Proclaiming Jesus’ Divinity
1. The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As we begin the Gospel According to Mark, we need to keep in mind that the first thing said in any book of the Word becomes the essence of everything that follows. Like a keynote on a musical scale, the first thing said sets the tone, provides the central theme, and establishes the focus for everything that follows. It is essential, therefore, that when we are reading the Word of God, the “first thing said” should be kept in mind throughout the exposition of everything that follows. 1
In Matthew, the first thing said is, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” This is the beginning of the gospel narratives. Taken literally, these words refer to the merely human heredity of Jesus Christ. These “first words” describe Him as a descendent of David, who is a descendent of Abraham. While this royal lineage is an important and respected one, it is, nevertheless, a human one.
This is a picture of how we first see Jesus; we see Him as another human being, the offspring of human parents. But by the time we come to the end of the Gospel According to Matthew, something wonderful has taken place. As the idea of Jesus grows in our understanding, there is a gradual unveiling of His divinity. And by the time we come to the end of that gospel, Jesus says, “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).
The Gospel According to Matthew, then, brings us to the recognition of Jesus’ divinity. This marks a critical stage in the development of our faith. In fact, Jesus Himself said that the recognition of His divinity is the first and foremost building block, or cornerstone, of Christian faith. In Matthew, when Peter said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus did not deny it. Instead, Jesus told him told him that this foundational truth did not come to him by flesh and blood, but rather it was revealed to him by “My Father who is in the heavens” (Matthew 16:17). “On this rock,” said Jesus, “I will build My Church” (Matthew 16:18). 2
The Gospel According to Mark begins where Matthew left off — with the recognition of Jesus’ divinity. Whereas Matthew began with the words, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mark 1:1), Mark begins with the words: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).
It should also be noted that Matthew refers to itself as “the book of the generation of Jesus Christ,” while Mark refers to itself as “the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The use of these different terms is significant. The term “book” signifies the successive, perfectly ordered states we go through in the process of our spiritual development as we gradually come to acknowledge the divinity of Jesus Christ. This is our “book of life,” a divinely arranged narrative that describes the rise and development of love and wisdom in us. This is called the regeneration process, or, in the language of sacred scripture, the generation of Jesus Christ in each of us. 3
But a “gospel” is not a “book.”
The term gospel comes from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (evangelium), which means “good news.” For the early Christians, the “good news” is that God Himself had come into the world to reveal His true nature, to conquer evil, and, especially, to teach people the way to heaven. At the end of Matthew, therefore, the disciples are commissioned to go forth into every nation and proclaim this good news. As it is written in the closing words of Matthew, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19,20).
As we examine the continuous stream of divine truth in the gospel narratives, Matthew culminates with what has become known as the Great Commission: Jesus commissions His disciples to preach the good news of His birth, life, death, resurrection, and, especially, His teachings. Mark picks up precisely at that point — with “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” proclaiming that the Messiah, the Son of God, has come. In brief, the Gospel of Mark begins as a gospel of proclamation — the proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God who calls us to go into the whole world to preach the good news. Very soon, however, we discover that the good news begins with repentance.
Prepare the Way of the Lord
2. As it is written in the Prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, who shall make ready Thy way in front of Thee.
3. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.”
Five hundred years before Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the Lord said through the prophet Malachi, “Behold, I will send My angel, and he shall sweep the way before Me” (Malachi 3:1). As the Gospel of Mark begins, this “angel” who will “sweep the way” is John the Baptist. He has been sent by God to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.
In an even older prophesy, given seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth, the Lord said through the prophet, Isaiah, “The voice of one proclaiming in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight’” (Isaiah 40:3). Taken together, these two prophecies become a single statement as the Gospel of Mark begins. As it is written, “Behold I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight” (Mark 1:2-3). This messenger who has come to prepare the way for the reception of the Lord is John the Baptist. Although two thousand years have intervened between that momentous occasion and today, it is still possible to hear the words of John’s powerful proclamation: “The Lord is coming!” “Prepare the way!” “He is coming into your mind and your heart!” “Make His paths straight!” 4
At the end of Matthew, Jesus had told His disciples to “Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them” (Mark 28:19), and this is exactly where Mark picks up the story — with John performing baptisms. Although there is no biblical evidence that John the Baptist ever became one of the twelve disciples, there is evidence that he did what Jesus said, teaching people “to observe all things that [Jesus] had commanded” (Mark 28:20), beginning with the necessity of baptism.
