Get ready. Jesus and his disciples are "on the road" (8:27) now until they near Jerusalem in 11:1. For the narrator's emphasis on the "road" or "way" glance quickly at 9:33-34; and 10:17, 32, 46, and 52. On the way, his disciples will learn a whole bunch of harsh lessons about the rigors of following Jesus. They sure are in for it.
On the way to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus gives his disciples a pop quiz: "Who do people say that I am?" (8:27).
The disciples list the competing answers. Everyone agrees that Jesus is someone who's returned from the past, maybe John the Baptist, Elijah, or another of the prophets (recall similar options in 6:15).
Jesus asks them what they think.
Peter answers that Jesus is the Messiah (literally, "Christ"). We all know that Peter has passed the quiz, because the narrator has given us privileged access to the teacher's guide (remember 1:1).
Jesus sternly insists that they shouldn't tell anyone.
Next up, Jesus issues the first of three predictions of his suffering, death, and resurrection. These are the so-called "passion predictions."
Peter rebukes his own teacher. The Messiah is supposed to be a mighty person, after all, who restores a kingdom to Israel and corrects everything that's gone awry. What's all this talk of suffering and death? Peter has a point.
Jesus shuts him up, calls him Satan, and tells him to get out of his way. He makes sure the other disciples witness this. Don't get too cocky, Peter.
Jesus tells everyone that following him requires bearing the cross, which pretty much amounts to telling them that true discipleship entails execution. That's definitely a lot to ask. Does Jesus speak literally or figuratively? You better decide.
Also, Jesus warns that selling out will mean losing your life and (worse) the Son of Man's disapproval upon his return with angels. (When's that?)
Impress your friends by explaining how in 8:35-37 Mark cleverly plays upon the words "life" (NRSV) and/or "soul" (KJV), which translate the same word in Greek.
Jesus adds that some of his followers will see the kingdom of God actually come (9:1). Whoa. This might refer to the very event he mentioned in 8:38, the Son of Man's return with the angels. Is Jesus saying that he will return within the lifetime of his first followers? Was he, dare we ask, wrong?
By noting that the next event, which is known as the Transfiguration, occurred "six days later" (9:2), the narrator ties this closely to the saying in 9:1, perhaps suggesting that in this story, select disciples enjoy at least a foretaste of God's coming kingdom.
Jesus leads Peter, James, and John up a mountain, where he is transformed and sports a slick outfit that is unusually white.
Moses and Elijah join him, and they talk.
Peter suggests that they build three "dwellings" (9:5), one for each of them, but, as we have come to expect, Peter has no clue what he's saying, and they're all wetting their pants from fright.
A cloud overshadows them, and a voice from heaven declares Jesus "my son" (9:7). Wait, we've heard this voice before (flip a few pages back to 1:11).
All at once, everything vanishes except Jesus.
On their descent, Jesus orders them not to tell anyone until after the Son of Man is resurrected. What happened on the mountain stays on the mountain.
But the disciples don't know what this business about resurrection is. They must have been daydreaming when Jesus mentioned this in 8:34. They get another F.
Then they ask Jesus about another topic provoked by Elijah's appearance during the Transfiguration. What's this scribal business about Elijah having to come first (check out Malachi 4:5)?
The scribes are right, Jesus tells them, but then he complicates this with the idea that the Son of Man will suffer. He adds that Elijah did come and was also treated badly. He's very likely talking about John the Baptist here.
Now it's back to reality at the bottom of the mountain, where a large crowd, scribes, and his other nine disciples sure are glad to see Jesus.
A father reports that his disciples are unable to exorcize a demon from his son, who suffers very severe seizures.
Need to take a break? Take a look at "The Transfiguration" by Raphael, who contrasts the events at the top of the mountain with those at the bottom—celestial highs, with all too human and demonic lows.
Jesus is ticked at this all-around faithless generation.
Upon seeing Jesus, the demon responds by throwing the poor boy into convulsions.
The father provides Jesus with more details. This has happened to the boy for seven years, and the demon even burns and drowns the boy. The father solicits Jesus's help again, "if you are able" (9:22).
Jesus responds that the question is not whether Jesus is able, but whether the father is able—to believe, that is.
The father responds, "I believe; help my unbelief" (9:24). The guy's a little ambivalent. He's also a part of this "faithless generation" (9:19).
Nonetheless, Jesus exorcizes the demon, who exits with a loud scream only after several more convulsions that lead people to believe that the boy is dead.
But Jesus takes him by the hand and raises him up.
In private, his disciples ask why they failed to exorcize this demon, and Jesus responds that prayer is required to combat the most powerful spirits.
From Caesarea Philippi, Jesus travels south through Galilee, and keeps his presence there hidden.
Jesus divulges to his disciples that he will suffer, die, and be raised. For those of you who are keeping track—this is the second of three times he'll mention this.
The disciples really don't get this at all, and they lack the courage to ask him. Look what happened to Peter in 8:32-33.
After arriving in Capernaum, Jesus asks his disciples what they were arguing about on the road.
Sheepishly, they confess that they were debating which of them should be MVP. Didn't Jesus just finish warning them of his own passion and death? Besides, what does greatness have to do with the life of the disciple as Jesus explains it in 8:34-38? They get another big fat F in discipleship.
Jesus tells them not to set their sights on greatness, but servanthood. This discipleship gig isn't going to make anyone rich and famous.
