BRIEF INTRO: We now find Jesus and His disciples traveling through northeastern Galilee (1:9), heading toward Capernaum (v. 33). Mark reveals that the Lord did not want anyone to know about it. Why? As we move forward in this study, we will again observe the incredible lack of understanding the disciples had regarding the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord, their Messiah.
We see that the Lord taught them the very same things He had taught them before, i.e., what is about to happen to Him to fulfill prophecy and to be the propitiation for sin. They fail to comprehend His teaching, which leads to the discussion they have together when they arrive in Capernaum and are in “the house.”
30 And from there, they went out and began to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know about it. 31 For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be [a]handed over to men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” 32 But they [b]did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.
FOCUS ONE: Time alone
First, we should notice the secrecy that Jesus sought in His travels. He was a prevalent figure, and as we have seen in our study, the multitudes sought Him out (Mark 9:15,25; 6:34,54; 5:21; 4:1; 3:7; 2:1-2). It was not uncommon for Jesus to want secrecy (7:24). Perhaps He wanted some rest before He engaged with the multitudes again. Maybe He sought an opportunity to be alone with the Twelve to prepare them for His coming crucifixion fully. Whether or not it was one or the other or both, it is clear He desired this time alone with them.
As they traveled through Galilee to Capernaum, Jesus taught them about the coming suffering that He would endure. His teaching is consistent with all His previous teaching regarding His crucifixion (9:9-12; 8:31). Similarly, their lack of understanding (6:52; 7:18; 8:17, 21, 32; 9:10, 32).
It appears that the disciples are possibly gaining an idea of how woefully ignorant they remain after repeated teaching from Jesus (v.32). This time, they are afraid to ask what He means. We shouldn’t be quick to judge these men because we are like them. How much teaching have we received from the Lord through scripture and His pastors and teachers that He placed in our lives? How often do we scratch our heads in uncertainty and doubt?
Information overload. I have acted just like this in the workplace as well. Maybe you can relate to me. I am thinking of the new job and the training that begins on day one! Remember how much information is meted out to you in big chunks, more on top of more on top of even more. Some of which are not grasped. And some things are a bit more uncertain, so we ask our trainer the same questions repeatedly until we become self-conscious about it and then become afraid to ask our trainer again for fear of making them angry with us.
A lack of understanding at times is part of our human condition.
33 They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them: “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.
FOCUS TWO: Who’s the greatest?
If ignorance and fear aren’t enough, now we read that the twelve our discussing which one of them was the greatest. John MacArthur points out that the dispute could have resulted from Peter, James, and John’s privilege in witnessing the Transfiguration. Reading through the New Testament, you will find that matters of rank were essential to the Jews (Luke 14:7-11). So this was possibly a genuine concern for these men in light of the coming messianic kingdom and their part in it.
Whatever the reasoning behind the discussion, one thing is sure: They did not understand the scope of what was about to happen and what it meant. Jesus asks them about their conversation, but they “kept silent.” I would venture to guess because of embarrassment. Think about it; the greatest among them is Jesus, their rabbi, friend, and Messiah! Which one of them could ever come close to Him? So, since they chose to remain silent, Jesus sat down (normal posture for a rabbi) and began to teach them.
35 And sitting down, He called the twelve and *said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And He took a child and placed him among them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever [a]receives [b]one child like this in My name [c]receives Me; and whoever [d]receives Me does not [e]receive Me, but Him who sent Me.”
FOCUS THREE: Humility
In this teaching of Jesus, we find that “the disciples concept of greatness, and leadership, drawn from their culture, needed to be completely reversed. Not those who lord their position over others are great in God’s kingdom, but those who humbly serve others” (10:31, 43-45; Luke 13:30; 14:8-11).
Notice the opposite way of thinking about such things: “if anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.” And then Jesus, to illustrate what “servanthood” is, uses a little child demonstrate.
The meaning of the illustration seems clear. “True greatness entails caring about people-insignificant people like children-because Jesus Himself is concerned about them.” In doing so, we receive Jesus and the One who sent Him, the Heavenly Father (v. 37).
Followers of Jesus Christ should be known for their selflessness, not selfishness. They should be known for their humility, not pride. They should be known for their fellowship with Christ, not men’s praises! These are three things I know I need to be more prayerful about. How about you?
MacArthur Study Bible