Tag Archives: Suffering and Glory

Of Passion and Power

 

In this Series

Building on a recent post where we looked at the development of a Kingdom Leadership Paradigm through the teaching of Jesus, in this post we’ll look at how the Gospel of Mark presents contrasts between the predicted passion (sufferings) of our Lord with His disciples desire for power and authority.  This overview will, hopefully, further elucidate the paradigm that was introduced earlier.

In Mark’s divinely inspired gospel account, we find our Lord prophesying of His imminent death on three separate occasions.  In each of these passages there is a general pattern followed: the prophecy, the reaction, a correction, and a new paradigm.  In each of the prophecies, the Lord describes His being handed over to men (elders, scribes and priests), suffering unto death, and subsequently His resurrection.  Typically, the reaction by the disciples provides evidence that they’ve misunderstood the nature of Christ’s predicted suffering and instead move to assert, posture towards, or request positions of power.  These misunderstandings are then followed up by a rebuke or correction by the Lord, who then subsequently establishes of a new way of looking at kingdom relationships, particularly as it relates to authority.

Prophecy #1

The first of the passion prophecies comes in Mark 8:31

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Subsequent to this announcement, the self-appointed spokesman of the disciples, Peter, takes Jesus aside and rebukes him.  We need to pause here and consider the weightiness of this situation.  Jesus has just announced to His disciples that His life will soon end in suffering and death, followed by the prophecy of His three-days resurrection.  Peter, obviously disliking or disagreeing with this prophecy, asserts himself as the authority over Jesus, essentially attempting to establish His own superiority prior to Jesus’ death, “And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

In turn, this garners its own rebuke from Jesus, “Get behind me Satan.”  This scene is especially striking when we consider that just prior to his rebuke, Peter had made his familiar statement that Jesus was the Christ (Mark 8:27-30).  Following upon His rebuke of Peter, Jesus, having laid down the pattern of suffering to come in His own life, then sets forth the expectation of suffering and self-denial for those who would follow after Him

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:34-35

This statement on the necessity of self-denial for the followers of Christ is a further statement on the Kingdom Paradigm that inverts the normal societal structure.  In this case, whoever wants to live, must die.

Prophecy #2

Next, we arrive at the second prophecy of Jesus’ death in Mark 9:30-32

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Following in the the steps of their self-appointed leader after Jesus’ earlier prophecy, the disciples again do not understand what Jesus is saying regarding His death and again, we find them jockeying for power following the predicted passion of our Lord

33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. Mark 9:33-34

Here in these first two passages under our consideration, the contrast could not be more striking.  Jesus announces His pending suffering, death, and resurrection and the disciples are concerned with earthly authority and power, perhaps even as it relates to who would be in charge after Jesus’s death.

Once again we find a rebuke coming from our Lord and a reordering of expectations (Note the related event in Mark 10:13-16)

35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”  Mark 9:35-37

With this particular correction Jesus reverses the assumed order of societal structure, leadership, and ambition i.e. last will be first.  In order to drive this point home, He places a child in their midst.  Just after this, Mark 10:13-16, Jesus again uses the physical example of a child to establish the point that one must be child-like to enter into the Kingdom.

Prophecy #3

The third prophecy that our Lord makes, concerning His passion occurs in Mark 10:33-34

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

As if having nothing better to say on the matter, the disciples once again prove that they do not yet understand what Jesus is prophesying, rather they are more interested in seeking individual power and authority.

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark 10:35-37

Notice the contrast between the predicted suffering of Christ and the power-play by two of the disciples.  After commenting that the disciples would likewise follow the Lord in suffering, and noting the indignation of the other disciples, the passage shifts towards another example of the overturned structural norms, specifically patterns of authority.

42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Perhaps here in this final passage we have yet the strongest statement on the nature of leadership and authoritarian structures within Christ’s Kingdom.  Specifically, Gentile leadership is held up as an example of dysfunctional leadership, namely that of a top-down authority which our Lord directly contradicts by His establishment of servants being leaders.

