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‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’
‘The beginning.’ These words have overtones of something especially important. Genesis 1:0 begins with the words, ‘in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’, and John begins his Gospel with the words ‘in the beginning was the Word,’ and in his first letter commences with ‘that which was from the beginning -- we declare to you’. In each of these cases ‘in the beginning’ takes us back into eternity. Mark may also therefore be seeking to turn our thoughts to the eternal One. But his words are also a stress on the fact that here there is a new beginning, a beginning specifically foretold and prepared for by God. God is now beginning the new work that He has promised through the ages. And the fact that it is ‘the beginning’ emphasises that there will be so much more to follow, for what he writes about is only ‘the beginning’. Only eternity will reveal its final outcome, although initially it will be tough going (Mark 1:12-13).
Interestingly Peter also begins his summary of the life of Christ with a reference to a ‘beginning’ in Acts 10:37 where he says, ‘the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power --’. Perhaps Mark had a similar idea in mind and is here echoing Peter.
‘Of the good news of Jesus Christ.’ This beginning relates to Jesus Christ, and is ‘good news’. The latter term (‘good news’) was used of such things as the birth of a baby to the emperor, or of his coming of age, indicating an announcement of great importance. A greater than the emperor was here! But it was also used verbally in the Septuagint (the prominent Greek translation of the Old Testament - LXX) to describe the good news of deliverance which was to be declared by the great prophet who was anointed by God (Isaiah 61:1), and of the ‘good news’ that ‘God reigns’ as the Shepherd King (Isaiah 40:9-11; Isaiah 52:7). Here then we are presented with that ‘good news’ as personified in the arrival of the Coming One Himself.
This ‘good news’ is a theme of Mark. It is the good news of the Kingly Rule of God in fulfilment of the Isaianic promises (Mark 1:14), it is the message which is to be wholeheartedly believed (Mark 1:15), men must be prepared to ‘lose their lives’, and their possessions, for the sake of it (Mark 8:35; Mark 10:29), and it must be proclaimed among all nations (Mark 13:10; Mark 14:9; Mark 16:15). And its content is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. In Him has come the Kingly Rule of God. Compare the similar connection of the Kingly Rule of God with the Lord Jesus Christ in Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31.
The name ‘Jesus’ stresses that He was a man among men, for it was at the time a common Jewish name. But it also stresses that He was a man closely connected to God’s saving purposes, for the Hebrew equivalent, ‘Joshua’, means ‘YHWH is salvation’, and looks back to one who was called ‘the servant of YHWH’ (Joshua 24:29; Judges 2:8), who was also significantly the one who first sought to establish the kingly rule of God in Canaan (Joshua 24:2-14; Joshua 24:22; Joshua 24:26-27). It was specifically given to Jesus because ‘He will save His people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21), and as an indication that He too has come to establish the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 1:15).
The name/title ‘Christ’ (Hebrew: Messiah; English: Anointed One ) emphasises His uniqueness. Here was no ordinary man. He was the great expected Messiah, the Anointed One, the One Who was waited for with bated breath by the Jews. Depending on different viewpoints they expected Him to come, either with powerful words or with powerful weapons, in order to free them from all bondage and subservience, and to introduce the coming Kingly Rule of God. Then God would be over all through His chosen Messiah, and all would be made well. Now Mark is saying, ‘this is the One of Whom I am about to tell you.’
We must, however, note the difference between his view and the popular Jewish view. To most Jews the Kingly Rule of God was seen as important because of the benefits that they would obtain through it. Apart from among the truly godly their hope was that they would become ‘top people’, and the nations would serve them, although of course they were fervently willing to share the honour with their God. But to Mark what was important was the King Himself, for to him, as to Jesus Himself, the Kingly Rule of God meant total submission to His Rule. It required one hundred percent commitment to Him. Those who would be involved must be active, not passive. It was only for those who wanted go become truly godly.
But he will also later stress (as Jesus did Himself) that this Jesus Christ is to be a suffering Messiah (Mark 8:29-31; Mark 10:45), and one third of his Gospel will be connected with the last days of Jesus, demonstrating how important what happened then was seen to be. He saw this as an essential and important part of the ‘Gospel’ he proclaimed, and this ties in with his emphasis on the fact that Jesus Himself stressed His coming sufferings (Mark 8:30-31; Mark 9:12; Mark 9:31), and indeed on the fact that He had come to give His life as ‘a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45) through His ‘blood of the covenant’ poured out for many (Mark 14:24). The saving death and resurrection of Jesus was central to Mark’s message. Thus he stresses that the Coming One, the great Messiah, the Son of God, had come, in order to suffer and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
‘The Son of God.’ The inclusion of this phrase here has been questioned as it is omitted in one important manuscript (Theta), and half omitted in another (Aleph - it was, however, immediately corrected), and some consider that it is difficult to see how such an important statement could have been dropped out, unless by accident in a very early manuscript. Accidental omission is a real possibility due to the number of -ou endings in this verse. But it may in fact have been deliberately dropped out by an unwise copyist in order to lay greater emphasis on ‘Jesus Christ’ at a time when His Name was seen as so exalted that the explanation was no longer felt to be necessary. ‘The Son of God’ is certainly included in the majority of important manuscripts and is one of Mark’s main themes, and if introduced later must be seen as a justifiable editorial comment. We ought, however, probably to see it as indicating the original text, and this is supported by the parallel in the chiasmus. (If introduced later it must certainly have been so very early on in order for it to be in the majority of ancient manuscripts, so that we may postulate that it was possibly even then by Mark himself. Thus we could well see it as an integral part of, if not the first, then a ‘second edition’ of the Gospel and therefore of the text).
Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ in the mouths of others is undoubtedly a theme of Mark. He was testified to as the Son of God by the voice from Heaven at His baptism, ‘you are My beloved Son’ (Mark 1:11), and at His transfiguration, ‘this is My beloved Son’ (Mark 9:7). The title was wrenched as a title from evil supernatural spirits by the very power of His presence (Mark 3:11; Mark 5:7). It was spoken of by Jesus Himself as the well-beloved son of the parable (Mark 12:6) and as ‘the (unique) Son’ (Mark 13:32). It was indirectly acknowledged by the high priest, an idea to which Jesus gave His assent (Mark 14:61). And finally it was stated by the Roman centurion at the cross (Mark 15:39). Thus the voices of Heaven and Hell, of the Messiah Himself and of the representatives of Jerusalem and Rome, are all seen as bearing testimony to Him as uniquely the Son of God. And to the Gentiles to whom Mark wrote that did not just mean the Messiah, it meant that He was divine. (It is indeed questionable how far ‘son of God’ ever was seen as a specific Messianic title on any widespread scale, although there is evidence for it at Qumran. But to Mark it would be seen as going further than that).
But He would mainly reveal Himself to men as the redeeming (Mark 10:45), suffering (Mark 8:31; Mark 9:12; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:33-34) Son of Man, Who had the power on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:10), was Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28), would give Himself a ransom for many (Mark 10:45) and who would rise again from the dead (Mark 9:9; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:33-34) and appear before His Father in glory to receive kingly power as described in the Book of Daniel (Mark 14:62 compare Daniel 7:13-14), finally coming back to earth in His power and great glory surrounded by angels (Mark 8:38; Mark 13:26). That, however, is a later revelation in Mark, once He has first been revealed in His great authority and glory.
The Preparation (1:1-8).
The Beginning (1:1-13).
Mark commences his Gospel by referring to the new ‘Beginning’, and to the herald who introduced Jesus in accordance with Scripture. This herald was a successful preacher and prophet in his own right. He was named John the Baptiser, and stirred up the whole country to listen to his words. But his main importance, in accordance with his own words, was as the forerunner of the One Who was to come, and as the preparer of the way.
This stress on John as a forerunner emphasises that both John and Jesus Christ have come at God’s appointed time and in accordance with His purposes. This was in accordance with Jewish expectations of ‘the Messiah’, a powerful kingly figure descended from David (although there were many variations on the idea), who was due to come at the end of the age ‘in the last days’ in order to introduce the Kingly Rule of God. This Messiah, says Mark, has now come, heralded by John.
We should note the brevity of Mark’s early record. He is concerned at the commencement only to draw attention to the main facts which will illustrate the glory of Christ, namely:
'b7 The coming of the eagerly expected new Elijah (Mark 1:2).
· The vivid testimony and fulfilment of Scripture (Mark 1:2-3).
· The widespread movement that demonstrated that God was at work (Mark 1:4-5).
The promise of the coming of One Who will be ‘mightier than I’ Who will drench men in Holy Spirit (Mark 1:6-8).
· The appearance of the Messiah Himself (Mark 1:9-10).
· His anointing in accordance with the Scriptures and His validation by God through reception of the Spirit (Mark 1:11).
· His final preparation before going forward to fulfil God’s purpose for Him (Mark 1:12-13).
Here we have the introductory theme, and all this within thirteen verses. But the fact that he felt no need to go into any detail suggests that he knew that that detail was generally well known to his readers.
Analysis of 1:1-13.
a The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1).
b Even as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send my messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make you ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (Mark 1:2-3)
c John came, who baptised in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judaea, and all they of Jerusalem, and they were baptised of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather belt about his loins, and he ate locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:4-6).
d And he preached, saying, “There comes after me He Who is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I baptised you with water, but He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8).
c And it came about in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptised of John in the Jordan (Mark 1:9).
b And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens rent in half, and the Spirit as a dove descending on Him, and a voice came out of the heavens (Mark 1:10-11 a).
a “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased”, and immediately the Spirit drives Him forth into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days tempted of Satan, and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to Him (Mark 1:11-13).
Note how in ‘a’ He is declared to be the Son of God, and in the parallel God Himself declares that He is His beloved Son, while the beginning of the good news of Jesus the Anointed One is in parallel with His being driven by the Spirit Who anointed Him into the wilderness to face testing and wild beasts, and to experience the ministry of angels. This is the beginning. His earthly future as the Man anointed of God is already commencing, and is already being mapped out before Him as one of aloneness with God and testing by Satan, in the presence of ‘wild beasts’, although always with heavenly assistance. In ‘b’ John is as a voice from the wilderness calling on the people to prepare the way of the Lord, and in the parallel the Holy Spirit comes down on Jesus and a voice speaks to Him from Heaven as the One Who is Himself well prepared. In ‘c’ John comes, and the people come to him for baptism in the Jordan confessing their sins, and in the parallel Jesus comes, and He too is baptised by John in the Jordan (but noticeably not as confessing sins). In ‘d’ John proclaims the coming of the One Who is mightier than he Who will drench His people in the Holy Spirit, just as he drenches them in water.
SECTION 1. The Establishment of His Ministry (1:1-3:35).
This section commences with Jesus’ emergence from the wilderness as the Spirit anointed King and Servant (Isaiah 11:1-4; Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 61:1-3) Who is God’s beloved Son (Mark 1:11), continues with His initial revelation of Himself as introducing the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 1:15), and as consequently doing mighty works in God’s Name, includes the idea of the formation of a group of disciples who are to extend His ministry (Mark 1:16-20; Mark 2:13-14; Mark 3:13-19), and finalises with the idea of the open community which is being formed who will do the will of God, and will thus reveal themselves as sharing with Him in His sonship as His ‘brother, sister and mother’ (Mark 3:31-35; compare Romans 8:15-17).
Analysis of 1:1-3:35.
a Jesus Christ comes, is borne witness to by John the Baptiser, and is acknowledged by God as His Son, with Whom He is well pleased (Mark 1:1-11).
b In the Spirit’s power He is driven into the wilderness to be tested by Satan, and is so tested among the wild beasts, while being assisted by heavenly resources (Mark 1:12-13),
c He goes about preaching the Kingly Rule of God and calls on four men to follow Him as His disciples, with the aim of their becoming ‘fishers of men’ (Mark 1:14-20).
d Crowds gather and wonder at Him, unclean spirits/demons are cast out, healings take place, and He warns the demons not to make Him known ‘because they knew Him’ (Mark 1:21-34).
e Jesus stresses that He must go to ‘the next towns’ in order to preach, for that is why He has been sent (Mark 1:35-39).
f Jesus heals a leper with a touch and a word and sends him as a testimony to the priests in Jerusalem (Mark 1:40 --45 ).
g The healing of a paralytic - the Scribes criticise Jesus for declaring that the man’s sins are forgiven and learn that ‘the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’ (Mark 2:1-12).
h The ‘surprising’ calling of Levi, a public servant and outcast, to be a disciple (Mark 2:13).
i Jesus and His disciples feast in Levi’s house along with many public servants and sinners, and the Pharisees grumble because He eats with sinners (Mark 2:14-16).
j Jesus makes clear that He has come as the Healer of those who acknowledge that they are ‘sick’, that is, not of those who claim to be righteous but of those who acknowledge themselves as sinners (Mark 2:17).
i The disciples of John and the Pharisees fast, and they grumble because Jesus’ disciples do not fast, at which Jesus points out that He has come as the Bridegroom introducing what is totally new and incompatible with the old so that fasting would be out of place (Mark 2:18-20).
h He illustrates the fact that the new ways have come to replace the old (Mark 2:21-22).
g The Pharisees criticise Jesus’ disciples for eating in the grainfields on the Sabbath and learn that ‘the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:23-28).
f Jesus heals the man with a withered hand, as a testimony to the Pharisees (Mark 3:1-6).
e Jesus goes out among the crowds to preach and they gather to Him from every quarter (Mark 3:7-9).
d Jesus heals many people, unclean spirits are cast out declaring Him to be the Son of God and He charges them not to make Him known (Mark 3:10-12).
c Jesus calls the twelve Apostles who are to go out and preach and have authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:13-19 a).
b Jesus in His coming is facing up to Satan and will prove to be the stronger, although being found among those who are His antagonists (are behaving like wild beasts), who, in contrast with the ‘sons of men’ who receive forgiveness, oppose the truth about Him, not recognising that the heavenly Holy Spirit is at work through Him (Mark 3:19-30).
a Those who gather to Jesus and hear Him are members of His true family (and therefore sons of God who have responded to the Holy Spirit) as long as they do the will of God (Mark 3:31-35).
