- Main text: Mark 10:32-52
- Accompanying text: Psalm 34:11-14
What this passage means to us
Of all the Gospel writers Mark in particular uses repeatedly the phrase, “The Son of Man”, the one who would fulfil the Messianic prophecies in an unexpected way. Instead of being a conquering hero, he would be a suffering servant. “He (Jesus) then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this” (Mark 8:31-32). He continued to do so in Mark 9:31, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise’. Those who knew the Scriptures would have recognised the “Son of Man” reference. Jesus was linking himself and his ministry to Daniel 7:13-14, “In my (Daniel’s) vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed”. Jesus is saying that first, before the much-longed-for kingdom is established fully, the religious leaders will kill the Son of Man! Not only that, but now, as Mark is about to explain, we find that this Son of Man, whom all the nations will worship, has come, not vaunting his divine authority and his power, but rather, despite “being in very nature God”, “he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” and has chosen to be “obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8) Jesus takes the seemingly contradictory Old Testament images of the “man of suffering” (the servant messenger, who would be “pierced for our transgressions” and by whose “wounds we are healed” – see Isaiah 53:3,5), and Daniel’s victorious Son of Man, which concepts he fuses together, proclaiming that he is the fulfilment of both prophecies. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). What ransom? Is Jesus saying that the Jews, their leaders, in fact “the many”, taking us and the whole world into account, is held in some kind of spiritual captivity? Yes, he is. “A ‘ransom’ is a price paid for the release of captives. So Jesus taught that human beings are in captivity (especially to sin, guilt, and judgment), and that we cannot save ourselves. So he would give himself as a ransom instead of the many. The cross would be the means of our liberation. Only because he died in our place can we be set free” .
James and John had been listening to what Jesus said. Perhaps, however, it was selective listening, and they only heard what they wanted to hear. We all do that sometimes. Part of a conversation intrigues us or catches our imagination, and our mind goes off on a tangent and we don’t pay attention fully to what the other person is saying. Did they hear the phrase “Son of Man” and did they then think immediately of the Daniel’s prophecy and of how the Son of Man would come majestically into the glorious Kingdom of God? Whatever the cause, they are thinking of the Kingdom to come, and they had a bold request: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37). It may have seemed reasonable in one way because tradition has it that Salome, their mother, was the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother, therefore they were the cousins of Jesus. Why couldn’t they have a special place? Could that not be their destiny? Some Christians today take Jeremiah 29:11 out of context where God says, “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you”. Does that mean that God will bless our personal ambitions because we follow Jesus? Jesus challenged them. Do you really want to drink my cup and be immersed into the future I’ve chosen for me and my followers? It’s not about power and position, it’s about humility and service. The rest of the disciples were angry with James and John. Afterall, what about them? Should they too not have positions of power in the Kingdom? They just did not get it. “You know”, Jesus explained to them, “that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44). It was as if the disciples had eyes to see, but they couldn’t see.
Restored sight is a well-known metaphor for conversion or for coming to understand something that has not been understood before. “I was blind but now I see” is a line taken from the popular hymn, Amazing Grace. Isaiah had prophesied that, when God comes, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Isaiah 35:5). Jesus was about to do that both literally and figuratively. He had declared this as part of his mission when he preached in Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me…He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind”. Bartimaeus was not the first person to have his sight restored miraculously. What is said to him beforehand is instructive for all believers. “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you” (Mark 10:49). Is this our response to Jesus? Uplifted, alert, ready to hear his call and his words?
As we read this passage, there are many implications for the church today. We are a collection of people called together in Christ, called to follow him in all that we think, do and say. We participate in who Jesus was, is, and will be. “Christ came not only to be preached but also to be a ransom for many…Thus when the church gathers, it gathers not simply as an instructed or edified people but as a ransomed and saved people” . We walk among the people as the Son of Man did, we serve them as he did, we are willing to lay down our lives for others as he did, “being united with Christ…like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above (ourselves), not looking to (our) own interests but each of (us) to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:1-3).
Storyline and Context
“Immediately” Bartimaeus “received his sight and followed Jesus along the road” (Mark 10:52). This was the road to Jerusalem where, as Jesus had foretold, he would be rejected, be killed and would rise from the dead after three days. The crowds, however, did not know that, and the disciples had not understood fully what Jesus had told them. As he entered Jerusalem, “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’” (Mark 11:8-10).
- Isaiah 53
- Daniel 7:13-14
- Philippians 2:1-11
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and references
- John Stott, The Incomparable Christ (Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001). 29-30.
- Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville, USA: B&H Publishing Group, 2012). 26.