A Ransom for Many


The disciples, chosen by Christ as those who would proclaim the riches of his redemptive work for sinners, were distressingly slow to grasp the essential importance of this truth. They failed, until after his resurrection, to see this as the reason for his incarnation. This chapter, Mark 10, gives us a striking and self-convicting picture of our personal dullness, as we see ourselves in the disciples, about the vital and necessary work of substitution on the part of our Lord.


I. Contextual instructions about the kingdom of God. (10:1-34)

A. The Importance of God’s intention in marriage – (1-12). In this passage, Jesus showed that in light of the destructive nature of sin, protective measures had to be given to avoid conflict from rising to a harmful state. Thus a permission for divorce was given. But from the beginning, marriage was intended to be a virtually permanent relationship (for death was not in the picture) between one man and one woman. Sin and death changed that, so that death frees the surviving partner from the intended permanence (Romans 7:3). The moral law given under Moses, therefore, (Exodus 20) forbad adultery, cohabiting with a person not one’s spouse. Despite the permission of divorce as a way of moderating a destructive and volatile relationship, Jesus emphasized the original intent of marriage and the way the moral law pointed to it. This was because marriage, the original human relationship, pointed to God’s own faithfulness and particularly to the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church. Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). A violation of marriage is a sin against the purpose of God, not only in creation, but in redemption. For a person to divorce and marry another is like Jesus’ disavowing his relationship to his church established through his paying the ransom price and uniting himself with a different people. His words, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” would be a lie (Hebrews 13:4, 5).

B. A kingdom of children – (13-16) Jesus used the unpretentious freedom of children in sensing his goodness and desiring to be near him as an example of what constitutes kingdom faith. This refreshing kind of joyful approach to Jesus undiminished by social standing, class bias, self-protective devices arising from fear and guilt, and pretensions of self-importance stood in stark contrast to the personal interactions soon to be undertaken. Jesus’ lesson to his disciples about childlikeness found little fertile soil in the disciples’ hearts at this point.

C. The stumbling block of riches and self-righteousness (17-31). Like the Pharisee’s in their question about marriage, the young man with great possessions had little idea of the true righteousness and original intent of the law. He thought that he had kept them all for he had never committed an external physical act that constituted an overt violation. When faced, however, with the loss of his earthly possessions for the sake of heavenly gain, he revealed that covetousness and worldly importance dominated his perspective and, in reality, he had no sense of his own sin or of the superiority of the state of eternal life. He wanted to “inherit eternal life” in the way that he probably had inherited his wealth. That a cross would be necessary was not on his agenda for eternal life. As a man of moral propensities and a sense of some value in preparing for eternity, yet blind to his perversity on the one hand and to the imperishability of things unseen, he serves as a strikingly relevant illustration of the need for a ransom for sinners.

D. The key to the kingdom of God (32-34). The urgency with which Jesus made his way toward Jerusalem amazed those who followed him in his relentless pace toward the place of hostiles. His determined pace seemed almost irresponsible and struck fear into the minds of those that went with him. To his twelve disciples, however, he spoke with plainness concerning the things that would happen to him there. The entire event in many of its details he told them—arrest, trial, condemnation, verbal abuse, mental abuse, torture, crucifixion, and resurrection all awaited them. Again, this straight talk seemed to glide over them like warm olive oil on a slab of marble. It found no point of cohesion in their expectations. The following interchange demonstrated how out of tune their minds and hearts were to the harmonious reality involved in Christ’s redemptive work being dependent on the dissonance of sacrificial death.



II. The Disciples again miss the clear point of Jesus’ teaching. (Verses 35-41)

A. The request of James and John (35-37). The arrogance and self-importance indicated in the question of these two brothers reveals both their spiritual ineptness and the loving patience of Jesus. How brash the request is shocks our sense of politeness and social etiquette but, nevertheless, reveals the dominant self-centeredness of our lives. “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Not getting what we want often is the best thing for us.

B. Jesus points out to them the gross misperception underlying their question (38, 39).

  1. Jesus asked them to articulate their request. They needed to bring to consciousness the precise nature of their desire.
  2. Thinking that Jesus was hurrying to Jerusalem in order to effect his role as Messiah and establish a glorious rule, they wanted to be in the places of greatest influence and prestige, at his right hand and left hand.
  3. He said, “You do not know what you are asking.” They still had not grasped that this part of the messianic role was not the immediate and powerful subjugation of all enemies, but was to be an event of absolute rejection and hatred, the culminating demonstration of man’s rebellion against God and the manifestation of man’s consummate evil. Had he granted their request, they would have been nailed on either side of him on Golgotha.
  4. In order to move them toward a greater understanding, he used the language of drinking a cup and undergoing a baptism.
  • To drink a cup refers to a self-disciplined, purposeful mortification of self for a greater good. The cup was bitter, absolutely unpalatable, but necessary in light of the transaction that must take place. In Gethsemane, Jesus referred to his sacrificial, propitiatory death as a cup (Matthew 26:39, 42; Mark 14:38; Luke22:42). At the final Passover meal with his disciples and at the introduction of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gave the cup and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24). When he asked, therefore, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” the answer was two-fold. One, answer would be, “No, for only one can drink this particular cup of suffering as a ransom, giving up his life’s blood under divine wrath in such a way that many throughout the ages will be saved and become children of God, heirs of the kingdom.” The second answer was, “Yes, for the cause of the truth of the gospel and worship of God through Jesus Christ the Savior, we can surrender all—our lives, our reputations, our possessions, and even our families for the superior absolute good of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord and being recipients of his righteousness. We can count all things but loss for this.”
  • To be baptized with his baptism, is another way of suggesting the same reality of death—engulfed, totally submerged into divine wrath in order to be raised from it, having become a victor over death in light of the full payment of the wages of sin.
  • Without fully understanding the question or the kind of commitment they were making, they said, “We are able.” Jesus would not correct them, but would consent to their answer.

