MARK CHAPTER 9.
The Transfiguration of Jesus. Mark 9, 1-13.
A solemn statement: V. 1. And He said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here which shall not taste of death till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power. These words were probably addressed to His disciples only, or at least spoken of them alone, since they presuppose an intimacy with Jesus which most of the people in that country did not possess. Some of those that were standing there in the circle listening to His words would not taste of death, would not be taken away by death, until they would see the kingdom of God coming, or having come, in power. The day upon which the wrath of God was poured out over Jerusalem is, according to Scriptures, the beginning, the dawn of the great day of God on which He will send Christ in glory, to judge the quick and the dead. The destruction of Jerusalem was not only a type, but actually began the final great judgment of God upon the sinful world that rejected Him and His Son. Several of the disciples of Jesus that heard these words were still alive when the destruction of Jerusalem took place, and thus became witnesses of the way in which the glorified Christ repays, punishes, those that have despised His Word and His grace. So the words of Christ in this instance were both a prediction and a promise.
The miracle of the transfiguration: V. 2. And after six days Jesus taketh with Him Peter and James and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. V. 3. And His raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow, so as no fuller on earth can white them. V. 4. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Six days, or after a six-day interval from the day when Jesus gave His disciples and the people the solemn lesson regarding true discipleship, He added another item of preparation for some of those in His immediate neighborhood. He did not take all of His disciples with Him on this excursion, but only Peter, James, and John; as on other occasions, these three men were His intimates, His most trusted pupils, chapter 5, 37; 14, 33. He took them aside, away from the rest, and led them up into a high mountain where they were all alone, with no one to interfere with their work or any other intention. Whether this mountain or hill was Mount Hermon in the Lebanon Range (9,200 feet high), or Mount Tabor, in the neighborhood of Nazareth, in Galilee (1,000 feet high) , cannot be determined definitely from the text. The latter mountain is favored by many commentators because it was mentioned at a very early date. But the claim that the fortress with its soldiers on this mountain would have interfered with the revelation is now generally allowed. But the whole question is not a matter of faith. It is best that people do not know for sure, lest the superstition and idolatry of so-called holy places extend beyond all bounds. Mount Hermon was near Caesarea-Philippi, but Mount Tabor could easily have been reached in a six-day journey.
On this high mountain which Jesus had selected for this demonstration, He was changed, transformed, transfigured before the three disciples; His common, mortal body was changed to a spiritual, immortal body, the spirituality transfused the ordinary body, as one commentator puts it. Not only His body was thus transfigured, but even His garments partook of this peculiar change. They became shining or glittering, charged with light, and so snowy white that no cleaner or dyer on earth would have been able to produce such absolute whiteness. The entire appearance of Christ was one of indescribable splendor, much more so even than that of Moses, after he had spoken with God, 2 Cor. 3, 7 ; Ex. 34, 29-35. And while the disciples were gazing at their Master in wonder and amazement, there appeared unto them, so that they could see and recognize them, Elijah and Moses, who then had a conversation with Christ concerning His glorification, which was here typified. Moses, the great teacher of the Law and prophet of Jehovah, and Elijah, the prophet that had been so zealous for the honor of Israel's God, were fitting representatives of the Old Covenant. Moreover, Moses had died and been buried by the hand of God, who alone knew where his grave was situated, and Elijah had been taken up into heaven without death by the Lord. They were intimates of God from of old.
