In this guest post from John J. R. Lee and Daniel Brueske, authors of A Ransom for Many: Mark 10:45 as a Key to the Gospel, they summarize the three reasons why Mark 10:45 illuminates the central message of the Gospel.
We begin with the claim that Mark 10:45 is key to grasping the message of the Second Gospel. Here we will consider three functions of 10:45 that support this claim: (1) the verse’s strategic location within the narrative, (2) its declaration of Jesus’s purpose, and (3) its explanation of the meaning behind Jesus’s death. These three factors are not independent of one another but interlinked, so we should view them as reinforcing each other. However, for the convenience of the discussion, we will tackle them one by one and then briefly expound their integration.
Mark 10:45 is strategically located within Mark’s narrative sequence
The importance of a verse depends not only on its content but also on where and how it is situated within its larger context. Mark 10:45 is no exception in this regard. This verse concludes the series of three elaborately structured passion prediction cycles occurring across 8:27–10:45 (8:27–9:29; 9:30–10:31; 10:32–45). Each cycle contains (1) Jesus’s prediction of his own death (8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34), (2) the disciples’ failure to grasp the meaning of Jesus’s prediction (8:32; 9:32–34; 10:35–41), and (3) Jesus’s corrective teaching on discipleship in response to the disciples’ failure (8:33–38; 9:35–37; 10:42–45)—in the same order in each cycle. These three cycles are framed by the only two healings of blindness in Mark’s Gospel (8:22–26 and 10:46–52), which together form an inclusio to the pivotal Journey section (8:22–10:52). These two stories symbolically anticipate the “healing” of the disciples’ “blindness” toward the nature of Jesus’s messiahship. The sequence of passion prediction, the disciples’ error, and corrective teaching repeated within each of the three cycles, together with the framing of the Journey section by the only two healings of sight in Mark’s Gospel, implies an intentional design on the part of the author. Within such a deliberately designed Journey section, Mark 10:45 appears to consummate not just the immediately preceding verses (10:35–44) but all three cycles (8:27–10:44) and to provide a climactic moment within the entire Journey section (8:22–10:52).
Two observations, in particular, support the point that Mark 10:45 is a climactic text within the Journey section. First, this verse finally explains the reason for the necessity of Jesus’s suffering and death noted in the first passion prophecy (esp. “it is necessary” [δεῖ], 8:31). Second, the rhetorical question near the beginning of the Journey section, “What can a person give in exchange for his life?” (8:37), prepares the reader for the remarkable statement in this verse that Jesus came to give his life in exchange “for many” (10:45). The connections that 10:45 shares with 8:31 and 8:37, verses located closely together near the beginning of the very first passion prediction cycle (8:27–9:29), imply that Mark has deliberately constructed the whole Journey section in a way that points and moves—even from its outset—toward the ransom saying of Mark 10:45. These connections suggest not only that the three cycles of passion prediction are interlinked but that 10:45 offers a deliberate conclusion to those cycles. Thus, Mark 10:45 is critical for understanding not only the third passion prediction cycle (10:32–45) but also the entire Journey section.
Among these three cycles in the Journey section, the third appears to be the most climactic. There is, for example, more detail in its passion prediction (10:33–34) than in those in the first and the second cycles (8:31; 9:31). It is also in the third cycle that Jerusalem (10:33) is first identified as the location of Jesus’s death. Similarly, the description of Jesus’s passion is most vivid in this final prediction (vv. 33–34). The inclusion of verse 45 at the end of the third cycle, explicitly stating the purpose of Jesus’s mission and the meaning of his death (see below), is another reason to think that among the three, the third one is climactic. The pure and explicit focus on Jesus’s suffering across the third cycle (10:32–45) further justifies viewing this last cycle as climactic. Unlike the first two cycles, which contain elements that do not directly and explicitly concern Jesus’s passion (see, e.g., 9:14–19; 10:1–12), the third cycle concentrates on Jesus’s suffering and death throughout. Within this climactic third cycle (10:32–45), verse 45 in particular presents the culminating moment as already noted above and as further indicated by the use of the ascensive καί (“even”) at the very opening of the ransom saying, which usually signals some ultimate or emphatic statement that follows.
We have described the critical importance of Mark 10:45 primarily in relation to the preceding context within the Journey section. There is, however, another direction to be considered. In addition to providing the climax of the central Journey section of Mark’s Gospel, this concluding verse of the three passion prediction cycles also points forward to the final section in Jerusalem (Mark 11–16), which is the locus of Jesus’s death as a “ransom” payment (10:45; cf. 14:24) and the very place where the details of Jesus’s passion predictions (8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34; cf. 9:12–13) find their fulfillment. The strategic function of 10:45 in relation to both its preceding and subsequent contexts in Mark’s narrative implies that this verse is indeed a key to the Second Gospel.