In Mark’s gospel account, the contrast between suffering and servanthood with exaltation and authority could not be more striking.  With this, as with our previous post, we may clearly see that Jesus was reordering priorities, ambitions, and the nature of authority or leadership. His new Kingdom Paradigm establishes how we are called to live in our Christian communities and how we are called to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Suffering of the Son

 

Hebrews 2:14-18

Continuing in Hebrews 2, we reach another transitional section following the author’s discussion of Christ’s humanity in verses 5-9 and the family of God in verses 10-13, to now the suffering of the Son, alluded to in verse 9 and expanded upon in the remaining verses of this glorious but challenging chapter. In connecting the humanity of Christ with His death, it then becomes apparent that the chief purpose of our Lord’s incarnation was His subsequent death. Our Lord lived in order to die.

What a staggering and profound truth that the King so splendidly described in chapter 1 as the Supreme Being in the universe, the high and exalted One, the Son of God, should come to earth, suffer, and die. It hardly seems believable, yet it’s true, and in verses 14-18 we begin to see several of the purposes behind His suffering unto death.

In setting forth these purposes, we find in verse 14 the familiar transitional formula that is so often utilized in the book of Hebrews, namely the conjunction “therefore.” This is an important marker for Bible readers to pay close attention to because it most often serves to 1.)Maintain the continuity of an idea established earlier by transitioning to an explanation of why an earlier statement was made or 2.)To summarize a previously lengthy section with a more succinct statement. In verse 14a we have the latter, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things”. This part of the verse serves to restate the solidarity in the flesh that Christ shares with His “brothers”.

In the second part (b) of verse 14 we find the first purpose statement for Christ’s incarnation and subsequent death, i.e. “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil”. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, namely his power over death. In 1 John 3:8 we read, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” A similar sentiment is conveyed in Colossians 2:15, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Finally, we read the words of Jesus heralding His imminent triumph over the devil, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:31-32

The sentence begun in verse 14 continues into verse 15 and provides for us the second purpose statement for Christ’s incarnation and subsequent death, i.e. to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”  Destroy and Deliver, the twin themes of our Lords earthy purpose.

Those who were subject to lifelong slavery because of the fear of death is author’s eighth way of defining the “everyone” from verse 2:9. He has employed the terms: sons (vs.10), those who Christ leads or Captains (vs.10), those who are sanctified (vs.11), brothers (vs.11), brothers (vs.12), children (vs. 13), children (vs.14) and now those who have been set free from fear of death by the death of Christ. Or as John Owen so clearly stated, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.”  Why should there have been slaves to a fear of death?  Our Lord tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:56 that “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”  It becomes apparent then that slavery to a fear of death is directly related to the law, specifically punishment that the law demands because it has been violated.  Those identified in this passage are no longer subject to the fear of death because Christ has perfectly fulfilled the requirements of the law on their behalf thereby setting them free.

Keeping those recipients of Christ’s death in mind, we arrive at verse 16 and find the contrast once again between angels and the children of God, this time referred to as the “seed of Abraham.” This verse has seemed a mystery to commentators and translators alike throughout history. The King James Version translates the verse as, “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.” Here they have offered a bit of interpretation into their translation, to which John Owen agrees. He interprets verse 16 similarly and sees it not as a reference to helping or giving aid (the verb used here) to the seed of Abraham instead of angels, rather he sees the verb meaning “to take hold of” or “appropriating” and therefore associates it with Christ’s incarnation.  In other words, for Owen and the KJV translators, Christ took on the nature of Abraham’s seed, not the nature of angels.

Taken this way, this verse provides a further polemic against those who deny the humanity of the Son of God (established in verses 2:6-9) and likewise is a sufficient rebuke for those who say that Christ was a spirit being or angel prior to His incarnation (Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons for example). Surely this interpretation is biblically valid, for in the Gospel of Matthew we see that Christ’s lineage was traced back to Abraham. Additionally, this builds upon the context of the humanity of Christ, from Adam, that has been the subject since verse 6 of chapter 2, by making Him the physical seed of Abraham that was promised in the giving of the Abrahamic Covenant (see Genesis 12-22; Galatians 3:16).