As we have already noted in Matthew, baptism represents the willingness to receive new truth. It is not about a vicarious atonement, justification by faith, or instantaneous salvation; rather, it is a willingness to be spiritually washed through learning truth and doing what truth teaches while believing that the Lord gives us the power to live according to that truth. While water baptism is not saving in itself, it represents how salvation takes place — through the process of repentance for the remission of sins. 5
It is no accident that this gospel of proclamation begins with the words of a powerful preacher, urging us not only to prepare the way of the Lord, but also to receive “a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). Apparently, John’s preaching was well received for “all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5).
A baptism of repentance, then, and the confessing of sins will be key ideas as we enter the Gospel According to Mark.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
4. John was baptizing in the wilderness, and preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5. And all the country of Judea went out to him, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
6. And John was wearing camel’s hair, and a leather belt around his loins, and ate locusts and wild honey;
7. And preached, saying, “There comes one stronger than I after me, the strap of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.
8. I indeed have baptized you with water, but He shall baptize you with [the] Holy Spirit.”
9. And it came to pass in those days, [that] Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
10. And straightway going up from the water, he saw the heavens ripped [open], and the Spirit as a dove descending on Him.
11. And there was a voice from the heavens, [saying], “Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
12. And straightway the Spirit casts Him out into the wilderness.
13. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and was with the [wild] beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.
John the Baptist is aware of his limitations. While he knows that his preaching may be able to help people recognize their need for a Savior, he also knows that his words alone cannot bring about salvation. Therefore, he says, “One is coming after me who is more powerful than I am” (Mark 1:7). He is referring, of course, to Jesus, for whom John the Baptist is preparing the way. “I indeed baptize you with water,” says John the Baptist, “but He [who is coming after me] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8).
In the language of sacred scripture, receiving the “water of baptism” represents the willingness to receive truth — especially the truth which is based on the literal teachings of the Word. This is the first baptism. But it must be followed by another kind of baptism called the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” This second baptism takes place when the truth that we know is tested during times of inner spiritual combat. At such times, mere belief is not enough. Rather, our beliefs must be put to the test, so that they might be strengthened and eventually become an essential part of our character. If we allow truth from the Lord’s Word to fill our mind during a time of temptation, the Lord will come to us through that truth with love and power. In the language of sacred scripture, this is called “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” 6
John the Baptist, then, is not just an historical figure. When he utters his cry in the barren wilderness to “prepare the way of the Lord,” it represents how we need to arm ourselves with truth from the Lord’s Word as we prepare for spiritual combat. As our example in all things, this is precisely what Jesus does in the next verse. We read, “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan” (Mark 1:9). As Jesus came up from the Jordan River, the heavens were torn open “and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove” (Mark 1:10).
The descent of the Spirit “like a dove” represents the process of inner purification that Jesus is about to undergo. Whenever we are victorious in temptation, we emerge a little gentler and with the ability to see from a more elevated perspective — like a dove. In this regard, the descent of the dove is a sign from heaven, followed by a voice from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased (Mark 1:11). 7
In the Gospel According to Matthew, immediately after He is baptized, Jesus is led by the spirit into the desert where He is tempted by the devil. In that gospel Jesus’ temptations are described in considerable detail. He is tempted to turn stones into bread, to cast Himself down from a temple, and to worship Satan. These temptations represent, in summary form, all the temptations that Jesus will undergo as He steadily and gradually conquers hell, restores freedom, and teaches the way to heaven.
The same sequence of events occurs in the Gospel According to Mark. Immediately after His baptism the Spirit sends Jesus out into the desert (Mark 1:12). This is in keeping with the spiritual law that truth is not merely something to be believed; it must also be lived. Therefore, baptism (the reception of truth) must necessarily be followed by temptation (the opportunity to live according to that truth). The reception of truth, then, is merely the beginning of our spiritual development. If that truth is to become our own, it must be called to mind and used during times of spiritual combat. That’s why we see the same sequence in both gospels. In Mark, however, the whole temptation process is described in just one verse. As it is written, “He was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and angels attended Him” (Mark 1:13). 8
These “wild beasts” refer to the evil desires and false thinking that prevent us from living according to the truth. They are the vicious, ferocious loves of self and the world that would devour that which is from the Lord in us. But when we overcome in temptation, compelling ourselves to do what is right, we are protected throughout by truths from the Lord’s Word, and, in the end, comforted by those same truths. As it is written, “And the angels ministered to Him” (Mark 1:13). 9
This, then, is what John calls “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” 10
Jesus Preaches the Gospel
14. And after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
15. And saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near; repent [ye], and believe in the gospel.”
16. And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon, and Andrew his brother, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen.
