Although the account of Jesus’ execution will not appear until Mark chapter fifteen, the seeds of His eventual death by crucifixion have already begun to be sown by the time we enter the third chapter of Mark’s Gospel. You see, Jesus has already faced four important challenges from the religious leadership of His day:
- “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7).
- “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16).
- “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” (Mark 2:18).
- “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24).
While one or more of these questions might simply be viewed as a request for clarification or additional information, there seems to be an increasing sense of opposition to Jesus from the members of the religious establishment, even at this early stage of His ministry. Unfortunately, this atmosphere of increasing hostility will reach illogical (and criminal) proportions in Mark chapter three.
As we look at the events of this chapter, we will find that Jesus is not the timid, lightweight individual He is sometimes made out to be. In Mark chapter three, Jesus will not work to accommodate the views of His spiritual opponents. He will not seek to avoid controversy or engage in conflict resolution with these men. He will not attempt to find common ground or other areas where compromise might be possible. Instead, Jesus will deliberately and intentionally confront those who maintained the outward appearance of spiritual reverence but were very different from what they claimed to be. And while Jesus was emotionally engaged in confronting these religious leaders, He remained spiritually, logically, and emotionally controlled in challenging their beliefs.
Even though the terms “radical” and “revolutionary” may be accurately used to describe Jesus’ ministry in Mark chapter three, it would be inaccurate to equate His actions with those who are commonly identified as “revolutionaries” today. Although Jesus clearly challenged the spiritual status quo of His time, He did not do so in a coercive or belligerent manner. Unlike other revolutionaries, Jesus will not seek a forceful overturn of the established order in Mark chapter three but He will provide us with a good example to follow whenever we confront acts of injustice, deal with misunderstandings, or handle an attempt at character assassination.
“And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him” (Mark 3:1-2).
While the account of this incident is found within the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, only Luke’s gospel reveals the specific detail that this man’s right hand was deformed. This additional information is significant for a number of reasons.
First, most people tend to be right-handed, so this disability likely made even the simplest chores very difficult for this man. Next, the inability to use one’s right hand represented a severe disadvantage in the economy of that day, an economy that was largely based on the ability to perform manual labor. Finally, the “right hand” served as a symbol of power, authority, and strength in Jewish thought- and the loss of the ability to use one’s right hand represented the symbolic loss of each of those things.
There a few other aspects to this passage that might easily go unnoticed as well. First is the fact that these religious leaders were no longer serving as passive observers and objective investigators of Jesus’ ministry. Instead, these men had started to search for opportunities that would permit them to press charges against Jesus.
The specific violation in this instance involved the act of “working” on the Sabbath, something that was prohibited by the Old Testament Law. As with the incident that involved the disciples picking kernels of grain on the Sabbath in the previous chapter, these religious leaders viewed the act of healing as work unless that person was at the point of death. As one commentator observes, “…in their view only actual danger to life warranted a breach of the Sabbath-Law.” (1)
We should also note that these men apparently had little doubt that Jesus had the actual ability to restore this disabled man to health. The problem was that these religious leaders seemed to regard this man as little more than a test subject, or an individual who could serve as human bait in order to snare a troublemaking upstart.
So the question was not whether Jesus could heal the man or not; the question was whether Jesus would subject Himself to their tradition at this man’s expense. But as mentioned in the previous chapter, it’s one thing to be involved in violating a Scriptural tenet and something quite different to be in violation of someone’s interpretation of the Scriptures.
(1) Edersheim, Alfred The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah Book 3, Chapter 35
“So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Step forward.’ Then He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they kept silent” (Mark 3:2-4).
If Jesus had been interested in avoiding a confrontation with the spiritual elite of His day, He might have easily dealt with this attempted trap in another manner. For example, Jesus might have waited until the Sabbath had concluded to heal this man. Or He might have arranged to meet him at time and place that was outside the watchful eye of these religious leaders. Or Jesus could have elected to heal this man without any discernible action at all. But Jesus did none of these things.
Instead, He deliberately and intentionally provoked a confrontation with these men by instructing this disabled man to “Step up where people can see you” (CEB). In doing so, Jesus enabled everyone in the synagogue to see the physical need that these religious leaders proposed that He ignore on the Sabbath.
Jesus then asked a simple question: “Which is the right thing to do on the Sabbath day: to do good or to do evil? Is it right to save a life or to destroy one?” (ERV). In other words, “Is it right for me to do something good for this man on the Sabbath or should I avoid doing so in favor of your traditional belief?”
