Continuing His lesson, Jesus contrasted the worldly, self-promoting path to greatness with true greatness in God’s kingdom. He told the apostles, “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.” Paradoxically, the path to greatness in the kingdom lies in humble self-denial; in being a servant and a slave of all.
The desire to be honored in the kingdom is a noble desire. Paul wrote, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9). To that end he “discipline[d his] body and [made] it [his] slave, so that, after [he had] preached to others, [he would] not be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). Nearing the end of his life, he penned,
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Tim. 4:7)
The apostle John cautioned believers, “Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward” (2 John 8). “Behold, I am coming quickly,” Jesus declared, “and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12).
But the road to that greatness in the kingdom lies in selfless service. Diakonos (servant) literally refers to those who waited on tables (it is so used in John 2:5, 9). Doulos, though frequently translated “servant” in English Bibles, actually means slave (cf. John MacArthur, Slave [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010]). The Lord’s point is that believers are to consider everyone their master, and themselves slaves to serve all.
The perfect example of such humble service is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. Unlike the world’s leaders, He did not come to be served, but to serve; not merely to be Lord and Master but also to be a slave of His Father and do His will (John 4:34; 17:4), and to serve sinners by the sacrifice of Himself. As noted earlier, the most profound illustration of Christ’s humble service and obedience to the Father is His death (Phil. 2:5–8), when He gave His life a ransom (lutron; the price paid for the release of a slave) for many. Having made the greatest sacrifice, Jesus received the greatest honor:
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9–11)
In His vicarious, substitutionary death on behalf of sinners, He gave His life to pay to God in full the price of sin for all the people who would ever be saved throughout history. Christ’s death propitiated God’s wrath and fulfilled the demands of His justice for the elect, the redeemed. The one sacrifice of the Son of Man paid the ransom for the many who believe (Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Peter 2:24).
45 The climax to the episode comes in this verse. In the kingdom of God humble service is the rule, and the Son of Man is the example par excellence, especially in his redemptive mission. Every part of this verse is important. “Son of Man” is the veiled messianic title Jesus often uses of himself. The title is sometimes contrasted with “Son of God” and assumed to refer to Jesus’ humble human nature. Yet its primary background is the exalted messianic figure of Daniel 7 (see comments at 8:31), where “one like a son of man” (i.e., a human being) is presented before the Ancient of Days and given “authority, glory and sovereign power.” All the nations of the earth worship him, and he receives an eternal dominion and an indestructible kingdom (Da 7:13–14). This exalted background explains why Jesus says, “Even [kai] the Son of Man”—even the glorious Messiah, who will receive all glory, power, and dominion—“did not come to be served, but to serve.” This statement summarizes Jesus’ incarnate life. He did not come as a potentate whose every personal whim was to be catered to by groveling servants, but he came as a servant himself. And his coming meant giving “his life as a ransom for many.”
The word translated “ransom” is lytron, which means “the price of release” (cf. BDAG, 605). The noun occurs in the NT only here and in Matthew’s parallel (Mt 20:28). In Koine Greek lytron was often used of payment for the release of slaves or captives. The LXX uses the term for various payments, including compensation for crimes (Nu 35:31–32) or the redemption of those who, because of poverty, had sold their tribal land or themselves into slavery (Lev 25:26, 51–52). Since every firstborn, whether human or animal, belonged to the Lord, a “ransom” was to be paid to redeem the firstborn son (Nu 18:15). The verb lytroō could mean “to set free by paying a ransom” but commonly meant simply “to set free, deliver, or rescue.” It is used in the LXX of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Ex 6:6; Dt 7:8; 9:26; etc.). Paul uses the cognate apolytrōsis for the redemption from sins accomplished through Christ’s death (Ro 3:24; 8:23; 1 Co 1:30). The sense in the present passage is that Jesus’ death pays the price to set his people free.
The prepositional phrase “for many” translates anti pollōn. The ordinary meaning of the preposition anti is “in place of” or “instead of”—a clear indication of substitution. Although it can be used to mean “in behalf of,” this meaning is not its usual one, and here its use with lytron seems to demand the sense “instead of.” The expression “the many” is not to be understood as a limiting adjective, meaning “some but not all,” but rather in contrast to the one: the one died for the many. A single life is given for the ransom of others (see Bratcher and Nida, 337). The entire phrase “to give his life a ransom for many” therefore emphasizes the substitutionary and atoning element in Jesus’ death. The one takes the place of the many. What should have happened to them happened to him instead.