The revelation of God: V. 5. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for Thee and one for Moses and one for Elias. V. 6. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. V. 7. And there was a cloud that overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is My beloved Son; hear Him. The effect of this singular experience was such as to put the disciples into a state of ecstasy; they were almost intoxicated with the glory of the singular appearance. They were incidentally in a condition of half-sleep, overcome by the brightness of their transfigured Master. It was while in this state that Peter made the suggestion to Jesus. He was filled with joy as on the great Festival of Tabernacles, when all Israel lived in huts made of branches of trees during the eight days of celebration. If the feeling of elation was to continue as he felt it now, Peter was ready to stay here indefinitely. So he offers to build three tabernacles: one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah. His idea seems to have been that they might live together in glory, just as Moses did on the mountain of the Lord in the wilderness. Such is the effect which a mere peep, a single glance, into the glory beyond the grave will have on the believers; how much more glorious will the reality be, when Christ Himself will be visible to all believers in eternal transfiguration, and not only Moses and Elijah, but all the thousands of God's elect will be with Him, converse with Him, and praise Him, world without end! Peter evidently thought that Moses and Elijah had come to stay, that was the explanation he made to himself, and that explains his suggestion. His impulsive nature prompted him to say something, and, as in other cases, his first thought, which he voiced almost mechanically, was not the one that fitted the situation, though it is not to his discredit. He knew not what to say in this instance, for they were literally frightened out of their wits. And the end of the miracle was not yet. It happened, Mark writes, in order to direct the attention to the important incidents, first, that a cloud overshadowed them, a bright and shining cloud enfolded them; and secondly, that a voice came out of the cloud, for God the Father was present in the cloud, His great glory was inside; it was the cloud of the New Testament covenant, 2 Pet. 1, 17. The message of admonition which came out of the cloud was: This is My beloved Son; hear Him, render to Him full obedience. That was a sign from heaven such as had never before been witnessed by human eyes. That was such a powerful testimony for the person and work of Christ 'that the disciples were compelled to admit its emphasis and accept its import. Mark: God distinctly calls attention to the Word of Jesus, demanding for it the close and careful attention of all men, and the obedience which is justly accorded to God's Word only. Only he that accepts Jesus as the Son of God, begotten of the Father from eternity, beloved of God even in His state of humiliation, and he that thereupon is obedient to the Word of the Gospel, and puts his full trust in that alone, will be received by God into sonship. But to him the full glory of heaven will be revealed, in a measure even here in the Gospel of salvation, whose content is Jesus, and afterward with the full burst of beauty and radiance, from the throne of the Lamb. "This appearance shows that the present life is nothing in comparison with the future one, which will most surely come upon us that are, in Christ, dead to the world. And we owe it to God that we thank Him with great praise that He has condescended in His great goodness to reveal this to us, and that by this beautiful, open, and powerful revelation He intended to make us sure of the hope of eternal life." 38)
The end of the transfiguration: V. 8. And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves. V. 9. And as they came down from the mountain, He charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen till the Son of Man were risen from the dead. V. 10. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. Just as quickly as the miraculous appearance had begun, it also ended. The disciples, still half dazed, felt that the pall was lifted, and, looking about them, saw no one but Jesus alone with them. Moses and Elijah had been returned to the place of eternal happiness in the same wonderful manner as they had been brought down to the mountain. Jesus, their Master, now was with them again in His usual form and dress, with no evidence of the glory which had just shone through Him. His reassuring words and touch brought them back fully to their senses. While they were then descending from the mountain together, He gave them the earnest charge to transmit the account of what they had seen to no one until after the resurrection of the Son of Man. The people had an altogether wrong idea as to the work and mission of the Messiah, and the news of this miraculous appearance would only have strengthened this false conception. But at that time, when His. death would have removed and disproved all wrong beliefs and hopes in an earthly Messiah, with an earthly kingdom, and especially after He would have risen from the dead, then this revelation should be part of their preaching, they should not hesitate about proclaiming the full truth about the transfiguration. The three disciples accepted this charge in the proper spirit of meekness and obedience; they kept their secret until the time that Jesus had indicated, even from the other disciples. In the mean time, however, they discussed the question among themselves, how that was to be understood concerning the rising from the dead. Not that they did not know that there would be a resurrection of the dead on the last day. This doctrine was known and believed by all the Jews, the only ones dissenting being the sect of the Sadducees. The difficulty for them lay in this, both when He should arise from the dead, as some manuscripts have it, and how this would be done. Christ's one announcement concerning His Passion, death, and resurrection had not yet entered into their heart and understanding. What express and particular resurrection of the dead the Lord was referring to for Himself was a mystery to them. Thus earnest Christians will find many points in Scriptures and in the sayings of Jesus that are a mystery to them; they do not understand in what sense they are to be understood and applied in individual instances; but careful searching of the Word will open the eyes, under the guidance of the Spirit.