Matthew’s Gospel also adds this additional detail: “Then He said to them, ‘What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath'” (Matthew 12:11-12). So Jesus took this opportunity to remind these men (and the others who were there within the synagogue) that there is never a wrong time to do something good.
But what did Jesus mean when He said, “Is it right to save life or to kill?” (Phillips). After all, this man did not appear to be in any danger of immediate death. Well, even though this man’s life may not have been in danger, Someone else’s life was. And even though these religious leaders chose to remain silent in response to Jesus’ question, it won’t be very long before they provide their answer.
“And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other” (Mark 3:5).
People may sometimes respond in anger whenever they sense that an injustice has occurred. So what sort of injustice might have been committed in the Scripture quoted above? Well, Jesus’ enemies were clearly more concerned about maintaining their tradition than they were about this man’s physical disability. In other words, these religious leaders placed a higher priority on adhering to their traditional beliefs than with meeting the human need that was on display before them. This unjust lack of consideration for the suffering and pain associated with this man’s physical condition is what led to Jesus’ response.
However, there is one important difference between the kind of anger that Jesus displayed in this passage and the kind of anger that most people experience today. The difference was that Jesus wasn’t angry over an injustice that had been inflicted upon Him but over an injustice that had been inflicted upon someone else. The fact that these leaders were prepared to deprive this man of the good that Jesus was capable of doing for him just for the sake of their tradition is what provoked Jesus to anger. In fact, Jesus was not only angered by this situation but emotionally pained (or “grieved”) by their callous disregard for this man’s condition.
While the kind of attitude displayed by the Pharisees is usually not displayed in such an obvious form today, it is still possible to respond in a similar manner when presented with the possibility that God may be seeking to operate outside those parameters to which we have become accustomed. For example, its easy to respond by saying, “That’s not the way we’ve always done it,” when presented with a spiritual opportunity to do something new or different. Assuming that this “something new” does not fall outside the boundaries of Scripture, its helpful to remember that our traditional beliefs do not serve as the final arbiters of God’s agenda when considering new opportunities.
The point is that we shouldn’t make the same mistake that these religious leaders made in Mark chapter three; we must adapt to God’s agenda at the expense of our traditions if necessary, not the other way around. Any act that would provoke Jesus to grief and anger is one that we would do well to avoid.
“And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored” (Mark 3:5 ESV).
While most of the attention in this passage is centered on Jesus’ confrontation with these religious leaders, it may be easy to overlook the other main character in this account: the man with the disabled right hand. When Jesus spoke to this man and told him to “Step forward,” this man was suddenly presented with the opportunity to make a decision- would he decide to move forward on Jesus’ directive or would he choose some other response? While we might assume that this man would automatically welcome the chance to be freed of his disability, that might not necessarily be the case.
For instance, this man might have withdrawn from following Jesus in order to avoid offending these powerful religious leaders. He might have refused to step forward out of a desire to maintain the life to which he had become accustomed. He may have been adamant in his refusal to admit his need for help or consumed with a personal desire to overcome the obstacles in his life in spite of his disability.
He could have harbored a secret desire to maintain the attention and/or sympathy that he received as a result of his condition. He might have been fearful of what other things Jesus might command him to do, or perhaps he may have been concerned about what others might say. The point is that people may sometimes refuse to allow Jesus to help- and there are some who would prefer to live in their current condition (no matter how sad or unfortunate) rather than act on Jesus’ instructions and allow Him to help them.
Of course, this man might have also reacted in disbelief at Jesus’ directive to “stretch out your hand” but he chose not to do so. For example, this man didn’t respond to Jesus by saying, “I can’t do that” or “that’s impossible.” Jesus asked this man to do something that he was physically incapable of doing through his own ability, yet he did not shy away from acting on Jesus’ instruction.
Jesus didn’t ask this man to do anything that He would not first enable him to do- and the same is true for those who are willing to allow Jesus to work in their lives today. This man was willing to follow Jesus’ instructions and eventually reaped the reward of his faith and obedience.
“…He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (Mark 3:5-6).
A person with a casual knowledge of the Scriptures might assume that the decision to put Jesus to death was made relatively late in His ministry. However, the Scripture quoted above indicates that this was not the case. The decision to execute Jesus was made right here in Mark chapter three- and for the Pharisees, it was now just a matter of timing.
For these men, this miraculous healing was something that should have inspired reverence and respect for Jesus. It should have been something that encouraged these religious leaders to honor God. Instead, this miracle drove the Pharisees to conspire against Jesus with another group known as the Herodians. The Herodians were an assembly of influential Jewish men who were favorable toward first century Greek customs and Roman laws.