Significant debate has focused on two key issues related to the ransom saying: its background and its authenticity. While it was once widely assumed that the conceptual background to the ransom saying was to be found in Isaiah’s fourth Servant Song (Isa 52:13–53:12), this conclusion was seriously challenged by C. K. Barrett (“The Background of Mark 10:45,” in New Testament Essays, ed. A. J. B. Higgins [Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1959], 1–18), and M. D. Hooker, 129–31. Both scholars argue against Isaianic Servant imagery and instead find the background in Daniel 7 and in the experience of the Maccabean martyrs, who suffered and died so that the nation might live (see 2 Macc 7:37–38; 4 Macc 6:28–29; 17:21–22). While scholars continue to debate this issue, there is good evidence that Jesus indeed has Isaiah’s fourth Servant Song in view: (1) The language of service that permeates Mark 10:43–45 recalls the role of the Servant, who sacrificially gives himself for others. Although the word “servant” in Isaiah 52:13 LXX is pais instead of diakonos or doulos, the terms are conceptually similar, and the cognate verb douleuō does appear with reference to the Servant in Isaiah 53:11 LXX. (2) The phrase “give his life” in Mark 10:45 is very close to Isaiah 53:12, where the Servant “poured out his life unto death” (cf. 53:10b). (3) In Isaiah 53:10 the Lord makes the Servant’s life a “sin offering,” i.e., a sacrifice covering the sins of others. Similar language appears in v. 6b, where “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all,” in close parallel to the Son of Man’s role as a “ransom” or payment price (lytron) for the sins of others. (4) Perhaps most significantly, the striking image of the one suffering for the many appears both in Isaiah 53:11–12 and Mark 10:45 (cf. 14:24). Though individually none of these allusions are conclusive, together they make a convincing case that behind Jesus’ words lies Isaiah’s image of the Suffering Servant, who offers himself as a sacrifice for others.
The second key issue related to Mark 10:45 is its authenticity and whether Jesus attributed atoning significance to his own death. A strong case may be made for the authenticity of the saying: (1) The claim that the saying was created under the influence of Pauline theology of the atonement is unlikely, given the fact that Paul never uses lytron to refer to the redemption Jesus has accomplished (see Cranfield, 344). (2) The saying has a strong Semitic flavor and is easily translatable back into Aramaic (see S. Kim, The Son of Man as the Son of God [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985], 39). (3) The idea of the suffering or death of one person’s providing atonement or benefit for others was not alien to Jesus’ world; the idea appeared in Maccabean and other Jewish sources (2 Macc 7:37–38; 4 Macc 6:27–29; 17:22; 18:4; 1QS 5:6; 11QtgJob 38:2–3; Pr Azar 3:38–40; L.A.E. 3:1; cf. Evans, 122; McKnight, Jesus and His Death, 168–71). (4) Evans, 124 (citing V. Taylor, “The Origin of the Markan Passion-Sayings,” in New Testament Essays) points out that the Semitic phrase “son of man” (which is natural Hebrew and Aramaic but very awkward Greek or Latin) certainly has its origin in the ministry of Jesus rather than in the later Hellenistic church. Similarly, the description of Jesus as “servant” “would be open to serious misunderstanding, even ridicule” in the Greco-Roman world. As the gospel moved out of its Jewish and Palestinian contexts, titles such as “Lord,” “Son of God,” and “Savior” became preferred titles for Jesus. Both the Son of Man traditions arising from Daniel 7 and the Servant traditions of Isaiah “are better explained as originating in the teaching of Jesus, rather than in the early church” (Evans, 124).
45 The reversal of all human ideas of greatness and rank was achieved when Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve. He voluntarily veiled his glory as the Son of Man (cf. Chs. 8:38; 13:26; 14:62) and assumed the form of a slave who performed his service unto death because this was the will of God (cf. Phil. 2:6–8). In verse 45, which subsumes verses 43–44, the death of Jesus is presented as his service to God and as a vicarious death for many in virtue of which they find release from sin. Each of the components of this highly compressed saying is significant. The formulation “The Son of man came …” places the entire statement in the context of Jesus’ messianic mission (cf. Ch. 2:17). The service in which the royal will of the Son of Man is displayed is fulfilled in his giving of himself. In a Jewish frame of reference this expression was characteristically used of the death of the martyrs (e.g. 1 Macc. 2:50; 6:44; Mekilta to Ex. 12:1). In this context it expresses the element of voluntariness or self-sacrifice in the death of Jesus who offers himself in obedience to the will of God. His death has infinite value because he dies not as a mere martyr but as the transcendent Son of Man.
