Mark 1:4-11


In this Series (B) of texts, verses 4-8 have already been covered in the text for Advent II. Very likely verses 4-8 are repeated here to show the close connection between the mission of the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. Consult the Notes for Advent II for verses 4-8.

The Notes on this text will not repeat all the thoughts put forth in three other textual studies in the three-year series, namely, Matthew 3:13-17, Series A, Epiphany I, pp. 19-21; John 1:29-34, Series A, Epiphany II, pp. 22-25; and, Luke 3:21-22, Series C, Epiphany I, pp. 18-19. Matthew 3:13-17 (five verses) gives us the fullest account of Jesus' baptism. Luke 3:21-22 (two verses) gives us the briefest account. Mark 1:9-11 (three verses) is parallel to that in Matthew and Luke. The account at John 1:29-34 assumes knowledge of Jesus' baptism, for in verses 32-33 the Baptist clearly refers to the incident of Jesus' baptism.

Mark 1:4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.Mark 1:5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.Mark 1:6 John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.Mark 1:7 And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie." Mark 1:8 "I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." 

Mark 1:9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

The verse begins with a Hebraism, frequent in LXX and Luke, which denotes something exceptional and noteworthy. Here it denotes a noteworthy occurrence during the Baptist's ministry. "At that time" means, at the very height of the Baptist's ministry. The Baptist was baptizing on the east bank of the Jordan not far from the Sea of Galilee. It wasn't far from Nazareth. It has been suggested (but can't be proved) that some of the natives of Nazareth had already gone to be baptized by the Baptist. That is an interesting thought. And it leads to an interesting question: "Had Jesus' mother already been baptized, assuming that Joseph was already dead?" We know not. The point we are making is that when one reads all four Gospel accounts one is left with the definite impression that Jesus came just as did all the rest, without fanfare.

He came of His own volition and when His hour had come. His purpose in coming was to be baptized. By the way, compare the baptism of Jesus with that of the people in verses 4-5. Jesus did not need the preaching of repentance-baptism to have His sins forgiven. Jesus did not come confessing His sins.

Mark 1:10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

The Greek text begins with a word that means "immediately,"  that is, after His baptism. "As He was going up" denotes attendant circumstance. "Out" means" from." All ancient paintings of Jesus' baptism have Him standing in the water. "Up out of" by no means supports the idea of immersion. Furthermore, verse 10 tells us what happened "after" not "during" Jesus' baptism.

"He saw" implicitly means "Jesus saw."  This clearly denotes Jesus' humanity. From the account in John 1:29-34 we know that the Baptist also "saw." 

"Torn open" is a predicate, passive participle. Matthew and Luke have forms "to open."  Mark says: "the heavens rent."  The comments on this word are interesting:

Bengel: 'Rent open' is said of that which had not previously been open. Christ was the first who opened heaven.
Luther: Heaven opens itself which hitherto was closed, and becomes now at Christ's baptism a door and window, so that one can see into it; and henceforth there is no difference any more between Him and us; for God the Father himself is present and says: 'This is my beloved Son'.
Lenski: What happened was an act of God, that great act by which he inaugurated Jesus into his mighty office of Prophet, High Priest, and King. Ezekiel (1:1) saw the heavens opened; Stephen likewise (Acts 7:56); compare also Revelation 4:1; Isaiah 64:1. We are not told what became visible when the heavens were suddenly opened, as we are told in the case of Ezekiel and of Stephen. Out of the open heavens the Spirit came down upon Jesus.

Jesus saw two things happen: the heavens rent and the Holy Spirit coming down to Him as a dove. Why as a dove? Perhaps it is best not to seek symbolism in the word "dove."  There are so many ideas on this point. What is clear is that it was a clear and visible sign both for Jesus and the Baptist that the Holy Spirit was now descending on Jesus. Here He truly becomes the Messiah, the Anointed of God. Jesus, of course, had the Holy Spirit before. As true God He was One with the Father and the Spirit. He also had the Spirit according to His human nature but now He is anointed with the Spirit without measure. Read John 1:33.34. No human being ever received the Holy Spirit in the measure which Jesus did.

Bengel: The Holy Spirit with which Jesus was about to baptize.

Exactly. That is the whole point of John 1:32-34. There the Baptist says: "This (Jesus) is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit." The Baptist clearly means that his own (John's) baptism is effective because Jesus had been anointed with the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Triune God was effectively working in the baptism of the Baptist.

Lenski: Some speak of the Spirit's descent upon Jesus as though this were a feature of his baptism, which it was not. The application of this to our baptism, namely that in the same way through our baptism and in it, the Spirit comes to us with His regenerating grace, is wrong. He, indeed, does come to us, but upon Jesus he came, not in and through the baptism but AFTER it.

