In Mark’s gospel, only at his death did a Roman centurion who was present at his execution recognize who Jesus was – Mark 10:45.
In Mark, all men prove incapable of recognizing who Jesus is, even his closest disciples. The only exceptions are John the Baptist and the Roman centurion at Golgotha, the very man in charge of the execution squad. Mark has threaded this theme throughout his gospel to make the point – The Messiah cannot be understood apart from his death on a Roman cross.
At the outset of his gospel, Mark cited Scripture to demonstrate that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, John the Baptist announced his coming, and at his baptism, and the “voice from heaven” confirmed him to be “my beloved son.” Later, the same demons that Jesus exorcised recognized him. Scripture, John the Baptist, a voice from heaven, and supernatural signs all attested that he was the promised Messiah, the beloved “Son of God.”
In contrast, DESPITE his many miracles, men and women remained confused about his identity. Even his family and closest associates failed to recognize that he was the Son of God. Apparently, Jesus was just not the kind of Messiah everyone expected.
After the heavens were “rent asunder,” a voice from heaven declared him the “Son of God.” “Rent asunder” translates the Greek verb schizō, meaning “rend asunder, cleave, split open.” In Mark, it occurs only at his baptism and when the veil of the Temple was “rent” at his death. The “rending” of the heavens alludes to a passage from Isaiah, where the prophet longed for Yahweh to “rend the heavens” and make His name known throughout the earth – (Isaiah 64:1-2, Mark 15:38).
In Capernaum, his first act was to cast out an “unclean spirit,” which recognized Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” He commanded it to remain silent. The men present were all astounded and asked, “Who is this?” Despite his impressive deed, he remained unrecognized, though the demons certainly understood who he was and the danger he posed to them – (“Are you come to destroy us?”).
This pattern is repeated in Mark. Though demonic spirits recognize the “Son of God,” men and women consistently fail to do so, including members of his own family and inner circle – (Mark 3:11-12, Mark 5:1-7).
Proximity to Jesus did not guarantee recognition of who he was. The “scribes” from Jerusalem could not deny his ability 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 tremendous display of 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 anyone that he was the Messiah of Israel – (Mark 5:21-43).
At one point, he returned to his hometown and began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard began to question who he was:
- “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?” – (Mark 6:1-6).
Rather than rejoice that the “Son of God” was present in their village, the people of Nazareth were “offended by him.”
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, but no one suggested he was the Messiah and king of Israel – (Mark 6:14-15).
After Jesus miraculously fed five thousand people, he went alone to pray on a mountain. The disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat, struggling against a contrary wind. He appeared suddenly, walking on the water. The disciples thought it was a ghostly apparition and cried out in fear. Jesus identified himself, entered the boat, and caused the wind to cease. Previously, they had seen him calm a great storm, yet this stupendous display failed to convince them of who he was – because “their hearts were hardened” – (Mark 6:45-52).
On the way to Jerusalem, momentarily, Peter appeared to grasp his identity. When Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am,” he answered, “You are the Christ!” He then admonished the disciples to silence, explaining 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 objected. The very idea that the Messiah would be subjected to suffering and death was beyond the pale – (Mark 8:27-38).
Whatever insight Peter may have gained was lost when he was confronted with the reality of the suffering Messiah. Nevertheless, his mission meant exactly that – suffering, rejection, death. Jesus rebuked Peter, recognizing Satan’s attempt to thwart him from his Father’s will – (Mark 8:31).
Likewise, Jesus taught his closest 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 could not understand his words.
When he was tried, the High Priest demanded of Jesus, “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.” Before the priestly leaders of the nation, he identified himself openly as the Messiah. Now, there could no more doubt. But rather than recognize and accept him, the High Priest charged him with blasphemy, and the “chief priests and the whole council” condemned him to death – (Mark 14:60-64).
Ironically, the Roman governor confirmed his very 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 was hanging on it, Jewish spectators mocked him – (Mark 15:26).
During his death throes, the chief priests and scribes ridiculed him despite the testimony of God, Scripture, his miraculous deeds, and his own sworn testimony before them. It was clear to anyone with “eyes to see” that he was the “Son of God” and the promised Messiah of Israel.
Paradoxically, demons recognized him, but the Temple authorities refused to do so despite the overwhelming evidence. Instead, they mockingly challenged him – “Let him come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even the two brigands who were crucified alongside him “were casting it in his teeth” – (Mark 15:26-32).
Only at Calvary did a human voice declare Jesus to be the “Son of God.” As death overwhelmed him, he uttered a loud cry and died. At that precise moment, the “the veil of the temple was RENT IN TWO from the top to the bottom,” and the centurion declared, “Truly, this man was the Son of God” – (Mark 15:37-39).
Thus, two related and significant events were caused by his death, the tearing of the Temple veil and the confession of the centurion. This was the veil before the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum. Mark intends for us 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 his baptism produced a declaration regarding his messianic status, so, too, the “rending” of the Temple veil produced the same confession, only now on the lips of the pagan centurion. Only as Jesus was crucified did a human being begin to understand just who he was, and paradoxically, NOT by any member of the Jewish nation or one of his disciples. Instead, it was the Gentile officer in charge of his crucifixion.
When Jesus revealed what it meant to be the Messiah, humiliation and death, even his inner circle was horrified and rejected the very idea. Nonetheless, only in his suffering and death on a Roman cross are we able to grasp the real identity and mission of Jesus, and consequently, what it means to be his disciple. As wonderful as miracles, signs and wonders are, the true understanding of Jesus and his mission can only be found on Calvary.