The ransom metaphor sums up the purpose for which Jesus gave his life and defines the complete expression of his service. The prevailing notion behind the metaphor is that of deliverance by purchase, whether a prisoner of war, a slave, or a forfeited life is the object to be delivered. Because the idea of equivalence, or substitution, was proper to the concept of a ransom, it became an integral element in the vocabulary of redemption in the OT. It speaks of a liberation which connotes a servitude or an imprisonment from which man cannot free himself. In the context of verse 45a, with its reference to the service of the Son of Man, it is appropriate to find an allusion to the Servant of the Lord in Isa. 53, who vicariously and voluntarily suffered and gave his life for the sins of others. The specific thought underlying the reference to the ransom is expressed in Isa. 53:10 which speaks of “making his life an offering for sin.” Jesus, as the messianic Servant, offers himself as a guilt-offering (Lev. 5:14–6:7; 7:1–7; Num. 5:5–8) in compensation for the sins of the people. The release effected by this offering overcomes man’s alienation from God, his subjection to death, and his bondage to sin. Jesus’ service is offered to God to release men from their indebtedness to God.
The thought of substitution is reinforced by the qualifying phrase “a ransom for the many.” The Son of Man takes the place of the many and there happens to him what would have happened to them (cf. Ch. 8:37: what no man can do, Jesus, as the unique Son of Man, achieves). The many had forfeited their lives, and what Jesus gives in their place is his life. In his death, Jesus pays the price that sets men free. The sacrifice of the one is contrasted with those for whom it is made, in allusion to Isa. 53:11f. In rabbinic literature, and even more strikingly at Qumran, “the many” is a technical term for the elect community, the eschatological people of God. The majestic figure of the Son of Man is linked here with the community which will be vindicated and saved in the eschatological judgment because Jesus goes to his death innocently, voluntarily and in accordance with the will of God. This corresponds perfectly with the main thought of Isa. 53. The ultimate meaning of Jesus’ vicarious suffering and his giving himself as a ransom, however, can be understood only from the reality of his life, death and resurrection as narrated in the Gospel. In Mark there is complete correspondence between the ransom saying and the death of Jesus. Because Jesus’ will is synchronous with the will of God he must die in the place of guilty men (Ch. 8:31, 33). This is what it means for him to offer his life as a ransom for the many.
This painful and glorious destiny of the Son of Man is something unique to his mission and in a definite sense is incommunicable: only he can accomplish this service. Nevertheless, his submission to the servant’s vocation is here proposed as an example to the Twelve, who are summoned to pattern their lives after the humility of the Son of Man. Jesus’ sacrifice of his own glory is the ground of a renewal of life to self-sacrificial obedience. The disciples were to experience this power of his death in themselves. That John, the son of Zebedee, ultimately understood Jesus’ intention is clear from 1 John 3:16: “He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
45. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many—“instead of many,” that is, “In the kingdom about to be set up, this principle shall have no place. All My servants shall there be equal; and the only greatness known to it shall be the greatness of humility and devotedness to the service of others. He that goes down the deepest in these services of self-denying humility shall rise the highest and hold the chiefest place in that kingdom; even as the Son of man, whose abasement and self-sacrifice for others, transcending all, gives Him of right a place above all!” As “the Word in the beginning with God,” He was ministered unto; and as the risen Redeemer in our nature He now is ministered unto, “angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him” (1 Pe 3:22); but not for this came He hither. The Served of all came to be the Servant of all; and His last act was the grandest Service ever beheld by the universe of God—“He Gave His Life a Ransom for Many!”, &c. “Many” is here to be taken, not in contrast with few or with all, but in opposition to one—the one Son of man for the many sinners.
