Mark 1:35-2:12. More snapshots of Jesus.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 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.

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “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 immediately 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 to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man 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 rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”  

Jesus’ purpose:

1) What does Simon Peter expect Jesus to do next?

2) Why is Jesus eager to leave Capernaum and press on to other places?

Discussion:

1&2) Jesus has just started his earthly ministry, preaching, teaching, and doing miraculous signs. Mark has opened his Gospel with a series of snapshots from Jesus’ early ministry, to show us the sort of things that Jesus did- and these speak of who he was and what he came to do. Jesus has come to Capernaum, with some of his disciples, and has stayed at Simon and Andrew’s house there. On the Sabbath, he taught in the synagogue with authority, and publicly cast out a demon there. He had come as the king of a kingdom which was set in opposition to Satan’s kingdom- not merely as king of a kingdom set in opposition to the Roman empire. And by the evening of that day, the news about him had spread. The whole city gathered outside Simon’s house to see Jesus, and Jesus healed many who were sick, and cast out many demons. Then night fell, and Jesus and the disciples slept at the house. But before dawn, after only a few hours sleep, Jesus went out alone to pray. As the morning breaks, the crowds gather again at Simon’s door- but Jesus isn’t there. The disciples- Simon, Andrew, James and John, go out to look for him, and when they find him, they tell him “Look, the crowds want to see you. Come back to the house. They are all waiting for you to teach them and to do more miracles”. Remember that Simon and the others had followed Jesus because they saw an authority there; something special, and they thought he might be the one, the Messiah. They have just been awed in Capernaum to see his power. He can command demons. He can command illness. He speaks with personal authority. And they have been excited to see the whole town share their amazement. If Jesus is the Messiah, then this is a fantastic start, they think. Jesus is already the man of the moment, in Capernaum at least. He has spoken about the kingdom of God, and the whole town seems willing to follow him- they are at the very least eager to hear him again. If he goes back there, then he can preach again, give a speech to the supportive crowds, tell them again that the kingdom of God is here, and strengthen his support base. And then from Capernaum, the word will spread until all Galilee is behind him. He will be made king over Israel, just like the Messiah should be. The interest in that one city will soon generate interest elsewhere.

But Jesus doesn’t seem interested in the crowd who are looking for him. The disciples come to him, all excited, like little children pulling at Dad’s jumper, going “Dad, Dad, come and look, come and talk to the big crowd”, and Jesus apparently just ignores what they say. He says “Right, let’s move on to the next place, that’s why I’ve come”. Jesus isn’t interested in the big crowds. He wants to cover as much ground as he can, to tell as many different people, people who have not heard yet, about the kingdom of God. Jesus does not want to generate hysteria. He does not want the population to form a massive mob and to try to make him their king, and he can see that there is a real possibility that that is what will happen. In his Gospel, John tells us that after Jesus fed the 5000, they tried to make him king by force- we’ll look at why that incident was a natural sparking point for such desires to become a real attempt to launch a Messianic revolution when we come to Mark 6 and 8- but the episode illustrates the mood in Israel. People resented the Roman occupation- and their resentment was coupled to their theology. They were God’s people; they shouldn’t have pagans and idolaters ruling over them. And when Messiah came to bring in the glorious kingdom of God, well, then he would sort these Romans out. Then Israel would be the superpower, just as it was in David’s day. Then the pagan nations would send tribute to them, not the other way round. Many people were expecting the Messiah to come as a military and political leader, who would be the focal point around which a people’s army would form. He would be the leader of a new government. He would be their king.

Jesus was aware that he had come not to rule over an earthly kingdom, but to found an eternal kingdom. He had to be rejected by men, to suffer and to die. He was not to become a Jewish zealot leader, or even a martyr for the cause of Jewish nationalism. So he didn’t want to stir up the nationalist feeling, and he left the crowd, going on elsewhere to teach others.

Jesus and the leper:

1) It is interesting that the leper does not ask to be made well, but to be made “clean”. In what categories is he thinking? (See Leviticus 13 & 14)

2) Jesus could have healed the man with a word, but instead, heals by touching him. Why? And importantly, what would have happened to anyone else who touched the leper?

3) The ex-leper is told to go before the priest to be inspected and offer sacrifices, as commanded in Leviticus. How is the man a “proof to them” (v44)? What is he supposed to prove?

