John told Jesus about a man whom he and other disciples had observed using Jesus’ name to expel demons. Not being in their immediate company, they tried to prevent him from doing so. Possibly John thought that this effort to stop the man was commendable and, in view of the corrective admonition about greatness, may have felt the need for a reassuring favorable response from Jesus. In reply, the Son of God said that the man should not be prevented from doing good work in his name, for no one who did a work of power in his name would quickly change and begin to speak evil of him. “Whoever is not against us,” Jesus continued, “is for us.” (Mark 9:38-40; Luke 9:49, 50)
As a fellow Israelite, the man was one of God’s people and recognized the divine authority inherent in Jesus’ name. Therefore, when expelling demons on the basis of the authority the name represented, the man revealed himself to be for Christ and working in concert with other believers.
Any action that proved to be supportive of Christ and his disciples would not go unnoticed and would be recompensed. Even a small gesture of hospitality, such as offering a cup of water to Jesus’ disciples, based on a recognition of their belonging to him, would be rewarded. This would be because the Son of God would regard a kind act as being done to him. With a solemn introductory “amen” (truly), he declared, “I say to you, he positively will not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:41)
Jesus considered all of his disciples, including the most insignificant from the human standpoint, as very precious. Therefore, to stumble one of the little or insignificant ones who believed in Jesus, injuring them in a manner that could cause them to stumble into sin or to erode their faith in him would be very serious. (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42) When the disciples tried to stop a fellow Israelite from doing good in Jesus’ name, they could have harmed him spiritually. This appears to have been a factor in Jesus’ use of strong words when speaking to the disciples.
The Son of God indicated that it would be better for one who made himself responsible for causing stumbling to have a heavy millstone (one requiring a donkey to turn) tied around his neck and to be cast into the sea than to have to face the resultant severe judgment. (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42) Certain death by drowning would be preferable to the dreadful punishment awaiting those who lead others into sin or wreck their faith.
Jesus mentioned that there would be “woe,” distress, or grief for the world of mankind on account of those who would cause stumbling or give offense. It would be inevitable that such persons would exist and exercise their baneful influence. “Woe,” as Jesus continued, would come upon any man who proved himself to be the cause for stumbling or offense. (Matthew 18:7)
In his teaching about avoiding personal stumbling or the committing of serious sin, Jesus emphasized the need for one to get control over one’s body members. It would be better to cut off one’s hand, deadening it respecting wrong use, than to have two hands and end up being tossed into the flames of Gehenna. Likewise, if one’s foot were to be the cause of stumbling, being turned to follow a sinful course, it would be better to cut it off, deadening it with reference to wrong desire, than to retain two feet and be found deserving of the fiery Gehenna. Whenever the eye focuses on impure desires, leading to stumbling into sin, it would be better to pluck it out, ridding oneself of the sinful inclination, than to keep two eyes and then to be thrown into the fire of Gehenna, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not extinguished.” (Matthew 18:8, 9; Mark 9:43-48; see the Notes section regarding Mark 9:44, 46.)
The desirable course is to gain the mastery over the members of the body. This requires diligent effort and sacrifice, comparable to cutting off a body member, to avoid having a seriously misused hand, foot, or eye. How much better it would be for the person to have been willing to sacrifice the wrong desires and, as one without an offending body member and so appearing as crippled and lame or with one eye, to enjoy the real life, entering into God’s kingdom or the realm where the Most High rules by means of his Son! (Matthew 18:8, 9; Mark 9:43-48)
Jesus’ words about Gehenna parallel those of Isaiah 66:24. There the reference is to the dreadful judgment to befall those who defiantly transgressed God’s commands. That judgment is comparable to being thrown into a refuse dump, where fire burns continually and maggots consume whatever the flames do not reach. Like the fire that burned continually, maggots would always have been visible on the carcasses that were not in direct contact with the fire, and this may be the reason behind the expression that “their worm does not die.” A person’s being committed to the fiery Gehenna appears to be the same judgment as the one the book of Revelation refers to as being cast into the “lake of fire.” This is the final judgment that takes place after the resurrection. (Revelation 20:11-15)
After the sobering comments about stumbling, Mark 9:49 quotes Jesus as saying, “For everyone will be salted with fire.” If these words relate to the fire of Gehenna, all who lead others into sin or who themselves live a life of sin would be subject to that fire, as if applied to them like salt. (See the Notes section for additional comments about Mark 9:49.)
There is a possibility, however, that the expression “salted with fire” has another significance. Salt can be used as a purifying agent, a preservative, and a seasoning, and fire often relates to condemnation or refining. In the Scriptures, trials and hardships are mentioned as serving to test or refine. (Compare James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6, 7; 4:12, 13.) If the expression about being “salted with fire” is to be linked to purifying and refining, this could denote that everyone will be submitted to difficulties in life. These distressing circumstances can have a wholesome effect (as when salt is used as a purifying agent, a preservative, or a seasoning) and, like fire, serve to refine individuals, leading to their becoming more compassionate and caring persons who rely on God for strength to endure. In other cases, the salting with fire would have the opposite effect, hardening and embittering the individuals and revealing them to be valueless dross and devoid of all faith in God.
Salt is a good substance because of the beneficial purposes for which it can be used. The impure salt known to Jesus’ disciples could lose its saltiness in a humid environment. Once the sodium chloride had been leached out, it could not be restored and the remaining substance would be useless. (Mark 9:50)
For the disciples to have salt in themselves would have meant for them to serve as a force or influence for good. Their praiseworthy disposition, words, and deeds would counteract the tendency toward moral decay in others and contribute to making life more pleasant for those with whom they had personal dealings. In this way, their life, like salt, would serve as a valuable preservative and a desirable seasoning. (Mark 9:50)
The disciples’ argument about who among them was the greatest would not have served to preserve peace. It would have been divisive and given rise to resentment. Therefore, they needed to have within themselves the beneficial properties of salt and maintain peace or good relationships among themselves. (Mark 9:50)
Modern translations commonly omit verses 44 and 46. These words are missing in the most ancient manuscripts and repeat verse 48 (“where their worm does not die and the fire is not extinguished”).
In Mark 9:49, fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus and many later manuscripts add, “and every sacrifice will be salted with salt.”