Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of Mark/Chapter 14
Overview of Mark 14
Mark 14 is a narrative chapter. There aren't many teachings of Jesus here, nor points on how Christians ought to act. Yet many important events happen in this chapter. This chapter tells the story of what happens between Jesus as a teacher and Jesus as a sacrifice. Without this chapter, the story of Jesus as a whole would not make sense.
Vss 1-11: Judas makes a deal with the leaders of the Jewish authority to give Jesus over to them. In context, Jesus has been shaking up much of the authority of the priests in his teachings. Up to this point he has been turning every one of their challenges back against them, making them appear foolish. Most recently, he has paraded into the capital city, accepting the masses' cheers for him as their Messiah. They decide that he must be dealt with accordingly, and plot to kill him. Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus's disciples, offers his help and they promise to compensate him. Vs 3-9 digress from this portion of the narrative to tell of a woman who anoints Jesus. Some people were upset at this and considered it a waste, but Jesus reminds them that it was done for him, therefore a good deed.
Vss 12-25: Jesus and his disciples meet for the last time in the event known as "the Last Supper" or "the Eucharist." Jesus sends his disciples into Jerusalem telling them to find a room where they may eat during the Jewish holiday of Passover. He gives them a sign of what to look for, which they find just as he said. As they begin, Jesus announces to his disciples that one of them is going to betray him. Unlike the Gospels of Matthew and John, Mark does not indicate that Jesus signals Judas as the betrayer. Rather, Mark pushes the conversation from the announcement of betrayal towards his announcement of his coming death.
Vss 26-42: Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives and prays before his death. After eating the Passover, Jesus gathers his disciples (except Judas, who had left earlier) and heads for the Mount of Olives. Jesus tells them that they will scatter as he is struck down, to which Peter replies that he will remain faithful. Jesus refutes this, stating that Peter will deny even knowing of Jesus three times before the night is over. Jesus tells his disciples (except for Peter, James, and John) to wait while he goes off to pray. As he prays for his life (yet ultimately accepting God's plan), the three disciples with him fall asleep three times. Upon the third time of waking up his disciples, he tells them that the time has come.
Vss 43-65: Jesus is arrested and stands before the chief priests. Judas approaches Jesus with a mob and identifies him to the guards with a kiss. One of the disciples defends Jesus by cutting off a slave's ear. Jesus questions why they had not arrested him before, but states this was all done to fulfill Scripture. The disciples flee, and Jesus is escorted away to a council of the chief priests by the guards. Peter follows at a distance. The priests question Jesus, which he remains silent for most of. The only statements that Mark records are Jesus's prediction of rising in three days (calling himself "this temple") and his claim to divinity. The priests are offended at this and accuse him of blasphemy.
Vss 66-72: Peter denies Jesus. While Jesus is questioned inside, Peter waits outside among a few of the priest's officers. They recognize him as one of Jesus's disciples, which he denies three times. As he denies knowing Jesus for the third time, he realizes that he fulfilled exactly what Jesus had predicted.
Mark 14:72 is entirely narrative literature
Allusions to Old Testament Texts are made in
vs 7 to Deuteronomy 15:11
vs 27 to Zechariah 13:7
vs 62 to Daniel 7:13
Comparison with the other Synoptics
Comparison with Matthew
Matthew 22 and Mark 14 compare favorably for the most part. Considering that Mark was probably written first, Matthew adds some original material. Examples of this are naming of the high priest as Caiaphas, enumeration of Judas's agreed fee for betraying Jesus as 30 pieces of silver, Jesus explicitly stating his blood is poured out for the forgiveness of sins during the last supper, Jesus reminding his disciples that he could call on legions of angels if he wanted to resist arrest, and a second reminder during his arrest that all that had transpired had been to fulfill prophesy and scripture.
