Each Gospel account has a different message, written for a different purpose, and to a different audience. Each uses a unique style. Though it may seem their information overlaps, in truth they record the incidents in Jesus’ life differently and in different contexts in order to reveal a unique side of the work of God in salvation. We miss God’s messages when we combine the accounts to harmonize the stories in order to create a chronology of Jesus’ life. For example, Mark often uses extreme brevity in telling events where other writers give extensive details. But Mark has a purpose for his brevity that reveals a unique message. This message must be noted and discovered.
Mark’s first 15 verses offer an introduction and framework by which his treatise is to be read. If we miss it, we will only read the events Mark records but miss the message. We must read from the perspective that Mark intends so that the Holy Spirit’s message is not lost.
Notice his opening words: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet…” Consider how these words explain the way we should read his account. Mark is revealing the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is written in Isaiah. Therefore, Mark interprets Isaiah by the life of Jesus, the King, the Son of God who has returned to save his people. In other words, Mark should be read through the eyes of Isaiah’s story. To reinforce this point, though Mark offers veiled references to other prophecies, Isaiah is the only prophet he directly names (1:2; 7:6).
Examples of Mark’s Pictures from Isaiah
“The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God… Prepare the way of the Lord.”
Note the word, “gospel.” Isaiah defined good news in a different context than we normally think. Notice Isaiah’s text:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ The voice of the watchmen – they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion” (Isaiah 52:7-8).
Isaiah defines “gospel” as “Your God reigns,” and “they see the return of the Lord to Zion.” In the context of Isaiah and Israel’s history, God had departed from dwelling in the midst of the nation because of their persistent sin. Ezekiel portrayed the throne of God moving from the temple and settling outside the walls so that the nations could devastate the land and destroy Israel (Cf. Matt. 23:37-39). In this text, Isaiah announces the return of the Lord. God would again reign in their midst and would therefore give them comfort, blessings, and protection from their enemies. God would assert his kingship over all nations. This message is evident in the words quoted from Isaiah 40, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” In other words, the Lord is returning and therefore it is necessary to be ready for the King’s arrival. Notice especially that God is the one returning. Therefore, Jesus is the God of the Old Testament and has come again to reign over his people. Good news! Captivity is over. The King is returning.
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness.”
The “wilderness picture” fills Isaiah’s message and is mentioned repeatedly in Mark’s introduction. John baptizes in the wilderness, Jesus is baptized by John in the wilderness, and the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted forty days. Comparatively, Isaiah speaks of God punishing Israel for their sins by turning the nation into a “wilderness” where there is complete desolation and the land no longer has life (Isaiah 32:9-18; 44:1-5). This desolation would continue “until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,” resulting in Israel’s fruitfulness (Isa. 32:15). Therefore, Mark gives meaning to why the voice is in the wilderness (indicating the spiritual condition of the nation), and John is immersing in water in the wilderness (cleansing the nation), and Jesus would immerse the people with the Spirit (thus pouring out the Spirit and giving life to the desolate nation).
Further, the wilderness picture reminds us of the “Exodus,” Israel’s deliverance from captivity. Isaiah repeatedly compared Israel’s exodus from Egypt with the new exodus God would bring through the Messiah (Isaiah 11:12-16; 49:8-13). Isaiah foretold our exodus from the bondage of the Serpent in the same way God delivered the people of old from Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. We need to feel and experience the wonder of our deliverance.
“Immediately he saw the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending…”
Mark’s wording of the “heavens torn open” is unique. No other Gospel account uses these words. There is a reason. Mark is connecting us to the context of Isaiah 63-64. In that text, Isaiah calls to God concerning the sins of the people, the desolation of the nation, and the need for God to return and again make them his people. In an emotional cry, Isaiah says, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence…when you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence” (64:1,3). The word “rend” corresponds to “torn” in Mark. The cry of Isaiah is that God would again “come down” as at Mt. Sinai displaying his power and deliverance among the nations and leading the people to the Promised Land. Therefore, when Jesus was baptized and the heavens were torn open, Mark is revealing God’s answer to Isaiah’s prayer. Yes, the heavens have been torn open and God has returned to lead his people, give them life, and dwell in their midst so that the nations never again can enslave them.
Therefore hear the beautiful words of Jesus: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” God’s kingdom is being restored, his people are delivered through a new and greater deliverance, washed clean through a new “Red Sea” baptism, and given life and fruitfulness through the pouring out of the Spirit from on high. Exodus! What a joyous sound!