[Editor's note: this is a slightly edited transcription of a message on Mark 8:31-33, from a series.]
Our study is of Mark 8:31-33. On the basis of the previous four verses (8:27-30) we claim that at least part of the reason that Jesus required that His disciples tell no one (in verse 30) of His identity as the Christ, is that there is an enormous danger involved in a faith that is rooted in false expectations. In the light of this, Jesus did not want the claim that He was Messiah made prematurely. He first wanted the evidence to be established; He wanted it to be irrefutable before the claim was made so that it would not be made in a context of false expectations.
In the light of that reality, in this study we are going to look into Mark's record of what Jesus did as soon as it dawned on the disciples that He was, in fact, the Christ. This is what verses 31 and following begin to do. He is going to actually record how Jesus set the expectation of his disciples once they understood that He was the Christ.
As we go into this study, it is imperative that we understand that Jesus' identity as the Christ is not generic. Christ is not Jesus' last name. Jesus is His name; Christ was the title. And it's not a generic title. It has a very specific content of four balanced parts. Those parts are individually highlighted by four different authors: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These four different authors gave us four different gospels, in spite of the fact that three of them are still called synoptics (which means they say the same thing; but they do not). They tell us about the same Person; they record many of the same events; but they are organized and structured and developed by their own authors because of a particular focus that they are trying to make about the person of Jesus.
It has long been recognized that these four gospels fall into the symbolism that was introduced for us first in the Zodiac, long before written revelation was given. Then it was reproduced in written revelation in Ezekiel chapters 1 and 10 and in the last book of the Bible, Revelation chapter 4. The symbols were of a lion, a calf, a man, and an eagle. And as symbols they all have a focus on the identity of the Messiah according to the strength of the particular symbol or entity. For example, the lion is the gospel of Matthew and the focus of the lion is on the enforcer of justice. That's one reason that the Sermon on the Mount is recorded in great detail in Matthew's gospel -- because He is the enforcer of justice as Messiah, as the Christ. The gospel of Matthew is going to be fundamentally seen to be mostly fulfilled during the kingdom in which Jesus, as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, sits on the throne of David and enforces justice throughout the entire earth for a thousand years. So, Jesus is presented by Matthew as the enforcer of justice.
Luke's gospel aligns with the symbolism of the man. The question is, what's the meaning of the man here? The issue is that, in Luke's gospel, the human figure represents God as the lover of mankind. The author of Hebrews pointedly tells he that He didn't give any aid to the angels when they fell. Likewise, the scriptures are pretty clear that He didn't do anything for the animal kingdom nor did He do anything for the plant kingdom. In fact, He's going to wipe out all of those kingdoms. The heavens and the earth as we know them are going to be demolished. There's only going to be one category of fallen creation that He is going to actually give any help to: humanity. Why? Because He is the lover of mankind. That is the major picture, I believe, in Luke's gospel. My faith in this conclusion is not real strong; it could be shaken by some good arguments, but at least that is where it seems to me to be.
In John's gospel, which corresponds with the symbolism of the eagle, Jesus is presented as the destroyer of death, or the alternative, the provider of life. Just as an eagle soars high above the world and exults in the life of the freedom, it is also a carrion eater -- it comes down and destroys the effects of death. Now that is a fairly graphic and gross picture, perhaps, but that's exactly what Jesus was. He destroyed death by His coming and then He was raised from the dead as a victor over death Who provides life, so that in the gospel of John, He says, "I have come that you may have life, and that you may have it more abundantly."
So, those three gospel writers saw Jesus as the Christ. For Matthew, the Christ meant the enforcer of justice, the righteous king. For Luke, the Christ meant the lover of mankind, the One Who would sacrifice Himself in order to provide us a sufficient payment for the guilt. And in John, He is the eagle, the destroyer of death, the provider of life.
But Mark sees Him as the calf. This is fundamentally a picture of the executor of servant power. The calf is a symbol of powerful strength, but that strength is expended in labors on behalf of someone else. So, in Mark's gospel we have this executor of servant power. The characteristics then of all four gospel writers are: the enforcer of righteousness, the lover of humanity, the provider of life, and the executor of servant power. We have these four balanced parts of the content of the Christ title.