17. And Jesus said to them, “Come [ye] after Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
18. And straightway leaving their nets, they followed Him.
19. And advancing a little from thence, He saw James [the son] of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship, mending the nets.
20. And straightway He called them, and leaving their father Zebedee in the ship with the hirelings, they went after Him.
21. And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the Sabbaths, coming into the synagogue, He taught.
22. And they wondered at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.
This gospel begins with John the Baptist preaching on repentance for the remission if sins — the keynote theme of this gospel. Immediately after the wilderness temptation, Jesus continues to preach on this same theme. As it is written, “Now after John was delivered to custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14). The imprisonment of John the Baptist is a significant moment in the continuous internal sense. As we have mentioned, John the Baptist represents the literal sense of the Word — the first truths that we learn as we begin to study the scriptures. If, however, we are deprived of these truths or if these truths are twisted to mean things that they do not mean, it is as if John the Baptist has been put in prison, or “taken into custody.” 11
When this happens, Jesus takes over where John leaves off. Like John, Jesus begins His preaching with the theme of repentance: “The time has come,” says Jesus, “And the kingdom of God is near. Repent, and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Jesus then wastes no time gathering the evangelists who will assist Him in His mission. Walking by the Sea of Galilee, He sees Simon and Andrew casting their nets into the sea. “Come after Me, “He says to them, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). He does the same for James and John; and all of them, without delay, follow Him (Mark 1:19-20).
The action is swift. Losing no time at all, Jesus “immediately goes into the synagogue and starts preaching (Mark 1:21). “And they were astonished at His doctrine, for He taught them as one that had power, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22).
Jesus Commands an Unclean Spirit to Be Quiet
23. And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out,
24. Saying, “Ah! What [is there] to us and to Thee, Jesus of Nazareth! hast Thou come to destroy us? I know Thee who Thou art, the Holy [One] of God.”
25. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be speechless and come out of him.”
26. And having convulsed him, the unclean spirit, having also cried with a great voice, came out of him.
27. And they were all astonished, so that they disputed among themselves, saying, “What thing is this? What new teaching [is] this? For with authority He orders even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.”
28. And straightway the report of Him went out into the whole countryside of Galilee.
The events recounted in Mark are brief, immediate, and to the point. There is no genealogy, no record of Jesus’ birth, and no Sermon on the Mount (which covers the first seven chapters in Matthew). Instead, the action in Mark begins immediately with John the Baptist preaching repentance in the desert, and now Jesus is preaching in the synagogue. There He astonishes all with His teaching, and drives out an unclean spirit. When the unclean spirit acknowledges that Jesus is “the Holy One of God,” Jesus tells it to be quiet, and the spirit obeys Him (Mark 1:24-25). The people who are standing by in the synagogue are amazed. They cry out, “What is this? What new doctrine is this?” Observing Jesus’ great power, they say, “With power He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey Him” (Mark 1:27).
In this gospel there is frequent mention of “unclean spirits,” “evil spirits,” “demons,” and “devils.” While each of these terms can have a specialized meaning, they are frequently used interchangeably to refer to any evil desire or false belief that is contrary to the Lord’s will. In this regard, it’s important to keep in mind that “unclean spirits,” “evil spirits,” “demons,” and “devils” were once people who, while they lived on earth, chose deceit over honesty, cruelty over kindness, and confidence in self rather than faith in God. Therefore, when Jesus casts out the unclean spirit and tells it to “be quiet,” it represents how the Lord works through the holy teachings of sacred scripture to cast out evil desires and silence false thoughts in each of us. 12
In this gospel, then, Jesus gets to work immediately, fulfilling His purpose: He has come to preach the gospel and thereby cast out demons. The good news is spreading rapidly. As it is written, “the news about Him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee” (Mark 1:28). It should be noticed, however, that the “good news” is about repentance. This is symbolized by Jesus’ initial preaching and His first healings. He preaches repentance and He casts out demons.
The Devils are Forbidden to Speak
29. And straightway, coming out from the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
30. But Simon’s mother-in-law lay down [sick] with a fever, and straightway they tell Him about her.
31. And He came and raised her up, having taken hold of her hand, and straightway the fever left her, and she ministered to them.
