Model for Christian Discipleship

Three times in Mark Jesus prepares his disciples for his upcoming victory against the enemy and in each case, they seem reluctant to see what he “taught”[1] them. In Mark 8:31 Jesus uses the word δεῖ (translated must in the ESV) in relation to his mission to the cross and in the other two accounts (9:30, 10:33) he uses παραδίδοται, in present tense followed by the two uses of κτεινω in future tense creates, as France puts it, “[emphasizes] that the future course of events is already decided.”[2] The understanding gained from Jesus’ words is that the course of the Disciples life is decided by God. A faithful disciple is not forging their own path but, as Jesus often said, is seeking to do the will of God. Jesus sought to do the will of the father so wholeheartedly, that it was impossible for him to fail at it.

Coupled with the picture of whole-hearted service to God’s will, a theme of self-sacrifice appears in each account: “deny himself.”[3] “be last of all and servant of all,”[4] “be slave of all.”[5] Clearly Jesus means to communicate that being a disciple is about following God’s will even when it costs, and it always will, the things that by human nature seem good.

Expectations for the Christian Life

Paul writes that suffering for a Christian is welcome because we gain hope through enduring it.[6] The writer of Hebrew bridges Paul’s words to the life of Jesus in these words: “[f]or the joy set before him [Jesus] he endured the cross.”[7] That cross is something Jesus says all his followers must bear.[8] The condemnation of the cross in Jesus’ day was that of condemnation of the worst sort. The picture that Jesus draws by equating following him with the cross is that the follower of Jesus must be condemned to the world. R. C. Sproul explains that Jesus, in his actions, “sets the pattern for the experience of all who follow Him.”[9] However, as seen in the words of Paul and the author of Hebrews, it is not a condemnation of tears, rather the Christian “Count it all joy”[10] to suffer because that suffering produces joy and in the age to come “glory beyond all comparison.”[11] The Disciples clearly did not understand this concept of joy and glory producing suffering at the time Jesus spoke to them. They shrank back and “were afraid”[12] to speak with Jesus on the matter. However, each of them boldly received suffering and most death for Christ in the time following Pentecost. Indeed, suffering for Christ’s “sake and the gospel’s”[13] become the dominant theme of Christianity for 250 years following Jesus’ ministry.

Success as a Disciple

The word translated rejected in Mark 8:31 (ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι) means “fail to pass the scrutiny”[14] and Jesus is clearly talking about the interactions between himself and the Sanhedrin. However, Cole suggests that Jesus wants the reader to understand that “the true danger for all is that of failing to pass the scrutiny of God.”[15] Success as a disciple is summed up in these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”[16] With Christ as the example of this good and faithful servant, the Christian must understand the title of good and faithful only goes to those that “take up [their] cross and follow.”[17] In other words, the successful disciple is the one who has condemned the world and the things of the world to themselves in order to live for Christ. This is not an easy task, it is, in fact, impossible short of divine intervention, because, by nature, humans resist God.[18] The writer of Hebrews states that Jesus “has made perfect for all time those who are being sanctified.”[19] The actor in both cases is God, Jesus perfects those that are being, receiving, sanctification. The receiver in both cases is the disciple.

Text Impacts on Life

The two themes that emerge from Mark’s narrative are first that Jesus as the example shows that the Christian must be condemned to the world and alive towards God, and second, that this is accomplished by being a servant of all.[20] Perhaps the most poignant verse for personal application is Mark 8:38. The idea of Christ being ashamed should be revolting to the disciple. The understanding in the context shows that if Christ is ashamed of someone that person will fail to receive eternal life; however, the primary reason the idea of Christ being ashamed should be revolting is found in one word, love. If a person can look at the passion of Christ and not be moved to do whatever that savior asks, even to the loss of life, then that person has no love in them.[21]

Personal Life and Discipleship

In the personal walk, it is easy to grow cold and the disciple must continually stoke the fire of their passions for Christ. John Piper artfully stated that understanding that the center of the Christian life is finding joy in God and finding that joy frees us from the bondage of fear.[22] The disciple must seek in the text of Mark to see Jesus’ mission as the greatest joy in his life. It was the writer of Hebrews that said Jesus “endured the cross … for the joy that was set before him”[23] The repeated nature of Jesus’ instruction gives the reader a clue on how to find this joy. On no less than three separate occasions, Jesus teaches the disciples about what will happen to him. After his resurrection, he continues teaching by “interpret[ing] to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”[24] Receiving the repetitive teaching of Christ, through the scriptures, is the way a disciple receives this instruction today. It is not going too far to say that, when the disciple lacks in their mediation on the teaching of Jesus in the whole of scripture, they will lack in their application.


[1]. In two of the 3 accounts, Mark uses the word διδασκω (to teach).

[2]. R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002), 371.

[3]. Mark 8:34, all citations are EVS unless otherwise noted.

[4]. Mark 9:35.

[5]. Mark 10:44.

[6]. Romans 5:3-5.

[7]. Hebrews 12:2.

[8]. Mark 8:34.

[9]. R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 1751.

[10]. James 1:2-4.

[11]. 2 Corinthians 4:17.

[12]. Mark 10:32.

[13]. Mark 8:35.

[14]. R. Alan Cole, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 2, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 209.

[15]. R. Alan Cole, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 2, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 209.

[16]. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 25:23.

[17]. Mark 8:34.

[18]. Romans 3:9 -18.

[19]. Hebrews 10:14.

[20]. Mark 9:35.

[21]. 1 John 4:8

[22]. John Piper, When I Don’t Desire GOD: How to Fight for Joy(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2013). 13.

[23]. Hebrews 12:2.

[24]. Luke 24:27.