SYNOPSIS – To follow Jesus is to live in conscious service to others, especially to the weak – Mark 9:38-40.
In the written record, the disciple named ‘John’ rarely spoke for himself during the ministry of Jesus. When he did speak, it was in conjunction with his brother James; for example, when they desired “to call down fire” to destroy some Samaritans or when they asked Jesus to install them to reign at his side in his kingdom – (Luke 9:54, 10:35).
(Mark 9:38-40) – “John said unto him — Teacher! we saw someone in thy name casting out demons — and we forbade him, because he was not following with us. But Jesus said — Do not forbid him! For no one is there who shall do a work of power in my name, and have power, soon, to revile me; for whosoever is not against us is for us” – (Parallel passage – Luke 9:49-50. Compare – Matthew 10:42).
The disciples and many others addressed Jesus as “teacher.” But in the gospel of Mark, more often it is outsiders who refer to him in this manner. There is irony in this statement since John was about to lodge a complaint against an outsider who was ministering in the name of the “teacher.”
His grievance was that this man “was not following us.” John did not protest that this exorcist was not following Jesus, but that “he was not following us.” A further irony is that a few verses earlier the disciples had been unable to exorcise some demons – However, here they protested because someone else could do so. This was an attempt by the disciples to maintain their status as insiders.
What John failed to understand is that if this man was casting out demons, then it was God who was doing so through him. One who performs miraculous deeds in his name cannot easily revile the name of Jesus, which constituted evidence that this man was commissioned by God – (1 Corinthians 12:3).
Jesus taught that whoever gives one of his disciples a cup of water to drink “because you are Christ’s, he will certainly not lose his reward” – Whatever anyone does to one of his disciples is the same as doing it to Jesus, whether for good or ill – (Mark 9:41-50).
In the synoptic gospels, this is a rare instance when Jesus referred to himself as the “Christ” or “Messiah.” However, the title fits since he was so identified by others in this situation, and since Jesus was instructing his disciples on what his Messiahship meant – Self-sacrificial service, especially to the insignificant – and by default, what it meant to be his disciple.
Conduct that conforms to the life of Jesus results in a great reward, including everlasting life. But the failure to emulate him will bring horrific punishment at the end of the age.
(Mark 9:41-50) – “For whosoever shall give you to drink a cup of water in name that Christ’s ye are, Verily! I say unto you, in nowise shall lose his reward. And whosoever shall cause to stumble one of these little ones that believe, it is seemly for him, rather, if there is hung a large millstone about his neck and he is cast into the sea. And if thy hand shall cause thee to stumble, cut it off, — it is seemly for thee maimed to enter into life, rather than having the two hands to depart into the gehenna, into the fire that is not quenched; And if thy foot be causing thee to stumble, cut it off, — it is seemly for thee to enter into life lame, rather than having the two feet to be cast into the gehenna; And if thine eye be causing thee to stumble, thrust it out, — it is seemly for thee one-eye to enter into the kingdom of God, rather than having two eyes to be cast into gehenna, Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, For everyone with fire shall be salted. Salt is good: but if salt become saltless, wherewith will ye prepare it? Have within yourselves salt, and be at peace one with another.”
The image of a millstone being cast into the sea would have struck a fearful chord with first-century Jews. In general, they feared the sea and viewed drowning as an especially horrific form of death. Moreover, dead bodies sank to the bottom of the sea and could not be recovered for proper burial, something of prime importance in Second Temple Judaism. The Greek word rendered “millstone” refers to a stone so large that it required a beast of burden to turn it and grind wheat.
The name ‘Gehenna’ is a name derived from the valley of Hinnom to the south of Jerusalem. It was the location where garbage and refuse were burned outside the city, including the dead bodies of criminals. Reportedly, the fires burned continuously. Jesus used this imagery to picture the horrific consequences for anyone who did not deal with his or her sins, especially sins against the weak and powerless.
The clause – “Where their worm dies not and the fire is not quenched” – is a verbal allusion to a passage from the book of Isaiah:
(Isaiah 66:24) – “Then they shall go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against me. For their worm shall not die and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
Jesus said nothing here about “eternal” punishment. In the image, it is the annihilating fire that is “unquenchable,” not the punishment inflicted on the offender. The emphasis is on the result of the process of burning – Utter destruction.
“For everyone shall be salted with fire and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good but if the salt is become salt-less wherewith will you season it? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.”
Fire and salt refine and prove things – Being “salted with fire” may symbolize purification. If this is the intended meaning, then the process occurs in the life of a disciple as he or she purges sin and other causes of stumbling through suffering. If so, then discipleship is a process of discipline and purification.
However, and far more likely, the image of salt and fire alludes to the sacrificial system described in the book of Leviticus. All animal sacrifices were to be “salted,” and burnt offerings were consumed completely by fire. In this way, sacrifices became a “pleasing odor” to Yahweh. Furthermore, salt was a sign of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel – (Leviticus 2:13, Numbers 18:19).
Disciples must live their lives as a whole and living sacrifice to God, otherwise, they may not inherit everlasting life in the kingdom of God – (Compare – Romans 12:1-2).
To become “living sacrifices” dedicated wholly to the service of God, believers must live in conscious service to others, especially to the weak and the insignificant. To cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble is the exact opposite of what it means to follow Jesus – To abuse others is to become a disciple whose “salt is salt-less.” It is in this way that a disciple loses his life for his sake and so, quite ironically, saves it.