Jesus’ Mother and Brothers
31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 3:31–35). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Lord: The Acknowledgment of Jesus’ Followers (3:31–35)
Having left Nazareth to find Jesus (v. 21), Jesus’ mother and His brothers finally arrived in Capernaum. In light of the fact that Mary believed in Jesus, her coming was likely motivated by a desire to protect the Son of God. Jesus’ half brothers, however, were convinced He had lost His mind. They came to rescue Jesus from the massive crowds that threatened to smother Him—likely intent on taking Him back to Nazareth with them.
From outside the house, they sent word to Him and called Him. Inside, Jesus was addressing a crowd that was sitting around Him, when they said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.” Accepting the interruption, Jesus responded in a way that was utterly unexpected and must have surprised those who heard Him speak. Answering them, He said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Jesus’ question was not born out of ignorance, since He obviously knew the identity of His earthly family members. Nor did it intend any level of disrespect or antagonism toward His mother and brothers, whom He clearly loved (cf. John 19:26–27). Jesus simply used this real-life interruption to teach a transcendent spiritual truth to His followers who were gathered around Him.
Answering His own question, Jesus looked about at those who were sitting around Him and said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” The Lord’s point was that the only relationship to Him that matters eternally is not physical but spiritual. His spiritual family is comprised of those who have a saving relationship with Him through faith (cf. John 1:12; Rom. 8:14–17; 1 John 3:1–2). As He earlier explained to Nicodemus, it is not earthly birth that makes one part of the family of God but being born from above (John 3:3–8). Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, who resisted and blasphemed the Holy Spirit by rejecting the Son of God, genuine disciples are careful to do the will of God by honoring Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3). As Jesus explained in John 6:40, “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” On another occasion in Judea, when a woman exclaimed to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed” (Luke 11:27), He responded similarly, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (v. 28). Only those who heed God’s word will be eternally blessed. That word begins with the testimony of the Father, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him” (Matt. 17:5).
As Mark has already noted (v. 21), some of Jesus’ family members regarded Him as a lunatic. Meanwhile, members of the religious elite regarded Him as a liar, accusing Him of being in league with Satan. But the followers of Jesus, those who belonged to His spiritual family, embraced Him as their Lord. They obeyed the will of the Father, which is that sinners would believe in the Son to whom the Holy Spirit bears witness and receive eternal life (cf. John 3:16; 15:26; 16:13–15).
Those who truly recognize that Jesus is Lord respond with an eagerness to obey Him. True conversion has always been marked by obedience to the Word of God and submission to the authority of Christ. As Jesus explained in John 8:31, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” A few chapters later, He echoed that same truth: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). By contrast, “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4; cf. 3:24). Embracing the lordship of Jesus Christ is more than mere lip service (cf. Matt. 7:21). It is the essence of the Christian life and a sure characteristic of those who are part of the family of God. As John R. W. Stott explains:
In order to follow Christ we have to deny ourselves, to crucify ourselves, to lose ourselves. The full, inexorable demand of Jesus Christ is now laid bare. He does not call us to a sloppy half-heartedness, but to a vigorous, absolute commitment. He calls us to make him our Lord. The astonishing idea is current in some circles today that we can enjoy the benefits of Christ’s salvation without accepting the challenge of his sovereign lordship. Such an unbalanced notion is not to be found in the New Testament. “Jesus is Lord” is the earliest known formulation of the creed of Christians. In days when imperial Rome was pressing its citizens to say “Caesar is Lord,” these words had a dangerous flavour. But Christians did not flinch. They could not give Caesar their first allegiance, because they had already given it to the Emperor Jesus. God had exalted his Son Jesus far above all principality and power and invested him with a rank superior to every rank, that before him “every knee should bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (John R. W. Stott, Basic Christianity [London, Inter-Varsity Press, 1971], 112–13)
The eternal destiny of every sinner is determined by what that person does with Jesus Christ. Those who ultimately regard Him as either a lunatic or a liar will spend eternity apart from Him in hell. But those who do the will of God by embracing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are promised eternal life in heaven (Rom. 10:9). There, as members of the family of God, they will worship their risen King forever.
