Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. He teaches and heals the multitudes by the lakeside. He chooses the Twelve. His family intends to take custody of him. The teachers of the law claim that he expels demons by Satan’s mastery. He warns them not to blaspheme the Spirit. He tells the crowd that the one who does the will of God is his brother, sister, and mother.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The translation is mine. I add yet another translation for one purpose: to learn. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
I ask Growth Application (GrowApp) questions after each section of Scripture, for discipleship.
I add some Greek word studies, in a nontechnical way. The Greek terms with brief definitions can also be looked up at biblehub.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus Heals a Man with a Withered Hand on Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6)
1 He again went into a synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They were watching him, whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man having the withered hand, “Stand up in the middle.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do harm, to save a life or to kill it?” But they were silent. 5 And looking around at them with anger, and grieving at the obstinacy of their heart, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees left and soon conspired with the Herodians against him, so that they might ruin him.
This is the fifth and final confrontation, beginning with Mark 2 and going to 3:6.
It was Jesus’s custom to go into the synagogue to teach (cf. Luke 6:6). The Greek literally reads “the synagogue,” but this is just a generic class. He had been traveling, and his disciples plucked heads of wheat in a field. In v. 7, Jesus returns toward the lake (of Galilee), so this synagogue was away from the lake and Capernaum. The word “again” indicates that he was probably in the synagogue at Capernaum. The passage here is silent on the precise location.
“they”: they are the Pharisees (v. 6) and possibly the Herodians (v. 6). At least the Pharisees were convinced that Jesus could heal! They expected it! What about us? Do we have more unbelief than the Pharisees?
“watching”: it is the verb paratēreō (pronounced pah-rah-tay-reh-oh), and it is built on para– (alongside, near) and tēreō (keep or watch). Picture watchdogs sitting right by you and glowering at you. So it means, “watch closely, observe carefully … watch (maliciously), lie in wait for … watch one’s opportunity … watch, guard ….” The Shorter Lexicon suggests “watch (maliciously)” for v. 2 here. Anger is building in the religious leaders, the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior.
“heal”: the verb is therapeuō (pronounced thair-ah-pew-oh, our word therapy is related to it), and it means to “make whole, restore, heal, cure, care for.” Here the healing is instant.
“on the Sabbath”: The rabbis allowed healing to be done on the Sabbath, but only when a life was in danger, a baby was being born, or circumcision on the eighth day. This man’s disability fit none of those exceptions.
The man with the withered hand was not in a life-or-death situation.
Here are the Mishnah’s thirty-nine categories of work that were not allowed. This comes from the second century, but it does reflect the times of Jesus:
- Sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, and baking.
- Shearing wool, bleaching, hackling, dyeing, spinning, stretching the threads, the making of two meshes, weaving two threads, dividing two threads, tying [knotting] and untying, sewing two stitches, and tearing in order to sew two stitches.
- Capturing a deer, slaughtering, or flaying, or salting it, curing its hide, scraping it [of its hair], cutting it up, writing two letters, and erasing in order to write two letters [over the erasure].
- Building, pulling down, extinguishing, kindling, striking with a hammer, and carrying out from one domain to another.
These are the forty primary labors less one.
The rest of the tractate at another source goes on to define the parameters more precisely.
Religious teachers debated these issues endlessly. In effect, these strict teachers of the law said it was better that people should virtually do nothing on the Sabbath. It is better to be safe than sorry, to be severe and austere than risk too much questionable behavior before a holy God. In Num. 15:32-36, a Sabbath breaker was stoned to death.
“accuse”: the verb is katēgoreō (pronounced kah-tay-gor-eh-oh), and it combines the prefix kata– (down) and the verb agoreuō (pronounced ah-go-rew-oh), which speaks of the public forum, so the context is in public, specifically in the synagogue here. The verb agoreuō means “to speak in the assembly, harangue … speak ill of someone” (Liddell and Scott). Combine it with the prefix and you get “speak down to” or just “accuse.”
Calling the man to stand in the middle shows that Jesus was supremely confident in his and his Father’s and the Spirit’s ability to heal, and that’s why he told the man to stand in the middle of them. He was the Anointed One.
I have watched healing ministries up close, and sometimes they call people forward to stand in the middle, so to speak. Sometimes it works; other times it does not.
Jesus is about to do good on the Sabbath. A third option was to do nothing, or so it seems, but then this is the same as not saving a life, and subsequently letting the life go away and gradually destroy itself. “Therefore, everything that you want people to do to you, in the same way you also do to them.” (Matt. 7:12; see Luke 6:31). This is more commonly known as “Do unto others and you want them to do to you.” The law and prophets are summed up on that counsel. Be active in doing good to others. The Pharisees were thinking and doing bad on the Sabbath, for they will plot to kill Jesus (v. 6)!
“save”: The verb is sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times in the NT), which means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. Here it means saving or healing the body.
Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation, which is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō. We go beyond this passage here.
Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”
The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in the passive voice it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).
Please see my word study on salvation and save:
Word Study on Salvation (links to other posts about salvation)
“life”: it is the noun psuchē (pronounced ps-oo-khay, and be sure to pronounce the ps-, and our word psychology comes from it). It can mean, depending on the context: “soul, life” and it is hard to draw a firm line between the two. “Breath, life principle, soul”; “earthly life”; “the soul as seat and center of the inner life of man in its many and varied aspects, desires, feelings, emotions”; “self’; or “that which possesses life, a soul, creature, person.”
