Elijah’s Restorative Ministry and the Son of Man’s Suffering: Resolving a Scriptural Problem (Mark 9:12-13) They are on their way down from the mountain where Jesus, in transfigured splendour, converses with Elijah and Moses, and God affirms once again his divine sonship. Jesus requires his three disciples (Peter, James and John) to keep quiet about all of this until "the Son of Man has risen from the dead" (9:9). Mention of resurrection stimulates discussion among them.
In their eschatological timetable the prophet Elijah has to return first before there can be any resurrection (9:11). His coming will signal the restoration of human relations. Resurrection implies that the end of time is at hand and the Messiah’s appearance is imminent. Where is there any room for the death of the Son of Man?
Jesus affirms that Malachi’s prophecy (Mal. 4:5-6) about Elijah’s return is true (9:12). Whether this is a question or a statement is debated, but probably Jesus is confirming that "Elijah, having come first, restores everything". But then Jesus poses a question, in contrast with his previous statement:
suffer many things and be despised? (9:12)
The Old Testament foretells that Elijah will return before the ‘day of the Lord’ comes, but the Old Testament also forecasts that the Messiah, the Son of Man, will suffer and be treated shamefully. How do these two elements fit into God’s plan?
Jesus affirms that Elijah has indeed come and they, i.e. the Jewish leaders, "have done to him what they wished". John the Baptist is the New Elijah, but he has been executed shamefully by Herod (6:14-29). This too is in complete accord with Scripture’s testimony (9:13). If John the Baptist, the Messiah’s messenger, the New Elijah, has been treated in such a fashion, then it is to be expected that the Messiah himself will experience a similar rejection.
In presenting this revised plan for the Messiah’s mission, Jesus underscores his impending ‘suffering’. This language probably reflects Isaiah’s prophecy (53:3) – "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with sufferings" (NIV).
Mark reports that Jesus used an unusual word in defining the Messiah’s shameful treatment. In 8:31 Jesus prophesied that "the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected…" (NIV). In 9:13 the same sequence of ideas occurs, but a different term describes this rejection, a term meaning to despise, to treat as nothing (exoudenew), its only occurrence in Mark. Several Greek translations of the Isaiah 53 passage do use this same word (Theodotion). The cognate noun occurs in Psalm 21:6(7) where the Psalmist claims that he is "scorned by men and despised by the people". Jesus prays the initial verse of this Psalm on the cross (Mark 15:34). In Acts 4:11 Peter quotes from Psalm 118:22 and claims that the Messiah is "the stone despised (exouthenetheis) by you the builders".
How hard this message must have sounded in the ears of Jesus’ disciples. How could it be that God’s own covenant people would ‘treat as nothing’ the very Messiah? What has gone so terribly wrong in their religious understanding? How could such confusion occur? The deceptive work of satan is truly amazing. First, satan blinds the minds of people so that they do not perceive the true meaning of Scripture. It seems contradictory and so they ignore one part or fail to integrate all of the pertinent elements correctly. And secondly, satan blinds us to God’s work in the world. We sometimes find ourselves ‘treating as nothing’ the essential work of God. Perhaps it is the contribution of another Christian that we despise. Or maybe we refuse to acknowledge the forgiving work of God’s grace in another person. May God help us to see clearly what He is doing in our world! May the Holy Spirit enable us to understand the Word of God coherently!
Application: as you reflect upon God’s ways today:
- can you identify parts of God’s work that you may be despising, devaluing or ignoring? Can you turn these into items of praise and thanksgiving?
- We all struggle with understanding God’s Word. What scriptures are you wrestling with? Are you reading His Word with the care and attention to detail that He desires and it deserves?