4) Why does Jesus tell the man to keep the miracle quiet, telling nobody?

(NB, this instruction is part of a larger “secrecy” theme in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus has already commanded the demon in the synagogue to keep silent earlier (1:25), and has not allowed other demons to speak, because they knew who he was (1:34). He will repeatedly tell demons, people he heals, and even his own disciples, not to speak of things publicly (1.43-45; 3.12; 5.43; 7.36; 8.26; 8.30; 9.9). He will teach the disciples in private (4.34; 7.17-23; 9.28; 8.31; 9.31; 10.32-34; 13.3). His public teaching is often in parables, given deliberately so that outsiders may not understand (4.10-13).)

Discussion:

1) Leprosy was a horrible thing in Israel. A quick reading of the chapters in Leviticus shows us that the leprosy in view is not exclusively the disease we call leprosy. Hansen’s disease would indeed be considered leprosy by the Jews, but so would a whole range of other skin diseases. The horror of leprosy lay not in the nastiness of the disease per se, but in the religious implications. Having leprosy made you unclean. It meant that you were unfit to worship God in his temple, with the rest of his people. You were cut off, an outcast from clean society. You had to wear rags and walk around crying out “unclean, unclean”, so that everyone else could avoid you- because your uncleanness was contagious. If you touched them, then they would become unclean too, and they would have to be ritually washed before they could approach God.

In the book of Leviticus, we have all these laws about cleanness and uncleanness. The whole life of Israel centres around the various categories of clean and unclean. The camp itself in the wilderness is divided up into concentric zones of increasing cleanness. There are distinct areas, and barriers between them. And at the centre, in the most holy place, is the ark of the covenant, representing the presence of God. You have the area outside the camp, which is full of unclean things. You have the camp itself, which is a clean bubble in an unclean world. You have the tent of meeting, which is holy to God, and you have the most holy place within the tent of meeting, where God dwells, where the Ark of the Covenant is kept, where the pillar of cloud rests. And when Israel has a permanent home, you have a similar scheme of zones and barriers. The world is unclean. Within the world, the land of Israel is the holy land. Within Israel, Jerusalem is the holy city. Within Jerusalem there is the temple, which is God’s house; and there are more zones within the temple going ever inwards to the most holy place again, where the Ark of the Covenant, representing the presence of God, is kept. And the categories apply with men- the Gentiles are unclean, the Israelites are clean, the Priests are holy, and the High Priest is most holy.

The whole idea is that God is a holy God. The world is filthy- it is corrupt and rebellious, and God explodes in anger when he touches it. So there have to be layers, zones, like a series of airlocks to protect the world from God. If God is to come down to earth, then if men are to meet with him they must be holy. On the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), the high priest was allowed into the most holy place- he was allowed to enter the presence of God. But it was only on the one day of the year. And only the one man, the high priest, the most holy man, had the privilege. And the high priest must wash before he enters, and must change into holy clothes, and make elaborate sacrifices.

It was all a reminder to Israel that the world was fallen, was cut off from God, and that uncleanness was all around them, and that they constantly needed to be made clean again if they were to approach God. There were countless ways for an Israelite to become unclean, and it was normal for an Israelite to become unclean regularly. Remember when David is still in Saul’s courts, and Saul holds a feast at which he expects David to be present, and David isn’t, because he knows that Saul is plotting to kill him, and he is getting ready to run away? When Saul notices David’s absence from the feast, Saul thinks “Oh, something must have happened to David to make him unclean, so he hasn’t been able to make it” (1 Sam 20). Only on the second night in a row does Saul start to become suspicious- and even then it is partly because Saul, like most treacherous men, is himself paranoid about treachery.

Leprosy made you unclean, because it was a visible reminder of the fall, a breaking down of proper barriers. The skin is a barrier, and with skin diseases, unholy stuff outside eats into the places where it shouldn’t be and contaminates the man. Reading Leviticus 13, the thing that all the leprosy laws seem to have in common is a desire to preserve the integrity of the skin, the boundary between the inside and the outside of the man. The leper was unclean, and could not be made fit to cross the boundaries into holy places any more. He couldn’t come into a holy place- he would infect it with uncleanness and bring down God’s anger. He wouldn’t normally go into the city- he had to keep a certain distance from “normal” people, and risked having things thrown at him if he transgressed.