A little systematic theology:
Most Renewalists believe in the three parts of humanity: body, soul and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23 and Heb. 4:12 and other verses). Other Renewalists believe that we are two parts: body and soul / spirit (2 Cor. 4:16). Spirit and soul are just synonyms, like heart and spirit / soul are synonyms. Surely there are not now four parts, are there (body, soul, spirit, heart)?
Here in this verse, however, it means life.
The Pharisees were silent. They could not answer the question. If they said it was unlawful, the people would recognize that this was a harsh interpretation of Sabbath keeping. If they said it was permitted, then they could not accuse him justly.
Jesus was both angry and grieved. This is not human anger that aims to harm one’s opponents. No. He was about to do good. His emotion was righteous indignation at evil in their hearts. This anger was appropriate in this situation. He was also grieved at the stubbornness residing in their hearts. So he felt compassion at the deep need in their heart, but he was angry at their external expression of their stubbornness. They expressed their obstinacy by becoming legalists and harsh and too restrictive.
Jesus was not an android who felt no human emotion. He was the God-man, and even God expresses anger.
Please see my posts and the two images telling the difference between human wrath and God’s wrath:
See my post on the sinless life of Jesus:
It’s possible to show righteous anger (not a man losing his temper) and not sin.
“restored”: it is the verb apokathistēmi (pronounced ah-poh-kah-thees-tay-mee), and the apo– prefix has the connotation here to reciprocate. The stem histēmi means to “put, place, set bring, put forward, establish, confirm, cause to stand” (and so on). Then the preposition kata– (down) is added, as if to lay it down and establish it. All together the verb apokathistēmi means “restore, reestablish … cure, be cured … bring back, restore.” It is a great word choice on Mark’s part. The man’s hand was returned and reestablished and restored back to normal. Never accept as normal what is clearly abnormal. Pray! Pray continually for restoration.
The Pharisees react badly.
This group, among others, were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Overdoing righteousness, believe it or not, can damage one’s relationship with God and others.
“Herodians”: You can learn more about them, here:
The Pharisees huddle together with the Herodians and hatch a plot
“ruin”: it comes from the verb apollumi (pronounced ah-poh-loo-mee), and it means, depending on the context: (1) “to cause or experience destruction (active voice) ruin, destroy”; (middle voice) “perish, be ruined”; (2) “to fail to obtain what one expects or anticipates, lose out on, lose”; (3) “to lose something that one already has or be separated from a normal connection, lose, be lost” (BDAG). The Shorter Lexicon adds “die.” Here they wanted to crush him. All memory of his would be lost.
Let’s finish this pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section or unit of Scripture with a cultural observation and then apply it.
As I noted in other chapters, first-century Israel was an honor-and-shame society. Verbal and active confrontations happened often. By active is meant actions. Here the confrontation is both verbal and acted out. Jesus healed the paralytic, so he won the actual confrontation, and this victory opened the door to his verbal victory with religious leaders who were binding people up with traditions. They needed to be loosed from them. Jesus shamed the leaders to silence. He won. It may seem strange to us that Jesus would confront human opponents, because we are not used to doing this in our own lives, and we have heard that Jesus was meek and silent.
More relevantly, for many years now there has been a teaching going around the Body of Christ that says when Christians are challenged, they are supposed to slink away or not reply. This teaching may come from the time of Jesus’s trial when it is said he was as silent as a sheep (Acts 8:32). No. He spoke up then, as well (Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:32; Luke 23:71; John 18:19-23; 32-38; 19:11). Therefore, “silence” means submission to the will of God without resisting or fighting back. But here he replied to the religious leaders and defeated them and their inadequate theology. Get into a discussion and debate with your challengers. Stand toe to toe with them. In short, fight like Jesus! Of course, caution is needed. The original context is a life-and-death struggle between the kingdom of God and religious traditions. Get the original context, first, before you fight someone in a verbal sparring match. This was a clash of worldviews. Don’t pick fights or be rude to your spouse or baristas or clerks in the service industry. Discuss things with him or her. But here Jesus was justified in replying sharply to these oppressive religious leaders.
When Jesus used harsh language:
To repeat: whatever you do, don’t be rude or harsh towards your family or coworkers. Click on that link to see how we must take Jesus’s ministry in his own context. He used strong language against oppressors who had been inflicting harshness on people for many decades. These were leaders. In our lives today, the idea is to win regular people, not chase them away from the good news.
GrowApp for Mark 3:1-6
A.. Jesus once again clashed with his opponents. Have you had to overcome old religious traditions to follow God fully? What about overcoming bad ideas generally?
A Summary of Jesus’s Ministry (Mark 3:7-12)
7 Then Jesus, along with his disciples, withdrew to the lake, and a great crowd from Galilee followed—and from Judea 8 and from Jerusalem and from Idumea and beyond the Jordan River and around Tyre and Sidon. A huge crowd, listening to whatever he was doing, came to him. 9 Then he said to his disciples that a small boat be readied for him because of the crowd, so they would not press in on him. 10 For he healed many, with the result that they crowded him, in order that everyone who was afflicted might touch him. 11 When unclean spirits saw him, they fell before him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God!” 12 He sternly rebuked them so that they would not make him known.