Mark 10:45 declares Jesus’s purpose
Mark 10:45 is crucial for understanding the Second Gospel not only because of its strategic location and culminating function, as noted above, but also because it contains the ultimate purpose statement for Jesus’s life and ministry. Jesus, the Son of Man, expresses his purpose in 10:45—not “to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
As we argued in chapter 4, the identity of “the Son of Man,” the grammatical subject of the purpose statement in Mark 10:45, seems to correspond to the “one like a son of man” depicted in Daniel 7:13–14. Early on in his narrative, Mark introduces “the Son of Man” as a figure with supreme power—one having “authority … to forgive sins” like only Israel’s God can (2:10 [cf. vv. 5, 7]) and as the “lord even of the Sabbath,” a day consecrated by and for the biblical deity (v. 28; cf. Exod 20:10–11; Lev 23:3; Deut 5:14; Isa 58:13). In so doing, Mark inseparably links the authoritative “Son of Man” with Israel’s one God. However, in Mark 10:45, just before Jesus enters Jerusalem, the Evangelist emphasizes that the mission of this supremely authoritative figure, the Son of Man, is not to receive service from others—even though “all the peoples, the nations, and languages would serve him” (Dan 7:14)—but to serve others and even to die as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). To serve and give his life as a ransom payment is the purpose of the Son of Man’s mission.
To be fair, Mark 10:45 is not the only saying in the Second Gospel that states the purpose of Jesus’s mission. Mark 1:24 and 2:17 have the same construction as 10:45, employing ἔρχομαι (“to come”) as the main verb followed by an infinitive of purpose. Mark 1:38, which employs ἐξέρχομαι instead of ἔρχομαι, contains another purpose statement of Jesus, though without an accompanying infinitive: “Let us go elsewhere, into the neighboring rural towns, so that I can preach there also, because I have come out for this very reason (εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ ἐξῆλθον).”
Destroying the works of Satan (1:24), calling sinners (2:17), and proclaiming the message of the kingdom (1:38; cf. 1:14–15) each reveals meaningful aspects of Jesus’s ministry. Nevertheless, these three purpose statements found toward the beginning of the Galilean section (1:14–8:21) do not have as strategic a location within Mark’s narrative sequence as 10:45 (see above). Nor do they explicitly mention the passion of Jesus, one of the most dominant themes in Mark’s Gospel, or define its meaning (see below). It is, in fact, not until 8:31 that Jesus begins to speak openly about his impending suffering and death. Thus, these three purpose statements (1:24; 1:38; 2:17) cannot hold the same weight and significance as 10:45. Jesus’s statement in 10:45 is not the only purpose statement in the Second Gospel, but it is the most prominent one. When we consider this verse’s explicit reference to Jesus’s death and its explanation of why Jesus must die as well as its strategic placement with respect to both the preceding and subsequent portions of the narrative, it is fair to say that Mark 10:45 is the ultimate purpose statement for Jesus’s mission within Mark’s narrative. And because Mark’s intended audience encounters Jesus through the Evangelist’s portrayal, the statement of Jesus in 10:45 also hints at the Evangelist’s purpose for writing—Mark is encouraging and challenging his audience in trials and suffering to emulate the faithfulness of Jesus through sacrificial service, following their prototype, the supremely authoritative Son of Man who gave his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45 articulates the meaning of Jesus’s death
Mark 10:45 is a key to understanding Mark’s narrative because it explains precisely what Jesus will accomplish through his death on the cross. The death of Jesus is the event toward which Mark’s narrative has explicitly been marching since the first passion prediction (8:31), and it is hinted from early on in the narrative (see, e.g., the accusation of Jesus as blasphemer in 2:7). With that said, it is interesting that the Evangelist does not reveal the meaning and significance of Jesus’s death when it is first mentioned (8:31) or when it finally takes place (15:16–41). Instead, here at the climax of the Journey section, Mark explains why “it was necessary” (8:31) for the Son of Man to die, so his life could be given as “a ransom for many” (λύτρον ἀντί πολλῶν, 10:45). Jesus’s death was foreshadowed from early in the narrative (2:7; 3:6, 19), and he announced his impending suffering repeatedly on his journey (8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34; cf. 9:12–13). But only as of 10:45 does he disclose the reason for his suffering and death. The three cycles of passion prediction conclude here with the mention of “a ransom for many” (10:45), and this concluding phrase not only foretells what is going to take place in Jerusalem but also specifies its significance. Mark’s decision to reveal the meaning of Jesus’s death at this strategic point in the narrative suggests that he wants his audience to understand all that follows in Jerusalem (chaps 11–16) and especially Jesus’s death (15:16–41) in light of the statement in 10:45.
Looking backward, Mark 10:45 brings clarity to the threefold passion prediction (8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34), explaining why Jesus must die. Looking forward, 10:45 contextualizes the passion that Jesus will face, describing the significance of his suffering and death that the Evangelist will narrate. Mark depicts Jesus’s death on a Roman cross in great detail. In fact, no other section in the Second Gospel is more detailed or slower paced than the episodes surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus in chapter 15. And yet, within the crucifixion scene and the episodes immediately surrounding it, the Evangelist is silent as to the meaning and significance of Jesus’s death. Only at the conclusion of the passion prediction cycles in 10:45 and in the Lord’s Supper passage (especially 14:24: “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many [τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης τὸ ἐκχυννόμενον ὑπὲρ πολλῶν]”) do we find such an explanation. Indeed, without Mark 10:45, the mention of “my blood … poured out for many” in 14:24 would be relatively oblique. Given that the death of Jesus was already viewed with great significance among the followers of Jesus before Mark’s composition, it is most natural to think that the author intended to draw his audience’s attention to the explicit statement on the meaning and significance of Jesus’s death as found in 10:45.
This post was adapted from A Ransom for Many: Mark 10:45 as a Key to the Gospel by John J. R. Lee and Daniel Brueske (Lexham Press, 2022).