|The Good News According to Mark|
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Go to Bible: Mark 1
“The beginning.” Mark is the only Gospel that has anything like the phrase, “the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.” Yet when we understand that Mark is the Gospel that portrays Jesus Christ as the Servant of God, we can see that the phrase fits perfectly with the purpose of Mark (see commentary on “the Good News of Jesus Christ” on Mark 1:1 as to why there are four Gospels). Jesus Christ’s ministry as the obedient and suffering Servant of God came to an end with his death, which is why in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus never appears after his death. He was resurrected, not as a servant, but as Lord of all. But the Good News of Jesus Christ did not end with his death. It continued with his resurrection, his ascension, and now with his ministry from heaven. Thus Mark, which portrays Jesus as the Servant of God, only gives us the “beginning” of the Good News concerning him. In contrast to Jesus’ ministry as a Servant, which came to an end, his ministry as King (Matthew); human man (Luke); and Son of God (John) continues to this day, and Matthew, Luke, and John all have post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ.
Some scholars have suggested that the word “beginning” is referring to the start of Jesus’ ministry, as if the verse read, “This is the way the Good News of Jesus begins.” However, that cannot be correct. The “Good News” of Jesus began many years before John the Baptist came on the scene. At his birth about 30 years before, the angel announced that Jesus birth was “Good News” (Luke 2:10).
“the Good News of Jesus Christ.” It is sometimes asked why there are four Gospels. Part of the answer is likely that for any testimony to be validated, there needs to be 2 or 3 witnesses (Deut. 17:6, 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 1 Tim. 5:19; Heb. 10:28), and the four Gospels provide that, especially since Matthew and John were eyewitnesses. Nevertheless, the accounts by Mark and Luke have been recognized by most Christians not only as authentic historical documents, but also as God-inspired records of the life of Christ just as Matthew and John are.
The second reason there are Four Gospels is that each is written from a different perspective, and together they comprise a very profound, prophetic and precise fourfold pattern of the Messiah. We will see that the pattern in the four Gospels is that Matthew portrays Christ as a king, Mark as a servant, Luke as a man, and John as the Son of God. This pattern had already been set forth and foreshadowed long before by the Old Testament prophets. This fourfold pattern has its roots in an important Hebrew term used in the prophecies of Christ, which is tsemach. Tsemach means “sprout” or “offspring,” and is often translated “Branch,” and the vital “Branch,” and center of Old Testament prophecy is the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Tsemach paints a mental picture of a new sprout or shoot coming up out of a dead-looking stump, certainly an appropriate picture of the Messiah, because just when it looked like Israel was cut down and dead, out of it sprang the Messiah. In the Old Testament, tsemach is used five times in direct prophetic reference to the Messiah and aspects of his life. Although “the branch” was a common term for the Messiah, five Old Testament verses in particular lay out a fourfold prophetic picture of him. In two verses the Branch is shown to be a king (Jer. 23:5; 33:15), also the Branch is shown as a servant (Zech. 3:8), also the Branch is shown to be a man (Zech. 6:12), and also, the Branch is shown to be “the Branch of the LORD (Yahweh)” i.e., one directly from LORD God (Isa. 4:2).
These four descriptions of the Messiah subdivide according to one of the most basic distinctions we can make about any person: who he is and what he does. Two of the four terms refer to his person—Son and man, while the other two relate to his work—King and servant. Intrinsic to these terms is another important distinction in the life of the Messiah: he is humbled and he is exalted, that is, both “sufferings” and “glory” will characterize his life. We see Jesus’ humility in the designations man and servant, we see his exaltation in the terms king and Son of God. Although the four Gospels are in many ways the same, they are also unique, each having its own vocabulary and style.
Matthew has a number of unique characteristics that point to Christ as King. Matthew’s genealogy presents Jesus as a King from the line of David, and starts out with the “record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David,” and then gives the genealogy from Abraham, the one who was promised the land, through King David, who was promised the kingdom in a covenant of salt with God (2 Chron. 13:5). Matthew mentions the humble birth of Christ in one sentence (Matt 1:25), but then skips forward almost two years until the magi arrive and ask “...Where is the one who has been born king...?” (Matt. 2:2). Then the magi present the royal Son with gifts appropriate of his status as king. The phrase, “the Kingdom of Heaven” is associated with the specific reign of the Messiah on earth. It occurs more than 30 times in the gospel of Matthew, but not once in any of the other Gospels, which use the phrase, “Kingdom of God.” The title, “Son of David,” occurs ten times in Matthew and only six times in all the other Gospels combined. There are a number of parables that are unique to Matthew, and most of them have a clear reference to the Kingdom. These include: the Darnel (Matt. 13:24-30); the Hidden Treasure (Matt. 13:44); the Pearl (Matt. 13:45); the Dragnet (Matt. 13:47); the Unmerciful Servant (Matt. 18:23-35); the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16); the Two Sons (Matt. 21:28-32); the Marriage of the Kings Son (Matt. 22:1-14); and the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). Only Matthew records the “sheep and goat judgment,” when the king lets the righteous into his kingdom but excludes the unrighteous (Matt. 25).
The Gospel of Mark, which presents Christ as a servant, is short, simple and forceful, emphasizing Christ’s works more than his words. Unlike the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John, the Gospel of Mark has no genealogy at all, which makes sense because a servant’s genealogy is not relevant—the work he does is what matters. Commentators have long noticed that Mark focuses more on what Jesus did than what he said, which makes sense because obedient action is the sign of a good servant. Mark also moves quickly from one event to another. Even the vocabulary reflects this pattern. The Greek word eutheos (“immediately”) occurs 40 times in Mark but only 27 times in all the other Gospels combined. That statistic is made even more vivid when one realizes that there are only 16 chapters in Mark, but 73 chapters in the other three Gospels.
A valued servant is quick to obey. E. W. Bullinger, who also saw the fourfold portrait of Christ, notes that Jesus “is addressed as ‘Lord’ in the other three Gospels 73 times,...he is addressed as such in the Gospel of Mark only twice” (Companion Bible; intro to Mark). Bullinger notes that of these two uses of “Lord” that appear in the KJV, one was by a Gentile woman and was simply the title equivalent of “sir” (Mark 7:28), and one is Mark 9:24, which is not even in the earliest Greek texts, but was a later addition. So actually, Jesus is never called “Lord” in Mark by anyone who knew he was the Messiah, a clear indication of the emphasis in Mark on Jesus’ role as God’s servant. Appropriately, more than a third of Mark takes place in the last week of Jesus’ life, which places special emphasis on his obedience and the fact that he was the suffering Servant foretold in the Old Testament.
Mark also opens with the phrase that Mark gives the “beginning” of the Good News of Jesus (Mark 1:1). That is true, because the Good News of Jesus continues to this day with Jesus sitting on the right hand of God. Jesus’ role of King, human man, and Son of God, all continue to this day, but Jesus’ role as the Servant of God ended with his death. Since Mark portrays Jesus as the Servant, it is appropriate that Jesus does not appear in Mark after his resurrection, when he is no longer the Servant, but “Lord of all.” All three other Gospels have accounts of Jesus after his resurrection, but Mark does not (see commentary on Mark 16:9). Thus the Gospel of Mark only gives us the “beginning” of the Good News about Jesus, it does not continue with Good News about him after his resurrection.
The Gospel of Luke, which portrays Christ as a man, presents the Messiah and his relationships in a way that highlights his humanity as the Last Adam. The gospel of Luke has a genealogy that traces Jesus back to Adam, the first man. Luke opens with information on the parents and birth of John the Baptist, giving information we would expect to find in a “human interest” story. It then gives details about Joseph and Mary and the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, including his being presented at the Temple. These details show that Jesus was born in normal human circumstances (see commentary on those specific verses), and subject to the same laws and regulations as every other Jewish child.
Luke has an emphasis on both prayer and praise to God, which is appropriate for all mankind. Jesus is shown praying in Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 29; 11:1; 22:32, 41, 44 and 23:34. Luke has four great praise hymns that are unique to Luke: the Magnificat of Mary (Luke 1:46-55); the Benedictus of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79); the Gloria in Excelsis of the angels (Luke 2:14), and the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32), and praise to God is mentioned in many other verses.
Luke clearly portrays Jesus’ great love for all mankind, and describes him as a warm and loving person. Commentators note that the book of Luke portrays Jesus’ special concern for the poor, sinners, women and the family more clearly than any other Gospel. Luke has a unique emphasis on women, and speaks of women in a way not covered in the other Gospels, for example, Elizabeth, Anna, the widow of Nain, the repentant woman (Luke 7:37-50); the women who ministered to Christ (Luke 8:2-3), the daughters of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-28), and Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Also, Luke shows Jesus sympathetically acknowledging the Gentiles. The parables that are unique to Luke emphasize human traits such as love for fellow man (and the importance of an individual), wisdom, and foolishness. Parables unique to Luke include: the Two Debtors (Luke 7:41-42); the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37); the Persistent Friend (Luke 11:5-8); the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21); the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10); the Forgiving Father (Luke 15:11-32); the Wise Manager (Luke 16:1-12); the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31); the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8); the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).
The Gospel of John, which portrays Christ as the Son of God, starts out by saying that God, in the beginning, had a plan, purpose or wisdom (the logos) that became flesh, that is, the Son “comes from” the Father. This is a very short genealogy: the Father had a Son, an only begotten Son, and since Jesus’ father is God, any portrayal of his earthly birth would only take emphasis away from the true Father. Jesus’ intimacy with his Father is uniquely portrayed in John. For example, the word “father” occurs as many times in John as in all the other Gospels combined.
The narrator writes the Gospel of John from the standpoint that Jesus is already exalted and in heaven, something both unique to John and appropriate to his status as the Son of God (cp. commentary on John 3:13). Theologians have long noticed that John is different from the other Gospels and truly unique. This fits with our expectations, because, as “the only begotten Son of God,” Jesus is truly unique.
John is also unique from the standpoint of what it leaves out. For example, there is no temptation in the wilderness. Kings, servants, and humans need to demonstrate their qualifications and be proven for the job they do, but as the Son of God, Jesus is qualified to be the Messiah without being tempted first. Similarly, there is no record of the event called “the Transfiguration,” because, as we have already said, John sees Jesus from the perspective of already being risen and in glory, not the perspective of preparing for his glory.
It should catch our attention that when the Messiah does a miracle in his role as King, Servant, or Man, the act is called a “miracle” (dunamis). The Greek word dunamis (miracle; power) occurs almost 40 times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but it does not occur at all in John. In contrast to the other Gospels, when Jesus does a miracle in the Gospel of John, the work is called a “sign” (simeion). A “sign” is something that gives information and points to something else. For example, a road sign with a curved line on it points out that there is a curve in the road ahead. The eight “signs” in John that are clearly miracles are called “signs” because they point to Jesus as the Son of God. Thus, Jesus could say, “though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is united with me, and I am united with the Father” (John 10:38); and “Keep on believing me, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me, or else keep believing me because of the works themselves” (John 14:11). The eight miracle signs in John are:
Besides these specifically mentioned signs, there are other places in John that refer to signs Jesus was doing, such as John 2:23; 3:2; 7:31 and 12:37. The signs that Jesus was doing shows the prejudice and spiritual blindness of the Jews, who a number of times asked Jesus to show them a sign of who he was (John 2:18; 6:30).
The fourfold portrait of Christ given by the Four Gospels is good evidence they are the God-breathed Word of God, and not just the writing and memories of four men. There is no way the four different writers could have collaborated on their individual Gospels and produced this remarkable fourfold portrait of Christ. Like all the different writers of the Bible, they each wrote independently of one another, separated by both time and space. They could not have agreed upon what to include together and what to emphasize individually such that the wonderful fourfold portrait of Christ that was foretold in the Old Testament was laid out in the Four Gospels. The Four Gospels, like the rest of the Bible, are the God-breathed Word.
“The Son of God.” This phrase, which is only two words in the Greek text, is missing from some early and important manuscripts. The variety of manuscripts that do not have the phrase is such that many scholars have concluded that differences in the manuscripts is not due to an accidental deletion that was simply re-copied, but rather was a deliberate change. That fact has not ended the debate; it has just shifted the question. Is it more likely that the phrase was original, but adoptionist scribes (those who say Jesus “became” the Son at his baptism) deleted it to add support for their position; or is it more likely that the phrase was not original, but scribes added it, following their general tendency to expand titles. At this point there is no conclusive evidence for either position, and since the adoptionist view is erroneous, whether the phrase “Son of God” was added to simply expand the title of Jesus Christ, or whether it is original, the fact remains that Jesus was the Son of God from his conception, so we left the phrase in.(top)
“As it is written in Isaiah.” The quotation is from both Malachi 3:1 and the book of Isaiah 40:3. This is not “a mistake” or “error,” as some people claim, as if Mark thought the whole quotation was from Isaiah. Mark 1:2-3 are run together as if they were one quotation, not two. By just mentioning the part quoted from Isaiah, Mark is using a literary device that puts the emphasis of the extended quotation on the part that Isaiah wrote, which says what we are to do in light of the Lord’s coming. Hendrickson writes: “Mark tells us that he is going to quote from Isaiah. He does exactly that, though not immediately.” Had Mark quoted only Isaiah, we would be left knowing only that a “voice” was crying in the wilderness. By quoting Malachi before Isaiah, we know to whom the “voice” belongs: to none other than the messenger who will begin to prepare the way of the Lord.
The quotation from Malachi has been adapted to fit the Messiah. A more literal quotation of the Hebrew of Malachi 3:1 would be, “Behold, I [Yahweh] am sending My messenger, and he will clear the way [road] before me.” In Mark, the verse has been modified so that the messenger prepares the road for the Messiah. Hence here in Mark the verse means, “Look!, I am sending my [Yahweh’s] messenger before your [the Messiah’s] face, who will prepare your [the Messiah’s] way.
This is not the only place two places in the OT are quoted but only one prophet is cited. For example, Matthew 27:9-10 come from Zechariah and Jeremiah, but only Jeremiah is quoted. This same pattern occurs in the OT in 2 Chronicles 36:21, which says it quotes Jeremiah, but actually quotes both Jeremiah and Leviticus. When God quotes two sources, but only gives credit to one, He is telling us where to place the emphasis in what he is quoting so there is no guesswork about it.
In light of the fact that the extended quotation comes from Malachi and then Isaiah, it is easy to see why copyists would change “Isaiah the prophet” to “in the prophets.” The earliest texts from both the Alexandrian and Western text families have Isaiah the prophet, and the change to “the prophets” is “an obvious correction” (Roger Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament).
“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20 (“Look!).
“prepare the road.” See commentary on Mark 1:3.(top)
“A voice of one calling out in the desert, ‘Make ready the road of the Lord! Make his paths straight!’” This quotation, which comes from Isaiah 40:3 (and the quotation in Matt. 3:3 and Luke 3:4), is from the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament. [For more information on the Septuagint and the original NT texts being in Greek, see commentary on Luke 3:4].
The word “road” is hodos (#3598 ὁδός ). Like our English word “way,” it can refer to a road or path, or it can refer to a specific way of doing things. Many times, such as here, its primary meaning is “road,” and it is helpful to translate it that way.
In the Old Testament times (this verse is quoted from Isaiah, roughly 750 BC), there was not much attention paid to the condition of the roads in a country. Even in Roman times, usually only the very important central roadways, and the roads in cities, got any real attention. Nobody owned the roads, and nobody profited from spending time repairing them. It was just repeated use that made the terrain into dirt paths, some wider than others, that then were referred to as roads. Books on the customs of the Bible lands (especially those from the 1800’s or earlier), are replete with stories of the horrors of traveling on roads. They were full of pits, or rocky, or had overhanging foliage that could knock a rider off a mount. They were dark at night and slippery when wet or frozen. They often ascended or descended quickly, and became very dangerous if the conditions were less than ideal. Often thorn bushes grew near the road such that unwary travelers were scratched or had their clothing torn. Added to all this was that there were no road signs to tell travelers where they were, or what road to take if they came to a crossroads. This caused a lot of anxiety to travelers, who did not want to waste time going the wrong way, and could be quite dangerous if the road went to an area that was inhabited by robbers. When Jesus said, “I am the road,” (usually translated, “I am the way”), he was being clear that if a person did not want to get lost trying to get to God, that Jesus was the road to travel on.
When a king (or sometimes a high official) was going to go on a journey, he would send out messengers before he traveled. They would announce to the farmers and villagers who lived close to the road to take the time to go out and prepare it to make the king’s trip easier. The villagers would clear the rock and bushes, fill in ruts and pits, and generally make the road safer and easier to travel. “Make his paths straight” does not refer to taking winding sections of the road and re-routing them, although that might have been done on a small scale if the road went around something that was no longer an obstacle. The word “straight” can also mean “level,” and in this context refers to filling up the pits and holes that developed in the road so it was level and easy to ride on. [For more on roads and the danger of travel in the ancient world, see commentary on 2 Cor. 11:26].
“John came.” There is a textual variation in this verse concerning whether or not John came baptizing or John the Baptizer came. Some versions read, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness” (ESV); while others read, “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness,” (NRSV). The difference depends on the addition or deletion of the single letter for the article ho, (#3588 ὁ), meaning “the.” It is most likely, however, that the ho is not original and the preferred reading is “John came baptizing.” The reason for this is that John is frequently elsewhere called John the Baptist, but never John the Baptizer. This leads credence to viewing the participle “Baptizing” as descriptive of John’s action and not a title (Cp. Metzger, Textual Commentary).
“baptizing...baptism.” Although there is a heated debate about it, Scripture is not clear as to whether John, Jesus, and the apostles immersed people in water or poured water onto them. There are four Greek words in the New Testament associated with baptism, one verb and three nouns. Two of them occur here in Mark 1:4: the verb baptizō (Strong’s #907 βαπτίζω), from which the nouns derive, and the noun baptisma (Strong’s #908 βάπτισμα). The verb baptizō is a common word found in many Greek writings and it means to submerge, immerse, dip, dip repeatedly, or soak. It was used for washing things, for cleansing them either by immersion or dipping, and for cleaning the body by bathing, which did not necessarily mean immersion. The word baptizō was also used metaphorically for being overcome or overwhelmed. As the ritual of baptism developed, baptizō was used of the immersion in water that took place in baptism ceremonies and it was also the word that was used for affusion, or baptism by pouring water.
The noun baptisma (“baptism”) is found only in the New Testament and ecclesiastical literature that was written after the New Testament. Baptisma refers to the baptism that John and Jesus did, and also to Christian baptism. Like the verb baptizō, it was also used figuratively for afflictions that were overwhelming, including martyrdom (Mark 10:38). Another noun used of baptism is baptismos (Strong’s #909 βαπτισμός), and it means to wash or to purify by washing (Mark 7:4). It was also used for the various Jewish washings required by the Mosaic Law (Heb. 6:2; 9:10) and for Christian baptism.
The fourth noun associated with baptism is baptistēs (Strong’s #910 βαπτιστής), and it means “baptizer” or “one who baptizes” (Matt. 3:1). In the New Testament it always refers to John the “Baptist,” which would be clearer if the phrase was translated “John the Baptizer.”
Although most people think of “baptism” as being in water, the word “baptism” has no reference to what the person is baptized in. Besides water, baptism in other religions has been known to occur in wine, oil, honey, blood, and even cow’s urine (Vergilius Ferm, An Encyclopedia of Religion, Philosophical Library, New York, NY, 1945, p. 54). John the Baptist spoke of two different baptisms, water and spirit. He said, “I baptized you in water, but he [the Messiah] will baptize you in holy spirit” (Mark 1:8).
Debates have raged through the centuries about the “right” way to water baptize: by immersion, affusion (affusion, sometimes called infusion, is the practice of pouring water on the head of the person being baptized), or aspersion (sprinkling). These debates sometimes center on the meaning of the Greek words for baptism and whether or not they demand immersion, but the historical practice of administering water baptism is also considered. Too many times people have drawn conclusions about the meaning of a word, for example, baptizō, by just looking it up in a lexicon and taking that definition as the “true meaning” of the word. But to know the full range of meaning of any biblical word we must discover the different ways the people who lived in the biblical culture used it. The definitions given in lexicons are often not complete, and they can occasionally give erroneous or misleading information, especially if the lexicon is an older one. Archaeologies and historians are constantly discovering ancient documents that expand our understanding of the meaning of ancient words. For example, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, which is commonly used but was written in 1896, gives the following definitions for baptizō: to dip repeatedly, to immerse, submerge; to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water; to wash oneself, bathe. Thus, from reading Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon a person might conclude that baptism has to be by immersion. However, baptizō is the word that is consistently used of “baptism” in holy spirit (cp. Matt. 3:11; Acts 1:5; 11:16), and every reference to baptism in the spirit, including the Old Testament prophecies about it, shows that the spirit is “poured out” upon us (Isa. 32:15, 44:3; Ezek. 39:29; Joel 2:28, 29; Zech. 12:10; Acts 2:17, 18, 33; 10:45; Titus 3:6). So the Bible itself shows us that baptizō, “baptism” can refer to baptism by pouring water as well as immersion.
John and Jesus baptized in the Jordan River, and could well have baptized in other places as well because there were baptism sites all over Israel. The baptisms they performed were most likely by immersion because that would follow the pattern of the immersion rituals that were already being performed by the Jews. But since many people could not swim and may have been afraid of deep flowing water, there is no reason John could not have poured water onto people in the same way the Bible says the holy spirit was to be “poured out.” The Greek vocabulary about baptism does not forbid pouring. Furthermore, although immersion was the general practice of the Jews in their baptism rituals, there is very good evidence that affusion (baptism by pouring the water on the person) was practiced very early in the Church. For example, it is mentioned in the Didache, which could have even been written as early as in the latter years of the first century. But how would pouring the water have started? We cannot conclusively prove it did not start with John or Jesus themselves and then been continued by the apostles.
It is also important to notice that early Christian art depicts baptism by pouring, not immersion. T. M. Lindsay writes,“…if the witness of the earliest pictorial representations be collected, then we must infer that affusion was the usual method [of baptism] and that immersion was exceptional; for the pictorial representations, almost without exception, display baptism performed by affusion; i.e., the recipient is seen standing in water while the minister pours water on the head” (Geoffrey Bromily, editor, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 419, “Baptism”). The early Christians baptized by pouring water, and that practice could have started with John, Jesus, or the apostles, but in any case it was a practice that started very early, was the dominant way of baptizing for centuries, and has continued among some Christians to this day.
