K:JNWTS 30/3 (December 2015): 17-23

The Messiah Has Done It: A Structural Approach to Jesus' Identity in Mark

Jeanie C. Crain

If certain principles and presumptions can be allowed to guide an interpretive approach to Mark, the almost certain conclusion will be that Mark builds progressively to Jesus' self-disclosure of himself as the Messiah (14:62).[1] An overarching principle must be a belief in the inspired Word of God, a position diametrically opposed to much of higher criticism's insistence that the Bible is a mere human product. As the inerrant, inspired Word of God (and indeed, as reliable historical testimony), Mark makes its own internal claim for interpretation in light of all Scripture. It contains concrete supernaturalism, prophecy fulfillment and real miracles. Wilhelm Wrede's view in The Messianic Secret (tr. James Clarke, 1971) that the historical Jesus never claimed to be Messiah before his death is antithetical[2] to the view presented here: that Jesus fulfills Messianic prophecy. The view that Jesus was a divine man but not God will also be set aside, as will any corrective Son of God Christology. Not overlooking the critical imperative to read closely Mark's specificity, the approach taken here will be that of presenting an overall structure that climatically satisfies the question of who Jesus says he is.

Of course, Mark contains pericopes (both large and small internal structures or sections) leading some to conclude the book has no overall structure (Gundry). On the other hand, many Markan scholars would consider the Caesarea Philippi episode as the central pericope and turning point of the gospel (Kevin Larsen, Currents in Biblical Research 3.1 [2004]: 145). "Immediately" and "the next day" can be used to identify pericopes, as can anaphoras or thrice repeated words in consecutive sentences. Other kinds of internal structure have also been advanced, such as topography/geography, theological themes, the needs of the early church, intercalation (dovetailing or interlacing with A-B-A pattern) of pericopes, sandwiches, questions, summary statements, chiasms and classical rhetorical patterns (Larsen). Particularly intriguing is Geerhardus Vos's discussion of "verily" used twice in relation--Mark 10:45 and the Lord's Supper regarding Jesus'explanation of the purpose of his death for atonement (Kerux 6/1 [May 1991]: 3; http://kerux.com/doc/0601A1.asp). James T. Dennison, Jr. suggests the following overall structure: a beginning schism with a parting of the heavens and an ending schism with the splitting of the veil of the temple in Mark 1:10 and 15:38 (Kerux 9/3 [December 1994]: 3-10; http://kerux.com/doc/0903A1.asp).

In chapter 1, Mark presents Jesus as "Jesus Christ, the Son of God," associated with prophecy and called "the Lord," identifying him as one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (vv. 1, 3, 8). Early in Mark, readers find themselves concerned with God's vertical intrusion into linear history. In verses 10 and 11, the writer records of Jesus'baptism that the heavens are torn open, the Spirit descends and a voice from heaven declares, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." After the temptation, Jesus comes into Galilee "proclaiming the good news of God and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near'" (vv. 14-15); thus linking Jesus'identity to eschatological purpose in redemptive history (J. T. Dennison, Kerux 9/3 [December 1994]: 3-10). Geerhardus Vos describes eschatology as prescribing "to the world-process a definite goal such as cannot be attained by it in the natural course of events, but will be brought about catastrophically through a divine interposition, and which, when once attained, bears the stamp of eternity" (Self-Disclosure, 19). Jesus'divine identity shows itself in his authority while preaching in the Capernaum synagogue (v. 22), as well as in the healing of the man with the unclean spirit, which calls him first "Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?" and then declares, "I know who you are, the Holy One of God" (v. 24). The Son of Man "has authority to forgive sins on earth" in relation to the healing of a paralytic (2:10). The same Son of Man declares, "the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath" (2:28). In chapter 3, "Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, 'You are the Son of God!'" (v. 11). Clearly, the supernatural recognizes the supernatural. 

In addition to the "Holy One of God," chapters 2 and 3 add the titles "Son of Man" and "Son of God" (2:10; 3:11). A vast scholarship has grown from intensive investigation into the origins and meanings of these titles, much of it simply settling on discussions of dimensionality, some preferring the earthly and linear while others lean to the vertical and heavenly. R. V. Peace has argued for a progressive Christological enlightenment of the disciples in the writer's focus on the titles of teacher, prophet, Messiah, Son of Man, Son of David, Son of God (Larsen, 149). The present work follows Mark's unfolding revelation of Jesus as Messiah in the work of redemptive history. Chapter 2 metaphorically describes this revelation in its bridegroom parable:

Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day" (vv. 19-20).

