is going to pour out his Spirit on all flesh.” When did the Day of the LORD come? It came at Pentecost, and that’s Acts 2. And yet there are multiple places in the New Testament that say the Day of the LORD is future. What happened on the Day of the LORD is that it began at Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out, but it turns out that the Day of the LORD, is at least two thousand years long to this point, because the culmination of the Day of the LORD is when Jesus comes back again. You can look at that and say, Joel you should have told us that’s what you were doing.” (This is actually prophecy and not apocalyptic, but they are very close). Joel does not give a detailed sequence of events. The Day of the LORD is going to come, and the Spirit is going to pour out on all people. Apocalyptic literature never claims to be historical, sequential, or to tell you the whole thing. That’s important because apocalyptic literature often has gaps in it—huge time gaps. You will see what I’m getting at in a second. They have overlaps—that’s how I view Revelation. I think it tells one story with a cycle of seven and then it tells the same thing again. So that’s a complete overlap. They are images and pictures of being in an ecstatic situation and vision.

As a result of the nature of Apocalyptic literature, it’s extremely controversial. For those of you who have been around the Christian block once or twice, you’ll know that. There’s a lot of controversy, and I’ve decided tonight instead of qualifying every single thing I say, because somebody would want to argue with almost everything I’m going to say, I’m just going to tell you what I think. That’s my disclaimer—this is what I think. I could be completely wrong, but I am taking a standard position that’s in every major commentary I’ve looked at. I’m not dispensational, and so there are going to be some differences there.

Some of the controversy comes due to ignorance about the genre. There are people that think there’s a physical sword that’s going to come out of Jesus’s mouth when he comes back. They don’t understand what the genre is; they think it’s history. But the real problem in apocalyptic literature is that it’s very nature is to not be precise, to not be clear. The speaker wants you to see the same thing they saw and the speaker wants you to mull over and come to your own conclusion to interpret it. It’s like Jesus’s parables. They weren’t meant to be nice precise, clean teaching tools. They were meant to make people reflect and to mull over. Apocalyptic literature does the same thing. It leaves a lot to the imagination, a lot to interpretation. So hence, there are a lot of interpretations and a lot of controversy in it.

As my final qualification of the night, is that I’ve never been drawn to apocalyptic literature and my preference would be to simply skip chapter 13. However, if you look at the history of the church, so much heresy and so much problem has come out of a misunderstanding of Eschatology, that I’ve got to cover it. Jehovah Witnesses and Seven Day Adventists both came out of movement in the late 1800’s that claimed that Jesus came and it was a secret return and they branched off. It’s all tied in with the mistake of Eschatology, so I have to do it.

The Destruction of the Temple, the Return of Jesus, and the End (Mark 13:1-8)

Let’s move on to Mark 13. Jesus makes a prophecy in verses 1 and 2, “And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’” And they were truly glorious buildings. If you read Josephus’s description even accounting for some exaggeration, they were amazing. One side of the building in the temple area was solid gold, and when the morning sun hit it, it would about blind you to look at it. It was a spectacular building. If you ever get a chance to go to Israel and you go to Jerusalem, the first place you have to go is called the Jerusalem Hotel or something like that. (If you go, ask me and I’ll figure out the name). They’ve got a monster model of the old city of Jerusalem. So you can see the temple, the court of the Gentiles, the Kidron Valley, and Gehenna. It’s a marvelous place to get organized, but anyway it was a marvelous building; the disciples weren’t exaggerating in other words. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’” There’s nothing that could be more horrendous to the Jewish nation than the destruction of the temple. That’s as bad as it gets. It is interesting, when the Roman soldiers did destroy Jerusalem in AD 70, they used grappling hooks, and they did pull every single stone down from the temple. The temple is sitting on a mount and the wailing wall is the top part of that mount; about half of the mount is buried in dirt right now. All of the walls and all of the building got torn down. The entire temple is actually all underground, covered by dirt right now. The prophecy did come precisely true.

They go down the Kidron and they go back up to the Mount of Olives. Verses 3-4 say, “And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?’” Ok the whole key for chapter 13 is right here in these verses, so I’ve got to take a little bit of time to pull these questions apart. They asked the first question, “when will these things be,” in other words, when will the destruction of the temple occur. What they want are signs. They want to know what are going to be the signs when this is about to happen. In other words, they want to get ready for it. They don’t want to be caught unawares, they want to know the temple is about to be destroyed. But there actually is a second question. You have your notes, the back 4 pages are Matthew, Mark and Luke lined up parallel. You may want to pull those out and look at them because I’m going to pop back and forth between gospels a little. It will keep you from having to flip your Bible around a whole lot. The disciples actually asked two questions and you can see it here. You can’t see it at all in Mark, their question seems to be purely about the destruction of the temple. If you go to the same account in Matthew, Matthew fills out what the disciples asked. Remember all the discussion we did on the synoptic problem? Here’s a good example of it.

Matthew tells us there actually was a second question they asked: “What will be the sign of your coming and the close of the age?” Grammatically, this second question is really only one, in their mind Jesus is coming and the close of the age were going to happen at one time. What had happened was that Jesus had hinted that he was going to go away. He hinted it in the triumphal entry when he says, “You’re not going to see me again until you say I’m welcome.” So the disciples were starting to understand that Jesus was going to go away and in their mind they were linking the destruction of the temple with Jesus coming back from wherever he was going and the end of the age. Judaism thinks of history as ages, wherein the current age was going to come to an end. That end would be brought about by the Messiah, the coming of the kingdom of God, and then we would start the Messianic age. So when the New Testament talks about the end of the age, it’s the end of this time period in which we live and then that becomes the beginning of the next time period when the Messiah rules. In their minds, Israel was going to be number 1.

There are actually three things going on, and that’s the key to Mark 13. There’s the destruction of the temple, and they want to know the signs that are going to warn them that it’s about to happen. They’re also wanting to know about Jesus’s return and the signs that are going to warn them that he’s about to return. Thirdly, they want to know the signs about when the end of the age was going to happen. Most likely, when the disciples asked these two questions about three different things, they probably thought this was all going to happen at the same time. The disciples never showed any awareness of any other position. The destruction of the temple would have been such a horrendous event that in their minds that could only happen when Jesus was going to return from where ever he was going to, and that was going to be the end of the age. Jesus as the Messiah is coming back to bring about the Messianic Age. In their mind, this is all wrapped up in one major event. But Jesus is going to make it very clear, right away, that in fact it is more than one event. That’s what is confusing about Mark 13 in my interpretation. Mark has one question, but since we believe the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, we also believe that Matthew is right, and that there were actually two questions that were asked.

In verse 5, Jesus starts to answer their question: “And Jesus began to say to them, ‘See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, “I am he!“ and they will lead many astray. 7And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, (the wars), but the end is not yet. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are, but the beginning of the birth pains.’” The Jews often talked about the beginning of the Messianic Age as a time of birth pain, giving birth to the Messianic Age. That’s what Jesus is referring to. All of these things: wars, rumors of wars, earthquake and famines, these are, but the beginning of the process. Now what is interesting, and I’m sure you’ve run across this, is that you’ll find people who say, “Look at all the wars and earthquake and famine, surely God is ready to return, these are signs of his return.” Have you heard that? It’s the exact opposite of what Jesus says. This is one of those oddities that is strange. The whole point that Jesus is making is that the temple is not going to be destroyed right away. They are going to hear about all of these cataclysmic events of earthquakes and famines and wars, and he’s saying that’s just the beginning. That doesn’t signal the temple is about to be destroyed, those aren’t the signs that you’re looking for. It’s just so interesting how, in many people minds, since there’s famine, Jesus must be ready to come and it’s the exact opposite of what Jesus says.

What he’s saying is that it’s not going to happen right away. There’s going to be time for things to happen first. It’s interesting that if you look historically at the time period from Jesus’s death around 27 AD, up until 70 AD, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, this is exactly what was happening all during this time. There wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes. In Craig Blomberg’s commentary on Matthew, he documents the famines and the earthquakes and the wars. It is very beautifully done. I should say, by the way, the New American Commentary is an excellent series for you all to read. If you’re looking for a commentary on a book, that whole series is written for lay people. It’s not technical, but it’s good and it’s written by very good scholars. Craig is one of the top of gospel scholars in the English speaking world today. It’s a very good commentary. Dad wrote the book on Romans in this series. If you want the documentation for all the wars and rumors of wars, Craig has them on page 356.

So the whole gist of this paragraph is: Don’t be deceived. These cosmic signs, these cataclysmic events are going to happen, those aren’t the sign you’re looking for.

Persecution and the Ethics of Eschatology (Mark 13:9-13)

Then in verses 9-13 he starts talking about persecution, “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them (9).” See how quickly this happened? You’ve got the persecution of the Jerusalem church, the Jewish church, you have Paul before Festus and Felix and the emperor. He says, “And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations (10). And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit (11).” That would almost be worth the persecution, to know that the Holy Spirit had control of your mouth and the words that were flowing out in this court were really what God wanted said.

Cross references:

  1. Mark 13:1 : For Mark 13:1-37, Matt 24:1-51; Luke 21:5-36
    B. Mark 13:2 : Luke 19:44

“And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” We know those stories from the stories about Jerusalem, recently Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Russia, these things happen all the time. “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” he’s still not giving them the signs they want. He’s saying, “By the way, with all these cataclysmic events, so also all the persecution is going to come. The temple is not going to be destroyed, because I want the Gospel preached to the whole world.” That’s exactly what Paul says is happening in Romans 10:18. The word that is used to describe the nations was a common word to describe the whole Roman Empire. It doesn’t necessarily, at least historically, have to refer to North America. There needed to be a proclamation to the then known civilized world. That’s precisely what Paul said had happened.