These are the concepts inherent in the man’s request to be made clean. His great desire is for cleanness, not for health. The thing he really wants is not just to be well- he wants to be clean. He wants to be able to participate in the life of the nation once more, to be an Israelite again, to take his place as part of God’s people.

2) Jesus hears the man’s cry, and is moved with pity. There is this poor man who is cut off from normal life, cut off from God, and who wants to be restored. Jesus reaches out his hand, and touches the man. This would be unheard of in Israel. Uncleanness was infectious. It was like a disease. If a clean thing touches an unclean thing, then the clean thing becomes unclean, not the other way round. If a dead pig touches your clean cooking pot, then the pot has to be destroyed- it is rendered unusable. If water from the unclean pot splashes on you clean clothes, then the clothes don’t make the water clean. The clothes themselves become unclean, and you have to purify them. If a clean man touched a leper, then the clean man risked becoming unclean. The unclean man certainly wouldn’t be made clean by the contact. So lepers were untouchables. This may be the first time that anyone has touched this man for as long as he has had the disease. Anyone else touching the man would have risked contracting his uncleanness.

But the very point here is that Jesus doesn’t become unclean. This is not a case of Jesus disregarding the holiness categories of the law. Many commentators see this episode as being a statement from Jesus to the effect that the law doesn’t matter- that being kind is what matters, and so he will reach out to the leper despite the fact that the law says he is made unclean, because the law is wrong. But I think those commentators have totally missed the point. Jesus is not saying, “Well, I don’t care about the law. Love is what is important”. Taking that sort of view leaves you in effect saying that the Old Testament is useless, that God somehow got it wrong back then. Jesus took the law far more seriously than that. More than once he said that not one stroke of the pen will pass away from the law until heaven and earth pass away (Matt 5:18, Lk 16:17). Jesus is not disregarding the law here. The categories of clean and unclean still stand- but instead of the clean becoming unclean, the unclean is made clean! The flow is reversed. Cleanness flows out from Jesus- he cannot be made unclean. When Jesus touches the leper, Jesus is not contaminated like everyone else would be; instead the leper is made clean.

3) The passage is indeed a contrast between Jesus and the law- but it is not setting Jesus in opposition to the law, not saying that Jesus in any way abolishes the law. Jesus specifically said that he had not come to abolish the law (Matt 5:17). Instead, the contrast is between the power of Jesus, and the power of the law. The law could teach, but it couldn’t do. The law is there as a standard against which to measure yourself, and as a standard that tells you what is good and right. And when you measure your righteousness by the law, it tells you that you don’t match up, you don’t make the grade. What the law can’t do is to make you holy. The law can tell you whether or not you are clean, but it can’t make you clean. The law can only condemn you. It can point out to you all the areas where you are sinful. It can’t make you sinless. The law is good, but the law can’t make you obedient. It was never meant to. Jesus can. And Jesus could do what the law couldn’t do for this man.

This then is the point of Jesus instruction to him to go to the priests. Jesus is telling him to obey the law. The law says that when a leper thinks he has gotten better, he can’t just take off his rags and go home, and say “Hi, I’m back”. The issue of cleanness and uncleanness is too important for that. The man might not be properly healed of his leprosy, whatever disease he had- and so if you let him diagnose himself as well again, you’ll end up with the occasional hopeful leper who fools himself into thinking he’s healthy, when he isn’t- and then you’ll have an unclean man in the clean places, maybe evening the holy places, in the tabernacle, and the barriers will be crossed- and that would be dreadful because it would displease God. So the priests act as diagnosticians. The man has to go to the priest, and the priest will inspect him, and if the priest isn’t sure, then the priest will tell the man to come back in a weeks time- and so on. Only when the priest is satisfied that the man is clean, can he officially be declared clean. And even then, he must purify himself by offering several sacrifices, washing, and shaving off all his hair.

Jesus tells this man to present himself to the priests. The ex-leper is to go and show himself to the priests, and they will inspect him and find him clean. He will be a proof to them that Jesus can do what the law can’t. If they had ears to hear, they would understand that this man is greater than Moses. Moses gave the law, but this man can remove the curse of the law by bringing people into line with the law. They would understand that this man is greater than Adam. Adam sinned, and by his sin, the whole of humanity- in union with him- became sinful. This man can restore people, can make them whole again. By Jesus, the curse is reversed.