One of the interesting differences between Matthew and Mark is the way in which Jesus responds to the question of the high priest, "Are you the son of God?" Matthew records Jesus as saying simply, "Yes, it is as you say." Mark has Jesus respond with the more controversial answer of "I am." In a literal sense, they both mean the same thing. However, in context, the name for God to the Jews is "I am". By using this response, Jesus not only calls himself the son of God, he also creates the paradox of both being the son of God and being God at the same time. This response also better explains the reaction of Caiaphas, who is recorded in both as declaring the statement blasphemy and tearing his clothes in shame. If Mark was written first though, the question arises, why would Matthew change this? Traditionally, Matthew has a Jewish bias. Considering that the name of God was not to be taken lightly, it could be that Matthew edited this in respect for the name of God. Alternatively, it could be that Matthew considered this too much of a blasphemous statement to record.
Another difference of note is in the Last Supper. Mark writes that Jesus tells the disciples that his betrayer is among them, and then tells them how to identify the betrayer. Immediately after this, Jesus breaks the bread and continues into the Eucharist. Matthew adds in between these events Judas asking if it was him, and Jesus confirming it. Theoretically, this addition could be because Matthew was actually at the Last Supper, where Mark was hearing it second hand. However, it has been proposed that the house with the Upper Room was actually the house of Mark. If this was the case, was Mark around and just didn't catch Judas's incrimination? Or could it be that Mark was not allowed in the Upper Room, as it is only written that Jesus and the twelve were in attendance. Another explanation could be that Matthew created this exchange to further emphasize who betrayed Judas.
Comparison with Luke
Again considering that Mark was probably written first, Luke seems to have used Mark as a rough template, and then edited drastically to fit his needs. Luke omits more than he adds, completely removing the narrative of the woman anointing Jesus, Jesus's announcement of a betrayer, and Jesus before the Sanhedrin. Luke also adds a dispute during the last supper of which of "them" is the greatest. Presumably he is referring to the disciples, but Luke does not explicitly state that the disciples are present. Luke had previously referred to the group in attendance as "Jesus and his apostles". Given than Matthew and Mark had described the attending crowd as Jesus and the twelve, it is fairly safe to assume that there were 13 known people there. But the question of why Luke would change this is interesting.
The account of the Mount of Olives also differs slightly in Luke with respect to Mark. Luke's Gospel is the only one that describes Jesus as praying so hard that he sweat blood. Additionally, when one of Jesus's companions cuts a guard's ear off, Luke's account is the only one that has Jesus reattach the ear. As far as history can tell, Luke was probably a physician. With this in mind, it is interesting that he would add two details that near medical impossibilities.
Additionally, Luke's telling of Peter's denial has an interesting twist. Typically the story goes that Peter is accused of being an associate of Jesus three times and then hears a rooster crow, then breaks down because he remembers Jesus's words to him. Luke adds that right after the rooster crows, Jesus turns and looks Peter in the eye. While the result is the same as the other Gospels, Luke adds a little emotion to the story.
A Note on Mark 51-52
Mark 51 and 52 are some of the most debated material in the New Testament. They are unusual in the fact that these two verses are not repeated in any other Gospel. They describe a young man who was with Jesus at Gethsemane that leaves in a hurry after Jesus is arrested, apparently running so hastily that he leaves his robe behind.
Blue: Common to all three Gospels
Yellow: Common to Matthew and Mark
Green: Common to Luke and Mark
Red: Common to Matthew and Luke
Verse by Verse Commentary
Vs 1: Provides the setting for the chapter. The chief priests were not tolerant of those who spoke against them, especially of someone who said God himself opposed their teachings (Keener). The time is set two days before the Jewish holiday of Passover. Passover is named as such for the passing over of the angel of death in the Exodus narrative. To keep the angel from killing the household's first born, a lamb was slaughtered and its blood sprinkled over the doorframe. Ironically, a few days from this point, Jesus would die by means of crucifixion, where he would symbolically be a lamb sacrificed (Jamieson).
Vs 2: An estimated two million people visited Jerusalem for Passover. Arresting a very public figure would be difficult without stirring up riots (Jamieson). With this many people in the city, the Roman governor, Pilate, would have been on hand (Keener).
Vs 3: The nameless woman was probably Mary of Mary and Martha based on John 12:3. Mark probably kept her nameless because her identity was not important to the story, but her action was (Jamieson). The pouring of the perfume over Jesus was a form of anointing him. While anointing on special occasions, such as coronations, was not unusual, this was more likely in preparation for burial (Keener).