In the redemptive plan, a parallel exists between the bridegroom's being taken away (death) and the Passover Lamb. In "The Structure of Joel", Lena Lee makes a connection between prophetic fulfillment with respect to "last days" and the eschatological advent of Christ. She reminds her readers that New Testament writers considered themselves to be living in such "last days" (Kerux 7/3 [December 1992]: 4-24; http://kerux.com/doc/0703A1.asp). This insight helps readers to make sense of the apocalyptic chapter 13 in Mark. The bridegroom connotatively suggests a wedding, this associated with the long-awaited "day of the Lord". Chapter 4 now relates several parables concerning the coming of the Kingdom of God, three of these connected with organic seed and growth process.

In context with the healing of the Gerasene demoniac in chapter 5, Jesus is called "Son of the Most High God" (v. 7). Many of Jesus'contemporaries (the Sadducees, for example) did not believe in angels or spirits, including demons; a modern mindset of some prefers to explain them away by science, discounting the supernatural altogether. In Mark, Jesus proclaims God's kingdom and casts out demons, heals disease and sickness, and raises the dead--all signs and expressions, not merely of the supernatural, but of God's kingdom now present in the Messiah. The parables describe a kingdom, both present and future. As chapter 4 demonstrates, Jesus'divine command controls the natural world; chapter 5 presents his mastery over life and death. Jairus comes to Jesus begging him to heal his twelve-year-old daughter, who is at the point of death; Jesus, however, preoccupies himself with the woman who has touched his clothing, hoping to be healed from twelve years of hemorrhaging. The two stories connect in the issue of blood, the young daughter at menstrual age, and the older woman, in danger of bleeding to death. Readers will remember chapter 4 ends with a question about faith: "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" (v. 40). Jesus tells the hemorrhagic woman in chapter 5 that her faith has made her well (v. 34). Jairus'daughter, now dead, is raised to life by Jesus in an amazing and miraculous show of his power over death itself (v. 42).

Kingdom-work builds in chapter 6, with the twelve disciples being sent out in pairs, given authority over demons, and with power to heal the sick (vv. 6-13). Jesus has been rejected in his hometown, his power impeded only by the people's unbelief, with their choice to look for answers in the biological man, "the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and… his sisters" (v. 3). The question of identity comes to focus again in King Herod, who has heard from some that Jesus is Elijah or a prophet from old, with Herod himself thinking he is John the Baptist whom he has beheaded come back to life (vv. 14-16). The irony should not be missed: failing to see the supernatural Jesus, Herod yet can believe in a ghost--John come back from the dead. Mark, unlike Matthew, expresses doubt in the question of Jesus'identity through Herod, not John himself. Mark leaves for the record his earlier testimony that Jesus is the prophesized one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:8). Chapter 6 dovetails the account of Jesus'stilling of the storm with an account now of his walking on the sea and his disciples thinking they are seeing a ghost (v. 49)! Once again, a preference for natural explanation gets in the way of recognizing the supernatural. These are the same disciples who have been present at the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand (vv. 30-44). Chapter 6 ends with Jesus'continued miraculous healings.

Chapter 7 serves as a pivotal, transitional chapter. Jesus explains why human beings reject the supernatural: "You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition" (v. 8). In contrast, however, the Syrophoenician woman is content to receive just the crumbs of Jesus'feeding; she is rewarded by returning home to find Jesus has cast out the demon from her daughter. The chapter ends with the continuing signs of Messianic event: the curing of the deaf followed by the astonishment of the people (vv. 31-37).

Structurally, some have viewed chapter 8 as a turning point in Mark's presentation of Jesus, looking to Peter's, "You are the Messiah," as justification (v. 29)--this confession elicited from him by Jesus'question, "Who do you say I am?" Important as the declaration is, however, it quickly becomes obvious that Peter has in mind an earthly and political messiah (v. 33). Jesus has just told him clearly the purpose of eschatological Messiahship, a purpose Peter rejects: "the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (v. 31). Jesus reprimands Peter's opposition to this reality saying, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things" (v. 33). Mark ends the chapter with an eschatological note: "The Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." In present time, the Messiah must suffer, be rejected, and killed; he will, however, rise in three days to return "in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (v. 38).