The other thing that is really worth pointing out is that last verse: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” This is, I think, the most important. Eschatology is primarily ethical. Eschatology just means the study of last things, eschatos (last), logos (the study of). Eschatology was not designed primarily to give us the detailed road map to the future. Of that was its intention, then they did a really bad job. Every generation has their antichrist, every generation has their Great Tribulation, it seems. It is certainly to tell us something about the future, but the primary gist of Eschatology is to tell us how we live in light of what we know is going to happen. Dad wrote several commentaries on Revelation. He wrote a shorter one called, “What Are We Waiting For,” pretty good title, I thought, and in the introduction to that commentary he says a most astounding thing, “Revelation is the easiest book in the New Testament to understand.” And he’s absolutely right. Here’s why. If you sat down and read straight through Revelation, (it takes twenty-five minutes), what do you come away with? God wins—that’s Eschatology. It’s going to get bad, God wins in the end so hang in there.

Almost anybody; dispensationalists, non-dispensationalists, liberal, conservative, if they were to just whip through the Book of Revelation, they would summarize in three points: (1) It’s going to get bad, (2) God wins, (3) So hang in there. In other words, don’t abandon the faith. Hang in there. As you look at the Eschatology or apocalyptic passages, you see this all over the place. “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Persevere, hang in there, Jesus says. That’s why I’m telling you all this is going to happen, so you won’t give up hope, so you won’t think I forgot about you, so you won’t think that I’m unable to do this. You’ve got to hang in there because we’re going to win at the end.

Luke 21:13 says, “This will be your opportunity to bear witness.” That’s the advantage of bad times, it give us a chance to witness. In Mark 13:13, and in Luke 21:18, there’s a promise of God’s perseverance: “But not a hair of your head will perish.” Now obviously, he can’t mean perish in the sense that you’re not going to die, but it means that you’re not ultimately going to perish because you’re going to end up in Heaven. God’s in control, he’s got a hold of his children. This is always why I’m a little suspicious of prophecy conferences. I guess they are okay, but I’ve never heard anyone coming out of a prophecy conference and saying, “I’m really encouraged to hold to my faith.” They usually come out arguing about the third seal or the fourth seal. I guess prophecy conferences are okay, but if they’re not talking about ethics they’re not talking about the main thing. That’s what Eschatology is about.

Student Question: Going back to verse 10, do you think then that it’s bad that a lot of missionaries’ motivation is for the purpose of bringing the Gospel to all the nations?

Response: Do I think that verse 10 is being misapplied by modern mission organizations by saying we have to get the Gospel to all nations? No. I think it’s exactly the right act of Jesus, but you’re going to find out why in about 30 minutes. When I tie everything together, you’ll see why I think that’s a valid act of Jesus.

The “Abomination of Desolation (Mark 13:14-20)

We’re down to verse 14 and the story of the abomination of desolation. Verses 14-20 talk about this thing called the abomination of desolation. The disciples asked for a sign, a warning that it was about to happen, here it is. “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (14)” (I’ll come back and explain that in a second) “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (14). Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out (15), and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak (16). And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days (17)! Pray that it may not happen in winter (18).” (The Jordan River is overflowing the banks and it’s hard to get across). “For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be (19). And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.” Does anyone not believe in election? This is one of those verses where you want to make sure you do believe in election because it’s for your sake he shortened the day.

He says in verse 14, “But when you see the abomination,” he doesn’t tell us how much time there is between verse 13 and 14. We know historically that there were about 50 years, because the Romans destroyed the temple AD 70. So again you have a huge time beak between verses 13 and 14. “But when you see the abomination,” then run, because that’s the sign you’re looking for. Get out fast. What he’s referring to is a prophecy in Daniel 9:27 about someone who is going to come in, it says, “And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate,” that’s where the phrase comes from, in Daniel. Now the interesting thing is that if you read the Jewish literature, they thought Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled in 168 BC. A man named Antiochus Epiphanes set up an altar to Zeus in the Jerusalem temple and then he sacrificed a pig on it. You know, you don’t do that in a Jewish temple. So that was the beginning of the Maccabean revolt, you can read about it in the Old Testament Apocrypha, First Maccabees 1. They thought that Antiochus Epiphanes was the fulfillment of that prophecy. Jesus is saying, evidently, no it wasn’t, or there’s a double fulfillment or something like that going on. He’s saying it’s going to happen again. There are a lot of guesses about what in AD 70 constituted the abomination of desolations. The temple was destroyed, but by that time you could escape from Jerusalem, there was a siege before it was destroyed. One of the guesses is that it refers to the Roman standards with the image of the Emperor on it; that was the symbol of the coming abominations of desolations. We’re not sure exactly what it is, but it was clear that when the Romans were invading Jerusalem in AD 70 the people knew to get out of town.

Here’s the interesting thing, my little correction here. The word “abomination” in Greek is neuter. “Standing where it ought not to be” is masculine. That’s bad grammar. You’re not supposed to mix like that. What the commentaries say is, the abomination of desolation as a concept is neither male nor female, hence neuter. But Mark knew that the abomination of desolation was a man, and so he breaks the grammar and then he adds, “let the reader understand.” Back then there were not a lot of copies of Mark. People would have read this thing and it’s his way of saying, don’t fix my grammar, I know what I’m talking about. The abomination of desolation is not an it, it’s a he, that’s why the ESV is wrong here. We’ll see if we can fix it.

I believe that the abomination of desolation is what Paul talks about in 2 Thessalonians 2 as the man of lawlessness. The man of lawlessness, Paul tells the Thessalonian church, will be a human being who will claim to be God and will demand to be worshiped. That’s what Roman Emperor worship was—the Emperor was proclaimed to be God, and he claimed that you had to worship him, and that’s why the Christians were called atheists—not because they didn’t believe in a god, but they didn’t believe in the Roman gods, especially the Emperor. During the later persecutions of the first century, one of the reasons they were killed is because they wouldn’t believe that the Emperor was god. Who Paul calls the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians, I believe is the same person that John refers to, and elsewhere is called the Antichrist. I think these are all the same person. That’s why changing it to he is so important.

The physical sign the disciples were looking for may have been the coming of the Roman armies. But what they represented was a human being, human power, who claimed to be God, who claimed to be an object of worship and that is the abomination of desolation. That interpretation will become very important later. I think that’s what is going on here.

The question is, down to verse 20, what question is being answered? It can’t be the second question because if this were the second question of “when is the end of the age,” what’s the point of fleeing from Jerusalem? If this is talking about when Jesus comes back again, and the end of time and the end of the age, there’s no reason to flee is there. You can’t get away from that. I think everything up through verse 20 is dealing with the first question, “when is the temple going to be destroyed.” If you read Josephus and the stories of what it was like to be in Jerusalem during the siege, a million Jews were slaughtered; children were killed so they wouldn’t be taken as slaves; people were thrown off the cliffs, out of the caves; there was cannibalism. It was a horrible siege, a mass slaughter, according to Josephus, a million people. Now the language in verses 19 -20 is still pretty strong. Was that really the worst tribulation that ever happened? Well, I’ll come back to that too. It was a horrible siege. I think we’re still dealing with the first question, and that’s what you would expect, especially in Mark, since he only gives us one question.

False Christs (Mark 13:21-23)

In verses 21-23, Jesus says don’t be deceived, “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ! (21)’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect (22). But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand (23).” Miracles do not prove authenticity. Don’t be deceived, there are going to be miracle workers that claim to be Christians, they are doing to claim to be going it in the name of Christ or they are going to claim to be Christ. You know from Revelation that the Antichrist has Satan’s power so he’s going to come and he’s going to do these amazing miraculous things. Don’t be deceived, Jesus says, don’t get tricked. In verse 23, there’s nothing yet that makes me think that we’re beyond the story of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Signs of the Coming of the Son of Man (Mark 13:24-27)

Now it gets controversial. People’s opinion starts kicking in at verses 24-27, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light (24), and the stars will be falling from Heaven, and the powers in the Heavens will be shaken (25). And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds,” (you can hear the Daniel prophecy can’t you), “with great power and glory (26). And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of Heaven (27).” This is another passage where you want to believe in election, that he’s going to gather them.

What of the two questions that Jesus was asked is he answering? What I’m going to argue is that the first has already been answered. The first was answered at the end of verse 23, the second question Jesus is starting to answer in verse 24. Again, remember, we know something that the disciples don’t know. We know that first of all, this was all an accurate description of AD 70 and the destruction of the temple. We also know that Jesus didn’t come back in AD 70. When we look at this, we have a little advantage over the disciples. So we can start suspecting at verse 24 that something’s up. Again, remember, the disciples saw all this as one big thing, and Jesus isn’t taking a lot of pains to clear up their misconceptions. He’s not making it especially easy for them. But he liked doing that. That’s why he talked in parables. I think that there is a huge time gap between verses 23 and 24.