4) This question bothers a lot of people who read Mark. It seems to be a prominent theme throughout the Gospel- that Jesus deliberately shuns publicity. There are people who want to go and tell the world what Jesus has done for them, but he tells them to keep it all quiet, hush-hush. Even the demons, when they cry out, identifying Jesus as the Son of the Most High God, are commanded to keep silent- and we are told that they are commanded to keep silent because they know who Jesus is. It is as though Jesus doesn’t want anyone to know about him. And on the surface of it, that does seem an odd thing- because if Jesus doesn’t want anyone to know about him, then why didn’t he just stay on in the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth? He is going around preaching and teaching. He goes into synagogues, and reads from Isaiah, and says, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. He is making himself known as the Christ, the Messiah, the one of whom the prophets spoke. It seems as though there is a conflict within Jesus’ own behaviour here.

And the parables are also confusing. A common view is that Jesus told parables because they were nice little stories- they were a good way to convey important powerful truth so that people could understand it. But when you read Mark, it is plain that this isn’t the reason why Jesus chose to teach in parables. Rather, it was “so that seeing, they may not perceive, and hearing, they may not understand”. It was to make it impossible for people to get his point. In which case, the obvious question is “Well, why bother telling them then”?

The answer is essentially the same as the answer to the question coming from v. 38- why didn’t Jesus stay to teach the crowds in Capernaum? Jesus’ life, and Jesus’ work, and Jesus’ teaching will not be understood at this point by anybody; they will only be misunderstood. Later in the Gospel, as Jesus, Peter, James and John walk down a mountain together, after the three followers have seen their master transfigured with heavenly glory, Jesus will warn them not to tell anyone about it “until the Son of Man has risen from the dead”. And they don’t understand that either, and that is precisely the point. Nobody is expecting a Messiah who will suffer and die and rise again- even the disciples, after three years of listening to Jesus talk about it, are taken completely by surprise by the crucifixion- and only after Jesus has died and risen again, will anybody see what his Messiahship was all about. Only after he has made the atonement, will anyone understand that that was why he came.

In the event, the leper does not obey Jesus, and he does go telling everyone. The result is that Jesus cannot go about publicly in Capernaum any more. People are too excited by him, and the crowds become unmanageable in the confined spaces in the town. Jesus has to stay in the desolate places outside, and people come to him there. There is an irony in this. The leper, who was persona-non-grata in the town, is now clean and can go about the town freely. Jesus, who made him clean, is forced outside.

The Son of Man and the forgiveness of sins: 

1) Jesus “saw their faith”. What is “faith”? Is it visible?

2) We assume that the four men brought their paralytic friend to Jesus in the expectation that Jesus would make the man physically sound. Why then does Jesus first say, “your sins are forgiven”?

3) Is there a connection between illness and sin? If so, what sort of connection?

4) Why do the scribes reckon Jesus’ words to be blasphemous? Who were the scribes anyway?

5) Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man, which seems to be his favourite title for himself, especially after the halfway point of Mark’s Gospel. What does this title mean?

(See Numbers 23:12, Job 25:6, Psalm 8:4, 80:17, 144:3, 146:3, Jeremiah 50:40, 51:43, almost anywhere in Ezekiel, Daniel 7:14, Revelation 1:13, 14:14).

6) Although a miracle account, Mark seems to put the healing into the background here, and focus on the dispute Jesus has with the scribes.

How does this fit into the thrust of Mark’s Gospel?

Discussion:

1) Faith is that which takes hold of Jesus Christ. If we had to think of a synonym for faith, we would say that it is the same thing as trust. These men come to Jesus in faith, which means that they come to him trusting. They trust that he will act to deliver their friend from his illness. In that sense, faith is visible. It is visible through the actions that spring from faith. The fact that these men have come, bringing their friend, is evidence that they do trust Jesus. If they didn’t believe that Jesus would help their friend, then they wouldn’t have bothered coming.

2&3) Why then does Jesus not seem to deal with their concern- at least not immediately? They come wanting physical healing, and Jesus forgives the man’s sins. Is there a connection?