We have to be honest about the fact that just as the Bible does not describe any “right way” to have a Christian meeting, it does not describe a “right way” to baptize. Perhaps that is because baptism was a symbol: water was always a symbol. Water baptism never actually conferred spiritual cleanness in the Old Testament, and in New Testament times it never actually conferred salvation or any other spiritual grace. All the various washings in the Law were symbolic and pointed to the ultimate baptism, the baptism in the holy spirit.
John the Baptist, who was both a priest and a prophet, clearly pointed to baptism in the holy spirit being greater than his water baptism. He said that in contrast to his baptism in water, the Messiah would “baptize” in the spirit. Another thing that points to the symbolic nature of water rituals is that God did not give any commandments about washing or cleansing in water before the Mosaic Law, and that was given to Israel by God about 1450 BC. Considering Adam was created around 4000 BC, it is hard to imagine that water is necessary for spiritual cleansing, but God never mentioned it for the first 2500 years of human existence.
Water can remove physical uncleanness, but it cannot remove mental and spiritual uncleanness. But a person’s willingness to be symbolically baptized in water showed their faith that God could and would make them clean in His sight, and that is the goal: to be pleasing to God and clean in His sight.
“a baptism that symbolized repentance.” The Greek word translated “repentance” is, metanoia (#3341 μετάνοια), and it means to change one’s mind, and therefore life and lifestyle. It is ceasing thinking and doing things that are contrary to God, and instead thinking and behaving in a way that is in obedience to God.
“repentance” is in the genitive case, so literal translation is: “baptism of repentance.” Daniel Wallace points out that the genitive is so ambiguous that it can have many meanings, and therefore he says, “it may well be best to be non-committal: ‘baptism that is somehow related to repentance” (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 80). While Wallace’s statement is accurate, it is unsatisfying. It leaves us with the same problem we started with, which is that we do not know the meaning of the phrase. We should be able to draw a conclusion about the meaning of the genitive from the scope of Scripture. Of course, the denominations vary greatly about their interpretation of the scope of Scripture, and the scholars do also. On one extreme, for example, is saying the genitive is one of production, so the meaning would be “a baptism that produces repentance.” We assert that the baptism did not produce the repentance, or “complete” it in any way, except perhaps cementing in the mind of the person who had been baptized that since he had made a public declaration before God and people, he better honor his vow and live a godly lifestyle.
In his list of possible interpretations, Wallace himself gives what may be the best way to understand and translate this verse and the concept behind it: “baptism that symbolized repentance.” In the same way that animal sacrifice was a symbol that pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, water baptism and washing rituals were part of the Old Testament and pointed to and symbolized the coming of the greater baptism, which was baptism in holy spirit. Many Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of the spirit, which they universally said would be poured out from heaven (Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 39:29; Joel 2:28-29; Zech. 12:10). Then, John the Baptist was the first person we know of to refer to that pouring out as “baptism,” and then Jesus also referred to the pouring out of the holy spirit upon people as a “baptism” in the holy spirit (Matt. 3:11; Acts 1:5).
A number of translators and scholars have seen that the genitive in this sentence is a genitive of relation, and the relation that best is being expressed is that when a person repents before God, he demonstrates that repentance by a public ceremony of baptism. Thus the outward act of water baptism symbolized the inner act of going from the old to the new, or from death to life, in the heart. C. S. Mann writes: “An alternative rendering of this Semitism would be, ‘A baptism which symbolized repentance’” (The Anchor Bible: Mark). F. Grant writes: “This baptism was the symbol of repentance” (The Interpreter’s Bible). Walter Wessel writes: “the baptism indicated the repentance had already occurred of was being accompanied by it” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; F. Gaebelein general editor). Ann Nyland translates the last part of Mark 1:4 as: “He [John] preached that people should be baptized as a symbol that they had changed their minds, and this resulted in their sins being cancelled” (The Source NT). Charles Williams translates: “a baptism conditioned on repentance” (The NT in the Language of the People). The New Testament in Modern English by J. B. Phillips translates the last part of the verse: John came... “proclaiming baptism as the mark of a complete change of heart and of the forgiveness of sins.”
“repentance resulting in the remission of sins.” The Greek word eis, here translated as “resulting in,” has many meanings, primarily purpose or result. The translation in most versions, “for” is somewhat ambiguous although accurate. A major theme in the Bible is that if a person will repent he will be forgiven. Over and over God tells people that if they will humble themselves and come to Him for forgiveness, he will indeed forgive them (1 John 1:9 is very clear, but also see such verses as: Neh. 9:7; Ps. 32:5; 103:11-13; Prov. 28:13; Jer. 5:1; 36:3; Luke 6:37). There is no place where God says something such as: “If you confess your sin I will consider forgiving you.”
The eis can be translated “because,” a less frequent but very valid meaning of eis (cp. Wuest, Word Studies). In that case, people were baptized as a symbol because their sins had been forgiven. However, that is actually just another way of understanding the eis as a result clause—it would be saying the people were baptized because their repentance led to remission. That concept can be worded as a result clause, as we have in the REV: “baptism that symbolized repentance resulting in the remission of sins.” In other words, the people were baptized as a symbol that they had repented, a repentance which had, as always, resulted in the remission of their sin.
The people came to John to be baptized so they could enter the Kingdom of God. As they stood by John they confessed their sins and repented. That confession and repentance resulted in their sins being forgiven (remitted), and John baptized them as a symbol of that repentance and forgiveness. Ann Nyland translates the phrase: “baptized as a symbol that they had changed their minds, and this resulted in their sins being cancelled” (The Source NT).(top)
“the whole country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem.” A good example of oriental hyperbole (exaggeration). Not everyone went to John to be baptized, but a great many did. The Greek reads “Jerusalemites,” but “all the people of Jerusalem” is clearer in English.
“publicly confessing their sins.” See commentary on Matthew 3:6.(top)
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“with holy spirit.” This is the gift of holy spirit. The Messiah will baptize every person with either the gift of holy spirit or the fire of God’s judgment (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). The record here in Mark is different than the records in Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke focus on sinners (Pharisees, Sadducees, tax collectors, etc., who need to repent or they will be “baptized in fire,” (be thrown into the Lake of Fire after the Judgment). In contrast, Mark focuses on the people of Judea and Jerusalem who were humble and were making the journey to see John the Baptist and accept his baptism of repentance and confess their sins. Those humble people were not in danger of the Lake of Fire, so it is not mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. The Book of Acts records that Jesus baptizes in Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33).
[For more information on the phrase “holy spirit or fire,” see commentary on Luke 3:16. For more information on the uses of “holy spirit,” see Appendix 6: Usages of “Spirit.” For more information on the difference between God, the Holy Spirit, and God’s gift to people, the holy spirit, see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit”].(top)
“Jesus came.” The record of Jesus’ baptism is in Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; and is mentioned in John 1:31-34.(top)
“immediately as he was stepping up.” The words in many versions, “coming up out of the water,” do not make it clear that the Greek text of Matthew and Mark do not refer to Jesus breaking the surface of the water of the Jordan, but rather to him walking out of the water, up the bank, and away from the river after the baptism was completed. The Greek text of Mark reads, anabainōn ek tou hudatos (ἀναβαίνων ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος), “coming up out of the water,” where the word “ek” means “out of,” in the sense that he was getting “out of” the water, not standing in it. The water was below the level of the bank, as it is in all rivers, so in order to get out of the water, Jesus had to “come up” out of the Jordan. We need to become clear about the fact that someone standing waist deep in water is not “out of” the water, but very much in it. However, the text says that Jesus was coming “out of” the water.
