According to early second-century Christian authors, Mark wrote his Gospel as recounted to him by Peter. Mark, writing as one discipled by Peter, wrote to the church at Rome during the 60s of the first century. Although rarely mentioned in the text, Mark was a companion of Paul and Peter as well as a cousin of Paul’s travel companion Barnabas.
The two major themes of the Gospel are Christology — the identity and nature of Jesus — and discipleship. Mark 1 introduces Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, the One to whom John the Baptist pointed and the Lord of the Church.
“Son of God” functions as the key Christological title in Mark. God Himself proclaimed Jesus as His Son at His baptism (v. 11), and the Roman soldier in charge of the crucifixion of Jesus observed, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” (15:39). The phrase “beginning of the gospel” may describe a new beginning after the ascendency of sin narrated in Genesis 3.
The gospel (or good news) was not God’s plan of the month; rather, the Old Testament set forth the gospel as evidenced by Mark’s citations from Isaiah and Malachi. Thus, while denouncing sin, John the Baptist proclaimed foremost a positive message: Prepare the way of the Lord through repentance and making your paths — your daily walk — straight rather than crooked.
In the ancient world, a herald would announce the coming of the king. John the Baptist fulfilled the role of the herald as he prophesied the coming of King Jesus after him. Even John’s clothing and diet communicated a message of repentance. John heralded the Kingdom through proclamation of God’s Word, commanding repentance followed by the act of baptism as a dramatic portrayal of forgiveness of sins. Notice the text connects baptism and the confession of sin.
Repentance — turning from sin — is part of the gospel message. While John the Baptist baptized in mere water, Jesus would baptize — immerse people — in, by or with the Spirit. According to Paul, the baptism of the Spirit occurs at conversion (1 Cor. 12:13). Some denominations teach that only some Christians have been baptized in, with or by the Spirit. Paul disagreed.
Jesus traveled from Nazareth in Galilee to be baptized by John in the Jordan River, a distance some identify as a 100-plus mile walk.
In John’s Gospel, the water baptism of Jesus points to His identity as the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33). Jesus’ baptism was not a declaration that Jesus became the Son of God at His baptism. The Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove.
The voice of God communicated a twofold message.
First, the baptism may have functioned as Jesus’ coronation ceremony.
Second, the descent of the dove may have recalled creation (Gen. 1:2). God was well pleased with Jesus’ obedience in baptism.
A lesson individuals today may learn from this account of Jesus’ life is the importance of obedience.
By Mark Rathel
Professor at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida