In the gospel of Mark, Israel’s Messiah, the Son of Man, is revealed in his death on a Roman Cross.
In Mark, men and women are unable to recognize Jesus as the Messiah until AFTER his crucifixion, and paradoxically, following his death, he is declared the “Son of God” by the unlikeliest person, the Roman centurion on duty at his execution. And in this gospel account, his self-identification as the suffering “Son of Man” caused many to misunderstand and even reject him.
The identity and mission of Jesus cannot be understood apart from his suffering and sacrificial death. By highlighting this, Mark establishes his identity as the “Son of God” and what it truly means to be the Messiah of Israel.
From the outset, God confirmed that Jesus was His beloved son. Demons recognized him and declared who he was. In contrast, despite his healings, exorcisms, and even his dominion over nature, men remained confused about his identity. Even his closest associates failed to recognize him. He was not the kind of Messiah they expected – (Mark 1:11).
At the Jordan River, the Scriptures, John the Baptist, the voice from heaven, and supernatural signs all attested that he was the Messiah, the Lord, the mighty one who would baptize in Holy Spirit, and the beloved “Son of God.”
The divine voice declared that he was “My beloved Son” after the heavens were “rent asunder.” This rendering translates the Greek verb schizō, meaning “to rend asunder, cleave, cleave asunder, split open.” This term occurs once more in Mark when the veil of the Temple was “rent in two” after Jesus died.
The “rending” of the heavens alludes to the passage from Isaiah when the prophet longed for Yahweh to “rend the heavens” and make His name known “to your enemies, that the nations may tremble at your presence.” That prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus, the one who makes the Father known – (Isaiah 64:1-2).
- “You are my Son, the Beloved One; in you I delight.” The declaration from heaven echoed the second Psalm and another passage from Isaiah, for Jesus was the promised Messiah:
- (Psalm 2:7) – “You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.”
- (Isaiah 42:1) – “Behold, my servant whom I uphold; my elect in whom my soul delights.”
Significantly, both passages include references to the Messiah bringing justice to the “nations” or “Gentiles.”
DEMONS RECOGNIZE HIM. One of his first acts was to cast out an “unclean spirit.” The demon recognized him as the “Holy One of God,” but he commanded it to remain silent. On no occasion did Jesus give any ground to demonic spirits – (Mark 1:23-27).
The men present were all astounded and asked one another, “Who is this?” Despite his impressive deeds, Jesus remained an enigma to them, although demons understood who he was and the danger that he posed to them – (“Are you come to destroy us?”).
During his ministry in Galilee, this pattern is repeated. Although demonic spirits recognized the “Son of God,” men and women always failed to do so, including members of his own family – (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’.” This effort included members of his immediate family. Proximity to Jesus or even a blood relationship did not guarantee recognition of who and what he was – (Mark 3:21).
The scribes from Jerusalem could not deny the ability of Jesus to cast out demons. Ironically, rather than acknowledge that he did so by the authority of God, they charged him with casting out demons by “Beelzebub, the prince of demons.” Demonic spirits could recognize the Messiah of Israel, but not the Jewish nation’s religious leaders – (Mark 3:22-30).
MIRACULOUS TESTIMONY FAILS. By his word alone, Jesus calmed the storm that was raging across the Sea of Galilee and threatening the disciples. In great fear, they asked one another, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Even a tremendous display of power over nature was insufficient evidence to recognize the “Son of Man,” the true Messiah of Israel – (Mark 4:36-41).
Jesus healed the dying daughter of a local synagogue leader, leaving the crowd dumbfounded. Even his ability to raise the dead did not convince anyone that he was the promised Messiah – (Mark 5:21-43).
When he returned to his hometown, Jesus 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 Messiah was present, “they were offended by him” – (Mark 6:1-6).
When Herod heard about Jesus, he concluded that John the Baptist had returned from the dead. Other voices claimed he was Elijah or one of the prophets. None suggested that he might be the long-promised Messiah – (Mark 6:14-15).
After he fed five thousand men from “five loaves and two fishes,” plus women and children, Jesus went to pray alone on a mountain. To join him, the disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat, struggling against a contrary wind.
Then, Jesus appeared suddenly, walking on the water. The disciples thought it was a ghostly apparition and cried out in fear. He identified himself, entered the boat, and caused the winds to cease. Previously, the disciples saw him calm a great storm, yet this display of authority over natural forces also failed to convince them who he was, “because their hearts were hardened” – (Mark 6:35-52).
SUFFERING MESSIAH. On the way to Jerusalem, Peter appeared on the verge of grasping his identity. When Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am,” Peter declared, “You are the Christ!” Then he explained how 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 objected vehemently. The notion that the Messiah of Israel would be subjected to suffering and death was unacceptable – (Mark 8:27-38).
Whatever insight Peter had gained momentarily was lost when he was confronted with the idea of a suffering Messiah. But his messiahship meant exactly that – suffering, rejection, and death. Likewise, Jesus also declared 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, the disciples did not understand his words and could not reconcile him with their preconceived ideas about who the Messiah was – (Mark 9:31-32).
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.” To this, James and John responded by requesting to sit at his side when he came into his kingdom. But he responded:
- “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…whoever would become great among you shall be your servant; and whosoever would be first among you shall be slave of all, for the Son of man also came not to be served, but to serve and give his life a ransom for many.” – (Mark 10:32-45).
His disciples are called to self-sacrificial service, not dominion over others or outward glory, a truth that he demonstrated by giving his own life to ransom a great many others from bondage to sin and Satan.
When the High Priest examined Jesus, he asked, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” He 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.” Here, to the highest religious authority in Israel, he identified himself as the Messiah. There could be no more doubt. But rather than recognize him, the High Priest charged him with blasphemy, and the “chief priests and the whole council” condemned their own Messiah to death – (Mark 14:60-64).
Unintentionally, the Roman governor confirmed his messianic status when he had “King of the Jews” inscribed and mounted on his cross for all to see. Yet, as he was dying, 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.”
The chief priests and scribes also ridiculed him despite the testimony of God, Scripture, his miraculous deeds, and his own sworn testimony before the High Priest – (Mark 15:26).
When Jesus came to town, the demons recognized who he was, yet the temple authorities remained clueless despite the overwhelming evidence. Instead, they mockingly proclaimed, “let him come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
TESTIMONY OF THE CENTURION. Finally, at Calvary, Jesus was declared the “Son of God” by a human voice. As death overwhelmed him, he uttered a loud cry. Then the “veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom,” and the Roman centurion declared, “Truly, this man was the Son of God” – (Mark 15:37-39).
Thus, two related events of great significance resulted from 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 – (Exodus 26:31-37, Hebrews 6:19, 9:3, 10:20).
Just as the “rending of the heavens” at his baptism produced a declaration regarding his status, so the “rending of the Temple veil” produced the same confession from the mouth of the centurion. Just as the prophet Isaiah hoped, his “enemies,” demon spirits, recognized the “Son of God,” and the Gentiles would indeed “tremble” at his presence after his resurrection, only in repentance and submission. The Roman centurion was only the first of many to acknowledge him.
Only as he was crucified did a human being finally understand who Jesus was, and paradoxically, not by a devout Jew, the high priest, or even one of his closest disciples. Not until his death did anyone understand the identity and role of the Messiah – to “give his life as a ransom for many.” Thus, his sacrificial death defined his messiahship.