A question of the disciples: V. 11. And they asked Him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? V. 12. And He answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of Man that He must suffer many things and be set at naught. V. 13. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him. Peter, James, and John were still busy straightening out matters in their own understanding. They had seen Elijah on the mountain, there was no doubt about that. But now the scribes, on the basis of Mal. 4, 5, were teaching that Elijah was to come before the appearance of the Messiah and restore things to the proper state for the coming of the great Lord. They wanted this apparent contradiction explained. Jesus gladly furnishes them the necessary information. Their statement is right: Elijah, coming in advance, was to prepare the way. Their mistake consisted in applying the prophecy to the wrong person. It was not Elijah, the ancient prophet, in his own person, that would reappear on earth, but his antitype. And that antitype, John, had appeared and done his work. But Jesus immediately adds a few words of instruction concerning the question that had bothered them. How is it written about the Son of Man? He asks. They should remember the Scripture-passages which dealt of His person and work, and make the right application. He Himself gives the answer: That He must suffer much and be utterly despised. Those prophecies would be fulfilled in Him. As for those concerning Elijah, they had been fulfilled. John had come, and they, the Jews and especially Herod and Herodias, had worked their spite against him and put him to death. The disciples were familiar with the fate of the precursor, and they could and should expect nothing else for Him, since the Scripture must be fulfilled. It was the obligation which He had taken upon Himself; it was the work which He would carry out to the end for the redemption of the world.
Casting Out a Deaf-and-Dumb Spirit. Mark 9, 14-29.
The return to the plain: V. 14. And when He came to His disciples, He saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them. V. 15. And straightway all the people, when they beheld Him, were greatly amazed, and, running to Him, saluted Him. Jesus had been gone over night, leaving His other disciples (except Peter, James, and John) in the plain. It is immaterial, once more, whether they were in Galilee or still in the neighborhood of Caesarea-Philippi at this time; also, whether the apostles in His absence had preached and performed miracles. But when the Lord returned to His disciples, He saw, even from a distance, that there was some unusual commotion. They were in the midst of an excited crowd, and there were some scribes, probably from the neighboring synagog or even from Jerusalem, disputing with them. Things were apparently not running very smoothly in His absence. Immediately, as soon as the people saw and recognized Jesus, they were amazed with joy. They had not expected to see Him so soon, and matters were approaching a crisis here; so it was with a feeling of relief and joy that they all welcomed Him. Running to Him, they saluted Him most respectfully. "The situation is easily conceivable: The disciples have tried to heal the boy and failed; the scribes, delighted with the failure, taunt them with it, and suggest by way of explanation the waning power of the Master, whose name they had vainly attempted to conjure with. The baffled nine make the best defense they can, or perhaps listen in silence." 39) For that reason also the people were delighted to see Christ, because they wanted to see fair play and hoped to see a miracle.