45 καὶ γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἦλθεν διακονηθῆναι ἀλλὰ διακονῆσαι καὶ δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν, “For the ‘son of man’ came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is by far the most remarkable and probably most disputed saying in Mark. Most commentators have tended to regard this saying as originally independent, whether authentic or not. Of course, many have regarded it as a later Christian formulation, especially in light of comparison with Luke 22:24–27 (Klostermann, 108–9, with regard to v 45b), perhaps deriving from Pauline circles (Branscomb, 190–91; Nineham, 280–81). Strecker (Int 22  432 n. 30) thinks the saying is “an independent logion” that originated in “Hellenistic-Jewish Christianity.” Similarly, Bultmann speaks of the saying as originating “from the redemption theories of Hellenistic Christianity” (History, 144) and so is a secondary formulation “of a later stage” (History, 155). Lohse (Märtyrer und Gottesknecht, 117–22) also believes that the saying is inauthentic but that it derives from the early Jewish community. Others who regard the saying as inauthentic include Pesch (2:162–64), S. K. Williams (Jesus’ Death as Saving Event: The Background and Origin of a Concept, HDR 2 [Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1975] 211–12), and Roloff (NTS 19 [1972–73] 38–64). The authenticity of the saying is strongly defended by J. Jeremias (TDNT 5:706, 708, 710, 712–13, 715) and in more recent years by Stuhlmacher (“Vicariously Giving His Life,” 16–29) and his student Grimm (Weil ich dich liebe, 231–77). Others who regard the saying as authentic include Lagrange (281–83), Rawlinson (146–48), Taylor (445–46; NTS 1 [1954–55] 159–67), Schürmann (Jesu Abschiedsrede, 85–86), Barrett (“Background”), C. Colpe (TDNT 8:448, 455), Cranfield (343–44), Schmid (200–201), Hooker (Son of Man, 140–47), Hampel (Menschensohn und historischer Jesus, 302–42), France (Jesus and the Old Testament, 116–21), Radermakers (270–71), Patsch (Abendmahl, 170–80, 205–11), and Gundry (587–90).
Boiled down, the controversies surrounding v 45 are three in number: (1) the unity of the saying and its relationship to vv 35–44; (2) the relationship of the saying to Second Isaiah, especially the Suffering Servant Song of Isa 52:13–53:12; and (3) the authenticity of the saying. All three of these disputed elements are in various ways related to one another. The position taken in this commentary is that the saying was originally a unit, that it was part of the whole pericope that makes up vv 35–45, that themes from Second Isaiah do indeed lie behind it, and that the saying derives from Jesus. The detailed discussion that follows will justify this position.
First, there are good reasons for allowing the saying to stand as a unity and as part of the whole dialogue between Jesus and his disciples as presented in vv 35–45. Claims made by Wellhausen (84–85) and Nineham (281) that v 45 stands in tension with vv 35/41–44 are overdrawn. Jesus enjoins his disciples to assume the roles of “servant,” even “slave” (vv 43–44), if they are to be great in the kingdom of God (as implied by v 37). To take part in Jesus’ glory, the disciples must be willing to endure a time of suffering (i.e., drinking the cup Jesus drinks, being baptized with his baptism), even martyrdom (as taught in vv 38–39). The ransom saying in v 45 properly connects to this teaching about suffering. The reference to serving (διακονῆσαι) links the saying to v 43, where the cognate word (διάκονος, “servant”) occurs, and v 44, where a synonym (δοῦλος, “slave”) occurs. The examples of being a servant or slave anticipate an allusion to the Suffering Servant of Isa 52:13–53:12. The willingness to give one’s life in behalf of others does not introduce a new theme, one that is ill-suited for the present context or is “out of harmony,” but rather brings the discussion to a fitting and logical conclusion (Casey, Aramaic Sources, 216, rightly says that v 45 “effectively … draws the whole passage together”). To be great in the kingdom of God will require a willingness to suffer (vv 37–38) and a willingness to serve (vv 43–44), and the prime example of one who is willing to serve and to suffer is the “son of man,” who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v 45).