Note that in ‘a’ the Son of God is here and does the will of God (He is well pleased with Him), and in the parallel the new sons of God are here, evidenced by the fact that they do the will of God. In ‘b’ Jesus faces Satan in the wilderness among the wild beasts with heavenly support, and in the parallel He outfaces Satan among antagonistic unbelievers, with the Holy Spirit’s support. In ‘c’ He goes out proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God and calls four disciples to follow Him so that they might become fishers of men, and in the parallel He calls His twelve Apostles and sends them out to preach and have authority over demons. In ‘d’ crowds gather and unclean spirits/demons are cast out who ‘know Him’, and He commands them not to make Him known, and in the parallel crowds gather, demons are cast out who reveal that they know Him for they declare Him to be the Son of God, and He commands them not to make Him known. In ‘e’ He stresses the urgency to go to other towns in order to preach, and in the parallel the crowds gather from everywhere to hear Him preach. In ‘f’ the leper is healed as a testimony to the priests, and in the parallel the man with the withered hand is healed as a testimony to the Pharisees. In ‘g’’ the Son of Man, Who is criticised by the Scribes, has power on earth to forgive sins, and in the parallel the Son of Man, Whose disciples are criticised by the Pharisees, is Lord of the Sabbath. In ‘h’ the new is contrasted with the old as Jesus calls an outcast public servant to be His disciple, and in the parallel He reveals in parables that the new ways have replaced the old. In ‘i’ Jesus and His disciples feast with sinners, and the Pharisees grumble, while in the parallel the disciples of John and the Pharisees fast, and grumble because Jesus disciples do not fast. Jesus explains that they cannot fast because He has come as the Bridegroom in order to bring joy to men. In ‘j’ Jesus declares that He has come as a Physician with a new message of ‘healing’ for sinners.
‘Even as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make you ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight’.” ’
The ‘even’ connects back to ‘the beginning’. He is saying ‘This is it! This is what was promised by the prophets. This is the beginning of the new action, even as it was promised by God and it is therefore central in His purposes.
‘As it is written.’ The phrase stresses that the words were from God Himself. ‘It is written’ (perfect tense - ‘it has been and now is’) establishes it as God’s truth and means ‘written with God’s authority, and by God through His messengers’. The use of the passive tense to avoid using the sacred name of God was common practise among some Jews. Rather than say ‘God wrote’ they would say, ‘it is written’.
The first part of the citation actually comes from Malachi 3:1, with part of Exodus 23:20 (word for word from LXX) in mind. In Malachi 3:1 the original reads ‘Behold I send My messenger to prepare the way before Me ’, that is, in order to prepare for God’s final activity on behalf of His people. But this is connected by Mark with the passage referring to ‘the Angel of YHWH’ (Exodus 23:20) and then joined by him to the following citation, which is from Isaiah, to give it extra force. The fact that it is Isaiah who is mentioned as the prime author demonstrates that it is ‘the voice crying in the wilderness’, (which comes from Isaiah 40:3), that is to be seen as central. But the ideas from Exodus and Malachi amplify it.
But again in the original of Isaiah 40:3 we learn that the way is to be prepared, and the paths were to be made straight, for God. It stressed that ‘God is on His way’. So the fulfilling of God’s coming to act on behalf of His people is being described in terms of Jesus Christ, His Son. Mark wants us now to know that God is coming in the coming One, the One expected and prepared for by John, and the changes he makes reflect this application. To Mark ‘the Lord’ is Jesus Christ.
‘In Isaiah the prophet.’ The mention of Isaiah demonstrates that it is the second, Isaianic, part of the promise that is the main concentration, that being thus mainly in mind, for that is what the coming messenger will proclaim. The first part is introductory and explanatory (so much so that both Matthew and Luke drop it out as unnecessary). The joining of two or more Scriptures in one quotation or reference in such a way is authorised by the voice from heaven in Mark 1:11 which does the same. All was Scripture and therefore all could be combined together. This attitude is general in the New Testament. Compare Revelation 15:3-4 where various Scriptures are combined. Note also the use made of Scripture in Galatians 4:21 onwards, especially Galatians 4:30 where the words of Sarah are quoted as the voice of God, and in Matthew in Matthew 27:9-10 where ideas from Zechariah and Jeremiah are combined, and see Paul’s use in Romans 3:10-18. To the New Testament writers all Scripture could be seen as one word from God.
‘Behold I send My messenger -.’ In Exodus 23:20 the messenger is the angel of YHWH, but in Malachi 3:1 the coming messenger is thought of in terms of Elijah (Malachi 4:5), who will come before ‘the great and terrible day of the Lord.’ He is to prepare the way for God to act. The coming of this new, greater Elijah (compare how the coming of the new David is similarly promised elsewhere and refers, not to a returned David, but to a greater David) was one event eagerly anticipated by the Jews in 1st century AD, an event which would fully restore prophecy and bring them hope. For many saw the voice of prophecy as having been silent, or at least wavering, from the time of Malachi (see the Jewish history 1Ma 4:46 ; 1Ma 9:27 ; 1Ma 14:41 for this idea), and longed once again to hear a firm strong voice. And they saw Elijah as the exemplar of the prophets. They were thus in constant anticipation of his coming and looked for him in any great prophetic figure who arose (Mark 6:15; John 1:21; Luke 9:19; Matthew 16:14). Even today at the Passover the Jews leave an empty seat for Elijah in anticipation of his coming. For them he has still not come, for when he came they passed him by, as they did Jesus Himself.
But Mark clearly depicts John the Baptiser as Elijah. He comes in the wilderness (compare 1 Kings 19:4; 1 Kings 19:8-9; 1 Kings 19:15) and wears camel’s hair with a wide leather belt around his loins and eats locusts and wild honey. We can compare with this how in 2 Kings 1:8 Elijah ‘was a man wearing hair and with a leather belt about his loins’ (compare also Zechariah 13:4 for the ‘hairy cloak’ of the prophet). ‘Locusts (or locust beans) and wild honey’ were wilderness food. This identification is confirmed by the angel in Luke 1:15-17, and later by Jesus Himself (Mark 9:12-13; Matthew 10:14; Matthew 16:10-13).
‘The great and terrible day of the Lord.’ While the coming of God’s day would be good news for the faithful, for the remainder it would be a great and terrible day. Thus the coming of Jesus, and especially the treatment that He received, while good news to the believing, also warned of a great and terrible day for the unbelieving. And so it proved. Their treatment of Him would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem, and to great suffering for the Jews and their further scattering (Luke 21:24). Furthermore those who refused to come to Him would cease to be His people thus losing all that they in the end lived for (Matthew 21:43; John 15:1-6). The coming of John was intended to avert this, but it could only do so for those who responded and believed.
And the fact is that from that day the Jews have truly suffered ‘great tribulation’ as they await the final judgment (Mark 13:19; Matthew 24:21; Luke 21:22-24 - note that ‘these are the days of vengeance’ clearly referred to the period on and after 70 AD), just as Jesus declared they would. But we must not forget that many in Israel did come to Him, so that the new Israel of His people was founded on the old, and there are also indications that in the last days He will continue to restore many of old Israel to Himself. It is the Israel who are within Israel who will be called (Romans 9:6-7).
But all this was to finally lead on to the end of the ages. So His coming was to be seen as both a glorious day and a terrible one, as both saving and judging at the same time (compare John 3:17-21) and as climaxing God’s purposes. In Jesus the ‘last days’ have begun, and will eventually result in the final consummation.
‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness.’ Note that John is ‘the voice’, whereas Jesus is the Word itself (John 1:1-14). John is the shadow, Jesus is the substance.
‘In the wilderness.’ It was in the wilderness that Moses first heard the voice of God (Exodus 3:1-6), and where the great covenant with Israel was established and the ten commandments were given (Exodus 20:0), and it was to the wilderness that Elijah was driven (1 Kings 17:3-7), and in which he heard the still small voice (1 Kings 19:3-12) and from where he came to denounce Ahab and Jezebel. The wilderness is ever represented as a place where God may be met with, for it is a place unmarred by man’s activity. That is why Jesus Himself will go into the wilderness in order to meet with God (Mark 1:11-12) and why it will be in the wilderness that He will miraculously feed His people (Mark 8:4) as the ancient people had been so fed long before (Deuteronomy 8:3). It is not through worldly authorities that God will advance His purposes. It is as men come alone with Him.
There is a specific emphasis on ‘the wilderness’ in these first few verses of Mark (see Mark 1:2; Mark 1:4; Mark 1:12-13) so that Jesus can be seen as emerging from the wilderness in order to proclaim the Good News (Mark 1:14-15), just as Moses was seen as emerging from the wilderness in order to bring deliverance to God’s people in Exodus. Here is the beginning of a new Exodus (compare Matthew 2:15 along with Hosea 11:1-9), which is intended to result in the establishment of the Kingly Rule of God.
But one thing further needs to be said about this ‘voice’. It is a voice from the wilderness, from man going alone with God, crying out for men to respond to God so that God’s will might be accomplished. But this time there will also be a voice from Heaven declaring that the One has come Who will fulfil that will (Mark 1:11). The world is soon to be faced up with the fact that ‘God reigns’ (Isaiah 52:7).
‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’ When a great king was to travel in state, preparations would be made to ease the way before him. The roads would be levelled and straightened, and the potholes would be filled in. Thus was the coming messenger of the Lord to ease the way for the Messiah, by preparing the hearts of the people in readiness for His coming (Luke 1:16-17).
‘The way of the Lord.’ In the original passage ‘the Lord’ refers to God, but it is probable that here Mark sees it as referring to Jesus Himself, as being the only Son of God.
‘John came, who baptised in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.’
Here was the Elijah who was to come (Mark 9:13; Matthew 11:10-14; Matthew 17:12; Luke 1:17). The name John, given directly by God (Luke 1:13), meant ‘God is gracious’. In him God was about to reveal His graciousness to man. So John came preaching a ‘baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ and baptised men in ‘much water’ (John 3:23). As Matthew 3:0 and Luke 3:1-22 both confirm (compare Mark 1:8) this drenching with water spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit like rain from Heaven to bring fruitfulness among His chosen (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:1-5), resulting in true repentance of heart and a total change of life (Isaiah 1:16-17).
The angel, prior to John’s birth, had stated that ‘many of the children of Israel will he turn to the Lord their God, and he will go before His face in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the righteous’ (Luke 1:16-17). Thus as the new Elijah he proclaimed this message, the need for ‘repentance’. The word means a change of mind and heart, and a turning to God, which would lead to the forgiveness of sins. It is used in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) to indicate regret for sin and turning away from evil (e.g. Jeremiah 8:6; Jeremiah 18:8), and as well as to God in mercy ‘changing His mind’ (taking up a new stance) about His dealings with men (1 Samuel 15:29; Amos 7:3; Amos 7:6).
‘Who baptised in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.’ What is certain above all is that John’s ministry centred on repentance and open admission of sin, resulting in forgiveness, and on subsequent baptism. This is constantly stressed (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 3:6; Matthew 3:8; Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:8), and Luke details the kind of changes required (Mark 3:10-14). The stress on ‘in the wilderness’ may also indicate that Mark saw Israel at that time as being precisely that, a people whose hearts were barren and unfruitful. But the question is, what did his baptism signify? Certainly by being baptised the people indicated their repentance and looked for the forgiveness of their sins, but what did the baptism itself mean? To answer that question we have only to look at his ministry. It centres on the ideas of fruitfulness and harvest, and in the light of these references water could only point to the rain that came from the heavens and the resultant springs of water flooding up from the ground (Isaiah 44:1-5).
Matthew 3:0 and Luke 3:0 both speak of the Pharisees as like vipers fleeing from cornfields, of the need to produce good fruit (the result of plenteous rain), of the axe laid to the root of trees (because they had withered), of the fruitless tree cast into the fire, of the One who has the threshing instrument in His hand, of the separating of wheat from chaff, the one stored in barns the other burned up. Thus John’s vivid imagery is mainly drawn from agriculture. We also know that John contrasts his own drenching with water with that of Him Who will ‘drench in Holy Spirit and fire’, and significantly in the Old Testament the pouring out of the Spirit is described as being like the rain from heaven (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:1-5). The first part of the phrase ‘drench in Holy Spirit and fire’ must surely therefore be connected, in context, with the gathering into the barn of the grain which the rain has caused to grow, and the second part with the burning of the useless chaff in the fires of judgment, the one being blessed and having purpose for the future, and the other being judged unfit and only suited to destruction.
In the light of this, and of the constant references in the prophets, where the coming of the Holy Spirit is likened to the pouring down of the rain with its resulting fruitfulness, it is clear that John’s baptism has in mind, and pictures, the drenching, life-giving rain from heaven (baptizein means ‘to drench’). Thus Isaiah 32:15 says ‘-- until the Spirit be poured out from on high, and the wilderness become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest, justice shall dwell in the wilderness and righteousness shall abide in the fruitful field’. Here we have, as with John’s message, the wilderness bearing fruit, with the pouring out of the Spirit as rain resulting in the fruitful fields and trees.
This is then applied specifically to people in Isaiah 44:3-4, ‘for I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and streams on the dry ground, and I will pour My Spirit upon your seed, and my blessing upon your offspring, and they shall spring up among the grass, as willows by the watercourses.’ Compare also Isaiah 55:10-13 where the rain and snow from heaven, watering the earth and making it fruitful, ‘bringing to birth’ the grain, are likened to the going forth of the word of God to accomplish His purposes, spoken of in terms of flourishing trees of the right kind; and Isaiah 45:8 where the heavens drop down ‘from above’ (LXX ’anothen - as in John 3:3) and the skies pour down righteousness so that the earth is fruitful in salvation and righteousness is caused to spring up. ‘Birth from above’ (compare John 3:3) is specifically in mind in these verses.
Reference to the Spirit in terms of water from heaven is also found in Ezekiel 36:25-27 where it cleanses by giving a new heart. But Ezekiel thinks in priestly terms and the sprinkling of water there rather has reference to the water (‘clean’ water) which has been treated with the ashes of the heifer (Numbers 19:17-19), but even there Ezekiel links it with fruitfulness and restoration (Ezekiel 36:29-30; Ezekiel 36:33-36), while Joel also links the pouring out of the Spirit (Joel 2:28-30) with the times of refreshing, the coming of the rain and the floors full of wheat (Mark 2:19; Mark 2:22-25), as well as with the spiritual inspiration of men and women chosen by God.
So by his baptism John was indicating by an acted out parable that these baptised people were being separated to God in preparation for the coming of Holy Spirit as promised by the prophets in order that they might become acceptable to God (be ‘cleansed’), be restored, and might become fruitful. He was acting out their future blessing. They were in the future to enjoy the ‘drenching in Holy Spirit’ from the Messiah, the life-giving spiritual rain which would produce fruitfulness in their hearts. Notice the phrase ‘he baptised in the wilderness’. It was in the wilderness that the waters would come and would make the desert blossom as a rose resulting in ‘waters -- in the wilderness, and streams in the desert’ (Isaiah 35:1; Isaiah 35:6). That his baptism was a prophetic acting out, and not actual in terms of the new beginning, is stressed in Acts 19:1-6 where the disciples of John are seen as being devoid of the new Spirit. And yet the Spirit Who was proclaimed by John, was undoubtedly to some extent experienced under him (Luke 1:15-17; Matthew 21:31-32). It was, however, to be Jesus Who ultimately drenched men with the Spirit and brought to fulfilment what the prophets had promised (Mark 1:8).
