Suffering Messiah

SYNOPSIS - According to the gospel of Mark, the Son of Man is revealed only in his sufferings and death on a Roman Cross - Mark 15:34-39

Cross evening Photo by Samuel McGarrigle on Unsplash
A theme threaded through the gospel of Mark is the inability of men to recognize who Jesus is - The Son of God - until after his crucifixion, and then paradoxically, he is declared to be the “Son of God” by the unlikeliest person - The Roman centurion in charge of his execution. What makes this Messiah unrecognizable is his self-identification with the suffering “Son of Man” - (Mark 15:37-39). - [Photo by Samuel McGarrigle on Unsplash]

The identity and mission of Jesus cannot be understood apart from his suffering and self-sacrificial death. By stressing this, Mark establishes his identity as the “Son of God” and what it truly means to be the Messiah.

From the outset of this book, God confirmed Jesus to be His beloved son. Demons recognized and declared who he was. In contrast, despite his healings, dominion over nature, and exorcisms, men and women remained confused about his identity and mission. Even his closest associates failed to recognize him as the “Son of God.” He was not the Messiah of Israel that any of them expected.

Divine Witness
  • (Mark 1:11) – “And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized into the Jordan by John; And immediately, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rending asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending unto him; and a voice came out of the heavens, You are my Son, the Beloved One; in you I delight.”
In this opening paragraph, the Scriptures, John the Baptist, a voice from heaven, and supernatural signs all attest that Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord, the mighty one who baptizes in Holy Spirit, the one anointed with the Spirit, and the beloved “Son of God.”

The voice declared him the “beloved Son” after the heavens were “rent asunder,” which translates the Greek verb schiz┼Ź, “to rend asunder, cleave, cleave asunder, split open.” This is a much stronger term than the one rendered “opened” in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. It occurs elsewhere in Mark only when the veil of the Temple was “rent in two” when Jesus died - (Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:21, Mark 15:38).

The “rending” of the heavens alludes to a passage from the book of Isaiah when the Prophet longed for Yahweh to “rend the heavens” and make His name known:
  • (Isaiah 64:1-2) – “Oh, that you would REND THE HEAVENS, that you would come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence…to make your name known to your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at your presence!
The voice from heaven declared - “You are my Son, the Beloved One; in you, I delight.” This declaration echoes both the second Psalm and another passage from Isaiah:
  • (Psalm 2:7) – “You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.”
  • (Isaiah 42:1) - “Behold, my servant whom I uphold; my elect in whom my soul delights.”
Significantly, both passages included references to the Messiah bringing justice to the nations.

Demons “Testify”
  • (Mark 1:23-27) – “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, What have we to do with you, Jesus you Nazarene; are you come to destroy us? I know you, who you are, the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Silence! And come out of him. And the unclean spirit, tearing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all astonished, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
One of the first acts by Jesus was to cast out an “unclean spirit.” This demon recognized him as the “Holy One of God.” He rebuked the spirit and commanded it to remain silent. On no occasion did Jesus give ground to demonic spirits. He could not allow his ministry to be attested by lying spirits; their “testimony” would only discredit him.

Those who witnessed the exorcism were all astounded and asked one another, “Who is this?” Despite his impressive deeds, Jesus remained unrecognized as the Messiah. Demons understood precisely who he was and the danger he posed to them - (“Are you come to destroy us?”). In contrast, men and women who witnessed his exorcisms remained clueless.
This pattern of demonic recognition repeats several times in Mark during his time in Galilee. Although demonic spirits recognized the "Son of God," men and women always failed to do so, even members of his own family - (Mark 3:11-12, Mark 5:1-7).
When his friends heard of Christ’s activities, they “went out to lay hold on him: for they said, ‘He is beside himself’.” These “friends” included members of his immediate family. Proximity to Jesus or even a blood relationship did not guarantee recognition of who and what he was - (Mark 3:21).

Scribes from Jerusalem could not deny the ability of Jesus to cast out demons. Ironically, rather than acknowledge that he did so by divine authority, they charged him with casting out demons by “Beelzebub, the prince of demons” - (Mark 3:22-30).

