The Anointed Servant
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus first appears when he is baptized by John the Baptist. He is identified with his hometown of Nazareth, a village of no consequence, though its very insignificance plays an important role in the story. He is the “Servant of the LORD” anointed by the Spirit who does not conform to popular expectations about the Messiah, BOTH THEN AND NOW.
John was baptizing suppliants in the Jordan River. Rather than recount the details of his actual baptism, the account in Mark stresses the audible and visual phenomena that accompanied it – The “rending” of the heavens, the Divine voice from Heaven, and the descent of the Spirit “like a dove”:
- (Mark 1:9-11) - “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And immediately, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the HEAVENS BEING RENT ASUNDER and the SPIRIT DESCENDING AS A DOVE to him. And a VOICE CAME OUT OF THE HEAVENS: You are my Son, the Beloved. In you, I delight.”
The Greek verb translated as “rent asunder” is schizō, which means to “split, rip open, tear apart; to rend asunder” (Strong’s - #G4977). It provides a graphic image. The same term occurs once more in Mark when the veil of the Temple is “torn in two” as Jesus dies.
This verbal link is deliberate. Just as the rending of the heavens revealed the Messiah, so the “rending of the Temple veil” preceded the moment of revelation when the Roman centurion identified Jesus as the “Son of God” - (Mark 15:36-39).
The “tearing open of the heavens” pointed to the cosmic significance of his arrival along the banks of the Jordan River. From then on, the Kingdom of God was open to all men who would repent, and likewise, the presence of God became accessible to everyone. No longer would His presence be confined to the Temple in Jerusalem or restricted only to one nation. From that moment – “In those days” - the Creator of all things could be seen and understood in the man from tiny Nazareth.
The description echoes a passage in the Book of Isaiah addressed originally to Yahweh - “Oh, that you would REND THE HEAVENS, that you would come down so the mountains might quake at your presence… that the nations may tremble at your presence” – (Isaiah 64:1).
Isaiah’s plea was fulfilled as God “rent the heavens” and anointed His Son with the Spirit to carry out his mission and rule the nations, but it was not the mountains of Judea that quaked, but the hearts of all men as they saw him and heard his words.
The preposition applied to the Spirit’s descent stresses movement “into” or “onto” something or someone (eis), in this case, Jesus. Perhaps the Spirit entered him at this point, though the verb and preposition more likely picture the Spirit coming to rest upon him. This was the moment when he was anointed for his ministry.
Jesus then heard the voice calling him “Beloved Son.” This same voice is heard only once more in Mark when it makes a similar declaration at the Transfiguration. In the present passage, the voice combines words from two Old Testament passages to identify Jesus as the Son of God who came to fulfill the promises of Yahweh:
- (Psalm 2:7) - “I will surely tell of the decree of Yahweh: he said to me, YOU ARE MY SON, today, I have begotten you.”
- (Isaiah 42:1) - “Behold, my servant whom I uphold; MY CHOSEN ONE IN WHOM MY SOUL DELIGHTS. I HAVE PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
Both prophecies are Messianic. By combining them, Mark clarifies the identity and mission of Jesus. He is God’s “Son” AND the Suffering Servant described in the Book of Isaiah. Unjust suffering would characterize his ministry and sonship.
The descent of the Spirit meant he was equipped to proclaim the Kingdom of God. The heavenly voice confirmed the Divine approval of his mission and person, not just because of who he was, but also due to his submission to the baptism of John in obedience to his Father and Scripture.
|[Photo by Trevor Vannoy on Unsplash]
Thus, the ministry of Jesus began in fulfillment of Scripture as the “heavens were rent” and the Spirit descended upon him. Whether his contemporaries understood his mission or not, he was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel sent to save his people from their sins, establish the Kingdom of God, and “shepherd the nations.”
Above all, he would carry out his Messianic role as the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, something none of his contemporaries expected, and a reality that would defy all popular expectations and desires, JUST AS IT CONTINUES TO DO SO UNTIL THIS VERY DAY.
- Son and Spirit - (Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed Son of God. From the start, his life was characterized by the empowering presence of the Spirit)
- Into the Wilderness - (After his baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the Wilderness to be tested by the Devil. But he overcame and succeeded where Israel failed)
- He Baptizes in Spirit - (John the Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah who is the Herald of the Kingdom of God and the one who baptizes in the Spirit – Mark 1:4-8)