Second, there are good reasons to understand the ransom saying in terms of themes and images drawn from Second Isaiah, particularly the Suffering Servant Song. At one time this had been a given among scholars (e.g., Engnell, BJRL 31  54, who speaks of the “indisputable role” that the Servant theme played in Jesus’ self-understanding; cf. also Jeremias, “Lösegeld”), but in the wake of publications by Barrett (“Background of Mark 10:45,” 1–18) and Hooker (Jesus and the Servant), many scholars have reconsidered this influence. However, in recent years there are signs that the pendulum is swinging back to the older opinion (cf. Moulder, NTS 24 [1977–78] 120–27; France, Jesus and the Old Testament, 116–21; Hengel, Atonement, 49–65; Pesch, 2:163–64; Stuhlmacher, “Vicariously Giving His Life”; id., Jesus of Nazareth, 49–57; Davies and Allison, Matthew 3:95–100; Hagner, Matthew 2:582–83; Painter, 150). Let us consider every element in the ransom saying that may reflect the Suffering Servant Song or some other Isaianic passage:
διακονῆσαι, “to serve”: It has often been suggested that this word alludes to the Servant of Isa 52:13; 53:11 (both times פעבְדִּי ˓abdî, “my servant”). διακονεῖν, “to serve,” and its cognates do not appear in the LXX. (In 1 Kgs 18:36; 2 Kgs 9:36; 10:10 Elijah is called the Lord’s עבד ˓ebed, “servant,” while in Josephus, Ant. 8.13.7 §354, Elisha is called Elijah’s διάκονος, “servant.”) The synonym δουλεύειν, “to serve (as slave),” appears in LXX Isa 53:11 (δουλεύοντα πολλοῖς, “serving many”; cf. MT: פעבְדִּי לָרַבִּים ˓abdɩ̂ lārabbɩ̂m, “my servant, for the many”), and its cognate also appears in Mark 10:44 (πάντων δοῦλος, “slave of all”). Hooker (Jesus and the Servant, 74) concedes that this linguistic overlap “supports the claim that the concept of the Suffering Servant may lie behind Mark 10.45.” Nevertheless, she goes on to reject the allusion, arguing that the contrast between the great men who lord it over others and the servant who gives up his life does not fit well the function of the Isaianic Servant. After all, the Servant is in fact the Lord’s servant, not the servant of others. To this France (Jesus and the Old Testament, 118) replies by noting that in v 44 διάκονος, “servant,” and δοῦλος, “slave,” occur in parallelism and that διακονεῖν, “to serve,” which appears in v 45, and δουλεύειν, “to serve (as slave),” which does translate עבד ˓ābad, “serve,” in the LXX, are synonymous. Therefore διακονεῖν may very well translate an Aramaic term that echoed עבד ˓ābad (such as פלח pĕlaḥ, “serve,” which in fact does translate עבד ˓ābad). Davies and Allison (Matthew 3:96) agree, adding that “διακονῆσαι accurately describes what the ˓ebed does.”
δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ, “to give his life,” closely approximates part of Isa 53:10: אִם־תָּשִׂים אָשָׁם נַפְשׁוֹ ʾim-tāśɩ̂m ʾāšām naps̊ô, “when you place/make his life [as] a guilt offering” (nrsv, adapted), and 53:12: הֶעֱרָה לַמָּוֶת נַפְשׁוֹ he˓ĕr̯ lammāwet napšô, “he poured out his life to death” (nrsv, adapted), or Tg. Isa. 53:12: מסר למותא נפשׁיה mĕsar lĕmôtāʾ napšêh, “he delivered up his soul to death.” The language of giving (διδόναι), ransom (λύτρον), and life (ψυχή) is thoroughly biblical, e.g., LXX Exod 21:30: ἐὰν δὲ λύτρα ἐπιβληθῇ αὐτῷ, δώσει λύτρα τῆς ψυχῆς αὐτοῦ, “And if ransoms should be imposed on him, he shall give ransoms for his life”; Sir 29:15: χάριτας ἐγγύου μὴ ἐπιλάθῃ· ἔδωκεν γὰρ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ὑπὲρ σοῦ, “Do not forget all the kindness of your surety, for he has given his life for you”; and 1 Macc 2:50: νὺν τέκνα ζηλώσατε τῷ νόμῳ καὶ δότε τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν ὑπὲρ διαθήκης πατέρων ἡμῶν, “Now, my children, show zeal for the law, and give your lives for the covenant of our fathers.”
λύτρον ἀντί, “ransom for,” approximates אָשָׁם ʾāšām, “guilt offering,” but because λύτρον does not appear in LXX Isa 53 and never translates אָשָׁם ʾāšām in the LXX, Barrett and Hooker discount it as a possible allusion to the Suffering Servant, a point with which Casey (Aramaic Sources, 212) agrees. But Mark 10:45 is not a translation of any portion of Isa 52:13–53:12 (a point that is underscored by Davies and Allison, Matthew 3:96); it is a summary of the task of the Servant. It is true that Jesus has not said that the “son of man” has given his life as a guilt offering; rather he says that the “son of man” has given his life as a ransom. But a ransom for what? Why would a ransom be required? The last part of Isa 53:12 answers this question in saying that the Servant “bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Jesus’ proclamation, following John’s, called for repentance. Israel had not repented but instead had rejected God’s messengers (in killing John and soon in killing Jesus). Jesus’ life would constitute the ransom that would free Israel from divine penalty; his blood would make the hoped-for new covenant a reality (Mark 14:24).
