The Son of Man Must Suffer | Mark 8:31-9:1

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. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:31-38 ESV

As we pick up the second half of Mark’s Gospel, it would seem prudent to begin by briefly recounting the first half. Mark opened his Gospel with a declaration of Jesus’ identity as the Christ, the Son of God, yet the entire first half is spent building up to Peter’s confession that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the long-awaited Savior of God’s people (8:29). Yet the road between those two points was long and winding. As Jesus began His ministry, the people were all amazed by Him, but the demons knew Him, trembling into helpless obedience at His command. The scribes and Pharisees, of course, rejected Him completely, and since 3:6, they had begun to plot with the Herodians how to destroy Jesus.

In chapter 4, Jesus began to speak to the people in parables, revealing the secret of the kingdom to some (those with eyes to see and ears to hear), while concealing it from others. At the end of that chapter, the disciples witnessed the staggering power of Jesus to calm the stormy sea, which led them to finally ask the central question of these early chapters: “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him” (4:41)?

Chapters 5-8 saw Jesus feeding His disciples the answer to that question. In 6:7-13, He sent out His disciples to proclaim the gospel to nearby towns with no provisions, forcing them to rely upon the Father for food. Immediately upon returning, Jesus miraculously provided bread for more than 5,000 people. He and His disciples then got into a boat, had a showdown with the Pharisees, and then He healed a deaf man, pulling him aside from the crowd and touching spit to tongue and ears. In chapter 8, Jesus fed 4,000 people with bread, got into a boat with His disciples, had a showdown with the Pharisees, and then healed a blind man, pulling him aside from the crowd and touching spit to his eyes.

While sitting in the boat, listening to His disciples lamenting that they had forgotten to bring bread, Jesus clearly indicated that those two patterns were not coincidental. Just as the Father gave them bread along their journey, He too gave bread to the 5,000 and the 4,000, and He could have given them bread in the boat as well. Yet their eyes were still blind, and their ears were still deaf. Thankfully, as Jesus displayed, He is more than capable of opening blind eyes and deaf ears, which is precisely what happened as Peter confessed, “You are the Christ” (8:29).

AND HE BEGAN TO TEACH THEM // VERSES 31-33

Our text picks up immediately where we left off. Jesus asked His disciple about His identity, Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, and Jesus told them not to tell anyone. The word and signals an immediate continuity. And he began to teach them… This marks the beginning of the second half for good reason. It is a new beginning, the start of the latter saga of Jesus’ ministry. Again, the first half of Mark was all about Jesus’ identity as the Christ. Now that His disciples have eyes to see this reality, the second half becomes about Jesus’ mission as the Christ. Because they believe, the deeper secrets of the kingdom are now to be made known to them.

And what are those secrets? 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. The purpose of the long-awaited Christ is to suffer, be killed, and rise back to life. This must happen. Of course, calling this the secret of the kingdom may be a bit misleading. The crucifixion was certainly a profound mystery, but God was not entirely secretive about it. Isaiah 52-53 and Psalm 22 are two of the most blatant prophesies about the suffering of the Messiah. Nevertheless, almost everyone missed God’s plan to rescue His people from their sins through the substitutional death of His Son, to offer His Son’s life to ransom many from their slavery to sin. But now that His disciples believed that He was indeed the Christ, He told them His mission plainly, disclosing the glorious mystery that was hidden in the Trinity before time began.

Yet Peter’s moment of glorious revelation is immediately followed by sharp rebuke. First, Peter did the rebuking. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. No doubt out of genuine love for Jesus and out of a faulty conception of what the Christ’s was sent to accomplish, Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about being killed. “To make matters even worse,” writes R. C. Sproul, “the word that is translated as “rebuke” is used biblically in connection with denunciation and condemnation of demons from hell. When Jesus silenced demons, He did it by rebuking them, judging them to be worthy of condemnation (see Matt. 17:18; Mark 1:25; 9:25; Luke 4:35; 9:42). It is clear that Peter’s protest was not mild by any means; he stood up to Jesus, and he brought the full measure of hostility to his rebuke.”[1] Of course, this likely arose largely out of fear. He was Jesus’ follower, a disciple of the Messiah, and if the Messiah was killed, His followers would be as well. And that fear was not irrational; Peter had likely walked by the crucified bodies of would-be christs and their disciples before.

Even if Peter was sincerely concerned for Jesus leading to his rebuke, sincerity is not enough. It does not cover a multitude of offenses. Being sincerely in error is erroneous, nonetheless. Peter may have had the best of intentions in rebuking Jesus, but his rebuke was still nothing less than satanic.

Is that too strong a word?

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Surely Jesus was exaggerating by drawing Satan into this scene, right?