Jesus’ True Family (3:31–35)
31 Mark now turns back to the family of Jesus. By inserting (intercalating) the account of the Beelzebul controversy into the family episode he has both heightened the suspense and allowed for traveling time from Nazareth to Capernaum. The rejection of Jesus by the religious leaders parallels the rejection by his family and reminds the reader that it is Jesus’ own people who are rejecting him. These developments allow Jesus to define true spiritual relationships in the kingdom of God.
The family arrived at Jesus’ location but did not enter, presumably because of the size of the crowd. Instead they stood outside (exō) and sent someone in to call him. Only Jesus’ mother (the only reference to her in Mark’s gospel) and his siblings are mentioned specifically. Joseph is not mentioned; presumably, he was not living at this time. The Greek word adelphoi can mean either “brothers” or “siblings” (i.e., “brothers and sisters”), and the latter may be intended here. Jesus’ sisters will be explicitly mentioned in 6:3. Possible evidence for the presence of Jesus’ sisters is the analogy in v. 35, where Jesus’ spiritual family includes “my brother and sister and mother.”
Mark shows no interest or concern in the later church debate over whether these siblings were (1) born to Mary after Jesus was born, (2) Joseph’s children by a previous marriage, or (3) only cousins of Jesus (as the Roman Catholic Church has historically asserted; see comments at 6:3). For Mark the point of the story is the climactic pronouncement in vv. 34b–35 that true spiritual relationships are defined not by blood or birth but by common allegiance to the will and purpose of God.
32–35 When Jesus was told that his family was looking for him, he responded by asking the rhetorical question, “Who are my mother and my brothers [and sisters]?” (v. 33). Then with a sweep of his eyes over those seated in a circle around him, he identified his true family: “Here are my mother and my brothers [and sisters]” (v. 34). This statement would certainly have included the Twelve but also the “crowd” (ochlos, GK 4063, v. 32) gathered around him—the wider group of his followers. Jesus’ point is that in the age of salvation there are spiritual ties that are closer than blood or family ties. Jesus’ true family consists of all those who obey the will of God (v. 35)—in Mark’s narrative world, those who are responding positively to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ words are particularly shocking in the “dyadic” (group-oriented) culture of the Middle East, where respect and loyalty for family and clan were (and are) among the highest values. While Jesus does not reject or repudiate his own family, he places spiritual relationships on a higher plane. It can easily be imagined what this statement meant to the original readers of Mark’s gospel. F. C. Grant, 694, writes, “In place of broken family relations, ostracism and persecution, was the close and intimate relation to the Son of God.” The striking spatial contrast between Jesus’ physical family, who are “outside” (exō; vv. 31–32), and his spiritual family, who are “sitting around him” inside, will be taken up in the next chapter (see comments at 4:11). A reversal is taking place in Mark’s gospel: those who have traditionally been insiders to God’s blessings—the religious leaders and the physical heirs of Abraham’s promise—will become the outsiders. And those who were formerly outsiders (sinners, tax collectors, Gentiles) will become the insiders and recipients of God’s salvation.
In view of the Jewish attitude of respect and honor toward one’s parents—an attitude adopted by the church—the historicity of these two family scenes (vv. 20–21; vv. 31–35) can scarcely be denied, for the church would never have invented a story that put the family of Jesus in such bad light.