The boy with the dumb spirit: V. 16. And He asked the scribes, What question ye with them? V. 17. And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto Thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; V. 18. and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him; and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away. And I spake to Thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. V. 19. He answereth him and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him unto Me. V. 20. And they brought him unto Him; and when he saw Him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. As soon as Jesus came within speaking distance, He inquired about the cause of the disturbance. He asked not only the scribes, but all of them, What is all this disputing about? The scribes had begun the quarrel, and the people had probably taken sides, some with the scribes, some with the apostles. At the approach of Jesus the excitement subsided, both parties being evidently somewhat abashed by His presence. But one man out of the multitude, whose interest was a very natural and deep one, separated himself from the rest and stood forth, answering. He had brought his son, seeking the Lord in the place where the disciples were; but, Jesus being absent, he had appealed to the disciples to heal the boy, and they had not been able to do so. It was a pitiful tale which the man told. His son was lunatic, Matt. 17, 15, and possessed with a spirit, a demon that prevented his speaking. The boy's organ of speech and all his members were normal, but the spirit held them in bonds. And not only that: the demon at times took hold of him and threw him into paroxysms, or cramps, in which the boy foamed at the mouth and ground his teeth, until his body could no longer stand the strain, when he swooned away in a stupor, much like the withering of a branch under a sudden scorching blast. This recital of troubles and the fruitless effort to become rid of them affected the Lord very deeply and caused Him to voice a bitter complaint. Note: His cry about the unbelief of the generation among which He was laboring, His wish to be freed from their presence, was directed to the whole nation of the Jews. They all, with very few exceptions, had heard the Word of the Gospel with ears that heard not. The number of disciples of Jesus was very small after all His efforts, and the number of believers still smaller. Even the apostles, in spite of their confession concerning Jesus the Christ, were still affected with the unbelief of the great mass of the Jews. Upon Christ's command they now brought the boy to Him. No sooner, however, had the boy caught sight of the Lord than the spirit gave a demonstration of his hatred against Jesus and of his spite against the handiwork of God. He tore and twisted the sick boy in a ghastly manner, inflicting torments of every kind upon his body, as in extreme St. Vitus's dance, so that he finally fell to the ground in convulsions, where he rolled about foaming. It was an awful exhibition of the power of Satan over the body of the boy, well calculated to teach his great strength and his lasting hatred against all the works of God.
The healing: V. 21. And He asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. V. 22. And oft times it hath cast him into the fire and into the waters to destroy him. But if Thou canst do anything, have compassion on us and help us. V. 23. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe; all things are possible to him that believeth. V. 24. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief. V. 25. When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. V. 26. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him. And he was as one dead, insomuch that many said, He is dead. V. 27. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. The evangelist purposely records the details of the healing, in order to bring out all the more strongly the healing power of the Lord in contrast with the destructive power of the devil. Jesus made careful inquiries regarding the length of time that the man's son had suffered, and learned that the demon had taken possession of him in early childhood. He had not prevented his physical growth, but had given every other evidence of his hateful presence by causing him to throw himself into fire, to be burned to death, and into water, to be drowned. We cannot be far wrong in believing that similar symptoms and experiences even today, as convulsions, madness, delirium, lunacy, and others, are due to the hatred of Satan. But it is self-evident that the devil has only so much power over the bodies of men as is permitted him by God. So God had frustrated all attempts of the devil upon the life of that boy. Some one always had been present to save his life. Now the father appeals to Christ: Give us help and have mercy upon us! This was a sincere prayer, but unfortunately he modified it by saying: If Thou art in any way able. Here unbelief was battling with belief; he was not quite certain in his trust in Jesus. He implied some doubt as to His ability to help in this severe case of need. Jesus therefore takes time to correct this feeling, using, in a reproving way, almost the same words that the man had used towards Him: If thou only wert able. Here is the difficulty, the grievous mistake; there is still doubt in your heart. It is a favorite reference of Jesus that He here employs : All things are possible to him that believes. True faith has miraculous, heaven-storming qualities, Matt. 17, 20; Phil. 4, 13. This word had the desired effect with the distraught father. It opened his eyes to his lack of faith. In deep humility he cries out: I believe; come to the assistance of my unbelief. As in the heart of ail Christians, belief and unbelief were battling in his heart. But now faith and trust in the Lord were supreme. He trusts entirely in the help of Christ, also against that evil of unbelief that thrusts its head up now and then in his heart. On the part of God all things are possible, if the believer will but accept by faith what God has long ago prepared for him and enabled him to receive through help from above. Meanwhile the people were coming running from all directions, and Jesus wanted to avoid unwelcome publicity. He therefore earnestly reprimanded the unclean spirit, who here caused deafness and dumbness in the boy, giving him the direct command to go out from him and to stay out. The devil must needs obey, but in doing so, he wreaks his vengeance upon the boy for the last time, throwing him into such terrible convulsions as he went forth from him that the boy fell down as one dead, and many openly declared their belief that he was dead. But when Jesus took him by the hand, he could readily get up and stand. Thus the glory of God, which Jesus, the Man, possessed, was once more made evident in this miracle. The Son of God had again triumphed over the devil. There is lasting comfort in this fact for all believers that put their trust unwaveringly in Christ, the Son of the living God. These the devil, with all his might and cunning, cannot harm. And though he should succeed in killing the body, the soul is safe in the hands of the heavenly Father.