The Gospel of Matthew makes the action of Jesus crystal clear, especially when combined with Mark. Matthew 3:16 reads, anebē apo tou hudatos (ἀνέβη ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕδατος), “he came up away from the water.” This is the same basic vocabulary as Mark but inflected differently, except Matthew uses the preposition apo, “away from,” not ek, “out of.” Thus while Mark says Jesus was coming “out of” the water, Matthew emphasized that he was moving “away from” it, walking up the bank and away from the Jordan River.
The Greek word anabainō (#305 ἀναβαίνω) means “to go up,” “to come up,” and so saying, like many English versions, that Jesus “was coming up” out of the water is a very literal translation, and the REV could have used the translation “coming up from” in Mark, and “coming away from,” in Matthew. However, these translations are too often misinterpreted to mean that Jesus was still in the Jordan River with John when the heavens opened, so given the context, saying he “was stepping up” out of the water is a very acceptable translation, especially in light of the fact that it exactly describes what he was doing. It is also the translation preferred by Hendrickson (New Testament Commentary). The noted commentator R. C. H. Lenski writes:
But why is it important to know that John’s baptism was finished and Jesus was walking away on the bank of the river? After being baptized by John, Jesus was truly ready to start his own ministry as the Messiah apart from the ministry of John or anyone else. By making it clear that the baptism of John was over and Jesus had left John, we can clearly see that the heavenly vision and voice were not connected with John, but were specifically and individually to Jesus (cp. notes on Matt. 3:16 by W. Davies, and D. Allison, The International Critical Commentary). It is appropriate that God would put holy spirit upon Jesus just as he started off to do his own ministry, and not as he was standing in the water with John, as if the two ministries were somehow related. The work of the Messiah could only have been done by the one man, the true Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Another time people stepped up and out of the Jordan was in Acts 8:38-39, when Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. Acts makes the getting into and out of the water of the Jordan River a little more clear because it speaks of them both getting in the water and coming back up from it. We can mentally picture them as they “went down into the water,” getting out of the chariot, walking down the bank into the water, and then Philip baptizing the eunuch. Then Acts 8:39 says they “came up out of the water” (“stepped up out of the water;” REV) coming up the bank and back toward the chariot, at which point Philip was miraculously transported away from there to Azotus (the Ashdod of the OT). [For more, see commentary on Matthew 3:16; Acts 8:39].
“he saw...the spirit descending.” In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the “he saw” can refer to Jesus or John, the pronouns are unclear. But in any case, this was an event visible to anyone there and John did actually see it (John 1:32).
“You are my beloved Son.” The verb in this phrase, translated “are,” is in the present tense and is ontological: it is declaring who Jesus is. The second phrase is God declaring that He is pleased with Jesus, which makes perfect sense because Jesus had prepared himself through his life and now was ready to step into his public ministry.
Some people have tried to say that Jesus somehow “became” the Son when he received holy spirit, but that argument fails on a number of points. Grammatically it fails because to state that Jesus became the Son at his baptism, the text should say, “You have become my Son.” God uses the present tense verb in 1:11, and He uses the present tense verb again at the Transfiguration, when He says, “This is my beloved Son” (Mark 9:7). Both statements are ontological, stating a fact. There is no evidence that either is announcing a change that had occurred.
It also fails because Jesus had been called the “Son” before his baptism, based on his birth and that God was his Father (cp. Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:32, 35; John 1:14). It also fails because what happened at the Baptism was that Jesus received the gift of holy spirit, but there is no other change than that recorded about him. However, Moses, Joshua, and the prophets of the Old Testament all had the gift of holy spirit put upon them, and there is no evidence that then made them “Sons” of God.(top)
“And immediately.” The record of Jesus’ being tempted in the desert is in Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; and Luke 4:1-13.
“the spirit.” Jesus had just received the gift of holy spirit, and now via that spirit He was commanded to go into the desert. [For more on the Holy Spirit and holy spirit, see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit”).(top)
“being tempted.” The Bible does not record what all these temptations were, but they certainly included hunger and danger from wild animals. The Bible records that at the end of the forty days the Devil himself came and tempted Jesus (Matt. 4:3). We can see part of the reason for the temptations in the fact that they are recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but not John. As the king and representative of the people (in Matthew), as the servant of God (in Mark), and as the perfect human and second Adam (in Luke), Jesus had to show that a man could stand up to the temptations of life and of the Devil. As the Son of God (in John) there was no point in recording his temptation; he did not need to resist temptation to show who he was and what he could do. As the Word in the flesh he had a higher calling—to make known his Father to the world. [For information on the reason for four Gospels, see commentary on Mark 1:1, “the Good News of Jesus Christ”].
The fact that Jesus was tempted in the desert should prove once and for all that the earth is a war zone and there is an ongoing battle between Good and Evil. God does not tempt (James 1:13), yet life is full of temptations. The world we live in is under the control of the Devil (1 John 5:19) and that should be obvious to us because of the evil that is all around us, which cannot be from our loving God. God did not tempt Jesus in the desert, the Devil did.
What a great victory Jesus had for himself and humankind, and what a contrast to Adam and Eve. Adam was in the best of circumstance in the Garden of Eden, yet he abandoned God’s command to follow his fleshly desires. In contrast, Jesus was in the worst of earth’s circumstances yet held fast to the humble service and obedience due his Father, God. In the experience of those two men Scripture lays before us the two paths available to us: the path of Adam and the path of the Second Adam, and it is our choice which to follow. We can be like the first Adam and ignore God’s commands and give in to our flesh, or we can be like the Second Adam and be willing to devote ourselves to selfless service and believe and follow the Word of God and not our own desires and feelings. The choice is ours to make, but the consequences are not ours to pick. The consequences of obedience are everlasting life and rewards. The consequences of disobedience can include death in the Lake of Fire. May we all have the wisdom and strength to choose the path of Christ. [For more on the war between God and the Devil that is going on in the world, see commentary on Luke 4:6].
“the Adversary.” The Greek word for Adversary is Satanas (#4567 Σατανᾶς ). The term means “Adversary,” and it was borrowed from the Aramaic, Satana (סָטָנָא) which originally referred to one who laid in ambush [as an adversary], and then became used as a proper name meaning “Adversary” (see Vocabulary of the Greek NT, by Moulton & Milligan). The word “satan” means “adversary” in all the biblical languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, although sometimes it is used just as “an adversary,” and sometimes, especially with the article, it is used as an appellative, a name, for the Devil.
Being an adversary to God and the things of God is a major part of the Devil’s character and strategy. “Satan” can refer to the direct work of the Devil as in Job 1, or it can refer to indirect work as in Matthew 16:23 when Jesus called Peter “Satan.” Usually the word “Satan” places the emphasis on the indirect work of the Devil. As the great adversary of the true God, the Adversary is the indirect cause of people’s problems by way of situations or circumstances or other people, which he arranges and controls. He is the influence of these situations, circumstances, and people. It has been generally unhelpful that satanas has been transliterated as “Satan” rather than translated as “Adversary.” Anyone reading Hebrew or Greek knew what the word meant, but almost no Christian knows that “Satan” is not just a name, it is a word that became used as a name, and its meaning, Adversary, is important. For information of the names of the Devil and their meanings, see Appendix 14: “Names of the Devil”.