But there are a couple of other issues that are woven into those four balanced perspectives. They are the issues of His humanity and deity. I call this the humanity of the deity. Now you can't turn that around. Mormon theology talks about the deity of the humanity. That's not right. But there is no question that Jesus is presented by all four writers as a human being Who is also more than man. And the theology of the New Testament is that He is our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
So, He is the God made flesh; His humanity is taken on as He remains God. In Mark's record Jesus is fundamentally the executor of power. That makes Him Elohim. That's what the word for God in Genesis 1 means: the executor of power. He is the one who speaks, and the power is so profound that the universe springs into being. So Mark starts the first half of the gospel presenting Jesus as the executor of power. He is Elohim, in the flesh. It is a strange doctrine for most people that God would become flesh, or even could become flesh. The issue of could is not nearly as difficult as the issue of would. With God all things are possible - he could become flesh, but why would He?
Well, the first half of the gospel really doesn't answer that question very profoundly; it does answer it in a multitude of different ways, but the focus is on the fact that He is the executor of power, whose execution of power is primarily directed toward the service of others. That's why we call Him the calf, the executor of servant power. Now, this is the area of the greatest danger for readers of Mark: that Jesus, when seen as the executor of servant power, will be thought to be willing to provide us with life according to our definitions and according to our methodologies. And that's the problem of false expectations. And that's why He told His disciples in verse 30 of chapter 8, "Don't tell anybody, yet." We don't want people going into this claim that Jesus is the Christ, the executor of power, without them understanding that His power in service is still according to His definitions of life and His methods for bringing it to pass.
If we go into a so-called faith in Jesus as the executor of servant power and do not understand what life truly is and do not understand how life truly works, there is an enormous possibility that we will not stay with our faith in Him when we are disappointed because we misunderstood what life was all about and we think that what we are getting isn't life, or we think that life will come to us only in certain ways and God is not moving in these ways. And so, we are fundamentally disappointed, and our confidence that Jesus is the executor of servant power goes down the drain, because we have false expectations.
Sometimes we are so enormously disappointed by our expectations that we actually begin to move into rebellion against the notion that Jesus came to provide us with life. I've observed this happening - not just in people 'out there'. There have been times with me when my expectations were so profoundly disappointed that I've found myself angry with the God who died for me. And I've watched people -- so far I haven't done this, but I'm a human being, there are no guarantees other than the ones God has underwritten -- but I've watched human beings turn away and walk away. A couple or three years ago, I was chastised in the paper publicly for saying something about something that wasn't Biblical. And so, on the side -- you know, when your brother sins against you you're supposed to go to him privately -- I wrote a little letter to the guy that chastised me in public and said, "I never said this. Why do you think I believe this and why did you publicly denounce me for saying it when I never said it?" And the guy apologized, which is what he should have done. And we had a good working relationship for about a year. And then, over a period of the year, he began to read and study some things, and something happened in his life -- he never told me what and I don't know what it was -- but now, he actively opposes any teaching that the Bible is true. In a year's time! What happened? Well, I don't know what happened, except in general terms, but I know this: he had some false expectations about Jesus, and now he's mad at Him.
So in this study we are going to move into this teaching that Jesus did, as soon as the disciples begin to think that He is the Christ, because they've got some Christ ideas that are wrong. He wants them to believe that He is the Christ -- that was the point of chapters 1-8. When He said in verse 29, "Who do you say that I am?" He wanted the answer, "You are the Christ." But as soon as they came to that, it says in verse 31, he began to teach them that the Son of Man (a title he does not normally have in Mark's gospel -- it comes up a couple of times before chapter 8 and then it comes up multiple times afterwards) must suffer many things, be rejected by the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed. And that's when they quit listening. But He also said, and after three days, rise again.
Why did Jesus, as soon as His disciples began to understand that He was the Christ, begin to contradict their concept of what that meant? Well, I believe it's because there's a tremendous danger in putting your faith in a Jesus with wrong ideas in your head about who He is, what He's like, what He's about, what He's going to do, because when He doesn't do all those things, you're going to be angry and you're going to turn away. There's a tremendous danger. So the text tells us that as soon as the confession is made, Jesus begins to instruct His disciples concerning His impending suffering, a very anti-kingly idea -- an anti-Messianic idea! He is going to die! That's completely wrong, as far as the disciples' Messianic idea was concerned. He was going to rule the world (in their minds!). And for Him to say He was going to die? Absolutely not! And then, of course, like I said, they quit listening, but He also said He was going to be raised on the third day. That should have solved the problem, but it didn't because they weren't paying any attention. They only heard the negative stuff about suffering and being rejected and being killed.