We’ve been thinking about the sort of Messiah Jesus is, and here he is making a statement about that topic. Jesus recognises that sin underlies every illness, and he has come to deal first and foremost with the sin, with the root cause of the illness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that each specific illness can be traced back to a specific sin- that God acts directly in judgement on particular sins, by afflicting the sinner with particular troubles. Jesus is very clear that we cannot draw that conclusion- we cannot link specific disaster to specific sin. When he met a man born blind and the disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned? This man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9). The blindness was not a punishment for a specific sin committed by this man or his parents. It was a part of God’s purpose to show his power and grace. When Pilate particularly brutally killed some Galileans who were making sacrifices, and people asked Jesus about it, he said, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them- do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” When we see disaster strike others, our response should not be to assume that they were guilty of some great sin- we can’t make hat connection. But Jesus words do imply some connection between suffering and sin, at least on a general level. He says that people should take warning from disasters falling on others- because unless they repent, they will likewise perish. Unless they repent of their sin, they will suffer. On a general level, suffering is a result of sin. Specific suffering can’t be traced to specific sin with any certainty, but suffering generally is a result of sin. There are only illnesses in the world because of the fall. It was sin that gave birth to death, and illness is merely a token of death. The real problem isn’t death or illness. Illness is only a symptom of death, and death is only a symptom of sin. Adam died on the day he rebelled against God. Because of his rebellion, he was exiled from Eden, cut off from the tree of life. Because of sin, his fellowship with God, the giver of life, was broken.

By forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus is claiming a more fundamental role in restoration than merely the ability to restore the body to health. Jesus has come as a cosmic messiah, as one who will reverse the curse, who will reconcile man to God. He has come to give life in all it’s fullness; and not just a weak watery temporary fullness of freedom from trouble and illness- but an eternal glorious fullness, the fullness of life coming from being reunited with the Almighty Maker. Jesus removed the barrier between this man, and God. His role as Messiah was greater, more fundamental, more fully orbed than even the prophets had imagined.

4) The scribes have obviously never conceived of the Messiah as being God in the flesh, able to forgive sins- and so they see Jesus claim as blasphemous. The scribes were a closed order of legal specialists. They regarded the halakah- the body of oral tradition interpreting parts of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy- as being binding. They had read the law closely, and debated interpretations of it constantly. If a Jew had questions about the content or application of the law, he’d go to the scribes and ask them. The scribes then, were well aware that only God can forgive sins. None of the prophets in the Old Testament dare to take it upon themselves to forgive sins- they only proclaim forgiveness granted by God- “The Lord has taken away your sin” (e.g. II Samuel 12). And when you think about it, it would be a ridiculous thing for a mere man to claim to be able to do. If Martin were to punch Dave in the face, and I were to say “That’s OK Martin, I forgive you” then that would be blasphemy. I can’t forgive wrongs that don’t involve me. Dave can forgive Martin for the evil done to him, and God can forgive Martin for his offence against God’s law- but I have no right to forgive him. Jesus words are actually ambiguous. Jesus says “Your sins are forgiven”- so you could take it as being a pronouncement of God’s forgiveness, but it is enough to make the scribes deeply uneasy. They obviously feel that Jesus has overstepped the line, and is claiming authority to do what only God can do.

Jesus can see their discomfort- he perceives within his spirit that they are not happy with his statement- and so he confronts them with proof. It is easy to say that you forgive somebody’s sins- because anybody looking on won’t see anything different in the man. There will be no immediate evidence that his sins are forgiven, and so they can call you a charlatan, and say that you haven’t forgiven his sins at all. But if you tell a paralysed man to get up and walk- that’s different. Although the problem is a more superficial problem, it is aa more immediately visible problem. It is obvious straight away to everyone whether you actually do have the power to make him well, or not. So Jesus heals the man, to prove to the scribes that his authority is real. If he can do signs like this, then he really does have the power to forgive sins. And they glorified God, saying “We have never seen anything like this”.

5) Jesus says “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins”. The “Son of Man” seems to be Jesus’ favourite title for himself. He uses it twice in chapter 2, and then 12 times after chapter 8. The title suits the idea of Jesus only letting some people know who he is. It is ambiguous. If people believe that he is the Son of God, then they can read it one way. But if they want to believe he is just a prophet, they can read it another way.

The phrase occurs most frequently in Ezekiel, 89 times in that book. Read almost any chapter, and somewhere along the line, God will speak to Ezekiel, saying “Son of man, say unto Israel, this is what the Lord your God says” or something similar. And in Ezekiel, the title “son of man” seems just to identify Ezekiel as a faithful prophet. In itself, it simply designates Ezekiel as human- he is a son of Adam, a man.

