Mark 1:1 Commentary - College Press Bible Study Textbook Series
I. THE PREPARATION PERIOD 1:1-13
A. THE MISSION OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.— 1:1-11.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Even as it is written in Isaiah the prophet. Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, Who shall prepare thy way; The voice of one crying in the wilderness. Make ye ready the way of the Lord, Make his paths straight; John came, who baptized in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins. And there went unto him all the country of Judaea and all they of Jerusalem; and they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leathern girdle about his loins, and did eat locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saving. There cometh after me he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I baptized you with water; but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. And it came to pass in those day, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in the Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him; and a voice came out of the heavens, Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.
THOUGHT QUESTIONS 1:1-11
In what sense are we to understand the word “beginning” as used in Mar. 1:1?
Why refer to the work of our Lord as “good tidings”? Please be specific.
In what two Old Testament references do we find the prophesy quoted in Mar. 1:2?
What was the primary work of John the Baptist?
In what way did John accomplish his work?
In what wilderness did John baptize? How could he do this?
Could you estimate the crowd who came to hear John? 1,000?, 5,000? 10,000?
To whom did certain confess their sins? Why do so?
Was John’s baptism for the washing away of sins?
Why did John dress as he did? Why did he live where he did?
Why would anyone want to loose the latchet of someone else’s shoe?
Why mention the baptism in the Holy Spirit? Please read Act. 1:5. Did the persons who heard John understand the promise of the Holy Spirit and baptism?
How far did Jesus walk to be baptized? Why?
Did John baptize “with” the Jordan, “in the Jordan” or “into the Jordan”?
What is meant by the expression—“The heavens rent asunder”? At what particular moment was this seen?
Why was the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove? Where did He go? i.e. the Holy Spirit?
At what two other occasions did God speak from heaven?
TIME—John the Baptist was born about B.C. 5; Jesus was born about B.C. 5; the preaching of John the Baptist was during the summer and autumn of A.D. 26; the baptism of Jesus by John in January, A.D. 27; the temptation in the wilderness in January and February, A.D. 27. PLACES—The preaching of John the Baptist was in the wilderness of Judea,—a wild, hilly, thinly-inhabited region (not a desert) lying west of the Dead Sea and the Lower Jordan. John’s ministry extended as far north as Enon, near Salim, two-thirds of the way up the Jordan from the Dead Sea. The baptism of Jesus was, it is supposed, at the fords of the Jordan, called Bethabara, five miles northeast of Jericho. The temptation occurred probably in the northern part of the wilderness of Judea, between Jerusalem and Jericho on the west and the Jordan and the upper part of the Dead Sea on the east. Tradition places it in Mount Quarantania, near the Jordan, so named because Jesus is supposed to have passed his forty days fasting in one of its caves.
While tradition and general opinion place the baptism of Christ at the fords of the Jordan near Jericho, it is proper to say that all we can certainly know was that it was in the Jordan at a place called Beth-abarah, or the House of the Ford. Lieut. Conder states that there are about forty fords of the Jordan and he locates Beth-abarah farther north at Abarah (the Ford) above Bethshean and near the borders of Galilee.
CONNECTING HISTORY—Mark, passing by the accounts of the births of John and Jesus, leaps at once into the midst of events, and begins with the preaching of the great Forerunner. In the history given by the other Evangelists we have:
B.C. 6. The Annunciation to Zacharias.
B.C. 5. The Annunciation to Mary and the Births of John and Jesus.
B.C. 4. The flight to Egypt and return to Nazareth.
A.D. 8. Jesus attends the Passover at Jerusalem and converses with the Doctors.
A.D. 26. John the Baptist begins his work. We have followed the chronology of Andrews.
PARALLEL ACCOUNTS—The ministry of John in the wilderness (Mar. 1:1-8) is described also in Mat. 3:1-12, and Luk. 3:1-18. The baptism of Jesus (Mar. 1:9-11) in Mat. 3:13-17, and Luk. 3:21-23. The temptation of Jesus (Mar. 1:12-13) in Mat. 4:1-11, and Luk. 4:1-13. A view of the whole ministry of John from another standpoint is given in Joh. 1:5-51.