The perplexity of the disciples: V. 28. And when He was come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, Why could not we cast him out? V. 29. And He said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting. The failure of the disciples to effect a cure in this case, when there had been instances of success, chapter 6, 13, perplexed them very much. They had also been deeply humiliated before the people by the sneering remarks of the scribes. When Jesus therefore came into the house where He, and probably His disciples with Him, was staying, they took the opportunity to speak to Him all alone in regard to their failure to expel the devil. Christ's answer was of a nature to cause deep humility in their hearts and to encourage them to strive for a firmer trust in Him. The question of the disciples implied: We surely had faith; we had the definite expectation to effect this cure, but we were sadly disappointed. The answer of Jesus gave them the hint which they needed: This form can be expelled in no way but by prayer and fasting. By serious, believing prayer the devil can always be routed. But prayer implies full reliance upon God and His help. There is where the mistake lay. The disciples, who formerly had driven out devils in the name and in the power of the Lord, here had attempted a cure in their own might. It was presumption, trust in their own ability, that had caused them to stumble and fall. The devil can be conquered only by a prayer rooted in faith and receiving its power from God alone, Matt. 17 , 20. 21.
The Last Discourses of Christ in Galilee. Mark 9, 30-50.
A second announcement of His Passion: V. 30. And they departed thence and passed through Galilee; and He would not that any man should know it. V. 31. For He taught His disciples and said unto them, The Son of Man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill Him; and after that He is killed, He shall rise the third day. V. 32. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask Him. "Thence," from the country or region where they had been for some time; this points to Gaulanitis. They now made a journey through Galilee, their last trip with the Lord through these familiar scenes. He did no public preaching at this time, He wanted no loud heralding. His purpose was to be alone with His disciples, for their instruction had not yet proceeded to the point it should reach before the time of His great Passion. He got into the habit of referring to His approaching suffering, above all. The entire subject of His teaching touched upon this important Gospel-lesson. The entire Passion was so vivid before His eyes that He speaks of it in the present tense: He is delivered into the hands of men. First Judas would deliver Him into the hands of the Jewish rulers, then these would deliver Him into the hands of the Roman governor. Note the thought included here: The Son of Man, the redeemer in His divine-human nature, having might and authority over all things, delivered into the hands of men, mere men, weak men, that in themselves are powerless before Him. And they kill him. That was their object, and that was, in their opinion, the end of Him and of His aspirations. For Him, however, it is not the end, but only the beginning. After three days He will arise. The remark of the evangelist at this point is almost pitiful. After all the teaching and repeated teaching and referring to the truth of the Old Testament prophecy that Jesus had done, the disciples went along the way with Him in ignorance as to the word that He was uttering. And at the same time they were afraid to ask Him. Natural man cannot comprehend the facts of Christ's Passion, and, incidentally, avoids unpleasant subjects. All the solemn, mysterious beauties of the Gospel are hidden from the heart of man until God Himself, through His Holy Ghost, opens heart and mind, and pictures unto it Christ.