33–35 Jesus seized upon the interruption as an occasion for teaching. The rhetorical question, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” focuses attention on the deeper issue involved in an authentic relationship to him. With a look which apparently took in those who sat closest to him, Jesus announced “Behold, my mother and my brothers.” It is probable that the group indicated did not embrace more than the Twelve. The larger context stresses their special position as those who are with Jesus in obedience to his summons (Ch. 3:14). Their openness to God’s action in sending Jesus bound them to him with ties more intimate than those achieved through physical relationship. By following Jesus the Twelve are marked off as those who do the will of God. Jesus’ statement regarding the true family, however, looks beyond the Twelve to a larger company of men and women: “whoever shall do the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” It is the performance of the will of God which is decisive in determining kinship with Jesus. In the new family which Jesus calls into being there is demanded the radical obedience to God which he demonstrated in his submission to the Father and which the disciples manifested in their response to his call. The one context which makes Jesus’ word intelligible is that provided by the demands of the Kingdom of God which has drawn near in his person. Because the Kingdom is breaking in upon men there is a new urgency in the demand for obedience. At the same time this demand creates a fellowship in which the common pursuance of the will of God binds a man closely to Jesus and permits him to know another as brother, sister or mother.108
3:31–35 / This episode is directly connected with the preceding one (3:20–30), as explained in the comments on that portion, and is also part of a larger section that includes the calling of the Twelve (3:13–19). The Twelve are introduced in 3:13–19, and in 3:20–35 they are contrasted with “teachers of the law” and with Jesus’ family. Although the disciples fail in many ways in later episodes, here they are presented as specially favored by Jesus for their willingness to follow him. As mentioned before, the disciples are major characters in Mark and what is said about them is both positive and negative. The reader is supposed to identify with the Twelve and is supposed to learn from what is said to them and about them the high privilege and duties of discipleship, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the difficulties and temptations to failure.
In the present passage, Jesus says of his disciples that they have become his true family. Though it is fairly clear that the Twelve are the ones referred to, the more general description of those Jesus commends as those seated in a circle around him (3:34) has the effect of leaving the circle open for others to join. The Christian readers are to identify themselves with those who do God’s will (3:35) and so are to see themselves included among those given this special closeness to Jesus.
It is not stated in this episode what Jesus’ family wanted (3:31), but since it appears that they are mentioned in 3:21 as trying to “take charge of him,” their intent here is no doubt the same—that is, this is not simply a friendly visit from relatives! This makes Jesus’ sharp rejection of them in favor of his followers a little easier to understand. There is other evidence that Jesus did not enjoy the support of his own family during his ministry (e.g., John 7:1–9). There is the mention of Jesus’ mother at the crucifixion in John 19:25–27, but little is said to indicate her own position among the disciples. Acts 1:14 mentions Mary, his mother, as among the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection; and James, his brother, is mentioned as a leader in the early church (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19; 2:9). It is not made clear how Jesus’ family moved from misunderstanding (and perhaps rejection) to faith and commitment.
In the light of this tension between Jesus and his family, the famous words of Jesus about discipleship involving the cost of one’s family (Matt. 10:34–39) can be seen as reflective of his own personal experience (see also Luke 12:49–53). That is, Jesus can call others to sacrifice because he too has had to sacrifice to follow God’s call.
It is remarkable that this somewhat negative treatment of Jesus’ family survived, in view of the veneration of the mother of Jesus and the general high respect for his family in later church tradition. In the Roman Catholic tradition there is a special difficulty with the references to Jesus’ family because of the official dogma that Mary remained perpetually a virgin and thus did not have children other than Jesus (see note). Of course, this information about Jesus and his family was not preserved for curiosity’s sake but to demonstrate by Jesus’ example the cost of discipleship and—by Jesus’ words in 3:35—its reward.
3:35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother. There are two emphases here. First, “the will of God” is a central theme in the New Testament for true discipleship (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 5:17; 1 Thess. 4:3; 5:18; 1 Pet. 4:2). This means that in every area of life the Christian seeks to live as God wants; the principles for doing so are encapsulated in his revealed word. Second, we must “do” God’s will or, as in James 1:22–25, be “doers” of the word and not mere “hearers.”
33–35. He answered and said to them, Who is my mother and (who are) my brothers? And looking around at those who were sitting in a circle about him he said, Here are my mother and my brothers. Although the relation between Jesus and his mother was one of tender concern, as has been shown in connection with verse 21, he never permitted her to divert him from doing what he knew that his heavenly Father wanted him to do, as has also been indicated. See above, on verse 21, under “As to d.” Neither did he permit his brothers to sidetrack him. See John 7:2 ff. By saying, “Who is my mother and (who are) my brothers?” he teaches that what holds for himself holds for all: all must strive to do the will of God. Cf. Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26. In this connection physical ties are not nearly as important as are spiritual.