“In those days,” when are those days? After the tribulation, I think that is the only thing we can know for absolute sure, that we have to be after the tribulation. Again, remember the nature of Apocalyptic language, Jesus is being less than precise, it’s just the nature of apocalyptic literature and Jesus. He says, in those days, this will make more sense as we get further into this, what’s going to happen is all these cosmic signs are going to take place—the sun’s going to be darkened, the moon’s not going to give its light, the stars are going to be falling from Heaven—this is typical Apocalyptic language. For example, we talk about an earth shaking event, and unless you live in Southern California you’re probably meaning that metaphorically. It is possible to interpret these as metaphors for great and cataclysmic events. (I’m not completely sure they are metaphors, but this is just an aside. 2 Peter 3 talks about the burning up of the universe; Revelation talks about the destruction of the old Heavens and earth and the building of the new ones. It may or may not be metaphorical, I’m not sure). But the point is these are the signs that accompany the coming of Jesus, the coming of the Son of Man, so we have to be into the second question at this point. We’re beyond Jerusalem.

There is something different with these signs, and that’s the key in this particular paragraph. These signs are doing something a little different. Let me show you what I mean. In Luke 21:28 he says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Now what’s wrong with that answer? It’s the exact opposite of the answer that he gave for the destruction of the temple isn’t it. In the destruction of the temple he says, “when you see these things happen, get out of Jerusalem.” That’s not what is going on in this part of the story. “Pick up your head, your redemption is near.” It is a totally different answer. In Matthew 24:30, “Then it will appear in Heaven, the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory.” They are saying that when people see these signs they are going to mourn, and the question is why? Why not repent really fast. That’s precisely the answer. The answer is that when you see these signs, it’s too late. It’s all over. I think that’s what the parables in Matthew 25 are getting at as well: it’s like a thief in the night; it’s as in the days of Noah, when the Son of Man comes; suddenly, he’s going to be there. There’s not going to be time to repent, that’s why they are mourning. So I think what you have with these cosmic signs is that they are not warning signs, they’re not signs saying, hey the end’s almost here you better repent, you better get your house in order. I think that these signs are announcing that it’s all over. All you can do is mourn; there is no time to repent; pick up your head, stop running, your redemption is here.

Now here’s the interesting question. Remember the disciples’ questions. Are there any specific signs that warn you that Jesus is about to return? I know we’re in controversial areas, but I think the answer is no. The only signs that warn are the signs of the destruction of Jerusalem. The only signs that will precede Jesus’s return are those when he comes, when it’s too late. This is what Matthew is going to get into in chapter 25. What does this mean? It means you have to live ready. Eschatology is ethical. You have to be a good steward; you have to be a good servant. You can’t be like the five bridesmaids that didn’t have enough oil to wait for the groom. All these things are saying you have to be ready, because there is not going to be an indication prior to Jesus’s coming such that you can get ready. Now, where it gets tricky is when you go into 2 Thessalonians 2. In 2 Thessalonians 2, the Thessalonians were being taught that Jesus had already come back again and Paul says, no, that’s impossible. Jesus can’t come back again until two things happen: (1) the revelation of the man of lawlessness, the great Antichrist, the person who is empowered by Satan who will rule the earth and (2) the great apostasy has to happen. There has to be a great falling away, that’s what apostasy means, a great falling away from the church. Paul says those things haven’t happened ergo, therefore, Jesus hasn’t come back again.

Those two things sound like signs to me. It sounds like we have to have the Antichrist come, we have to have the great tribulation, the great apostasy, and so those are warnings that Jesus is about to come back. But wait a minute, he just said there are not going to be any warnings, there are only going to be announcements. Here’s the key I think to all this. I believe that AD 70 Jerusalem and Nero were a type—that’s the technical word. For example, Romans 5 says that Adam was a type of Christ, in other words, he prefigured, he was a Christ, he resembled Christ, there were things about him that were the same as Christ as a type, and I’ll talk more about that in a second. I think what is going to happen is that everything led up to AD 70 and anyone in AD 70 who was reading this would have thought that Jesus was about to come back, because you had the persecutions, you had the wars and rumors of wars, and all of that. The temple was destroyed, the abomination of desolation came, but Jesus didn’t. Every generation that has lived since then believes they are in the last days, which I think is good biblical theology, because almost every generation has had massive tribulations and has had people who appeared as the Antichrist: Hitler, Mussolini, the European Union for some people. It seems like in every generation there are massive persecutions going on. In America, we don’t feel that because we are so insulated, but if you were to tell a Christian in Indonesia no we’re not in the last days, we’re not in the great tribulation, he’d say, “What are you talking about? We are being slaughtered.” I’ve been reading some stories of what happened in Russia in the early 1900’s and the millions of Christians that were slaughtered. It’s been documented that more Christian martyrs have died in the last century than all centuries combined.

I think what is happening, and this is typical of prophecy, is that there are cycles, and each cycle looks like the previous cycle. Now the names are different, what once was Nero is now Hitler or whoever, and John says that there are many antichrists. I think what you have is this series of cycles, and so that cycle by the time that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians hadn’t started yet. The massive persecutions hadn’t come in yet; they were probably in the late 40’s. What he’s talking about there by the persecutions and elsewhere by the eschatology literature are all cycles of heading towards what is going to be the final great tribulation with the final greatest antichrist at which point Jesus will come back again. That’s a mouthful, and if this isn’t how you think, it’s going to take some time to process, but I needed to let you know up front that this is what I think.

I see a gap between verses 23 and 24, but not really, because the wars and rumors of wars, and earthquakes and famines and the persecutions and the jailing and the martyrdom and the call to persevere has been going on through all the centuries. It’s hitting its apex, as far as we know, right now in this century with the most martyrs ever killed. In those days, at some point in time after the tribulation (and it’s going to be right at it I would assume), then you’ll have the cosmic announcement that God’s has had his fill with human sin, and he says enough is enough, and tells Christ go get them. I think that’s the cycle of what’s going to happen. So yes I do believe in the final antichrist, I do believe in a final tribulation, I think that it’s modeled on AD 70 and typified all the way through human history.

One of the really important characteristics of his coming is that, everyone sees the Son of Man coming, his great power and glory. It’s global; it’s going to be everywhere, as lighting from the east to the west, you’re going to see it. It’s going to be visible; it’s going to be unmistakable. There’s not going to be any confusion at this point, because time has ended, the end of this age has come. It will be unmistakable. I got into an argument once, but when I was in college with someone who was arguing that Jesus had already come. I said, “that is impossible.” They said that was arrogant, and asked I say that. “Because I don’t believe it.” They said, “So what?” I said, “No, that’s the whole point. The fact that I don’t believe it, proves that he couldn’t have come, because when he comes it will be globally visible, unmistakable, loud and public.” Other passages talk about trumpets blowing. In Matthew it says that the ones who see are all the tribes of the earth. Revelation 1:7 says, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” Now that’s what I call a global coming, that even people in Hell, evidently, are going to see the return (those who pierced him, I’m assuming, are in Hell). The fact that the angels are out there gathering the elect pretty much confirms this is the end of time.

This is really important because a lot of the problems in Eschatology are built upon the concept of a private return. Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses and the latest incarnation involved called Preterism, all teach that Jesus came back secretly at one time or another. Preterists believe that Jesus came back in AD 70 and that it was a secret return. The other groups date it back in 1880 or so. It’s not possible in the text. It’s visible; everyone’s there.

Parable of the Fig Tree (Mark 13:28-31)

Jesus then tells the parable of the fig tree starting in verse 28, “From the fig tree, learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near (28). So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates (29). Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (30). Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away (31).” What is Jesus talking about in these verses? To say it the way I’ve been saying it, what question is he dealing with?

He’s saying look at the fig tree. The fig tree puts out it’s leaves in late spring. Summer is harvest time, so when the fig trees leaf, you know that harvest time is right around the corner. The fig tree indicates the coming of harvest. This is a different use of the fig tree than what Jesus did earlier. In verse 29, what does “these things” refer to? The signs of his coming, but which of the two questions is being addressed? I think it’s the temple, and here’s why. “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. (29)” They can’t be signs of his coming, because he is not there, he’s only near, he’s at the gate. You’ve got to think on this one for a bit; it’s a little frustrating. Remember there are no warning signs for Jesus’s return, there’s only announcement signs. The whole point of the fig tree is that you look at the signs. The signs you can look at to be warned are the signs of the coming of the destruction of the temple. I think what Jesus is doing is he’s going back to the first question, and he says that there are signs—you can watch the fig tree, and when you see these things taking place (or you can translate it as beginning to take place) you know that he is near at the gates. Those are, I believe, the signs of the coming of the destruction of the temple.

Do you see where I’m going? Here’s my problem: I think the text says that there are no warning signs for Jesus’s return, so what am I going to do with the fig tree? It has to be about signs of the coming of the destruction of the temple. If that’s true, then when you get down to verse 30, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” What are “these things?” Grammatically they have to be the same things as in verse 29. I know that some people want to translate generation as race, it’s possible, but it’s very awkward Greek to do so. All the way through the gospels, “this generation” is Jesus’s sinful contemporaries. What he’s saying is that the destruction of Jerusalem is within one generation. It’s going to be a while—there’s going to be time for wars and famines and earthquakes and persecution—but within a generation, within approximately forty years, these things are going to happen, so watch for the signs.

This is probably really different from what you are probably used to hearing. What you need to do is find a way to say that there are warning signs, like the fig tree, it’s going to happen within a generation, and there’s no warning signs for Jesus’s return. The best solution to verses 28-31 is that they refer back to the destruction of the temple.

Final Warnings (Mark 13:32-37)

Then you get into final warnings in verse 32: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” You think, “Wait a minute, he just said there’s a fig tree lesson that there are signs; what do you mean no one knows?” You’re back to the second question. No one does know the day or the hour of the return of Jesus Christ.