Jesus’s ministry was well known by now. It drew large crowds from the distantly separate regions. There are many Bible maps online. You can google them using the time frame of Map of Palestine in the time of Jesus. Then you can have the fun (yes, fun—I like maps!) of finding each location. Tyre and Sidon could be expanded to stand in for northwestern Palestine.
Matthew’s Gospel says that Jesus withdrew because Jesus knew the evil plans of the religious leaders to kill him (Matt. 12:14-15). Sometimes it is best to “get out of Dodge” before trouble happens.
Some may criticize the crowd for following Jesus just for the benefits of healing and deliverance he gave to them. Maybe these critics are right, up to a point. However, anyone who is sick, whether with a fever (Mark 1:30) or a bad skin disease, like Hansen’s (Mark 1:40-45), or paralysis (Mark 2:10-12) or a withered hand (Mark 3:5) needs help desperately, so I personally don’t criticize anyone who seeks Jesus for this kind of help. It is true, however, that he calls everyone to life-long discipleship (Mark 8:34-38; cf. John 6:66).
“listening to whatever he was doing”: “Whatever” could be translated as “everything.” Listening to what someone does does not quite match, but the point is that they were following and watching him closely.
I have read somewhere that sound waves bounce off the water, so that a speaker could be heard more easily. In this case, however, Jesus took practical action so that the crowds would stop crowding him.
“disciples”: The noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
This verse explains why the crowds were pressing in on him. (Decker translates “press in on” as “jostling.” I like that.)
“healed”: the verb is therapeuō (pronounced thair-ah-pew-oh, our word therapy is related to it), and it means to “make whole, restore, heal, cure, care for.”
“touch”: Jesus exuded so much power that all people had to do was touch him. I don’t see this much power flowing from healing evangelists today. The answer why is found in v. 11: He is the Son of God. However, Peter’s shadow would cross over some people and heal them (Acts 5:15), but this seems an extra-unusual, special anointing, while this passage here in Mark is a summary of what regularly happened in Jesus’s ministry almost as a routine. So his Sonship and unique Messiahship is the deeper answer to the remarkable healing he saw. And for the record, I never saw the shadow of a healing evangelist heal anyone.
“was afflicted”: literally it reads “were having afflictions.” It is the Greek noun mastix (pronounced ma-stix), and it literally means “whip, lash” (Acts 22:24; Heb. 11:36); figuratively it means “torment, suffering, illness” (Mark 3:10; 5:29, 34; Luke 7:21). And in those verses, that’s all the times the noun appears in the NT.
The verb is mastigoō (pronounced ma-stee-go-oh), and it literally means “whip, flog, scourge” (Matt 10:17; 20:19; 23:34; Mark 10:34; Luke 18:33; John 19:1); figuratively it means “punish” or “chastise” (Heb 12:6). Those are all the times this verb appears in the NT.
Still another verb is mastizō (pronounced ma-stee-zoh), and it means “scourge” or whip or flog (Acts 22:25, and it appears only once).
Source for those definitions: Shorter Lexicon.
In the context of diseases, the noun mastix means to be afflicted and tormented with diseases and bodily ailments. Anyone who has suffered from a disease, as common as a strong flu, feels afflicted or tormented in body. Jesus healed many of them. It is interesting that the verse does not say “all,” but the word “many” in Greek can be ambiguous, so that it could mean all, if we stretch out its meaning. In their comments on 1:34, these commentators write: “The term ‘many,’ in the statement that Jesus healed ‘many that were sick,’ is used inclusively and is equivalent to the ‘all’ of v. 32; it reflects upon the large number of those who came for healing” (Lane). Garland agrees: “The ‘many’ is a Semitism for the ‘all’ (see 1045: cf. Matt. 8:16; Luke 4:40)” (p. 73, note 13). That is also inclusive, meaning “all.” But literally it reads many. If it is unclear why Jesus may not have healed all of them, read Mark 6:5-6.
“unclean”: the NIV translates it as “evil,” but it literally reads “unclean,” which could further be translated as “defiled.” An evil spirit defiles and pollutes the soul and mind and does not belong there. Get rid of the demon right now.
I like Lane’s comments in these verses on the demons crying out the true status of the Son of God:
Among the crowd were demoniacs, unfortunate men possessed by unclean spirits whose behavior betrayed domination by a will alien to their own. The demons addressed Jesus as the divine Son of God in a futile attempt to render him harmless. These cries of recognition were designed to control and strip him of his power, in accordance with the conception that knowledge of the precise name or quality of a person confers mastery over him. In this context, “Son of God” is not a messianic title,” but a recognition of the true status of their adversary.
So far, I have never seen a demon fall before a healing evangelist and cry out like this. Again, the answer is related to Jesus’ being the Son of God. There was something uniquely powerful about him, due to his unique status and title (or the reality behind the title—he really was the unique Son of God). Through him we can be called the children of God (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1-2), but we are subservient to the Son of God and depend on him for our sonship and daughtership.
Jesus also rebuked the demons sternly because they were making him known before his time and in a rude and corrosive way. As I wrote in my comments on 1:34: Why did Jesus command the demons to shut up and not reveal who he was? He did not want their dark endorsement; revealing who he was too soon would raise the wrong expectations of what the Messiah should do and who he should be, as the people defined the terms. And he was not going to be the Conquering Military Messiah, but the Messiah who became the Passover Lamb who sacrificed for us and initiated the New Covenant.