A second option follows the ESV translation of this verse, “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham”. Since the verb, here  translated helps, is elsewhere translated to mean offering a hand to, i.e. Matthew 14:31 with reference to Peter sinking in the water, this translation has in view the helping or saving of the seed of Abraham instead of angels. We know this to be biblically true as well (see discussion below). This too would seem to fit the context and further define everyone in verse 9, i.e. children, brothers, sons, etc. thus making Christ the helper of Abraham’s spiritual seed.

Both of these interpretations are biblically valid and supported elsewhere in Scripture, leading one to wonder if the Divine Author of Hebrews doesn’t have both options in mind when He pens this verse.  This is the direction I’m inclined to take, concluding that both Owen and the modern commentators are correct.  Due to the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, i.e. promises to his physical seed and promises to his spiritual seed, Christ came from the physical seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16) in order to save the spiritual seed of Abraham (Romans 4:9-12; Gal. 3:9,14,29) thereby becoming the Inheritor of the promises made to Abraham and the Distributor of those promises to all who have faith in Him.  Important to note here is that the humanity of Christ as the second Adam has already been established in chapter and this verse narrows the help that Christ gives from the universality of Adam’s children to specifically Abraham’s seed, literally the children of God, keeping with the familial motif established throughout several verses of this chapter.  One additional note, Schreiner points out that the author is possibly drawing from Isaiah 41:8-10:

8But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Much more is left to be said regarding the seed of Abraham, but for now we move on to verse 17 and find continuity (therefore) with our previous conclusion, Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.Explicitly tied to the humanity of Christ, in becoming like His brothers, is His qualification and appointment as “High Priest in the service of God”.  We may conclude that this is a third purpose for the humanity of Christ, namely to serve in the office of High Priest as intercessor between God (faithful) and man (merciful) and as we will see, to mediate the New Covenant established in His blood (this is the first of 17 references to Christ as High Priest and more will be developed in the coming chapters).  Christ not only serves as a merciful and faithful High Priest who makes a sacrifice, as typified under the Levitical system, but IS the sacrifice, truly “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Additionally, we find in this verse one of the specific functions of Christ as the High Priest is to “make propitiation”.  Typically, the word propitiation carries with it a dual concept of the removal of guilt or forgiveness of sins (expiation) and the appeasement or satisfaction of God’s wrath (propitiation).  The Old Testament type for this can be found in Leviticus 16 where we find the high priest commanded by God on the Day of Atonement (note some translations use the phrase “sacrifice of atonement” instead of propitiation, see NIV) to place their hands on the head of a live goat symbolizing the transference of the people’s sin and guilt (expiation).  Likewise, we see the command from God to the high priest to kill a second goat and sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat (the root of the word propitiation).  Therefore, we find biblical precedence from this passage that our concept of propitiation should include both ideas.  As previously stated, the high priestly function is fulfilled through our Lord Jesus Christ who is both the sacrifice AND the High Priest.

Finally, in verse 18 “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” we find a fourth reason for the incarnation of our Lord, namely the Sympathetic Resonance of Christ with His brothers.  The term sympathetic resonance refers to a harmonic phenomenon wherein an instrument, such as a tuning fork, is struck and another instrument of like kind resonates with the sound that is made and offers a corresponding sound.  This expression is fitting for describing our Lord’s humanity in relating, literally resonating, with His brothers who are tempted, so that we may be reminded that He was tempted in every way as we are and is yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Also, found in this verse is the second use of the word help, which would seem to be in line more with “giving aid” (assumption #2 from above) though we must remember He is able to do so because He shares the same flesh and blood (assumption #1 from above).

Jesus’ humanity qualifies Him to serve as our merciful and faithful High Priest.  This, along with several other purposes for His incarnation, were identified in this passage, namely His deliverance of the saints from fear of death, destruction of the works of the Devil, providing propitiation, and having sympathetic resonance with those for whom He mediates the better covenant.  What is man that our Lord would condescend Himself from the glory and exaltation that He shared with the Father, to the humiliation and suffering as a man among sinners. Truly He is an awesome God, worthy of all praise and honor.

Solus Christus!

 

*Image credit: http://cmda.org/resources/publication/the-suffering-and-death-of-christ