It is possible to understand day and hour in larger units. Some of the commentaries argue for this position. Most commentaries argue that by saying day and hour he’s referring to the specific time. Remember the book 88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988? I remember it was supposed to be October 28, I believe. I remember hearing an ad on the radio on October 27 to buy the book, and then it said, “Allow three weeks for delivery.” There are people who claim to know precise dates of Jesus’s return—they are called false prophets and should be stoned, according to the Old Testament. I think by saying hour and day he’s talking about exact specifics. It could also be saying nobody knows the general timing in which he’s coming back.

Is it not interesting that God the Son doesn’t know something that God the Father does know? Most of the theologies, if not all of them that I’ve read, say that this is a limitation due to incarnation. In the incarnation, Jesus set aside the independent exercise of his divinity. He relied on the Spirit, and so in the incarnate state he did not know this or perhaps other things. I don’t agree with that. I think that it means that God the Father has kept back for himself some information and that it’s his decision. When you look at how God the Father and God the Son and God the Spirit act, it’s God the Father who plans, it’s God the Son who accomplishes, and it is God the Spirit who completes. So it makes sense to me that this final decision belongs to God the Father alone. I think what Jesus is saying is that while God knows everything, this particular information belongs to God the Father. It could be a limitation of the incarnation as well.

Other Passages on Jesus’s Return

Acts 1:7-8

This is what is going on in Acts 1. Jesus appears and they say, “Is not now that you return to the Kingdom of Israel?” They’re still thinking of an earthly kingdom. Jesus says, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority (7). But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (8).” Eschatology is ethical. He’s saying, don’t you worry about the dates and times; don’t you try to guess exactly. Rather, what’s important is that you go out and you do the work that I called you to do. In other words, go do your work of being a disciple and be ready for the coming. Be ready for my return. There are not going to be any signs; I’m not going to give you any warning, so go out and get ready. That’s what he’s saying in Acts 1:7-8.

Matthew 24:37-25:46

If you read the parallel accounts in Matthew, you’ll see that that’s exactly what chapter 25 of Matthew is all about, it says, “So as in the days of Noah, so it will be at the end of times.” People were marrying and giving in marriage and suddenly the flood came. It’s going to be sudden. He says, “Your job is not to know the dates and times; your job is to be ready. As in the days of Noah it’s going to come quickly and unexpectedly; I may come sooner than you think.”

he tells the parable of the wicked servant who beats the other servants. The Master comes back before he thinks he’s coming back and he gets punished by the Master. Jesus says, “Or I may come back later than you think.” It’s like the ten virgins (bridesmaids), who were waiting for the wedding procession to come out of the woman’s home to go to the men’s home, and five of them don’t have enough oil. They run out to get more oil and while they are gone, the bridegroom and the party comes. He takes the other five bridesmaids and they go into his house and the won’t let the other five in after they come back from getting oil. Jesus says, “I may come later than you think, you get ready for it, make sure you have plenty of oil.”

he tells the story of the parable of the talents. “I’m going to give you certain things. Until I come back you are to use them, my wealth for my purposes. And when I come back I’m going to hold you accountable for them.” And then he tells a horrible story of judgment of people who did not care for the poor, and God says, “I don’t even know you.” For those who did take care of the poor, Jesus said you were taking care of me and they get to go into Heaven.

All of these parables in Matthew 25 are designed for this one purpose, to say don’t worry about the dates and times, get ready. I may come sooner, I may come later, but make sure you’re ready for me. You get ready for me by being a steward and doing the things that I called you to do as a Christian, caring for the poor, among other things.


Let me cover two other things about prophecy in general, and then I’ll tie it all together.

Typology or Double Fulfillment

I’ve been talking about this, but let me repeat it for clarity’s sake. In prophecy, you often have a typology, where one person or thing is a type of another. Let me give you a couple of examples. Matthew talks about Jesus’s virgin birth and quotes Isaiah 7:14. Now here’s the problem: In the Isaiah 7 context, Isaiah goes to Ahab and says, “You’ve got to believe God, he’s going to take care of this problem. And in fact, a young woman is going to have a child.” I don’t remember the wording, but it’s either before the child is born or before it’s very old, God will already have kept his promise. The birth of that child is the affirmation here that God is in control. I think the Isaiah 7 passage requires the birth of a child, which is probably Isaiah’s child, back in 700 BC. This is the nature of prophecy: that child’s birth is a type, a foreshadowing you want to call it, of Jesus’s birth, because the word “woman” also means “virgin.” So Matthew says, “a virgin shall conceive and bear a child.” So you have a double fulfillment. In another place, Matthew says, “When Jesus came up out of his two years or so in Egypt, “this is to fulfill” and he quotes Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” The son in Hosea is the nation of Israel coming out of Egypt, but there’s double fulfillment going on in the nature of prophecy, such that Jesus coming out of Egypt is also a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1.

Prophecy is not simple and you have these double fulfillments. That’s why I say I think the fall of Jerusalem prefigured the final destruction of things. The antichrist, the Nero, and the persecution have been repeated all the way through history and will continue to be repeated, probably with every generation somewhere in this world, but ultimately at the end of time. I see that same pattern in prophecy all over the place, so I’m not surprised by that.


Prophecy also experiences something called foreshortening—that was the word I was taught in seminary. Have you ever seen a picture of a lion in Africa lying on a tree, and the sun or moon is just huge behind it? If you know photography, if you have a long telephoto lens, it compresses things. Those pictures are all taken with 400/800 millimeter lenses to compress the foreground and background. That’s what foreshortening is, where the prophet sees what almost looks to be like one event. The lion and the sun are right there, but when you get into the event, there is a much greater space between the things than you realize.

The Day of the LORD is the best example of foreshortening. Joel probably thought the Day of the LORD as a single event. Peter understood that Pentecost was the Day of the LORD, that that was when it came. Yet, they realized also that it wasn’t just a single event, but extended over a long period of time. That’s why you can get literature like this where there are serious gaps of time between verses 13 and 14 and gaps of time, I would say, between verses 23 and 24. It’s just the nature of prophecy. A day of the LORD is a thousand years, a thousand years is as a day—2 Peter. Time isn’t for him what it is for us.

Summary of Mark 13

Let me tie it all together and walk through again what I think is going on, and you can mull over it and do what you want with it. The disciples asked what they thought was one question. They asked it as two questions, and we know that from Matthew. They thought the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus’s return, and the end of this age and the beginning of the Messianic age were all wrapped up into one. Jesus doesn’t show any great concerns to say that these are all different events.

To answer the first question, Jesus wants to talk about the destruction of the temple. He says it’s not going to happen right away. There will be wars; there be earthquakes; it will be preceded by a time of intense persecution. When you see the abomination of desolation, when you see Daniel’s prophecy being fulfilled, that’s a clear sign that you are to flee. When you see those Roman standards coming over the hill, get out of Jerusalem. We know from historical sources that that’s exactly what people did. A million didn’t, but many did. People just took off for the hills when that happened. The temple was destroyed, the city was destroyed in AD 70, and probably much to the disciples’ surprise, Jesus didn’t come back. They thought, “Hmm…. I thought that was all one thing, I guess it wasn’t.” Hopefully they went back to the passage to see what we’ve seen.

Jesus is going to return. There was this tribulation in AD 70. It was a horrible time, but the language in verse 20 seems not to be fully fulfilled in AD 70. In the worst tribulation, nothing would have survived. As bad as the Jerusalem tribulation was, it was only one small part of the Roman Empire. Hence my comment that there have been more martyrs in this last century than all centuries preceding.

Jesus says as far as my return and the end of the age, which are going to happen at the same time, there is going to be no specific sign that would warn people I am returning. In other words, you’re not going to have any time to repent. In fact, you’re not even supposed to be concerned with the specific day and hour, rather, just be prepared. Live as a good servant, stay awake. Eschatology is ethical. Persevere. When I do come, there will be great signs, but they are merely going to be announcing that it’s all over. I have come back; the angels are going to go out and gather all of God’s elect; we’re at the end of time and all that remains, you learned this from the Book of Revelation, is that there will be a judgment, and some people will go to Hell and some to Heaven.

Now this is much more detail on one chapter than we’ll go into on any other book in the New Testament, but there are so many issues connected with Eschatology, I felt that we needed to do that.

I encourage you to read through chapter 13 and keep asking yourself, “What question is he answering?” The most important thing to remember is, Jesus is coming back, and it’s going to be from the east and the west. Can you imagine what that’s going to be like? If we die before Jesus comes back again and our bodies are in the ground, we will get reunited with our bodies. When Christ comes, 1 Thessalonians, we will be raised up in the air to meet him, and then those who are still alive get to come after us. I’m assuming what’s going to happen is that we’re going to be in Heaven, because when die you go to Heaven, and that we will get to come with him. And then at one point, we’re going to leave, get reunited with our bodies and be glorified, and we will get to go back up with him. That is really cool. It’s that picture and that of the glory of living in Heaven that is to be an encouragement to hang in there when times get tough—whether it’s tough living as a Christian or tough in terms of persecution.

