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© Rosemary Bardsley 2013



Matthew and Luke begin their gospels with detailed ‘birth narratives’ and genealogies. By this they establish that Jesus is both God and man, and specifically, a man in the line of David and Abraham. John commences his gospel with powerful assertions of the eternal existence and deity of Jesus.

Mark does all of this in one succinct verse:

‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ [1:1]

Task #1: Discuss and answer these questions:

[If you have difficulty, the teaching content below the questions provides the answers.]

[1] What is the meaning of the word ‘gospel’?

[2] What is the meaning of the name ‘Jesus’? [see Matthew 1:21]

[3] What is the meaning of the title ‘Christ’?

[4] What does it mean that Jesus Christ is ‘the Son of God’?

A.1 The gospel
The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’ or ‘good message’.  Mark uses this term here in 1:1, and again in 1:14, in summary of the message taught by Jesus Christ. Jesus himself uses it in 1:15 ‘Repent and believe the good news!’

This should make us stop and rethink the meaning of the term ‘the gospel’. The church generally seems to have restricted the meaning of the term ‘gospel’ to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel, the ‘good news’, has for the church become ‘Jesus died for your sins.’ Here in Mark 1 Jesus is just beginning his ministry, he has not yet died, nor has he made any reference to his dying, yet we are told that he proclaimed ‘the good news’ and exhorted his hearers to ‘believe the good news!’

If we listen to Mark and to Jesus we will understand the ‘gospel’ to refer not only to the saving death of Jesus, but to the totality of his incarnation: that here, in Jesus Christ, God has come to us; that here, in Jesus Christ, God speaks to us; that here in Jesus Christ God reveals himself to us. Here our blindness and our darkness are reversed. Here we see God. This is the gospel. This is the good news.

A.2 Jesus: the Saviour
The name ‘Jesus’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew ‘Joshua’, which means ‘the LORD (that is, Jehovah, Yahweh) saves’. Matthew relates that Joseph was instructed by the angel to call the baby son that would be born ‘Jesus’ for the very reason that he, this baby boy, would save his people from their sins [Matthew 1:21].

The one who saves is the LORD, and according to the Old Testament he is the only Saviour:

‘I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no Saviour’ [Isaiah 43:11].

But here we have this human baby being named ‘Jesus’ precisely because he himself will save his people from their sins.

Here we are confronted with two options:

Either God is lying in Isaiah 43, and there are actually two saviours.
Or, Jesus is God – he is the LORD who is the only Saviour.

Mark doesn’t explain all of this. For him the name is enough: the one about whom the Gospel speaks is Jesus, the Saviour.

A.3 Christ: the Messiah
The title ‘Christ’ is the English expression of the Greek Christos, which translates the Hebrew ‘Messiah’, which means ‘anointed’. By this one word Mark refers to the totality of the Old Testament expectations of the Messiah. These expectations are too many to mention here, but they include:

The seed of the woman.
A prophet like Moses.
The one anointed by God.
A King in the line of David, who would reign forever.
The son who is given to us.
A conqueror and deliverer.
The ‘servant’ of God.
The Son of Man.

While there were some who understood the deep spiritual mission of the Messiah, popular opinion in the time of Jesus had reduced these expectations to a national, political hero who would liberate the Jews from the domination of Rome.

A.4 The Son of God
By calling Jesus ‘the Son of God’ Mark is affirming the full deity of Jesus. This ‘Jesus’, this ‘Christ’ is ‘the Son of God’. A ‘son’ is of the same essence as his ‘father’. John’s gospel reports the reaction of the Jews when Jesus spoke of God as his ‘father’ –

‘For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God’ [John 5:18].

Here at the very beginning of his gospel Mark confronts us with this pivotal and divisive fact: that Jesus is the Son of God, that this real human being, is actually, at the time, fully God. God in human flesh.

Everything that Mark records in his Gospel confirms his initial summary here in 1:1.