C. They will share his suffering (39b). They could not die to ransom any other person, but they could die in service of the one who is the Ransom for sinners. Though they did not have the courage, the fortitude, or the spiritual insight to do this yet, Jesus would provide them with the Spirit so that they would die in his service. James would be the first of the apostles to suffer martyrdom (Acts 12:1-3). John would live the longest, spending his last days in exile receiving the revelation of the ultimate victory of the Lamb who was slain but lives evermore (Revelation 5:6-14).

D. Positions in glory already have been established (40). When Jesus said, “This is not mine to give,” he meant only that this decision is not a matter of temporal discretion to be made by the Son of Man in his incarnation. He could not alter a matter of the eternal decree of God. Even as his going to Jerusalem in pursuit of spilling his “blood of the eternal covenant” was foreordained in the covenant of redemption, so all the positions of heavenly rank are determined in the counsels of the triune God. That which the Son of God willed in eternity would not be altered in this temporary moment.

E. The other disciples show their unmortified pride (41).

  1. None had learned the lesson of Christ’s receiving the children. They had been puzzled by Christ’s unyielding instructions to the rich young ruler and his warning against the subtle deceitfulness of riches. They did not grasp the nature of Christ’s redemptive mission in a fallen world. Though he had told them clearly three times about the events that awaited, they did not see that he would be brought lower than any man. Even as the Psalm he claimed as his own at the cross said, he could say, “I am a worm and no man, a reproach, and despised by the people. All those who see me ridicule me” (Psalm 22:5, 7). Also, the prophet heard the Lord speak: “Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, their holy one, to him whom man despises, to him whom the nation abhors, to the servant of rulers . . . he has chosen you” (Isaiah 49:7).
  2. Their obtuseness about the full work of the Christ revealed that they were just as proud and covetous of exaltation and position as were James and John. Only the radical events of the cross as riveted to their consciences by the Holy Spirit would change this perspective.



III. The true nature of the kingdom (42-45)

A. The heavenly kingdom completely reverses the values of earthly kingdoms (42, 43). Jesus later would tell Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Perhaps his disciples thought that they were on their way to a fight that would end in victory and the inauguration of the messianic rule with their being the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus disabuses them of this notion. They are not to lord it over anyone but to be slaves of all. Greatness will be measured in terms of self-giving service.

B. The central point of salvation and the very reason for the incarnation determines the character of God’s kingdom. If they will share rule with the king, thy must imitate his actions.

  1. “Even the Son of Man”—the title of the gloriously reigning Messiah in Daniel (Daniel 7:13, 14), had not come to be served in this part of his appearing. Eventually in his kingdom “all people, nations, and languages should serve him,” but not before he had established his reign as one of the justice of redemption as well as the justice of vengeance.
  2. He did not come to be served, but to serve. He would render the greatest service of all at the greatest cost of all. He would bring eternal life instead of the curse of eternal death.
  3. He would give his life as a ransom.
  • Now he defined for the disciples the reason for the death he had been predicting. This death would be a ransom (Lutron). Paul wrote that Jesus Christ “gave himself as a ransom” (antilutron-a payment in substitute for the death of the debtor) and that the resultant message constituted his call to the Gentiles (1 Timothy 2:5-7). Peter wrote that sinners were “not ransomed (elutrothete) with silver and gold but with the precious blood of Christ” (1:18). In Ephesians Paul wrote, “In whom we have redemption (apolutrosin) through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (1:7).
  • This is why we must not dilute the law of God by human tradition or temporary remedial measures due to hardness of heart. Jesus took on the least of sins as well as the greatest of crimes. This is why we must come to Jesus as children, for we find all in him and claim no measure of worthiness, merit, personal dignity, or power to make ourselves accepted, only trusting his goodness and his provision for our need. This is why we can never say, “All these I have kept from my youth till now,” for the truth is, we were shapen in iniquity and were born with lies on our lips. Jesus is driving us to see that only through his ransom may we be found acceptable in his sight. Both love and wrath found their perfect fulfillment, fully expressed and unendingly relevant in the ransom.
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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