Identity of Jesus - Calvary

Calvary - Photo by Wim van 't Einde on Unsplash
In the gospel of Mark, men and women are unable to recognize who Jesus is, at least, not until after his crucifixion. Paradoxically, even then, he is declared the “Son of God” by the unlikeliest of persons – The Roman centurion who was in charge of the execution squad. Thus, the identity of the Messiah of Israel cannot be understood apart from his unjust death on a Roman cross - [
Photo by Wim van 't Einde on Unsplash].

By highlighting this story, Mark presents just what it means to be the Messiah of Israel and the “Son of God.” At the outset of his gospel, God confirmed Jesus to be His “beloved son,” and later, the very demons that he exorcised recognized who he was. In contrast, despite his many miracles, the men and women of Israel were confused about his identity. Even his closest associates failed to recognize him - (Mark 1:11).

Scripture, John the Baptist, a voice from heaven, and supernatural signs all attested that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the one anointed with the Spirit, the beloved “Son of God.”

After the heavens were “rent asunder,” a voice from heaven declared him the “Son of God.” “Rent asunder” translates the Greek verb, schiz┼Ź, meaning “rend asunder, cleave, split open.” In Mark, it occurs only at the baptism of Jesus and when the veil of the Temple was “rent” in two at his death - (Mark 15:38).
  • The “rending” of the heavens alludes to a passage from the book of Isaiah where the prophet longed for Yahweh to “rend the heavens” and make His name known throughout the earth:
  • (Isaiah 64:1-2) – “Oh, that you would rend the heavens, that you would come down…to make your name known to your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at your presence!”
  • You are my Son, the Beloved One; in you, I delight.”
The second statement echoes two Old Testament messianic passages, both of which include references to the Messiah bringing salvation to the nations:
  • (Psalm 2:6-8) – “Yahweh said to me, You are my son; This day have I begotten you. Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.
  • (Isaiah 42:1) - “Behold my servant whom I uphold; my elect in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him, he shall bring forth judgment to the nations.”
One of his first acts was to cast out an “unclean spirit” at the synagogue in Capernaum. The demon recognized Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” He rebuked it and commanded it to remain silent. On no occasion did he ever give ground to demonic spirits. He could not allow his ministry to be attested by lying spirits - (Mark 1:23-27).

The men and women present in the synagogue were all astounded and asked, “Who is this?” Despite his impressive deed, Jesus remained unrecognized, although demons certainly understood who he was and the danger he posed to them - (“Are you come to destroy us?”).

This pattern repeats several times. Though demonic spirits recognized the “Son of God,” men and women consistently failed to do so, including members of his own family and inner circle - (Mark 3:11-12, Mark 5:1-7).

Proximity to Jesus and even blood relationships did not guarantee recognition of who he was. The “scribes” from Jerusalem could not deny his ability to cast out demons. However, rather than acknowledge that he did so by divine authority, they charged him with casting out demons by “Beelzebub, the prince of demons” - (Mark 3:21-30).

By his word only, Jesus calmed a storm raging across the Sea of Galilee. In great fear and confusion, his disciples asked one another, “Who is this, that even wind and the sea obey him?” Even a tremendous display of power over nature was insufficient for men to recognize the Messiah of Israel - (Mark 4:36-41).

Jesus healed the daughter of a local synagogue leader who was dying. He healed the child, leaving the crowd amazed and dumbfounded, but still ignorant of his identity. Even his ability to raise the dead was insufficient to convince anyone that he was the Messiah of Israel - (Mark 5:21-43).

At one point, Jesus returned to his hometown and began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard began to question who he was:
  • Whence has this man these things…Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” - (Mark 6:1-6).
Rather than rejoice that the “Son of God” was in their midst, “they were offended by him.”

When Herod heard about Jesus, he concluded that John the Baptist had returned from the dead. Other voices claimed he was Elijah or one of the prophets, but no one suggested he might be God’s Son, the Messiah and king of Israel - (Mark 6:14-15).