OUTLINE—1. Prophecy of the Forerunner. 2. John’s Ministry. 3. The Baptism of Jesus.
THE PROPHECY OF THE FORERUNNER—Mar. 1:1-3.
JOHN’S MINISTRY—Mar. 1:4-8.
THE BAPTISM OF JESUS—Mar. 1:9-11.
At the date when John the Baptist began preaching, Tiberius Caesar, the successor of Augustus Caesar, was the emperor of the Roman Empire, and had been ruling for over twelve years. Judea was a Roman province with Pontius Pilate for governor. The Roman Empire held sway over nearly all the known world. It was a general time of peace, with slight wars only on the frontiers. Greece was subject to Rome politically, but ruled still intellectually, the school of literature and art. She was crowded with temples and statues, and her schools of philosophy and rhetoric were flourishing. It was the period of the greatest intellectual activity during the entire scope of Roman history. Horace, Virgil, Livy, Ovid, Strabo and Seneca were all living when Christ was born, and Cicero died only a few years before. It was, however, an age of extreme moral depravity. For a hundred years not a single Roman is named, whose domestic history is known, who had not divorced his wife. The picture given in the first chapters of Romans is fully confirmed by the admissions of the Greek and Roman writers of the time. Mark does not begin his history, like Matthew and Luke, with the birth of Christ, or of John, but with the beginning of their public ministry. His object was to portray the official life of our Lord and he omits all that is not essential to this purpose.
I. THE PROPHECY OF THE FORERUNNER—1. The beginning of the gospel. This verse is a kind of title to the outline of the Lord’s ministry Mark is about to give. The gospel begins its development with the preaching of John; it is more fully unfolded during our Lord’s ministry, but not developed in its fullness until he suffers on the cross and rises from the dead. Then his apostles are commanded to preach his gospel, finished, perfect, to all nations. His gospel began with the preaching of the forerunner and his own baptism; it was fully developed when he died, was buried, and rose again. The gospel. Gospel means “good tidings.” The best tidings the world has ever had is that we have a Savior who is able and willing to save us from sin and death. Of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Matthew, writing with reference to Jews, shows that Jesus is the son of David and of Abraham; Mark, writing for Gentiles, pays no attention to a matter so important to Jews, but at once declares him to be the Son of God.
2. As it is written in the prophets. The Revision says, “in Isaiah the prophet,” which has the support of the best manuscripts, but Mark’s reference is to two prophets, Isa. 40:3 and Mal. 3:1. It is often the case that the New Testament writers quote from more than one prophet, while naming only one. Mar. 1:2 is quoted from Malachi, and Mar. 1:3 from Isaiah. If the Revised reading is preferred, Mark names Isaiah, because he is the great prophet and the quotation from him is the essential one in this place. Let it be noted that John the Baptist as well as Christ was a subject of Old Testament prophecy. He is the only New Testament character save the Son of God of whom the prophets spoke. Behold I send my messenger before thy face. This passage is found in Mal. 3:1, and undoubtedly refers to the Messiah King. It was and still is a custom in oriental countries to send messengers to see that all is prepared before the king takes a journey. So John was sent to prepare the way for Christ by preaching repentance, baptism, and the coming kingdom of which Christ should be king.
3. The voice of one crying in the wilderness. Quoted from Isa. 40:3. See how strangely this prediction, made seven hundred years before, was fulfilled. All other New Testament teachers, and indeed all Bible teachers, sought the towns and cities; John, the wilderness. After his birth we see him no more until the strange, startling, voice is heard in the wilderness of Judea, preaching a strange message with such power as to call all Israel to rush into the wilderness to hear him. He describes himself (Joh. 1:23) as a Voice. He organized no body of followers, established no system, but broke up the old stagnation, aroused a ferment of thought, and filled men with the expectation of the Coming One. He is well described as a Voice in the wilderness.