‘And there went out to him all the country of Judaea, and all those of Jerusalem, and they were baptised of him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.’
‘There went out to him --.’ The verb indicates a continuing process, there was a continual stream of seekers.
‘All the country of Judaea and all those of Jerusalem.’ The inhabitants of Jerusalem always distinguished themselves from the inhabitants of the surrounding area (compare Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 2:1; etc). In the Old Testament they were constantly spoken of separately. This was because originally Jerusalem was an independent city which was David’s by conquest, using only his own followers to capture it, and it was only then that it was combined with Judah and Israel to form a united kingdom. It thus always saw itself as distinctive, as ‘David’s city’ (2 Samuel 5:7; 2 Samuel 5:9 and often).
‘All the country -- all those of --.’ This is a generalisation and means a great proportion of them so that it could almost be seen as all. There was a huge revival movement. This is confirmed by Josephus, the Jewish historian, when he says ‘many flocked to him, for they were greatly moved by hearing his words, ---’ which he then connects with John’s death at the hands of Herod.
‘And were baptised of him in the River Jordan confessing their sins.’ By their baptism they were indicating repentance and turning to God in preparation for the coming age and openly owning up to their sins. This was no formal ritual of confession but the reflection of a people truly broken down because of their sense of guilt and shame, and unable to hold back. They were people of a broken and contrite spirit (Psalms 34:18; Psalms 51:17; Isaiah 57:15) seeking the fruitfulness of life which would result from the Spirit’s outpouring. So he baptised them signifying that they were now seen as ‘worthy’ as a result of their repentance to be recipients of that coming, end of the age, outpouring of Holy Spirit promised by the prophets. Yet the fact of this movement, with the people flocking to hear, and responding to, John’s preaching, did demonstrate that the Holy Spirit was already now at work in some measure (see above), and would especially be so in the ministry of Jesus (Luke 4:1; Luke 11:13; Matthew 12:28), which was why Jesus could chide Nicodemus for not being aware of the significance of being born of the Spirit (John 3:10). The promise was, however, that even better was to come (John 7:38-39; Acts 1:8).
‘And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather belt about his loins, and did eat locusts and wild honey.’
John comes in the wilderness (compare 1 Kings 19:4; 1 Kings 19:8-9; 1 Kings 19:15) and wears camel’s hair with a wide leather belt around his waist and loins and eats locusts and wild honey. The hairy garment and leather belt indicated that John was a prophet similar to Elijah. Compare with this how in 2 Kings 1:8 Elijah ‘was a man wearing hair and with a leather belt about his loins’; and see also Zechariah 13:4 for mention of the ‘hairy cloak’ of the prophet. Locusts (see Leviticus 11:22) and wild honey were typical wilderness food. John was a man of the wilderness.
The members of the Qumran community had also fled into the wilderness as they separated themselves from an Israel that they saw as tainted and condemned, and John may well have had contact with them. But his message was essentially his own, and different from theirs, and there is no real reason, apart from the fact that both were in the wilderness, for connecting him with them. Nor did he seek to form his own separated community. He sent men and women back to live in society and to live out his teachings there.
‘And he preached, saying, “There comes after me he who is mightier than I, the fastening of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose”.’
The unfastening of sandals was work regularly a task performed by servants and foreign slaves. Those who entered a house were relieved of the dust or mud of the streets by servants, who would take off their sandals, and regularly also wash their feet. In Palestine a Hebrew slave was exonerated from this humiliating task, and Rabbi Joshua b. Levi is quoted as saying, ‘All services which a slave does for his master a pupil should do for his teacher, with the exception of undoing his shoes.’ So by his words John declares that compared with the Coming One he is lower than the lowest servant or even a Gentile slave. He is as nothing before Him, not even fit to perform that lowliest and most despised of tasks, the unfastening of His shoes.
‘He Who is mightier than I.’ The word indicates strength and power. In the original prophecy the way was being prepared for YHWH, Who would pour out His Spirit on His people (Isaiah 44:1-5), although the activity of the hoped for Davidic King (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4; Isaiah 55:3) may also have been in mind. But here the mightier One is clearly Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is as ‘the mighty one’, the ‘mightier than he’, that Jesus overcomes Satan and his minions (Mark 3:27 compare Luke 11:22). And it is with mighty power that He proclaims His message and heals the sick (Luke 4:14; Luke 4:32). It is a power that He is able to pass on to others on His own authority (Mark 3:15; Luke 9:1). But it may be that here John mainly has in mind the contrast between the baptism which he can himself administer, which is but a picture of what is to come, as compared with that which Jesus will administer, which will be the supreme ‘baptism’, the ‘drenching in Holy Spirit’, that which is the prerogative of God.
“I baptised (drenched) you in water but he will baptise (drench) you in Holy Spirit.”
For this One Who is coming will be the means by which God will fulfil His promise of drenching men with the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:1-5). He will Himself be acting as the dispenser of the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father (John 15:26), a clear indication once it is thought through of His own deity.
This confirms that John’s baptism in water was to be seen as a prophetic acting out of what was to happen, for the two are here spoken of in parallel. John could only symbolise the pouring out of the Spirit by a drenching in water, but the coming One would bring the reality by Himself sending, and drenching men and women in, the Holy Spirit (John 15:26). This demonstrates His true mightiness. He will bring to fruition the prophetic end of the age promises, the Messianic age, saturating God’s people in Holy Spirit Who is at His disposal. The time of fulfilment is now at hand.
‘And it happened that in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptised of John in the Jordan.’
The fact of Jesus coming to John to be baptised is plainly stated and it is deliberately in parallel with what had happened to the people (Mark 1:5). He is being identified with them in His baptism. But Mark then moves immediately on. Not, however, before drawing attention to the fact that Jesus came from Nazareth, a small and insignificant place in the Galilean hills. His background is unassuming. He is not only a despised Galilean (see John 7:41; John 7:52), but from an insignificant village, a ‘root out of dry ground’ (Isaiah 53:2). This was the last place from which any good thong could be expected (John 1:46). But what a difference was about to take place. He comes to the Jordan. The River Jordan was the place of entry into the Promised Land, and Jesus was as it were here being prepared for His entry into it to establish the Kingly Rule of God. Here was the greater Joshua, come to establish God’s Kingly Rule. (Mark is eager to get to the essence of his account, but he recognises that the foundation must be firmly laid).
Mark 1:5 has informed us that at this stage the main interest in John has been by the Judeaeans and Jerusalemites. Thus the appearance of Jesus as a Galilean indicates a deliberate identification of Himself by Jesus with the work of John. He has come a good way for this sole purpose, to confirm His support for John in his ministry, and to indicate that John and His own future work are all part of God’s plan and purpose. And by it He is being identified with all the people who are responding to John’s ministry. He is not shy of being seen as a part of this movement of God.
Mark does not question the incongruity of Jesus being baptised. Indeed he deliberately stresses that Jesus is being baptised in exactly the same way as the people (apart, that is, from the confession of sin). The question of incongruity is raised in Matthew where John says to Jesus, ‘I have need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’ (Matthew 3:14). But that incongruity is partly dependent on interpretation. If John’s baptism is a symbol of the washing away of sin (for which there is no direct evidence in the context, and little if any evidence elsewhere in the Gospels and epistles) then there is indeed a problem, although we could argue that He was but identifying Himself with the sinners He had come to save. But if, as we have affirmed, it is a symbol of the coming of Holy Spirit like life-giving rain, a symbol of being part of God’s new people enjoying the blessing of the Spirit, the problem is far less, if it arises at all. For there is no reason to question why the Holy Spirit should not come powerfully on Him. Indeed it was to be expected, and was indeed what was about to happen.
The incongruity to John was twofold. Firstly because he felt he was not worthy to perform the baptism on One whom he knew to be so greatly superior to himself, (and remember he was Jesus’ cousin and knew Him well), and secondly because he recognised that he himself needed the supreme baptism of the One Who could baptise in Holy Spirit. How then could he baptise the baptiser in Holy Spirit? How could the shadow baptise the reality?
But Jesus clearly did not consider it incongruous. It is true that there was no need of repentance, admission of sin and forgiveness in His case, but those were activities preparing people for baptism, making the person ready for acceptance by God in the final act. Without them the people could not be baptised. But they were not what the baptism symbolised, for they preceded it, (even though they were, of course, also evidenced by it). Baptism, however, took place because, once repentance, admission of sinfulness, and forgiveness had occurred, it was a seal that these baptised people were now declaring themselves to be forgiven sinners, made ready to receive the pouring out of the Spirit when the time came. So while Jesus did not need to repent and receive forgiveness of sins, He did firstly desire to join with all the people in indicating His acceptance of the God-given authority of John and secondly in His readiness to receive God’s Spirit, in His case on their behalf as the One Who would baptise in Holy Spirit. ‘So it becomes us to fulfil all that is right’, He declared (Matthew 3:15). As representative Man He must do what any righteous man should do, participate in that which points ahead to the work of the Spirit.
So by His act Jesus is clearly identifying Himself with the people to whom He has come, acknowledging John’s position as a man sent from God, and confirming the validity of his baptism and the fact that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was coming.
The Coming of Jesus - The Descent of the Spirit on Him As The Sealing and Empowering of the King (1:9-11).
The preparations completed Jesus now comes to John to be baptised, in exactly the same way as the people had, and having been baptised the Holy Spirit comes on Him as the One Who is introducing the age of the Spirit. And at this point a voice from heaven says, ‘You are my beloved Son (Psalms 2:7), in you I am well pleased’ (Isaiah 42:1). By this He is declared to be both God’s Son and God’s Servant. (Or alternately, ‘You are My Son, the Beloved in Whom I am well pleased’ - compare Matthew 12:18).
Psalms 2:0 initially announces the acceptance of David’s heirs as God’s adopted sons (Mark 1:7, compare 2 Samuel 7:14), but it also has especially in mind the great king who is coming, His anointed one (Mark 1:2) who will establish his rule over the nations (Mark 1:8-9). Isaiah 42:1-4, along with Isaiah 49:1-6; Isaiah 50:4-8 and Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, has in mind the great Servant of the Lord who will bring about God’s purposes through suffering.
‘And coming up out of the water straight away he saw the heavens cleaving in half and the Spirit as a dove descending on him, and a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”.’
Here we have brought home to us Jesus’ self-awareness at His baptism. As He ‘comes up out of the water’, (either by rising from its depths or by walking towards the bank, depending on how John baptised), He is aware of activity in heaven. The idea of the heavens being opened (anoigo) as indicating heavenly activity was a regular one, but not in the vivid way in which Mark renders it (skizo). Perhaps he intends us to link it with the rending of the curtain in the Temple in Mark 15:38, another dramatic moment of divine revelation. Or it may be that Mark has in mind Isaiah 64:1 (in the Hebrew), ‘O that You would rend the heavens and come down’. For Isaiah 63-64 has a number of connections with the passage here. In Isaiah 63:11 the leaders of Israel came up out of the water (the sea) when God put in the midst of them His holy Spirit, and Israel were then led through the wilderness (Isaiah 63:13-14), only to fail in the end in their response to God’s Kingly Rule (Isaiah 63:19). So Mark may well have intended us to see that God was now rending the heavens as Isaiah had pleaded in expectation of a better result.
‘The heavens cleaving in half.’ This does not refer to a physical gap appearing but simply indicates that there was some unusual and dramatic activity in the heavens, resulting in this case in the fact that something other worldly was seen there.
‘And the Spirit as a dove descending on him.’ He was conscious of what seemed like some kind of physical presence (Luke specifically confirms this when he speaks of ‘a bodily form like a dove’ - Mark 3:22), which reminded Him of a dove and descended on Him, in the same way as the Spirit would descend on the coming King (Isaiah 11:1-4), the coming Servant (Isaiah 42:1-4, compare Matthew 12:17-21) and the coming anointed Prophet (Isaiah 61:1-3). In John’s Gospel we learn that John the Baptiser was also aware of these things (John 1:32). What the crowds were aware of we are not told. The words, ‘ This is my beloved Son’ in Matthew might suggest that the crowds also heard the voice, but again it may have been seen as spoken only to John the Baptiser. All would have taken place in Aramaic so that both representations are reasonable translations into Greek. To Jesus, ‘You are My beloved son’, to John ‘this is My beloved son’. (The Aramaic may well have been simply ‘My Beloved Son’. The pronoun, as it so often was, would have to be understood).
So in His baptism Jesus identified Himself with the repentant people and received God’s mighty empowering (compare Luke’s ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ - Mark 4:1) and seal of approval, while John received confirmation that this was indeed the One Who had a unique relationship with God and will drench men in Holy Spirit (John 1:33) like refreshing rain (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 55:10).
‘As a dove.’ Not literally but in impression. It reminded those who saw it of a dove. It is possible that the picture was intended to connect with the Holy Spirit hovering like a bird over the coming creation (Genesis 1:2), the symbol of a coming creative work of God, this being linked in Mark’s mind with the dove who brought back the symbol of the olive leaf to the ark in the time of Noah, which demonstrated that God was in mercy allowing man to begin anew in a new creation (Genesis 8:11-12). It was a symbol of mercy and hope and new life. It may even connect with the fact that in the Song of Solomon the dove is a description of ‘the beloved’ (Mark 2:14; Mark 5:2; Mark 6:9). And we may well connect it with Jesus words about the ‘harmlessness of doves’ (Matthew 10:16), the point being that He had not come as a warrior Messiah (see also Matthew 21:5). But it is a mistake in saying this to suggest that it differentiated Him and His preaching from that of John in that John was somehow more judgmental and fierce. Jesus’ words could be even more fierce than John’s and John’s fierceness is often overemphasised. As with Jesus he was ‘fierce’ with those who deserved it, while his heart was compassionate towards the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
‘And a voice came from the heavens.’ The Rabbis spoke of a ‘bath kol’, (daughter of a voice), a distant voice that filtered through from God as He spoke in the heaven of heavens, but was inferior to the direct word of God to the prophets, but this was no bath kol, this was God speaking directly and firmly, authenticating Jesus’ mission. The heavens had been opened. He was fully involved in what was happening.
‘You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased.’ This echoes Psalms 2:7, a Psalm originally reflecting the adoption of the Davidic king by God, and Isaiah 42:1, words spoken to God’s coming Servant to the nations. By it God confirms that Jesus is the true Son of David, the expected Messiah, and God’s faithful Servant. Note that the empowering of the Spirit was promised both to the coming king (Isaiah 11:2) and on the coming Servant (Isaiah 42:1) and anointed Prophet (Isaiah 61:1), and it was part of the Messianic expectation among the Jews. But the words go deeper than that for they reveal Jesus as God’s own beloved Son in a way never suggested of the Davidic kings.
