November 5, 2013

Introducing the King

by Wyatt Graham

He would ride on a royal steed. This king would come with purple draping his shoulders to oust the invaders and bring freedom to his people. When the king returns, he would establish his kingdom and destroy his enemies. At least, this is what many expected Jesus to do.

According to the Gospels, many Jewish people had a basic misunderstanding of the nature of Jesus’ first coming. While they expected a military leader, Jesus came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). In other words, the means by which Jesus accomplished his mission was totally different than many first-century believers imagined.

But just because these believers misunderstood the means by which Jesus would accomplish his mission, this doesn’t mean that they misjudged the goal of his mission. I believe that most faithful believers would have grasped the goal of the Messiah’s mission, because of the clarity of Old Testament.

MARK AND THE PROPHETS

Consider the first few verses of Mark’s Gospel. Mark 1:1-3 reads: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’'”

The first verse of Mark’s Gospel functions like a title. It explains that this is the beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, God’s son. Hence, Mark 1:2 and following may really constitute the beginning of the body of Mark’s Gospel. As a side note, if you ever wondered where to find a presentation of the Gospels within one of the Gospels, just read Mark 1:2-16:18. Anyway, 1:1 introduces what follows as the beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ.

One might then expect Mark 1:2-3 to be a concise summary of the Gospel, and in a sense these verses do sum up the Gospel. But perhaps these verses do so in an unexpected way. Mark 1:2 begins by quoting “Isaiah the prophet.” Actually, Mark first quotes from Malachi 3:1 and then from Isaiah 40:3.

At first blush this might seem confusing, but Mark is simply drawing on the theology of the prophets. Malachi interpreted and used the earlier theology of Isaiah. Hence, both Malachi and Isaiah are talking about the same salvation event. The difference is that Isaiah first presents a vision of future salvation that Malachi later picks up and expands.

Isaiah 40:3 casts a vision of new salvation event that will rival the Exodus of Egypt. In fact, the language Isaiah uses sounds very much like the first Exodus. In the future, God will lead his people along a highway to Zion. He will send out his messiah before them, and they will receive both the forgiveness of sins and a restoration from exile. However, this appears to happen somewhat surprisingly through the sacrificial death of the suffering servant (Isa 52-53).

The concept of traveling along the “way” connects Isaiah to Malachi. Both Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 speak of the “way.” In Isaiah, this way is the path to salvation. In Malachi, a messenger prepares the way for the Lord. Mark pulls together these two prophets who are speaking about the same future salvation event—one that shares similar ideas and concepts to Israel’s Exodus.

MARK AND JESUS

Mark pulls the threads of the Old Testament’s prophetic message by showing how both Isaiah and Malachi paint the same picture of the future. Both hope that the Lord would lead his people along the way of salvation.

But Mark makes one vital move that would forever change the course of history. Mark introduces Jesus as the Lord who would usher in a new salvation event, who would bring his people back along the way and introduce them to salvation.

So yes. Mark does introduce the Gospel, the Good News. But the prophets testified to this Good News, and the first century Jew awaited a time when the Lord Yahweh would lead them to salvation. Jesus, as Yahweh come in the flesh, offered this very way.

Wyatt Graham

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Wyatt is a PhD student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. After he finishes there, he plans to return to his home country of Canada to church plant. He also blogs at www.wyattgraham.com. Follow him at @wagraham.