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Mark 1:1-5 | Session 1 | Dr. Randy White

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by Randy White Ministries Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Gospel of Mark, Rightly Divided

Mark 1:1-5 | Session 1 | Dr. Randy White

Mark 1:1-8 |The Prophetic Preparation



Introduction



There is general agreement among scholars that the author of the Gospel of Mark is John Mark, who received his information from Peter. However, there is no substantive information available regarding authorship or the date of writing. Tradition relies on quoted words from the second century, though none of the second century manuscripts survive. Many believe that Mark was the first of the four Gospels penned, yet this is also speculative. Certainly by the fourth century the Gospel was attributed to John Mark and received by the church as inspired.

Mark 1:1 | Introducing The Son of God



Both Matthew and Mark open with an argument for Jesus as the Son of God, although Mark's is more explicit and to the point. John is fully focused on this issue, introducing Jesus as the Word made flesh who was with God in the beginning and who is himself God.

Mark's opening line, The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God is an example of a Hebraism. It does not refer to the beginning of the book, but rather to the beginning of the facts surrounding Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Compare Hosea 1:2, for example, which says The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea.

👉 A Hebraism is a linguistic feature or idiom that is characteristic of the Hebrew language, but which appears in another language. It is one indication that Mark is written by a Jew.

Mark's Gospel seems to place a special emphasis on beginnings. This is evident in a number of instances throughout the text, such as 1:1, 45; 4:1; 5:17, 20; 6:2, 7, 34, 55; 8:11, 31, 32; 10:28, 32, 41, 47; 11:15; 12:1; 13:5; 14:19, 33, 65, 69, 71; 15:8, 18. This emphasis is particularly clear in the opening verse of the Gospel.

There are several passages in the Hebrew Scriptures which point to the coming Messiah as the Son of God. These include:
  • Psalm 2:7: I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou _art_ my Son; this day have I begotten thee.

  • 2 Samuel 7:14: I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men

  • Isaiah 9:6: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

  • Daniel 3:25: 25. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of God.



Mark 1:2-3 | The Prophecy of A Forerunner



Verses 2-3 contain a composite quotation taken from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.

The context of Malachi 3:1 is a message of warning and preparation for the coming of the Lord. The Lord will come suddenly to His temple, but before His coming, a messenger will prepare the way. The messenger will purify the sons of Levi, so that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the Lord. The Lord will then judge those who oppress the poor and the alien and those who do not fear Him. The chapter ends with a call to remember the law of Moses and a promise of the coming of Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord.

The context of Isaiah 40:3 is a message of comfort and hope to the exiles of Israel. This verse speaks of a voice calling out to prepare the way of the Lord, making straight in the desert a highway for God. The following verses describe the Lord's power and might, and the promise of His coming to restore Israel. This passage is often understood as a prophecy of the coming of John the Baptist as a messenger preparing the way for Jesus Christ.

Orthodox Judaism generally understands Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 as messianic prophecies, with the messenger preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah. The messenger is interpreted as Elijah, who is expected to announce the arrival of the Messiah. In fact, every Passover Seder includes a cup of wine reserved for Elijah, who is invited to visit every Jewish home on that night.

The Gospel of Mark claims that John the Baptist is the forerunner, who is referred to as "Elijah" in Malachi 3. This raises a few questions about our understanding of the Gospel. Here are some options in which John the Baptist could fulfill the Elijah role:

1. Literal Reincarnation: This option suggests that John the Baptist was a literal reincarnation of Elijah. This would require a belief in reincarnation, which is not traditionally a part of Jewish or Christian doctrine.
2. Metaphorical Representation: This perspective posits that John the Baptist was an Elijah-like figure, embodying the spirit and power of Elijah but not Elijah reincarnated nor the fulfillment of the prophecy. This interpretation is common in Christian theology. In the New Testament, the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that John will go before the Lord "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17).
3. Prophetic Fulfillment: This interpretation sees John the Baptist as a fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy, but not as a literal reincarnation or a symbolic representation of Elijah. This perspective says that Malachi 3 used the name Elijah in a symbolic way, and thus John was the fulfillment.