In Psalms 2:0 the original reference was to the king of Judah as adopted by God, probably at his coronation and possibly in a yearly renewal ceremony. It expressed the confidence that the Davidic kingship, chosen and adopted by God, would one day rule the world as His chosen king. Psalms 2:7 is literally, ‘you are my son, today have I begotten (i.e. adopted, made my son) you’. However the change to ‘beloved’ reflects the fact that Jesus was not adopted like the others but was unique. It practically reflects the same idea as the ‘only begotten’ - it is used in LXX to indicate Abraham’s ‘only son’ and Jephthah’s ‘only daughter’ - but was especially suitable as distinguishing Jesus from the earlier Davidic kings, as the One Whom God essentially and uniquely loved, His only beloved Son (compare Mark 9:7; Mark 12:6).
The quotation from Isaiah 42:1 links Jesus with the Servant of Isaiah. We should especially consider here Matthew’s quotation from Isaiah 42:1 which also contains reference to him as ‘beloved’. Initially referring to Israel, and then to the faithful in Israel (Isaiah 49:3) who would restore ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel’ (the peoples of Judah and Israel), and bring the nations to God, the Servant narrowed down to a unique prophetic figure who would suffer at the hands of His enemies who refused to hear him (chapter Isaiah 50:3-8), and who would be offered up for the sins of God’s people (chapter Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12). While not directly linked with the Davidic kings he had royal qualities (Isaiah 52:13), and Jesus later linked Himself with this suffering Servant (Luke 22:37) as well as claiming to be the Messiah (explicitly in John 4:25-26 in a place where the title was not misleading to the hearers), the Son of David, and the suffering Son of Man.
So Jesus became aware that the moment when He must reveal Himself as Son and Messiah and Servant of God had arrived. His mission of service, and suffering, and royal authority must now begin. And this inevitably resulted in His going apart into a quiet place to consider all the implications involved. How human this revealed Him to be, yet how divine.
‘And straightway.’ This is the first occurrence in Mark of a constantly repeated word, ’euthus. It means ‘immediately, straight away’, but it is at this stage more a literary device to move the action on quickly and to connect different passages than an indication of time specifically. It is especially prevalent in Mark 1:9 to Mark 2:12 where it rapidly takes us through, and connects together, Jesus’ initial activity, doing it in one smooth forward movement.
Excursus: Was John’s Baptism A Ritual Washing?
It is suggested by many that John’s baptism was intended to be seen as a ritual washing. But while the faith of Israel encouraged ritual washing, such washing was only ever preliminary. It was never seen as directly cleansing, for it is regularly followed by the statement ‘and shall not be clean until the evening’. Thus it was not seen as being itself the ‘cleansing’ agent. It merely washed away the earthiness of man preparatory to his approach to, and waiting on, God for cleansing. What cleansed was the waiting on God in obedience, and in the end the shedding of blood. For in Old Testament times water was not so much looked on as being for washing. It was rather what fed the ground and was life-giving, and was what satisfied the thirst of men.
Seeming exceptions to this suggestion that water does not indicate ‘cleansing’ found in Psalms 51:2; Psalms 51:7 probably refer to washing in ‘blood sprinkled water’, for it is paralleled by ‘purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean’ which is a sacrificial reference. He is there speaking of being ‘washed’ in blood sprinkled water. Hyssop was used to sprinkle water purified with the ashes of a sacrifice, which was ‘a sin offering’ (Numbers 19:9; Numbers 17-19). So David probably has in mind being ‘washed’ in the ‘water for impurity for the removal of sin’, which was water containing the ashes of sacrifice, and was sprinkled to remove uncleanness. Notice in Numbers 19:19 how the careful distinction is made. First the person is cleansed with the sprinkling of the ash-connected water, for the removal of ceremonial defilement, then they wash their clothes and bathe themselves in ordinary water, then they wait for the evening when they become clean. Water is not itself seen as directly ‘cleansing’, it follows atonement and, removing earthly taintedness, prepares for cleansing.
So in the Old Testament the washing and bathing simply with water is carefully separated from the idea of cleansing, and seems to have more to do with becoming physically made ready to meet God, as a result of the removing of their earthiness and earthly odours. It is preparatory to cleansing. It is rather the water sprinkled with the ashes of the heifer which removes the ceremonial defilement and this is connected with the sin offering. Ezekiel also connects the sprinkled ‘purified’ water (seen as purified with the ashes of the heifer) with the purifying of Israel in a passage connected with the coming of the Spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-27). Notice there that God will use ‘clean water’, i.e. water that has, as it were, been cleansed.
Josephus sees this distinction between physical washing and spiritual cleansing clearly. He too misunderstood John’s baptism (as possibly did some Pharisees, the extreme ritual cleansers, but see comment below) and said of John that he was ‘a good man who bade the Jews to cultivate virtue by justice towards one another and piety towards God and come together for baptism; for immersion, he said, would be acceptable to God only if practised, not as an expiation for specific offences, but for the purification of the body, when the soul had been thoroughly cleansed by righteousness’. By this the baptism is degraded into an outward ceremony which washes the body after it has been truly cleansed rather than as being an essential element in the cleansing by righteousness. Josephus rightly recognises the secondary nature of ritual washing, and wrongly associates it with John’s baptism. (We must always remember that Josephus has a propaganda aim. He writes so as to ingratiate the Jews with their Roman masters).
But the baptism of John was central, not secondary. Attention was centred on it. It was the focal point of his ministry. And it was closely connected with repentance and admission of sin and its consequent forgiveness. It was hardly likely then that it indicated a mere ritual activity after the main event. It rather represented the very source of the life that produced righteousness.
Because of these difficulties reference is often made to proselyte washing, the initial washing which a proselyte to Judaism underwent on entering Judaism. But while that was sometimes, in passing, given a more significant meaning by one or two later Rabbis, that too was from all points of view a ritual washing, a leaving behind of the ritual defilement of the Gentile world. And there the proselyte washed himself, whereas it appears that here John administered the baptism (‘baptised by John’). Indeed to wash Jews in this way would have raised an outcry of which there is no evidence in the account. While the Pharisees questioned his right to perform a significant ceremony, they did not cavil at it by saying that such a baptism was intended only for Gentiles. Rather did they see it as an ‘end of the age’ event connected with the Messiah, Elijah or the Prophet, all expected figures of the end times (John 1:25). This fits well with their seeing it as signifying the idea of the pouring out of the Spirit at the end of the age.
Indeed the difference is significant. All Jewish washings were carried out by the person themselves. It was they who prepared themselves. All concentration was on their efforts. But John’s baptism was not self-administered. It was done by another in God’s name. It looked away from men’s own actions to God.
A better comparison might be Isaiah 1:16. ‘wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well.’ But this does not refer to ritual washing. Isaiah had for the time being ‘done away’ with ritual (Mark 1:11-15). It is a command to become clean in life, and ‘washing’ is there a picture of the activity involved in a practical getting rid of sin. This would certainly partly fit John’s position, but it will be noted that it was still to be self-applied and such an idea is not taken up by John. Indeed, unless we do connect it with the fruitfulness he describes, then he seemingly gives no indication of the significance of his baptism, something which would surely be quite remarkable. But if his baptism is a picture of the outpouring of Holy Spirit, of the pouring out of spiritual rain which produces fruitfulness, he explains it quite clearly. ‘I drenched you with water, He will drench you with Holy Spirit’, the first the symbol the second the reality.
This is further confirmed by the fact that later on baptism will be seen as a dying/rising again event, dying in Christ and rising with new life in the Spirit, a concept regularly connected in the Old Testament with the rain pouring from the heavens (e.g. Isaiah 44:1-5). And Peter specifically excludes the idea of removal of the defilement of the flesh from the significance of baptism (1 Peter 3:21). It is even questionable whether the words of Ananias to Paul, ‘arise, and be baptised, and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord’ (Acts 22:16) directly connects the washing with the baptism. The construction of the sentence separates the two, making them two distinct actions, and rather connects the ‘washing’ with the following phrase, the ‘calling on the name of the Lord’ (see Jeremiah 4:14), although he would no doubt make a connection between the two. It is also significant that he uses ’apolouo, which signifies washing by natural means (Job 9:30 LXX), not the louo which means ritual washing. He has in mind verses such as Isaiah 1:16 not ritual washing.
Had Ananias meant that the baptism directly symbolised the washing he would surely have said, ‘Arise and be baptised, washing away your sins (rather than ‘and wash away your sins’), and call on the name of the Lord’. But as mentioned Ananias in fact may well have had Isaiah 1:16-18 in mind where ‘washing’ means turning away from sin. However, whatever the case there, there is no other place where washing and baptism are closely connected. In Titus 3:5 it is ‘regeneration’ that is seen as ‘washing’ while in Ephesians 5:26 the washing of water is with the word. Thus in Acts Ananias may have had primarily in mind response to the word and the regenerating activity of God.
So the emphasis of the New Testament, when thinking of baptism, was not that it washed men, removing ‘dirt’ (even spiritual dirt), but that it fed their souls giving refreshment and life. It represented a pouring out on them of spiritual rain, so that out of their innermost beings might flow rivers of living water (John 7:38). It gave them life and made them life-giving in the same way as rain does the earth and drinking water does to men.
End of Excursus.
‘And immediately the Spirit drives him forth into the wilderness.’
The implication behind this verse is clear. The Spirit Who has come on Him is now directing His life. His past life is over, and His new life has begun. He is now being driven by the Holy Spirit (compare Luke 4:1).
‘Drives Him forth.’ the verb is strong (softened in Matthew and Luke). There is a divine compulsion. He is driven by One Whom He cannot resist.
‘Into the wilderness.’ He was driven into the wilderness because He too must be a prophetic figure like John was, and in the wilderness He would meet God. John had prepared the way in the wilderness. Now He for whom John was preparing the way must go into that wilderness as He approached His future. It was to be a time of preparation and challenge. The temptations that followed suggest that a main reason for the move was to consider how He should approach His ministry. This time of pondering the future inevitably provided opportunity for Satan to introduce his false suggestions.
Others see the driving into the wilderness as being because there He could face up to all the powers of evil that some thought to be in the desert. But there is little evidence of the Jews thinking like that. The thought then would be that He went there precisely to meet them face to face. But if that were so we might have expected further reference to it somewhere. The impression given is that it was Satan alone, and his temptations, that He had to face, and that He had to face them, as it were, man to man.
The Temptation in the Wilderness (1:12-13).
This is an essential part of the introduction. It is a reminder that the way ahead will not be smooth. Jesus has not come simply to reveal the power of God. His coming involves Him in being fully involved in temptation, for the battle is in the end a moral one. And it is a reminder that as Man, and as God’s Anointed One, He must face the consequences of being involved in a sinful world, and must overcome, whether it be over Satan and his testings, or over the wild beasts of unredeemed mankind (Daniel 7:3; Revelation 13:1; Revelation 13:11).
‘And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan, and he was with the wild beasts and the angels ministered to him.’
The sentence is pregnant with meaning. ‘In the wilderness’, the place of the prophet and of meeting with God. ‘Forty days’, the time Moses and Elijah spent with God. And now here was a greater than Moses and Elijah. ‘Tempted by Satan’, put to the test as to His future plans, with an attempt to persuade Him to take the easy way and compromise with God’s will. ‘With the wild beasts’, away from man and civilised society and among what was contrary to man, with no human company, only the company of wild beasts. Here was the greatest prophet of all. ‘And the angels ministered to Him’. He was under God’s own protection.
‘And he was in the wilderness forty days.’ Moses was in the mountain forty days and forty nights to receive God’s covenant and His instruction (Exodus 24:18; Exodus 34:28), and Elijah was in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights when he fled for his life and God spoke to him and renewed his commission (1 Kings 19:8). But both these were for ‘forty days and forty nights’. However we may put this down to Mark’s abbreviating tendency for Matthew makes it ‘forty days and forty nights’ (Matthew 4:2). Thus Matthew clearly makes this connection.
So Jesus is seen as following in the footsteps of Moses and Elijah, the most revered of the prophets (compare Mark 9:4 and parallels). It is probably not without significance that they are both figures the like of whom were expected to come in the future, the ‘prophet like Moses’ who would know God face to face and have God’s words put in his mouth (Deuteronomy 18:15; Deuteronomy 18:18 with Deuteronomy 34:10) and the coming Elijah who would prepare the way for the Lord (Malachi 4:5), for they represented the Prophetic Law (Torah = ‘instruction’) and the Prophetic utterance. And now One was come Who was to outshine them both.
‘Tempted of Satan.’ Mark says nothing about the content of the temptations. He knows that the accounts of them are well known. But in order for them to be mentioned he must clearly have seen the testing as connected with His mission. And, as in fact we know from the other Gospels, the final temptations were as to how He would go about fulfilling His mission: the temptation to misuse His powers, the temptation to use marvels to win people over, the temptation to avoid the way of suffering by lowering Himself through compromise (see Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). But in the end they were temptations not to walk in the way of God.
We should note however that Mark gives the impression of continual temptation. Jesus is tempted throughout the forty days. In Matthew the final temptations come at the end. But this must surely be because those final temptations were the earlier temptations finally crystallised into a solid and specific form. The continual temptations are seen as having finally brought Jesus to the point of dealing with the three major ones then crystallised in His mind by the subtleties of the Devil. And, after a short break (Luke 4:13), the temptations will continue throughout His life (e.g. Matthew 16:23).
‘Satan.’ Meaning ‘the adversary’ and also called ‘the Devil’ (diabolos - the accuser, the slanderer. Used in LXX to translate ‘Satan’). He appears in the Old Testament as a heavenly being who leads men astray and who attacks God’s servants in the presence of God, opposing God’s purposes (1 Chronicles 21:1; Job 1:6 to Job 2:7; Zechariah 3:1). When he is cast down from that position it is a cause of great rejoicing (Revelation 12:9-10).
‘And He was with the wild beasts.’ In Psalms 91:11-13 domination of wild beasts goes hand in hand with the ministration of angels. Thus the thought here may well include the idea that He need not be afraid of them. He was with them, but because of His relationship of love with God they are subject to His control. They cannot touch Him. We can compare Daniel’s words, ‘My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths’ (Daniel 6:22). But the idea is also surely that he was away from man with no one but the wild beasts for company (and the angels). The wild beasts are met with in desolate places (Isaiah 34:14).
In other Jewish literature (The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs) there appears to be a connection between wild beasts in desert places and demonic forces. Some have therefore suggested that there may thus be in this a further hint at His battle with Satanic forces, but there is no other hint of their presence here so that this is unlikely. (If this were the meaning we would expect the wild beasts to be mentioned earlier, prior to Satan’s activity).
However, the section chiasmus above brings out that these wild beasts may also be compared with the later antagonism of Jesus’ adversaries (Mark 3:22), just as the wild beasts which represented the godless nations were contrasted with the ‘son of man’ and the true people of God who truly served Him in Daniel 7:0. From the beginning then, Jesus is being made aware that He has come among the ‘wild beasts’. The world will not welcome Him. The way ahead will be rough.