But it tells us that the same man who made the confession began to rebuke Him for the content of His now current teaching. It was Peter who said, "You are the Christ", and it was Peter who took Him aside and began to rebuke Him in verse 32. And it was Peter to whom Jesus said, "Get behind me, Satan! You're not considering the things of God. You've got your mind focused on the interests of men." So it tells us that Jesus was rebuked and then he turned around and rebuked. But His rebuke in verse 33 came after He saw His disciples and recognized that they heard what Peter said. He knew the danger if He allowed it to slide. So He didn't allow it to slide. When He looked around and saw His disciples, recognizing that they had heard what Peter had just done in rebuke, He rebuked Peter because He knew those men, as well as Peter, needed to have their heads rearranged in terms of expectations, so that their faith would not fail. So let's think about these issues. (That was the introduction!)
Let's think about this: the nature of the danger before us. I see an enormous amount of this, both in myself and in others. The nature of the danger is that there is an enormous sloppiness in our thinking and our testifying about God when it is self-serving. What I mean by that is: we typically define life, not in terms of its essential reality, but in terms of some of the mechanisms that are employed in our experience of it. You've all seen the beer commercial, where the guys are out on this river, and the river's got rapids, it's rather shallow, and the fish are coming up as they fish, and they've got their bucket of beer there, and one guy says, "It just doesn't get any better than this!" Well, what he's talking about is a series of mechanisms to define his life. He's talking about beer and fish and mountain streams and camaraderie with other men and camping and all that kind of thing. He doesn't have the foggiest idea what life is all about. Those are mechanisms that may or may not produce life. Life is joy in your soul. And I can think of at least one person that will not define life in terms of a mountain stream and all the mosquitoes and trying to fish with a snarled line and a bucket of beer that I don't have any interest in. To me, life doesn't get any worse than that!
So, my point is simply, we typically define life in terms of our own self-serving thinking, and we even testify about God in relation to those kinds of self-serving things. I can't remember exactly the terminology that the lady used, but I read a missionary story -- it was a very interesting and encouraging story by and large -- but it had a flaw in it as all the works of men and women have. This lady was serving the Lord on the mission field with another lady. And war time came, and so they were rounded up. Well, the lady fellow-servant of God with her, the companion, was murdered by the soldiers. But she was left alive. And she talked about how faithful God was in preserving her life. And I wanted to say, well why was He not faithful to that other woman? See, this is selfishness, and it is sloppy thinking.
James Dobson had a testimony on his radio station here a while back about a plane crash in the cold waters off of Alaska, of a group of people who had gone over into Russia to do some missionary musical evangelism, and they'd gotten in their plane and started back, and the plane ran out of gas and crashed in the sea. Everybody scrambled to get the help out there and every one of them was delivered, even though they should not have been in the water as long as they were without dying, and there was this huge testimony about how God was so faithful to these people in saving every one of them alive. And I wondered how everybody thought about their loved ones who had died in a plane crash that went into the ocean that were also believers. And I wondered: How is it that we testify so glibly of God's faithfulness to us when things work out according to our definitions and how does it make our fellow believers feel when we have exalted ourselves over their experience, which has been just the opposite of ours? And we, inadvertently in trying to exalt God, make them mad at Him because He didn't treat them the same way!
It's sloppiness in our thinking. You know, I think that probably the truth is, God isn't nearly as gracious as He could have been -- He has been actually restrained from being really gracious because of the hardness of our hearts. Let me ask you this: the people that fell in the ocean, are they better off now today because He saved them alive, or if they'd have been caught up into the third heaven with Him? You know where I'd rather be right now?
So, I figure that the only reason I'm still here is because I've got some hardness of heart that He wants to work out of me before He pulls me up there to be with Him. So, I have this sneaking hunch, that a lot of the stuff that we call the grace of God is really God being restrained from being gracious simply because we have such a selfish way of looking at things that He really can't do what He wants to do; He has to do some other things first to get us into shape.
And it is because of all of this that I believe that Jesus launched immediately in verses 31-33 into the kind of expectations the disciples ought to have about Him as the executor of power. There is a huge difficulty here, because the potential is, if God's temporary accommodation of our foolishness doesn't lead us out of our foolishness, at some point He's going to stop accommodating the foolishness. And then what are we going to do? We have gotten so used to defining life our way, defining the mechanisms of our life our way, and God has accommodated those to some degree, hoping that His goodness will bring us to repentance and bring us out of the foolishness, but if we do not allow it to do that, one of these days, as a father, He's going to say, "I'm not going to accommodate that any more." And then, what are we going to do?