As their name implies. the Herodians represented a party that favored the Herodian leadership, a group that included Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa the First, and Herod Anitpas, each of whom are mentioned in the New Testament. Presumably the Herodians were fearful that Jesus’ actions might result in political unrest and conflict with the Roman governing authorities- and that opened up an opportunity for an alliance with the Pharisees who were anxious to maintain the status quo as well.
But this act went far beyond the Pharisees’ desire to maintain their authority and the system of tradition that sustained it. You see, Luke’s account of this event adds one additional detail: “But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11). This indicates that these religious leaders were filled with a violent, mindless anger towards Jesus because of what He had done. So the question wasn’t, “should we try to eliminate Jesus” but “how should we eliminate Jesus ?”
But that’s not all. When we’re told that “The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (MKJV), the wording of this passage indicates that these men didn’t just want to kill Jesus- they wanted to completely annihilate Him. In other words, the Pharisees wanted to execute a plan of total destruction that would crush Jesus physically and discredit Him spiritually as well. This is the type of opposition that Jesus faced as He pursued God’s agenda for His life.
“So the Pharisees left the synagogue and met at once with some members of Herod’s party, and they made plans to kill Jesus” (Mark 3:6 GNB).
The Pharisees clearly viewed Jesus as a threat to some of their most cherished beliefs as well as their leadership position among the people. In this instance, those beliefs involved their traditional interpretation of God’s Law. The problem was that their blind adherence to these views had turned them into hateful, murderous violators of the Law that they were supposedly responsible to uphold.
While the Herodians and the Pharisees had little (if anything) in common, the old saying that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” certainly applied when it came to their mutual relationship with Jesus. As we’ll read later in Mark’s Gospel, one member of the Herodian dynasty was responsible for putting John the Baptist to death- and these religious leaders were clearly hopeful for a similar result for Jesus.
While there may not seem to be much that we can learn and apply from the actions of the Pharisees in this passage, their example can actually help provide us with some valuable assistance whenever we’re attempting to judge our personal motives or those of others. You see, it’s sometimes difficult to assess someone’s real motivation when a difficulty or disagreement between two people occurs. However, motives usually lead to acts and acts are often more easily judged. This is important because it is sometimes possible to determine “right” and “wrong” by reasoning backwards and “reverse engineering” the validity of a motive by the effect of the action it produces.
If this seems a little confusing then let’s take the actions of the Pharisees in the passage quoted above as an example. Despite their pious appearance and external reputation for deep spirituality, we know that the Pharisees were not God-honoring people because their internal motives led them to take the ungodly act of seeking to murder another human being.
While this may be an extreme example, the concept is still valid: if an act does not display the God-honoring spiritual qualities of patience, kindness, humility, and truth (to name a few examples from the list that we are given in 1 Corinthians 13), then it would probably be a good idea to perform a motivational check. On the other hand, if someone is able to confirm that he or she is acting in a God-honoring manner according to the Scriptures, then it probably means that his or her internal motivations are OK as well.
“But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea. And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him. So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him. For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him” (Mark 3:7-10).
The cities of Tyre and Sidon were two municipal areas that were located along the Mediterranean Sea roughly 20 miles (32 km) apart and about 90 miles (145 km) north of Jerusalem. Judea and Idumea (also known as “Edom”) were regions that occupied an area 50-150 miles (80-240 km) south. This represented a considerable traveling distance in those days and demonstrates just how quickly the word got around concerning Jesus.
Unfortunately, this passage also seems to imply that the people who came to see Jesus may have been more interested in Jesus’ miracles than in Jesus Himself. In other words, these people were interested in seeing what Jesus could do but not necessarily interested in seeing Jesus.
Like this first century multitude, its sometimes tempting to look at Jesus for what He can do and not for who He is as we go through the routine of our daily lives. The difference is illustrated in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi where he writes, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23 NIV emphasis added).
Like Paul, we might also feel a desire to depart from this life- especially on Monday mornings when its time to get up early for school or work or whenever we are loaded down with chores, homework, or other job responsibilities. But while people may experience a desire to depart from the problems, hardships, and difficulties of daily life, how many want to depart and be with Christ and how many simply desire to escape from the burdens of everyday life?
The question is this: do we look to Jesus because we love Him and are thankful for what He has done for us, or do we see Jesus as a way out of our problems? Are we more like the people here in Mark chapter three who were interested in what Jesus could do but were not necessarily interested in Jesus Himself?