‘And the angels ministered to Him.’ Compare Hebrews 1:14 and 2 Kings 6:15-17. Whether this means being fed as Elijah was (1 Kings 19:5-7), or protected as Elisha was (2 Kings 6:15-17) and as the Psalmist described (Psalms 91:11-12), we do not know. But it is a reminder that in the ‘heavenly places’, the spiritual realm where the Christian lives and wrestles with evil (Ephesians 6:12), there are those who quietly and unobtrusively, unseen and unheralded, provide sustenance and help to the tempted (Hebrews 1:14).
‘Now after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingly Rule of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel”.’
‘After John was delivered up.’ This is a reference to John’s imprisonment, which Mark in fact tells us about later (Mark 6:17-29), but here there is probably lying behind it a deliberate hint that there is yet Another Who will be ‘delivered up’ later. Mark’s Gospel begins with a delivering up and will end with a delivering up, for God works through tribulation, and His people must expect nothing less. The shadow of John’s death thus lies over the ministry of Jesus, Whose ministry will also lie under that shadow. But John’s ‘delivering up’ is purposely stated so that it might also be recognised that John’s preparatory ministry was now over and Jesus’ own ministry had begun, before He too would be delivered up. It answers the question, ‘what happened to John?’
‘Jesus came into Galilee preaching the Gospel (good news) of God.’ Mark is concerned to pinpoint the importance of Galilee in the ministry of Jesus. He stresses that when He opened His own distinctive ministry it was to Galilee that He first came. This is probably in order to stress the uniqueness of His message. He had not come to pander to the religious authorities, but to reach out to men everywhere. Thus He began away from Jerusalem, in a place where men and women were more open to receive His message.
While Galilee was Jewish territory it was also known as ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ (Matthew 4:15, compare Isaiah 9:1). It was separated from Judaea by Samaria, which lay in between, and throughout its history necessarily had closer contact with Gentile nations. Indeed for a time it had been mainly Gentile territory and had had to be re-colonised by the Jews. It was of this area that the prophet Isaiah had promised that ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, on them has the light shined’ (Mark 9:2). It had thus a prophetic future which was largely ignored by the Judaeans. It was not as hidebound as Judaea, and indeed was consequently looked down on and treated with some hosility by Judaeans because it was a little unorthodox, and it was therefore more open to receive new truth (and also innovations which were not so good). But parts of it were fiercely Jewish in its own slightly unorthodox way.
‘Preaching the good news of God.’ John had preached that the good news was coming. Now Jesus could proclaim that it was here. The word means to proclaim like a herald. The genitive ‘of God’ could be translated ‘about God’ or ‘from God’, but perhaps we are to see it as meaning ‘the good news that God has to give to His people’ or ‘the good news that God had earlier promised’. The word indicates something special that is worth celebrating, and it relates directly to God. This good news had already been mentioned by Isaiah 61:1. The Spirit anointed prophet would come with the good news of God’s deliverance, to bring comfort and strength to His people, and to introduce the last days. Compare also Isaiah 52:7 where the good news is of what is good, and is of ‘salvation’ and of the fact that God reigns.
‘And saying, “The time is fulfilled. The Kingly Rule of God is at hand”.’ This was the essence of His message, that the new beginning was here. For centuries men had waited for it and longed for it, but now the necessary waiting time was ‘fulfilled’, the centuries of waiting were over, the appointed time was now here. What the prophets had pointed to was now happening. The verb is in the perfect tense. ‘Has been and now is fulfilled.’ It is not something in the future. It is now.
‘The Kingly Rule of God is at hand.’ God’s kingship, His rule over His people, had been established at Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:5; contrast 1 Samuel 7:7). But the history of the Old Testament bore witness to the fact that it had never become a practical reality. Right from the beginning they had fought against it. Indeed that was why they had sought a king over them (1 Samuel 10:17-19). And throughout their history they had constantly rebelled, so that it had become apparent that His rule could not be established because of their disobedience. In the words of Isaiah 63:19, ‘we are become as those over whom you never bore rule, as those who were not called by your name’.
Thus the prophets declared that their wretched condition, so unlike what had been promised, was due to this failure. The result was that the prophets then began to look forward to a future day when God would change the hearts of His people by the pouring out of His Spirit and would establish His rule (Isaiah 44:3-6; Ezekiel 36:26-28; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Jeremiah 33:3-4), and this was linked with the coming of a great king (Isaiah 11:1-5; Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 37:24) and the coming of a great prophet (Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:1-6; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12; Isaiah 61:1-3). Now, says Jesus, that time is here. God is going to act to establish His rule.
But His kingship was not going to be limited to a particular area of land. It was to be kingly rule over His people. It was to be a living kingdom. We may understand this idea of kingship better if we think of the king of a desert tribe. He owns no land, his kingdom is his people. They have no settled area where they live but where they go, there goes the kingdom. And if you were to meet them and produce your map, telling them that you are not in fact in their kingdom but in someone else’s kingdom, they would laugh and jeer, and you would soon learn that you were very much in their kingdom. For where this king’s rule was established at any point in time, there was his kingdom. And if two such tribes were to intermingle for a short period there would be two kingdoms mingled together, but each with a separate identity.
So it is with ‘the Kingly Rule of God’. Where God’s rule is established, there is His kingship revealed, and thus in a real sense where Jesus was, there too was the kingdom. And where his true people are who are in submission to His rule, there is a manifestation of His kingship. Thus the Kingly Rule of God was both within them (the acceptance of His rule) and among them (because Jesus the king and His people were there) (Matthew 6:33; Matthew 12:28; Matthew 21:31; Matthew 21:43; Mark 4:26; Mark 4:30; Mark 9:1; Mark 10:14-15; Mark 12:34; Luke 7:28; Luke 9:27; Luke 10:9; Luke 11:20; Luke 16:16; Luke 17:21; Luke 18:17; John 3:3-5; Acts 8:12; Acts 14:22; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20).
But it has, of course its vital future aspect, for God’s rule will never be fully established over all men until that day when all that is contrary to Him is done away, and those who are His enter into His everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 24:23; Obadiah 1:21; Zephaniah 3:15; Zechariah 14:9; Mark 14:25; Luke 13:29; Luke 22:16-18; Luke 19:11; Luk 21:31 ; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Colossians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:5). The one is preparatory to, and a part of, the other. For in the end the Kingly Rule of God is an eternal Kingly Rule, ‘Kingly Rule belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations’ (Psalms 22:28). What is happening here is that men are now being called on consciously to have a part in it
‘Is at hand (has come near).’ The verb appears twice more in Mark, in Mark 11:1 and Mark 14:42. In Mark 11:1 it refers to drawing near to Jerusalem and in Mark 14:42 to Judas as drawing near in the garden and being ‘at hand’. So we may well see this as meaning that God’s kingship has now drawn near to them and is at hand (perfect tense), available to those who respond. It confronts them in Jesus (compare Mark 12:34; Matthew 12:28).
But others would see it as meaning that it is approaching but not yet come. It is ever ‘at hand’, impending but not having arrived, thus seeking to stir men into response. This would then refer to the kingship in its future aspect. But it sits ill with the use of the perfect tense for it simply to be looking to an unrealised future. The whole point is that the time has come. John had looked ahead to what was to be, but Jesus is now introducing the reality. Not of course that His future Kingly Rule is excluded, for all who come under His Kingly Rule do so both in the present and for the future. They are His now, and His for ever.
‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ Again we note that repentance, a change of heart and mind and a turning to God, is central to the message. Without repentance there can be no kingly rule, for repentance involves turning from sin and rebellion against the King’s laws, and accepting the rule of the King. And this is what the good news is, that the King is here and they can believe in Him and respond to Him. They need no longer be cut off from God, for the way to God is now open.
Here we have both the essential similarity and the essential difference between the message of Jesus and that of John. Both demand a change of heart towards sin and towards God, both promise future blessing. But Jesus has now introduced the new element that the King is here and personal response is now possible, and it is He Who will usher in the age of the Spirit. Eternal life can be enjoyed now (John 5:24; 1 John 5:13). The new age under the king has begun. What is now required is response.
There are in fact two aspects to the work of the Spirit. On the one hand he has worked in believers in the Old Testament as evidenced in the Psalms (Psalms 139:7; Psalms 143:10) and is evidenced as at work in the Gospels (Matthew 10:20; Luke 4:18; Luke 10:21), especially in John’s Gospel (John 3:5-8; John 4:23-24; John 6:63), but on the other there is to be an outpouring of Holy Spirit which will so far exceed all that has gone before, that it can be described as ‘the coming of the Spirit’ (John 7:39).
‘The Gospel.’ It is good news of deliverance (Isaiah 61:1-3) and of the certain fulfilment of God’s great promise (Ephesians 3:6); it is good news of peace, peace with God and peace from God (Ephesians 6:15); it is good news of truth, newly manifested as never before, and of the arrival of Him Who is the truth (Galatians 2:5; Colossians 1:5), and brings hope for the future (Colossians 1:23). It is the good news of salvation and immortality, deliverance and eternal life (Ephesians 1:13; 2 Timothy 1:10), the two great yearnings of the heart of man when he truly thinks about himself. It is the good news that ‘God reigns’ (Isaiah 52:7). And it is now forcing itself on the world in Jesus. But it must still be responded to. Without response it is not good news.
The First Stage in the Ministry of Jesus. (1:14-39).
Now that He had been especially empowered and had determined the path that He would tread Jesus leaves the wilderness behind and goes out among men in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14), after John’s imprisonment, to proclaim the good news from God in Galilee. His purpose was to proclaim that ‘the Kingly Rule of God is at hand’ (Mark 1:14-15), to begin the establishment of His band of Apostles with a view to spreading His word (Mark 1:16-20), to teach with the authority of the One on Whom the Spirit had come (Mark 1:22) and to reveal His power over evil spirits (Mark 1:23-28) and over sickness and disease (Mark 1:29-34) as He went through all the cities of Galilee (Mark 1:35-39). That it was an urgent mission is made clear (Mark 1:38), and its two main aims were to be the preaching of the Kingly Rule of God and the casting out of evil spirits (Mark 1:39). The battle for the world’s soul had commenced in earnest.
Had it not been for John’s Gospel (John 3:22 to John 4:42) we might have seen this as His first activity. But this may well be because Mark sees this movement into Galilee as being the first stage in the establishment of Jesus’ own ministry in contrast with John’s and is concerned with this and with the further stage of the calling and appointing of the Apostles. If Jesus’ ministry alongside John was seen as Jesus assisting in John’s ministry, for He was careful not to supersede John and withdrew when He began to overshadow him (John 4:1), Mark may well not have been concerned to draw attention to it as it had little to do with his purpose. He is in a hurry to deal with the main ministry of Jesus and is depicting a triumphant movement forwards. He is concerned to demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God.
Alternately, but less likely, for he must surely have enquired into what had gone on in the period between Jesus’ baptism and John’s imprisonment, it may be that he was not aware of what had gone before. It is far more likely, however, that it is rather a deliberate choice on the part of Mark so that He can move immediately on to Jesus own unique ministry, proclaiming that the Kingly Rule of God was within reach. The preparations were over, the forerunner had broken the ground, and now the great reality had come. What came in between could be seen as irrelevant. It may be accepted that Mark’s knowledge of the period may have been scanty (Peter may not have been present at much of it) but the fact that Mark carefully states that this was after John had been imprisoned indicates that he knew that there was a gap to be considered.
Analysis of 1:14-39.
a Now after that John was delivered up, Jesus comes into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingly Rule of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
b Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow Him and become fishers of men (Mark 1:16-20).
c They go into Capernaum and immediately on the sabbath day He enters into the synagogue and teaches (Mark 1:21).
d They are astonished at His teaching because He teaches them as One having authority, and not as the scribes (Mark 1:22).
e Jesus delivers a man with an unclean spirit by commanding it to come out of him (Mark 1:23-26).
d And they are all amazed, insomuch that they question among themselves, saying, “What is this? a new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mark 1:27).
c The report of him goes out immediately everywhere into all the region of Galilee round about (Mark 1:28).
b They then enter the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John, and Jesus heals Simon’s wife’s mother who then ministers to them. And at evening, when the sun had set, they bring to him all who were sick, and those who were possessed with devils, and He heals them all and will not allow the devils to speak because they know Him (compareMark 3:11; Mark 3:11) (Mark 1:29-34).
a Jesus insists on going on to the next towns to preach there as well, because that is the reason why He has come, and He goes into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons (Mark 1:35-39).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus comes into Galilee and proclaims the good news of the Kingly Rule of God, and in the parallel does so throughout Galilee revealing God’s Kingly Rule by casting out demons. In ‘b’ Jesus calls four disciples to become fishers of men, and in the parallel He enters Simon’s house with the four, and there He reveals His power to heal and cast out evil spirits. In ‘c’ He teaches in a synagogue of Capernaum, and in the parallel the report about Him goes out throughout Galilee. In ‘d’ they are astonished at His teaching and authority, and similarly in the parallel. Centrally in ‘e’ Jesus delivers a man from possession by an unclean spirit.
‘And passing along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon, and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting a net in the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” And immediately they left the nets and followed him.’
Luke describes the whole incident in great detail (Mark 5:1-11) but here in Mark we have the bare bones. Mark is concerned to express the stark demand, and the response to the Kingly Rule of God. ‘Passing along by the Sea of Galilee.’ It was more strictly a Lake (so Luke) but the use of ‘Sea’ is typically Semitic.
‘He saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother casting a net in the sea.’ This condenses all that happened in a single phrase, but its mention is necessary to illuminate the phrase that follows later about ‘fishers of men’. It was because they were fishermen that Jesus told them that they would become fishers of men. He suited His illustrations to the understanding of His hearers.
‘Come after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.’ The call was absolute. They were to follow Him and to be no longer fishermen, but fishers of men. Note how the call comes even while they are fishing. Their abandonment of their occupation is a requirement for following Him. Interestingly the illustration of fishing men is used elsewhere in the sense of fishing men for judgment (Jeremiah 16:16), but it is in itself neutral. And besides when God’s judgment goes forth the people learn righteousness. The idea was that from now on they would use their abilities and skills to win men under the kingship of God. Andrew had already shown himself adept at that (John 1:41). And now Jesus was making clear that He had a wide ministry for them in view.
‘They left the nets and followed Him.’ The comment that they left their nets is to stress that they left instantly and that it was permanent. The nets were left just where they were, although no doubt looked after by the family. They were no longer needed. We may not be called on to leave our nets, but we are to use them for God’s purposes. ‘Followed Him.’ The idea of following in this sense involves trust, commitment and obedience.
The Authority of Jesus Is Revealed in The Calling of the First Apostles (1:16-20).
