Mark’s account of the baptism of the Lord by John in Jordan is remarkable in its conciseness. It is Mark who tells us that ‘Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee’, v. 9, indicating that this event marked the commencement of the Lord’s public ministry. Mark, with Luke, also makes the message from the voice from heaven to indicate divine approbation – ‘Thou art my beloved Son’, v. 11. That approbation was given to the perfect servant and to the perfect man.
In respect of the temptation in the wilderness, it is only Mark who mentions that the Lord ‘was with the wild beasts’, v. 13. The significance of this phrase is difficult to determine. It indicates the utter loneliness of His experience, there was no human company, but it might be taken to remind us that Adam failed in an environment that was perfect and harmonious, whereas the Saviour maintained His sinlessness in an environment that was hostile.
It is Mark who indicates this event to be the commencement of the Lord’s public ministry and in his statement ‘Jesus came from Nazareth’ tells us that these steps were taken voluntarily. At the appointed time, the Saviour took up the reins of service.
It is clear from the events that follow that the Lord did not have any sins to confess or any need for repentance, and yet He comes to be baptized by John. On why the Lord was baptized of John, Crisswell comments, ‘At least four reasons seem evident: (1) to connect Himself with John, the prophet who prepared the way for the Messiah; (2) to identify Himself with the sinful race He came to redeem, see Matt. 3:16, 17; (3) to establish the course of His own ministry; and (4) to inaugurate that ministry officially’.1
It is Matthew who tells us that the Saviour indicated that His baptism was the fulfilment of all righteousness. In Mark there is the indication that it marked the dividing line between the Lord’s private and public life. In these two Gospels we can see that it was viewed by the Lord as the proper way for the servant to enter upon His ministry. In the Lord’s baptism there was the clear signal that He accepted the role and purpose for which He had come.
The ‘coming up out of the water’, v. 10, indicates the mode of baptism that John practised – the baptism of immersion.
Mark’s characteristic word, ‘straightway’, opens the verse and indicates how one event follows immediately upon another.2 There was no delay. The Lord came up out of the water and the Spirit of God descended down from heaven. Mark’s language suggests a heaven rent asunder to indicate an event of great importance and moment.3 It is the word from which we derive our English word ‘schism’.
The fact that the Spirit of God is seen descending in the form of a dove indicates the harmony between divine persons. The Son of God and the Spirit of God were united in their purpose and desire. There is also the reminder that as the Spirit of God brooded over the waters in creation, so He broods over the waters of Jordan, and the work of new creation commences with the public ministry of the Saviour that will culminate in Calvary.
How important to see all three persons within the Triune Godhead working together. We have the descent of the Spirit, the obedience of the Son, and the voice of the Father.
It is Mark’s account that tells us the voice spoke to the Son rather than to those that were present at the baptism. The message is a message personal to the Son indicating not only the unique relationship that exists between the Father and the Son but also the pleasure that the Son has brought and continues to bring to the Father. It might be taken to refer to the years of His private life in Nazareth, but the construction of the verse really suggests a wider application of the phrase to the life of the Son as a whole.
‘Thou’, the opening word, is emphasized to indicate that this is a relationship that is unique. Only the Son, distinct from all others, can occupy such a position and enjoy such affection. The words ‘Thou art’ stress that the relationship between Father and Son was eternal – an abiding reality. But He is not only the Son, He is the ‘beloved Son’. He is the special object of divine affection, infinitely precious to the Father. Finally, ‘in whom I am well pleased’ tells us of the pleasure that the Father finds in the Son. This pleasure, delight, and satisfaction is not limited to His earthly life but stretches across eternity. As Wuest states, ‘It is a delight that never had a beginning, and will never have an end’.4
With no time to pause, Mark tells us that ‘immediately the Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness’, v. 12. The true and perfect Servant of the Lord is never still.
Matthew and Luke tell us that the Lord was led, but Mark uses stronger language. The idea behind the word ‘driveth’ is given by Grassmick as ‘that of strong moral compulsion by which the Spirit led Jesus to take the offensive against temptation and evil instead of avoiding them’.5 Thus, the Spirit was the energizing force that brought the Saviour into the wilderness, a scene of conflict and testing. In a practical sense, it is only in the power of the Spirit of God that we can face the foe.
Mark is again brief in his description of this momentous event. He omits the detail of the trial but gives us the summary of it.
He tells us of the inhospitable nature of the scene. It was ‘the wilderness’. It was populated only by ‘wild beasts’. There was no physical sustenance in the form of natural food. There was no emotional sustenance in the form of companions or fellowship. It was for forty days as the period of testing and the limits of human endurance. It is clear from Mark’s language that the temptation was not limited to the close of the days but was constant throughout them. At every moment and in every sense the Lord was being solicited to do evil by Satan himself. Wuest comments, ‘A present tense participle speaking of continuous action. Satan tempted Messiah constantly during the forty days. The three temptations which Matthew records at the end of the forty day period of temptation, merely indicate the additional intensity of the temptations as the period of temptation closes’.6
We have to draw the marked contrast between the circumstances in which Adam was found and those of the Saviour. Adam, surrounded by every form of physical comfort and sustenance that God could provide, and enjoying the fellowship of divine persons in the garden, fell as a consequence of one temptation from Satan. The Saviour, alone in the inhospitable surroundings of the wilderness, starved of food and fellowship, defeated Satan in every temptation and trial.
It was the imprisonment of John that saw the commencement of the Galilean ministry of the Saviour. This signified that the old order, symbolized by the ministry of the Baptist, was giving way to the new order ushered in by the Saviour. It was fitting that His ministry should commence in Galilee, as this was the area in which the Saviour was brought up – Mark tells us that ‘Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee’, v. 9. The work of the perfect Servant starts in His own locality!
Mark tells us that, ‘Jesus came … preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God’, v. 14. The Saviour’s message was ‘the gospel’. It was a message of hope and mercy and, therefore, truly good news.
The detailed content of the message is given us in verse 15. There are two commands: ‘repent’, and ‘believe the gospel’. The essential element was to see the reality of personal sin and how God views that sin. Then, having turned away from sin, we need to believe the gospel. If we have accepted God’s verdict in respect to sin then it is an obvious step to accept the provision that He has made for the sinner. This faith is prepared to commit wholeheartedly and fully.
Apart from the two commands, there is also the warning, ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’. That which the Old Testament had looked forward to, had now arrived. The King was present. The time of decision was upon the nation. It could no longer delay. It must decide. Would it willingly submit to the rule of the King or would it, in rebellion, seek to cast out the King?
W. A. Crisswell, Believer’s Study Bible, Nelson, Logos Bible Software resource.
Crisswell observes, ‘It is used 42 times in Mark and only 12 times in the rest of the N.T. This word serves to advance the narrative at a rapid pace’.
‘The forceful verb, being torn open, schizomenous, split, reflects a metaphor for God’s breaking into human experience to deliver His people, cf. Pss. 18:9, 16-19; 144:5-8; Isa. 64:1-5’, John D. Grassmick.
Kenneth Wuest, pg. 25.
Grassmick, op. cit.
Kenneth Wuest, pp. 25, 26.