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30 December 2018

Son of God in Mark

Synopsis - According to the gospel of Mark, the Son of Man is revealed only in his sufferings and death on a Roman Cross.

Crucifixion - Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash
Matthew T Rader on Unsplash
A theme threaded through the gospel of Mark is the inability of men to recognize Jesus as the Son of God until after his crucifixion when, paradoxically, he is declared God’s Son by the unlikeliest of persons, the Roman centurion in charge of his execution. His identity and mission cannot be understood apart from his death. By stressing this, Mark establishes his identity as the Son of God and what it means to be His Messiah (Mark 15:37-39).

From the outset of this gospel account, God confirmed Jesus to be His beloved son. Demons recognized and declared who he was. In contrast, despite his healings, dominion over nature, and exorcisms, men and women are confused about his identity, including the most devout and best-educated men from the Temple. Even his closest associates failed to recognize Jesus as the Son of God - He was not the Messiah any of them expected.
  • (Mark 1:11) – “And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized into the Jordan by John; And immediately as he was coming up out of the water he saw the heavens rending asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending unto him; and a voice came out of the heavens, You are my Son, the Beloved One; in you I delight.”
In the opening paragraph of Mark, the Scriptures, John the Baptist, a voice from heaven, and supernatural signs all attested that Jesus was (and is) the Messiah, the Lord, the mighty one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit, the man anointed with the Spirit, and the beloved “Son of God.”

Baptism of Jesus
Baptism of Jesus
t his baptism in the Jordan River, the heavenly voice declared Jesus to be the Son of God after the heavens were “rent asunder,” the latter translating a Greek verb, schiz┼Ź, meaning, “to rend asunder, cleave, cleave asunder, split open.” This is a much stronger term than the term rendered “opened” in the same account as recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Elsewhere in Mark, it only occurs when the veil of the Temple is “rent in two” at the moment Jesus died (Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:21, Mark 15:38).

The “rending of the heavens" alludes to a passage from the book of Isaiah when the Prophet longed for Yahweh to rend the heavens and make His name known throughout the earth:
  • (Isaiah 64:1-2) – “Oh, that you would REND THE HEAVENS, that you would come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence…to make your name known to your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at your presence!
The voice from heaven declared - “You are my Son, the Beloved One; in you, I delight.” The declaration echoed passages from the second Psalm and IsaiahSignificantly, both passages include a reference to the messiah bringing justice to the nations:
  • (Psalm 2:7You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.
  • (Isaiah 42:1) - “Behold my servant whom I uphold; my elect in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him, he shall bring forth judgment to the nations.”
After his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, one the first acts of Jesus was to cast out an “unclean spirit.” This demon recognized Jesus as the “Holy One of God,” yet he rebuked the spirit and commanded it to keep silent. On no occasion did he give ground to demonic spirits. He could not allow lying spirits to attest his messianic status - Their “testimony” could only discredit him.
  • (Mark 1:23-27) – “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, ‘What have we to do with you, Jesus you Nazarene; are you come to destroy us? I know you, who you are, the Holy One of God.’And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Silence! And come out of him. And the unclean spirit, tearing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all astonished, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him’.”
The men and women who witnessed this exorcism were astounded and asked one another, “Who is this?” Despite his impressive deed, Jesus remained unrecognized by the crowd. Demons understood precisely who he was and the danger he posed to them (“Are you come to destroy us?”). In contrast, all who witnessed his exorcisms remained clueless.

This same pattern repeats several times in the gospel of Mark in the early phases of his Galilean ministry. Although demonic spirits recognized the Son of God, consistently, men and women failed to do so, even members of his own family (Mark 3:11-12, Mark 5:1-7).

When his friends heard of Christ’s activities, they “went out to lay hold on him: for they said, ‘He is beside himself’.” These “friends” included members of his immediate family. Neither proximity to Jesus nor a blood relationship guaranteed that a person would recognize who and what he was (Mark 3:21).

The Scribes from Jerusalem could not deny the success of Jesus at exorcising demons. But rather than acknowledge he did so by divine authority, they charged him with casting out demons by “Beelzebub, the prince of demons” (Mark 3:22-30).

Calming the Storm
Calming the Storm
By his word alone, Jesus calmed a storm raging across the Sea of Galilee. In great fear and confusion, his disciples asked one another, “
Who is this, that even wind and the sea obey him?” Yet, even a display of power over nature was insufficient for them to recognize who he was (Mark 4:36-41).

Jesus healed the daughter of a local synagogue leader who was sick and dying. He raised the child from the dead, leaving the crowd dumbfounded, yet also still ignorant of his identity and mission. Even his ability to raise the dead was insufficient evidence to convince men that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God (Mark 5:21-43).

At one point, Jesus returned to his hometown and began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard began to question, “Whence has this man these things…Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” Rather than rejoice that the Son of God was in their midst, “They were offended by him” (Mark 6:1-6).