“And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known” (Mark 3:11-12).
This was not the first time that a demonic spiritual entity had tried to identify Jesus as the Son of God. In fact, it appears that this was something that occurred not just once or twice but many times during Jesus’ ministry. And just as before, Jesus did not permit these demonic beings to confirm His true nature despite the fact that they had correctly identified Him for who He really was.
In light of this, we might question what these demonic beings had to gain in communicating this truth about Jesus. After all, we might reasonably expect an unclean spirit to lie about Jesus rather than speak the truth about Him- so what was the advantage of revealing this truth? Well, a closer look at the wording of this passage may reveal some possible explanations.
First, the fact that these demonic beings correctly identified Jesus “…whenever they saw Him” suggests some sort of coordinated effort. It may be that these beings were employing some sort of long term strategy that involved speaking an initial truth about Jesus in order to bend that truth at a later date to serve some other purpose. For instance, just as some cultic organizations define the term “Son of God” in a non-biblical manner, it’s possible that these demonic entities had some sort of similar idea in mind.
This theory may find additional support when we consider Jesus’ characterization of Satan from John 8:44: “From the very beginning he was a murderer and has never been on the side of truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he is only doing what is natural to him, because he is a liar and the father of all lies” (GNB). So even if these demonic beings initially spoke the truth about Jesus, it probably means that some sort of lie was sure to eventually follow.
However, there may have been a short-term strategy involved as well. As we’ll see a little later in this chapter, the members of the religious leadership sought to claim that Jesus received His miracle-working ability from Satan himself. If Jesus had received any sort of testimony from these unclean spirits, then there was always a possibility that such testimony might later be twisted to support those charges in some way. So in silencing these malevolent spiritual entities, Jesus effectively eliminated their potential ability to discredit Him in any way.
“And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him.
Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, ‘Sons of Thunder’; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him” (Mark 3:13-19).
In Luke’s account of this passage we read,“Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles” (Luke 6:12-13). In comparing these two accounts, we can summarize Jesus calling of the apostles in this manner:
- Jesus first continued all night in prayer to God before choosing these men (Luke 6:12).
- Jesus subsequently called those that “He Himself” wanted (Mark 3:13).
If we were to harmonize these accounts, we could say that Jesus first sought to align His desires with God’s will through the act of prayer. He then called the twelve apostles from among those that He wanted, a desire that found it’s origin in that which God desired for Him to do. So this act of calling the Apostles helps provide us with a good example to follow whenever we are faced with an important decision- it’s always wise to pray first and seek to move into alignment with God’s agenda in that circumstance or situation.
An “Apostle” is a “commissioned representative” much like an emissary or a spokesperson. In the original language, the word used for “apostle” carries the idea of an “ambassador” or someone who represents a person (or nation) with a message to communicate. This definition is important because the twelve Apostles were not called to simply represent Jesus- they were called to “be with Him” as well.
While any lawyer, agent, or salesperson might represent a product, service, or person, Jesus was not calling these twelve men to serve as mere promoters, spokespersons, or publicists. Instead, He called these men to live and study with Him and and learn through the experience of daily life. We can emulate this approach today by spending time with Jesus through prayer and reading the Scriptures on a daily basis.
“He appointed twelve: Peter, a name he gave Simon; James and John, Zebedee’s sons, whom he nicknamed Boanerges, which means “sons of Thunder”; and Andrew; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas; James, Alphaeus’ son; Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean; and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus” (Mark 3:16-19 CEB).
Philip (whose name means “lover of horses”) was a native of the town of Bethsaida in Galilee according to John 1:44. The Gospel of John also tells us that Philip first met Jesus in Galilee the day after Andrew and Peter were first introduced to Him (John 1:43). Philip is mentioned a few more times -mostly in Gospel of John- but very little else is known about him. Tradition tells us that Philip preached and later died in what is now known as the modern-day country of Turkey.
According to church tradition, Bartholomew was a missionary to various countries including India. He is also said to have teamed up with Philip and Thomas to preach the gospel. According to another tradition, Bartholomew was eventually put to death by being crucified upside down.
Thomas is also called “Didymus,” the Greek word for “twin” (John 11:16). Thomas is probably best remembered for his reluctance to believe that Jesus had really risen from the dead (John 20:19-29). Because of this, he has earned the nickname “doubting Thomas.” Thomas appears three times in the Gospel of John and except for the listing of the disciples, he does not appear in the other three gospels. According to church tradition, Thomas spread the gospel in Persia (modern day Iran) where he later died. Another tradition places Thomas in India where he was killed for his faith.