  1. Mark 13:9 : For Mark 13:9, 11-13, Matt 10:17-22; Luke 12:11, 12
  2. Mark 13:9 : Mark 13:5; 2 John 8
  3. Mark 13:9 : Matt 23:34
  4. Mark 13:9 : Acts 17:6; 18:12; 24:1; 25:6
  5. Mark 13:9 : Acts 27:24
  6. Mark 13:9 : Matt 8:4
  7. Mark 13:10 : Matt 28:19; Rom 10:18; Col 1:6, 23; Mark 14:9
  8. Mark 13:11 : Matt 6:25
  9. Mark 13:11 : Deut 18:18; Num 23:5; Exodus 4:12
  10. Mark 13:11 : Acts 4:8; 6:10; 13:9; 1 Cor 15:10; 2 Cor 13:3; 1 Thess 2:13; Heb 1:1
  11. Mark 13:12 : Matt 10:35, 36
  12. Mark 13:13 : John 15:18-21; Luke 6:22
  13. Mark 13:13 : Dan 12:12, 13; James 5:11; Rev 2:10; Heb 3:6

Welcome. We are going to close up the Book of Mark today. We’re going to look specifically at issues related to the Passover, the Lord’s Supper, and then issues related to Christ’s death and the Atonement.

Jesus’s Last Night with the Disciples (Mark 14:1-52)

We pick up near the end of the Passion Week, and in chapter 14 of Mark, we’re at the last night with Jesus as he has his last night with the disciples. Mark starts by talking about the fact that the chief priests were looking for Jesus. Verses 1 and 2: “It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, 2for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” I remember when I was young, I couldn’t figure out why Jesus had to be betrayed, what was the point of the betrayal. Well the point is that the people liked Jesus and they would not have stood for him to be arrested so they were looking for some time to get him when it was quiet and the people couldn’t come to his defense. So the plot to kill Jesus is underway, then there a story of the anointing of Jesus, which is the prophetic preparation for his death and his burial. Judas agrees to betray Jesus; to look for that special time when he could tell the scribes when Jesus was alone.

The Passover

Then we move into the Passover. It is interesting, Jesus knows exactly what’s going to happen. In verse 21 he’s talking about the coming betrayal and he says, “For the Son of Man,” meaning me, “goes as it is written of him,” in other words, I’m going to fulfill prophecy, “but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” I know the modern media likes to paint Judas as this poor guy that we really should have much more sympathy for, but it would appear that Jesus did not have a lot of sympathy for him, even though Jesus’s death was preordained before the beginning of time, Acts 2. Jesus has set the stage. There are no excuses for Judas.

And then we get into this story of the Lord’s Supper. Let me read verses 22-25: “And as they were eating,” remember they are eating the Passover, “he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body (22).’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it (23). And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many (24). Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God (25).’” The disciples were in an upper room, a guest room they were celebrating the Passover Supper and what Jesus starts to do is to reinterpret what Passover is all about. Let’s take a step back historically and make sure it’s clear as to what the Passover is.

The Exodus as the Historical Background

Back in Exodus 12, God was sending plagues through Moses to punish the Egyptians because they had held the children of Israel, God’s first born, captive for four hundred years. He sent plague after plague and the Pharaoh wouldn’t release them, but God knew that the tenth plague, the killing of the firstborn of the Egyptians, would break Pharaoh’s back, and that he as their God would save his people from the Egyptians. This is called the Exodus—the going out. As you read through the Old Testament you realize that this is the single greatest act of salvation in all of the Bible. In the Old Testament they were always looking back to the God of the exodus and how with a mighty hand, an outstretched hand he drew his people out of Egypt by punishing the Egyptians and releasing them.

That’s the historical background and in Exodus 12 right before the coming of the tenth plague, when the Angel of Death killed the firstborn in every family in Egypt. We can hear the institution of what became known as Passover. Let’s start at Exodus 12:3, and I’m going to read this because if you don’t see this you’ll never understand what the Lord’s Supper is all about. This is God’s instruction to Moses, “Tell all the congregation of Israel,” all the Jews, “that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household (3). And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb (4).” In other words, what they are supposed to do is to get enough people so that they can eat all of the lamb and not have anything left over. “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old (5).” And then later on in verse 6, “when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.” This is to be a nation-wide festival. “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it (7).” In other words, they were supposed to put blood all around the door of the house where they were. “They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it (8).” We know from elsewhere that they’re supposed to have unleavened bread, because God was going to save them so quickly there wasn’t time for the bread to rise. So eating unleavened bread is symbolic of the speed at which God their Savior does his work. Bitter herbs are there to remind them of their bitter four hundred years in slavery.

Instructions go on and then verse 11, “In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover.” Again, God is going to save his people quickly so you eat this meal together, dressed for journey (11). “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD (12). The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt (13).” Then as the instructions go on, God makes it clear that this is to be a yearly festival that they keep to remember God’s great act of salvation. For example, Exodus 12:26, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’” (again, the power of ritual in a family to teach), “you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians, but spared our houses (27).’”

So the Passover in Exodus was a time in which the blood around the door would be a way for the Jews to confess that they were God’s people. Obviously the angel knew whether they were Egyptians or Jews, but it was something they had to do to make a public statement that they were Jewish and then the angel did not enter into the houses that had the blood and went into the other houses and killed the firstborn. This is a difficult plague, and if this were an Old Testament Survey class we’d spend more time. Here we will say one thing: God makes it very clear to the Egyptians, “you have been killing my firstborn and so I will kill your firstborn.” It’s not like the Egyptians were totally innocent of this whole thing. That’s the Passover celebration in Exodus 12.

Jesus Redefines Passover

What’s going on then in Mark 14 is that they are in one of these yearly observances of the Passover Festival. If you were going to read this, probably as Jesus said it, you would find yourself emphasizing the pronouns. For example, in verse 22, “Take; this is my body.” Verse 24, “This is my blood of the covenant.” What Jesus is doing is saying these elements of the Passover used to point backwards to God’s great act of salvation at the Exodus, the going out of the children of Israel out of Egypt. But now this Passover is being redefined to point to something else. It’s pointing to God’s greatest act of salvation, which is going to be Jesus’s death on the cross. The bread now represents Christ’s body and the drink now represents Christ’s blood. We have a very fundamental reworking, redefining of the Jewish Passover Festival.

1 Corinthians 11

The other passage that we tend to go to a lot in talking about this is in 1 Corinthians 11, let me read that as well because this is Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church about the Lord’s Supper as we call it, starting in verse 23, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” in other words, Jesus told me this, “that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread (23),” took Passover bread, “and when he had given thanks,” sometimes we call this the Eucharist, it means to give thanks—it comes out of that word, “and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me (24).’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me (25).’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (26).” There you have again the clear reinterpretation of the Passover that it is now a celebration that is pointing to Christ’s death on the cross. There is no cup, you’ll notice, in Exodus 12—that was added later in Jewish ritual. So by the time that Jesus came along, they had bread and they had a series of cups as well.

The New Covenant

There are so many important things in this paragraph that it’s really worth you’re reading, but there are a couple that I have time to point out. Notice in the 1 Corinthians passage it talks about covenant, “This cup is the new covenant.” What he’s saying is that what my broken body and what my spilt blood represent, is my death on the cross and what it’s bringing about is this new covenant. Covenant means “an agreement” and there are several covenants in the Old Testament. There is a Noahic Covenant, attached to Noah, that God would never destroy the earth again. There’s the big covenant with Moses on Mt. Sinai and the giving of the law. There is Jeremiah 31:31-34—if you don’t know that passage be sure to write it down and read it; it’s a critical passage. Jeremiah the prophet prophesies by God that it that this old covenant is going to end and he is going to bring about a new covenant, a new relationship, a new way of relating to people. In the Jeremiah 31 passage he says that the law is not going to be written on stone, it’s going to be written on the heart, and it’s going to be a covenant in which there is going to be forgiveness of sins. The other passage that is tied to is in Ezekiel 36:22-32. Again if you’re not familiar with that please write that down and read it sometime. In the Ezekiel prophecy, God is saying that I am going to give my people a new heart, not a new heart of stone, but a new heart of flesh and he’s going to do that by giving us of his Spirit. When we have his Spirit in our hearts and our lives then we will be able to walk in obedience. These two promises in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 are the Old Testament basis for the New Covenant, what we have in the New Testament, testament’s the same thing, means an agreement. So what you have is Jesus saying this Passover use to go back and refer to God’s great act of salvation, taken the children of Israel out of Egypt, but now you are to celebrate it in remember of me and what I’m going to accomplish on the cross; the forgiveness of sins, the Spirit going out and indwelling, people having hearts of flesh and not hearts of stone. This is a central and important passage in Scripture.

Three Views on the Lord’s Supper

We need to spend some time on what this means, not just so that we can understand what we call the Lord’s Supper or Communion, but there is so much to what happened on the cross, and this is one of those central things that we have to understand. Let’s talk first of all about the phrase, “this is my body,” and what Jesus meant by that. There’s controversy, and it is a controversy that ever since the reformation, has divided denominations. It has divided reformers; it’s one of those things that divides the Protestant church from the Catholic church. So there’s a lot of controversy. Let me cover the 3 basic positions of what Jesus meant when he said, “this is my body.”

Transubstantiation and Automatic Forgiveness

The Roman Catholic church teaches a doctrine of transubstantiation—it’s just two Latin words, the substance and then trans is a preposition meaning to go over. The doctrine of transubstantiation is the doctrine that the bread and the drink physically become the body and the blood of Jesus. The substances actually morph; they actually change into flesh and they change into blood. You’ll notice in modern Roman Catholic tradition, when you go to get the wafer when the priest puts it on your tongue, because he doesn’t want to spill the body of Christ. In fact, as I understand it, they don’t even drink the cup they just hold the cup up. They are acting out their theology that they think it is physically the body and blood of Christ.