The preposition ἀντί means “in the place of” (or “for” in the sense of exchange). On λύτρον, see MM, 382–83, and Deissmann, Light, 327–28. According to Deissmann (327), “when anybody heard the Greek word λύτρον, ‘ransom,’ in the first century, it was natural for him to think of the purchase-money for manumitting slaves.” See Stuhlmacher (Jesus of Nazareth, 33–35, 49–54). According to Wilcox (“On the Ransom-Saying,” 178), “it seems that the most promising choice of meaning is that of a payment for release of prisoners or hostages.” This idea is consistent with Mark’s portrait of Jesus as the one who is “stronger than” the strong man (i.e., Satan) and is thus able to rescue those whom the evil one has taken captive. The meaning of λύτρον is also consistent with the immediate context, for unlike the great men of late antiquity who lord it over others and by doing so often make slaves of them, Jesus is willing to give his life in exchange for their freedom from bondage.
πολλῶν, “many,” probably alludes to לרבים lārabbɩ̂m, “for the many,” which appears in Isa 53:11 (LXX: πολλοῖς, “many”) and 12 (LXX: πολλῶν, “of many”) “to describe the beneficiaries of the Servant’s sacrifice” (France, Jesus and the Old Testament, 120). לרבים lārabbɩ̂m may also be alluded to in Mark 14:24, when Jesus says his blood will be ἐκχυννόμενον ὑπὲρ πολλῶν, “poured out for many.” This phrase is a close approximation of the words of Isa 53:12: הֶעֱרָה פלמָּוֶת נַפְשׁוֹ … וְהוּא חֵטְא־רַבִּים נָשָׂא he˓ĕr̯ lammāwet napšô … wĕhǔʾ ḥēṭʾ-rabbɩ̂m nāśāʾ, “he poured out his life to death … yet he bore the sin of many” (nrsv, adapted). There are at least five Jewish texts that antedate Christianity that entertain ideas about the death or suffering of a human being as providing either atonement or benefit for others. (1) One immediately thinks of the courageous sons who refused to abandon their faith in the face of severe persecution, one of whom says to Antiochus Epiphanes: “I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our fathers, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by afflictions and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty which has justly fallen on our whole nation” (2 Macc 7:37–38, emphasis added). (2) It is said of the deaths of righteous martyrs in 4 Maccabees: “By their endurance they conquered the tyrant, and thus their native land was purified through them” (1:11); “Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs” (6:28–29). (3) God responded to Job the righteous sufferer: “God hearkened to Job’s voice and forgave them their sins on account of him” (11QtgJob 38.2–3 [= Job 42:9: “and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer”]). (4) In the Prayer of Azariah we read, “In our day we have no ruler, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, no place to make an offering before you and to find mercy. Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls, or with tens of thousands of fat lambs; such may our sacrifice be in your sight today …” (LXX 3:18–21 = nrsv 3:15–17). (5) In the Life of Adam and Eve, Eve asks Adam to kill her, explaining, “Then perhaps the Lord God will bring you again into Paradise, for it is because of me that the Lord God is angry with you” (3:1). In view of these texts, it is simply inaccurate to maintain that human atonement ideas could not have been derived from Palestinian Judaism. (Another text sometimes mentioned is T. Benj. 3:8: “The innocent will be defiled for the lawless, and the sinless one will die for the ungodly”; but Christian editing can be detected in the immediate vicinity, so this passage may not represent pre-Christian Jewish ideas.)