Mark relates that when Jesus answered his own question he was looking around at those who were sitting—all were probably in a house—in a circle about him. Matthew adds that he was stretching out his hand toward and over his disciples. It was with this meaningful look and gesture that the Master remarked, “Here are my mother and my brothers.” This “brothers” must not be interpreted as if Jesus recognized only males as members of his spiritual family. He probably said, “my mother and my brothers” to correspond with “your mother and your brothers are looking for you.” That people are not excluded from Christ’s family because of sex is clear from the words that immediately follow, namely, For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother. In all probability the words and the gesture of gracious inclusion were directed first of all to The Twelve (though in a favorable sense they could hardly have applied to Judas Iscariot). In all likelihood they were sitting closest to Jesus. Having immediately responded to Christ’s call, regardless of the sacrifice this implied (Matt. 19:27–29; Luke 5:28; 9:58; 14:26), they had shown that it was indeed their basic intention to carry out the will of God for their lives. It is not surprising, therefore, that Jesus points to them and publicly acknowledges that they are included in his spiritual family. And, since the word “whoever” is very broad, “disciples” other than The Twelve were certainly also included.
As to Mary, though her affectionate solicitude should be recognized, it must also be admitted that she erred. She was in a sense repeating that sinful interference manifested also on an earlier occasion (John 2:3). If, therefore, in connection with Mark 3:31–35 we are justified in speaking about an atmosphere of “tension,” it was this effort of sinful interference—not Mary’s and Jesus’ brothers’ alleged opinion that Jesus was out of his mind—that brought about this tension. But just as on that earlier occasion Mary quickly saw her mistake and was strengthened in her faith (see John 2:5) by the very word of tender and earnest reproof which Jesus addressed to her (John 2:4), may we not believe that also in the present instance the Savior’s word (Mark 3:33–35) had the same wholesome effect on her? There is no reason to believe that Mary’s faith, which comes to beautiful expression in Luke 1:38; 1:46–55; 2:19; and 2:51, did not, by God’s grace, triumph over all temporary set-backs. That it was victorious is clear from Acts 1:14. Jesus’ brothers shared in this victory (same passage).
The generous nature of Christ’s declaration (Mark 3:33–35) is evident from the fact that those whom he thus honored had by no means reached the pinnacle of spiritual perfection. For example, The Twelve were, and remained for a long time, men of “little faith.” See above, on verses 16–19. Yet he was not ashamed to acknowledge them as his “brothers” (Heb. 2:11).
Note the inclusiveness of this “whoever” (does the will of God). It means black and white, red, brown, and yellow; male and female; old and young; rich and poor; bond and free; educated and unlettered; Jew and Gentile. But note also the exclusiveness: those and those alone who do God’s will are included. The substance of what God requires is readily learned by examining the following passages of Mark’s Gospel: 4:9, 20, 21, 24; 5:19, 34; 6:31, 37; 8:34–38; 9:23, 35–37, 41; 10:9, 14, 29–31, 42–45; 11:22–26; 12:17, 29–31, 41–44; 13:5, 10, 11, 13, 23, 28, 29, 37; 14:6–9, 22–26, 38; 16:6, 7, 15.
It must be emphasized, however, that no one is able to “do the will of God” except by the power and sovereign grace of God. This is not only Pauline doctrine (Eph. 2:8; Phil. 2:12, 13). It is also definitely the teaching of Christ. According to that teaching, as reported by Mark, God—one can also say Jesus Christ—is the great Enabler (1:17). It is the power of God (10:27) and the substitutionary, atoning sacrifice of his Son Jesus Christ (10:45; 14:24) that saves. In the final analysis man is helpless in himself. He is completely dependent upon the mercy and compassion of the Lord (5:19; 6:34; 8:2). Is it not this fact that accounts for the emphasis, in the teaching of Christ as reflected by Mark, on the necessity of genuine faith and persevering prayer (1:35; 5:36; 9:23, 29; 11:22–24)?
 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. 748–749). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.