The transfiguration in chapter 9 brings together the three-fold official function of the Messiah as prophet, priest and king. From the beginning, Mark has declared Jesus to be involved in establishing the kingdom of God, with the miracles serving as signs and the parables describing that kingdom. Peter, James and John, once again, think in earthly terms and talk about erecting three dwellings on earth, one for Elijah, Moses and one for Jesus. This is after they have personally seen the in-breaking heavenly voice and heard God say, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" (v. 7). Asked to tell no one what they have seen until after Jesus has risen, they ponder the possible meanings of the statement (v. 10). Ironically, the disciples can only argue about who will be greatest (vv. 33-37). Mark now returns to the motif of belief in the episode of the healing of a boy with an unclean spirit, an act the disciples have not been able to accomplish due to a lack of faith; the father of the boy, on the other hand, prays for help to believe (vv. 18, 23-24). Jesus now, again, foretells his impending death (v. 31).

Chapter 10 returns to teaching, talking about divorce, the difficulty of entering the kingdom of God and the miraculous act in the healing of blind Bartimaeus, who hails Jesus as "Son of David" (vv. 46-52). Jesus foretells his death and resurrection for a third time (vv. 32-34). Gaining, perhaps, a glimmer of coming glory, James and John ask for a place in glory at Jesus'right and left hand only to be told by Jesus that the privilege is not one he can grant. At this point, Jesus reveals his full Messianic purpose:  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (v. 45). Geerhardus Vos remarks that the Lord's comment upon his death as a saving transaction is enhanced by occurring only here and at the institution of the Supper. Vos also indicates that the argument that Jesus became aware of his death only progressively becomes silenced in the face of the inner awareness and confession of Messianic purpose (Kerux 6/1 [May 1991]: 3-15).

Chapter 11 records Jesus'triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where he is hailed by the people as coming in the name of the Lord, heralding, they think, the coming kingdom of David (v. 9-10). Much like Peter, they will reject the idea of a suffering and dying Messiah. The chapter contains a judgment on the temple for not bearing fruit, this symbolized in the cursing of the fig tree, full of leaves but absent of any early taskh[3] or early budding of fruit, thus indicating the fig will not bear fruit even within its season (vv. 12-14). The religious leaders of the temple ask about the authority of Jesus only to have Jesus ask them about the authority of John, whether of earth or heaven (v. 30). Afraid of the crowds, the religious leaders will not answer, and Jesus tells them he will not answer them as to his own authority (v. 33). Verse 31 makes clear the issue is, once again, that of faith.

Well into his last week, Jesus finds himself hounded by Pharisees, who attempt to ensnare him in some form of sedition, but Jesus tells them to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, in the case of the civil toll tax, then adds, and give to God what is God's (12:15-17). Just prior to this, Jesus has spoken a parable about wicked tenants, making clear the people's rejection of the "beloved son" (vv. 1-12). Geerhardus Vos understands the full significance of the parable: "Absolute destruction befalls the husbandmen as the penalty for rejecting the Son; no sooner is the Son introduced and cast out than the whole process of God's dealing with the theocracy reaches its termination" (Self-Disclosure, 161). Jesus turns to the Sadducees, who believe in neither angels, spirits or resurrection, and answers their question about which husband of seven a woman will be given when she is raised from the dead (vv. 18-27). Jesus reveals their earthly, materialistic viewpoint when he tells them they do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. He goes on to say, "He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong" (v. 27). Jesus has already confirmed the resurrection, noting that the raised dead "will be like angels in heaven" (v. 25). The earthly, materialistic vision will never allow itself to see such power and glory, but the reply of Jesus has this group foiled. The scribes now step up to ask Jesus what commandment takes priority. Jesus repeats for them the Shema, "'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one,'" then tells them, "'you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength;'" and finally, completes his answer with, the "second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (vv. 29-31). Succinctly, Jesus provides an exemplary interface of the vertical and horizontal, the heavenly God and earthly created beings.

Jesus continues to show the scribes their mistaken emphasis upon the earthly by asking them how they can say "the Messiah is the son of David? [when] David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet."'Jesus declares the biological son of the Messiah to be inferior, while the Messiah as Lord of his kingdom includes David as his subject (vv. 35-36). As Geerhardus Vos concludes, "'David's Son' is used here in the technical sense of a Messianic title" (Self-Disclosure, 164). Vos knows that the Pharisees understand the Messiah as David's heir and as one moving in the national-political sphere. Jesus holds to "a higher, supra-political plane, the plane of the world to come…" where "Lord of David" means "lordship over David" (ibid., 165). The chapter ends with an example of genuine worship in the poor widow, who gives everything she has to God.