After Jesus fed five thousand men from “five loaves and two fishes”, he went alone to pray on a mountain. The disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat, struggling against a contrary wind. Jesus appeared suddenly, walking on the water. The disciples thought it was a ghostly apparition and cried out in fear. Jesus identified himself, entered the boat, and caused the wind to cease. Previously, the disciples had seen him calm a great storm, yet this miraculous display failed to convince them who he was - Because “their hearts were hardened” - (Mark 6:45-52).

His Crucifixion and the Roman Soldier
On the way to Jerusalem, for a moment, Peter appeared on the verge of grasping his identity.  When Jesus asked, “
Who do men say that I am,” Peter answered, “You are the Christ!” He then admonished the disciples to silence and explained that “the Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” To this, Peter objected. The very idea that the Messiah of Israel would be subjected to suffering and death at the hands of the nation’s greatest enemy was beyond the pale - (Mark 8:27-38).

Whatever insight Peter may have gained was lost when he was confronted with the reality of a suffering Messiah. Nevertheless, his mission meant exactly that - suffering, rejection, death. Jesus rebuked Peter, recognizing Satan’s and attempt to thwart him from pursuing the will of his Father - (Mark 8:31).

Likewise, in Mark 9:31-32, Jesus taught the disciples that he must be “delivered up into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he shall rise again.” Once more, they did not understand his words or who he was.

And once again, while “on the way up to Jerusalem,” Jesus explained how he would be “delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death. James and John responded with a request to sit at Christ’s side when he came into his kingdom. Jesus responded:
  • (Mark 10:32-45) - “You know not what ye ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? Whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant; and whosoever would be first among you shall be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
The way of his kingdom was self-sacrificial service, not domination over others or outward glory.

Later, the High Priest demanded of Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” He responded, “I am he. And you will see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Before the priestly leaders of the Jewish nation, Jesus identified himself openly as the Messiah. Now, there could no more doubt. Yet, rather than recognize him, the High Priest charged him with blasphemy, and the “chief priests and the whole council” condemned their Messiah to death - (Mark 14:60-64).

Rather ironically, the Roman governor confirmed his messianic status when he had “King of the Jews” inscribed on a board and nailed to his cross for all to see. Yet, as he was hanging on it, Jewish spectators mocked him - (Mark 15:26).

During his death throes, the chief priests and scribes ridiculed him, and this despite the testimony of God, Scripture, his miraculous deeds, and his own sworn testimony before them. It was clear to anyone with “eyes to see” that he was the “Son of God” and the Messiah of Israel.

Demons recognized who Jesus was, but the Temple authorities refused to do so despite the overwhelming evidence. Instead, they mockingly challenged him - “Let him come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even the two brigands who were crucified alongside him “were casting it in his teeth” - (Mark 15:26-32).

Only at Calvary was Jesus declared the “Son of God” by a human voice.  As death overwhelmed him, he uttered a loud cry and died. At that precise moment, the “the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom,” and the centurion in charge of the execution squad declared - “Truly, this man was the Son of God” - (Mark 15:37-39).

Thus, two related and significant events were caused by his death - The tearing of the Temple veil and the confession of the centurion. This was the veil before the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum. Mark intends his audience to connect the tearing of the veil with the centurion’s confession - (Exodus 26:31-37Hebrews 9:310:20).

Just as the “rending of the heavens” at his baptism produced a declaration regarding his messianic status, so the “rending” of the Temple veil produced the same confession, only now on the lips of the pagan centurion.

Only as Jesus was crucified did a human being begin to understand who he was, and paradoxically, NOT by any member of the Jewish nation. Instead, it was the Gentile officer in charge of his crucifixion who saw the light. The “Son of God” was the one who “gave his life as a ransom for many” - (Mark 10:45).

When Jesus revealed what it meant to be the Messiah - Humiliation and death – even his inner circle was horrified and rejected the very idea. Nonetheless, only in his suffering and death on a Roman cross are we able to grasp the real identity of Jesus, and consequently, what it means to be his disciple.


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