The Gospel of Mark: A Strong Dose of Jesus

Jesus the Servant Savior

The Jesus we meet in the Gospel of Mark is the Messiah as Servant.  In Mark, Jesus is a man of mystery in the first 8 chapters until Peter confesses that he is the Christ, the Messiah of God.  From then on, Jesus teaches that he is a suffering Messiah, and that his destiny lies in Jerusalem where he will suffer at the hands of his enemies.  In Jerusalem, Jesus predicts he will be killed, be buried, but will also rise again on the third day.  Jesus in Mark moves quickly and is a man of action.  I find this picture of Jesus a compelling figure to present to our unbelieving friends who may ask who Jesus is and what was he about.  For Christians, Mark records that Jesus breaks all the moulds we try to fit him into, but that he is a more beautiful servant savior than we ever imaged.

For further study, download my notes on a 2-part teaching session that provides an overview of the Gospel of Mark, along with a strategy for reading the gospel from literary, redemptive-historical, and doctrinal perspectives.

* Update: How to Read the Gospel of Mark (chapter 11)

Today (11/16/2008) we finished our review of the Gospel of Mark, and instead of a lecture format, I quickly explained each of the three perspectives on reading (literary, redemptive-historical, systematic/doctrinal) and then divided up the class into groups for reading Mark 11 using the different perspectives.  It was very interesting to see what Christians as a discussion group found in Mark 11, and only after 10-15 minutes of reflection and discussion.  Many of them found what I found in Mark 11.

From the Literary perspective (reading the text as an artist would view art), I noted that the entire narrative is structured as a A-B-C-B1-A1 chiasm.  In effect it is a double “Markan sandwich”.

  • A.  Jesus in Jerusalem, with the crowds proclaiming his messianic kingly authority.
    • B.  Fig tree
      • C.  Jesus cleanses/judges the temple
    • B1.  Fig tree
  • A1. Jesus in Jerusalem, with the religious authorities questioning his authority.

Furthermore, there are a number of parallels and antitheses in Mark 11.

  1. The fig tree without fruit is parallel to (and symbolic of) Israel without spiritual fruit.
  2. The fig tree that is cursed and then withered is parallel to (and symbolic of) Israel as a nation cursed and then withered.
  3. The people who cooperate with Jesus and his disciples regarding the question and answer in the first part of Mark 11 is the antithesis of Jesus and the religious leaders questions and answers which lead to frustration.
  4. Mark compares and contrasts the crowds who are astonished with Jesus and his teaching, and the religious leaders who want to destroy Jesus for his teaching.

There is an element of foreshadowing in Mark 11:14 where it says that “the disciples heard it” regarding Jesus cursing the fig tree.  Just a few verses later Mark describes how the disciples discovered the same fig tree withered and how they remembered Jesus’ words.

The trick question that Jesus asks the religious leaders is not an ordinary trick question, it is in fact a question that forced them to answer their own question to Jesus.  There is an element of irony and poetic justice in Jesus’ question.  Checkmate!

From the Redemptive-Historical perspective, which is a bit like viewing the text from as a detective (looking for clues and piecing together what happened in the past and how it fits with what happened), I noticed several OT verse references that shed light on Mark 11.

v. 2.  Num 19:2; Deut 21:3.  These passages allude to animals (who have never been yoked) that serve as atoning sacrifices.  They prefigure Jesus, who was the spotless Lamb of God who entered Jerusalem during Passover week.

v. 9.  Ps 118:25-26.  The crowds are quoting a messianic psalm and attributing its fulfillment to Jesus as the Son of David.

v. 17.  Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11.  Isaiah writes of the temple as a house of prayer not just for Israel, but for all nations.  Jeremiah prophesies of judgment on the temple of God for false religious worship.  Jesus quotes these two passages to explain why he went crazy on the vendors and money-changers in the temple.  He wasn’t upset at the financial transactions per se, but rather that the temple precinct set aside for the Gentiles to worship was being desecrated by wicked Jews and turned into a bazaar in support of the inner court temple worship with wanton disregard for the outer court reserved for Gentile worship.

From the Systematic/Doctrinal perspective (viewing the text as an analyst), I noted that vv 22-25 touch on the subjects of faith, prayer, and forgiveness, and how they are interrelated.  Macro-biblical themes in the rest of Mark 11 are Christological:

  • Jesus as the authoritative sovereign king
  • Jesus as divine judge and warrior
  • Jesus as zealous son of his heavenly Father
  • Jesus as intolerant of hypocrisy
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