Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Voice in the Wilderness

The Gospel of Mark opens with a declaration based on passages in the Hebrew Bible, providing the scriptural basis for the ministry of John the Baptist. It sets the stage for the Messianic mission of Jesus and his proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Thus, Mark’s account begins on a note of fulfillment. The Man from Nazareth is the Messiah and Savior promised by the God of Israel in the Scriptures.

Implicit in the declaration is that the long-awaited “season of fulfillment” commenced with the appearance of the Baptist along the banks of the Jordan and the baptism of Jesus by him – (Hebrews 1:1, Revelation 1:1-3).

Photo by Felipe Giacometti on Unsplash
[Photo by Felipe Giacometti on Unsplash]

The term in the passage translated as “
beginning” in the passage is the first word in the Greek text of Mark’s gospel account. Its position in the sentence makes it emphatic. The sudden appearance of John marked the start of the “Good News” about the Kingdom of God.

  • (Mark 1:1-3) - “Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. According as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way. A voice of one crying aloud, in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, straight be making his paths.”

Other New Testament passages also link the “beginning” of the Gospel to the Baptist. He was the one who “prepared” the way for the Messiah. Moreover, the term “beginning” echoes the creation story in the Book of Genesis:

  • (Genesis 1:1) - “In BEGINNING, God created the heavens and the earth.”
  • (John 1:1-3) – “In BEGINNING was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.
  • (Acts 1:21-22) – “It is needful then that of the men who accompanied us during all the time in which the Lord Jesus came in and went out over us, beginning from the baptism by John until the day when he was taken up from us” (See also, Acts 10:36).

Thus, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus inaugurated the promised New Creation and began the redemption of humanity. His arrival also carried universal implications. For all humanity, his activity and message constituted “Good News” – (Romans 8:20-23, Revelation 3:14).

The Greek term rendered “gospel” or euangelion means “good news, glad tidings.” It combines the Greek prefix eu (“good”) with the noun angelion or “message.” English words derived from it include “angel” and “evangelist.”

In the New Testament, usages of euangelion are often derived from prophecies in the Book of Isaiah. For example, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that brings gLAD tidings, that publishes peace, that brings gLAD tidings of blessing, that publishes salvation, that says to Zion, your God has become king” - (Isaiah 52:7. See also Isaiah 61:1-3).

The announcement of the “Good News of Jesus Christmarked the arrival of the promised salvation and reign of God. The genitive construction of the clause can mean either that Jesus was the content or the herald of the Good News, or both.

The term “Christ” was not his last name but the designation of what he was - the “Anointed One,” the Messiah of Israel, though to his neighbors, he was “Jesus, the son of Joseph,” or simply, “Jesus of Nazareth.”


In the Hebrew Bible, two categories of men were “anointed,” priests and kings. The anointing was performed by pouring olive oil on the head of the man to set him apart for a specific office or task. “Jesus” is the anglicized spelling of the Hebrew name Yehoshua, meaning, “Yahweh saves” - (Leviticus 21:10-12, Psalm 89:20).

Among first-century Jews, the term “Son of God” had messianic and royal connotations. It was part of the promise of kingship made to David, a royal legacy the Messiah was expected to fulfill when he was enthroned in Jerusalem - (2 Samuel 7:14, Psalm 2:6-9, Hebrews 1:5-14).

The reference in Mark to the passage “as written in Isaiah” describes what is a composite of verses from the books of Exodus, Isaiah, and Malachi, although the bulk of the material is found in Isaiah:

  • (Exodus 23:20) – “Behold, I send a messenger before you, to keep you by the way, and to bring you to the place which I have prepared.”
  • (Isaiah 40:3) – “The voice of one that cries, prepare in the wilderness the way of Yahweh; make level in the desert a highway for our God.”
  • (Malachi 3:1) “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, behold, he comes, says Yahweh of hosts.”

The quotation from Exodus was appropriate, the promise to keep Israel safe in the “wilderness” and lead her to the Promised Land. Jesus was the true representative of Israel poised to traverse the “wilderness” and lead his people to the Kingdom. By combining these passages, Mark summarized the Messianic expectations of the Hebrew Bible.

Sunrise Scotland - Photo by Raphael Andres on Unsplash
[Photo by Raphael Andres on Unsplash]

Gospel of Mark has threaded other themes from the history of Israel into its narrative, although the ministry of Jesus was much more than a replay of that ancient story, or simply an attempt by him to succeed where Israel failed.

The plan of Yahweh to redeem humanity and the creation from bondage to sin and death began to unfold in the life of Jesus. His mission was far larger than the nation of Israel and encompassed territory that extended well beyond the borders of Palestine.

  • Salvation for All - (Jesus dispatched his disciples to announce his Lordship and salvation to the uttermost parts of the Earth)