SYNOPSIS: To be the Messiah means suffering and death for others. To be his disciple means self-sacrificial service to the weak and insignificant – Mark 9:30-37.
Jesus and the disciples were proceeding through Galilee on their way to Jerusalem when he again explained to them what it means to be the Messiah. In Jerusalem, he would face his final confrontation with the Temple authorities, for Jerusalem is the place where the Messiah of Israel must suffer rejection and death.
The Lord was attempting to journey in secret so he could teach his disciples about his upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection. The Greek verb rendered “teaching” is in the imperfect tense, signifying a continuing action in the past; this sentence does not represent the full extent of what Jesus told his disciples about upcoming events.
This is the second of the three instances in the gospel of Mark where Jesus predicted his death and resurrection to his disciples after they had commenced their final journey to the city of Jerusalem (Mark 8:30, 10:33-34).
(Mark 9:30-32) – “And, from thence going forth, they were journeying through Galilee — and he was not wishing that any should get to know it; for he was teaching his disciples and saying unto them, The Son of Man is to be delivered up into the hands of men, and they will slay him — and being slain, after three days will he arise. But they were not understanding the declaration, and feared to question him.” (Parallel passages: Matthew 17:22-23, Luke 9:43-45).
The passage states that the disciples did not understand his words. In Luke 9:45, this saying of Jesus “had become veiled from them that they might not grasp it.” This is in accord with the New Testament theme that the mystery of God is revealed in His crucified messiah and cannot be understood through human wisdom; it is contrary to it (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:17 – 2:5).
God’s ultimate victory over Sin, Death, and Satan took place in the death of Jesus, a paradoxical truth that can only be understood when revealed by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot know them because they are spiritually discerned”).
The Greek verb translated, “delivered up,” is paradidōmi, “to give over.” Idiomatically, it can have the sense, “hand over, betray.” While some take this to refer to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, more likely, it points to him being “handed over” by God in accordance with His design. The verb is in the passive voice, which signifies that Jesus was acted upon. God handed him over to those who wished him dead, then raised him from the dead. This is the same Greek verb found in the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, in Isaiah 53:6 (“The Lord delivered him up for our sins”), and in Isaiah 53:12 (“Because his soul was delivered up to death, and he was numbered among the transgressors”).
Chapter 53 of Isaiah is part of his “Suffering Servant” song. In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter described how Jesus was “delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). The sin of mankind is the cause behind the Cross. In the end, Jesus died on behalf of all men and women.
Despite this dire prediction, in short order, the disciples began to debate which of them would be the greatest. While Jesus described his mission as suffering on behalf of others, the disciples measured “greatness” by grandness and power; they continued to think as the world does.
(Mark 9:33-37) – “And they came into Capernaum. And happening to be in the house, he was questioning them — What in the way were ye discussing? And they were silent; for with one another they had discussed in the way who should be greatest. And taking a seat, he addressed the twelve and saith unto them — If anyone willeth to be first, he shall be least of all and minister of all. And taking a child, he set it in the midst of them — and folding it in his arms, said unto them — Whosoever unto one of these children shall give welcome upon my name, unto me giveth welcome; and whosoever unto me giveth welcome, not unto me giveth welcome, but unto him that sent me.” (Parallel passages: Matthew 18:1-5, Luke 9:46-48).
In Matthew’s account, the fuller question is, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of the heavens?” One must “turn and become as the children” in order to enter the kingdom (Matthew 18:1-3).
The Greek reads, “the house.” This indicates the discussion took place in a specific or known house in Capernaum, possibly, in the house of Peter (compare Mark 1:29). The Greek word rendered “servant” is diakonos, from which the church derived the title ‘deacon.’ In secular Greek, it referred to persons that waited on tables (Acts 6:1-5, Romans 16:1, 1 Timothy 3:8-12).
By embracing the child, Jesus demonstrated what it meant to become a “servant” to all. The child was not used to symbolize child-like faith, innocence or humility but, instead, to show that the true “servant” is one who embraces fellow believers who are little and insignificant, at least as evaluated by men. The disciple is not to emulate childish behavior or attitudes. Rather, he ministers to the weak, the marginalized, and the insignificant as Jesus did. The child is not an object lesson.
The real point is how Jesus treated the child. Disciples are called not to be like the child or immature, but to be like Jesus, the Messiah who embraced the child. Self-giving service to one another is a common theme elsewhere in the New Testament:
(Mark 10:42-45) – “You know that they who are accounted to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you: but whosoever would become great among you, shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you, shall be the servant of all. For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
(Romans 12:10) – “Love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”
(Philippians 2:3-4) – “Doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.”
Jesus concluded: “And whosoever shall receive me does not receive me, but him who sent me.” He is the agent, the Divine envoy, God’s designated ruler and his ultimate representative. To reject Jesus is to reject God.
Instead of fretting about their own positions in the kingdom, the disciples should have been concerned about meeting the needs of the weak, the insignificant, the sick, the persecuted, the outcast, and so forth.