Titus 3:5 and John 3:5 tell us that we are regenerated, born again, of the Holy Spirit through baptism. Jesus did not need regeneration or rebirth. The Holy Spirit, in fullest measure, was bestowed on Him AFTER His baptism.

Lenski: The Spirit was a permanent gift to Jesus. Like his conception 'of the Spirit' so was this coming of the Spirit as a gift; it pertained to the human nature of Jesus, it equipped and empowered that nature with all that it needed to carry out the work of redemption. In His deity the Son was of identical essence with both the Father and the Spirit, nor could the Spirit be given to him. But in his human nature, which he had assumed in order by it to work out our redemption, he could and did receive the Spirit. . . . The coming down of the Spirit upon Jesus is the anointing prophesied in Psalm 45:7; Isaiah 61:1. Cf. Acts 10:38. The prophets received some of the gifts of the Spirit; Jesus, lifted far above them for an infinitely greater task, received the Spirit as such. What power thus filled him we see when he is now led up into Galilee, to teach there in his wonderful way and to work miracles.

Jesus did not begin teaching or performing miracles until this bestowal of the Spirit right after His baptism.

Mark 1:11 And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." 

Jesus had seen two things with His very own eyes. Now He hears something with His very own ears. Whose voice was this? It must have been that of the Father because the voice says: "You are My Son." Only the Father could say that.

"My Son" clearly denotes Jesus' divinity. "Whom I love" clearly denotes this divine Son incarnate. "Whom I love" is not a synonym of "only begotten"  found in the Gospel of John. "Only begotten" denotes Jesus' eternal generation from the Father. But here we have a passive verbal adjective with Father as agent which denotes the Father's total approval of the incarnate Christ. It would not be necessary for the Father to say that He loved the "divine" nature of Christ.

Note the repetition of the article here to stress the importance and uniqueness of the love of the Father toward the incarnate Christ. The Father saw His Son through thick and thin, motivated by His love, here meaning the very highest type of love.

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit equipped the Son to accomplish His work. All three Synoptics quote the words of the Father. Mark and Luke have identical wording. But Matthew has "This is" but otherwise has identical wording. The Father's voice said both: emphatic "My" for Jesus' sake, and emphatic "you are" for my sake. The Father assured His Son that He would see Him through. The Father assured me that His Son would see me through. The Father assured me that His Son, the Messiah, would accomplish my salvation. For the same reasons Matthew reads "in whom" and Mark and Luke read "in you." 

The grammars struggle to explain the tense usage of "well pleased" and the lexicons struggle to explain its meaning. These Notes consider the translation "I am well-pleased" correct. And its meaning lies right on the surface. The Father is fully pleased with what the Son is, says and does for all men.

We've left one important item to the last.

Lenski: (On Mark 1:9) We must not put too much into Jesus' baptism. Luther presents the view (Erlangen edition 19, 2,482, etc.; 20, 457; and elsewhere) that in his baptism Jesus acted as our substitute. Loaded with the world's sin, he buried it in the waters of Jordan. Following Luther, some go as far as to say that what Christ obtained for us in his baptism is now conveyed to us by the means of grace (Word and Sacraments)---as though salvation was already fully secured for us by Christ's baptism. Luther's view strains the evangelists' words by attempting to give to Christ's baptism the same significance that is attached to the baptism of the sinners who flocked to the Jordan. Christ coming with the sins of others and having them washed away, the others having their own sins removed. This produces a double removal of the same sins. (Emphasis ours)

Lenski was of the Ohio Synod which denied universal justification and reconciliation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19 and Romans 5:8-10). He accused the Missouri Synod of teaching a double justification and a double reconciliation in Christ because Missouri insisted on what we call objective justification and reconciliation. Likewise, when Luther said that Christ buried the sins of the world, in His baptism, in the waters of the Jordan, Lenski misrepresented Luther by accusing him of a double removal of the same sins. Luther was surely right. Christ's baptism was vicarious. Read Matthew 3:15. When Jesus was baptized He fulfilled all righteousness. In the spring of 1933 Lenski delivered the graduation address for theological students at Columbus, Ohio. In that address, based on 2 Corinthians 5:19, he attacked the Missouri Synod on its stand on justification. Dr. Theodore Engelder responded in three articles in the Concordia Theological Monthly, July, August, September, pages 507-664. Those articles are available at Concordia Theological Seminary Bookstore, Fort Wayne, IN, in printed form. They are priceless. Buy them and read them.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 25-27. Used with permission.

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