Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).
1. Why do you think the disciples were unable to understand Jesus’ teaching as it is recorded in Mark 9:30-31 (printed below?) Hint: Consider how the Son of man is described in Daniel 7:13-14 (printed below)
They left that place and passed through Galilee; but Jesus did not want any man to know where they were, (31) because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, The Son of man will be betrayed into the hands of men, and they shall kill him. But after he has been killed, he will rise again three days later. (Mark 9:30-31)
In the vision I received at night I looked and there before me came one who was like a son of man on the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and he was brought into his presence. (14) He was given authority and glory and a kingdom, so that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
The disciples probably understood that when Jesus spoke of “the Son of man” He was referring to the divine figure revealed in Daniel 7:13-14. But to them it must have seemed incongruous to connect that divine person with suffering and death. After the resurrection, Jesus “opened their minds, so that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45).
2. About what had the disciples been arguing as they walked along the way? Why do they remain quiet when Jesus asks them about it? See Mark 9:34 (printed below)
But they kept quiet, because they had been arguing with one another along the way about who was the greatest. (Mark 9:34)
The disciples had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. Jesus has just spoken about His impending suffering, but rather than seeking to understand His plight, the disciples are pre-occupied with their own status and ambition. Now, when Jesus inquires, they are ashamed to admit what they had been discussing.
3. What promise and what warning does Jesus give us in verses 41 and 42 (printed below?)
Whoever shall give you a cup of water to drink, because you belong to Christ—I tell you the truth—he shall by no means lose his reward. (42) But whoever shall cause one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for that man if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. (Mark 9:41-42)
Jesus promises that if you perform a deed of kindness or service for someone because they follow Christ, you will receive a sure reward from Christ. Conversely, if someone intentionally causes a Christian to sin, that person must answer to Christ and is liable to suffer severe punishment.
4. Are we to take Jesus’ words literally when He says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off?” Why or why not?
The Lord is not instructing us to literally and physically maim ourselves—if you cut off one hand you could still sin with the other, and would not be able to cut that one off! In emphatic terms He is instructing us to severe our connection with sinful practices: don’t take hold of sin, don’t walk into sin, don’t look at sin.
5. Based on Jesus’ teaching in this passage (verses 43-50 printed below), contrast the way we are to deal with our own sin and the way we are to deal with our Christian brothers and sisters (note verse 50.)
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than to have two hands but go to hell with its unquenchable fire. (45) And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two feet but be thrown into hell. (47) And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes but be thrown into hell, (48) where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. (49) Every one shall be salted with fire. (50) Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltiness, with what can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:43-50)
Jesus summarizes His teaching by saying, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” We are to preserve ourselves from the moral decay and corruption of the world by ruthlessly cultivating personal holiness before God. At the same time, we are to preserve the unity of the church by graciously cultivating a spirit of service to fellow Christians and a spirit of acceptance of fellow Christians.