II. JOHN’S MINISTRY—4. John did baptize in the wilderness, Mark has quoted the predictions of the prophets concerning the work of John, and he now turns to the fulfillment in John’s ministry. In order to read a fuller account than Mark gives, see Matthew, chap. 3 and John, chapter 1. This John was called the Baptist, because he baptized those who repented under his preaching. He was the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth, of the priestly order, a relative of Jesus, born in the summer of B.C. 5, and consequently now (A.D. 26) about 30 or 31 years old. “The year during which John began his ministry was probably a sabbatic year (Exo. 23:11). If this year was now observed by the Jews, according to its original intent, it was a most appropriate time for the Baptist to begin his labors, the people having no burdensome agricultural tasks to occupy them, and being thus at liberty to attend upon his instructions.” Andrews’ Life of Christ, p. 139. Baptize in the wilderness. The “wilderness of Judea” was bounded on the east by the river Jordan which was the place where John baptized at this time (see Mar. 1:5). At a later period he moved farther northward to the borders of Samaria and Galilee and “baptized at Enon because there was much water there” (Joh. 3:23). Preach the baptism of repentance. John preached as well as baptized. The preaching came first. There must be a moral preparation before one was a fit subject of baptism. That preparation was a repentance, or a purpose to leave off sin and lead a better life. This preparation is always a prerequisite to scriptural baptism. See Mat. 3:7-8 and Act. 2:38. For the remission of sins. This declares the end or object to be sought in repentance and baptism. These are steps leading to the pardon of sins. God does not pardon sins on baptism alone, nor on repentance alone, but upon the baptism of repentance, or of a pentinent subject. See Act. 2:38.
5. Went out to him. That which, no doubt, drew the whole population in such crowds to the desert shores of the Jordan, was the mysterious yet distinct assertion that the “kingdom of heaven was at hand; ” that kingdom of which the belief was as universal as of the personal coming of the Messiah. “The nation was daily expecting the appearance of the wise and perfect prophet, who should restore the tribes of Israel, reprove the times, and appease the wrath of God, before it broke out in fury.”—Geikie. All the land. The word is used in a free and easy and popular way; and yet, it must mean more than many, namely, the great bulk and body of the population. It included representatives of every class, Pharisees and Sadducees (Mat. 3:7), tax-gatherers (Luk. 3:12,) soldiers (Luk. 3:14,) rich and poor (Luk. 3:10.) In the river Jordan. We hear of him at Bethabara, the fords about five miles north-east of Jericho, where Jesus was baptized, and at Enon, near Salim, some 35 miles farther north. Confessing their sins. From the form and expression this does not seem to have been merely “showing a contrite spirit” “confessing themselves sinners,” but a particular and individual confession; not, however, made privately to John, but before the people.
6. John was clothed with camel’s hair. He was, like his great prototype of the Old Testament, Elijah, a hairy man, garbed like an ascetic and eating the food furnished by the wilderness. His robe of camel’s hair was well adapted to an open air life to protect against cold or rain, and from the fact that it did not absorb water, suited for a Baptist. This mantle was fastened around him by a leathern girdle, a style still followed by the Arabian children of the wilderness. Did eat locusts and wild honey. Locusts were permitted as an article of food (Lev. 11:21-22). The common brown locust is about three inches in length, and the general form is that of a grasshopper. Thomson’s Land and Book, states that though tolerated as an article of food, only by the very poorest people, locusts are still eaten by the Bedouin. Burckhardt mentions having seen locust-shops at Medina and Tayf. After being dried in the sun, the locusts are eaten with butter and honey. Sometimes they are sprinkled with salt and either broiled or roasted. Sometimes they are ground and pounded, and then mixed with flour and water, and made into cakes. Thomson adds that wild honey, i. e., honey made by wild bees, is still gathered from trees in the wilderness and from rocks in the wadies.
7. Preached, saying. Mark omits the details of John’s preaching given by Matthew, but gives the great central thought, the announcement of the coming Christ. To preach is to proclaim like a herald. He was the King’s herald. Cometh one mightier than I. Like all true preachers of Christ, John points away from himself to the Lord. He hides behind the Master. The preacher who exalts himself is not worthy of Christ. The latchet of whose shoes. The shoe latchet was a shoe lace or thong that bound the sandal on the foot. To bear, to fasten or to loose the sandals of a great personage was the work of a menial slave. John uses this comparison to show how far he was below Christ. His language shows how exalted were his ideas of the dignity of Christ.
