What does Mark 9:35 mean?
ESV: And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
NIV: Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, 'Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.'
NASB: And sitting down, He called the twelve and *said to them, 'If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.'
CSB: Sitting down, he called the Twelve and said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all."
NLT: He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, 'Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.'
KJV: And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.
NKJV: And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
Verse Commentary:
"First" is from the Greek root word protos. It means first in influence, honor, and rank; in this case, it would mean the chief of the disciples. "Servant" is from the Greek root word diakonos and simply means one who acts on the desires of another. It is where we get our word "deacon" which is someone who manages church resources to fill the needs of the members. Jesus will demonstrate this servant-heart when He washes the disciples' feet before the last supper (John 13:1–5).

Jesus has recently told the disciples that they must lay down the right to their lives and be willing to die for Him on a cross (Mark 8:34–38). Many of the disciples will make this sacrifice, whether on a cross or in other ways. Right now, however, Jesus has to once again draw back the difficult rhetoric and encourage them to take a smaller step: be a leader by serving others.

The disciples are thinking of the positions they will warrant when Jesus comes into His glory (Mark 10:37). They don't understand that His glory will not come until after His suffering and death. Leadership in times of prosperity and power looks very different than leadership in persecution and hardships. The purpose of leadership is to equip and encourage others so they remain steady and effective in times of great trial. When followers are struggling for life and hope, leaders need to give, not take. In peace, a military commander may insist on a fitted uniform, appropriate medals, and accolades from political leaders. In war, however, his responsibility is to his troops and their effectiveness and survival, no matter how it may cost his career. Paul understood this when he said he was "poured out as a drink offering" (Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6).
Verse Context:
Mark 9:33–37 relates an argument about who is the most significant of Jesus' followers. This opens the door for a discussion on who His followers will be and what will be expected of them. While the disciples value position, Jesus values the lowly, the trusting (Mark 9:39–40), the protective (Mark 9:42), the disciplined (Mark 9:43–47), and those who are refined, consistent, and able to work together without arguing who is greatest (Mark 9:49–50). This section is also recorded in Matthew 18:1–6 and Luke 9:46–48.
Chapter Summary:
Mark chapter 9 contains an account of Jesus' transfiguration, where three of the disciples witness Him in a glorified form. In this passage, Jesus also heals a demon-possessed boy. His teachings in this section include a prediction of His death and resurrection, and corrections to the disciples' errors on questions of pride and temptation.
Chapter Context:
Mark 9 continues Jesus' efforts to teach the disciples who He is, what He has come to do, and what their role is in His mission. The chapter begins with the transfiguration, where Peter, James, and John catch a glimpse of Jesus' glory, and ends back in Capernaum. Jesus spends most of that time teaching. Although the disciples do quarrel with the scribes, the misconceptions and errors Jesus addresses come from the disciples, themselves, not outsiders. In the next chapter, He will leave Galilee and travel toward Jerusalem and the cross.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Mark emphasizes both Jesus' servanthood and His role as the promised Messiah: the Son of God. This is done through a concise, action-packed style. Mark provides relatively few details, instead focusing on actions and simple statements. This relates to the Gospel's authorship, which is believed to be based on the memories of the apostle Peter. These include many of Jesus' miracles, in contrast to other Gospels which include many more of Jesus' teachings and parables. Mark also makes frequent mention of Jesus' ministry being misunderstood by others.
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