Lane writes of Jesus commanding demons not to speak in 1:34:
The reference to the demons who knew Jesus is general, but intelligible in the light of the encounter with demonic possession reported in Ch. 1:23-26. In that instance Jesus was recognized as the divine Son, the Bearer of the Holy Spirit. As earlier he had muzzled the defensive cry of the unclean spirit, here he silences their shrieks of recognition, for they are powerless before him.
For a developed theology of Satan and demons and deliverance, see my posts:
Finally, let’s expand Jesus’s rebuke of demons to why didn’t Jesus want people generally to spread the news about the healing?
First, Jesus simply wanted to spread the message his way without the false expectations from noninformed people. Second, the exuberant expectation from the masses may spark an insurrection, which would hinder his message and his mission: to proclaim the kingdom of God, backed up by sings and wonders. People had to learn about his Messiahship through their thirst and hunger for the knowledge of God. They had to connect the dots. This is one of the purposes of teaching in parables. Only the hungry seekers could understand.
Let’s talk about the signs of the Messiah or the Messianic Age, to find out which dots they had to connect without a loudspeaker blasting it.
As I note in various places throughout the commentary on the Gospels, one sign of the Messianic Age was the healing of diseases and broken bodies. Is. 35 describes this age. After God comes with a vengeance to rescue his people, these things will happen:
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Is. 35:5-6).
Is. 26:19 says of the Messianic Age: “But your dead will live, LORD, their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout with joy” (Is. 26:19, NIV).
The phrase “in that day” refers to the age that the Messiah ushers in: “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll and out of gloom and darkness the eyes will see” (Is. 29:18, NIV).
The Lord’s Chosen Servant will do many things. Here are some: “I am the LORD: I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for my people, a light for the nations, to open they eyes that are blind, to bring the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Is. 42:6-7, ESV). Is. 42:18 connects hearing and seeing with walking in God’s ways, and deafness and blindness with national judgment. As for leprosy, Jesus referred to the time when Elijah the prophet healed Namaan the Syrian of his skin disease, and the return of Elijah was a sign that the Messiah was here (Mal. 4:5-6; Mark 9:11-13).
Since this pericope contains an element of demons recognizing Jesus and who he was, let’s discuss what his Sonship means with a brief excursus into systematic theology.
Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters. On our repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
Another quick excursus into systematic theology about the Trinity. The Father in his role as the Father is superior to the Son; the Father guides the whole of creation and the plan of the ages. The Son carries out the plan, notably by being born as a man, humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 3:7-8). He humbled himself so deeply and thoroughly that he died a death on the cross, the instrument of the death penalty.
However, the Father and Son are equal in their essence or nature. The Father is fully God and the Son is fully God, in their essence. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant. Look at it this way: a human father and son are equal in their essence. Both have a soul and spirit. But in their roles and family relationship, the Father is over the Son.
Function or role: the Father is over the Son
In their essence or essential nature: Father and Son are equally fully God.
Begin a series on the Trinity:
Now let’s move on to the GrowApp.
GrowApp for Mark 3:7-12
A.. For a long time in his ministry, Jesus was very popular. In some circles he is not popular today. When you converted to Christ, was it a popular move? What about your following him currently? Popular or unpopular?
Jesus Separates Out the Twelve Disciples (Mark 3:13-19)
13 And he went up a mountain and summoned whom he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve whom he also designated apostles, so that they would be with him and in order that he would commission them to preach 15 and have authority to expel demons. 16 He appointed twelve: he gave the name Peter to Simon, 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, and he gave them the name Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’; 18 and Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, and 19 Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Remember: a mountain was a special place of revelation in Israel’s history (Exod. 3; 19; see also Matt. 5:1; 14:23; 15:29; 17:1; 28:16). The location is probably one of the hills / mountains in Galilee.
In the first century, students sought out the rabbis; here, Jesus is calling and commissioning his students. Jesus was formally separating out these twelve from the crowds and from any of the other many disciples. Recall that Jesus sent out seventy (or seventy-two) disciples, as well (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20). There are these twelve who will judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28) and whose names will be written on the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14). This special office can never be duplicated. These twelve have a unique vocation and commission.
However, in the NT there is a lower order of apostles. Barnabas was called an apostle (Acts 14:14); Andronicus and Junia (a woman) were probably apostles, depending how one reads the Greek (Rom. 16:7) (I say they were). Certain brothers, including Titus, were called apostles (2 Cor. 8:23). Epaphroditus was an apostle (Phil. 2:25). Things that mark an apostle are signs, wonders, and miracles (2 Cor. 12:12), and men who were not numbered among the twelve could do them (Luke 10:9). Even Philip, who was titled an evangelist could do them (Acts 8:4-13). Surely other men, whose ministries went unrecorded, could claim to do them without being an evangelist (Mark 16:17-18). They could possibly be considered apostles, but their lives are unknown to us, so let’s not draw far-reaching conclusions about them specifically.
The point to the linked post is that the lower order of apostles is open to certain men and women today, but be warned! Anyone who claims the title must be checked out, especially if he gave himself this title or allowed some “yes men” to call him an apostle.