The dispute concerning greatness: V. 33. And He came to Capernaum; and being in the house He asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? V. 34. But they held their peace; for by the way they had disputed among themselves who should be the greatest. V. 35. And He sat down, and called the Twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. V. 36. And He took a child and set him in the midst of them; and when He had taken him in His arms, He said unto them, V. 37. Whosoever shall receive one of such children in My name receiveth Me; and whosoever shall receive Me receiveth not Me, but Him that sent Me. After the hurried trip through Galilee, Jesus returned to Capernaum with His disciples for the last time. Their theological training, however, was by no means at an end, as we see from this incident. The hearts and the heads of the disciples were yet filled with false Messianic hopes; the idea of a temporal kingdom would not down. And this matter they had discussed on the way, among themselves, disputing about rank, quarreling about who should be considered the greatest in their midst. The question may have been broached at this time because Jesus had taken only three of them: along on the mount of transfiguration. Jesus knew of the discussion and, by His omniscience, knew also its topic. Therefore the Lord takes occasion to teach them a badly needed lesson. While He had gone before them, busy with the thoughts pertaining to the way of redemption, they had been engrossed with their vain thoughts, how they might enhance their own glory. They must learn, above all, the lesson of the great paradox in the kingdom of God. To teach them that, He called the Twelve before Him, in a very formal and impressive way. They should, for once, get His full meaning. The general rule in the world is that he is leader and acknowledged as being first that has others working for him, doing work in his service. In the Church of Jesus the reverse is true. There the rank is in proportion to the service offered. The humbler a person is and the more willing he is to serve his fellow-men, the higher he will stand in the economy of God. Instead of urging ambition for high position and power, Christ knows of only one valid reason for fame before Him and His Father, humble, unpretentious service, without a thought of reward. In order to bring home this lesson still more thoroughly, He took a little child that may have been playing in the neighborhood, placed it in their midst, fondled it in His arms to show His deep regard, His tender love for children, and then told the disciples, that in receiving a child, in rendering to one of these little ones a service, they were rendering one to Him. And a service shown to Him is credited in heaven as though it had been shown to God Himself. This powerful lesson in true humility, in humble service, is needed very urgently in our days, since the false ambition that was found in the midst of the disciples is rampant in the Church and threatens to render much of the preaching of the cross invalid.
An interruption: V. 38. And John answered Him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and he followeth not us; and we forbade him because he followeth not us. V. 39. But Jesus said, Forbid him not; for there is no man which shall do a miracle in My name that can lightly speak evil of Me. V. 40. For he that is not against us is on our part. John, gentle John, whose mildness and uniform charitableness has justly become proverbial, at this time was still a true "son of thunder," as Jesus had called him. His zeal and impetuosity was in danger of doing much more harm than good. He is eager to make a good impression on Jesus at this time, and so he interrupts the Master to tell about an experience which he had had. In their work they had run across a man who was exorcising, casting out demons. Ordinarily, such exorcists conjured with the name of some Old Testament saint or patriarch. But this man used the name of Christ, since he had heard of Him and had probably seen Him expelling demons. This man did not belong to the little band of disciples, he was going over the field on his own responsibility. John's zeal, therefore, had caused him to make an effort at preventing his work (conative imperfect). John's idea was that he had done a good, a commendable thing before the Lord, and eagerly looked forward to the praise which he felt must be forthcoming. But Jesus disappoints him grievously. He censures John for this action on his part. So long as that exorcist was using the name of Jesus reverently, so long as he was employing it for the purpose of performing miracles for the good of people, so long he would not circulate evil reports and blasphemies concerning the Savior. In a case of this kind it is true that everyone not working against Jesus is aiding Him. The same thought is employed by Paul, Phil. 1, 14-19. In false intolerance and legalistic conduct there is often a good deal of presumption and jealousy. We have no right to expect all to serve the Lord in the same way, since gifts and ability are diversified. If others cannot bring the services and sacrifices for Christ which we think proper, we have no right to question the sincerity of their Christianity.
