Korah and his crew believe that the whole nation should share in Moses’ authority and that Moses has taken a place of authority that is not his. However, Moses has not taken anything that God has not given him. Remember how hesitant he was when God spoke in the bush. Remember how resistant he was to speaking to Pharaoh, making excuses about his ability to speak well. Moses has risen to the call of God, but he has not done so with a proud spirit.
Moses orchestrates a brief ceremony where God will make the final decision about whether or not Moses will continue as the leader of the people. Korah and Aaron will take their censers (for burning incense), along with all their followers or fellow priests, and they will burn incense before the Lord. Long story short, God judged Korah and his followers by opening up the earth to have them fall in, then the earth closed over them.
There are regular attacks on Moses and his God-given authority to lead. The point of the story is not Moses’ authority but that God has sent a prophet among the people. To reject the prophet is to reject God. These stories are precursors to the final prophet, Jesus Christ. In a way far greater than Moses, to reject Christ is to reject God. These stories about rejecting God’s anointed point us forward to how people will reject Christ.
The same sort of story takes place when Aaron’s staff buds. It is to show that Aaron is the father of the priesthood. Aaron’s staff is to be “a sign for the rebels” (17:10). It is to legitimize the priesthood. When the priesthood is shown to be legit, a lengthy passage about the responsibilities of the priests and purification laws follows in chapters 18 and 19. The point is to show the people that this law is from God, not from men.
Again the people grumble about having no water. This a regular complaint from the people, which comes again in chapter 21. Moses does the right thing and goes before the Lord at the tent of meeting. God tells Moses to speak to the rock, and it will yield water for the people. Take note of the command; it will become important later. Moses goes back before the people, strikes the rock with his staff, and more than enough water flows out of it. Then God says that Moses did not believe him. Why? Didn’t water still come from the rock?
Throughout the wilderness wanderings, the point again and again has been the specificity of the commands and how the law must be obeyed perfectly. God told Moses to speak to the rock; Moses instead struck it with his staff. There is always the temptation to contribute to the word of God, when what God demands is perfect obedience. Not only will Moses not lead the people into the promised land, but Aaron will die beforehand, as well.
Believe it or not, the people that have complained every step of the way are still complaining. God still offers mercy to the people, but his mercy always comes in the context of judgment, because he is both just and merciful. God sends serpents among the people to bite and poison them (judgment), but he also permits Moses to create a serpent statue to which the people can set their eyes and be saved (mercy). It’s a beautiful picture of salvation. The people are worthy of severe judgment, but in his mercy, God gives them an object on which they can rightly place their faith. As the serpent was raised up, so Christ was raised up. The weakest faith is still saving faith if its object is Jesus Christ. And some people say the gospel isn’t preached in the Old Testament!
After defeating the Amorites in battle, the people move on to Jericho. King Balak is fearful of the Israelites because of how easily they defeated the Amorites. He sends for Balaam, a diviner who might be able to help with the battle. However, God has told Balaam that he is not to speak a poor word against the Israelites. God permits Balaam to go with the messengers back to King Balak, but he is to say only what God tells him to say. We are not sure how much of the one true God Balaam knew, but it was enough to obey him.
Balak is trying to bribe Balaam with money to curse the Israelites. God permits Balaam to go see Balak as long as he will only do what God says. In his heart, Balaam still wants the money. So God sends an angel to warn Balaam. Only the donkey can see the angel, and three times he stubbornly refuse to keep going. Once Balaam beats the donkey, unaware of the presence of the angel, the angel speaks through the donkey. While it’s clear the donkey did in fact speak, we can also say that the angel spoke through the donkey. The angel nearly duplicates the questions the donkey asks. Apparently Balaam needs another reminder in verse 35 that he is only to say what God says. 2 Peter 2 makes this point, that Balaam was greedy for money, which is why the angel spoke through the donkey. This is another good example of letting the New Testament help us more clearly interpret the Old Testament. We get a good sense of irony in 22:38, when Balaam tells Balak that he can only say what God has put in his mouth.
The asinine motivation proved fruitful. Three times Balak asked Balaam to curse Israel, while Balaam would only bless Israel four times. In his final oracle, Balaam prophecies about the Davidic dynasty (24:15-19). And because of the covenant made with David yet in the future, it should also be read, through a new covenant lens, as a prophecy of the coming messiah. David would not be more than a few hundred years from Balaam’s time. Christ would be roughly 1400 years after Balaam.
