Summary: Mark presents the only act of devotion to Jesus we will see until his death.
The Passion begins. Beginning now through the end of chapter 15, we may as well title the section, “The Death of Jesus,” for every scene is about his inevitable death.
From early on Mark had intimated Jesus’ death, building the tension as his story progressed. The first indication of trouble was recorded in 2:7 where the teachers of the law accuse him of blasphemy. From then on all encounters with the religious leaders were antagonistic – the Pharisees’ annoyance that he would dine with people of low reputation (2:13-17); what seemed to them his flaunting of Sabbath rules (2:23-3:6); and their initial plotting to kill him (3:6). The teachers of the law accused him of being possessed by the prince of demons and he warns them of blaspheming the Holy Spirit (3:22-30). They criticized his negligence of ritual washing practices, and he retorted that they set aside the commandment to honor one’s father and mother (7:1-13). They demanded signs, and he warned his disciples to beware the yeast of the Pharisees (8:11-15). His clearing out the moneychangers in the temple area especially galled all the leaders – the priests, teachers of the law, Pharisees and Sadducees. For the second time, Mark reported plotting to kill Jesus (11:18). Then the questions designed to shame and discredit him – by what authority did he clear the temple (11:27-33)? should taxes be paid to Caesar (12:13-17)? what about marriage after the resurrection (12:18-27)? And they only grew more angry as each time he turned the tables on them and publicly shamed them.
No one had more bitter enemies than Jesus. Even though they were antagonistic towards one another, they hated no one like him. Enemies can get along by recognizing the role each other plays in balancing the status quo. The chief priests, teachers of the law and Pharisees, and Sadducees may not have liked one another, but they acknowledged each other’s role in protecting their own interests and the welfare of the Jewish people under Roman rule. Don’t forget – Israel was an occupied country. And the Jewish leaders must keep peace to avoid destruction, which was especially hard in a country filled with religious zeal. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees hated Jesus because he had made them appear foolish and harsh with their traditions; the Sadducees hated him because he embarrassed them; and the chief priests hated him for his presumed authority to run amuck in the temple grounds. They all feared him because of his popularity with the people, and they regarded him as dangerous for his potential to incite rebellion and bring the wrath of the Roman military on their nation.
As the tension builds it becomes inevitable that something must happen. But Mark makes clear that the inevitability of Jesus’ death lay not in the rising anger of his enemies, but in the sovereign plan of God. Beginning in chapter 8, he records a number of Jesus’ statements about his suffering and dying. After Peter makes his famous confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus begins to teach more clearly what he has come to do.
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again (8:31).
Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?” (9:12)
He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise” (9:31).
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise” (10:32-34).
Jesus was not acknowledging the power of his enemies; he was speaking of his mission which was to die. As the spiritual Christmas carol puts it, he “had come for to die.” Why? Had he come to be a martyr? No. He had come to be a Redeemer. 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” (10:45).