Miraculous Testimony

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

Jesus healed the daughter of a local synagogue leader who was dying. He raised the child from the dead, leaving the crowd amazed and dumbfounded, but still ignorant of his identity and mission. Even his ability to raise the dead was insufficient evidence to convince men and women that Jesus was the “Son of God,” the Messiah - (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, “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?” Rather than rejoice that the Messiah was in their midst, “they were offended by him” - (Mark 6:1-6).

When Herod heard about Jesus and his miraculous works, he concluded that John the Baptist had returned from the dead. Other voices claimed Jesus was Elijah or one of the prophets returned from the dead. None suggested that he might be the “Son of God,” the long-promised Messiah and the king of Israel - (Mark 6:14-15).

After Jesus fed five thousand men from “five loaves and two fishes,” plus women and children, 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 a ghostly apparition and cried out in fear. Jesus identified himself, entered the boat, and caused the wind to cease. Previously, the disciples saw him calm a great storm, yet this display of authority over natural forces also failed to convince them who he was - Because “their hearts were hardened” - (Mark 6:35-52).

A Suffering Messiah

On their way to Jerusalem Peter appeared on the verge of grasping the identity of Jesus. When Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am,” Peter declared, “You are the Christ!” Then Jesus explained how 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 vehemently - The notion that the Messiah of Israel would be subjected to suffering and death was unacceptable - (Mark 8:27-38).

Whatever insight Peter had just gained was lost when he was confronted with the idea of a suffering Messiah. But Christ’s messiahship meant exactly that - Suffering, rejection, and death. Jesus rebuked Peter for this, recognizing Satan’s initiative.

Likewise, in Mark 9:31-32, Jesus taught 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, the disciples did not understand his words or perceive who he was.

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.” To this, James and John responded by requesting to sit at Christ’s side when he came into his kingdom. To their request, Jesus responded:
  • 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…whoever would become great among you shall be your minister, and whosoever would be first among you shall be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many.” - (Mark 10:32-45).
The way of the kingdom was self-sacrificial service, not domination over others or outward glory, a truth the “Son of Man” would demonstrate in spades by giving his own life to ransom a great many others from bondage to sin.

When the High Priest examined Jesus, he asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus 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.” Now, he identified himself expressly as the Messiah, and to the highest religious authority in Israel. There could no more doubt about his identity. Yet, rather than recognize him, the High Priest charged him with blasphemy, then the “chief priests and the whole council” condemned their own Messiah to death - (Mark 14:60-64).

Unintentionally, the Roman governor confirmed Christ’s messianic status when he had the title “King of the Jews” inscribed on his cross for all to see. Yet, as he hung on it, Jewish spectators mocked him, declaring, “You who were pulling down the Temple and building one in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross.”
The chief priests and the scribes also ridiculed him despite the testimony of God, Scripture, miraculous deeds, and his own sworn testimony before the High Priest - (Mark 15:26).
Demons recognized precisely who Jesus was before he ever said or did anything, yet the temple authorities were unable to do so despite all the evidence. Instead, they mockingly proclaimed, “let him come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even the two brigands who were crucified with Jesus “were casting it in his teeth.”

Testimony of a Gentile

Finally, and only at Calvary, was Jesus declared the “Son of God” by a human voice. As death overwhelmed him, he uttered a loud voice and died. At that very moment, 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).

Two related events of revelatory significance were caused by his death - The tearing of the Temple veil, and the confession of the Roman centurion. This was the veil before the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum. Mark intends for us to connect its tearing with the centurion’s confession - (Exodus 26:31-37, Hebrews 6:19, 9:3, 10:20).

Just as the “rending of the heavens” at his baptism produced a declaration regarding his sonly status, so the “rending of the Temple veil” produced the same confession from the mouth of a Roman centurion.

Only as Jesus was crucified did a human being finally understand who he was, and paradoxically, not by one of his disciples or even a devout Jew, but instead by a Gentile officer in charge of his very execution. Not until his death was anyone able to understand the identity of the Messiah. The “Son of God” was and is the one who “gives his life as a ransom for many.” His death defines his messiahship - (Mark 10:45).

No human recognized and acknowledged Jesus as the “Son of God” until the moment of his death, and then only by a Gentile. Prior to that, his identity was only known by God and demons. Not even his closest disciples understood who he was. When Jesus revealed what it means to be the Messiah, humiliation and death, his inner circle was horrified and rejected the very idea.

Only in his suffering and death on a Roman cross are we able to understand the true identity of Jesus and the nature of his mission.


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