In an unbelievable turn of events, after Balaam blesses Israel in battle, the Israelites turn to Baal worship. God orders that Moses kill all the chiefs, because that is who has led the people in to idolatry. It turns out that intermarriage between Israelites and pagans was at the root of the problem. Once those who had introduced more idols into Israel were killed, the plague that God sent to kill the people was taken away. The apostle Paul uses this specific story to illustrate the extreme danger of sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 10:8. There, he says that 23,000 fell in a single day, while Moses says that 24,000 fell in total.
Moses takes a census to decide which tribes will get what parts of the land. Notice that while nearly 2.5 million people left Egypt, there are only 601,730 people now. Many of them have died because of unfaithfulness. Just think for a minute about how much God cares about holiness.
Once the land grants are put out, a group of Zelophehad’s daughters are concerned about their inheritance in the land. Their father has died, and they have no brothers, husbands, or sons. Will they have their own inheritance if the family lines are typically passed through the fathers? To care for the women who are on their own, God permits Moses to pass the family inheritance through the daughters in cases where there are no fathers or brothers.
It may seem that the women were left out of the deals. Before thinking that God did not care about women, it’s important to note that family inheritance was passed down through the men because men married women from other families. While women were not usually involved in land deals, it was to have a clear, uniform way of passing inheritance from generation to generation. If siblings from two different families were involved in divvying up land, both brothers and sisters who now belong to their own families, no one would agree on anything.
Joshua is chosen to succeed Moses. Joshua and Caleb were the only two of the twelve spies to give a favorable report of the promised land. To avoid another Korah-like situation, God has Moses be there when Joshua is installed as his successor. No one should be confused about who their next leader will be.
More offering instructions continue, which we will talk about more next week with chapter 29.
Jesus tells the disciples that the temple will one day be destroyed. When they ask when this will happen, Jesus says that there will be worldwide cataclysmic events that some will want to interpret as the signs that he is about to return (v.6, “many will come in my name”). Some things will simply continue to happen, such as wars and natural disasters. That means if you find Russia and Apache helicopters in the Bible, you’re reading it wrong. There are a few ways of understanding the timeline of Christ’s return. Let’s be frank and say that this is a difficult subject to fully grasp. Everyone uses the same passages to determine their position, which only complicates things. But Jesus does tell us that the only perspective that is out of bounds for the Christian is the belief that he has already returned.
Persecution will also increase as the world rolls on in sin. Whenever that happens, the Holy Spirit will equip every believer with exactly what he or she should say (or not say). Even family members will hate their own if they believe in Christ. We see this today in extreme situations where a Muslim converts to Christianity and is exiled by their family. We also see difficult situations where a person is converted and no longer think and behaves like their family, with severe consequences. But there is a promise: “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (v.13).
Many have tried to interpret “abomination of desolation” throughout history. This phrase is borrowed from Daniel 9 and 11. Before the time of Jesus, the Jews were attacked by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 168 B.C. A statue of Zeus was placed on the altar, and a pig was sacrificed. Is this surely not what Daniel had in mind? Apparently not, because Jesus says that the fulfillment of that prophecy had not happened yet.
And yet, Jesus tells the people to flee. So this must not be the absolute end of days, because where the people flee when the world ends? Mark also includes the note “let the reader understand”, which makes me think that anyone who reads this book should already know what Mark is referring to. Jesus would not have said this parenthetical line to his disciples, but it is as inspired as what Jesus did say to them. It is for us. This implies that what Jesus is referring to is still yet to come.
The only rebuilt temple Jesus ever spoke of was himself after his resurrection. He himself is the temple. Some have argued (some better than others) that there will be a rebuilt temple during the millennial kingdom. I do not reject the notion completely, but I think it is more of an inference than a direct teaching. Some say that for the man of lawlessness to take his place in the temple of 2 Thessalonians 2 requires a rebuilt, future temple. That’s what I mean by inference and not a clear teaching. Paul consistently refers to Christ and the church as Israel and the temple. I am of the mind that when Mark writes about the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (or, “usurping a place that is not his”), he is simply referring to a future antichrist. The Reformers, as do modern Lutherans, used this passage to argue that the pope was/is the antichrist.
Another inference not clearly taught in Scripture is a pretribulational rapture, which means a secret rapture. Jesus could not be clearer that his return is singular, and it will by no means be quiet. The lights in the sky will darken, and “they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds”. Jesus also says “after that tribulation…” which implies that the rapture takes place after the horror of those days. A pretribulational rapture might be inferred, but it requires a lot of extra harmonization and a particularly odd way of reading prophecy. Why else would Jesus warn believers what to expect if believers who have read this passage will not experience it?