The last thing that anyone would have thought of when they heard Jesus’ message about the Kingly Rule of God would be that He would then call on a group of professional fishermen to have a part in the transmission of that message. It is as though Mark is emphasising the lowliness of the beginnings of God’ Kingly Rule. First the Coming One Himself is from lowly Nazareth, now the heralds are lowly fishermen.
But Simon (Peter) and Andrew had both already expressed their interest in Jesus, the latter at least having been a disciple of John the Baptiser (John 1:40-42). And John (the Apostle) was also probably with them in those early days as the unnamed of the two disciples of John (John 1:35). While John the Baptiser was ministering Jesus would not officially call them (as He did call Philip - John 1:43), for they were John’s disciples, and thus after the imprisonment of John they had returned to their homes and their livelihoods. Now Jesus sought them out and officially called them to ‘follow Him’, that is, to commit their lives to hearing and responding to His teaching, so that from that moment on they were to have complete trust in Him and were to be declarers of God’s Kingly Rule.
Mark sees this as a further step in the revelation of the Kingly Rule of God. The anointed representative of the King, indeed the King Himself (John 1:49), is seen as having the right to call men to leave everything and follow Him, to assist in the task that is now His. He deliberately makes his account stark and demanding (compare Luke 5:1-11), revealing that the One sealed by God, has the right immediately to demand what He will. It is the demand of a king.
Discipleship was a common feature in Palestine. The Rabbis had their disciples who came and learned from them and followed them. But they did so by choice, and they were not specifically called on to leave all. Jesus’ call to follow Him was, however, all embracing and permanent (Mark 9:34-37 compare Matthew 19:29). It was the call of One with sovereign rights. He spoke as One Who brooked no refusal and all the emphasis is on this. They must follow Him all the way, for there was a work for them to do in the future.
Analysis of 1:16-20.
a And passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Come you after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men” (Mark 1:16-17)
b And immediately they left the nets, and followed him (Mark 1:18).
a And going on a little further, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him (Mark 1:19-20).
Note that in ‘a’ we have the call of Simon and Andrew, and in the parallel the call of James and John. Centrally in ‘b’ we have the result of the call of Simon and Andrew (with James and John the result of the call is not a separate statement).
‘And going on a little further he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending the nets, and immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and went after him.’
Comparing with Luke we can gather that James and John had returned to shore after assisting with the large catch. Then they had gone back to their nets, leaving Simon talking with Jesus. Now Jesus approached them and called them too. The unconscious testimony of the eyewitness is found here. The cost and poignancy of the situation is made obvious. The father is left with only the hired servants, and the business they are leaving is a prosperous one, for fish was the staple diet of the people. Yet they followed immediately and willingly. The impact and authority of Jesus is made clear. Note that here it is not said that they left their nets. Those remained in use by others. In their case they left their business and their loved ones.
(We note that in Mark this incident comes before that in which Jesus deals with the man with the unclean spirit in Capernaum (Mark 1:21-28) while in Luke it comes after. This illustrates the fact that Mark puts his material in the order which will bring home his point rather than following a detailed chronology. He wants the calling of the disciples to be described here immediately after the proclamation of the kingship. As in chapter two he marshals his material carefully. He is not writing a chronological life of Jesus, it is not ‘in order’ but rather a portrayal).
‘And they go into Capernaum, and straightway on the Sabbath day he entered into the synagogue and taught, and they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as having authority and not as the scribes.’
Mark rarely mentions place names but he mentions one here. Capernaum (originally ‘village of Nahum’) was a fairly large township located at Tell Hum by the side of the Sea of Galilee, on its North West shore. It was near a copious spring, the ‘place of seven springs’. It was regularly visited by Jesus and He and His family made it their home when they left Nazareth (Matthew 4:13). It would later come under condemnation because in spite of the mighty works revealed there it on the whole failed to fully respond (Matthew 11:23). It is interesting in this regard that Jesus is never described as being in the larger cities of Galilee such as Sepphoris or Tarichaea or in Tiberias. He appears mainly to have kept to the smaller towns and villages and the open countryside. Possibly He felt that His ministry would be more effective in those areas and was satisfied that people from the larger cities would come out to hear Him, and would do it in places where they were more likely to give more careful heed to His words.
When the Sabbath day came, the people would regularly go to the Synagogue to pray and hear the Scriptures read and taught. Synagogues were basically places for formal prayer and teaching the Scriptures, set up in different towns and locally controlled. They had probably originally arisen in the Exile, and there were synagogues scattered among many nations. In larger cities such as Jerusalem there would be a number of synagogues catering for different classes of Jews. The Ruler of the Synagogue could and would call on any competent distinguished visitor to speak, and we have no record of Jesus ever having been refused the privilege, although no doubt such a situation might have arisen at certain synagogues in Jerusalem had He sought it.
The Ruler of the Synagogue was responsible for the administration of the affairs of the Synagogue, and especially for the arrangements for the services, but he was not himself specifically a teacher. There was also the Chazzan who was responsible for taking out and storing away the scrolls on which the Scriptures were written, and the Dispensers of Alms who distributed the daily cash collections to the poor. The synagogue as a whole was administered by ruling officials also called ‘rulers’ (Mark 5:35). But there was no duly appointed teacher.
So Jesus entered the Synagogue and was called on to teach. And His teaching astonished and excited them. Although in general following Rabbinic patterns He spoke as One Who could speak on His own authority, as a prophet of God, rather than like their own teachers, the Scribes, who taught by citing other authorities, especially the traditions of the Elders, the oral tradition built up in the past. An example of Jesus’ authoritative teaching can be found in Matthew 5:0 where He regularly says, ‘but I say to you’. Yet to some extent He won the respect of these teachers for they also called Him ‘Teacher’ (Mark 10:17; Mark 12:19 compare Matthew 8:19 which is near Capernaum).
But Mark’s purpose is to draw out the authority of the teaching of Jesus. He is the One Who has received the Spirit, appoints lifelong disciples and teaches with unusual authority. For here is One Who is unique and authoritative in the power of the Spirit of God, a prophet and more than a prophet.
Jesus Reveals His Authority In His Teaching And By Casting Out An Unclean Spirit (1:21-28).
Having revealed His authority by calling men to abandon everything and follow Him, He now reveals that authority in His teaching, as He tells men and women straightly what God requires of them, and by casting out an unclean Spirit which identifies Him as ‘the Holy One of God’.
a And they go into Capernaum, and immediately on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue and taught (Mark 1:21).
b And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes (Mark 1:22).
c 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, you Jesus of Nazareth? Are you come to destroy us? I know you who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:23-24).
d And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Hold your peace, and come out of him” (Mark 1:25).
c And the unclean spirit, tearing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him (Mark 1:26).
b And they were all amazed, 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 (Mark 1:27).
a And the report of him went out immediately everywhere into all the region of Galilee round about” (Mark 1:28).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus teaches in the synagogue, and in the parallel His message continues to go out. In ‘b’ the people are astonished at His teaching and His authority, and in the parallel they are similarly astonished. In ‘c’ the unclean spirit reacts to Jesus, and in the parallel it has to obey Him. Centrally in ‘d’ Jesus reveals His authority by commanding the unclean spirit to come out.
‘And immediately there was in their Synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out saying, “What have we in common with you, you Jesus of Nazareth? Are you come to destroy us? I know you, who you are, the Holy One of God”.’
‘A man with an unclean spirit.’ The term ‘unclean spirit’ was used by the Pharisees to refer to evil spirits. It was in contrast with the ‘cleanness’ and purity of God. The point is that these spirits were not wholesome. They were seen as excluded from God’s presence by their uncleanness, their lack of moral fitness. We should note that in Matthew 4:24 a clear distinction is made between those who are diseased, those who are lunatic and those who are possessed with devils. It is wrong to think that in those days men necessarily saw all disease and madness as resulting from evil spirits. But we do well to beware before we dismiss the idea of the existence of evil spirits (although we must beware of those who see such spirits everywhere). Examples of modern day spirit possession, including the crying out and rending of individuals, although happily fairly rare in countries with a strong Christian background (as in Old Testament days among Israel), have been clearly authenticated as having genuinely occurred by men of high reputation even in such countries. And so has the ability of such spirits to remain unrecognised until something disturbs them. Thus the man who entered the synagogue may not even have been aware that he was possessed until ‘he’ was forced to cry out (I say ‘he’ because the spirit uses the person’s lips).
‘And he cried out saying, “What have we in common, you Jesus of Nazareth? Are you come to destroy us? I know you, who you are, the Holy One of God”.’ The holy aura that surrounded Jesus, largely unnoticed by man but clearly obvious to the ‘unclean’ spirit, was unbearable to it, forcing it to ‘cry out’ in fear (the word indicates strong emotion) and acknowledge His unique holiness, saying ‘You are the Holy One of God.’ For the awareness that it had of His power and authority, and of His unique position with God, made it afraid as it considered the possibility of its own destruction along with its fellows. They must have thought, ‘why else should such a One have come to earth if not to destroy us?’. We know the answer to that, but they may not have believed it or even known it. The plurals ‘we’ and ‘us’ reflect the fact that it is speaking on behalf of its fellows.
‘What have we in common?’ Literally ‘what is there to us and to you?’ They are saying - ‘we have nothing to do with each other. Keep away.’ Note the plural ‘us’. He may be including himself with the spirit, indicating the fact that a spirit possessed person can move quickly from speaking normally to being spoken through by different spirits using different voices, or the spirit may be referring to the whole ‘unclean spirit’ world.
‘The Holy One of God’ is the title by which Simon Peter would later address Jesus in John 6:69. Perhaps such instances as these established the idea in Peter’s mind. It was not a known Messianic title. But we are not dealing with Messiahship here. Whatever men thought, the evil spirits were aware of Jesus’ special powers and authority, and of His unique holiness. They knew that they were dealing with One Who had a supernatural background, totally separated to and infilled by God, even if they were not aware of His full deity. Compare the use of ‘holy ones’ for the Watchers in Daniel 4:13; Daniel 4:17; Daniel 4:23, and of angels in Psalms 89:7; Hosea 11:12; Zechariah 14:5. Here was One Who was greater than those ‘holy ones’. He was the supreme Holy One, God’s Holy One.
The title ‘Holy One of Israel’ was a title regularly used of God in the Old Testament (2 Kings 19:22; Psalms 71:22; Psalms 78:41; Psalms 89:18 (where He was also seen as ‘our King’) and in Isaiah 24:0 times, and once as the ‘Holy One of Jacob’, and God as incomparable is called ‘the Holy One’ in Isaiah 40:25; Isaiah 43:15; Isaiah 49:7; Hosea 11:9; Habakkuk 1:12; Habakkuk 3:3. In Isaiah 57:15 His ‘name is Holy’. So such a title has close connections with God and makes the One so uniquely designated to be of divine rank, the title being almost the equivalent of ‘Son of God’.
‘Your Holy One’, which is the equivalent of ‘the Holy One of God’, is found in Psalms 16:10 where it refers firstly to David as the anointed of God. It could therefore even better be applied to the coming greater David, the Messiah as evidenced by Acts 2:25-28, but this latter application may have arisen from this very title used of Jesus here and in John 6:69.
Israel is also called ‘His Holy One’ (Isaiah 10:17), possibly as a purified Israel who would burn up Assyria (compare Obadiah 1:18), but it may be that we are to see there ‘the Light of Israel’ as God Himself. And ‘holy ones’ (saints) is a title sometimes applied to the people of God when thought of as living in obedience, especially in the Psalms. In all cases it denotes special, unique relationship. But Jesus is not just one of the holy ones. He is the Holy One.
It has been suggested that the spirit was here trying to use Jesus ‘name’ in order to control Him, for it was believed in Jesus’ day that obtaining a person’s name gave some kind of control over that person. But it is more likely that this was the reaction of the spirit in its uncleanness towards One Whose supreme holiness it had to acknowledge. It was aware from the start that it had no means of controlling Him because of Who He was.
The Authority of Jesus is Revealed by His Power over Evil Spirits (1:23-28).
The authority of Jesus was now further revealed in that He was now faced with a man possessed by an evil spirit which was so distraught by His presence that it cried out and challenged Him. It declared Him to be ‘the Holy One of God’. Jesus then rebuked the spirit and it left the man with some violence. The result was amazement on the part of those who saw it, and they linked it with, and included it in, His authoritative teaching. It should be noted here that the word ‘authority’ (’exousia) was often used in Hellenistic Greek to express the idea of a combination of supernatural power with a supernatural knowledge of divine things. Both of these things have been revealed by the Spirit-filled Jesus.
‘And Jesus rebuked him saying, “Be quiet and come out of him.” And the unclean spirit, tearing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.’
Jesus rejected the testimony of the evil spirit. He did not want testimony from such sources, although He would later point to His power over evil spirits as evidence that He was from God and that God’s Kingly Rule had come (Mark 3:21-30; compare Matthew 12:28). But that was only because of necessity at the accusations levelled against Him. The word for ‘be quiet’ means literally, ‘Be muzzled.’ He then commanded the spirit to come out, and the immediate result was that, convulsing the man, and crying with a loud voice, it came out.
‘Jesus rebuked it.’ The word for rebuke is the equivalent of that used for the divine rebuke in the Old Testament, a rebuke which was powerfully effective (2 Samuel 22:16; Job 26:11; Psalms 80:16; Psalms 104:7; Psalms 106:9). It is especially used when YHWH rebukes Satan in Zechariah 3:2, after which no more is heard from him. Thus we are to see in this rebuke the power of the Lord. It carried divine authority. In this case it was addressed to the evil spirit.
‘Be quiet.’ Jesus never accepts the testimony of evil spirits. This is not on a parallel with His attempt to prevent people spreading the idea that He was the Messiah. He did that when on Jewish territory because the Jews had the wrong idea about Messiahship, seeking a military leader against the Romans (see John 6:15). But He was quite happy to tell a Samaritan woman in Samaria that He was the Messiah (John 4:25-26), and content that she should inform her fellow Samaritans. And He would later tell a man in Gentile Decapolis to go and tell what the Lord had done for Him and how He had had compassion on him (Mark 5:19). But He wanted no testimony from evil spirits which might give men the wrong ideas about Him. He did not want to be seen as associated with them in any way.
‘And come out of him.’ The command was clear. It must relinquish its hold on the man.
‘And the unclean spirit, tearing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.’ To the awe of the watchers there was a terrible cry and the man was clearly visibly distressed and convulsed, and then the spirit was gone. The man was in his right mind. This is a regular description of release from genuine spirit possession.
‘And they were all amazed in so much that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching. He commands with authority even the unclean spirits and they obey him”.’
The people were all amazed. They thought that it must be some new teaching, not in a wrong sense but in the sense of being more powerfully true. This suggests that while there were exorcists around, they had not been quite as effective as this. They had used incantations and special formulae, but they had not been able to dismiss the evil spirits with a word. And they recognised that it meant that He had a special divine authority, which went hand in hand with divine knowledge.