8. I indeed have baptized you with water. It should read in water, and so the American revisers of the Revised Version rendered it. The Greek preposition is en, from whence the Latin and English in. He describes the baptism he had administered in Jordan, He shall baptize you with (in) the Holy Ghost. This higher baptism of the soul neither John, nor an apostle, or any other human being could administer. Such a baptism was a proof of divinity. John’s words are equivalent to the saying that the Coming One is divine, When the first baptism of the Holy Spirit, the one on the day of Pentecost took place, Peter declared that the crucified Christ “had shed forth the things you do see and hear.”
III. THE BAPTISM OF JESUS—9. In those days, While John was preaching and baptizing in the Jordan. It is supposed that he had been preaching about six months when Jesus came to him, as he was six months older than Christ, who was baptized when he was thirty years old, and in accordance with Jewish customs, John would be likely to begin his work when he was thirty. Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee. This mountain town had been his home ever since the return from Egypt. It was about 70 miles north of Jerusalem and probably 80 from where John was baptizing, situated on one of the foot hills of the Lebanon range. It is not named in the Old Testament, was a considerable village in the time of Christ, having a synagogue, and now has about 6,000 population. It lies just north of Samaria and overlooks the valley of Esdraelon. And was baptized of John in Jordan. These words plainly show how Christ was baptized, but if the eis of the Greek, here rendered in, had been properly rendered into, which is its primary meaning, it would have been still plainer. Matthew tells of John’s reluctance to baptize one so much higher and purer, of the demand of Jesus, of his declaration that it thus became them to fulfill all righteousness. Our Lord came to set us a perfect example, hence it was needful for him, having taken the form of a man and a servant, to set us an example of obedience. He was baptized, not unto repentance, for he had no sins, but to fulfill all righteousness, and thus to show us how every disciple ought to do.
10. Straightway coming up out of the water. As the eunuch and Philip in Act. 8:38, so Jesus and John went down into the Jordan, John baptized him and then Jesus “came up out of the water.” We learn from Luk. 3:21 that our Lord came up praying. He saw. Behold a marvel! John saw the heavens rolled back, and then the Holy Spirit descending in a visible form, like a dove, and resting upon Jesus where it disappeared within him. Like the gentle, harmless dove it descended, not like a consuming fire. Christ came to save, not to destroy.
11. A voice from heaven. It is noteworthy that the great event of the Lord’s baptism was emphasized by the presence of three Divine persons. The Son was the subject; the Holy Spirit descended upon him, and the Father from heaven spoke in acknowledgment of Jesus as his Son. It is also noteworthy that the three Divine persons are present in the baptismal formula of every person baptized. They are baptized “into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and God acknowledges baptized penitents as children by sending his Spirit into their hearts. See Act. 2:38 and Rom. 8:14-15. Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. This is the first formal acknowledgment of Christ as the Son. It follows his act of obedience, and has therefore a special significance. If the Father was pleased with the Son when he thus obeyed, is he not also pleased when men yield their wills to his and humbly obey? Three times during Christ’s ministry is the Divine voice heard; first at the baptism; second at the Transfiguration; thirdly in the temple during the Savior’s last week on earth. (Joh. 12:28).
FACT QUESTIONS 1:1-11
Give the approximate date of the birth of both Jesus and John.
When did John preach? Year and months?
When was Jesus baptized? Year and month? When was Jesus tempted by Satan? Year and month?
Locate on the map the place where John preached—how far north did he go in his preaching? Locate.
At what place on the Jordan River was Jesus baptized?
According to tradition where was Jesus during the forty day fast?
List the five events Mark leaves out of his narrative.
Where do we find the parallel accounts of the events of Mar. 1:1-11?
Who was the emperor when John started preaching? Who was the governor?
Who ruled the world of intellectualism and art?
Name three great artists, poets or philosophers of this period.
Show indications of how intellectualism, poetry or art fail to make man moral.
What chapter in the New Testament well describes the moral conditions when Christ was born?
What was the object of Mark’s gospel?
When was the gospel developed in its fullness? Cf. 1Co. 15:1-4.
What two prophets are cited as speaking of John the Baptist?
In what sense was John a messenger?
Why was the place of John’s preaching strange?