When Herod heard about Jesus and his miraculous deeds, he concluded that John the Baptist had returned from the dead. Other voices claimed Jesus was Elijah or one of the prophets returned from the dead. However, none suggested he might be the promised Messiah and the king of Israel (Mark 6:14-15).

After Jesus fed five thousand men from “five loaves and two fishes”, he went alone to pray on a mountain. The disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat, struggling against a contrary wind when Jesus appeared suddenly, walking on the water. They thought it was a ghostly apparition and cried out in fear. Jesus identified himself and entered the boat, immediately causing the wind to cease. The disciples had previously seen him calm a great storm, yet this display of authority over natural forces failed to convince them who he was because “Their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:35-52).

On their way to Jerusalem, Peter appeared on the verge of grasping who Jesus was. When Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am,” Peter declared: “You are the Christ!” Jesus admonished the disciples to silence and explained - “The Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” To this, Peter objected, and rather vehemently. The notion that God’s Messiah would be subjected to suffering and death was unacceptable (Mark 8:27-38).
Whatever insight Peter had just gained was lost when he was confronted with the idea of a suffering Messiah. But Christ’s messiahship meant precisely that; suffering, rejection, and death. Jesus rebuked Peter for this, recognizing Satan’s initiative.
Likewise, in Mark 9:31-32, Jesus taught the disciples that he must be “delivered up into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he shall rise again.” Once more they did not understand his words or who he was.

Again while “on the way up to Jerusalem,” Jesus explained how he would be “delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death.” James and John responded with a request to sit at Christ’s side when he came into his kingdom (Mark 10:32-45).

Jesus responded by instructing them what it means to be great in the Kingdom of God:
  • You know not what ye ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with…whoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many.”
The way of HIS kingdom is self-sacrificial service, NOT domination over others or outward glory.

When the High Priest examined Jesus, he asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus responded, “I am he. And you will see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Jesus identified himself expressly as the Messiah to the highest religious authority in Israel. And his previous deeds already had indicated his identity.

Now, there could no more doubts. Yet, rather than recognize him, the High Priest charged him with blasphemy, and the “chief priests and the whole council” condemned him to death (Mark 14:60-64).

Unintentionally, the Roman governor confirmed his messianic status when he had “King of the Jews” inscribed on his cross for all to see. Yet as he hung on it, Jewish spectators mocked Jesus, declaring, “You who were pulling down the Temple and building one in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross.” The chief priests and scribes also ridiculed him despite the testimony of God, Scripture, his miraculous deeds, and his own sworn testimony before the High Priest that he was the Son of God (Mark 15:26).

Demons recognized precisely who Jesus was before he ever said or did anything, yet the Temple authorities were unable to do so despite all the evidence. Instead, they mockingly proclaimed - “Let him come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even the two brigands who were crucified with him “were casting it in his teeth” (Mark 15:26-32).

At one point, Jesus departed for Gentile territory near Tyre and Sidon. There a Greek-speaking Gentile woman of Phoenician descent requested that he deliver her daughter from a demon. Jesus appeared to refuse, telling her, “Let the children first be filled, for it is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs.” She responded, “Yea, Lord; even the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” Though she did not acknowledge Jesus to be the Son of God, her faith and her recognition that God was with him came close to doing so. In response, Jesus cast out the demon (Mark 7:24-30).

Only at Calvary was Jesus declared the “Son of Godby a human voice. As death overwhelmed him, he uttered a loud cry and died. At that same moment, the “veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom,” and the centurion in charge of the execution squad declared - “Truly, this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:37-39).

Two related events of revelatory significance were caused by the death of Jesus - The tearing of the veil, and the confession of the Roman centurion. This was the veil that hid the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum. Mark intends for his audience to connect the tearing of the veil with the centurion’s confession (Exodus 26:31-37, Hebrews 6:19, 9:3, 10:20).
Just as the rending of the heavens at Christ’s baptism produced a declaration regarding his status, so the rending of the Temple veil produced the same confession in the mouth of the centurion.
Only as Jesus was crucified did a human being begin to understand who he was, and paradoxically, not by one of his disciples or even a devout Jew but, instead, by a Gentile officer in charge of his execution. Not until his death was anyone able to understand his identity. The Son of God was and is the one who “gives his life as a ransom for many.” His death defines his messiahship (Mark 10:45).

The gospel of Mark has arranged his material so that no human acknowledged Jesus as God’s Son until the moment of his death, and then only by a Gentile. Prior to that, his identity was only known by God and demons. Not even his disciples or family understood who he was. When Jesus revealed what it meant to be the Son of God - Humiliation and death - His inner circle was horrified and rejected the very idea.

Only in his suffering and death on a Roman cross are we able to understand the true identity of Jesus and the nature of messiahship.

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