One of those really great goof-ups in my early years of ministry was serving communion with Steve. We had some friends in the church that had recently moved out of Catholicism and had become Christians and they started coming to the church where Steve and I were. I was really sensitive to it, and they were sitting about four rows back. One of the ushers handed me the plate with the wafers on it and I missed the table—I hit the front of it and spilled half of the body of Christ on the floor. Steve looked at me and shook his head, the whole front rows were laughing hysterically. I’m sitting there, and I need to explain to these new Christians, raised in a Catholic tradition, that while I didn’t mean to do that, that’s not Christ’s body sitting on the ground. I tried to do it and everyone on the back rows were going, “what is he talking about?” Anyway they understood that we believe something different. If I had been Catholic that would have been an absolutely horrible thing to have done.

What they believe about transubstantiation is even more than that though. They believe that God’s grace automatically goes to the participant—that God actually effects changes, by his grace, that he actually accomplishes something spiritual in the taking of mass. Wayne Grudem sites a Catholic theologian, actually all the way through the book, a guy name Ott. In a standard Catholic catechism, this is what they say, “As a propitiatory sacrifice,” and that means it is a sacrifice that accomplishes forgiveness, “the sacrifice of the mass effects the remission of sins and the punishment for sins.” So they believe that regardless of who you are or what you are, or anything like that, that if you take mass your sins are forgiven. That’s what we talk about when we talk about grace being automatically given, automatically effective in someone’s life. It is really important to understand that.

You notice that the Catholics think of mass as a sacrifice, they think it’s the physical body and blood of Jesus and that it accomplishes the forgiveness of sins by merely partaking of the mass. Have you ever noticed that Catholic crosses always have Jesus on them? That’s crucial to their theology. Here again, Ott, on page 408 in his book says, “the purpose of the sacrifice, meaning mass, is the same in the sacrifice of the mass as in the sacrifice on the cross. Primarily the glorification of God, secondarily, atonement, thanksgiving and appeal.” So in transubstantiation, there’s a lot more going on than that it becomes the physical body and blood of Jesus Christ. Catholic theology teaches a lot more is going on, specifically forgiveness.


In the reformation these are all doctrines that the reformers simply could not accept, but it was specifically one of those doctrines that Luther and Calvin, two of the greatest reformers, could not agree on. Luther taught a doctrine called consubstantiation. I believe Latin con means along side of or with. Luther taught that Christ’s physical body is present in, with, and under the bread. He wasn’t willing to say that it is just symbolic; Luther felt that in some way Christ’s body was physically present. The bread and the drink wasn’t turned into flesh and blood, but somehow Christ’s body and blood was physically present with the elements, elements being what you eat and what you drink.

Symbolic View

Calvin on the other hand, and I don’t think there’s a technical term for this we call it the symbolic view, Calvin said, “No, no Luther. The bread and the wine simply symbolize Christ’s body and Christ’s blood.” In other words, they symbolize his death. Now Calvin taught that there is special spiritual presence of God present in communion, but nothing physical. By the way, we have all kinds of names for this, don’t we. We call it the Lord’s Supper because Jesus is sitting down with his disciples and having a meal together. We call it communion because it’s a time when the body of Christ shares. We call it Eucharist, the word meaning giving thanks, and then Catholicism calls it mass. All different words referring to the same basic, historical event. So Calvin taught the symbolic view; he would say there is in some spiritual sense Jesus is especially present.

Response to Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation

Now let me go through the arguments against the first two positions, and then a qualifier on the third. I’ll let you make up your own minds on that. I think the basic problem with both transubstantiation and consubstantiation is that they fail to see that Jesus is using a metaphor. It’s impossible for me to believe that Jesus was sitting there talking to eleven kosher Jews and everyone was alive and he hands them a piece of bread and he goes, “this is my body,” and expects them to believe that in some sense, it was his physical body. I think Jesus had to have intended for it to be metaphorical. Especially later on when he says, “this cup is the new covenant.” A cup isn’t literally a covenant, but the liquid in the cup represents the death that accomplishes the new covenant. I think it’s got to be a metaphor; it can’t be real flesh and blood.

Secondly, and specifically related to transubstantiation, there’s a much more serious argument and that is that transubstantiation ignores the doctrine of the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. I’m going to talk more about this in a little detail when we actually get into the Atonement, but I believe the Bible and the reformers taught that the Bible clearly teaches the finality and the completeness of Jesus’s death, that when Jesus died on the cross and he said, “it is finished,” he meant it. His death actually accomplished everything that it was intended to accomplish and that is to be able to cover the sins of the world. Transubstantiation teaches that Jesus’s death on the cross wasn’t sufficient to pay the penalty for your sins and mine, but rather it has to be helped every day by going to mass and re-killing Jesus. That’s what mass is—it’s a sacrifice, and I think that doctrine is really not good.

Response to the Symbolic View

Let me say something about the third position symbolic. I think I know where I fall on this, but let me tell you what happened to me and then you can figure out where you fall on this. The symbolic view says that what you eat and what you drink physically represents Christ’s death and that it has no other significance other than that. I had a friend in grad school who took care of a Baptist church, and he and his wife had an apartment downstairs. This happened a lot in Scotland. One of their jobs was to get ready for communion and they were telling me this story one Sunday afternoon when I was eating with them. I asked them what they had to do to get free housing. They said, “One of the jobs I have to do is get communion bread ready. I get a loaf of white bread and I cut off the crust and I cut it in squares and that’s the communion bread that we use.” The wife said, “You know what I do with the left over stuff?” “What?” She said “You’re eating it.” She put it outside and let it dry and then spiced it up and used it for croutons in the salad. Theologically, I had to say, I believe the bread only symbolizes the body and blood of Christ, I never had spiced communion bread on salad before. It was weird, but theologically I had no objections and I ate my salad. Those are the different positions and what it means to take the Lord’s Supper, communion or the Eucharist.

Past, Present, and Future Aspects of Communion

Let me point out one other thing that I think is really important. I can still remember Dr. Julius Scott, one of my teachers, back in New Testament Survey covering this years ago. 1 Corinthians 11:26 says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” One of the really helpful ways for me as I’m processing communion, as I’m trying to think through it as we’re doing it, is to think of these three timeframes: past, present and future are represented in this verse. As for the past, when you and I take communion we’re looking back at Jesus’s death, we’re saying that he died on the cross for me, that’s what I’m celebrating. You’re saying that forgiveness and salvation only comes through what Christ did on the cross 2,000 years ago.

But there’s also a present aspect to communion. You are proclaiming the Lord’s death, that you are, by saying the words of institution, “this is my body, this is my blood” and by the physical action of taking, you are preaching. That’s what communion is, it is preaching about God and you’re proclaiming the death. And then there’s the future aspect, “until he comes,” that when you and I take communion, we are looking forward to that time when we will sit down at the great marriage supper of the Lamb that you have in Revelation 19 and eat again and drink again with Jesus. It’s pointing out that the basic orientation of believers is that while we are in this world and dealing with issues, our basic orientation is forward. We’re looking forward to that time, the great marriage feast, when we as the bride will marry the groom in Heaven. So that idea of past, present, future helps a lot.

Terms and Frequency

Let me cover a couple of other words and then we’ll take a break. We use the words ordinance and sacrament and the distinction is very important. I’ve already touched on this, but let me cover it. Catholicism and some of the mainline Protestant denominations talk about the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament. What they mean when they say that is that the sacrament in and of itself conveys grace. Without any faith or act of involvement on my part, God effects changes in me, he forgives me for example. So when they talk about a sacrament, that’s what’s behind that word. God is forgiving you and doing things in you without your participation. Most Protestants use the phrase ordinance, and all that we mean by ordinance is that God has ordained this ritual. Protestants have two ordinances, two rituals, that we were commanded to obey, the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Catholicism has, I believe, seven sacraments. The distinction in the words is important to notice.

Second, how often are you supposed to take communion? Some of those who have been around for a while know that this thing has split churches for hundreds and hundreds of years. Some have communion every week, some have it once a month, some have it four times a year, some have it once a year. I don’t think Scripture mandates how often we have communion. The early church had it very frequently, and I don’t want to say that the early church was wrong, but if someone were to press me on communion, this, I think, would be my position. When Jesus says, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me,” what is this? Passover. Do this as often as you’re going to do Passover. Do it in remembrance of me, not of Moses and God fourteen or so hundred years ago, do it in remembrance of me. Passover is a yearly festival, it’s not a weekly, it’s not a monthly, it a yearly festival. Now I’m not going to say we can only have communion once a year, but that’s my little particular heresy that I keep pushing. Understanding communion will help us understand what happened on the cross, but it’s also such an important ritual in the church, and there’s a lot of division over it, so I wanted to spend some time on it.

Student Question: What would be your response to a pastor who would not take communion anywhere except his own church?

Response: I worked in a church for three years, and because I hadn’t been baptized in that church, I was not allowed to take communion. I think that’s built on a very incorrect understanding of what the church is. This is the church, those people down the street are the church as well, and it’s a defining of the body of Christ in a way that I can’t find any Scriptural basis for. When we have communion here, if you are a child of God you are invited because this is the church. It may have the name Shiloh Hills Fellowship, but it’s the church, and therefore if you are a child of God, you’re welcome. I really take issue with defining church as a non-profit entity within a certain physical location.