B.1 Preparing the way for the LORD
Mark immediately connects Jesus with Old Testament prophecy and with the all-powerful and compassionate God of the Old Testament.

Task #2: Read Isaiah 40:3-11, then answer these questions:

[1] For whom is the way being prepared? [verse 3, two answers]

[2] What is revealed when he comes? [verse 5]

[3] Is this just to the Jews, or to all nations? [verse 5]

[4] What does the one preparing the way have to shout out? [verse 9]

[5] Who is it that is coming? [verse 10]

[5] What is he like and what will he do? [verse 10,11]

Mark's first verification of his statement in 1:1 that Jesus is the Son of God is in 1:3. He quotes the prophet Isaiah:

    'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' [Mark 1:3]

When Mark quotes this partial verse from Isaiah 40 the whole of that chapter would come to the minds of his Jewish readers:

The rest of Isaiah 40:3 which says ‘make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God’.

Isaiah 40:5 that states that when this person comes ‘the glory of the LORD would be revealed’.

The command given to the messenger to shout ‘Here is your God!’ [Isaiah 40:9]

The fact that the one who is coming is ‘the Sovereign LORD’ [Isaiah 40:10], whose unequalled and universal power and authority are described in the rest of Isaiah 40.

These words from Isaiah explain the ministry of John the Baptist. What John was doing was preparing the way for the Lord – for the sovereign, almighty God.

According to the prophecy, the one who comes after the messenger is the Lord, ‘our God’. According to history, the one who came after John the Baptist was Jesus of Nazareth. This prophecy, together with John the Baptist's ministry, identifies Jesus of Nazareth as the Lord. In quoting the prophecy, in recounting John's ministry, Mark identifies Jesus as the Old Testament God, the Sovereign LORD.

B.2 How John prepared the way

Task #3: Read Mark 1:4-8. Answer these questions:

[1] What two things did John do? [verse 4]

[2] John’s message and baptism were focused on a human action and a divine action. What are these two actions? [verse 4]

[3] What real spiritual human response was symbolically expressed in this baptism? [verse 5]

[4] How did John describe the superiority of the one coming after him? [verse 7]

[5] What is the difference between John’s baptism and the baptism that Jesus would implement? [verse 8]

John prepared the way for Jesus in two distinct ways:

[1] He called the people to repentance and confession [1:4,5].

Repentance is literally a change of mind. The Greek word metanoeo is formed from the prefix meta meaning ‘change’, and the verb noeo meaning to ‘understand’. The call to repent is a call to change one’s understanding. In the spiritual context it is a command to stop thinking one’s own way, or the way of the world, and to think God’s way: to stop believing error and start believing God’s truth; to stop believing sin is okay and to start believing God’s verdict on sin.

The English ‘confess’ usually translates the Greek homologeo. This word literally means ‘to say the same’ – from homo meaning ‘same’ and lego meaning ‘I speak’. It is sometimes translated ‘acknowledge’ [as in Matthew 10:32], and this is its essential meaning. [Note that there is nothing in the word to imply that ‘confession’ means making an itemised list of sins.] The word Mark uses in 1:5 is exhomologeo, which is an intensified form of homologeo. It has the added inference of public or open acknowledgement.

Thus the result of John’s call to repentance was that people changed their minds about their sins. Instead of following our normal human practice of denying, minimizing, or justifying our sins, they now, in response to John’s preaching, agreed with God’s verdict on their sins, and openly acknowledged their sins.

Repentance, expressed in their acknowledgement of sins, resulted, if genuine, in forgiveness.

This repentance, confession and forgiveness were symbolized and publicly affirmed in the ritual of water baptism.

John is in this way preparing people’s hearts and minds for Jesus, softening them up so that when Jesus comes and teaches them they will already be open and receptive to the word of God.