“served him.” The Greek verb is diakoneō (#1247 διακονέω), and it is in the imperfect tense, thus indicating an action in the past which occurred over a period of time. Although a number of commentators state that they believe that Satan had already left Jesus’ presence when the angels came, that does not seem to be the sense of the Greek text or a simple reading of the verse itself. The flow of the verse clearly seems to indicate that the angels were with him at times while he was in the desert, just as the wild animals were. If we read the verse as it stands, the wild animals were certainly with Jesus during his time in the desert, and the verse simply continues on and says that the angels were ministering to him, as if they also were there at times during his temptation in the desert. Jesus’ desert experience would have been like life: the hardships of life (the desert), the presence of physical enemies (the wild animals), the hordes of Satan (including Satan himself), and God’s angels, all around one man who needed to resist temptation and walk in wisdom and power. There is no reason to believe that the presence of angels somehow meant that Jesus was not really tempted. For one thing, it is unlikely that the angels were there all the time, any more than he was constantly surrounded by wild animals. They would likely come and go. Also, the angels did not keep Jesus from being tempted, but their presence helped remind Jesus how much was at stake in his living a sinless life.
The Word specifically says that it was the Spirit, God, who led Jesus into the desert (Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:1). The Gospel of Mark is even more forceful, saying that the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the desert (Mark 1:12). But why? Why the need to be in the desert? It surely makes a parallel between Jesus in the desert and Moses and Israel in the desert. Jesus was 40 days in the desert fasting just as Moses was 40 days fasting on Mt. Sinai (Moses was there twice: Exod. 24:18; 34:28), and Israel was 40 years in the desert. There was an angel of the Lord in the desert who helped Israel in its wanderings (Exod. 14:19; 23:20, 23; 32:34; 33:2) and so too Jesus had angelic support. It was Moses’ and Israel’s disobedience in the desert that led to the death of a generation of Israelites, the deaths of Israel’s great leaders, and by dividing the Twelve Tribes to both sides of the Jordan River, put an end to the vision of a united Israel in the Promised Land. In contrast, Jesus’ obedience in the wilderness, and his resisting physical, mental, and spiritual temptation, contributed to his being able to restore and give life to the nation of Israel once again.(top)
“Good News of God.” The words “of the kingdom” were added by copyists, to conform this verse to many others that appear in the Four Gospels. This is the only use of “Good News of God” in the Gospels, and from the context it is clear that it does indeed refer to the Good News of the Kingdom.
“Jesus came into Galilee.” In this context, the Word saying, “Jesus came into Galilee” refers to his “coming” as the fulfilment of a divine call to preach the Good News there. In this context, “came” (or the Greek could also be translated “went”) does not seem to refer as much to a change in physical location, (although it does do that) as to the fact that Jesus is following the leading of the spirit. He had been in Galilee before this. After Jesus had been baptized by John and spent 40 days in the wilderness, he had met disciples (John 1:35-51) and then returned to Galilee for a wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) then gone to Capernaum (John 2:12) and even gone back to Jerusalem for Passover (John 3).
John the Baptist said one would come who would baptize in holy spirit (Mark 1:7). Jesus came from Nazareth to John (Mark 1:9). Jesus came into Galilee (Mark 1:14). It is likely that in this context Jesus was coming up from Jerusalem to Galilee.(top)
“The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent, and believe the good news.” What Jesus said here in Mark 1:15 is also stated with slightly different wording in the parallel passage, Matthew 4:17. Matthew and Mark do not contradict, but instead, they reveal some of the different ways that Jesus spoke his message. Jesus, like prophets of both the Old and New Testament, taught that the Day of the Lord was near, and like those prophets, he said it in many different ways. Sometimes he said that the “Kingdom” was near, referring to the Kingdom he would set up immediately after the Great Tribulation. Sometimes he spoke of his return, which immediately precedes the Battle of Armageddon and then the Kingdom of God being set up on earth. Also, Jesus taught his disciples to teach the same message that he was (Matt. 10:7; Luke 11:10). The one major difference between the prophecies of Jesus Christ and those of the other Old and New Testament writers is that Jesus defined the word “near” more specifically when he said in several different ways that the people of the generation in which he lived would see his Second Coming and the Kingdom of God come in power.
There is no indication in the Bible or in the history of the early church that his followers misunderstood what he meant, so we should not either. But the obvious problem with Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom is “near” is that it has been almost 2000 years since he taught that, and the Kingdom has not come. The Greek word translated “near” is eggizō (Strong’s #1448) and it is quite common, occurring more than 40 times in the New Testament. Eggizō can refer to either near in time, or near in location. The people John and Jesus spoke to knew what “near” meant, and reacted with predictable enthusiasm, just as we today would be excited if we knew that Jesus’ return was near.
Although many conservative commentators say that the word “near” just refers to the fact that the Kingdom was “imminent,” i.e., that it could come at any time, that explanation is contrived. As was stated above, the word “near” was a common word and means “near, close at hand;” it does not mean “imminent” and is not used that way in other contexts in the New Testament. Furthermore, just reading the records in the Bible shows us that the people took what John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2) and Jesus said at face value. Jesus’ audience knew the Old Testament prophecies and knew that if the Kingdom was near, then all the Kingdom prophecies, such as those that said the Messiah would rule justly, there would be peace, safety, and an abundance of food, were close too, and so naturally they got excited.
In contrast to “near” (i.e., close at hand), the coming of the Messiah had been “imminent” (“it could happen any time”) for centuries. If all John, Jesus, and the other New Testament writers were saying was that the Kingdom could happen any time, the people who heard that message would not have gotten excited about it—there would have been nothing revolutionary about that message. The teaching of John and Jesus that the kingdom was near was a powerful message and also in agreement with the many other ways Jesus spoke about the Kingdom being close at hand (cp. Matt. 16:28).
Very solid evidence that when Jesus said “near” he did not mean “imminent” (i.e., it can happen at any time) comes from reading and understanding Mark 1:15 itself. Mark does not have the simple statement we find in Matthew, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Mark adds that Jesus prefaced his statement with these important words: “The time is fulfilled.”
The Greek word translated “time” is kairos (#2540 καιρός) and it refers to a measure of time (a limited period of time) or a fixed and definite time, an opportune time, the right time. Also, the Greek word translated “fulfilled” is pleroō (#4137; πληρόω) and in reference to time it means to complete a period of time; to reach the end of a period of time. Jesus did not only say the Kingdom was near, he also said that the period of time that needed to be fulfilled before the Messianic Kingdom could come to earth had now been fulfilled, completed. Jesus recognized that there were certain things that had to occur (or a certain time that had to be completed) before the Kingdom could come—and he said that that necessary time had now been completed and thus the Kingdom was at hand.
Another solid piece of evidence that the word “near” does not mean “imminent” is that God could have sent the Messiah any time He deemed fit, so in that sense the coming of the Messiah was always “imminent.” So if “near” meant “imminent,” then from Genesis onward the End Times should have always been spoken of as being “near” or “imminent.” But that is not the case. From Genesis to perhaps the 800s BC, a period of more than 3,000 years, God indicated that the Day of Lord, which included the Tribulation, Armageddon, Jesus’ Second Coming, and the resurrection of the dead, was not near, but was far away. For example, Job, who lived about 2,000 BC, stated that “a man lies down and does not rise. Until the heavens are no more they will not awake, nor be roused out of their sleep.” (Job 14:12). Similarly, Baalam (c. 1450 BC) said “I see him [the Messiah], but not now. I behold him, but not near” (Num. 24:17). Ecclesiastes (c. 950 BC) says that the days a person will be in the grave will be “many” (Ecc. 11:8) and that people who die go to their “long home,” meaning the grave (Ecc. 12:5). Only perhaps in the 800s BC, and certainly in the 700s BC, did God start saying through His prophets that the Day of the Lord was “near” (cp. Joel 1:15; 2:1; 3:14; Isa. 13:6; 29:17; 46:13; 51:5; 56:1). Very striking is that when Joel says the Day of the Lord is “near” (Joel 1:15; 3:14), he uses the same Hebrew word for “near” as when Numbers 24:17 says the Messiah was “not near.” We do not know why God started saying the Day of the Lord was near but then kept delaying it, but that is what Scripture reveals.
