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The deepest surprise built into the fabric of the Gospel of Mark lies not mainly in the realm of what it means to be a truly obedient follower of Jesus but rather deals with Jesus Himself (though the two are closely linked). Jesus’ definition of morality is counterintuitive in Matthew; Jesus’ own mission is counterintuitive in Mark. For in Mark, we see most clearly the surprise of the king being treated as a criminal.
The Gospel of Mark falls neatly into two halves. The first half (1:1–8:30) shows us Jesus the king. The second half (8:31–16:8) shows us Jesus increasingly hurtling toward the fate of a criminal. The hinge on which this transition takes place is Mark 8:22–38. In this hinge passage, we find three short accounts stacked up next to one another: a blind man is healed; Peter boldly confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the messiah-king; and Jesus announces His impending suffering and death, refuting in the strongest terms Peter’s resistance to this suffering. The three accounts are mutually interpreting.
The moment at which Peter proclaims “You are the Christ” is the point at which the disciples have been won over to see that Jesus is the coming king they have so long anticipated. This confession is the conclusion to which all of Mark 1–8 has been driving. It has taken seven chapters and thirty verses, and the disciples are finally convinced. This is the high point of Mark.
Yet it is here, halfway through the Gospel, that the whole story swivels around and begins moving in the opposite direction. For this is only half of what the disciples need to see. They see that He is the king—and if He is the king they have been expecting, that would be enough. But if He is not the king they expect but the king they most deeply need—if He has come not to deal with their circumstances but their sins—then something more is needed. This half of Jesus’ mission the disciples have not yet grasped.
And this is what the two-staged healing of the blind man (an account told only in Mark) is showing us. Jesus “dealt with the blind man as he did,” preached Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “in order to enable the disciples to see themselves as they were.”2 The disciples wanted liberation. But they were nearsighted. They wanted liberation from their circumstances—Roman occupation, pagan overlords, Israel’s internationally undervalued reputation. But Jesus had come to truly liberate them. He had come to liberate them from their sins. He came to free them not from others but from themselves. Not from the overlords of Rome but from the overlord of sin (Rom. 6:14).
This is why the Gospel of Mark does not end at Mark 8:30. Circumstantial liberation required a kingly messiah and a kingly messiah only. Spiritual liberation—real liberation—required a kingly messiah who would Himself be bound like a criminal so that His followers could be liberated in the only sense that ultimately matters.