Apostle literally means “sent one.” Key point: the rabbinic text, the Mishnah, says, “the one sent by the man is as the man himself” (m.Ber. 5.5; see Darrell L. Bock, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 1, p. 542).
“be with him”: to fulfill their calling, they had to be with him, which included his training them. Most importantly, they would grow in their knowledge of his character and heart. It must have been something special to spend so much time with him. Hands-on training is better than reading manuals and hearing lectures (Strauss, p. 163).
“commissioned”: it is the verb apostellō (pronounced ah-poh-stel-loh), and it is easy to see that our word apostle is related to it, as is the Greek noun apostolos (pronounced ah-poh-toh-loss). It means “to send” and is used 132 times in the NT. BDAG a Greek lexicon, considered by many to the most authoritative, says it means (1) “to dispatch someone for the achievement of some objective, send away / out” (the disciples are sent out: Matt. 10:5; Mark 3:14; 6:17; Luke 9:2; John 4:38; 17:18). (2) “to dispatch a message, send, have something done.” Here it could be translated as “commission.”
Why did Mark omit healings? Verse summarizing healings and demon expulsion appear 1:32-34; 3:7-12; and 6:13; and 6:53-56 refer only to healing. Plus, Mark right now is highlighting spiritual warfare in the first three chapters of his Gospel (Strauss on 1:39). The kingdom must exert power over demons, and the disciples (and us, by extension) must learn that we too have kingdom authority over darkness, in Jesus’s name.
“authority”: it is the noun exousia (pronounced ex-oo-see-ah), and it means, depending on the context: “right to act,” “freedom of choice,” “power, capability, might, power, authority, absolute power”; “power or authority exercised by rulers by virtue of their offices; official power; domain or jurisdiction, spiritual powers.”
The difference between authority and power is parallel to a policeman’s badge and his gun. The badge symbolizes his right to exercise his power through his gun, if necessary. The gun backs up his authority with power. But the distinction should not be pressed too hard, because exousia can also mean “power.” In any case, God through Jesus can distribute authority to his followers (Matt. 10:1; Luke 10:19; John 1:12).
So do we have the same power and authority that the twelve have in this passage, or are they a special case? Restrictive interpreters say they are special cases with unique callings, while freer interpreters say we too, as disciples of Jesus, can have the same authority. I come down on the freer interpretation.
Jesus will give us authority even over the nations, if we overcome trials and persecution (Rev. 2:26). And he is about to distribute his power in Acts 2. Never forget that you have his authority and power to live a victorious life over your personal flaws and sins and Satan. They no longer have power and authority over you; you have power and authority over them.
I like what Wessel and Strauss say about vv. 14-15:
The Twelve are to serve as his representatives and expand the scope of his ministry. The primary theme of Mark’s gospel up to this point has been Jesus’s authority as inaugurator of the kingdom of God. Now Jesus delegates this kingdom-authority to his disciples. As we have seen, the proclamation of the good news and driving out demons are closely related. The salvation Jesus brings is of cosmic significance: it involved the defeat of Satan and the spiritual forces of evil.
Boanerges is an Aramaic term. It describes their disposition early on in their walk with the Lord; they were thunderous (Mark 9:38; 10:35-37); Luke 9:54).
I have already written an article about the different lists of names in Matthew, Mark and Luke and Acts and the meaning of their names:
In Mark 6:7-13, Jesus will actually send them out.
GrowApp for Mark 3:13-19
A.. We all have our commission from God, whether a world changer or a faithful worker or soccer mom. How has Jesus commissioned you?
Jesus Is Misunderstood by His Family (Mark 3:20-21)
20 He came home, and again a crowd gathered together, so that they were unable even to eat a meal. 21 When his family heard this, they went out to take him into custody, for they were saying, “He was out of his mind.”
These are two surprising verses. Mary treasured his childhood (Luke 2), and Joseph was told that he would save the people from their sins (Matt. 1:21), but this does not mean that his family saw him as the Messiah or the Son of God. They were not at the highest level of knowledge about his true and fuller identity. But if they fail to understand their own son and brother, then at least they were concerned about him. Further, Israel was an honor and shame society, and they attempted to bring him home, so that he would bring shame on the family, by his unorthodox or nonconformist activities (Wessel and Strauss).
NET translated “a house” as “home.” In other words, he returned home (Capernaum). This is probably right, since it fits the context. The crowd outside of their house must have startled his family. So I went with the NET’s translation. However, the wording also says “they went out” as if he was not at home, but perhaps nearby. Alternatively, he may have been just outside his family’s house and the crowd gathered and bothered the family meal, so they went out to seize or restrain him (possible translations of the verb, other than “take … into custody”).
His mother and brothers are named in Matt. 13:55: Mary, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. His sisters are unnamed (13:56). Together, they would have been strong enough to restrain or take custody of him.
“he was out of his mind”: ouch! This was a terrible thing to say. And in the next pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or unit or section, some Pharisees from Jerusalem will say he expels demons by the ruler of demons. The misunderstanding from his family must have cut most deeply. They may have said, “Jesus, enough!” Then they looked at the crowd and said, “We’re sorry, but we have to take him into our hands. We’ll bring him back to normal, back down to earth.”