You notice in our Statement of Faith for the Biblical Training Institute, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances to be valued and observed, and now you know why I say that. We are told to be baptized certainly and we are told to partake of communion. They are visible signs representing spiritual truths: the death of Christ and its efficacy. They do not accomplish salvation, in other words, they are not sacraments, they are ordinances. The Lord’s Supper is the present proclamation of Christ’s atoning and sacrificial death and it looks forward to his return. There are the three time references.

The Final Events of Jesus’s Life

Ok, we move now into the final events of Jesus’s life and I’m going to go through these rather quickly, not because they are not important, but because we probably know much of this. Jesus foretells about Peter’s denial, telling Peter he’s going to tell people that he doesn’t even know Jesus.

The Garden of Gethsemane

They go down to the base of the Mt. Of Olives in the Kidron Valley to where the Garden of Gethsemane is and he prays. Look especially at 14:36. This is going to come up later on, but I wanted to mention it in context. His prayer was, “Abba, Father,” Abba is Aramaic for father, “all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” It’s a rather strongly worded request, the ESV brings it on a little stronger than most. Notice, “Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will.” One of the other Gospels that says it differently, “if it be possible.” If it be possible, remove this cup, this time of suffering from me. The fact that Jesus had to go through it tells us something about Jesus having to die. He says, if it’s possible, remove this cup from me. It evidently was not possible. Jesus had to die if you and I were going to be forgiven.

Judas comes and finds him when he’s alone, betrays him, they arrest him, they take him at night to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body, and put him on trial. It’s obviously a horrible trial, it’s totally illegal by Jewish law, there has to be time between accusation and trial; you can’t try people at night. There were false testimonies brought to Jesus. Two verses I want to point out are verses 61 and 62. All this was going on, “But he remained silent and made no answer.” That must have driven them nuts. “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed (61)?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of Heaven (62).’” Jesus was giving them the evidence that they were looking for, making illusion to the Son of Man prophecy in Daniel, claiming to be the Son of Man, claiming to be God. That was all the evidence that they needed. He was taken to Pilate the next day. He did not defend himself. Part of that was because he was fulfilling prophecy. Isaiah 53:7 says, “he opened not his mouth,” so that was part of why he didn’t defend himself. Barabbas is released and Jesus is scourged, and while a recent movie that emphasizes the scourging might be helpful, Scripture passes over it rather quickly and moves on to his crucifixion.

I really believe that when Jesus was praying in the Garden, “if it be possible may this be taken from me” he wasn’t concerned about the scourging nearly as much as he was concerned with the fact that he was about to be made sin, all the sin of all the world, and to be separated for the first time in eternity from God the Father. I think that’s what he didn’t want to have to do, if there was any other way to do it. Thankfully the answer was no and he went ahead and he died for you and for me.

The Death of Jesus

The death of Christ is a tremendously important thing to understand. We’re right in the middle of the Gospel. I want to read Mark 15:33: “And when the sixth hour had come,” Jesus has been up on the cross for quite some time, “there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour (33),” from noon to 3:00. “And at the ninth hour,” 3:00, “Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani (34)?’” which is Aramaic, which was his mother tongue, “which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” He’s quoting Psalm 22:1 and it’s a fulfillment of prophecy. Probably what was going on is that he was wanting to express his intense pain in biblical language. He knows that God hasn’t abandoned him. I remember reading somewhere that someone said that what he may have been calling out is how long is this going to go on. It’s possible that Jesus did not know how long, that as he was carrying the sins of the world and God the Father was removed from him that Jesus didn’t know how long that was going to take. It took 3 hours. Some people say that the language means, “Shen is this going to be done, when is this going to be over.”

“And some of the bystanders hearing it said, ‘Behold, he is calling Elijah (35).’” This is not a biblical tradition, but a Jewish tradition of some sort I would guess. “And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying,” that would have been something to help numb the pain, “‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down (36).’ And Jesus uttered a loud cry,” and we know from the Gospel of John he cried out “it is finished!” “and breathed his last (37). And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (38). And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God (39)!’” Remember the title of Mark, 1:1, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is the final affirmation that Jesus was in fact the Son of God.

The tearing of the curtain is probably the most powerful metaphor for me in all the Scripture because the temple curtain was about a six-inch-thick curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from where they did their sacrifices. The Holy of Holies was where God’s presence used to live. The Jews thought that he still was there. Only the High Priest could go in and he could only go in once a year and so the curtain represented man’s separation from God. On the cross when Christ died, he ripped the curtain apart so you and I can go into the direct, unmediated presence of our God. The tearing of the curtain is tremendously powerful and symbolic of a very deep truth that we hold dear.


What actually is going on when Jesus is dying on the cross? The technical term is the Atonement. The Atonement is simply the doctrine of what happened on the cross. Again this is one of those events that has no parallel and so it’s hard to describe. You have to come at it from various angles because there is nothing of analogy to it, there’s nothing that is equal to it, so you try to describe it coming at it from different points of view. The Atonement is all of those things together.

What the Atonement Is

What actually is happening? God the Father was separated from Jesus for the first time in all eternity. Jesus, the Lamb of God, as John calls him, was paying the penalty for your sins and mine. I think the most powerful verse to describe what happened on the cross is 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him,” Jesus, “we might become the righteousness of God.” When we say that Jesus died for our sins that’s a gross understatement. It’s not wrong it’s just incomplete. It’s that in God’s mind, and that’s where truth and reality really exists, Jesus committed the sin that you and I committed. He was made to be sin, he was made to be your sin, he was made to be my sin. If you want to read some detailed discussion of this, Wayne Grudem has a marvelous discussion, and his discussion changed the way I talk about this. It’s not just that he paid the penalty for our sins, but he actually, in God’s mind, was made to be my sin. He had to be made to be my sin and your sin so that you and I could be made the righteousness of God. It’s not like God says, “I’m going to treat you as if you were righteous,”, but Christ’s righteousness is imputed to her, given to her, and she is righteous because it’s Christ’s righteousness, and God the Father takes it and gives it to Mary. That’s what going on on the cross, that’s why 2 Corinthians 5:21 is such a deep powerful verse. On the cross Jesus was made to be sin, he who knew no sin so that you and I could be made the righteousness of God.

Paul in Galatians 3:13 talks about Jesus becoming a curse for us. He took on the curse of the law in order to pay the penalty. Wayne Grudem, in his theology on pages 574-5, goes into some detail in talking about how God is pouring out his wrath on Jesus for the sin that you and I committed—the sin that he was made to be. So there was a lot going on in those three hours as Jesus was made to be sin, all the sin of the world so you and I can be made the righteousness of God.

In a theological sense, his death is more significant that the resurrection. In a theological sense, Friday is more important than Sunday. We’re going to talk about Sunday in a second, and it’s important, but it was on Friday that our sins were paid for. It was on Friday that he was made to be sin. At the deepest level of what it means to be a child of God, it happened on Friday. This is really an important time.

Terms that Describe the Atonement

There are various terms that we use to try to describe the Atonement. One we sometimes talk about the word that it was a “sacrificial” atonement. For example, Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him,” meaning in Jesus, “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” The Atonement was accomplished through his blood, it involved death, it involved the giving of life. So we talk about it being sacrificial. Sometimes we talk about the Atonement as being “vicarious.” Vicarious simply means it was for someone else. For example, Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s what vicarious means that it was done for us. A related word to vicarious is the word “substitutionary,” and it means that Jesus died in our place and there’s a slight difference between vicarious and substitutionary, but it’s the same basic idea.

Another word that is used to describe the Atonement is “propitiation.” Here are a couple different translations of it, since translations struggle with how to translate a word that is difficult. The ESV says, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.” The NIV is going to help a little: “God presented him as a sacrifice of Atonement through faith in his blood.” They are saying what the word propitiation means is that it is a sacrifice that accomplishes atonement. It’s a sacrifice that accomplishes forgiveness. The New Living, and again these are legitimate translations as we talked about earlier, just different philosophies of translation, says, “For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us.” The RSV uses the word expiation instead of propitiation, and the NLT is joining these two things. “For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins” is what expiation means. “To satisfy God’s anger against us” is what the English word propitiation means. It’s an important word, propitiation, because it is saying that on the cross God’s wrath was poured out on God/Jesus, and it was only because he was God, that he was able to bear the burden.

We also sometimes talk about redemption or ransom, the same basic idea. They’re metaphors that are from the slave market. If you were to see a slave and you wanted to buy that slave you, would redeem them, you would ransom them. The two ideas in redeem and ransom are that a price was paid and freedom was secured. On the cross Christ paid a price, his death, so that you and I could be set free from the mastery of sin. Revelation 5:9 says, “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you, meaning Jesus the Lamb, “‘to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Again this is another way to try to describe that a price was paid so that freedom could be secured, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. Those words are all helpful and they are all hitting the cross from different angles trying to give us an appreciation for the fullness of what was actually happening.

Debates over Atonement

In the history of the church in the last one hundred fifty years, atonement has been a super hot topic. When liberalism attacked the church a hundred years ago, this was one of the areas that it really attacked. They would argue, for example, that it was barbaric to think that Jesus’s death satisfied God’s anger against sin and against us. For liberals, they usually think of atonement in terms of an example of self-giving love that motivates you and me to give ourselves as well to others. It truly is that. It is an example of sacrificial self-giving love, but that hardly scratches the surface, according to the Bible, of what actually happened on the cross.

