1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 It is written in the prophet Isaiah: Look, I am going to send my messenger in front of you to prepare your way before you. 3 A voice of one that cries in the desert: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.
4 John the Baptist was in the desert, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. 6 John wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey. 7 In the course of his preaching he said, 'After me is coming someone who is more powerful than me, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. 8 I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.'
- This is the gospel of action. Everything moves quickly, and Mark is a quick read.
- Some 40x the Greek adverb euthus ("immediately," "at once") appears. Notice how many times you come across "at once" in just the first half of this chapter (during the studies for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow)!
- This emphasizes the urgency of Jesus' mission.
- There is no theological prologue (as in John), and no infancy stories or genealogies (as in Matthew and Luke).
- "Son of God" is a well-attested term that applied to the emperor. From the outset, Mark opposes Christ to Caesar in terms of ultimate allegiance and true divinity. Only one Lord has a valid claim on your entire lives.
- Citing Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3, Mark begins with the preparatory ministry of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus by calling a nucleus of godly Israelites to repentance (vv.2.3).
- Making the way straight (level) means preparing the way for the coming King.
- "In the desert" underlines the spiritual dryness of Israel (as in Ezekiel 37). The desert is also a space well away from the corridors of religious power in Jerusalem.
- John's baptism deserves some comment (v.4-5).
- That baptism was performed in a river demonstrates that this was immersion, not just sprinkling, pouring, or affusion. For more on this, search the website, keyword: baptism.
- It was for forgiveness of sins.
- It was preceded by confession.
- Confession humbles one's heart and better enables us to come into the presence of the Almighty.
- This was certainly not the confession of all sins, but most likely a confession of sinfulness along with one's primary sins.
- For more on confession, see Q&As 0199, 0310, 0578, 0684, 0760, 0785.
- Like the O.T. sacrifices and ceremonial washings, John's baptism reminded the remnant Jews that they needed cleansing, forgiveness, before they could come into God's presence.
- The people came from Jerusalem, the center of spiritual power. Whereas the mother city and religious hub of the nation should have provided the purity and heart so desperately needed by the nation, it did not. The penitent needed to leave the system, to receive direction outside the system in order to find God. This is implicitly a stinging commentary on the religious rulers of the day.
- John dressed like Elijah (v.6). See 2 Kings 1:8, ..."He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt round his waist." The king said, "That was Elijah the Tishbite."
- John, like Elijah, wore a garment of hair and a leather belt. Outwardly they resembled one another.
- John, like Elijah, had the courage to challenge kings. (See 1 Kings 17-18; Mark 6.)
- John, like Elijah, rose up at a time when the nation was far from God.
- John, like Elijah, prepared the way for a special successor (see 1 Kings 19, Elisha comes on the scene).
- John, like Elijah, called people to repentance (see 1 Kings 18).
- John pointed people not to himself or his ministry, but to Jesus and his ministry (vv.7-8). He had a profound sense of unworthiness. See John 3:30 (one of my favorite passages in scripture).
- The primary difference between the baptism of John and Christian baptism (Acts 2:38 etc) was the Holy Spirit (v.8).
- Those baptized by John did not receive the Spirit, since it was not available until after Jesus' ascension (John 7:39).
- While both baptisms involved water, only Christian baptism conferred the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
- Paul links water and Spirit in baptism in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Titus 3:5. (See also John 3:5.)
- Baptism in Spirit fulfills the scriptures. See, for example, Ezekiel 36:25-27.
- The Priene Calendar Inscription, centered on Augustus Caesar (r.27 BC - AD 14), throws Mark 1:1 into high relief. In this inscription, the emperor Augustus is referred to as a god and also as savior. The "gospel" entails the inauguration of an area of peace, and therefore the calendar should begin with his birthday. Here is the Wikipedia article.
- The word gospel, or good news, seems to be connected with the message foretold in Isaiah 40:9; 52:7; and 61:1 -- leading some to refer to "the Gospel of Isaiah."
The Gospel of Mark, most scholars agree, was the first of the four gospels. By consensus, it was written no later than the 60s AD. It is possible it was written during the First Jewish War (66-70 AD), which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem. N.T. Craig Evans (Word Biblical Commentary 34, lxvi), summarizes the message: "The evangelist is attempting to convince Christians in a Roman society that Jesus, rejected by the religious authorities of Jerusalem and executed by Pilate, was nevertheless Israel's Messiah and the world's Savior."
- The earliest complete vellum copies (early 300s till about 500), of Mark are Sinaiticus, A, B, and D (all missing 16:9-20, which is a later addition). C and W are nearly complete. Papyri are scarce. p45 (third C) and p84 (sixth) are just fragments; fourth-century p88 amounts to less than one chapter; fifteen-century P.Oxy.3 is another fragment.
As in v.2, it was a common Jewish practice to quote from more than one source and attribute them to the best known writer.
In this case it is Isaiah, one of the "major" (greater) prophets, in contast to Malachi, one of the "minor" (lesser) prophets.
Interestingly, the meaning of the Hebrew word mal'akhi is "my messenger." (Like the Hebrew word, the N.T. Greek angelos also means messenger or angel.)
The wilderness is the place where God will work deliverance for his people -- a sort of new exodus (Hosea 2, 12; Micah 7; Isaiah 40, 41, 43, 48, 51).
"All Judea" (v.5) is a typical Semitic hyperbole. Of course not every Judean came -- in fact, only a minority. But, as we might say, "People came from all over the place!"
Many Jews washed themselves ceremonially before entering the Temple precinct; in fact, more than 100 immersion pools have been found around the perimeter of the Temple! Washing before entering the presence of God was a familiar theme for the Jews. Interestingly, early rabbinic materials exclude the Jordan as the place of forgiveness (m.Para 8.10).
There is no solid proof that those who had received John's baptism were re-immersed to become Christians. (It is never stated that Apollos was re-immersed, and the apparent exception of Acts 19 is easily explained: These men were incorrectly baptized, as they had not even heard about the Holy Spirit, even though it was an integral part of John's message.)
- For more on the doctrine that Christian baptism is identical with the baptism of the Spirit, see chapter 24 of The Spirit.
- Notice that Mark's account of John's baptism omits the warnings to flee from the wrath to come, as found in Matthew 3 and Luke 3. This was probably in the interest of brevity.
- Mark has been called "the memoirs of Peter," with whom he traveled and ministered. Eusebius, the fourth century church historian at the court of Constantine, cites Papias, a second century writer, on the Gospel of Mark in Hist. Eccl. iii. 39: For information on these points, we can merely refer our readers to the books themselves; but now, to the extracts already made, we shall add, as being a matter of primary importance, a tradition regarding Mark who wrote the Gospel, which he [Papias] has given in the following words: "And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements." This is what is related by Papias regarding Mark.
If you were a first century Jew, do you think you would have taken the trouble to go to the desert region to hear John's message of repentance? Would you have reacted well to his direct messages? Do you think you would have been baptized by him?
How many times have you read through Mark's gospel? Have you ever read through it in one sitting? It is short enough to be read in an hour or two. When you do so, you will better sense the flow of the action -- and the need for action in our own spiritual lives!
Does your own ministry point people to Jesus? (Or to yourself, your pet doctrines or views, your church, or anything else?)