In John 7:3-9 his unbelieving (v. 5) brothers tried to micro-manage Jesus’s ministry. They told him to go to Judea so that the disciples there could see the works he was doing. He replies that his time had not yet come, but their time is always here, because they belong to the world, which does not hate them, but it hates him because he testifies that its works are evil. That passage cannot get any clearer. There was a deep misunderstanding and gulf between him and his brothers. However, the epistles of James and Jude were written by his two brothers (Jude is a variation on Judas). So they must have surrendered to his Lordship, after his resurrection.
Here, back in vv. 20-21, Jesus’s identity was being attacked. However, he was not deterred. He knew his calling and who he was. The Father told him from heaven that he was his beloved Son (Mark 1:11). After that critical declaration, he didn’t need his earthly family’s acceptance. In fact, in vv. 31-35, he’ll tell the crowd that his family are those who do the ill of God, while his mother and brothers were outside asking to see him. He didn’t answer their request to see him. He had to complete his mission all the way to his crucifixion—but also his resurrection and ascension.
Lane is excellent here:
The charge leveled against Jesus is that “he has lost his mind.” The Marcan term describes one who is ecstatic in the sense of psychic derangement. Reflection on Jesus’ eschatological sense of mission, his urgent drive to minister, his failure properly to eat and sleep undoubtedly led the family to their conviction, but it reveals both misunderstanding and unbelief. The entire incident calls to mind passages in which the man of God is despised by family and contemporaries who mistake his zeal for God as “madness.”
In the next pericope, the teachers of the law (scribes) will claim he expels demons by the power of Satan. His family thought he was out of his mind and now the religious authorities falsely assess him. The opposition is getting intense.
GrowApp for Mark 3:20-21
A.. Jesus’s family completely misunderstood him. Have you ever been seriously misunderstood by those closest to you, as you endeavor to follow Jesus? How did you respond?
Jesus and Beelzebub (Mark 3:22-30)
22 Then teachers of the law from Jerusalem came down and were saying, “Beelzebub is his master,” and “He expels demons by the ruler of demons.” 23 When he summoned them, he began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan expel Satan? 24 And if a kingdom is divided against itself, this kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a household is divided against itself, this household cannot stand. 26 If Satan rose up against himself and was divided, he would be unable to stand; instead, the end is his master.
27 “Rather, no one entering a strong man’s house is able to plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he is able to plunder his household.
28 “I tell you the truth: All sins and blasphemies will be forgiven for all of humanity, in whichever way they may blaspheme. 29 But he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has no forgiveness forever but is answerable to an eternal sin.” 30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Most scholars consider this pericope an intercalation or a sandwich between the two family-conflict pericopes (vv. 20-21 and 31-35). Jesus got slammed by his family in the previous pericope, and now he will be falsely accused and misunderstood by the teachers of the law. Wow. I wonder whether I could withstand such opposition. He truly was the Anointed One.
“teachers of the law”: They were also called scribes. You can learn more about them, here:
See v. 6 and the Pharisees on how the teachers of the law were also the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior
“coming down”: Jerusalem was on a hill, so the city was elevated. They were the elites coming from the holy capital. They were either sent by the leaders or came on their own, to criticize him. It was an evil intent and goal. Jesus is getting attacked in vv. 20-35.
“Beelzebub”: This is another name for Satan (v. 18). It probably comes from the Canaanite deity Baal-Zebub (2 Kings 1:2, 3, 6, 16), or it may refer to dwelling of Baal, the Hebrew word zebul, meaning “residence” or “palace.” So it means “lord of the high abode” or “prince Baal.” Matt. 9:34 calls him prince or ruler of demons. Jesus called him the prince of this world (John 14:30). Paul calls him the god of this word or age (2 Cor. 4:4).
“Beelzebub is his master”: it could be translated as “Beelzebub has him.” Note v. 26, which says, “The end is his master.” It could be translated as “He comes to an end,” where the “end” is the direct object, or more creatively, “The end is his master.” I like the second option because of the verbal parallels. Jesus turns the tables on the teachers of the law. They said Beelzebub is his master, and now he says the end masters them.
“ruler of demons”: these are the words of his critics, so are the words reliable? Is Satan really the ruler of demons? Yes. He heads up the demonic kingdom that is invisible to our eyes, but which manifests itself in cases like the mute man.
“parables”: literally, the word parable (parabolē in Greek) combines para– (pronounced pah-rah and means “alongside”) and bolē (pronounced boh-lay and means “put” or even “throw”). Therefore, a parable puts two or more images or ideas alongside each other to produce a clear truth. It is a story or narrative or short comparison that reveals the kingdom of God and the right way to live in it and the Father’s ways of dealing with humanity and his divine plan expressed in his kingdom and life generally. The Shorter Lexicon says that the Greek word parabolē can sometimes be translated as “symbol,” “type,” “figure,” and “illustration,” the latter term being virtually synonymous with parable. Here you must see yourself in the parable.
These verses show that Jews debated the accusation:
19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” (John 10:19-20, ESV)
Now, let’s analyze things more theologically.
First, he speaks of a general principle. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Nor can a household divided against itself can stand. Self-division is destructive, while unity and a common purpose is constructive.
Jesus speaks obvious truths that refute the absurd and false claims of the teachers of the law. Division in a household or kingdom or Satan divided against himself will cause each entity to fall. Clear enough, simple enough. Therefore the accusations thrown around by the religious leaders were obviously false.
