In Mark, Jesus first appears when he is baptized by John the Baptist. The passage identifies him with his hometown, Nazareth, a small village of no consequence, though its very insignificance plays a part in the larger narrative.
Jesus is the Messiah who does not fit popular expectations even as he is anointed Messiah at the Jordan River in fulfillment of Scripture.
The gospel of Mark provides a time element – “in those days.” When this incident occurred, John was baptizing suppliants in the Jordan River. But rather than recount the details of Christ’s baptism, the text stresses the events that accompanied it – The “rending” of the heavens, the divine voice, and the descent of the Spirit “like a dove”:
- (Mark 1:9-11) – “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And immediately, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens being rent asunder and the Spirit descending as a dove to him. And a voice came out of the heavens: You are my Son, the Beloved. In you, I delight.”
REND THE HEAVENS
The heavens “being rent asunder” translates the Greek verb schizō, meaning to “split, rip open, tear apart; to rend asunder” (Strong’s – #G4977). The same term occurs once more in Mark as the veil of the Temple is “rent” when Jesus dies. The verbal link is deliberate:
- (Mark 15:36-39) – “But Jesus, sending out a loud voice, ceased to breathe. And the veil of the Temple was rent into two from top to bottom. Now the centurion who was standing near, seeing that thus he ceased to breathe, said: Truly, this man was God’s son!”
At his baptism, the “rending of the heavens” means the arrival of the Son of God has cosmic significance. From now on, the realm of God is open, and therefore, His presence is accessible to all men and women.
In Mark’s account, it is Jesus who sees the Spirit descending “like a dove” and hears the heavenly voice. That he does so demonstrates that this was an actual event, not a mystical or visionary experience.
The preposition applied to the Spirit’s descent stresses movement “into” or “onto” something or someone (eis). Perhaps the Spirit entered Jesus at this point, although the verb and preposition more probably point to its coming to rest upon him. This is the moment when he was anointed for his messianic mission.
The gospel accounts employs a simile. The descent of the Spirit was “like” a dove. It does not say the Spirit was a dove or looked like a dove. Rather, its gentle descent was analogous to a dove landing on the earth or a perch.
Jesus then heard the voice calling him “beloved Son.” This voice is heard only once more in the gospel of Mark when it makes a similar declaration at the transfiguration.
In the present passage, the heavenly voice combines words from two Old Testament passages in presenting the scriptural understanding of just who and what the Son of God is since he arrived in the world to fulfill the promises of Yahweh:
- (Psalm 2:7) – “I will surely tell of the decree of Yahweh: he said to me, You are my Son, today, I have begotten you.”
- (Isaiah 42:1) – “Behold, my servant whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
Both passages are messianic, and by combining them, Mark clarifies the identity and mission of Jesus. He is God’s “Son” AND the suffering servant described in the book of Isaiah. Unjust suffering characterizes his messianic ministry and sonship.
The descent of the Spirit meant that Jesus was equipped to proclaim the kingdom of God. The heavenly voice confirmed God’s approval of this mission, not just because of who he was, but also due to his submission to the baptism of John.
Thus, his ministry began with an act of obedience, and in fulfillment of Scripture. Whether his contemporaries understood his mission, Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel sent to save his people from their sins. And his messianic role was and is defined as the Suffering Servant of Yahweh.