Mark begins his Gospel by laying out a series of witnesses who testify to Jesus’ true identity:
- The first witness is Mark himself who tells the reader who Jesus really is, “the Son of God.” That title bookends the Gospel of Mark as it will not be said by another human in the Gospel until the soldier at the foot of the cross says it in response to what he witnessed that day on Golgotha (1:1, 15:39). The only other testimony using that phrase will come from the mouth of demons (3:11 & 5:7). Mark calls him the Christ. This title will not be spoken again until Peter says it in the hinge verse of the Gospel of Mark half way through the Gospel! (8:29). The only other two times this word is used in the Gospel of Mark it comes as a question during his trial and as an insult when he is on the cross (14:61 & 15:32).
- The second witness to the events that are unfolding is the prophet Malachi (Mark 1:2/Mal 3:1).
- The third is the prophet Isaiah (Mark 1:3, Isa 40:3).
- Next comes John the Baptist who begins the message of the coming kingdom and the need for God’s people to repent in preparation for it (Mark 1:4-8).
- Fifth comes the Holy Spirit who descends on Jesus (1:10).
- The sixth witness to who Jesus is is God the Father (1:11).
In Mark’s characteristic style of action packed narrative he gives us six witnesses to the true identity of Jesus in just eleven verses. What is even more striking is how divinely initiated these events are:
- God inspires the prophets Malachi and Isaiah hundreds of years prior
- God sends John the Baptist
- God rips open the heavens (a violent action)
- the Spirit descend on Jesus
- God speaks his approval of Jesus
- The Spirit leads him into the wilderness to be tested
Christianity has often been very Christ-centered (Christocentric) but the New Testament is very much more God-centered (theocentric) than it is Christ-centered. God’s people had been expecting Him to act for hundreds of years and now to release them from Roman oppression. Mark begins his Gospel by recounting how God was acting in sending Jesus. The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is going to focus on liberation (a topic for another post). With all this leading up to it you can imagine the anticipation by the original audience for Jesus to say something! And he does in 1:15). “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Not a lot of content but what he did say is loaded with meaning. By the time Jesus actually speaks you can be sure the original audience was ready for him to say something! With all these voices of authoritative witness behind him he is going to set something new in motion that is going to generate a lot of controversy.
Before we move on to Jesus calling his disciples there are a few things we have to get under our belts first in order to understand what Mark is doing here: why he structures things the way he does, why he keeps his stories centered in Galilee (Mark 1-10) and finally in Jerusalem (chapters 11ff), why he repeats geographical features (such as mountains, deserts, and the sea), and the reason Mark is so repetitious in using key words and phrases (except for the ones we expect! like Messiah and Christ). After we spend a post or two on that we will work back through the John the Baptist narrative, the baptism and temptation and on to calling his first disciples.