We come now to our study of the book.
We might divide the chapter into seven main sections:
In this article we will cover the first section, vv. 1-8.
In this section there is a fivefold testimony to the Saviour. In verse 1, Mark begins his gospel with a testimony to the deity of the Lord – ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’. In verses 2 and 3 we have the testimony of the Old Testament, with a quotation from both Malachi and Isaiah. Their united testimony is concerning ‘the way of the Lord’, v. 3. The ministry of the Baptist is also one that testifies to the greatness of the Lord. He speaks of, ‘one mightier than I’, and of One ‘whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose’, v. 7. Finally, the testimony of heaven is given, ‘Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’, v. 11.
The Gospel’s opening verse serves as a title for the book as a whole. It is a clear statement by Mark of his belief in the deity of Christ, for He was the Son of God by nature and character. Wuest comments, ‘The word Son is without the article in the Greek text. Emphasis is therefore upon character or nature. Jesus Christ is Son of God by nature’.1 Such a statement is essential for, as Paisley puts it, ‘Only the Son of God could render perfect service’.2 There could be no better message, described as the gospel, for He alone could be described as good news.
As Mark only quotes from the Old Testament on two occasions in the whole of his gospel, these quotations from Isaiah and Malachi must be of great significance.3 They teach that the Old Testament is prophetic as well as historic. The verses also tell us that John Baptist was the prophesied forerunner of the Christ and that his ministry was to prepare the way for the coming One.
The features of John’s ministry were:
His ministry was divinely commissioned and planned. He was God’s envoy and what John did and fulfilled was in keeping with that task.
His words were those given him of God. He was not ‘the’ voice, but a voice.4 The words were not his but what John said expressed the heart of God for His people.
The thought of crying is to shout, uttering the message with power, and passion. His desire was to arrest the attention of those that came to him to hear the message.
He did not preach in the towns and cities but in the wilderness. His life was characterized by separation from those elements that formed the basis of John’s ministry of repentance.
His message was issued in the form of short commands. Hiebert comments, ‘The aorist imperative, prepare, has the force of a curt military command’.5 To prepare and to straighten meant that John was asking the people to remove the barriers and obstacles to the message of the coming Messiah.
In fulfilment of those things that were prophesied concerning John, his ministry was:
This was baptism by immersion as in keeping with that practised by the early saints, but it differed in that the confession was not of faith but of sins – a public act of repentance. As John’s ministry was to prepare the way, so his methods were in keeping with that ministry. Grassmick comments, ‘This baptism is described as one relating to or expressive of repentance for, eis, the forgiveness of sins’.6
It is also to be noted that John’s baptism was ‘the baptism of repentance’, and that this is the only occurrence of repentance in the Gospel. On repentance, Grassmick comments further, ‘It means a turn about, a deliberate change of mind resulting in a change of direction in thought and behavior’.7
His message was linked to his baptism – the baptism of repentance. To receive the coming Messiah there was a need of national and individual repentance, a genuine acknowledgement of need. This was the thrust of John’s message. The word ‘preach’, kerusso, means, literally, to be a herald or to proclaim after the manner of a herald. Thayer states that such preaching was ‘always with a suggestion of formality, gravity, and authority which must be listened to and obeyed’.8
His ministry also had a very moral message. His baptism was ‘of repentance for the remission of sins’, v. 4. Those that were baptized were actively ‘confessing their sins’, v. 5. John was true to his call and to the ministry that he had been given of God.
John’s message was truly to all. It was for all kinds of people from every walk of life and every strata of society. Wuest comments, ‘There kept on constantly going out to John in a steady stream, all the people of the surrounding inhabited places in Judaea and from Jerusalem’.9
John’s ministry was one of separation and his clothing and food were appropriate to that ministry, v. 6. His was not the finery and colour of the linen cloth. His was not the portion of the sacrifice of meat. Harold St.John wrote, ‘He sustained his strength by feeding on the symbols of God’s judgement (Ex. 10; Joel 2 and Rev. 9), and of the sweetness of doing God’s will (Ps. 19. 10)’.10
Although John was described by the Lord as the greatest of prophets yet his ministry was but preparatory for One who was far superior in every respect and John was ever conscious of that fact. John testified to the greatness of the Lord in respect to:
It is to be noted that the definite article is used, literally ‘the One’. John points out the distinctive, unique nature of the one who is coming after him. There was not, is not, and cannot ever be one as great as the coming One. In the word ‘cometh’ he also points out the immediacy of His coming.11
He possesses the strength and might of God. It is inherent in Him and will be manifest in His actions. It was Isaiah who described Him as ‘the Mighty God’, Isa. 9. 6.
What a contrast John draws between his ministry and that of the Saviour. He says here that he is not sufficient to even perform the task of a menial slave. He might be described by the Lord as the greatest of prophets but, for John, he was nothing in comparison to the Saviour. Hiebert comments, ‘The words to stoop down, found only in Mark, add to John’s picture of self-depreciation and humility … John’s attitude enhanced the dignity of the coming Lord’.12
There was an acknowledgement in John’s words of the fact that his ministry was almost over.13 The coming One would baptize with the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit baptism would be a transforming experience – power expressed in salvation and in giving the believer new power to live for the Saviour.
K. Wuest, Mark in the Greek New Testament, Eerdmans, 1978, pg. 11.
H. Paisley, Mark, in What the Bible Teaches series, John Ritchie, online Bible resource.
These two quotations are the first, and the second is in chapter 15 and verse 28.
See: M. R. Vincent, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, e-sword resource.
D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark, An Expositional Commentary, Bob Jones University Press, 1994, pg. 25.
John D. Grassmick, Mark, in J. Walvoord and R. Zuck (eds.), Bible Knowledge Commentary. Logos Bible Software resource.
Joseph H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, e-sword resource.
Kenneth Wuest, pg. 19.
H. St. John, pg. 25.
Reinecker and Rogers comment, ‘erchomai, present middle, to come. The present sounds the note of immediacy’. Fritz Reinecker and Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan, 1980, pg. 88.
D. Edmond Hiebert, pp. 29, 30.
‘The aorist represents John’s course as already fulfilled in view of the coming of Messiah’, Fritz Reinecker and Cleon Rogers, pg. 89.