Why did men rush out to hear John?
Why called John “the Baptist”? Does this mean there could only be one?
What was said of the “sabbatic year” and the work of John the Baptist?
Why preach repentance? What connections does repentance have to baptism?
Could sins be remitted without the blood of Jesus? Explain.
What was the “kingdom of God” as it related to the Messiah?
Name three classes represented in the audience to whom John spoke.
How did they prepare the locusts for eating?
What proof of divinity was indicated by John?
How long had John been preaching when Jesus came to be baptized?
Does the text show us how Christ was baptized? Explain.
Why was Jesus baptized?
What happened to the dove after it descended from heaven?
In what sense are the three divine persons (The Trinity) present at the time every person is baptized?
SUMMARY OF 1:1-13
(by J. W. McGarvey)
In this section Mark has set forth three facts which have an important bearing on his proposition that Jesus is the Son of God: First, that the prophet John, with direct allusion to him, announced the speedy appearance of one so much more exalted than himself that he was not worthy to stoop and loosen his shoe; second, that when Jesus was baptized, God himself, in an audible voice, proclaimed him his Son; and third, that immediately after this proclamation, Satan commenced against Him such a warfare as we would naturally expect him to wage against God’s Son in human flesh.
1. Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism and thus became the Lord’s Anointed or the Christ. So too the Lord promises us the gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism (Act. 2:38), or that we shall receive the unction of the Spirit.
2. John’s preaching.—Everything was new, startling, impressive—the wilderness, the stream, the solemn hills. A prophet appearing after more than five hundred years; his words, his baptismal symbol, the kingdom he preached; the Messiah whom he announced as at hand, the very multitudes assembled, the visible emotion, the evident good effected, the contrition of the most sunken classes—the publicans and harlots—all showed that the whole nation believed in him.—Geikie.
1. The true man of God, whether preacher or teacher, should be a Voice, always hiding behind the Cross, and pointing to the Master.
2. Every preacher of Christ should seek to prepare the way of the Lord. If he can make the rough ways smooth and the crooked ways straight, lead men to repentance, honesty of heart, and submission, then the Lord will enter.
3. All true repentance is accompanied by a confession of sin. Scriptural baptism, a burial into the death of Christ is a humble confession of sin.
4. Christ is the WAY, our perfect example; he says “Follow me” and he does not command us to do anything where he has not shown the way. Hence, he submitted to the baptismal rite, though he had no sin. Let all humbly follow the Lord.
POINTS FOR TEACHERS
1. Note that this lesson treats of preparation for Christ. Let every teacher be a John the Baptist in this respect. Notice that his first message was Repent. Let it be a chief end to prepare for Christ by leading to repentance. 2. John was a preacher, but not a dull preacher. His audiences listened. So too you are preachers. Be like him in dead earnest, but not prolix or prosy. “Would you urge the scholars to come to Jesus with every lesson?” asked a teacher at a convention. “Not by saying over ‘Come to Jesus,’ with every lesson,” was the sensible reply, “The best way of preaching,” said an old and successful preacher, “is to preach every way.” See to it that you are no more monotonous in your preaching than was John the Baptist. He was a model preacher in his day. 3. Impress upon your pupils that the way of the Lord in their hearts is prepared, not by repentance alone, but by confession and obedience. These will relieve the life of crookedness and make the crooked paths straight. 4. Note the example of John, his place of preaching, his life, his devotion, his baptism, its significance. 5. Note the coming of Jesus, where, what for, why he was baptized, the incidents, the dignity given to his baptism. 6. Note how, in our baptism, the three Divine persons are present, as in Christ’s. Note that the lesson divides into four branches. (1) The command to prepare (Mar. 1:1-3) as expressed in these two prophets. (2) Preparation by Repentance (Mar. 1:4-6). John and his preaching; how repentance prepares for Christ; why confession as well as repentance. (3) Preparation by pointing to Christ (Mar. 1:7-8). Note the two ways in which John shows the superiority of Christ. (4) Christ’s preparation for his work. This again divides into three: (1) by his baptism, profession of religion; (2) by receiving the Holy Spirit; (3) by being tempted, and gaining the victory.
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