The Baptism Of Jesus According To The Gospel Of Mark -- By: James R. Edwards

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:1 (Mar 1991)
Article: The Baptism Of Jesus According To The Gospel Of Mark
Author: James R. Edwards

The Baptism Of Jesus
According To The Gospel Of Mark

James R. Edwards*

In a mere fifty-three words in Greek, Mark relates the story of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:9–11). The brevity of the story, however, is disproportionate to its significance for Markan Christology, for beneath this terse account lies a wealth of OT and intertestamental imagery, drawn upon to indicate that in Jesus the inbreaking of the eschatological kingdom has arrived. The baptism functions as the cornerstone of Mark’s Christological understanding—a stone that is not undressed, as we shall see.

Mark introduces Jesus abruptly in v. 9. Kai egeneto1 provides a transition into the story; “Nazareth of Galilee” gives Jesus a history and setting; “in those days” anchors the event to the period of John the Baptist’s ministry (summarized in vv. 4–8). According to Mark, the first event of Jesus’ public ministry was not something he did but something that happened to him—namely, his baptism by John,2 which prefaced his public ministry.

The significance of the baptism is signaled by the events surrounding it. Mark switches from the aorist tense (v. 9) to a present active participle (anabainōn, v. 10) to draw his readers into the impending drama. Coming up from the water Jesus experienced three things that in Jewish tradition signified the inauguration of God’s eschatological kingdom: The heavens were opened above him, the Spirit descended on him, and the heavenly voice spoke to him. These three events—rending of heaven, descent of the Spirit, voice of God—indicate the inauguration of God’s eschatological kingdom. Their concurrence at the baptism indicates that Jesus is the inaugurator of that kingdom.

Two passages in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs witness to the eschatological hope echoed in the baptism. Referring to the messianic priest (18:2), T. Levi says:

* James Edwards is professor of religion at Jamestown College in North Dakota.

The heavens will be opened,
and from the temple of glory sanctification will come upon him,
with a fatherly voice, as from Abraham to Isaac.
And the glory of the Most High shall burst forth upon him.
And the spirit of understanding and sanctification
shall rest upo...

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