Mark 1:1 Commentary - Commentary Series on the Bible by Peter Pett
‘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 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 (Mar 1:12-13).
Interestingly Peter also begins his summary of the life of Christ with a reference to a ‘beginning’ in Act 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 (Isa 61:1), and of the ‘good news’ that ‘God reigns’ as the Shepherd King (Isa 40:9-11; Isa 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 (Mar 1:14), it is the message which is to be wholeheartedly believed (Mar 1:15), men must be prepared to ‘lose their lives’, and their possessions, for the sake of it (Mar 8:35; Mar 10:29), and it must be proclaimed among all nations (Mar 13:10; Mar 14:9; Mar 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 Act 28:23; Act 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’ (Jos 24:29; Jdg 2:8), who was also significantly the one who first sought to establish the kingly rule of God in Canaan (Jos 24:2-14; Jos 24:22; Jos 24:26-27). It was specifically given to Jesus because ‘He will save His people from their sins’ (Mat 1:21), and as an indication that He too has come to establish the Kingly Rule of God (Mar 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 (Mar 8:29-31; Mar 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 (Mar 8:30-31; Mar 9:12; Mar 9:31), and indeed on the fact that He had come to give His life as ‘a ransom for many’ (Mar 10:45) through His ‘blood of the covenant’ poured out for many (Mar 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 (Mar 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’ (Mar 1:11), and at His transfiguration, ‘this is My beloved Son’ (Mar 9:7). The title was wrenched as a title from evil supernatural spirits by the very power of His presence (Mar 3:11; Mar 5:7). It was spoken of by Jesus Himself as the well-beloved son of the parable (Mar 12:6) and as ‘the (unique) Son’ (Mar 13:32). It was indirectly acknowledged by the high priest, an idea to which Jesus gave His assent (Mar 14:61). And finally it was stated by the Roman centurion at the cross (Mar 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 (Mar 10:45), suffering (Mar 8:31; Mar 9:12; Mar 9:31; Mar 10:33-34) Son of Man, Who had the power on earth to forgive sins (Mar 2:10), was Lord of the Sabbath (Mar 2:28), would give Himself a ransom for many (Mar 10:45) and who would rise again from the dead (Mar 9:9; Mar 9:31; Mar 10:33-34) and appear before His Father in glory to receive kingly power as described in the Book of Daniel (Mar 14:62 compare Dan 7:13-14), finally coming back to earth in His power and great glory surrounded by angels (Mar 8:38; Mar 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 (Mar 1:2).
· The vivid testimony and fulfilment of Scripture (Mar 1:2-3).
· The widespread movement that demonstrated that God was at work (Mar 1:4-5).
The promise of the coming of One Who will be ‘mightier than I’ Who will drench men in Holy Spirit (Mar 1:6-8).
· The appearance of the Messiah Himself (Mar 1:9-10).
· His anointing in accordance with the Scriptures and His validation by God through reception of the Spirit (Mar 1:11).
· His final preparation before going forward to fulfil God’s purpose for Him (Mar 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 (Mar 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’ (Mar 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 (Mar 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” (Mar 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 (Mar 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 (Mar 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 (Mar 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 (Isa 11:1-4; Isa 42:1-4; Isa 61:1-3) Who is God’s beloved Son (Mar 1:11), continues with His initial revelation of Himself as introducing the Kingly Rule of God (Mar 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 (Mar 1:16-20; Mar 2:13-14; Mar 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’ (Mar 3:31-35; compare Rom 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 (Mar 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 (Mar 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’ (Mar 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’ (Mar 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 (Mar 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 (Mar 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’ (Mar 2:1-12).
h The ‘surprising’ calling of Levi, a public servant and outcast, to be a disciple (Mar 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 (Mar 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 (Mar 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 (Mar 2:18-20).
h He illustrates the fact that the new ways have come to replace the old (Mar 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’ (Mar 2:23-28).
f Jesus heals the man with a withered hand, as a testimony to the Pharisees (Mar 3:1-6).
e Jesus goes out among the crowds to preach and they gather to Him from every quarter (Mar 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 (Mar 3:10-12).
c Jesus calls the twelve Apostles who are to go out and preach and have authority to cast out demons (Mar 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 (Mar 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 (Mar 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.
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Commentary Series on the Bible by Peter Pett
Dr. Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD is a retired Baptist minister and college lecturer. He holds a BD (good honours) from King's College London and was trained at what is now the London School of Theology (formerly London Bible College).