[2] He taught about the superiority of the one coming after him [1:7,8]

John mentioned two points of Jesus’ superiority:

Jesus is so powerful and important that John considers himself to be unworthy to even untie his sandals [1:7]. [This was the task of the lowest of household slaves.]

The baptism of Jesus is superior to the baptism of John: John baptized in water; Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. The water baptism is a mere temporal and physical symbol. Baptism with the Holy Spirit is a permanent and spiritual reality. Water baptism is an outward human action. Baptism with the Holy Spirit is an inner action of God. [Note that all of the four gospel writers record this statement of John the Baptist that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.] For more details about being baptized with the Holy Spirit go to section C in this study: http://godswordforyou.com/joomla4/bible-studies/the-holy-spirit/497-the-holy-spirit-and-salvation

Note that this fact that Jesus will ‘baptize with the Holy Spirit’ is a further indication that Jesus is God. Only God can give his own Spirit. If Jesus has the right and ability to baptise with the Holy Spirit, then Jesus can be no one less than God.


Mark leaves out the details in his report of both the baptism and temptation of Jesus. He simply states the basic facts. He leaves it to the reader to think through the implications of what he reports, implications that are probably so obvious to him that they don’t need mentioning.

C.1 The baptism of Jesus
Mark has just informed us that the baptism of John was related to human repentance and human acknowledgement of sin. Now he states that Jesus was baptized by John. This immediately puzzles us, particularly if we already understand the many scriptures that affirm that Jesus was without sin. He had no need for repentance. He had no sin to acknowledge. He had no need for forgiveness.

Matthew tells us that John immediately recognized the inappropriateness of him baptizing Jesus:

‘But John tried to deter him, saying “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”’ [Matthew 3:14]

Matthew then relates Jesus’ reply:

‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness’ [Matthew 3:15].

To begin to understand what is going on in this baptism of Jesus we need to understand two key components of the saving work that Jesus came to do:

[1] Substitutionary atonement. Simply put, this means that Jesus came to take our place under the judgement of God. He died for our sins.

Task #4: How do these verses express this concept of Jesus dying as our substitute?

Romans 5:6

Romans 5:8

Romans 5:10

Galatians 3:13

2Corinthians 5:21

1Peter 2:24

1Peter 3:18

[2] Mediatorial priesthood. Jesus is our representative in the presence of God, our Advocate, our Mediator. The Letter to the Hebrews has this priestly role of Christ in focus from 4:14 to 9:28.

Task #5: How do these verses from Hebrews stress the significance of the real humanity of Christ and the identification of Christ with us in the real pressures and suffering that characterise our human lives?






To die as our substitute, to die for our sins, in a way that met the requirements of God’s justice, Jesus had to be one of us; he had to identify with us. To stand as our representative/mediator/advocate in God’s presence he had to experience the suffering of our human lives, including our temptations and pressures.

Here in his deliberate choice to be baptised with a baptism that was centred on sin, Jesus identifies with us; he aligns himself with us. Here, when he is about to begin the three years of ministry that would end in his sin-bearing death, he figuratively and predictively takes our sin upon himself. Here, after thirty years of obscurity living a sinless human life, in his first public action he anticipates his cross.

C.2 Heaven being torn open
Jesus coming up out of the water witnessed a rare event: he saw the heavens being torn open (the verb is a present participle). The eternal, spiritual realm, for a brief space of physical time, was breaking through the barrier that normally hides that world from our physical sight. [In John’s gospel it is clear that John the Baptist also witnessed this brief revelation of the spiritual realm.]

Note that in verse 10 there are three present participles in the Greek text:

Jesus coming up from the water.
Heaven opening.
The Holy Spirit descending.

We can understand from this that these three occurred simultaneously. While these three were happening the voice came [Aorist tense] from heaven.

[1] The Holy Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove [1:10]
Mark gives us no explanation of this, but John records its significance, as told by John the Baptist:

‘Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”’ [John 1:32-34].