‘What is this? A new teaching.’ We might bring in ‘with authority’ here as part of the phrase and translate, ‘What is this? A new authoritative teaching (a new teaching with authority)? He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey Him?’ This would agree with what seems to be the correct text. But either way the significance is the same.
‘He commands the unclean spirits and they obey Him.’ Jesus will Himself later point out what this proved, that Satan in his strength was being defeated, and that this could only be by the Spirit of God (Matthew 12:28), thus demonstrating that He Himself was a man of the Spirit and a ‘man of God’. But His claim to be ‘the Stronger than he’ would go even further than that.
It is noteworthy that although He did this on the Sabbath it was not at this stage questioned, (but perhaps that was only because it required simply a word of command).
‘And immediately the report about him went out everywhere into all the regions of Galilee round about.’
The news spread like wildfire. ‘This man preaches with remarkable authority, and He casts out evil spirits just by a command.’ The result was that there was a great and growing interest in Him and people began to seek Him out from all over Galilee. Nearly everyone was talking about Him. His outward popularity was growing and His unique status was being recognised.
Note on The Casting Out Of Evil Spirits.
Jesus approach to the casting out of evil spirits was different from His contemporaries who used very different methods of exorcism. Thus Josephus said of a certain Eleazar, ‘he put to the nose of the possessed man a ring which had under its seal one of the roots prescribed by Solomon, and then, as the man smelled it, drew out the demon through his nostrils, and when the man at once fell down, adjured the demon never to come back into him, speaking Solomon’s name and reciting the incantations which he had composed.’ We note here the use of the name of Solomon, whereas Jesus cast them out in His own name and His disciples in the name of Jesus. We also note the use by others of plants and incantations. This contrasts strongly with Jesus’ method of using a word of command.
Had Jesus used the name of Solomon He might have avoided for a while the accusations of the Pharisees, but because He commanded on His own authority they accused Him of being in league with Satan. After all the only alternative was to admit that Jesus was more powerful than Satan, as Jesus Himself pointed out. We can compare here how Jesus asked in whose name the sons of Israel, whom the Pharisees acknowledged, cast out evil spirits (Matthew 12:27). According to the Pharisees’ argument they were thus aligning Solomon with Satan.
But Jesus cannot just be seen as another exorcist. It was considered vital in exorcisms that the exorcist carried out precisely all the prescribed rules and regulations and made use of the correct quasi-magical substances and incantations otherwise it was considered that he would not be successful. This was in total contrast with Jesus exercising of His own authority. Furthermore at Qumran they saw exorcism and healing as being one process, for illness and evil spirits were seen as linked, whereas Jesus specifically differentiated the one from the other. It is clear that Jesus knew exactly what He was doing, and had the power and authority to do it, and did not accept that all disease was the result of the activity of evil spirits.
Josephus then points out that ‘Eleazar placed a cup or foot-basin full of water a little way off, and commanded the demon as it went out of the man, to overturn it and make known to the spectators that he had left the man.’ This is an interesting parallel with Jesus allowing the evil spirits to enter the pigs in the case of the Gadarene demoniac, the difference being that Jesus allowed it because the evil spirits sought His permission because they did not wish to be totally disembodied. But it does serve to demonstrate why Jesus gave that permission so that all would know that the evil spirits had left the man.
End of Note.
‘And immediately when they were come from the Synagogue they went into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and straightway they tell him of her. And he came and took her by the hand and raised her, and the fever left her, and she ministered to their needs.’
Leaving the Synagogue they naturally went to the home of two of the disciples, Simon Peter and Andrew, who presumably lived in Capernaum. James and John also went with them instead of going home. They were now permanent followers of Jesus. It would seem that this house was used as a base while they were in the area.
It is possible that they told Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law in order to explain the absence of a woman of the house to cope with their needs. This might suggest that Simon was a widower, or that his wife was away from home, and that at the time he relied on his mother-in-law, although 1 Corinthians 9:5 does suggest that Peter’s wife was still alive. Or they may just have mentioned it casually. Whichever way it was Jesus sprang into action. Going into her room He took her hand and raised her from the bed and the fever left her immediately and she was able to see to their needs. It would appear that it was still the Sabbath. Jesus did not see Himself as bound by the Sabbath regulations of the Scribes and Pharisees, except in public when He did not wish to cause unnecessary offence.
That this made a remarkable impression on Simon Peter comes out in that he remembered the incident specifically, and it confirms the idea that Peter’s reminiscences are behind Mark. Why else would such a ‘trivial’ detail be remembered?
Jesus Reveals His Power Over Disease and Evil Spirits (1:29-34).
The revelation of Jesus’ new power following His reception of Holy Spirit continued. Not only did He appoint disciples, teach with authority, and cast out evil spirits, but He revealed His power over every kind of disease.
The Power of Jesus Is Revealed in Healing And A Further Casting Out Of Spirits, But He Emphasises That His Main Ministry Must Be That of Preaching in Their Synagogues (1:29-39).
Having revealed His authority in His teaching and in the casting out of an unclean spirit with a word of command, Jesus carries out a healing ministry, commencing with Peter’s mother-in-law in Capernaum, and which also includes the casting out of unclean spirits who are ‘aware of Who He is’, although we do not learn the answer to the puzzle until Mark 3:11, where they declare Him to be the Son of God (unless it refers to the reference to Him as ‘the Holy One of God’). But these healings are only secondary to His main purpose which is to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 1:15). Note the deliberate connection between His healings and exorcisms as taking place ‘in the evening’ and His parallel prayer life which takes place ‘early next morning’, illustrating what He later tells His disciples in Mark 9:29 that the foundation of His successful ministry is, humanly speaking, to be found, in prayer.
Analysis of 1:29-39.
a And immediately, when they were come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John (Mark 1:29).
b Now Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and immediately they tell Him of her, and He came and took her by the hand, and raised her up, and the fever left her, and she ministered to them (Mark 1:30-31).
c And in the evening, when the sun set, they brought to Him all who were sick, and those who were possessed with devils, and all the city was gathered together at the door (Mark 1:32-33).
d And He healed many who were sick with various kinds of diseases, and cast out many devils, and He would not allow the devils to speak, because they knew Him (Mark 1:34).
c And in the morning, a great while before day, He rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed (Mark 1:35).
b And Simon and those who were with him followed after Him, and they found Him, and say to Him, “All are seeking you”. And He says to them, “Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also, for to this end I came forth” (Mark 1:36-38)
a And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out devils” (Mark 1:39).
Note that in ‘a’ they come out of the synagogue, and in the parallel Jesus went to their synagogues throughout Galilee. In ‘b’ Simon and others are involved in seeking Jesus help for Simon’s mother-in-law, and He heals her and she ministers to them, and in the parallel Simon and others seek His help for the crowds, and He explains that He must move on and minister to others. In ‘c’ we learn what Jesus did in the evening, when He was surrounded by crowds, and in the parallel what He did in the early morning when He went alone with God because He knew that He must move on. Centrally in ‘d’ He would not let the demons speak because they knew Him. Mark possibly deliberately leaves this unexplained, probably because He wants his readers to think about it, but he provides the explanation later in Mark 3:11.
‘And at evening, when the sun set, they brought to him all who were sick, and those who were possessed with devils, and all the town was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and cast out many devils, and he did not allow the devils to speak because they knew him.’
This was now the reaction to what was done in the Synagogue. As soon as the Sabbath was over at sunset (the Jewish day began in the evening) the whole town came to the house bringing both sick and demon-possessed people. We should note that the latter are distinguished from each the former. Sickness and demon possession are not directly connected. Note how the incident emphasises the Jewish background. Many wanted to be healed, but until the Sabbath had passed they could not come for healing, for they knew that that would have been looked on by the Pharisees as ‘work’. Thus the people wait for the Sabbath to end before they sprang into action.
We should picture the small fisherman’s house with the large crowds gathered around, bringing with them the sick and needy. Jesus’ reputation was growing. And Jesus healed ‘many’ of them, (that is many of the crowd not many of the sick. He healed all the sick - compare Matthew 4:24; Luke 4:40; Luke 6:19) and cast out many evil spirits. In this way was His power revealed in this small town, and this helps to explain why later He is so scathing of their unbelief (Matthew 11:23). And that was the tragedy. They came to Him only as a physician of the body and not to receive the greater truth. But Jesus considered that it was the acceptance of that truth that was His prime mission (compare chapter 4).
What then was His purpose in so healing when He had really come to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God? The question need hardly be asked. How could One Who was so compassionate fail to respond to the need and faith of the people (compare Mark 8:2)? Indeed He never refused anyone who came to Him in faith. Any shortage of miracles was because unbelieving people did not bring their sick (Mark 6:5). And not only were the sick healed, evil spirits were also cast out. The power of Jesus was seen to be greater than that of the unseen world.
We must not think of His miracles as something done to convince people of Who He was. He had in fact no confidence in those who believed because He performed miracles (John 2:23-25). He rather performed them in response to faith. Yet what they did do was reveal the truth about Him. They not only revealed His compassion, for healing was exhausting work as power went out of Him (Mark 5:30), but they also revealed that He was from God, for no one could do such things unless God be with Him (John 3:2; Matthew 11:4-5). For as Jesus Himself pointed out later, His ability to cast out evil spirits with a word demonstrated that the Spirit of God was at work through Him, and that the Kingly Rule of God was come (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20). Meanwhile the miracles revealed Him to be a Spirit anointed prophet (Luke 4:18-21), and he cited them as a witness to John the Baptiser languishing in prison in order to restore his faith (Matthew 11:2-6).
It should also be noted that while Jesus did not relate disease to evil spirits, He did sometimes relate it to the activity of Satan (Luke 13:16), although there He may only be referring to Satan’s activity indirectly, that is, He might have been saying that sickness is in the world because of sin, and that sin was caused by the activity of Satan. Or that may have been a special case in that possession can result in apparent sickness. Either way Satan was being defeated. So His casting out of evil spirits was a light to faith.
But He can later point out that others also heal and cast out evil spirits, (although, it should be noted, not as comprehensively as He did). For the fact is that some do have strange and unaccountable healing powers which they can exercise to a certain extent, and the efforts of some exorcists were certainly well known (Matthew 7:22; Matthew 12:27; Luke 11:19). But their methods were very different from His as the crowds recognised. He alone could heal by a word. And even though He said that false Messiahs would also arise who would seemingly perform signs and wonders (Mark 13:22), they would not, and could not, heal all who came to them. So while what He does should certainly be seen as revealing God at work through Him (‘My Father works up to now, and I work’ - John 5:17), He does not point to it as conclusive proof of Who He is, and even specifically silences the evil spirits who would have testified to it. He does not want men to follow Him as a wonder-worker. He wants them to heed His message.
‘And He did not allow the devils to speak because they knew Him.’ At no stage would He allow devils to testify to Him. He did not want to be associated with them in any way. He wanted awareness of Who He was to sink home in men’s hearts from the overall picture He presented, and especially through His teachings, not because of some spectacular statements made by devils which could cause a sensation and easily later be forgotten, and might even be seen as aligning Him with them. Indeed He knew that these could by their acknowledgement of Him prevent the deeper work from taking place. He did not want admiration through the spectacular, but obedience to the Kingly Rule of God based on a true response to His words. So He told the evil spirits to be quiet, and they obeyed Him. A further revelation of His authority.
‘Because they knew Him.’ Mark leaves this unexplained until Mark 3:11, unless we refer it back to Mark 1:24. He wants his readers to be asking the right questions.
‘And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed.’
‘In the morning.’ Not necessarily the next morning, although it may be. On that first night He may well have been kept awake all night. We can imagine the excitement, and the time taken with each sick person and their families, and the reluctance of the crowd to leave, and the words which would be spoken. Dispersal would not have been easy and the night would soon go. So by morning the crowds would be exhausted.
‘A great while before day.’ While the house was silent, and the disciples slept on, Jesus aroused Himself, for He knew how necessary it was to maintain His relationship with His Father, and to bring His work before Him. There is a lesson in this for us all.
‘He rose up and went out and departed into a desert place, and there He prayed.’ He sought out a lonely place where He could be away from people. And there He spent time with His Father in prayer. As He constantly emphasises in John’s Gospel (e.g. Mark 5:17), He and His Father work together. While He is ‘the Spirit anointed One’ He also works in dependence on the Father, for He and His Father are one in all that they do.
Jesus Stresses the Wide Scope of What He Has Come To Do (1:35-39).
The work in which He was engaged would be exhausting as He ministered to the crowds, especially spiritually, and so He was aware of the need to go aside and pray. So He rose very early and went to a lonely place, a desert place, away from the town. And there He prayed. He was well aware that His success was dependent on His relationship with His Father, and the confidence that was maintained by it. But the crowds came back to the house in the morning looking for Him and, the disciples therefore, almost certainly because they were pressed by the crowds, clearly felt that they must bring Jesus to them. They probably thought that He would be glad to hear of their enthusiasm, and felt that the opportunity must not be missed.
But He felt differently. He knew the hearts of such crowds. Thus His reply probably startled them. He had not, He explained, come as a healer, He had come to proclaim the Kingship of God. He must therefore move on, for this is why He was sent. In other words He had come to call men under the Kingly Rule of God, calling them to personal response to God and to live lives of positive obedience to Him in accordance with His new teaching, that is, to live lives of love, compassion and mercy as a light in a dark world (Matthew 5:16).
‘And Simon and those who were with him went after him, and they found him and say to him, “Everyone is looking for you”.’
The disciples awoke and discovered that He was not there. Then the crowds again gathered and wanted to see Jesus. No doubt many more sick people had been brought. But this was part of the reason why Jesus had gone to a lonely place. He had anticipated what would happen. However, the crowds would urge the disciples to find Jesus. So they ‘went after Him’. They sought for Him. And when they eventually found Him they told Him that He was wanted, and that everyone was looking for Him. There was a certain urgency in their mission. Perhaps they felt He would not want to miss this opportunity to enhance His reputation.
‘And he says to them, “Let us go elsewhere into the next towns that I may preach there as well. For this was the reason that I came forth”.’
But Jesus stressed that He was here to preach. He had a message to proclaim. These people have heard the message and therefore He must move on. The Kingly Rule of God has drawn near (Mark 1:15) and all must be made aware of it. He does not want healing to take precedence over this. Healing is a necessary work of compassion, but it is not His mission. Preaching is His mission, preaching that will change the hearts of men. Preaching that will heal their souls. And all must have the opportunity of hearing His words.
‘For this was the reason that I came forth.’ This may mean the reason why He left Capernaum and came into the lonely place. But that seems unlikely, for they would no doubt go back to the house to say their farewells and He would want to thank the family for having them. Thus this more probably means that this was why He had come forth from God. Certainly Luke takes it that way, for he expresses it as ‘that is why I was sent’.
‘And he went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out devils.’