Next up is James, the son of Alphaeus, also known to history as James the Less. This James is always listed in the eight or ninth position among the lists of disciples. It is thought that this James was the writer of the New Testament book that bears his name. Very little personal information is known about him.
Thaddeus is also known as Lebbaeus and Judas. According to a church tradition, this man is the same person as “Judas the son of James” in Luke 6:16. He is always clearly distinguished from Judas Iscariot in the New Testament but virtually nothing else is known about this apostle.
We’ll continue our look at the remaining Apostles next.
“He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (Mark 3:16-19 ESV).
“Simon The Zealot” (or “Simon The Cananaean” depending on the translation you may be reading) was not someone who might ordinarily come to mind when we consider the type of person who might be chosen to serve as an Apostle of Jesus Christ.
You see, Simon “the Zealot” was a name that was probably given to this man to distinguish him from Simon Peter. Simon was likely given this name because he had been a member of a Jewish political party known as the Zealots. The Zealots were an extremist group that relentlessly opposed the Roman occupation of Israel during the first century A.D.
Because this group called for the overthrow of the Roman government, Simon was not the kind of person who might be considered as a politically “safe” choice to serve as an Apostle. Its also interesting to consider how well Simon got along with Matthew, his fellow disciple and a man who had previously worked for the same Roman government that the Zealots were trying to overthrow.
Rounding out the list of disciples is Judas Iscariot. Judas, of course, was the man who later betrayed Jesus (Mark 14:10) and his name always appears last in the lists of the twelve disciples. Although Judas was considered to be trustworthy enough to serve as the treasurer for the disciples, he was not a moral individual. The truth is that Judas was actually a thief and a person who would occasionally appropriate the group’s money for his own personal use (see John 12:1-6). Overcome by his guilt in betraying Jesus, Judas eventually committed suicide by hanging himself (Matthew 27:1-5).
These twelve men were specially chosen by Jesus for a period of spiritual training. Following this, the Apostles went on to preach and heal in Jesus’ name. But after selecting these Apostles, Jesus returned returned to find that the needs of the people were so great that He didn’t even have time to take a meal. We’ll see how that situation affected the opinions of some of His family members next.
“Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind'” (Mark 3:20-21).
So after selecting twelve men to serve as His Apostles, Jesus returned to find that the needs of the people were so great that He didn’t even have time to take a meal. News of this situation eventually found it’s way to Jesus’ family who apparently came to the conclusion that Jesus had gone crazy.
So what could have led these family members to reach such a verdict? Well, we might imagine that a conversation between Jesus’ family members could have gone something like this: “Jesus is running from Nazareth, to Galilee, to Capernaum. The scribes and the Pharisees are after him. The people are crowding him off the beach. They’re breaking into houses in order to reach him. He can’t even stop to have something to eat- is he out of his mind?!?”
Now before we continue, we should take a moment to look at this portion of Jesus’ ministry from a more personal perspective. For instance, you may have problems, difficulties, and challenges in life but have you ever really stopped to consider what Jesus had to endure during this time?
First, the devil tried to prevent Him from doing what He had been called to do. Then the leading religious authorities of His day tried to prevent Him from doing what He had been called to do. Then His own family tried to prevent Him from doing what He had been called to do. In the words of Psalm 69, Jesus had become “…a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me” (Psalm 69:8-9 NIV).
But Jesus’ family members weren’t the only ones who misunderstood Him…
“He went to His hometown and began to teach them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, ‘How did this wisdom and these miracles come to Him? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother called Mary, and His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, aren’t they all with us? So where does He get all these things?’ And they were offended by Him…” (Matthew 13:54-57 HCSB).
We’ll see how we might find a personal application for these experiences from Jesus’ life next.
“Jesus went back home, and once again such a large crowd gathered that there was no chance even to eat. When Jesus’ family heard what he was doing, they thought he was crazy and went to get him under control” (Mark 3:20-21 CEV).
“Zeal for business, war, science, pleasure, politics, or nearly any earthly pursuit, is admired, complimented, and emulated; but let a man devote himself fully to the service of holy religion, and the neighbors begin to shake their heads and say, ‘He’s getting carried away with it!'” (1)
From their point of view, Jesus’ family members were probably acting with His best interests in mind in seeking to take charge of Him. Remember that Jesus was someone who had gone from exceedingly humble circumstances to someone who had now attained celebrity status among the people- so much so that He didn’t even have time to eat. But as much as Jesus seemed to be admired by the general population, the political and religious leadership were so offended and enraged by Him that they were actually seeking to put Him to death.