Clearly God gave this visible sign so that John the Baptist would know who was the One for whom his ministry was preparing the way. This is the only explanation given in the Scripture.

[2] A voice came from heaven [1:11]
Accompanying the visible sign of the descending Spirit was the audible voice of God, combining content from two Old Testament prophecies:

‘He said to me “You are my Son”’ [Psalm 2:7]
‘… my chosen one in whom I delight’ [Isaiah 42:1]

Here God the Father gave audible testimony to the identity of his Son.

Various Bible teachers draw their own conclusions about the significance of this visible descent of the Spirit upon Jesus and the verbal affirmation from God:

Some say that Jesus is here being ‘baptised in the Spirit’ and thereby empowered for his ministry that was about to begin. [Some go further and uphold this as a pattern that has to be repeated for each Christian, making water baptism essential for salvation and for the reception of the Spirit.]

Some say that it was only from this time onwards that Jesus was the Son of God, that God here adopted Jesus as his Son.

Both of these interpretations interfere with the essential deity of Jesus Christ, denying his real and full deity prior. We must therefore reject them.

[3] The trinity.
These two verses affirm the Trinity, outlawing any form of Unitarianism or modalism. All three persons of the Trinity are present and active at the same time:

The Son is coming up out of the water.
The Spirit is visibly descending on the Son, like a dove.
The voice of the Father is heard addressing the Son from heaven.

R.A Cole comments:

‘This is one of the great ‘trinitarian’ passages of the New Testament. Here the Spirit and the Father both bear witness to the Son. As in the book of Genesis God created by His word and through the Spirit, so it was fitting that, at the very commencement of God’s new work of re-creation in the hearts of men, there should be the same operation of the whole Godhead. Here, on Jordan’s banks, God speaks His word again, and again the Spirit is brooding over the waters’ [Gospel According to Mark, p58].


C.3 The temptation of Jesus
Again Mark is very brief. He does not describe the temptations. He just gives us the basic facts:

[1] The Spirit sent Jesus … The Greek verb is quite strong: it means ‘impelled’. The Greek word is ekballo - the same word used to refer to Jesus ‘casting out’ demons.

[2] out into the desert. The ‘desert’ is a reference to an uninhabited area – a deserted, isolated, ‘wilderness’ area. Here the only physical creatures are Jesus and the wild animals.

[3] he was in the desert forty days. Matthew 4:2 and Luke 4:2 indicate that Jesus fasted during this time.

[4] being tempted by Satan. Hebrews 2:10-18; 4:15 and 5:7-10 give some insight into the role and purpose of the temptations experienced by Jesus. But it would seem that this specific period of temptation, as distinct from the normal human pressures and temptations common to us all, were specifically focused on what has just occurred – Christ’s deliberate commitment to the work of saving us sinners [expressed in his identification with sinners in baptism], the Spirit’s visible singling out of Jesus as the coming Saviour/Messiah, and the Father’s audible affirmation that Jesus is his well loved and well-approved Son.

This divine confirmation and affirmation triggered Satan’s attack. When we study the details given by Matthew and Luke each temptation is directly related by Satan either to the fact that Jesus is ‘the Son of God’ or to his Messianic role.

Here at the beginning of his ministry, as at the end, Jesus refuses to take the easy way out that Satan offered him. Such is his commitment to the will of the Father.

For a study on the details of the temptations go to http://godswordforyou.com/joomla4/bible-studies/matthew/662-study-4-matthew-4 .

[5] angels attended him. Mark gives us this brief glimpse of the invisible world. The dark invisible reality of Satan was present, but also present were these good angels, those whom Hebrews 1:6 tells us actually worship Jesus, those who are his servants.

Task #6: Discuss and answer these questions:

[1] In what way is the concept of the ‘Trinity’ confirmed in Mark 1:10-11.

[2] What evidence is there in Mark 1:1-13 that Mark was fully convinced of the deity of Jesus?