The image of the fig tree is to show that when these signs happen, his return is imminent, but not until then. The world will go on as it always has until we see the sky fall (Old Testament imagery for the doom of nations). The important thing is that it is sure to happen. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
These will be the signs that take place within a generation, so the scope is rather broad. But when Jesus gets specific, he says that “concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (v.32). Once the antichrist appears, the roll-on to the end will quickly appear. But in terms of a date and time, he gives us no indication. Instead, his constant refrain is to “stay awake”.
The religious leaders want Jesus dead, but they cannot have him killed during the Passover. They must hurry. An unknown woman anoints Jesus for burial as a prophetic statement about his upcoming crucifixion. It is right to use our precious possessions in worship of God. And of course, because we are writing about the woman right now, Christ’s words about her have been fulfilled time and time again.
Judas sets up his scheme with the priests. Jesus and the disciples have the Passover meal together, and Jesus calls out one of them as his betrayer. Jesus institutes the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36. Mark moves quickly through the Lord’s Supper while the other gospels give it more space. But Mark’s purpose is to get to the arrest quickly. They move on to the prayer in Gethsemane. Jesus prays for strength to fulfill his final act of obedience.
We call this the “passive obedience” of Christ. His active obedience was his perfect life of adherence to the law in order to fulfill it. Christ’s passive obedience was his act of dying on the cross as the propitiation for our sins. He lived a perfect live in the power of the Spirit, and he died a substitutionary death at the hands of God.
Jesus is arrested and taken before the Jewish council. Several aspects of his trial were illegal, mainly that it took place at night with disagreeable witnesses. Jesus is charged with blasphemy for alluding to Daniel 7 and saying that it referred to him and his kingdom. He would be the one ascending to the Ancient of Days and being handed authority.
Jesus is delivered to Pilate and does not give him satisfactory answers. He is in complete control. The crowd demands his death and mocks him.
The sixth hour would be noon. Darkness covers the land for three hours, at the end of which he cries out to God one last time. The confusion about whether or not Jesus is calling for Elijah (or Elias) comes from the fact that the name for God (pronounced el-o-we) sounds remarkable like Elias or Elijah (pronounced el-ee-as). From a distance, with a crowd surrounding you, you’d be forgiven for mishearing.
With that final cry, Jesus died. There were two curtains in the temple, and it’s not immediately clear which curtain to which Mark is referring. One curtain divided the sanctuary from the outer court, which would have been a public sign. The second curtain divided the holy place from the holy of holies, which would have only been visible to the high priest. More likely, the curtain that was torn was the outer curtain visible to all. Later writings speak of a miraculously torn curtain as a sign of the temple’s destruction. This correlates nicely to Jesus being charged just a few hours earlier with saying that he would tear down one temple and rebuild another—himself.
Not all of the Jewish council hated Jesus. Joseph from Arimathea approached Pilate about giving Jesus a proper burial. All that Mark says is that Joseph covered Jesus in a shroud and placed him in a tomb with a stone laid in front.
Chapter 16 is interesting for a coupe of reasons: the resurrection passage is extremely brief, and vv. 9-20 are likely a later addition to the text.
On the third day, three women go to finalize the burial process of adding spices to the body. They arrive early in the morning and notice the stone is already gone. Mark notes that the women see a man clothed in white sitting inside the tomb. White clothes are almost always a sign of an angel. Different gospels give different numbers of angels. However, if one gospel only mentions one and another mentions two, then it stands to reasons there were at least two. Mark only mentions the angel who speaks. Two witnesses were important for a proper testimony, but Mark only records the conversation.
There is no debate about who Jesus is: he is Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. And though he was dead, he is risen. The gospel ends abruptly, but many argue that a quick ending lends to its credibility. It’s all the information you need in order to believe in this Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified but is now risen.
There are many conjectures on why vv. 9-20 were added to the gospel of Mark. Perhaps the most impressive is simply that because the gospel ends so abruptly, a scribe felt it needed additional information. But the earliest copies of the book do not have this section. And because we have so many thousands of copies that date so early, we know quite well what the originals contained.
Psalm 51: God cleanses us with righteousness.
Psalm 52: God breaks down evil and raises up the good.
Psalm 53: All people are sinners.
Psalm 54: God helps his people in times of trouble.
Psalm 55: The Lord saves those who call on him.