32. And evening having come, when the sun set, they brought to Him all that had an illness, and the demon-possessed.
33. And the whole city was gathered together at the door.
34. And He cured many that had an illness of different diseases, and cast out many demons; and He let not the demons speak, because they knew Him.
In the previous episode when Jesus cast the unclean spirit out of the demon-possessed man, the evil spirit said to Him, “I know who you are. You are the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). It’s curious that an evil spirit would recognize Jesus’ divinity, but Jesus refuses to let the evil spirit say anything about it. “Be quiet,” Jesus said to the demon. He then commanded the demon to come out of the person, and the demon obeyed Him.
This initial story is important to keep in mind as we now consider the next series of miraculous healings. These begin with the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law who is sick with a fever (Simon is the name of the disciple Peter). As soon as Jesus touches her hand, the fever leaves her (Mark 1:31). Apparently, her recovery was so instantaneous that she was able to rise and serve the people who were in her house. This also, like the healing of the man with an unclean spirit, created quite a stir. The news about Jesus’ miraculous healings was spreading far and wide. That same evening, after the sun had set, people who were suffering from a variety of different diseases were brought to Him, and Jesus healed them “and cast out many demons.” Once again, He refuses to let the demons speak “because they knew who He was” (Mark 1:34).
This is an important detail. Although it is only the first chapter, we have seen that on at least two occasions, Jesus has not permitted the demons to speak. On the literal level it could be assumed that Jesus wants to keep His identity secret. After all, if it were discovered that He were capable of such extraordinary powers, He might arouse the suspicion of the religious leaders who were determined to destroy Him. Therefore, it would be in His best interest to keep these things secret.
On a more interior level, however, it’s important to keep in mind the audience that Jesus is addressing when He performs the miracle healings: He is speaking directly to demons and devils — also known as evil spirits. No matter what they say, demons, devils, and evil spirits cannot be trusted; they lie, they twist the truth; they make up stories about things that never happened; and they pretend to know things about the future that no one could predict. They induce worries, insinuate fears, remind us of things that should be long forgotten, and cause us to forget things that should be remembered. It is best, therefore, to refuse to listen to them. No wonder Jesus told them to “be quiet” (Mark 1:25) and “refused to let them speak” (Mark 1:34) — even if it was about His miraculous healings. They would be sure to twist a good report into an evil one. 13
Jesus Declares His Purpose
35. And in the morning, far into the night, standing up He came out, and went away into a deserted place, and there prayed.
36. And Simon and they that were with him pursued after Him.
37. And finding Him, they say to Him, “All are seeking Thee.”
38. And He says to them, “Let us go into the neighboring towns, that I may preach there also, because for this [purpose] I came forth.”
39. And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons.
40. And a leper came to Him, imploring Him, and kneeling before Him, and saying to Him, “If Thou willest, Thou canst make me clean.”
41. And Jesus, being moved with compassion, stretching out [His] hand, touched him, and says to him, “I am willing; be thou cleansed.”
42. And having said this, straightway the leprosy went away from him, and he was cleansed.
43. And He admonished him, and straightway sent him away,
44. And says to him, “See thou say nothing to anyone, but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy purification what Moses directed, for a testimony to them.”
45. And he, having gone out, began to preach many [things] and to make the word public, so that He could no more manifestly come into the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from everywhere.
As the next episode begins, we find that Jesus has gone off to a desert place to pray. When Simon and the others find Him, they say to Jesus, “Everyone is looking for You” (Mark 1:37). Jesus’ answer is significant for it reveals His purpose: “Let us go into the next towns,” He says, “that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come” (Mark 1:38). Indeed, Jesus has come to preach the good news. As it is written, “And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39). Once again, it is important to note that the purpose of Jesus’ preaching is to “cast out demons” and this begins with repentance. 14
Most people would agree that “good news” should be spread. Interestingly, Jesus is careful about whom He allows to spread the news. As we have seen in two previous episodes, Jesus told an unclean spirit to be quiet about Him, and He refused to let the demons speak. As we shall see, it isn’t just the unclean spirits and demons who are admonished to be quiet. For example, in the very next episode, Jesus heals a man with leprosy. After healing him, Jesus says to him, “See that you tell no one about this” (Mark 1:43). Once again, Jesus gives a strict warning to say nothing about this healing. Instead, Jesus tells the man to show himself to the priest “and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded.” These things which Moses commanded, says Jesus, will serve as “a testimony” for the leper’s cleansing. (Mark 1:44).