These things apparently led Jesus’ family to reach two conclusions…
- Jesus must have gone out of His mind
- The only responsible thing to do was to take charge of Him before He suffered some sort of breakdown.
So how might Jesus’ experience in these verses help us today? Well, consider this: while its important to carefully evaluate the advice of those who love us and have our best interests in mind, we should also remember that others may not always understand (or approve of) our pursuit of God’s direction for our lives. For example, there may be family members, friends, or even spiritual leaders who misinterpret God’s calling on our lives, just as we see with Jesus here in Mark chapter three. From the opposite perspective, there may be others with strongly held opinions on how God may want us to invest our lives, some of which may be offered with the best intentions and some of which may not.
The point is that Jesus did not let anything -even the concerns of His family- deter Him from doing what He had been called to do. Again, this is not to say that we should ignore the counsel of Godly friends, family members, or spiritual leaders. In fact, the Scriptures speak often about the benefits of Godly counsel. However, we need to be aware that others may not always have a good understanding of God’s call on our lives- and we shouldn’t let that deter us from doing what God has called us to do.
(1) James Burton Coffman Commentary on the Whole Bible
“And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebub,’ and, ‘By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons'” (Mark 3:22).
Since it had proven impossible for these religious leaders to deny Jesus’ miraculous works and difficult to charge Him with a violation of the Old Testament Law, these men elected to try a different approach. This approach involved an effort to discredit Jesus by attempting to establish guilt by association. In this instance, the guilty associate was Beelzebub.
So who or what was the “Beelzebub” referenced here in Mark 3:22? Well, Beelzebub was the name under which Baal, the ancient pagan deity was worshiped. One source provides us with the following information regarding this Old Testament era “god”…
- “You have a demon” (John 7:20).
- “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48).
- “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?” (John 10:20).
So these lawyers made a serious accusation: “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons” (NIV). In light of this accusation, its interesting to note Jesus’ response. For instance, Jesus did not respond in an emotional manner. He didn’t become physically aggressive nor did He did respond passively in the face of this charge. Instead, Jesus proceeded to refute their argument with cool logic- and we’ll see how He accomplished that next.
(1) Gods, Pagan Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
(2) Beelzebul The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright © 1988.
“And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebub,’ and, ‘By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons'” (Mark 3:22).
Imagine if someone spoke these words about you. What would your response be to such an accusation? Would you remain calm and unemotional if a group of respected leaders suddenly began to claim that you were “possessed by Satan”? Well, a look at Jesus’ response to this insult tells us a lot about His character. Rather than getting angry or upset, Jesus calmly pointed out just how ridiculous their argument really was…
“So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house'” (Mark 3:22-27).
To address this false accusation, Jesus turned to the use of one of His favorite teaching tools: a parable. A parable is a teaching method that uses a short, simple story to illustrate an important spiritual truth or moral lesson. A parable works by taking a familiar example from everyday life and using it to demonstrate a spiritual truth that may not be so easily understood. As seen in the example above, Jesus’ parables often featured ordinary circumstances and common events that were easy to understand and associate with spiritual truths that were more difficult to grasp.
Jesus first began by encouraging His accusers to think about what they were actually saying: “How can Satan force himself out?” (CEV). In other words, why would Satan (the ultimate source of demonic possession) want to do anything to eliminate it? Why would Satan act against his own best interests? Jesus then followed with His parable: “No one can go into a strong man’s house and steal his property. First he must tie up the strong man. Then he can go through the strong man’s house and steal his property” (GW).
In this parable, Satan represents the strong man and Jesus represents the man who binds him and ransacks his property. The meaning was clear for those who were willing to accept it- far from being a tool of the devil, Jesus had actually started the process of “plundering his goods” through healing, teaching, and miraculous works.
“‘Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation’— because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit'” (Mark 3:28-30).
A common spiritual question among people who are serious about following Christ is this: “Have I committed the unpardonable sin?” This question is often generated by the passage of Scripture quoted above where Jesus speaks about “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” and identifies it as a type of sin that can never be forgiven. This particular sin has come to be known as the “unpardonable sin” because it can never be “pardoned” or absolved.
In seeking to identify who might be in danger of committing this sin, let’s begin with some definitions. We can start with the word “blasphemy.” While blasphemy is word that doesn’t see much use today, it actually has a pretty simple definition. “Blasphemy” involves cursing God or showing contempt and/or disrespect for Him. It can also involve speaking and/or living in a way that shows complete disrespect for God. A blasphemous person is someone who despises God in the things that he or she says or shows contempt for Him through his or her lifestyle.