Jesus embraces a child, who lacks any status whatsoever. Since this is the kind of person who represents Jesus, the disciples really better stop trying to be Time's Person of the Year.
The disciple John reports to Jesus that they prohibited someone from casting out demons in the name of Jesus, for this person was not part of the disciples' cool group.
Jesus tells John that this was a bad idea. Somebody doesn't have to be part of the cool group to be on Jesus's side. Poor John gets yet another F. These guys can't do anything right.
Further developing this principle of inclusion, Jesus adds that anyone who simply gives a disciple of Christ a cup of water will be rewarded.
Jesus launches several other sayings, which are rife with violence and threats. You better not offend a child or else you'll be tied to a huge millstone and thrown into the sea. Sexual offenders, beware.
It's better for you to chop off your "hand" than to screw up. Jesus might be talking about masturbation, as many people think. "Hand" is also a euphemism in biblical and early Jewish literature for "penis." In this case, Jesus speaks not of masturbation so much as castration, which is preferable to committing the kind of crimes he's talking about.
Likewise, it's better "to enter life" (9:45) with one foot than hell with two. So chop it off if it leads you to sin. Like "hand," "foot" can also be a codeword for "penis." Oh, Bible.
Jesus adds the eye to the list, too. Enter God's kingdom with one eye rather than hell with two. This is also about sex, since the eye was notorious as the symbol for possessive and sex-crazed lust.
Want to spice up your life? Jesus suggests that you be willing to walk through fire.
Jesus continues his journey south toward Jerusalem through Judea and the region that is east of the Jordan River.
While instructing crowds there, Pharisees ask him to explain his position on divorce. This is a litmus test.
Jesus argues that the stipulation in the Torah allowing for divorce was Moses's concession to human weakness (read it for yourself in Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
Jesus cites Genesis 2:24, which in his view trumps this concession, and concludes, "what God has joined together, let no one separate" (10:9).
In private, the disciples want to hear more on this topic, and Jesus adds that remarrying after divorce is tantamount to adultery. The reason is that according to 10:9, divorce doesn't mean the dissolution of marriage, which is permanent. But Jesus at least seems to leave the door open for separation from one's spouse.
Of note for you history buffs out there is that in 10:12, Jesus assumes that women will sometimes initiate divorce of their husbands. In the first-century CE this is in keeping with Roman and perhaps some, but not all Jewish practices.
Some people bring their children to Jesus, but his disciples prohibit them access. Evidently, the disciples were not paying attention in 9:36-37.
Jesus is upset and orders that they allow them to come. The kingdom of heaven belongs to these kids and everyone who receives them.
Jesus embraces and blesses them.
While traveling on the road, a guy runs to Jesus, kneels before him, addresses him as "Good Teacher" (10:18 NRSV), and asks what he has to do to live forever.
Jesus corrects him. Only God is good.
Then he answers the question. This is a world without vampires (imagine that!). The only way to live forever is to be a good person and keep the commandments. Don't murder, commit adultery, steal, lie in a court of law, or commit fraud. Be responsible, respectful, and fun to be with for your mom and dad (a.k.a. some of the Ten Commandments; check out Exodus 20:12-16 and Deuteronomy 5:16-20).
The guy claims to have done all this his whole life.
Jesus adds one more thing. If he wants to live forever he has to sell his possessions and give them to the poor, then follow Jesus. By doing so, he'll build up his heavenly 401k.
That's not very easy considering he's a pretty wealthy guy. Ugh.
Jesus has another thing to tell his disciples: it's as difficult for the wealthy to enter God's kingdom as it is for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle.
That's obviously impossible, as the disciples point out.
It's not impossible for God, replies Jesus. Aha.
Peter's pretty confident he's going to live forever, and he highlights the fact that he and his fellow disciples have left everything to follow Jesus. He's right—for once (remember 1:16-20).
Jesus reiterates the principle that those who leave their families and homes for his sake will receive all of these things abundantly now, albeit with seriously painful persecutions, but in the future age eternal life.
On the way to Jerusalem, everyone starts to get emotional. They're surprised and scared.
Jesus reminds his disciples in private—for the third time—that he will suffer, die, and be raised when they get there.
Evidently, James and John don't hear a word of it because they immediately ask Jesus if they can sit next to him in glory.
Jesus responds that this depends on whether they can walk his walk and talk his talk. He's pretty much asking in a veiled way whether they're prepared to suffer like he will.
They don't get it, and respond, "We are able" (10:39).
Jesus assures them that they are indeed able, but it's not his prerogative to divvy out the seats of honor.
The other ten are perturbed that James and John are jockeying for power in this way.
Jesus sets them all straight. They're all behaving like mudslinging politicians, who desire power and want to boss everybody around.
Disciples are supposed to march to the tune of a different drummer. Their greatness lies in servitude.
Jesus cites himself as an example to imitate. He came to serve and die in order to buy many people out of slavery.
Continuing on their way, they enter Jericho and depart. What on earth did they do there?
On the road, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus, addresses him as "Son of David," and begs for mercy.
Several people tell him to pipe down. Defiantly, Bartimaeus shouts still louder.
Jesus summons him, and Bartimaeus leaps up and goes.
Jesus asks him what he wants, restores his sight, and commends his faith, then Bartimaeus follows him.
Remember that Jesus healed a blind man once before (in 8:22-26). Structurally, these two restorations of sight frame Jesus's sermon on the road in which his disciples eyes are supposed to be opened as well. Too bad the twelve got all F's.