The phrase has a similar basic meaning in Numbers 23:19, with the rhetorical question “Is God a man that he should lie, or a son of man that he should change his mind?”

And in Job 25:6 (see also 35:8) the phrase means a mere human, lowly and defiled.

And in Jeremiah 50:40, 51:43, where the phrase means any man, any human being.

But in some of the psalms, there seems to be more to the title than that. The psalms have a double meaning for it.

In Psalm 146:3, the phrase is meant to mean a mere man, someone in whom you should not trust, for he will fail you. No different from the usage in Job or Numbers.

And again in Psalm 144:3, the phrase does mean just a man, a being unworthy of God’s notice.

But Psalm 8:4 uses the same phrase as Psalm 144, and although it does seem to mean a mere man, the whole meaning of the phrase is turned around. In the passages from Numbers and Job, the focus has been particularly on the weakness and sinfulness of man. A man or a son of man lies. A man or a son of man is a maggot, a worm. In Psalm 8, the son of man is lowly, true, but is also glorious. “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him”- he is lowly, he is weak, he is fallen- and yet you do care for him. Strangely, you have exalted him, “given him dominion over all the works of your hands”, “crowned him with glory and honour”*.

And in Psalm 80:17, the son of man is the son God has made strong for himself, God’s right hand man, doing God’s work, obedient and faithful to deliver Israel.

And when you come to Daniel 7:14, it is obviously the Psalm 80 usage in view, and developed beyond Psalm 80. “One like a son of man” here is one who comes before the Ancient of Days, who can walk straight into the presence of the Father. And the Father gives him dominion and glory and a kingdom; that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. And his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.And when John writes “Revelation” in the apocalyptic style, it is Daniel’s phrase he uses “one like a son of man” to describe a glorious heavenly figure, shining like the sun (Rev 1:13), and with a crown on his head (Rev 14:14).

So when Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man, his hearers have two options. They can take him as meaning just a man- as an avowal that he is nobody special, he is a maggot, he will pass away like a breath of air, he is insignificant. Or he could mean that he is the figure Daniel saw in his vision. He is the one who is holy, able to enter God’s presence. He is the supremely significant figure of history, he is God’s anointed king, and his kingdom will last as long as eternity.

(Also, in different versions, the phrase is found in Job 16:21, 35:8, Isaiah 51:12, 56:2- in which book it refers to man as human and finite, Jeremiah 49:18, 33. It is in all versions in Daniel 8:17, referring to Daniel himself)

6) This is a healing miracle, but Mark seems a good deal more interested in the dispute with the scribes than in the healing. Mark wants us to see, at an early stage, that Jesus’ ministry will bring about division. He has come to be rejected by men, and his whole ministry is a testimony to that. Although he has come to bring unparalleled blessing; despite the fact that he and only he can reconcile man to God, forgiving sins- men reject him. He has come as the Son of Man, the eschatological king, but men refuse to see his glory. The men who should be most receptive to him- the men who have studied the Law and the Prophets most diligently, close their minds to him and accuse him of blasphemy.

*As a bonus for those who plough through the notes- The writer to the Hebrews quotes this part of Psalm 8- and his interpretation is very interesting.

David wrote the psalm with reference to man, but the author to the Hebrews takes up David’s reflection- “Man is so lowly, and yet you care for him, and you crown him with glory and honour, and you put all things under his feet”, and makes a point, which with hindsight seems blindingly obvious. “Hang on a moment”, he says, “God made everything subject to man- but right now, I can’t see much sign of that. Man is not some colossus, bestriding the world, ruling all the animals- he is weak and lowly”.

But then the writer turns to Jesus- who he sees as the one true man. He says  “Ah, of course. In Jesus, exalted to God’s right hand. There we see man crowned with glory and honour. There we see man with the dominion God meant him to exercise. And in Jesus, many sons will be brought to glory. The Psalm reaches its fulfilment through Jesus. United to him, man becomes the wonderful being he was created to be”. The Psalm refers to man- but it can only refer to man through the Messiah, the last Adam. It is not the old fallen and cursed humanity in view; but the new humanity, redeemed and reinstated.

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One Comment on “Mark 1:35-2:12. More snapshots of Jesus.”


  1. James, thanks for the bonus – and for the exposition, which is very helpful.


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