Mark 9 contains several difficult things, but that is one of the reasons why the Bible commands our attention as we bring our minds into a proper focus to understand it. Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time when he is not physically with them; they have a lot to learn, but it will be learning from the heart rather than the mind – ‘emotional’ learning, as well as intellectual comprehension.
We read that “he passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 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’”. A plain enough statement, but it was not on their radar screens, so “they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him”. Afraid? In what sense? Surely, they were thinking, he could not mean this in a literal sense; surely this was some kind of parable!
Then they arrive in Capernaum, but had argued between themselves before they got there “about who was the greatest”. This shows they were in competition over future roles when they would one day “eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30). Their expectations of the future dominated their thinking. This is all they wanted to hear about, not realizing that, as with Jesus, it was because “of the hope set before them” they would endure the trials – as he would endure the cross!
We should meditate on this. How does this principle applies to us, as our world falls apart? Believers are already under great pressure in some countries. The disciples had to become servants, Jesus next told them, and whoever becomes childlike in their attitudes, “receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me, but him who sent me” (Mark 9:37). Do we understand this? “They did not understand” but in John’s gospel this remarkable truth is opened out further, “If anyone loves me” (that is more than to say one “believes in” Jesus) “he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (14:23). The disciples came to understand this – after he had ascended to heaven! Let us do the same.