I do not think so. Jesus spoke precisely; He spoke accurately. Peter’s rebuke was satanic. It was the renewed temptation to claim the crown without the cross that Satan offered Jesus in the wilderness, only this time it came from the mouth of Jesus’ dear friend.

But why was Peter’s rebuke satanic? Because it was not in submission to the will of God. Everything that refuses to conform to God’s will is necessarily rebellion and, therefore, an imitation of the chief rebel against God, Satan. This is true regardless of how big or small, how malicious or sincere, the rebellion is. The Son of Man must suffer because God willed it. Prophesying of Jesus’ death as payment for our sins, Isaiah 53:10 says, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him…” God’s eternal purpose was the display of His manifold wisdom through the death and resurrection of His Son for the redemption and adoption of His people. To defy this plan was nothing less than satanic, a turning away from the Holy One’s everlasting and unchanging will.

J. C. Ryle wrote, “We see that it is but a little step from making a good confession to being a ‘Satan’ in Christ’s way. Let us pray daily, ‘Hold thou me up, keep me, teach me, let me not err.'”[2]

HOW TO SAVE BY LOSING // VERSES 34-38

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

In these verses, we see that Christ not only desired to expound upon His statement about setting one’s mind upon the things of God rather than the things of man but also to expand the audience of His words, for He spoke to the crowd at large rather than to His disciples exclusively, as He had been doing.

While we could easily devote an entire sermon to each of these verses, let us do our best to cover them altogether as the single teaching that they are.

First, Jesus issued a call for all who would follow Him to take up their crosses as they do so. This must have been a shocking statement for His audience to hear. Varro, a Roman, once wrote of the cross, saying, “Why, the very word is harsh on our ears.”[3] Indeed, it was so obscene that the Romans mostly chose to ignore it as much as possible. If it were not for the four Gospels, we would know virtually nothing about crucifixion; it was far too barbaric a practice for the civilized Romans to truly come to grips with practicing.

Yet all would have known to what Jesus referred when He said to take up the cross. The condemned were often forced to carry the crossbeam of their own execution (to be honest, execution seems too clinical a word for crucifixion) to the place of their torturous death. John Piper right says:

The cross is not a burden to bear; it is an instrument of pain and execution. It would be like saying, “Pick up your electric chair and follow me to the execution room.” Or “Pick up this sword and carry to the place of beheading.” Or “Take up this rope and carry it to the gallows.”

The domestication of cross-bearing into coughs and cranky spouses takes the radical thrust out of Christ’s call. He is calling every believer to “renounce all that he has,” to “hate his own life” (Luke 14:33, 26), and to take the road obedience joyfully, no matter the loss on this earth.[4]

Thus, Jesus’ demand is for His followers to live as those who are condemned and marching toward the most humiliating death imaginable, to live as dead men walking, to lose their lives as well as whatever respectability they may have had.

Who then would want to follow Jesus? This is not exactly the most inspiring rally-the-troops message ever heard. Yet Jesus goes on to explain something of how His eternal, heavenly kingdom works. The one who loses his life for the sake of Jesus and his good news will actually save his life, but the person who aims to save their life will certainly end up losing it. This is the exact opposite of what the very best of human wisdom would counsel us to do. We want to preserve our lives at all costs. But paradoxically that cost often ends up being our very soul, as Jesus goes on to say.

Clinging to our lives is the same as forfeiting our souls, for in so doing we declare that we are better keepers of our lives than the Almighty. We essentially make an idolatrous claim of divinity, declaring that we are the captains of our own fate. The reality, however, is that we can only preserve our lives as long as God allows and no further. Thus, to exchange the eternal security of our soul for a fleeting moment of appearing to be in control is folly of the highest caliber. Yet Jesus goes even further than this. If someone were able to exchange their soul in order to gain the whole world, has he truly profited?

Thankfully, history provides us with numerous case studies of just such a scenario. For instance, Alexander the Great controlled virtually all the known world before his death. What has he gained, presently? Of course, we still know his name. That was the only eternal life that he likely ever hoped for, and he achieved it in spades. But what profit is his perpetual fame to him now? What joy is the whole world to him with the grave?

Sadly, many trade away their souls for far less than the whole world. They do it for a moment of fame, for money, for an appearance of power, or for another fading flash of dopamine. They “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for” worthless idols (Romans 1:23). And in their worship of them, they become like them. Rather worshiping the soul’s Maker and Sustainer. They worship soulless things that by their worship strip them of their very souls.

Therefore, we ought to cast our trust upon the LORD. We may indeed have to endure trials, especially for following Christ. If the world ridiculed and murdered the Son of God, how can His followers expect any better treatment? However, the one who is willing to endure the cross now will be awarded the crown to come.