Recently Grimm (Weil ich dich liebe, 231–77) and Stuhlmacher (“Vicariously Giving His Life,” 22–26) have argued that the ransom saying may reflect the language of Isa 43:3–4: “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give [ נָתַתִּי nātattɩ̂] Egypt as your ransom [ כָפְרְךָ koprĕkā], Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you [תַּחְתֶּיךָ taḥtêkā]. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give man in return for you [ וְאֶתֵּן אָדָם פתּחְתֶּיךָ wĕʾettēn ʾādām taḥtêkā], peoples in exchange for your life [ פתּפחת נַפְשֶׁךָ taḥat napšekā].” The linguistic and thematic coherence between this passage and the ransom saying is intriguing. Isaiah’s כפר kōper, “ransom,” is the equivalent of Mark’s λύτρον, “ransom” (cf. Pesch, 2:164: “λύτρον … is based on כֹּפֶר”); תחת taḥat, “in exchange for,” corresponds to ἀντὶ (πολλῶν), “for (many)”; ואתן אדם wĕʾettēn ʾādām, “I give man,” may approximate Mark’s ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου … δοῦναι, “the ‘son of man’ … to give”; and נפשׁ nepeš, “life,” corresponds to Mark’s τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ, “his life.” However, Gundry (592) expresses reservations. Davies and Allison (Matthew 3:96) find the proposal “attractive but not demonstrable.” Given the concentration of vocabulary and the thematic coherence (though admittedly not exact), it is probable that Isa 43:3–4 has contributed to the matrix out of which Jesus’ saying was fashioned. It is not necessary to view Isa 53 and Isa 43 as competing alternatives; rather they may be viewed as prophetic sources out of which Jesus’ mission, message, and self-understanding could be formed.
Finally, there are two important elements that reflect Dan 7:
(1) ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, “the son of [the] man,” is an articular, specific reference to the פבר אֱנָשׁ bar ʾĕnāš, “son of man,” of Dan 7:13. The Aramaic is anarthrous and is neither technical nor titular. Jesus’ messianic self-understanding has been informed by this mysterious heavenly figure. He is the figure to whom dominion and authority have been given. (For more discussion of the “son of man,” see the Introduction as well as the Comment on 8:31.)
(2) διακονηθῆναι, “to be served.” Even the “son of man” himself, contrary to what might be inferred from Dan 7:14 (“And to him was given dominion … that all peoples … should serve [Aramaic: יִפְלְחוּן yiplĕḥûn; LXX: λατρεύουσα; Theodotion: δουλεύσουσιν] him”), “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v 45). Casey (Aramaic Sources, 212–17) believes that the OT background to the ransom saying has more to do with Daniel and stories of the Jewish martyrs (in the Maccabean literature) than with Isa 53 or 43, though he allows for some formal and thematic similarities (“It remains possible that Jesus was informed by Isa 53, among many other texts, as he meditated on his death”). However, the Danielic elements do not necessarily compete with or contradict the underlying elements from Isaiah. The two scriptural traditions complement each other, with the Suffering Servant of Isa 53 redefining the mission and destiny of the “son of man” of Dan 7. Indeed, the “son of man” will someday “be served,” but he first must serve, even suffer and die, as the Servant of the Lord.
Elsewhere in the dominical tradition there is evidence of Jesus subverting teaching in Daniel. Jesus’ Prayer of Thanksgiving is an especially interesting example: “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will” (Matt 11:25–26 = Luke 10:21). Grimm (Jesu Einspruch gegen das Offenbarungssystem Daniels [Mt 11,25–27; Lk 17,20–21], vol. 1 of Jesus und das Danielbuch, ANTJ 6.1 [Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 1984]) has suggested that Jesus has alluded to Daniel’s similar prayer in Dan 2:19–23, parts of which read: “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might … he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and mysterious things” (vv 20–22). This shows that Jesus’ hermeneutic was dynamic and experientially oriented. He was at once informed by Scripture but not necessarily confined by it. It also reflects the Jewish interpretive principle of two passages interpreting each other (gĕzêr̯ šāw̯). Davies and Allison (Matthew 3:97), commenting on Matt 20:28 (the parallel to Mark 10:45), rightly state that “Daniel 7 is not rejected. Rather, it is creatively reinterpreted through combination with another Scripture.” They go on to point out that elements from Dan 7 and Isa 53 are combined in 1 Enoch 37–71.
Third, Taylor (“The Origin of the Markan Passion-Sayings”) argues compellingly for the authenticity of the ransom saying along with the other passion sayings (8:31; 9:31; 10:32–34) on the grounds that in Paul, Matthew, Luke-Acts, and the Johannine writings the Suffering Servant concept is on the wane. The popularity of the concept, as appropriate for understanding Jesus, was much earlier. Since the popularity of the epithet “son of man” also seems limited to the very earliest period of the development of the Jesus traditions, the two concepts, “servant” and “son of man,” may have been in fact quite primitive, with only lingering echoes in later christological formulations. This makes perfect sense as it relates to the emergence and expansion of Christianity. The epithet “son of man” would have been dropped in the Greco-Roman world, for it would make no sense in either Greek (ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου) or Latin (filius hominis), whereas the concept “servant” (whether παῖς, διάκονος, or δοῦλος) would be open to serious misunderstanding, even ridicule. As Christian preaching moved beyond the confines of Jewish Palestine toward an increasingly hellenized and romanized world, the preferred titles for Jesus became ὁ κύριος, “Lord,” ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, “Son of God,” and ὁ σωτήρ, “Savior,” titles that resonated with the overtones of the imperial cult of the divine emperor. The lingering and rarely exploited fragments of tradition indebted to the language and imagery of Dan 7 (the “son of man,” authority, reception of kingdom, struggle against demonic forces) and Second Isaiah (the messenger, announcing the kingdom, announcing good news, healing, the servant, suffering for many) are better explained as originating in the teaching of Jesus, rather than in the early church, only to be muted, reformulated, or dropped altogether in subsequent years.