Vs 4: Though the synoptic gospels say that the disciples in general complained about the waste of perfume, John 12:4 informs it is actually Judas who says this.
Vs 5: Keeping in mind it was Judas who was speaking, the statement that the money could have been given to the poor is ironic. As the treasurer of the disciples, he was probably not concerned with the poor, rather, he was sarcastically referring to their empty purse as the poor. John also reports that he would steal from the group treasury (Jamieson).
Vss 6-9: Mary's sacrifice was done in a rush, but that was beautiful to Jesus. In Mark 13, Jesus has been making it clearer to those around him that his time is near an end. With the end near, Mary breaks what is probably a family status icon and pours the contents over him in anointment for burial. The cost of this jar was extremely high, and it shows the depth of Mary's love for Jesus. Jesus also alludes to Exodus 15:11 in saying they will always have the poor. This is not a pessimistic statement that there will always be poverty, it is a reminder that the Jews have a duty to the poor always, but Jesus's time with them is limited (Keener). This anointment narrative also creates a bridge between this passage and Mark 16, where the disciples propose to anoint the dead body (Donahue).
Vs 10: The last statement of Jesus is probably what drove Judas over the edge into betrayal, which is why Mark includes this story (Jamieson).
Vs 11: Judas's hatred and Mary's love are contrasted here in the sandwich format that Mark frequently employs. Also, the ease with which Judas was able to get to the chief priests is significant because they knew his motives were in line with their own and Judas had provided them with an opportunity.
Vss 12-16: Mark emphasizes Jesus's role as a prophet, as everything the disciples had been told they found. As a historical note, a man carrying a pitcher of water would have been easy to find; women were more likely to be seen carrying water (Keener).
Vss 17-21: In this period, when two people would dip their bread in the bowl it was usually a sign of close friendship. However, the more important person would usually dip first. By Judas dipping with Jesus, it could be a symbol of his insubordination to Jesus as king.
Vs 22: Jesus tells his disciples that the bread is his body. Up to this point, one of the motifs of Jesus's teaching was the theme of bread. (Mk 6:37, 8:14) Now is finally the point where Jesus gives them the bread they have been looking for: Jesus, who will be broken (Donahue).
Vss 23-25: The metaphor Jesus uses of the wine as his blood would have been understood by his disciples, as Jewish practice abhorred drinking any blood, especially human (Keener). The blood poured out alludes to the Mosaic covenant, which was ratified by blood (Donahue).
Vs 26: Around Passover Psalms 113-118 would have been traditional to sing (Keener).
Vs 27: A direct reference to Zechariah 13:7, predicting his disciples will scatter when the situation is at its worst (Donahue).
Vs 28: The Jewish people expected a resurrection, but in the form of their nation rising up once again, bodily resurrection was not thought of. This is probably why his disciples did not flinch at his statement.
Vss 29-31: Mark highlights the immanence of the events that are about to happen. The cock would call that very morning (Keener). Jesus's last prediction comes true later that day, cementing him a prophet in the eyes of his followers.
Vss 32-41: The idea of the flesh as weakness is not the same as the Gnostic view of the flesh as evil. Paul would later talk about this idea in his letters to the Galatians and the Romans. The flesh is still sacred, but likely to fall into selfish temptation. Jesus's prayer also highlights his existence as fully human; he clearly does not want to die (Donahue). His prayer with God also emphasizes his intimacy with God. He cries to God, "Abba, Father", which would have been a highly unusual term for the Jewish people to refer to God. Abba literally means "Papa," and was commonly used when talking to one's own father. God was sometimes called "the Father," but "Papa" or "Daddy" would have been very unusual.
Vss 42-43: The crowd was sent by the chief priests. As such, clubs would have been an unusual choice of weapon. Swords more likely as this was probably the temple guard.
Vss 44-46: Though the guards probably would recognize Jesus as a public figure, it is likely that they needed Judas to identify who Jesus was in the complete darkness (Keener). The kiss also is a sarcastic act by Judas, emphasizing his evil. Mark paints a smile on Judas's as he betrays Jesus (Donahue).