The particular type of blasphemy mentioned here is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, a sin that can never be forgiven. When we talk about the word “sin” as used in the Scriptures, we’re talking about a word that means “to miss the mark.” To illustrate the meaning of this word, we might imagine an archer shooting at a bull’s-eye. If the archer fails to hit the target, we can say that he or she has missed the mark.
Just like the archer in this illustration, the Biblical definition of “sin” doesn’t only mean doing something wrong or doing something bad- it means “to miss the mark.” It means failing to live up to everything that God created us to be. Another definition of the word sin is “a path, a life-style, or act deviating from that which God has marked out.” (1)
So in the case of the “unpardonable sin,” we’re not talking about someone who has simply done something wrong or done something bad. We’re talking about someone who has missed the mark so totally and so completely that it can’t be fixed. We’re talking about someone who is committed to “a path, a life-style, or act deviating from that which God has marked out.”
(1) Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers
“‘I can guarantee this truth: People will be forgiven for any sin or curse. But whoever curses the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. He is guilty of an everlasting sin.’ Jesus said this because the scribes had said that he had an evil spirit” (Mark 3:28-30 GW).
So who might be in danger of committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? To answer this question, it may help to look at the people to whom Jesus was speaking here in Mark chapter three. In large part, the key to “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” might be found in who is doing the blaspheming.
First, let’s consider the audience that Jesus speaking to when He made this comment regarding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Mark 3:22 identifies these people as “…the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem” (NIV). This tells us that the scribes or the “teachers of the law” were the ones who were responsible for categorically stating that Jesus was “…’possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons he casts out the demons'” (Mark 3:22 ESV).
Notice that these statements were not qualified as mere potentialities by saying, “He could be…”, “He might be…”, or,“It’s a possibility…” This represented an absolute, unconditional, “no doubt about it” response to Jesus’ miraculous works: “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons” (MKJV). If we could duplicate this scene in our 21st century world, it would be like a group of respected religious leaders teaching that Jesus was possessed by the devil without question.
We should also remember that these spiritual leaders were highly educated men. These men represented the literary class of that culture. They served as interpreters and teachers of the Old Testament. They were the ones who were responsible for examining the Scriptures and then helping the general population to understand what God’s Word said and meant. These religious authorities were the people who were supposed to truthfully and accurately represent God and His Word to others.
Because of their detailed study and knowledge, these men were the ones who should have recognized the work of God through Jesus. They should have been familiar with the work of the Holy Spirit through their study of the Scriptures. But instead, these men made a deliberate and intentional choice: they chose to associate the work of the Holy Spirit -the work of God- to the anti-god, Satan.
“I promise you that any of the sinful things you say or do can be forgiven, no matter how terrible those things are. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven. That sin will be held against you forever. Jesus said this because the people were saying that he had an evil spirit in him” (Mark 3:28-29 CEV).
What other observations can we make from these verses regarding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Well, it’s clear that these religious leaders were not struggling with temptation when they made this accusation. They weren’t dealing with inappropriate or impure thoughts as far as we know. It’s also clear that the claim that Jesus acted “…with the authority of the ruler of demons” (CEB) was no mistake or accidental slip of the tongue. These men certainly showed no regret about what they said. On the contrary, they meant every word of it.
The fact is that these men showed open, knowing, and willful disrespect to the work of God. So in effect, Jesus tells us that there is no forgiveness for anyone who knowingly and willfully attributes the work of God to the devil. To use Jesus’ terminology from Mark 3:29, such a person is guilty of an eternal sin. To knowingly and willfully attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to the devil is like a personal insult to God.
So anyone who may be concerned about committing the unpardonable sin should see how well he or she matches up with the people that Jesus was speaking to when He issued this warning. For example…
- Are you a religious teacher who has studied the Scriptures for years as these men did?
- Have you chosen to totally reject Jesus’ teachings as these men did?
- Have you shown open disrespect to the work of God with the full knowledge of what you were doing, as these leaders did?
- Have you chosen to go against your years of studying the Scriptures and decided to refer to the work of the Holy Spirit as the work of Satan in front of a large group of people, as these men did?
Remember that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit involves knowingly and willfully showing disrespect to the work of God. Unless someone meets the same standard as the men that Jesus was speaking to in these verses, it seems highly unlikely that he or she is guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
“‘Believe me, all men’s sins can be forgiven and their blasphemies. But there can never be any forgiveness for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That is an eternal sin.’ He said this because they were saying, ‘He is in the power of an evil spirit'” (Mark 3:28-30 Phillips).