On one level, Jesus is referring to the laws of ritual cleaning that are found throughout the Hebrew scriptures. According to these teachings, there were specific procedures for anyone suffering from an infectious skin disease, in this case, leprosy. This included the thorough washing of the leper’s home and clothing as well as the sacrifice of a bird over fresh water and the sprinkling of its blood seven times upon the leprous person. There was much more involved, as well, including the sacrifice of a lamb without blemish, and the offering of fine flour mixed with oil (See Leviticus 14:1-16). These are all symbols of an innocent willingness to keep the Lord’s commandments and be internally purified thereby from evil desires and the false thinking that arises to support those desires. 15
The true sacrifices commanded by Moses, understood spiritually, are quite simply, the giving up of selfish concerns through a life according to the commandments. This is the only testimony required. It is the testimony of a life that has been cleansed inwardly, not just healed outwardly. All the sacrifices and all the washings in the Hebrew scriptures relate to the purification of the desires and the cleansing of the thoughts. It is for this reason that David says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a firm spirit in me” (Psalms 51:10, 17). 12
Unfortunately, even though the leper was healed of his disease, He did not do as Jesus commanded. Instead of remaining silent about what happened, showing himself to the priest, and offering the sacrifices that Moses commanded, he did exactly what Jesus told him not to do. He went out and “proclaimed freely,” spreading the news about what Jesus had done for him (Mark 1:45).
The spiritual meaning of leprosy
Earlier in this chapter, Jesus told an unclean spirit to “Be quiet and come out of him” (Mark 1:25). A few verses later, when Jesus cast out several demons, “He did not allow the demons to speak” (Mark 1:34) and, in this episode, He says to the leper “See that you say nothing to anyone.” It is noteworthy that whenever Jesus casts out an unclean spirit or a demon, He does not allow the unclean spirit or demon to say anything about what has happened. As we have mentioned, evils spirits and demons are not reliable witnesses. They lie, they exaggerate, they leave out important details, and they twist the story to make themselves look good and others look bad. Therefore, it’s best if Jesus silences them.
But what about the leper whom Jesus has just healed? This time Jesus does not address the unclean spirits or the demons. Instead, He speaks directly to the leper, telling him to not speak to anyone.
One explanation might be found in a spiritual understanding of leprosy, and what it might signify to be cured of that disease. Because leprosy is a skin disease, it represents what it looks like spiritually when people have learned the truth, but don’t really believe it. They have not, so to speak, received it inwardly. Because the healing is only “skin deep,” it represents the healing of an external imperfection. This is one kind of leprosy.
There is, however, a deeper, more serious form of leprosy. This occurs when the leprosy goes unaddressed and penetrates to the inner parts of the body, affecting the nervous system and internal organs. This represents what it looks like spiritually when people know the truth, deeply believe it, and yet do not live according to what they believe. Even worse, they twist the truths of the Word to justify their selfish lusts and evil desires. Although they may go around looking unblemished and as white as snow on the outside, on the inside, they are full of dark desires and shady schemes. Whenever this happens, there is an unholy mixture of heavenly goodness and truth with hellish evil and falsity. This commingling of good and evil, truth and falsity is called “profanation.” 17
Returning to the case of the leper whom Jesus has just healed, it should be remembered that Jesus commanded him to say nothing to anyone about the healing that had taken place. In addition, Jesus told him to show himself to the priest and offer the sacrifices commanded by Moses. If the man had done this, he would have experienced an inner healing, not just an external one. Instead, he disregarded Jesus’ directive and did what he wanted to do. This kind of deliberate disobedience indicates that the leper may have been healed externally, but not internally.
An external healing, spiritually seen, would be the correction of one’s understanding so that the Word might be properly interpreted. But an internal healing, spiritually seen, would be the healing of the affections, and this would be represented by obedience to the Word of the Lord. When the leper defied Jesus’ command, he demonstrated that his healing had been an external one. Therefore, just as Jesus commanded the evil spirits and the demons not to speak, He also commanded the leper not to tell anyone about what had happened. Before the leper did anything else, and especially before the leper was to broadcast the news about his physical healing, Jesus commanded him to first observe the Levitical laws that represented the cleansing of the inside.
This brings us to the end of the first chapter. Jesus has been baptized, fought the devil, proclaimed the gospel, cast out demons, healed the sick, and cleansed a leper. On at least three occasions Jesus told people not to speak about the healings that had taken place. As we continue our study of the Gospel According to Mark, we will take a closer look at how Jesus prepares His disciples (and us) to receive and proclaim the gospel.