The full import of a Messianic consciousness as both present and future discloses itself in the apocalyptic chapter 13. Vos says Jesus makes "a formal distinction between Jesus Himself as such, and Jesus as the Son of Man" in Mark 8:38 (ibid., 83), where he has talked about "the adulterous and sinful generation" and a time when the Son of Man comes in the glory of his Father. Chapter 12 has dramatically signaled Jesus'own rejection; chapter 13 describes his departure from the temple. Mark 13 injects Jesus'words about the coming destruction of the temple (vv. 1-8), talks about persecution (vv. 9-13), the desolating sacrilege and attempts that will be made to lead astray the elect (vv. 14-22). It then addresses the future coming of the "the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather the elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven" (vv. 26- 27). Vos explains: "Jesus speaks of this future manifestation as His 'coming'", by which he means "He would appear in the adequacy of His Messianic character" (ibid.). The chapter returns to the lesson of the fig tree (vv. 28-30) and the need for watchfulness as that future day, known only by the Father, "approaches" (vv. 32-37).

Jesus'actions in leaving the temple (speaking of its destruction and a coming future) lead directly into the actual climatic chapter 14, where, before the council, he is asked by the high priest whether he is "the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One" (v. 61). Jesus not only accepts the title but speaks to its fulfillment in a future when people "will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven" (v. 62). Vos remarks on an important difference between the Son of man in Daniel and the Son of Man described here in Mark: in Daniel, "the Ancient of Days, before whom the Son of man is made to appear" conducts the "eschatological judgment", whereas here in Mark, the Son of Man does the conducting (ibid., 232). As Vos notes, both the passage in Daniel and the echo here in Mark convey an "atmosphere of the supernatural" in "a theophany-like coming" often referred to as the Parousia (ibid., 233). In his chapter, "The Son of God (Continued)", Vos understands the accusation of blasphemy levelled by the high priest as laying in Jesus'"claim to be the Son of God" (ibid., 175). He elucidates his point: "He carried His Messianic Son of God claim to a point where the implied identification with God rendered it blasphemous" (ibid.). Jesus'"I am" becomes significantly memorable and final because Jesus himself settles the question of his Messiahship (v. 62). Here, Mark reaches a climax and resolution to the question of the identity of Jesus: it is the moment of greatest excitement, greatest tension; everything else in Mark happens as a result of the climax: the story has moved from Peter's earthly and politically-oriented messiah in Mark 8:29, to Jesus'clear revelation of his full Messianic office in bringing about the kingdom of God.

Chapter 14 builds to a point of necessity, where the full force of personal and official  title can no longer be avoided: a plot has been hatched to kill Jesus (vv. 1-2, 10-11); he has been anointed in preparation for his death by an unknown woman, who will be forever remembered, although nameless (vv. 3-9). Jesus has spent the Passover with his disciples, telling them "the Son of Man goes as it is written [prophetically] of him" (vv. 12-21); a Supper of Remembrance has been instituted (vv. 22-25); Jesus has acknowledged in Gethsemane "The hour [of betrayal] has come" (v. 41); Jesus is betrayed (vv. 43-51) and appears before the council (vv. 53-65); and he has been denied by his own (vv. 26-31, 66-72).

The final chapters exist to complete what has to happen: Jesus appears before Pilate (vv. 1-5); Pilate hands him over to be crucified (vv. 6-15); the soldiers mock Jesus (vv. 16-20); Jesus is crucified (vv. 21-32); he dies (vv. 33-41); he is entombed (vv. 42-47). So much happens--and so quickly! Jesus does not reply to Pilate's question about whether he is King of the Jews, although the inscription on the cross declares him so (v. 26)--the title describing a Davidic, political Messiah (v. 2). Jesus'silence makes clear he is not this expected mortal king. Mark, along with Matthew, provides a startling fact to explain why Jesus is crucified: For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over" (v. 10). The real reason why Jesus has been rejected exists in the chief priests'breaking their own commandment not to envy; they are guilty of envying Jesus, who is Messiah, fully fulfilling his official role of priest, prophet and king. Pilate, too, exposes his own political ambition of satisfying the people in order to avoid any complications for his own political office (v. 15).

Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, is pressed into carrying the cross. James T. Dennison, in "A Mini-Markan Sandwich", identifies in Mark 15:21 "a tiny cameo of the entire gospel--the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1)." He points to the pronominal brackets--him in verses 20 and 22--and explains that they show Simon sandwiched between an about-to-die Jesus, as Jesus is sandwiched between two about-to-die criminals. Simon is also bracketed with the cross. Jesus'substitutionary death becomes the gospel: "It is the mission of Christ in Mark's gospel 'to give his life a ransom for many'" (Mark 10:45) (Kerux 24/2 [September 2009]: 3-11; http://kerux.com/doc/2402A1.asp). The centurion at the foot of the cross, who has observed everything--the mockery, Jesus'cry in echo of the Messianic Psalm 22, the tearing of the temple veil from top to  bottom--knows who Jesus is: "Truly this man was God's Son!" (vv. 33-39). Dennison makes the point: this is the same proclamation made when the heavens were split at Jordan, the same witness "the voice accompanied with the dove gave forth--'This is my Son.'Now that proclamation--that witness--that testimony--that Jesus is the Son of God will be carried by the church" (Kerux 9/3 [December 1994]: 7; http://kerux.com/doc/0903.asp). The centurion has corrected Peter's earthly understanding of Jesus'Messiahship, confessing that this Messiah is, indeed, the Son of God (8:29). This is not a new revelation: Jesus has already declared his identity to the high priest. As Dennison has said, the confession does mark a turn in history--the close of the era of the temple and dawn of the age of the kingdom of the crucified yet risen Son of God.

The final chapter serves as Mark's dénouement; readers find themselves left to contemplate all that has happened and invited to think about it. With the Sabbath over and the sun risen, "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome" bring spices to the tomb with which to anoint the body of Jesus (v. 1). They discover that the burial stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the tomb (v. 4). They enter the tomb and see a young man dressed in white sitting on the right and they are alarmed (v. 5). The young man tells them not to be alarmed, that they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, that he was crucified. He then informs them: "He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him" (v. 6). "Raised" echoes Jesus'earlier remark to the Sadducees about the dead being raised (12:26). They flee from the tomb in terror and amazement and say nothing to anyone "for they were afraid" (v. 8).

This shorter ending of Mark concludes decisively, anchoring itself firmly into everything that has come before. The ransom has been given (10:45). Jesus has said in 14:28: "after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." The fear of the women has a precedence in the fear of Jesus'disciples and followers on the road to Jerusalem: "They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid," this coming just before the third prediction of Jesus' death and resurrection (10:32). The fear of the women may also be framed in relation to Mark 3:22-30. Jewish leaders, with preparatory "revelation of the kingdom of God,… [who] had witnessed its special manifestation in the miraculous work of Jesus through the agency of the Holy Spirit," who had been given access to "indisputable evidence," attributed it, not "to the Prince of Life," but to the "Prince of Demons": they chose to call "good," "evil," committing an unforgiveable eschatological sin (Benjamin J. Swinburnson, "The Eschatological Sin: The Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit in Mark 3:29." Kerux 28/1 [May 2013]: 17-22; http://kerux.com/doc/2801A4.asp). To the words, "He has been raised," these women reacted in silence to overwhelming mystery (16:8). Mark does not try to tell what happened to Jesus, what it meant to rise, what changes he underwent; he does conclude with a message from the young man in white: "tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you" (v. 7).

Jesus in his own self-consciousness declares himself definitively in his final cry from the cross: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (15:34). This is his final Messianic proclamation and it is a victorious acclamation. These words surely must have evoked recognition in the hearts of some of those who knew their Scriptures: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Ps 22:1). Jesus has fulfilled his vows and Psalm 22 proclaims his dominion: "All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations" (Ps 22: 27-28). The people of the world will know Jesus has completed his Messianic purpose: "All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him--those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!" (Ps 22:29-31).

Missouri Western State University
St. Joseph, Missouri

[1] The tone and direction of much of this paper finds inspiration in Geerhardus Vos, The Self-Disclosure of Jesus: The Modern Debate about the Messianic Consciousness, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1978).

[2] Although familiar with most of these scholars, I have most recently found James S. Gidley's review of Robert Gundry's Mark useful--"Just the Facts, Mark, Just the Facts." Kerux 12/2 (September 1997): 32-62; http://kerux.com/doc/1202R1.asp.

[3] The word means "immature fruit".