What happens in a situation where someone has said or thought something offensive about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit? What happens when a wildly inappropriate, blasphemous, or offensive thought suddenly occurs out of nowhere? What should we do in a circumstance where we have unintentionally said or done something that might be considered blasphemous?
Well, the truth is that speaking, thinking, or reacting in a way that’s insulting to God is still a sin, even if it isn’t considered to be the unpardonable sin. This means that we should deal with these things just as we deal with any other sin. In this instance, the right thing to do is found in 1 John 1:9 where we read, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NKJV).
Whenever we recognize and admit to God that we’ve done something wrong, the Scriptures tells us that God will forgive us and cleanse from anything that is wrong or impure whenever we come to Him through Christ. This is not just a personal opinion- this is God’s promise directly from the Scriptures. It can definitely help to keep this in mind whenever we begin to feel guilty over something that was said or done in the past.
But what happens when someone confesses his or her sins but still doesn’t “feel” forgiven? How should we respond to someone who says, “I know that God has forgiven me but I don’t feel forgiven” or, “I know that God has forgiven me but I can’t seem to forgive myself.” Well, the Bible addresses that question in 1 John 3:20 where we’re told, “…if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (NKJV). Remember that God is greater than our feelings, our conscience, or our emotions- and if He says we are forgiven, then we are unquestionably forgiven even if our thoughts or feelings seem to indicate otherwise.
God is truly gracious towards people who have made mistakes but sincerely desire to honor Him. Anyone who genuinely loves God but has said or thought something inappropriate should take comfort in the words of 1 Corinthians 8:3…
“…the person who loves God is known by him” (GNB).
“Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, ‘Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.’
But He answered them, saying, ‘Who is My mother, or My brothers?’ And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35).
In Luke’s account of this passage we’re told that, “…Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd” Luke 8:19 NIV). Part of the crowd surrounding Jesus was comprised of a multitude of people who were seated around Him as mentioned in the passage quoted above.
While we might ordinarily assume that this group of people had simply gathered to hear what Jesus had to say, the specific fact that they were seated around Him is probably more significant than it may appear at first glance. To understand why this is so, we simply need a little background information concerning the way that first-century teachers like Jesus interacted with those who came to listen.
You see, the teachers of Jesus’ day didn’t use desks and classrooms as is commonplace today. Back in those days, students would often sit in a semi-circle around the teacher while listening to what was being taught. Because of this, the fact that these people were seated around Jesus is probably more than just a coincidence. Unlike those mentioned earlier who sought Jesus out when they “…heard how many things He was doing” the people who were seated around Him in this passage had adopted the position associated with a student-teacher relationship.
So it appears that those who were seated around Jesus were doing more than simply just “hanging around” to see and hear what He had to say- they were actively listening to the things that Jesus taught and looking for ways to apply those things in their lives.
Besides the commitment shown by those seated around Him, these verses reveal another important truth: they tell us that those who belong to God’s family are actually closer to Jesus than even His own biological family. As we’re told regarding Jesus in John 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (KJV).
“Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them. There was a crowd sitting around Jesus, and someone said, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.’ Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ Then he looked at those around him and said, ‘Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother'” (Mark 3:31-35 NLT).
Jesus could have left those who were seated around Him in order to meet with His mother and brothers, but He instead chose to use this interruption as an opportunity to identify the real members of his family- those who were committed to doing God’s will. Since first century Jewish culture placed a strong emphasis on the importance of genealogical lineage and genetically inherited relationships, the idea of an expanded family such as the one Jesus describes here was truly radical.
However, we shouldn’t leave this chapter without acknowledging that Jesus’ response must have been difficult (and perhaps painful) for Mary and the rest of His family to accept. Nevertheless, Mary had actually been forewarned of such things many years earlier. You see, Luke 2:34-35 tells us that shortly after Jesus’ birth, a man named Simeon spoke these words to Mary: “‘…This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too'” (NIV). While we’re not told of Mary’s reaction to Jesus’ response in Mark chapter three, it’s likely that Simeon’s prophetic statement was at least partially fulfilled here in Mark 3:31-35.
Although Jesus had seemingly rejected His mother and family in these verses, it helps to remember that things are not always as they may appear. Far from abandoning His biological parent in favor of these new members of God’s family, Jesus instead reserved some of His final words for John the Apostle concerning Mary…
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:25-27 NIV).