SYNOPSIS – Only in his sacrificial death can Jesus and his Messiahship be understood – Mark 10:45.
In the gospel of Mark, men and women are unable to recognize Jesus as the Son of God until after his crucifixion, and even then, paradoxically, he is declared the “Son of God” by the unlikeliest of persons – The pagan Roman centurion in charge of his execution. The identity and mission of the “Son of Man” cannot be understood apart from his death. By stressing this, Mark establishes his identity as the “Son” and just what it means to be the Messiah of Israel:
(Mark 10:42-45) – “And Jesus called them to him, and said to them, You know that they who are accounted to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you: but whosoever would become great among you, shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you, shall be servant of all. For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
At the outset of the gospel story, God confirmed Jesus as His “beloved son.” The demons that he exorcised recognized and declared who he was. In contrast, despite his healings, dominion over nature, and exorcisms, men and women were confused about his identity. Even his closest associates failed to recognize him. He was not the kind of Messiah that any of them expected.
(Mark 1:11) – “And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized into the Jordan by John; And immediately as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rending asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending unto him; and a voice came out of the heavens, You are my Son, the Beloved One; in you, I delight.”
In the opening paragraph of Mark, Scripture, John the Baptist, a voice from heaven, and supernatural signs all attested that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the mighty one who would baptize repentant sinners in the Holy Spirit, the one anointed with the Spirit and the beloved “Son of God.”
After the heavens were “rent asunder,” a voice from heaven declared him to be the “Son of God.” “Rent asunder” translates a Greek verb, schizō, meaning, “to rend asunder, cleave, cleave asunder, split open.” It occurs elsewhere in Mark only when the veil of the Temple was “rent” in two at Christ’s death – (Mark 15:38).
The “rending” of the heavens alludes to a passage from the book of Isaiah where the prophet longed for Yahweh to “rend the heavens” to make His name known throughout the earth:
(Isaiah 64:1-2) – “Oh, that you would rend the heavens, that you would come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence…to make your name known to your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at your presence!”
At his baptism in the Jordan, the voice from heaven declared:
“You are my Son, the Beloved One; in you, I delight.”
The statement echoes two Old Testament Messianic passages:
- (Psalm 2:6-8) – “Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will tell of the decree: Yahweh said unto me, You are my son; This day have I begotten you. Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, And the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.”
- (Isaiah 42:1) – “Behold my servant whom I uphold; my elect in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him, he shall bring forth judgment to the nations.”
Significantly, both passages include references to the Messiah bringing salvation and justice to the nations.
Demons Recognize Him
(Mark 1:23-27) – “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, ‘What have we to do with you, Jesus you Nazarene; are you come to destroy us? I know you, who you are, the Holy One of God.’ And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Silence! And come out of him. And the unclean spirit, tearing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all astonished, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him’.”
One of his first acts was to cast out an “unclean spirit.” The demon recognized Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” He rebuked the spirit and commanded it to remain silent. On no occasion did he ever give ground to demonic spirits. He could not allow his ministry to be attested by lying spirits; their “testimony” would only discredit him.
Those who witnessed this exorcism were all astounded and asked – “Who is this?” Despite his impressive deeds, Jesus remained unrecognized as the Messiah, although demons understood precisely who he was and the danger that he posed to them – (“Are you come to destroy us?”). However, the men and women who witnessed his exorcisms remained clueless.
This pattern repeats several times in Mark. Though demonic spirits recognized the Son of God, men and women consistently failed to do so, even members of his own family and inner circle – (Mark 3:11-12; Mark 5:1-7).
When his friends heard of his activities, they “went out to lay hold on him: for they said, ‘He is beside himself’.” These “friends” included members of his immediate family. Proximity to Jesus and even a blood relationship did not guarantee recognition of who he was. The “scribes” from Jerusalem could not deny the ability of Jesus to cast out demons. However, rather than acknowledge that he did so by divine authority, they charged him with casting out demons by “Beelzebub, the prince of demons” – (Mark 3:21-30).
By his word only, Jesus calmed a storm raging across the Sea of Galilee. In great fear and confusion, his disciples asked one another, “Who is this, that even wind and the sea obey him?” Even a display of supernatural power over nature was insufficient for men to recognize the Messiah of Israel – (Mark 4:36-41).
Jesus healed the daughter of a local synagogue leader who was dying. He healed the child, leaving the crowd amazed and dumbfounded but still ignorant of his identity. Even his ability to raise the dead was insufficient to convince men and women that he was the Son of God – (Mark 5:21-43).
At one point, Jesus returned to his hometown and began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard began to question, “Whence has this man these things…Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” Rather than rejoice that the Son of God was in their midst, “they were offended by him” – (Mark 6:1-6).