Note that Mark makes no mention of healing here. Jesus has come to establish the Kingly Rule of God and to defeat the Enemy, and this is what He goes about doing (compare Mark 6:7). And the whole of Galilee was made aware of why He was there and what His message was, and that by the Spirit He could cast out evil spirits. They learned that the days of the Enemy were numbered, for God was there. We notice again how ready the Synagogue rulers were to let Him speak.
Some considerable time would now pass as He continued carrying out His ministry. The word was being received and His power and authority was being revealed. People were attending to His words and His fame was spreading. And the Pharisees and the local Scribes who lived in Galilee would certainly, therefore, become interested in what He was doing. They saw themselves as the protectors of orthodoxy. They would certainly come to sound Him out, as we find out in the next chapter. But meanwhile His ministry was being consolidated, even though He is well aware that there are many who are refusing to hear and respond (compare Matthew 11:20-24).
‘And there comes to him a leper, pleading with him and kneeling down to him, and saying to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”
The disease would be some dreadful creeping skin disease, not necessarily strictly modern leprosy (see Leviticus 13:1-59), although such leprosy (Hansen’s disease) was known in Palestine. All such diseases were so feared that the person was excluded from the community. People would shudder when they saw a skin diseased person, and scurry away. Such a person was forbidden to enter a dwelling place, and had to cry ‘Unclean’ as a warning to others as he walked about (Leviticus 13:45). He was expected to keep away from people generally, and from any religious ritual observance, carrying out his religious obligations by means of others acting for him. He was excluded from the Temple. He was permanently ritually unclean. To touch him was to incur ritual uncleanness which had to be appropriately and lengthily dealt with. So he was excluded by man from society, and seen as religiously unacceptable.
Thus even his approach to Jesus put him in the wrong. He knew that he had no right to make such an approach, indeed was forbidden to do so. But understandably he was desperate. And he had heard wonderful things about this Man. So he approached Him and fell on his knees before Him. This was an acknowledgement that He saw Him as special, probably as ‘a man of God’ filled with the power of God (2 Kings 1:13). No doubt by his action of humility he hoped to escape the rebuke that he deserved. But Mark probably intended his readers to see in his kneeling an indication of Who Jesus really is, the Son of God.
‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ He has a God-given confidence that this Man can do the impossible. He is not expressing doubt about whether Jesus is willing to do it but confidence in what He can do. That is why he has plucked up his courage and come. It is a plea for help. Notice his desire, to be made ‘clean’. This is the thing above all that hurts him so deeply, not so much the dreadful disfigurement, but being unable to approach God’s house and being unable to be in contact with fellow human beings.
Six Incidents In The Life of Jesus Which Reveal His Unique Power and Authority and Lead to the Pharisees Plotting Against Him (1:40-3:6).
Jesus’ ministry having been established, and the presence of the Kingly Rule of God having been demonstrated by His power to cast out unclean spirits and heal, we are now presented with a series of incidents which reveal more of Who He is. Through them the glory of Jesus and Who He is, is brought out. The subsection commences with the healing of a seriously skin-diseased man. Such a man was an outcast from society and no one would go near him, or expected him to come near them. But attracted by what he had heard the man seeks out this new prophet. He no doubt remembered how another great prophet, Elisha, had helped Naaman so long ago (2 Kings 5:0), and felt that a new Elisha might be here. Jesus will later use this incident, among others, in order to demonstrate that He is the Coming One (Matthew 11:5).
This is then followed by a series of incidents in which He reveals His authority on earth as the Son of Man to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12), demonstrates that even the outcasts are welcome to come to Him for healing of soul because He is the Healer of men’s souls (Mark 2:13-17), calls on all to recognise the joy that there should be because of His coming as the Heavenly Bridegroom in order to establish something totally new (Mark 2:18-22), reveals that as the Son of Man He has authority over the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28), and publicly heals the man whose arm is withered on the Sabbath day, revealing that He has come as the Restorer (Mark 3:1-6). In all this He was challenging the norms on which Jewish society was based, which were that the ‘unclean’ had to be avoided, forgiveness was the prerogative of God alone, outcasts and sinners were best avoided and had to be ostracised, pious men were to evidence it by fasting and mourning, and the Sabbath was to be honoured according to the letter of the Scribes and Pharisees, with the needs of men taking a very subsidiary place. But Jesus brings out that He is turning everything upside down. He makes clean the unclean with a word, He forgives the unforgiven, He meets up with outcasts and sinners who have demonstrated repentance, He declares that because He is here it is not a time for fasting, and He brings compassion into the interpretation of the Sabbath Law on the grounds that the purpose of the Sabbath is to benefit man, not in order to be a sign of piety. And all this because the old is past and the new has come, and because He has come the introducer of a new age in which the needy are important.
It will be noted in passing that following the incident of the skin-diseased man we have five incidents from the life of Jesus. which all follow a literary a similar pattern, that of commencing with an incident which then leads on to a final saying. These may well have been patterned on a regular presentation of the oral tradition used in the churches which had been provided by Peter or the other Apostles.
This whole subsection may be analysed as follows:
a Jesus heals a leper with a touch and a word and sends him as a testimony to the priests in Jerusalem (Mark 1:40-45).
b The healing of a paralytic - the Scribes criticise Jesus for declaring that the man’s sins are forgiven and learn that ‘the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’ (Mark 2:1-12).
c The ‘astonishing’ immediate calling of Levi, an outcast public servant, to be a disciple (Mark 2:13).
d Jesus and His disciples feast in Levi’s house along with many public servants and sinners, and the Pharisees grumble (Mark 2:14-16).
e Jesus makes clear that He has come as the Healer of those who acknowledge that they are ‘sick’, that is, not of those who claim to be righteous but of those who acknowledge themselves as sinners (Mark 2:17).
d The disciples of John and the Pharisees fast, and they grumble because Jesus’ disciples do not fast, at which Jesus points out that because He has come as the Bridegroom they should not fast because it is a time of rejoicing, for He is introducing something so totally new and incompatible with the old that fasting would be out of place (Mark 2:18-20).
c He illustrates the fact that the new ways have come to replace the old (Mark 2:21-22).
b The Pharisees criticise Jesus’ disciples for eating in the grainfields on the Sabbath and learn that ‘the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:23-28).
a Jesus heals the man with a withered hand with a word, as a testimony to the Pharisees (Mark 3:1-6).
Note that in ‘a’ a sin diseased man is healed, who is a picture of the need of Israel, and in the parallel a man with a withered hand is healed who is also a picture of the need of Israel. The first contains a message to the Jerusalem priesthood, the second a message to the attendant Pharisees, that the Healer and Restorer of men is here. In ‘b’ He reveals Himself as the Son of Man Who forgives sins on earth, and in the parallel as the Son of Man Who is Lord of the Sabbath. In ‘c’ Jesus calls to be a disciple an outcast from Jewish society, and in the parallel points out that He has come to introduce a world with new attitudes. In ‘d’ Jesus and His disciples feast because the new age is here, and in the parallel the disciples of John and the Pharisees fast because they are still in the old age. Centrally Jesus has come as a Physician to make whole those who are spiritually sick.
‘And being stirred to his very depths he stretched forth his hand, and touched him, and says, “I will, be made clean”. And immediately the leprosy left him and he was made clean.’
Jesus was stirred to the depths of His being at the man’s plight, evidence of His own deep compassion. ‘Being stirred to His very depths’ represents a strong verb, for ‘being angry’ is found here in a few authorities, including D and Old Latin manuscripts, and Tatian. While it is thus seemingly mainly a Western reading, although being found in Tatian (Syriac), it is so unusual that it may well be original, and have later been softened to ‘moved with compassion’. It is especially significant that Matthew and Luke both leave the verb out, which would surely not be likely if they had read in Mark ‘being moved with compassion’. But whichever is correct it shows that Jesus was deeply stirred. The anger, if such it was, would not be directed at the leper but at the dreadful disease and what it signified in terms of sin and the Evil One.
‘He stretched forth His hand and touched him.’ This was an event that was remembered because of its impact on the watchers. The touching was deliberate. The man himself must have been deeply moved. No one had been willing to touch him for a long, long time, for to touch such a skin-diseased man was to be rendered seriously unclean. This willingness to touch the man clearly distinguished Jesus from the Rabbis, for the Rabbis would go to extraordinary lengths to prevent such a thing happening to them. But who could argue about Him being made unclean when the man was made clean by His touch? No law had been made that took such a situation into account. The reader recognises that the One Who touched Him was beyond being rendered unclean. It was a touch of power and authority, and one of omnipotence. It was the touch of One totally clean, of One Who could remove what was unclean and not Himself be made unclean, of One Who was the source of all cleanness.
Jesus need not have touched him. He could simply have said the word and the man would have been made whole. But He wanted him to know that he was clean, that he was once again touchable and that men would once again touch him and not turn away in loathing and fear.
‘And says, ‘I will, be made clean.’ The response suited the man’s appeal, demonstrating that he would receive exactly what he desired. He would now be ritually clean and acceptable, both in the house of God and in men’s houses, because fully healed.
‘And immediately the skin disease left him and he was made clean.’ What happened was visible to all present. The serious skin disease evaporated before their eyes. It is a reminder that however defiled we may be Jesus can render us acceptable to God at a touch. That this miracle was selected out for detailed treatment in Mark’s condensed account demonstrates how great its impact was seen to be. Nothing more demonstrated the power and glory of Jesus than this incident, for it revealed that Jesus could make a man, even an outcast, totally clean, however dreadful his condition. It was a reminder of the words of God in Ezekiel 36:25-26 when He had spoken of making His people clean. And the One Who would now do this was present.
‘And he sternly charged him, and immediately sent him away, and says to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go your way, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing the things that Moses commanded for a testimony to them”.’
‘And He sternly charged him --.’ The verb is another word which can indicate anger (so used in Mark 14:5, also externally and in LXX), but note how it is used in Matthew 9:30 in a similar way to here. Jesus is clearly powerfully disturbed by the incident. Compare John 11:38 where He has the same feeling about the death of Lazarus. As suggested above, if there was anger it must have been because of what He saw as lying behind the appalling disease. It was because He saw it as evidence of the consequences of sin, and of the Enemy who had dragged man into it. But more probably the verb simply refers to the severity with which He ‘charged him’ because He knew what he consequences might be.
‘And immediately sent him away.’ The haste with which He sent him away (the verb can be strong - ‘thrust him away’, but here simply indicates urgency) demonstrated that He was aware of the problems that the incident could cause. He realised what the consequences could be, and that it could bring crowds of sensation seekers to see Him. The more dreadful the disease the more the impact of the healing in this way.
‘See that you say nothing to any man.’ He does not want sensation seekers. They can only hinder His ministry. That this is His thought is brought out by the next verse. For the very thing that He was trying to guard against id depicted as happening.
‘But go your way, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing the things that Moses commanded for a testimony to them.’ A man who claimed to be healed of a disfiguring skin disease had to go and show himself to the priests in Jerusalem and then offer the appropriate sacrifices. Once he had been examined and declared free of the disease, two birds were taken, and one was killed over running water. Then cedar, scarlet and hyssop, with the living bird, were dipped in the blood of the dead bird and he was sprinkled with the blood seven times and pronounced clean. Then the live bird was allowed to go free, after which the man washed himself and his clothes, and shaved himself.
Seven days later he was re-examined. He then had to shave his head, hair, beard and eyebrows, and bring an offering of two male lambs without blemish and one ewe lamb (less for a poor person), with three tenths parts of fine flour for a meal offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil. The priest then offered one he-lamb as a guilt offering, together with the log of oil , and waved them as a wave offering before the Lord to make atonement for him. The other two were offered as a sin offering and a burnt offering. The restored person was then touched on the tip of the right ear, the right thumb and the right great toe with blood from the guilt offering and, after the oil had been sprinkled seven times before the Lord, with oil. The remainder of the oil was then put on his head. Thus was atonement made for him. Then he was finally examined and, if he was clear of the disease, was given a certificate that he was clean and allowed to go. See for all this Leviticus 14:0.
Jesus told the man that he must fulfil what was required. Indeed it was important, for no one would have accepted him as clean otherwise. He wanted him to disappear quickly from the scene and go to Jerusalem.
This sending of him to Jerusalem reminds us that Jesus was ever faithful to the requirements of the Law of Moses. And He must also usually have followed Pharisaic ritual rules when He felt it necessary, for although his disciples are sometimes pulled up for ‘falling short’ (Mark 2:23-24; Mark 7:5), we rarely find the Pharisees accusing Jesus of the same. So although He defended His disciples it is clear that He Himself went beyond what He believed necessary so as not to cause offence. It is not holy to be awkward except when an important principle is at stake.
‘For a testimony to them.’ This probably meant that the ritual the man went through would be a testimony to priest and people of his being clean (rather than, as some have suggested, as testimony that Jesus observed the Law, or as a testimony of what Jesus had accomplished, or as a testimony against them at the final judgment because of their unbelief after what Jesus had done). On the other hand its use elsewhere in Mark always indicates conveying a strong message. See Mark 6:11; Mark 13:9. Thus it may suggest that Jesus did want the priest to recognise that the One Who could make clean was among them.
‘But he went out and began to proclaim the story in detail and to spread abroad the matter (Greek: logos) in so much that he could no more openly enter into a town, but was outside in desert places. And they came to him from every quarter.’
That the first part of this sentence refers to the man and not to Jesus is evidenced by the contrast with the previous verse. The second part, of course, refers to Jesus.
‘He went out.’ This whole incident must have taken place over a period of time for we must assume that first of all he did what he was told and went to the priests for a certificate of cleansing, which would take a minimum of seven days in addition to travelling time. Indeed had he not done so no one would have listened to him, for they would have seen him as still unclean. But having obtained his certificate he then went and spread abroad what had happened to him instead of doing what Jesus had asked him to. Possibly he thought that the silence enjoined was only until he had received his certificate of cleansing. Or it may just be that he was so amazed and so grateful that he could not keep quiet.
But in doing so he did Jesus a bad turn, for the result was that huge crowds who were coming for the wrong purpose gathered to see Jesus, with the result that for a time He was squeezed out of the towns and had to remain in desert places. But even this action accomplished little, for everyone flocked to see Him wherever He was. They came to Him from all directions.
There has been no mention in this whole passage of Isaiah 61:1-2, but in Luke 4:18-19 Jesus early in His ministry certainly cites those verses of Himself, and they equally certainly refer to what we find here in Mark, for He is anointed with the Spirit (Mark 1:10-12), He proclaims the Good News (Mark 1:15), He releases captives (Mark 1:26), and He offers freedom to those who were bruised (Mark 1:42). Mark may well therefore have had Isaiah 61:1-2 in mind. Isaiah then goes on to speak of the coming of the acceptable year of the Lord which is the thought that lies behind chapter 2.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Mark 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
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