We learn from this passage that Satan has a kingdom that corresponds to countless numbers of worldly kingdoms run by humans (v. 17). So there are three kingdoms (1) God’s, (2) Satan’s, (3) and humanity’s (many of them). God wants to guide—as distinct from theocratically ruling over—the third kingdoms towards righteousness and justice and light, so he gave them moral law, which is figured out by reason and conscience. The best path for worldly kingdoms is for reason and conscience to then implement moral law by legislation, so they will have no more injustice, like slavery or joblessness, because the economy booms with liberty and life. The problem is that Satan wants to rule over the third kingdoms and absolutely control them. He does this by blinding leaders with all sorts of human vices, like greed and oppression and extermination. Any society that practices extermination is on the side of Satan. Any nation that practices slavery—or used to practice slavery—was listening to Satan within that singular policy (but not entirely wrongheaded about other issues, like liberty and freedom of the press and freedom of religion and so on). However, the third, human-ruled kingdoms have enough evil people in them that Satan does not need to work very hard to implement his evil oppression. All he has to do is nudge people.
The best news is that eventually, when God sees that the time is right, he will send his Son a second time, and he will sweep aside all worldly kingdoms and set up his lasting kingdom. But right now, we his followers have to fight for truth and righteousness and most of all for the salvation of people’s souls and hearts.
These same obvious truths about division in a kingdom apply to the household as well.
Scroll back up to vv. 11-12 for links to articles about Satan.
Jesus shifts slightly to a new idea or application to the earlier one about division. The strong man is Satan, and the stronger man is Jesus (the stronger man is implied; see Luke 11:22). Jesus invades the domain of Satan and overpowers and conquers him. Now what does the conquering Lord do? He plunders or robs and distributes his plunder or spoils of war. What are Satan’s spoils? One commentator says things like salvation and the Holy Spirit, but this is impossible, since they are not Satan’s possessions. So what is the plunder? You and me. Now Jesus distributes us where he wills in the new kingdom of God. Yes, Satan is strong, so never underestimate his power and authority to make people’s lives miserable. However, never underestimate Jesus’s victory over him and ultimately over his entire house or kingdom. Demon expulsion is the key sign in Jesus’s ministry that Satan was losing his grip and power. Jesus’s kingdom is forcefully advancing (Matt. 11:12; Luke 16:16).
Binding Satan refers to the popular belief in Judaism of antediluvian (before the Flood) imprisonment of fallen angels; however, here it means the eschatological defeat of the forces of evil:
21 On that day the Lord will punish
the host of heaven, in heaven,
and the kings of the earth, on the earth.
22 They will be gathered together
as prisoners in a pit;
they will be shut up in a prison,
and after many days they will be punished. (Is. 24:21-22, ESV)
“That day” typically refers to the wrap of the entire age, the final day. The host of heaven may refer to elemental principles that have a life of their own, in a spiritual sense—evil invisible beings. The NT clarifies them as satanic (Eph. 6:12).
12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12, ESV)
Right now, before the last day, we have victory over them because of Christ’s work on the cross:
13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:13-15, ESV)
Verse 15 is the important one for us here. On the cross, he disarmed the invisible rulers and authorities. We now have victory over the strong man, by Jesus’s death, and in his name.
“I tell you the truth”: “truth” in my translation comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). Used thirteen times in Mark, it expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “truly I tell you” or I tell you with certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. In the OT and later Jewish writings is indicates a solemn pronouncement. It means we must pay attention to it, for it is authoritative. He is about to declare an important and solemn message or statement. The clause appears only on the lips of Jesus.
That is, in Paul’s epistles, for example, he never says, “I truly say to you.” That phrasing had too much authority, which only Jesus had. The clause only appears on the lips of Jesus in the NT. The word appears in a Jewish culture and means “let it be so.” So Jesus speaks it out with special, divine emphasis. “Let this happen!” “Let what I’m about to say happen!” We better take it seriously and not just walk by it or read over it with a casual air.
“blasphemes”: it comes from the verb blasphēmeō (pronounced blahs-fay-meh-oh), and we get our word blaspheme from it. BDAG says it means, depending on the context: “to speak in a disrespectful way that demeans, denigrates, maligns, … in relation to humans slander, revile, defame … in relation to transcendent or associated entities slander, defame, speak irreverently / impiously / disrespectfully of or about.” The Shorter Lexicon adds the obvious: “blaspheme.”
A few people are anxious about this blasphemy verse in their own lives. I address this topic in a long, separate article. It’s too complicated to cover here.
“forever” and “eternal”: See the post about what these words really mean:
Here is what Matthew says: “But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven of him, neither in this age, nor in the one to coming” (Matt. 12:32). So the same Greek word in v. 29 here in Mark could be translated as “age-long unforgiveness” and “age-long sin.” The word here in a Jewish background does not necessarily mean “forever” or “eternal” in a Platonic philosophical sense.
For more information on why Jesus fought back verbally, see v. 6 and the honor and shame society. He did not just stand there and take it.
GrowApp for Mark 3:22-30
A.. Have you ever been falsely accused? Has anyone challenged your own soul and character? What about the source of your ministry? How did you respond?
The Mother and Brothers of Jesus Look for Him (Mark 3:31-35)
31 His mother and his brothers, standing outside, sent for him and called him. 32 A crowd sat around him and said to him, “See, your mother and your brothers and your sisters are looking for you outside.” 33 In reply, he said to them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 He looked around at those sitting about him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 35 The one who does the will of God—this one is my brother and sister and mother.”