Evidence for this contention is seen in the parallel in 1 Tim 2:5–6: εἷς καὶ μεσίτης θεοῦ καὶ ἀνθρώπων, ἄνθρωπος Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς, ὁ δοὺς ἑαυτὸν ἀντίλυτρον ὑπὲρ πάντων, “and there is one mediator between God and humans, the human being Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (author’s tr.). Jeremias (“Lösegeld”) argued that this statement represents a later, hellenized version of the dominical ransom saying (with which Stuhlmacher, “Vicariously Giving His Life,” 17–18, concurs): ἄνθρωπος, “human being,” replaces the odd-sounding, Semitizing ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, “the son of [the] man”; ὁ δοὺς ἑαυτόν, “who gave himself,” replaces δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ, “to give his life”; the hellenizing ἀντίλυτρον, “ransom,” replaces λύτρον, “ransom”; and ὑπὲρ πάντων, “for all,” replaces the Semitizing ἀντὶ πολλῶν, “for many.” The form of the saying in 1 Timothy gives us a clearer idea of what form a hellenizing tradition of this sort would take and stands in noticeable contrast to the older, more Semitic form of the saying in Mark 10:45, thus seriously undermining the claims made by some that Mark 10:45 represents either a Pauline formula or some other hellenizing formula.
Finally, as Allison shows (Jesus of Nazareth, 64–65), the ransom saying corresponds to other sayings of Jesus, notably Luke 12:51–53 (= Matt 10:34–35 [Q]), where a saying beginning with “I come” is followed by an antithesis, a reference to suffering, and a scriptural allusion. The ransom saying of Mark 10:45, which thematically coheres with Mark 14:24, formally coheres with this saying in Q. Coherence such as this supports the claim to authenticity.
The request made by James and John is innocent enough, but Jesus quite possibly perceives the proverbial tip of the iceberg: the all-too-human desire for honor, power, and prestige. Although Jesus does not rebuke his disciples, he does challenge them. If they want what Jesus has to offer, are they prepared to experience it? If they want to sit next to him, then are they prepared to share his fate? They say they are able (as many Christians today affirm), but do they really understand what lies ahead? On previous occasions Jesus has spoken of his suffering and death, and there was little indication that the disciples fully understood or accepted such discouraging teaching.
Jesus teaches his disciples that the places of honor are not his to appoint. But he can tell them what is expected of them. They are not to be like the “great ones” of the world, who like to rule over people. No, the disciples are to seek opportunities of service. The supreme example of this service is seen in Jesus himself, who as “son of man” does not in fact desire “to be served” (as Dan 7:14 depicts) but instead seeks “to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” If the disciples are able to follow this example, then the places of honor will follow.
Hengel is correct to argue that Mark 10:45 and 14:24 underscore how important Jesus’ atoning death is for the Markan evangelist. To conclude that no more than two references imply little interest in Jesus’ death is to misunderstand the evangelist by failing to observe the contexts in which these passages occur (see Hengel, Studies, 37–38). The evangelist’s economy should not be confused with lack of emphasis. Just as Jesus’ acknowledgment as “Son of God” occurs only a few times (notably in 1:1; 14:61–62; and 15:39), so disclosure of Jesus’ role as the suffering “son of man” occurs only a few times. Their relative rarity allows them to stand all the more in sharp relief.
 MacArthur, J. (2015). Mark 9–16 (pp. 108–109). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Wessel, W. W., & Strauss, M. L. (2010). Mark. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 875–877). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Lane, W. L. (1974). The Gospel of Mark (pp. 383–385). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 83). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Evans, C. A. (2001). Mark 8:27–16:20 (Vol. 34B, pp. 119–125). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.