It is worth noting that some people say that the Bible says the Day of the Lord is near because when people die the next thing they will experience is their resurrection and the Day of the Lord. But that explanation has the same problem that “imminent” does; if the Day of the Lord was near because it came for the person when they died, then throughout the Old Testament it would have always been said to be “near,” but for more than the first three-quarters of the Old Testament the Day of the Lord was not near, but far away.
Some theologians state that the Kingdom was “near” in the sense that Jesus was personally present, but that explanation is not correct. For one thing, Christ did not say that “the King” was near. He said that “the Kingdom was near,” and what that meant to his listeners was that all the promises of the Old Testament about the Kingdom were about to be fulfilled. Also, Jesus revealed who he was many times, such as to the apostles (Matt. 16:16-20), the woman at the well (John 4:26), the blind man Jesus healed (John 9:35-39), and more, and in none of those cases in which Jesus revealed himself did he say he was “near.” So there is no Scriptural reason to take Jesus’ message the Kingdom was near to mean that he himself, “the king,” was near.
All the evidence indicates that the message Christ was preaching was straightforward and were the words he received from God: that the Kingdom was near (cp. John 7:16; 12:49; 14:10; 14:24). The same thing can be said for the prophets of old. Jesus and the prophets had proclaimed the Kingdom was near because God told them to say that, but then for reasons known only to Him, God delayed what He said would come soon. Many people have a hard time with this because they say that it made what Jesus said historically inaccurate, but the same thing had happened to many prophets before Jesus, and the fact is that God controls the timing of the Second Coming and if God saw fit to delay it then we should accept what God did and not think less of Jesus, John the Baptist, or the prophets because of an action God took for His own reasons.
[For more on the many different ways that Jesus said the Kingdom of God was coming soon, see commentary on Matt. 16:28. For more on what Christ’s kingdom on earth, the “Kingdom of God,” would be like, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].(top)
“the lake.” The “Sea of Galilee” is a lake, about 7.5 miles wide (12 km) and 13 miles (21 km) long (the size can vary somewhat as the water level rises and falls). A person can stand on the cliffs on either the east or west side and see the entire lake very easily.(top)
“Come after me.” This is a different word from “follow” in Mark 1:18. The disciple would follow behind the teacher in the biblical culture (cp. Matt. 4:19-20).
“I will make you into fishers of people.” The kind of fishing the disciples did was not like the fishing that most people think of today, which uses a rod and reel, line, hook, and often a bobber (there was some hook-and-line fishing in Israel, but it was for a quick meal, not for making a living; cp. Matt. 17:27).
The disciples generally would have fished by cast-net fishing. That involved a circular net with weights around the perimeter that was thrown by hand into the water. When properly cast, the net would open into a wide circle that was pulled down by the weights, edges first, over the fish and thus entrapped them. This technique has been improved significantly with today’s monofilament cast-nets that have special strings that draw the net closed after it has been thrown and allowed to sink. Cast-net fishing is why the Gospel records say the disciples cast their nets into the sea (Matt. 4:18; 13:47; Mark 1:16; John 21:6).
Cast-net fishing is hard work. The nets can be heavy and the act of repetitive throwing and pulling in empty nets can be exhausting and frustrating. Furthermore, cast-net fishing, like most fishing, gets the best results before dawn or near dusk and into the night, so the hours are long and inconvenient. Also, if the fishermen have any hope of being successful, they must know both the waters and the habits of the species of fish they are after, so success involves study, not just “dumb luck.”
The other common type of fishing in the Middle East and on the Sea of Galilee involved a dragnet. That involved a net that could be up to 300 yards (274 meters) long and 8 yards (7.3 meters) deep, although it could also be considerably smaller. The dragnet had weights at the bottom of the net and floats at the top, and it was put out into the water parallel to the shore by boats, and then pulled into shore by groups of people who would “drag” the net through the water and over the bottom. Dragnet fishing is mentioned in the Old Testament and the Gospels (cp. Hab. 1:14-16; Ezek. 26:5; 32:3; 47:10; Matt. 13:47-48).
So when Jesus said that he would make his disciples into fishers for people, his metaphor—which was not picked by accident—included hard work, frustration, patience, endurance, and knowledge. No wonder Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you to become….” It is by following Jesus, the master fisherman, that disciples learn to bring people into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is not easy, but it is rewarding in this life and will be richly rewarded by the Lord in the next life. [For more information, see The Sea of Galilee and its Fishermen in the New Testament by Mendel Nun].(top)
“and immediately they left the nets.” Reading this verse without its full context in the Gospels and culture of the time makes the calling of the Apostle seem magical on Jesus’ part and rash and unwise on the Apostles part. These future apostles were already disciples. [For more information, see commentary on Matthew 4:20].(top)
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“And immediately.” See commentary on Mark 1:18.(top)
“Capernaum.” Capernaum would become Jesus’ home town when he left Nazareth. [For more information, see commentary on Mark 2:1]. The record of Jesus casting a demon out of a man in the synagogue at Capernaum is in Mark 1:23-28 and Luke 4:33-37.(top)
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“What do you want with us.” See commentary on Matthew 8:29.(top)
“subdued.” Verse 25 has a couple words that have technical meanings relating to Greek magical arts (which we understand is actually part of the spiritual battle), that we must pay attention to in order to understand the verse. In every language, there are words that have a technical meaning as well as having a standard or usual meaning. In this verse, the Greek word translated “subdued” is epitimaō (#2008 ἐπιτιμάω), which usually means to express strong disapproval of someone: rebuke, reprove, censure; or to speak seriously, and thus warn in order to prevent or end an action; or “punish” (cp. BDAG Lexicon).
That is not its meaning here, however. For one thing, the demon would not respond to being “rebuked.” It is too arrogant to know, or it does not care, that it is doing evil. Jesus would have certainly followed the wisdom of Proverbs: “a mocker does not listen to rebuke” (Prov. 13:1. Cp. Prov. 9:7, 8; 15:5, 12; 17:10; 23:9; 29:9). In this context, epitimaō is used in the technical sense in which it is in Greek religion of gaining control over a spirit, a demon.
The technical sense is not common in the Greek literature that has survived to this day, and so does not show up in many Greek lexicons (cp. Bullinger, BDAG, Thayer, and Vine). That fact helps explain why not many Bible teachers are aware of the technical use of the word that refers to subduing rival powers in the spiritual battle between good and evil. Robert Guelich (Word Biblical Commentary: Mark) translates the opening phrase of verse 25: “Jesus subdued him....” and notes that in contexts like these, epitimaō is “a commanding word uttered by God or by his spokesman, by which evil powers are brought into submission.” (cp. A. Nylan, The Source NT). Greg Boyd writes: “...the term denotes an authoritative exercise of God’s power in subduing his enemies. It accomplishes what it speaks” (God at War; p. 207).
Epitimaō also occurs in the records of Jesus “rebuking” the storm on the Sea of Galilee, after which there was a great calm (Matt. 8:26; Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24). Jesus subdued the storm by superior spiritual power. Greg Boyd writes: “It thus appears that, in “muzzling” this storm, Jesus is muzzling yet another demon” (God at War; p. 206). It seems clear that the storm was caused by a demon. Many of Jesus’ apostles who were with him on the boat when the storm came up were experienced fishermen and would not have risked their lives if the weather looked threatening. The Devil was trying to take advantage of Jesus being in a supposedly vulnerable position and kill him or the apostles by drowning them.
