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30 December 2018

Son of God in Mark’s Gospel

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

His Sufferings and Death
A theme threaded through the gospel of Mark is the inability of men to recognize Jesus to be the Son of God until after his crucifixion and then, paradoxically, he is declared God’s Son by the unlikeliest of persons, the Roman centurion in charge of his execution (Mark 15:37-39).

The identity and mission of Jesus cannot be understood apart from his death. By stressing this, Mark establishes his identity as Son and what it means to be the true Messiah.

From the outset, God confirms Jesus to be His beloved son. Demons recognize and declare who he is. In contrast, despite healings, dominion over nature and exorcisms, men and women are confused over his identity. Even Christ’s closest associates fail to recognize him as the Son of God. He is not the Israelite 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 the gospel of Mark, the Scriptures, John the Baptist, a voice from heaven, and supernatural signs all attest that Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord, the mighty one who baptizes in Holy Spirit, the one anointed with the Spirit and the beloved “Son of God.”

The heavenly voice declared Jesus the Son of God after the heavens were “rent asunder,” which translates a Greek verb, schizō, “to rend asunder, cleave, cleave asunder, split open.” This is a much stronger term than the “opened” found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. It occurs elsewhere in Mark only when the veil of the Temple is “rent in two” at the moment Jesus died (Matthew 3:16Luke 3:21Mark 15:38).

The “rending” of the heavens alludes to a passage from Isaiah where the Prophet longs 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!

A voice from heaven declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved One; in you, I delight.” This declaration echoes Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1; “You are my Son; this day have I begotten you,” and, “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.”

Significantly, both passages include a reference to the messiah bringing justice to the nations.

(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’.”

One of Christ’s first acts was to cast out an “unclean spirit.” This demon recognized Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” He rebuked the spirit and commanded it to remain silent. On no occasion did Jesus give ground to demonic spirits. He could not allow his ministry to be attested by lying spirits; their “testimony” would only discredit him.

Those who witnessed the exorcism were all astounded and asked one another, “Who is this?” Despite his impressive deeds, Jesus remained unrecognized as the messiah or God’s son. Demons understood precisely who he was and the danger he posed to them (“are you come to destroy us?”), whereas, men and women who witnessed his exorcisms remained clueless.

This pattern of demonic recognition repeats several times in Mark’s gospel during the early phases of the Galilean ministry. Though demonic spirits recognize the Son of God, men and women always fail to do so, even members of his own family (Mark 3:11-12Mark 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. Proximity to Jesus or even a blood relationship did not guarantee one would recognize or understand who and what he was (Mark 3:21).

Scribes from Jerusalem could not deny Christ’s ability to cast out demons. 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).

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?” Even a display of power over nature was insufficient 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 amazed and dumbfounded, but still ignorant of his identity or mission. Even his ability to raise the dead was insufficient evidence to convince men that Jesus was 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 works, 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. None suggested he might be God’s Son, 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. Jesus appeared suddenly, walking on the water. The disciples thought it was a ghostly apparition and cried out in fear. Jesus identified himself and entered the boat, 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 how “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 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, “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 the kingdom was 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 expressly identified himself as the Messiah to the highest religious authority in Israel. His previous deeds already indicated his identity.

Now there could no more doubt. 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).

The Roman governor unintentionally and ironically confirmed Christ’s 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 him, 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, 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 Jesus “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 seemed 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 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 “Son of God” by a human voice. As death overwhelmed him, he uttered a loud voice and died. At that moment the “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 before the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum. Mark intends 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 come to understand who he was, and paradoxically not by one of his disciples or even a devout Jew, but by a Gentile officer in charge of his execution. Not until his death was anyone able to understand Jesus’ 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).

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 means to be God’s Son, 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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