In Matthew 17:10-13 it becomes clear that Jesus seems to teach the third interpretation, that of prophetic fulfillment, and Mark 1:1-3 favors this interpretation as well. The same can be said of Matthew 11:14, with a contingency. This raises the question of whether or not the role of the forerunner has been fulfilled or whether there will be another “John the Baptist” or “Elijah” figure. The book of Revelation speaks of the “two witnesses” but not of another Elijah/John the Baptist type figure.

I personally favor the prophetic fulfillment interpretation and would consider Malachi 3 and Isaiah 40:3 as fulfilled prophecies. However, this view requires the name in Malachi 3 to be taken figuratively, and I am typically a very literal interpreter. So, upon what basis can I suggest that Malachi 3 should not be taken literally? I think the strongest argument is a theological implication, namely that Elijah would have to be reincarnated to take Malachi 3 literally, and reincarnation is nowhere seen in Hebrew Scripture.

Mark 1:4 | John’s Ministry



There are three things mentioned in Scripture that John, as forerunner, did. Two are mentioned here, and one in verse 7.

First, John baptized in the wilderness. If this is the earliest Gospel written (as is commonly held), then this is the first mention of Baptism in the Scriptures. By this point in Judaism, baptism had become a common ritual for cleansing. John the Baptist was not the first to baptize, nor was he introducing something new to baptism. Those who suggest that baptism is the Christian response to circumcision are making an argument that is not supported by Scripture or by archaeology, which has discovered thousands of "mikvot," Jewish baptismal pools. Any responsible interpretation of Scripture must recognize that baptism was a recognized Jewish ritual prior to the ministry of John the Baptist.

Baptism in the wilderness area, especially the Jordan River, would have had significant Jewish messianic overtones. First, the Jewish nation first entered the promised land in this region by crossing the Jordan itself. Second, the religious/political group known as the Essenes were located near here, likely due to their belief that the Messiah would enter the promised land from the east. John's call for baptism in the Jordan River certainly had a messianic flavor.

👉 The Greek word for "baptism" is βάπτισμα (baptisma). It means "immersion, dipping, washing, cleansing".

👉 The English word "eremite" (meaning a hermit or recluse) is based on the Greek word for "wilderness," ἔρημος (eremos), as is the word “hermit” itself. Other English words with the same root include "eremitic" (relating to a hermit or recluse), "eremology" (the study of deserts), and "eremic" (relating to a desert or uninhabited area).

Secondly, John was one of preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. I think it is impossible to responsibly interpret these words, in English or Greek, in a way that views Baptism as purely symbolic. The word baptism certainly becomes symbolic, but the purpose is to display repentance and the effect of this baptism is the remission of sins. The Greek word eis, translated for really requires that the result of the baptism is the remission of sins. A study of rituals in the Hebrew Scriptures would reveal that the rituals were seen as means of achieving spiritual purity and restoring a state of holiness. Some of these rituals include Yom Kippur (Lev. 16), the ritual cleansing of “unclean” homes (Lev. 14), and even the use of the ashes of a red heifer (Num. 19).

Mark 1:5 | John’s Success



What incredible success we see in the ministry of John the Baptist. The fact that all were going out to be baptized by John is a testament to the fervor of the Jewish nation in the early first century. This fervor was largely due to prophetic timing in the messages of prophets such as can be found in Daniel 9:24-26.

It would become very hard to separate the confession of sins which we see in this verse from the baptism of John, and the same could be said of repentance. John’s baptism was clearly designed to restore a state of holiness in the individual and the nation. And the nation was responding very positively.

The influence of John the Baptist was so strong that Flavius Josephus mentions it in his Antiquities of the Jews (Book 18, Chapter 5, Paragraph 2), saying,

"…John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death.” [emphasis mine].

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