These five verses must be matched up with these two:
20 He came home, and again a crowd gathered together, so that they were unable even to eat a meal. 21 When his family heard this, they went out to take him into custody, for they were saying, ‘He was out of his mind.’ (Mark 3:20-21).
Sometimes making a clean break from your own family needs to be done. For all we know, his family was outside in order to take custody of him.
Joseph is not mentioned probably because he had passed away.
“Here are my …”: Jesus was gesturing, pointing at the crowd.
In Matt. 10:34-39 and Luke 12:49-53, Jesus taught family division may arise, yet in Mark 7:10 he upholds the OT command to honor one’s father and mother. So in comparison between the kingdom and the family, the kingdom comes first, and if the family supports the kingdom citizen or disciple, then we should be grateful. These are general rules, like Proverbs, which admit exceptions.
In Islamic and strict Jewish cultures, converting to Christ—becoming a Christian—is very offensive. Muslim girls who convert are especially vulnerable. They may be “honor-killed.” Jewish children may be disowned. But those who reject their own family for these decisions for Christ are not hearing and doing the word of God. Those who reject their own family members are outside of right standing with God. Judaism is incomplete, and Islam is off the tracks. Those are strong criticisms, but I believe, after much study, that they are right.
Please see my post on Judaism and this summary post about Islam:
I have many posts on Islam in the World Religions category.
So the bottom line is that people are right to leave those two religions behind and follow Jesus. And people may have to leave a dysfunctional family behind. “Why are you doing this?” You’re weak!” When they leave, let’s gather them in our “church arms” and welcome them into the new church family.
GrowApp for Mark 3:31-35
A.. Jesus had to move past his family. Has anyone in your family and friends rejected you, so that you had to move on? Tell your story. Do you know someone who was rejected? Can you tell their story?
Summary and Conclusion
Verses 1-6 goes together with all of Mark 2. Scholars call the five pericopes “conflict narratives.” His opponents confronted Jesus for his perceived insensitivity to play by the rules. He won every confrontation. The lesson for us is that we should not slink away when we are challenged. Have no fear and have courage. Opposition will come, but you can stand against it, with your words.
Then we have a summary of Jesus popularity. Many people from all over greater Palestine came to see in Galilee. Even Judeans (southern Israel) came north to hear him and get their miracle. He touched them, and power flowed out of him. As Luke would say: the power of the Lord was present to heal and it came from him (5:17; 6:19; 8:46). Never be shy about reaching out to the resurrected Jesus to be healed. Pray in faith and joy and confidence!
Jesus formally chose the twelve. Apparently, we are supposed to read between the lines. Jesus was watching them and concluded, after prayer, that he was supposed to call these men, to be with him. He was to train them and grant them authority to expel demons. They were to have hands-on experience. They watch him and then they do “the stuff” (signs and wonders).
Ouch! Then his family stepped in and wanted to arrest or seize or take custody of him. They were concerned for his drive to minister. He seemed to be a nonconformist. Who knows? Maybe someone reported to his family that the religious establishment opposed him. Jesus, a man who did not submit to them, was unorthodox. He needed a rest. He was bringing shame on the family. But he ignored them. He needed to complete his mission.
Then another long passage was inserted between the family conflict in vv. 20-21 and vv. 31-35. In vv. 22-30, teachers of the law (a.k.a. scribes) came from Jerusalem with the express purpose of claiming that Jesus expelled demons because Satan had mastery over him. Of course, that does not make sense because a kingdom, even a satanic kingdom, divided against itself cannot stand. If Satan rose up in revolt against himself, he would be self-divided and collapse. Satan is evil, but he is not stupid. In any case, he is the strong man, and Jesus tied him up and plundered his domain to rescue us. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). Does this mean Satan is thoroughly bound so that he cannot act in his domain? No, it just means he cannot keep us when we reach out to Jesus and ask to be saved. Jesus said that if anyone blasphemes against the Spirit, his unforgiveness lasts as long as this age does and as long as the next age. Today, this sin means a willful, defiant and life-long resistance to the Spirit. (I have an extended article on the topic, so scroll back up to vv. 22-30 to click on it.
Finally, Jesus’s family must have made another attempt to “rescue” him from his nonconformity and unorthodoxy. He asked the question: who is his mother and brothers? Then with a gesture with his hand, probably sweeping it across the crowd, he replied that these people are his brother, sister and mother because they do the will of God. And so it is true of us. We now belong to his family, but only when we remain in union with Christ and do his Father’s will.
As a life-long learner, I refer to a community of Bible teachers. They are excellent and are much farther down the road of understanding the Gospel of Mark than I am, but they may be too technical for the laity. I hope my commentary can simplify things. I also write from a Renewal perspective.
Decker, Rodney J. Mark 1-8: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor UP, 2014).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Eerdmans, 2002).
Garland, David E. Mark: The NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 1996).
Lane, William L. Mark: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Eerdmans, 1974).
Strauss, Mark L. Mark: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2014).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 1993).
Wessel, Walter W. and Mark L. Strauss. Mark: The Bible’s Expositor’s Commentary, Vol. 9, Rev. ed. (Zondervan 2010).