Christ continues His lesson: V. 41. For whosoever shall give a cup of water to drink in My name because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. V. 42. And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in Me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. V. 43. And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed than, having two hands, to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; V. 44. where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. After the interruption, Christ resumes His discourse. It is not always the big and mighty works in the kingdom of Christ, the miracles, that count and are credited. A small, incidental service, a cup of water offered in His name, to show a service for His sake, is thought of so highly by Him that He promises His definite reward. On the other hand, if anyone scandalizes, offends, causes one of these little ones that believe on Christ, especially also little children, to do wrong or to get an impression which will cause such a person to think less highly of Christ and of the Christian Church, this is an offense which the Lord cannot condemn too strongly. Far better, He says, It would be for such a person to be cast into the sea with a millstone about his neck before such an offense is committed. Here a grave responsibility is placed upon all parents, teachers, and all whose duty brings them into contact with children and with such as are small in the kingdom of God, the Christians that are weak in Christian knowledge. To watch over our mouths that they do not speak words, to watch over our members that they do not commit deeds, that will cause harm and offense, that is a solemn obligation, for which account will be demanded on the last day with most severe reckoning. In this respect the hand is very apt to offend, almost unconsciously it is placed into the service of sin. Constant watchfulness is necessary, lest the sin which it commits, the offense which it gives, become a part of the accumulated guilt which will bring upon such a person the punishment of hell-fire.
The conclusion of Christ's discourse: V. 45. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched, V. 46. where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. V. 47. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out; it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell-fire, V. 48. where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. V. 49. For everyone shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. V. 50. Salt is good; but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another. Christ here mentions some other members that are very apt to offend, to commit sin, to lead others into sin. The law of sin is always active in our members. Here it is necessary that a person keep these members in subjection. For the Lord speaks figuratively and does not want to be understood, as Luther says, that He here advocates physical mutilation or dismemberment, since that would obviously not take the sin and the desire to sin out of the heart. It is the heart which must be controlled by the spirit of love toward Christ and our neighbor, in order that the hand, the foot, the eye do not perform that which sin desires them to do. Whosoever places his members into the service of sin, of uncleanness, and unrighteousness here in this life, will hereafter pay the penalty for such transgression in all eternity. But whosoever, with the help of the Holy Ghost, brings his members into subjection, trains them, holds his desires in check, does not permit sin to reign in his body, he will retain faith and a good conscience, he will keep body and soul unto life eternal. Note: This passage makes such a deep impression on account of the earnestness of the Savior and because of His solemn reference to the fire of hell, and to the worm that will not die, and to the fire that will not be quenched. The fires of the Valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem, where all the refuse of the city was burned, were commonly taken as a type of the fires of hell. As these fires burned without ceasing, day and night, so the fires of hell will offer no respite. And as the worms were continually feeding on the remains of carcasses and refuse that was dumped out into that valley, so some of the torments of hell will be like the ceaseless gnawing of worms. To try to crack jokes at the expense of the doctrine of hell, or to deny this doctrine outright, for the flimsiest reasons, is decidedly blasphemous in view of such passages as the present and Luke 16, 28.
This sacrifice, this continual working and bringing into subjection one's own members for the sake of Christ, is demanded by Christ in the interest of His purpose to make every Christian and the entire Christian Church a salt in this world. As every sacrifice of the Old Testament had to be salted, Lev. 2, 13, so every disciple, every believer, must be salted with fire. Jesus does not refer, in this instance, to the fire of hell, but to the purifying fire of His rule and leading. It is the discipline of the Word and the Spirit of God which gradually cleanses the believers of sin, and kills the works and desires of the flesh, and the fire of tribulation, which renders sin and its results unpleasant, 1 Pet. 1, 4. This fire incidentally performs the work of a salt, it prevents moral rotting and a relapse into the service of sin. And the Christians that have been sanctified by the Word and the Spirit of God and whose sanctification is progressing continually should have this salt with them always, in doctrine and admonition. They shall freely, as occasion offers, rebuke the false works of the world, instead of permitting the world to lead them into sin. But among themselves, one with another, they should maintain peace and not boastingly seek self-glorification. The fact that the Gospel is a salt is brought out strongly by Luther in admonishing the Christians to be a true salt. "Where the salt loses its saltiness, and the Gospel is spoiled with doctrines of men, there the old Adam no longer can be spiced, there the worms will grow. But salt is sharp; therefore it is necessary to have patience and peace in the salt." 40)
Summary. After the miracle of the transfiguration, Jesus heals a deaf-mute boy, gives His disciples information concerning their inability to cast this demon out, announces His Passion for the second time, and gives them a long discourse on service, humility, and on giving offense.