The Gospel of Mark – Part 11

As we continue our studies in chapter 3 and the Galilean ministry of the Lord, we come to the choosing of the twelve.

The servants, vv. 13-19

The Lord chose those that were to be His special companions in His earthly ministry and, ultimately, those who were to be His ambassadors when He ascended back into glory. There were many that followed the Lord in the early days of His public ministry and, as John 6 shows, many that were interested solely in the blessing that the Lord could obviously bestow. It is clear from the juxtaposition of events in this Gospel that there was considerable pressure upon the Lord to heal and to deliver. However, as the opposition was to grow and the death of the Lord was to draw closer, many would be offended and would walk no more with the Saviour.

The preparation, v. 13

Mark tells us only that the Lord went up into a mountain. It is Luke chapter 6 verse 12 that records that, ‘He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God’. That prayer time is of importance to every dependent man in preparation for such a momentous decision.

It is Luke, too, that tells us that it was at the break of the day that the call went out to the disciples. It is clear, from Mark’s account, that the choice of the twelve was that of the Lord Himself: He, ‘calleth unto him whom he would’. The disciples did not choose or apply for their office. MacArthur comments, ‘The Greek verb “called” stresses that Jesus acted in His own sovereign interest when He chose the 12 disciples’.1 They were the chosen servants of God and, as such, were ‘ordained’. It means that they were appointed by the Lord and set apart exclusively for His service.

In Matthew’s account, the Lord deals with the preparations the apostles would need to make as they went out in service. Clearly, the one who calls is also the one who equips and supports those who go forth in service for Him, ‘Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses … for the workman is worthy of his meat’, Matt. 10. 9, 10.

The purpose, vv. 14, 15

Mark gives us a threefold purpose in the call of the twelve. It is, ‘that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils’.

It is interesting that only Mark mentions the fact that ‘they should be with him’, v. 14. There is, in that phrase, the idea of companionship with the Lord in His ministry. There is also the idea that in accompanying Him they would learn from His example and His teaching. This was to be their activity in the present. There is a principle for every servant of the Lord. Time spent in private with the Lord must precede any activity in the public sphere. The spiritual benefits of this truth are found in Acts chapter 4 verse 13, ‘Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus’. What an impact such time had upon the ministry of these apostles and what power it lent to their preaching. As to the future, the Lord would ‘send them forth to preach’. We have seen that Mark emphasizes the truth that the Lord taught, first. His priority was to preach rather than to heal. This same priority is communicated here in this second purpose to His disciples. On the word ‘preach’, Wuest comments, ‘The verb is k?russ?. The word means to make a public proclamation with such gravity, formality, and authority as must be heeded’.2 The content of the message is given us by Matthew, ‘And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand’, 10. 7.

Finally, in verse 15, Mark tells us that the Lord gave them ‘power to heal … and to cast out devils’. What was to give credibility to these ambassadors for Christ? What was to strengthen the message preached? It was that the preaching would be accompanied with signs following. It is Matthew that adds the words, ‘all manner of’, telling us of the scope of the power given to the disciples. But Matthew also adds that this power was not resident in the disciples themselves but that ‘He [the Lord] gave them power’, Matt. 10. 1.

The people, vv. 16-19

It is interesting to see the people that the Lord chooses. There are the fishermen, but fishermen from different levels. There is Matthew, the publican and collaborator with Rome, in the same company as Simon, the nationalist zealot or Canaanite. There is Nathaniel, or Bartholomew, the man of devotion, ‘an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile’, John 1. 47. He works alongside Thomas, the man of doubts and fears.3

Mark does not seem to group them in any way, other than perhaps in fours, whereas the other Gospel writers match the disciples in pairs, indicating the method of service that the Lord envisages.

In each case, Simon, who receives the additional name Peter, is named first amongst the twelve. He was often the spokesman of the disciples and a man of great influence amongst the group as a whole.

The Scribes, vv. 20-30

These verses give us the record of a further event in the deepening opposition of the Scribes to the ministry of the Lord. We saw in chapter 2, and we see again here, how the Scribes plot and plan to defame and destroy the ministry of the Lord. Here they are not passive observers, seeking to catch Him in His words or deeds, but are active in their attack upon the Lord.

The background, vv. 20, 21

Gathered in the house (probably Peter’s), the Lord was inundated again with those interested in His healing powers. Such was the pressure upon Him that the Lord and His disciples could not find time or space to eat.