When Herod heard about Jesus and his miraculous deeds, he concluded that John the Baptist had returned from the dead. Other voices claimed that Jesus was Elijah or one of the prophets returned from the dead. But no one suggested he might be God’s Son, the promised Messiah, and the king of Israel – (Mark 6:14-15).
After Jesus fed five thousand men from the “five loaves and two fishes”, he went alone to pray on a mountain. The disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat, struggling against a contrary wind. Jesus appeared suddenly, walking on the water. The disciples thought it was a ghostly apparition and cried out in fear – (Mark 6:35-44).
Jesus identified himself and entered the boat, causing the wind to cease. The disciples had previously seen him calm a great storm, yet this display of authority over natural forces failed to convince them who he was – Because “their hearts were hardened” – (Mark 6:45-52).
On the way to Jerusalem, momentarily, Peter appeared to be on the verge of grasping his identity. When Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am,” Peter answered, “You are the Christ!”
Jesus then admonished the disciples to silence and explained that “the Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” To this, Peter vehemently objected. The very idea that the Messiah of Israel would be subjected to suffering and death at the hands of the nation’s greatest enemy was beyond the pale – (Mark 8:27-38).
Whatever insight Peter may have gained was lost when he was confronted with the suggestion of a suffering Messiah. But his messiahship meant exactly that – Suffering, rejection, death. Jesus rebuked Peter for this, recognizing Satan’s initiative and attempt to thwart him from pursuing the will of his Father – (Mark 8:31).
Likewise, in Mark 9:31-32, Jesus taught the disciples that he must be “delivered up into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he shall rise again.” Once more, they did not understand his words or who he was.
And once again, while “on the way up to Jerusalem,” Jesus explained how he would be “delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death. James and John responded with a request to sit at Christ’s side when he came into his kingdom. Jesus responded:
(Mark 10:32-45) – “You know not what ye ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with, then explained further, “whoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many.”
The way of the kingdom is self-sacrificial service, not domination over others or outward glory.
When the High Priest examined Jesus, he asked, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus responded, “I am he. And you will see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Jesus expressly identified himself as the Messiah to the highest religious authority in Israel. His previous deeds already demonstrated his identity.
Now, there could no more doubt. Yet, rather than recognize him, the High Priest charged him with blasphemy and the “chief priests and the whole council” condemned him to death – (Mark 14:60-64).
Rather ironically, the Roman governor confirmed his messianic status when he had “King of the Jews” inscribed on a board and nailed to his cross for all to see. Yet, as he hung on it, Jewish spectators mocked him, declaring:
“You who were pulling down the Temple and building one in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross” – (Mark 15:26).
The chief priests and scribes ridiculed him also despite the testimony of God, Scripture, his miraculous deeds, and his own sworn testimony before the High Priest. It was clear to anyone with “eyes to see” that he was the “Son of God” and the Messiah of Israel.
Demons recognized who Jesus was before he ever said or did anything, yet the Temple authorities were unable to do so despite all the evidence. Instead, they mockingly proclaimed, “let him come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even the two brigands who were crucified with Jesus “were casting it in his teeth” (Mark 15:26-32).
Only at Calvary was Jesus declared the “Son of God” by a human voice. As death overwhelmed him, he uttered a loud voice and died. At that moment, the “the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom” and the centurion in charge of the execution squad declared – “Truly, this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:37-39).
Two related events of great significance were caused by his death – The tearing of the Temple veil and the confession of the Roman centurion. This was the veil before the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum. Mark intends his audience to connect the tearing of the veil with the centurion’s confession – (Exodus 26:31-37, Hebrews 9:3, 10:20).
Just as the “rending of the heavens” at the baptism of Jesus produced a declaration regarding his messianic status, so the “rending” of the Temple veil produced the same confession, only on the lips of the pagan centurion.
Only as Jesus was crucified did a human being begin to understand who he was, paradoxically, not by any of his disciples or even a devout Jew. Instead, it was the Gentile officer in charge of his crucifixion who saw the light. The Son of God was and is the one who “gives his life as a ransom for many.” His self-sacrificial death for others defines his messiahship – (Mark 10:45).
The book of Mark has arranged its material so that no human acknowledges Jesus as the “Son of God” until the moment of his death, and then only by a Gentile. Prior to that, his identity was known only to God and the demons he exorcised. Not even his disciples or family understood who he was. When Jesus revealed what it meant to be the Messiah – Humiliation and death – his inner circle was horrified and rejected the very idea.
Only in his suffering and death on a Roman cross are we able to grasp the real identity of Jesus Christ and the significance of what it means to become his disciple.