In the spiritual battle there are some spirits that are more powerful than others. Strength and authority are real among spiritual beings, just as they are real on earth among creatures of the flesh. In Daniel 10:1-13 there is a spiritual battle in which an angel of God is prevented by a demon from answering Daniel’s prayer until a stronger angel shows up and assists in the fight. Revelation 12:7-9 describe a war in heaven in which the Devil is the weaker one and loses the fight, resulting in his being thrown down to earth.
Describing the spiritual battle, or any spiritual reality for that matter, is difficult. Therefore the Bible uses vocabulary that describes the spiritual battle that the Greeks would be familiar with—sorcerer against sorcerer and god against god—so the people could understand that Jesus was subduing evil spirits by using greater spiritual power. Jesus wielded the power of the true God, and thus was able to subdue the demon by that power, expressed through words. Jesus did not gain control over the demon by virtue of some “magic words” or formula that he used, as if he was some sort of Greek sorcerer. “It is not a magical incantation...it is powerful Word of the Son” (Gerhard Kittle, Theological Dictionary, ἐπιτιμάω Vol. 2, p. 626). The power came from God and was used by Jesus, who then instructed the Twelve Apostles (Matt. 10:5-8), and the Seventy Two (Luke 10:1-17) in casting out demons in the spiritual battle. Every Christian has the inherent power through the gift of holy spirit to subdue and cast out demons.
“Be bound.” As with the word “subdued” (Mark 1:25 above), the Greek word phimoō (#5392 φιμόω) has a technical meaning in this context that relates to the spiritual battle. Ordinarily phimoō means to close the mouth with a muzzle or to silence. For example, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (1 Cor. 9:9). Phimoō is also used in Matthew 22:12 for the man who came to the wedding without the proper wedding clothes and upon being confronted was “speechless” (literally, “muzzled”) and not able to say a word. However, phimoō was used in Greek magic to denote the binding of a person with a spell. Moulton and Milligan write that it can refer to “the binding of a person by means of a spell, so as to make him powerless to harm” (The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament). Ann Nyland (The Source NT) writes in her footnote for Matt. 22:12 that phimoō is “a technical term from pagan magic. It was used…to denote the binding of a person by means of a spell…The verb is ‘Be muzzled!’ but translated as ‘bound’ in the magical texts. This is one of the 2 technical terms used for binding in Greek pagan magic.”
While it is true that the translation, “Be quiet” or “Silence,” which most versions have, is part of the meaning, the real force of the command, phimoō, is about binding the power of evil. Thus, the Greek conveys a spiritual power which binds evil that is much better expressed by the command “Be bound,” than it is by the English, “Silence,” which does not convey any of the spiritual binding of evil that is the real point of the command. Jesus did not just command the demon to be quiet—although that is included in what he did—he bound it with the power of his word. That he commanded the demons not to speak can be gained from the sense of the word, the context, and scope of Scripture, as we see in Mark 1:34. Another indication that Jesus’ command was not an immediate demand for silence was that the demon came out with a shriek. If Jesus had in fact commanded by the power of God that there be “silence,” the demon would not have even shrieked.(top)
“throwing him into convulsions.” Although the Greek word is more literally “tear,” it has the medical meaning of throwing someone into convulsions. Demons who inhabit a person’s body can easily do that.(top)
“so amazed that.” The Greek reads more literally, “amazed so that,” using hōste (#5620 ὥστε) to indicate the result of the amazement. We would not typically say that people were amazed so that an argument arose, we would say that they were so amazed that an argument arose. A more literal translation might be: “they were amazed, resulting in an argument” or, “they were amazed, therefore an argument arose.”(top)
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“Simon’s mother-in-law.” The Apostle Peter was married, but typical of the biblical culture, neither his wife nor his children get much attention, in fact, their private lives are protected by the silence. This record is in Matthew 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31, and Luke 4:38-39.(top)
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“they brought to him everyone.” This verse shows the great dedication the people of the time had for obeying the Law, and it sets a great example for us. The day being spoken of, that had just ended, was a Sabbath, as we learn from Mark 1:29. On the Sabbath people could not walk very far (a Sabbath day’s journey” was just over ½ mile or .8 km), and they could not carry a burden, so carrying a sick person could not be done. If the people did not put the Law above their own desires, they would have said, “Forget the Law! I need help now!” and they would have ignored the Law and brought the sick to Jesus as fast as possible. The fact that they waited until sundown to bring the sick to Jesus shows their dedication to God and the Law.(top)
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“touched.” The Greek verb is haptō (#681 ἅπτω), a word that has two distinct meanings. It properly means “to fasten to, make adhere to; hence, specifically to fasten fire to a thing, to kindle, set on fire, (often so in Attic Greek); cp. Luke 8:16; 11:33; 15:8. However, when it is used in the middle voice (haptomai; #680 ἅπτομαι) it means “to make close contact with,” and has a very wide range of applications. It can mean, touch, take hold of, hold; cling to; to have contact with, or partake of something with cultic implications, (often used of touching as a means of conveying a blessing or “touching” or partaking of an unclean thing, including eating, almost like we would say, “you have not touched your food”); it can be used almost idiomatically for intimate touch, sexual contact (1 Cor. 7:1; we use “touch” the same way today); and it can be used for contact with someone with a view to causing harm, i.e., injure (Job 5:19 LXX, “no evil shall touch you.”) (BDAG; Thayer).
In this verse, there is little doubt that Jesus did more than just make a light physical contact with the leper. He would have at the very least placed his hands on him as any priest or healer would do to convey a blessing. He may have even gone so far as to hug the leper, but that is less probable, especially given the culture and cultural expectations of both the leper and the people.
On a lexical note, there is some confusion that can occur when studying haptō because most lexicographers recognize it as one Greek verb that has different definitions in different voices, something not uncommon. Nevertheless, James Strong, author of Strong’s concordance, assigned a different Strong’s number to haptomai, the middle voice of the verb. Thus there appears to be two words in Strong’s Concordance and The Englishman’s Greek Concordance, but only one word in Thayer and most other Greek lexicons.(top)
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“See that you say nothing to anyone.” Jesus often said this when he healed people. (cp. Matt. 9:30, blind men; Mark 7:36, a deaf person; Luke 8:56, a dead girl). On the other hand, he told some of the people he healed to spread the news (cp. Mark 5:19). The reason Jesus told people to not talk about their healing is never explicitly stated, and there are likely various reasons for it. One reason would be the often infectious doubt and unbelief that comes from scoffers who hear of the deliverance which could adversely affect the person who was healed. Another reason would be the personal privacy of the individual, who would often be immediately elevated to “movie star status” in their community, as happened to Lazarus. Still another reason would be likely especially in cases such as this healing, the need for Jesus to not be thought of as “unclean” or worse, as “contagious,” in his culture. Touching a leper made the person unclean (Lev. 15:7), and since the cause of leprosy was unknown, not only were people with leprosy scrupulously avoided, but no doubt sometimes people who touched lepers were looked upon with suspicion and avoided.
“as a testimony to them.” Jesus’ healing the leper would be one more testimony that he was the Messiah. However, the Greek wording can, and often is, understood in a negative sense, “as a testimony against them” (see Robert Guelich, Word Biblical Commentary: Mark). The priests were against Jesus, and their not seeing the miracles that he did as proof of who he claimed to be was against them.(top)
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