We are going to accuse Him of failing us!
So, how did Jesus approach this danger, of believing that He is the Christ, when the concept of Christ in their heads was the wrong concept? Well, His approach was to correct it immediately. As soon as they said, "You are the Christ", He began to teach them the truth about His identity as the Christ. What was the truth? As soon as His identity as the incarnate deity dawns on the disciples, He begins to unveil that what that really means is not the dominion they thought it meant, but suffering, rejection, and death -- before resurrection. The disciples are not thinking in terms of the Christ that way. Their entire mode of thought has been chapters 1-8; He is the executor of power. That means, He can boss everybody! He can tell anybody to do anything, and they have to obey Him because that's the record of chapters 1-8. And the thing that the disciples love about that is, they have become His chosen men! That means, that if He can do it, we can do it! And the natural extension of that thought is that they are going to share the privilege of dominating everybody else. And the question is, why do they want to? And the answer is, because that's how they define a primary mechanism of life. It's called, the pride of life. But it's completely wrong. Absolutely, completely wrong. Don't feel real bad about this, but let me ask you to answer a question: If you had the choice of being the boss in a business or being the one who had to do all the really nasty work, which would you choose? Well, if you're like me, you'd choose to be the boss. Why? Well, because that's where life's at -- being able to call the shots, do your own thing. You know that's completely out of line? That's why Jesus said what He did in verses 31-33.
Being the Christ does not mean what the disciples think it means, because they think that life consists in being able to be the boss. And what it really means is that Jesus' identity as the executor of power is that the power is defined in terms of servant power. When Jesus says in verse 31 that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected and be killed, what He is clearly saying is that His identity as the Christ (verse 29) means that that identity is going to take Him into suffering, rejection, and death (to resurrection). The inescapable conclusion is that Jesus is NOT going to dominate his enemies to escape suffering for Himself. The whole idea for the disciples is, look, if it's going to happen to Him, it's probably going to happen to them. So, they don't like that. The idea of Him being the Christ -- oh yeah, as long as I can rule with Him -- but when He says, being the Christ means, suffering, rejection, death, they say, "Oh, sorry, I volunteered for the wrong job, here!" Forgetting they hadn't volunteered; He summoned whom He wanted. But I really do believe that in verse 31-33, we have the beginning of our understanding of Judas. Be that as it may be, it means that anybody who thinks of Jesus in terms of the executor of power but does not put the word servant in there, is going to be totally frustrated at some point, because he is going to run into the hard-faced reality that the executor of servant power does not spare himself by dominating his enemies. So, Jesus says, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected, and be killed, and after three days rise again."
Why does He use the word must in verse 31? The Son of Man must suffer many things, be rejected, be killed. I'd like to answer that question at a superficial level, and then at a more fundamental level. What was it that was going to cause the Son of Man to suffer and be rejected and killed? Why was that a necessity? Why must it be that way? Well, at the superficial level, it's driven by what I'm going to call the necessity of animosity. Look at who's going to do it. The elders. They are the ones who have all the respect in the society, the cultural setting, and Jesus' identity as the Christ is going to bring Him into this kind of immediate confrontation with their lust for the respect. If He is the Christ, He is going to get it. And they don't want to lose it. So they're going to get rid of the competition. That is the attitude of the elders.
And the chief priests. How did they get to be in these places of high power and privilege? If Jesus is the Christ, then He'll get that and they don't want Him to have it. They want it, so they're going to get rid of the competition. And the scribes? Same thing. Point is: Jesus was operating within a setting in which the status lusts of the people were beyond hope. He had told these very people that they were beyond hope, when they accused Him of being demon possessed. These people are beyond hope; they are committed to status lust in achieving their goals, to the point that they will stop at absolutely nothing to get there. So, violent retaliation was inevitable. That's why it must happen, because their violent retaliation was inevitable.
Jesus only had two options in the face of that beyond-hope violent retaliation. He could either overwhelm them, which is what the disciples wanted Him to do -- He could call for the legions of heaven and destroy them (the disciples said, "let's get in on that! You want us to call fire down from heaven?" and He said, "You don't know what spirit you are of.") The other option He had was to yield to it. So, if He yielded, His sufferings were necessary by reason of the hatred. So, it was the necessity of animosity.