Vss 47-48: The priest's servants and guards were expected to be without blemish or flaw. When one of the disciples cut off the ear of a slave, the slave would no longer have been allowed to work in the temple. Whether this was the intention of the disciple or just bad aim in the dark is questionable. Mark does not include the reattaching of the ear (Keener).
Vss 49-50: Jesus's prediction is again fulfilled, further cementing his status as a prophet.
Vss: 51-52: The streaker in the garden of Gethsemane is highly debated. The description of a youth is found again later in chapter 16, where a youth is seen outside of Jesus's tomb wearing a white robe. Mark could be telling the readers that they should abandon their old clothes (sin) for new clean ones (righteous living). An alternate theory is that this is actually Mark writing about himself and showing the haste in which they left. Strangely, Jewish tradition abhorred nakedness, so the fact that the man was not wearing anything beneath the robe on a cold night is interesting. (Cross referenced with Mk 14:67 that it was a cold night) (Donahue).
Vs 53: John notes that Jesus was first taken to Annas, the father in law of Caiaphas, before taking him to the high priests (Jamieson).
Vs 54: Peter's devotion to Jesus, despite his denials is subtly clued in here. Though he will deny Jesus later that night, he takes a risk following the crowd to the courtyard, where he would have been trespassing (Keener).
Vss 55-65: Several things about this trial seem amiss. Admittedly, Jewish law practices only appear in historical records starting 200 years after this event. However, the trial as a whole does not follow what is known. Firstly, holding it on the night of Passover is unlikely. Sentencing Jesus to death on the same day of the trial also does not fit with what is known. Additionally, the accused crime of blasphemy usually had a sentence of death by stoning associated with it rather than death by crucifixion. It is not known if the Romans legally allowed this or whether they simply looked the other way while a public dissenter was put down. During the trial the charge is made that Jesus was plotting to destroy the temple. Mark 11-13 shows Jesus attacking many of the temple practices, which are what the charges are referring to. However, the charge as Jesus spoke it refers to Jesus himself, not to the temple (Donahue).
As the charges are railed against Jesus, he says nothing, which shows his strength of character against them (Jamieson). When the high priest asks Jesus if he is "the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One," this is the first time that these three terms all appear together. Jesus responds with the name of God, "I am." He then redefines their definition though, citing Daniel 7:13's picture of the Son of Man (Donahue). The high priest tears his clothes claiming blasphemy, though technically Jesus has not committed it as defined by Jewish law. His act does put on a good show though, since the rest of the council follows suit. (Keener).
Vss 66-72: Though Peter does deny Jesus as predicted, he is shown forgiveness in Mark 16:7, when the young man outside of the tomb tells the women to tell Peter specifically and the disciples what they have found.
Mark 14 primarily is narrative literature. Its purpose in Mark's gospel is to begin the passion narrative as Jesus moves from teacher to sacrifice. Much of the material recorded are familiar passages, such as the meeting in the upper room, the arrest of Jesus, and Peter's denial. However, this is usually read as context to the crucifixion of Jesus. It is rare to find theological reflection on how Christians should live in light of the contents of this chapter.
This is not to say that there is nothing in the chapter that Christians can apply to their lives. Most Christian churches acknowledge two sacraments (rituals): baptism and the eucharist (sometimes called communion or the Lord's Supper). The latter is a reliving of the last supper found in vs. 22-24. There are many views of what happens during this action, but its purpose is generally agreed upon that it is a remembrance of the crucifixion. Christ's body was broken like the bread, and his blood was poured out like the wine.
Donahue, John. Harper's Bible Commentary. Retrieved with Logos 3.0
Jamieson, Robert., Fausset, AR., and Brown, David. A Commentary: Critical and Explanatory, on Old and New Testament. 1871. Retrieved with Logos 3.0
Keener, Craig. IVP: Bible Background Commentary, New Testament. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. 1993. Retrieved with Logos 3.0
New American Standard New Testament with Psalms. Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA. 1977.