Whenever I talk about the atonement, the idea of God becoming man and for three horrific hours being made to be the sin of the world, something that was so horrific that he asked his Father if there was any way for me to get out of this, and still provide forgiveness for creation, I would really not prefer to do this. I don’t think there’s any way that we can imagine the depths of suffering and anguish. I really don’t think that being whipped, as bad as that was, was anything compared to the pain that Jesus went through when he was made my sin and made your sin. It’s something you all are going to have to struggle with it as I do.

Heart Issues

Let’s move onto the issues of heart and some more theological issues that are helpful to look at. The first is, what was God’s motivation for doing this? Why on earth would he die on the cross for your sin and mine? There are actually two motivations. There may be more in Scripture. The first is obviously love: “for God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” For some unfathomable reason God actually loves you and actually loves me and it’s a function of his mercy and it’s a function of his grace. Phil Yancey says grace means that I can’t do anything to make God love me more and I can’t do anything to make God love me less—he just loves me. So that’s the motivation.

There was a second motivation, and that was justice. This is an important thing to see. In Romans 3:25 at the heart of Romans and the heart of the Gospel and Paul’s talking about Jesus’s death, I’ll start reading at verse 23: “

  1. Revelation 5:9 : Revelation 14:3; Psalm 33:3
  2. Revelation 5:9 : Revelation 5:6
  3. Revelation 5:9 : Revelation 14:3, 4; 2 Pet 2:1
  4. Revelation 5:9 : Revelation 7:9; 11:9; 14:6; Dan 3:4


For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Everyone has sinned, therefore making right with God, being justified is a gracious gift and the gift is made possible because Jesus was our propitiation, he was our atoning sacrifice. Then he continues in verse 25: “This was to show God’s righteousness (25),” in other words, the death of Christ was to illustrate the fact that God was a righteous God. Here’s what would have brought his righteousness into question: “because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” You’re not going to get this from Leviticus, but you’ll get if from Hebrews, where, when you’ve seen his fullness that the shedding of blood of bulls and goats has never taken away sin. What Jesus did, what God did through the sacrificial system, was in fact pass over their sins because he knew that his Son was going to die: “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he (26),” God, “might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Now, that compresses theology, but what he’s saying is that Jesus had to die. If Jesus had not died, then God would not have been just, he would not have been righteous at ignoring human sin. The shedding of the blood of bulls and goats never brought about forgiveness, only the death of God, who was man, could bring about the forgiveness of sins.


In once sense, Jesus did not have to come to earth and die, and God would have been totally loving and totally just to allow us to die in our sins and spend eternity in Hell. There’s nothing in reality that forced God to die for us, to forgive us. But once he decided to forgive us, then his justice demanded that the right sacrifice be made. If the right sacrifice is not made, then he is no longer just. The only sacrifice that could be made was the death of the God-man Jesus Christ. His love and his justice were the motivating factors in sending Jesus to die for our sins.

Second of all, certainly the Atonement emphasizes the seriousness of sin. Sin is so serious that God can’t ignore it. Think about that. There are a lot of things that you and I can blow off. But sin is so serious that if God was going to forgive us, God had to die for us. In Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” It’s not possible. If there’s going to be forgiveness, Jesus had to die. On the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, Jesus says to the disciples, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

  1. Mark 14:36 : Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6
  2. Mark 14:36 : Matt 19:26
  3. Mark 14:36 : Mark 10:38
  4. Mark 14:36 : John 5:30; 6:38; Phil 2:8


The answer is yes. That’s how serious sin is that it demanded the death of God in order for it to be forgiven. Woe unto us if we ever treat sin lightly because when you and I treat sin lightly we’re devaluing the death of God on the cross aren’t we.


Thirdly, and I mentioned this earlier, is the doctrine of the sufficiency of the cross. This is a tremendously important doctrine. The doctrine of the sufficiency of the cross says that Christ’s death on the cross is sufficient to cover the sins of the world. Now there are certain debates that are going to fine-tune that, but the point is that if you come to God in repentance, there is nothing that you can do that can put yourself outside of God’s ability to forgive you. His death was sufficient to cover the sins of all who would repent. I’m going to state it that way and if you don’t know what I’m dancing around that’s fine.

Let me give you an example. I’ve been dancing around it for the last three weeks of sermons too. In Hebrews 9:25-28, the writer is comparing Jesus to other things and he says about Jesus, “Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own (25),” he’s trying to show that Jesus’s death accomplished something beyond what any high priest could accomplish, “for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world (26).” In other words, if Jesus’s death was like the sacrifices that the High Priest offers, then Jesus’s death would have to be repeated all the time. “But as it is, he has appeared” (Jesus) “once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (27), so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, all who ask, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin (28),” because sin has already been dealt with, “but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” That’s one of the two pivotal passages on the sufficiency of Christ that Jesus appeared once, he took care of sin once, nothing else remains to be done.

The other passage is in Romans 5, and I don’t mean to be picking on Catholicism, but if you have friends in the Catholic church, this is one of the central doctrines, and you need to be able to expound it clearly, because it will be life-giving for them. It is freeing in a way that nothing else will free them. They need to hear that Christ’s death on the cross, once and for all, completely and totally covered the cost of their sins, the penalty of their sins. Jesus doesn’t have to keep dying and they don’t have to keep doing things. So the doctrine of sufficiency is important.

The other passage in Romans 5:18. Paul’s been qualifying himself all the way through this chapter so he won’t be misunderstood, and then he concludes in verse 18 that he’s been comparing Adam and Christ: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Adam’s sin in the Garden), “so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men (18)” (Christ’s death on the cross), “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (19). Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (20), so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (21).” Again densely compressed theology, but what he’s saying is that just as sin entered the world through one man’s sin and pervaded all people, so also through one man’s act of righteousness, the sins of all who would ask can be forgiven. These are important passages on the sufficiency of Christ.

Fourthly, there are many other things we could say about the Atonement, but certainly when someone comes to wrestle with the significance of Atonement, the uniqueness of Christ is obvious. When people devalue Christ, when they say all roads lead to God, or there’s other ways to have sins forgiven what they are doing is they are devaluing the work of Christ on the cross. They’re saying he didn’t have to die, because we can get there through the road of Buddhism, the road of Hinduism, or the road of knocking on doors. When you understand what the Atonement is, what you understand is that Christ is absolutely unique. The reason that you and I are exclusive in our belief that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and Life and no one else comes to the Father, but by him, is that only Jesus tore the veil, only Jesus died on the cross for sins, only Jesus was made to be sin so that you and I can be the righteousness of God. When you start to come to grips with what the Atonement is about, you’ll understand why Jesus is absolutely unique. The message of the Christian church is exclusive, because Jesus was the only one to do anything about sin. It’s impossible to earn salvation because it was Jesus and the cross and not me.

The Resurrection

The Significance of Three Days

Let me say something about the resurrection because this is too critical and I can’t skip it. What was going on in the resurrection, three days later? Judaism taught that the spirit of a person hovered around for three days and then left, so if a body was in the grave over 3 days (this is not Old Testament theology it’s Jewish), the idea was he was totally dead—the spirit’s gone. I don’t know if there are other things going on in prophecy with the three days, but after three days, when no one would have expected him to get up he did rise from the dead.

The Purpose and Implications of the Resurrection

What was the purpose of the resurrection? First and foremost, the resurrection was there as public validation that Jesus’s death accomplished all that he said that it would. Jesus’s death would have paid the penalty for sin whether he rose from the dead or not, but the rising from the dead is a public validation that in fact he was sinless, that he had accomplished the work that he was sent to do, and it was a validation for you and for me that the tomb is now empty and the body is gone. Jesus had no sin of his own to die for, therefore, the body had to be released.

There are probably more than these four points, but secondly, the resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection. When we look at the story of the resurrection what we are is guaranteed our own. 1 Peter 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth,” he has caused us to be born again, “into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” You and I will rise from the dead because Jesus rose from the dead. It’s his resurrection that becomes our guarantee. If you want to read an in-depth discussion on resurrection, it’s in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul unpacks a lot about the resurrection. He says that there were some people in Corinth that were teaching that there’s no such thing as resurrection, and Paul says “if there’s no resurrection from the dead then Christ is not raised and if Christ is not raised then we are to be above all people most pitied.: So the resurrection is a fundamental doctrine in the Christian church and I do not believe you can be a Christian without believing in the resurrection.

Thirdly, the resurrection certainly was for our encouragement. This is related to the second point. Ephesians 1:19-20 makes the point that the power that raised Christ from the dead is the very power that is at work in you and in me. So whenever you feel powerless, you have in yourself, in the functioning of the Holy Spirit, the very power that gave life to a dead body and raised Jesus from the dead. That’s the power that you and I deal with, and shame on us when we think that God can’t do what God’s said he’s going to do.

Fourthly, there are some pretty strong ethical implications that are drawn out of the doctrine of the resurrection. You can read them in Romans 6:4, 11 and 1 Corinthians 15:8, but the idea is in the Romans passage, that just as Jesus was raised to a new life, so also you and I are raised in our conversion to a new life, a new life in which the mastery of sin has been broken and sin is not to play an ongoing role in our lives. There are verses like this, and the verse in 1 Corinthians 15:58, where the writers will talk about the resurrection and then draw implications about it out. That’s much too quick of a discussion of the doctrine of the resurrection, but we’re out of time.

We are through the end of Christ’s human life in Mark, with an emphasis on the Passover and the Atonement.






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