It was this apparent neglect of the Lord’s own needs that caused His family members to become concerned.4 Mark has laid emphasis upon the seemingly endless pressure upon the Lord and the persistent demands made upon Him to heal the sick and deliver the demon-possessed. The other children of Mary came to the conclusion that, ‘He is beside himself’, v. 21. Looking back over the brief span of the Lord’s ministry to-date, they decided that this was not the action of a normal man. In this they were right, but in their desired action they were wrong and, in later verses, the Lord shows this.

The blasphemy of the Scribes, vv. 22, 28-30

The family of Mary came down from Nazareth to Capernaum to take the Lord by force. The Scribes ‘came down from Jerusalem’, v. 22. This suggests that they were, in some way, a special group of the Scribes, officials brought in to examine the Lord’s teachings and actions and give their conclusion and verdict.

Their accusation was twofold.

  • They impugned the Lord’s character: ‘He hath Beelzebub’, v. 22. This indicated that the Lord was demon-possessed and, as such, this attributed His teaching to the devil.
  • They challenged His actions: ‘by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils’, v. 22. Those miracles that attested the Lord’s teaching and the truth of His person were now attributed to the devil.

In this way their foul blasphemy sought to destroy the Lord’s character and person and those acknowledgements of His deity and glory were re-defined as a demon conspiracy.

Although the family of Mary might have misunderstood the Lord’s actions and devotion to service, the action of the Scribes was one of deliberate and calculated bitterness. This was not a momentary lapse of judgement. Hiebert comments, ‘said, imperfect tense, denoting repeated expression of the opposition’.5 The consequence of their actions is grave. God’s mercy and forgiveness is indeed great. With true repentance, all kinds and classes of sins can and will be forgiven, v. 28. However, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a sin that ‘hath never forgiveness’,

v. 29. The gravity of their state is that:

  • They had maligned the Saviour as their only means of forgiveness: ‘He hath an unclean spirit’, v. 30;
  • They had blasphemed the Holy Spirit as the only one who, in convicting power, might bring them to repentance;
  • They were settled in this condition.

Whether such a mortal sin can be committed today would presuppose similar circumstances and conditions prevailing.

The bankruptcy of the Scribes, vv. 23-27

Apart from the consequence of their chosen path, the Lord also shows the bankruptcy of their argument. He asks them a basic question, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’ v. 23. How can the power of Satan act against himself? The logical absurdity of such a situation is obvious.

To press home the point, not just to the Scribes but also to them that had heard the comments of the Scribes, the Lord uses four illustrations:

  • A divided kingdom must fall, v. 24, as rule and government will become impossible;
  • A divided house cannot stand, v. 25. The survival of the family unit depends upon co-operation;
  • If, as alleged, Satan has risen up against himself then his kingdom and power have come to an end, v. 26;
  • A strong man’s house cannot be burgled, unless the man himself is first bound, v. 27.

In each case, the point is proved. Their accusation must be groundless, logically and practically.

The standard, vv. 31-35

Within this final section of the chapter we return to the scene described in verses 20 and 21. The Lord is in the house of Peter and the crowd are, once more, pressing in upon Him seeking His blessing.

Having completed their journey from Nazareth to Capernaum, Mary and her children approach Peter’s house. They cannot gain entrance because of the crowd. Standing outside they send a message in to the Lord asking Him to meet with them. As the message would appear to have been transferred by word of mouth, the multitude clearly pick up the request being transmitted.

The Lord sets the standard when He asks the question, ‘Who is my mother, or my brethren?’ v. 33. Natural relationships give place to spiritual relationships, the temporal to the eternal. The latter is displayed by obedience to the revealed will of God. These are the true brethren of the Lord. These are His spiritual family.



John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible, Logos Software resource.


Wuest, op. cit., pp. 70, 71.


Hiebert comments, ‘Bartholomew. His personal name apparently was Nathanael … John 1:45-51 … Mark and Matthew have Thaddaeus, with Lebbaeus as an alternative reading in some old manuscripts. Luke and Acts have Judas the son of James… Judas, not Iscariot, in John 14:22’. D. E. Hiebert, op. cit., pp. 95, 96.


‘When His family, those with Him, idiom for kinsmen, not friends’, Grassmick, op. cit.


Hiebert, op. cit., pg. 99.


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