But there was also a suffering that was driven by the necessity of ignorance. Jesus was operating within a setting in which the teachable -- that is, His disciples -- had already been so immersed in the status lust issue of the religious establishment, that they shared it! They wanted it! And because even the teachable had been so immersed in it, without some pretty radical contradictions they were going to become as hopeless as the establishment. And so, He gave them some pretty radical contradictions. His question for Himself was, how do you bring people out of the lust for power as the definition for life? His answer was that you teach and show them that life is not defined that way. And so He taught them in verse 31 that three of the mechanisms of life were suffering, rejection, and death. You call them mechanisms of life? Well, they did get Him to the resurrection, and that's where life is, is it not
You say, those are awful mechanisms... Oh, only if you have the wrong mindset. Only if you are thinking like the disciples were thinking. Because His own disciples were ignorant of the real truth, there was a necessity that He suffer, be rejected, and die.
But then, also, there is the suffering that is driven by the necessity of reconciliation. Even if the chief priests, and the elders, and scribes had all been in favor of what He was doing, and even if the disciples had not been ignorant of the processes, there was still this awesome reality that the anger of God had been stirred up. He was enraged by the sinfulness of man, and unless that anger and rage of violated justice could be propitiated, man was going to die. So, Jesus had to suffer, be rejected, and die, because the propitiation of the anger of God was a necessity. There could be no reconciliation between God and man unless the justice of God was satisfied.
So, at the superficial levels, the necessity was threefold: there was a necessity of animosity, there was a necessity of ignorance, and there was a necessity of reconciliation. But let's look at it just for a minute or two at a more profound level.
I believe that there are two issues involved in the necessity statement in verse 31 that the Son of Man must suffer. One of those is what I call the necessity of love. The love of God is not satisfied by mediocrity in the experience of life. If God had been satisfied with mediocrity in the experience of life, He would have simply settled for the unfallen angelic host in their whole-hearted loyalty but stunted capacity for life and He would have just demolished the sinners. When they sinned, He would have eradicated them. He would have taken a third of the angels that had fallen with Lucifer and He would have eliminated them. If He were satisfied with the mediocrity of the experience of life, that is what He would have done. You say, "But Darrel, why is it mediocre?" Well, because Jesus taught that life in its fullness can only be experienced by a full-orbed understanding of God -- that life consists in knowing Him. Well, if God were of the character that He never permitted any kind of sin to flourish, there were too many things about Him that the angels would have never known. They would have never known His mercy - you don't have to be merciful to the righteous. They would have never known His longsuffering -- you don't have to endure anything when everybody is doing everything right. They would have never known His anger -- you don't have to get angry with people who are not wrong. They would have never known His grace; they would have never known most of the things that are most precious to us, because we are sinners, forgiven, and experienced in the mercy and the forgiveness and the longsuffering and the gentleness and the patience... All of those things, the angelic host would have been without understanding of, and because God did not want created personalities to experience a stunted life, He permitted sin because of His love. He is not put off by the willingness of men to experience a mediocre life -- He presses the issue -- but the plain fact is, Jesus didn't have to suffer, and be rejected, and die. Except for the necessity of His love.
And the second thing is that I believe that His suffering was not only driven by the necessity of His love, but by the necessity of His essential character as the servant God. This is what the rest of Mark is about, the servant God. God is often faulted by stupid men -- and don't be offended by that word -- God is often faulted by stupid men for the ways He has chosen. The reason I call them stupid is because He is infinite and they are finite. He knows everything, they know next to nothing. But the ways He has chosen are guided by omniscience, wisdom, and life. And so, in His own essential character, there was a necessity that the servant God demonstrate what it means to be the executor of servant power.
So, that's a long answer to a short question: Why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer as the Christ? Well, the answer was, because He had to straighten out the thinking of men who wanted to live, but their thinking was completely corrupt. And for their education, and for their reconciliation, and to satisfy His own love, he said, "the Son of Man must..." And, indeed, He had to.
But we are sitting almost 2000 years on this side of that necessity. Jesus already did it. He is the servant God. The Christ for us no longer means simply the one who dominates, but He is the one who dominates for the benefit of the dominated. And He is summoning you and me to become like Him so that whatever abilities we have are to be used to produce benefit for others. That is what the servant God is all about, and that is what His disciples must be about if they are really going to be His disciples.