To quote Piper again, “Jesus gives assurance that if we will follow him to Golgotha during all the Good Fridays of this life, we will also rise with him on the last Easter day of the resurrection.”[5] Just as Christ was humble unto death on a cross yet subsequently exalted to the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:5-11), so too will we share with Him in his exaltation if we are will to follow Him into his humiliation. If we are not ashamed of Him before the scornful eyes of those who hate Him, He will not be ashamed of us whenever we stand before the Father Almighty. Indeed, was this not the exact thought of Paul in Philippians 3:7-11:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

THE KINGDOM’S POWER // VERSE 1

The placing of this verse at the beginning of chapter 9 is a bit puzzling, since it clearly belongs with verses 34-38. Furthermore, verse 2 sets itself apart from these events with the phrase “and after six days…” Even so, it is right that the verse is set apart, for this is statement should ring somewhat like an exclamation mark on what Christ has just said.

And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

The most obvious, as well as most perplexing, question is: to what is Jesus referring? What is the coming of the kingdom with power? The immediate thought might be Jesus’ second coming, yet Jesus places the event within the disciples’ generation by saying that some of those in the crowd around Him would not taste death before the kingdom comes with power. R. C. Sproul lists four other possibilities: the transfiguration, Jesus’ resurrection, the day of Pentecost, or the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. The simple truth is that no one knows for sure which answer is correct; in fact, would it be so odd if they all together formed this grand event? Even so, I agree with G. Campbell Morgan that Jesus is referring to His cross, which Paul after all called “the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Morgan writes:

Our Lord was declaring, not that these men who were round about Him could ever see the Kingdom come in its perfection in the present life. He was declaring to them, startled, amazed, mystified as they were by the strange new thing he was saying, that by that very process from which they were shrinking, and naturally so, the Kingdom of God would come with power.

Now this is still a stumbling-block, not to the Jews alone, but to many others; still foolishness, not to the Greeks only, but to many others. This view of the way through which the Kingdom continues to baffle the philosophy of the age and the world. These are “the things of God,” to which the “things of men” are opposed. This is God’s way of victory. Men cannot understand it even yet. Still too often His disciples mind the things of men rather than the things of God.[6]

I agree with Morgan because, as he noted, this view brings the whole passage together, while also fittingly establishing the remainder of Mark’s Gospel, which is all building toward and then describing to us Christ’s crucifixion. Yet as Mark noted from the very beginning, this story is a comedy rather than a tragedy. This account of the cross is good news because Jesus is the great King who triumphed over the curse of sin and death through His own death. The suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ is the means by which He conquers.

Upon the cross, Jesus gave His life to be our Passover lamb so that God’s just wrath against our sins would fall upon Him rather than upon us (1 Corinthians 5:7). Upon the cross, He reconciled our alienated and hostile minds to the Holy One, adopting us as sons and daughters of the Most High (Colossians 1:21-22; Romans 8:15). Upon the cross, He nailed the debt of our sin, cancelling it for all time (Colossians 2:14). Upon the cross, He triumphed over the demonic rulers and authorities so that they have been disarmed and “put to open shame” (Colossians 2:15). Upon the cross, Christ has slaughtered ethnic hostility, making us one body, one community, one chosen race, in Him (Ephesians 2:16; 1 Peter 2:9). Upon the cross, our Lord turned the tree of cursing into the renewed tree of life, lifted up for all men to look upon Jesus and be saved (Galatians 3:13).

Historian Tom Holland rightly states that “the crucifixion of Jesus, to all those many millions who worship him as the Son of the Lord God, the Creator of heaven and earth, was not merely an even in history, but the very pivot around which the cosmos turns.”[7] And we proclaim with all our hearts: “Yes and amen!”

The cross is indeed still foolishness to all who are perishing, yet for all who are being saved, it is very much still the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18), for it is the power that brings sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, words to the mute, and life to the dead. It is the instrument by which our King has conquered and continues to build His everlasting kingdom.

Brothers and sisters, as come to the Table to proclaim our Lord’s death until He comes again, let us give ear to the words of J. C. Ryle:

Here is the centre truth of the Bible. Let us never forget that. All other truths compared to this are of secondary importance. Whatever views we hold of religious truth, let us see that we have a firm grasp upon the atoning efficacy of Christ’s death. Let the truth so often proclaimed by our Lord to his disciples, and so diligently taught by the disciples to the world, be the foundation truth in our Christianity. In life and in death, in health and in sickness, let us lean all our weight on this mighty fact,—that  though we have sinned Christ hath died for sinners,—and that though we deserve nothing, Christ hath suffered on the cross for us, and by that suffering purchased heaven for all that believe in him.[8]


[1] R. C. Sproul, Mark: An Expositional Commentary, 181.

[2] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, 132.

[3] Cited from Tom Holland, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, 3.

[4] John Piper, The Works of John Piper, 3.526.

[5] Ibid.

[6] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark, 182-183.

[7] Holland, Dominion, 14.

[8] Ryle, Mark, 131-132.

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