Faithful and Saltless Disciples

Faithful disciples will receive great rewards, but those who harm their weaker brethren run the risk of Gehenna

The next story begins with John complaining because someone who is not from among Christ’s inner circle is casting out demons in his name. But his complaint was rich in irony since just a few verses earlier the disciples found themselves unable to exorcise demons because of their unbelief.

And if this man from outside Christ’s inner circle is casting out demons, then it is God who is doing so through him. One who performs miraculous deeds in his name cannot easily revile the name of Jesus, and that constitutes evidence that this man is commissioned by God.

Moreover, conduct that conforms to the life of Jesus results in great rewards, including everlasting life.

However, at the end of the age, a man’s failure to emulate Jesus of Nazareth will result in horrific punishment, a reality he illustrates with the image of Gehenna.


  • (Mark 9:41-50) - “For whosoever shall give you to drink a cup of water in the name that you are Christ’s; truly, I say to you, in nowise shall he lose his reward. And whosoever shall cause to stumble one of these little ones that believe, it is seemly for him, rather, if there is hung a large millstone about his neck and he is cast into the sea. And if your hand shall cause you to stumble, cut it off. It is seemly for you maimed to enter life, rather than having the two hands to depart into the Gehenna into the fire that is not quenched. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is seemly for you to enter life lame rather than having the two feet to be cast into the Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to stumble, thrust it out. It is seemly for you one-eyed to enter the kingdom of God rather than having two eyes to be cast into Gehenna, where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched. For everyone with fire shall be salted. Salt is good: but if salt becomes saltless, wherewith will you prepare it? Have within yourselves salt and be at peace one with another.

Most noteworthy here is how Jesus warns his disciples about the possibility of this grim fate for unfaithful disciples rather than for unbelievers or those who reject him outright. It is his follower who causes others to “stumble” that is at the greatest risk of the “fires of Gehenna.”

The image of a millstone cast into the sea would strike a fearful chord. Jews of the period feared the sea and viewed drowning as an especially horrific form of death. Moreover, dead bodies sink to the bottom of the sea, and thus, they can not be recovered for proper burial, something of prime importance in Judaism.

The name ‘Gehenna’ is derived from the valley of Hinnom, effectively, a garbage dump located to the south of Jerusalem. It is the place where refuse is burned outside the city walls, including the dead bodies of criminals.

Reportedly, its fires burned continuously in Christ’s time. He uses that image to portray the horrific fate of anyone who does not deal with his sins, especially sins against the weak and the powerless.


Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.” This clause echoes a passage in Isaiah:

  • Then they shall go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against me. For their worm shall not die and their fire shall not be quenched” - (Isaiah 66:24).

Here, Jesus says nothing about “eternal” punishment. In the image, it is the annihilating fire that is “unquenchable,” not the punishment inflicted on the offender. The emphasis is on the result of the process – the utter destruction of the offender.

Fire and salt refine and prove things. Being “salted with fire” also symbolizes purification. If that is the intended meaning, then the process occurs in the life of the disciple as he purges himself of sin and other causes of stumbling through suffering.

However, the image is an allusion to the sacrificial system described in Leviticus. All animal sacrifices are to be “salted,” and burnt offerings are consumed completely by fire. In this way, they become a “pleasing odor” to Yahweh. Furthermore, “salt” is a sign of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel - (Leviticus 2:13, Numbers 18:19).

Thus, his disciples must live their lives as a whole and living sacrifices to God. And to become such “living sacrifices,” they must live in conscious service to others, especially to the weakest and most insignificant of their “brethren.”

To cause a weaker brother to stumble is the exact opposite of what it means to be his disciple. By abusing others, the disciple will become one whose “salt is salt-less.”

And it is in this sacrificial way that the disciple loses his life for his sake, but ironically, saves it in the end.


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