Jesus is Baptized and Tempted
The baptism and temptation scenes in Mark are brief for the theological significance packed into them. Jesus is baptized by John. When he rises out of the water, the heavens are opened, the spirit like a dove descends, and God speaks. Mark says “immediately” Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. The passage ends with wild beasts and tending angels.
In Jesus’ baptism we see the three signs required in Jewish tradition to signify the coming of God’s “eschatological kingdom.” 1. The heavens opened. “Especially significant is Mark’s wording that the heaven’s will literally be “torn open” (Gk. Schizein)… Schizein occurs only once again in Mark, when the centurion confesses at the crucifixion that Jesus is God’s Son, at which the temple curtain is ‘torn in two from top to bottom’ (15:38). 2. The spirit descended. “Above all, it was believed that in the eschatological age the Messiah would be endowed with God’s Spirit… The NIV renders the phrase as ‘the Spirit descending on Him,’ but the Greek intensifies the union of Jesus and the Spirit: ‘The Spirit was descending into him,” indicating Jesus’ complete filling and equipping for ministry by the Spirit,” (Edwards). 3. God speaks. Edwards says, “Only here and in the transfiguration (excepting John 12:28) do we see direct divine discourse with Jesus in the Gospels, and in each instance God addresses Jesus as ‘my Son.’” A little later Edwards says, “The empowerment by the Spirit to be God’s servant, and the declaration from heaven, ‘You are my son,’ enable Jesus not only to speak and act for God but as God… The baptism signals the confirmation of Jesus’ Sonship and the commencement of his servanthood.”
Mark transitions from the baptism scene to the temptation scene at breakneck speed, “Immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness” (v. 12). Edwards sees a connection to that of the scapegoat, “loaded down with the sins of Israel and expelled into the wilderness (Lev. 16:21).” In the temptation scene we see echoes of Israel in the wilderness, compare Israel’s 40 years to Jesus’ 40 days. In reference to Jesus being with the wild animals and the angels serving Him, Edwards sees another connection to Mark’s Roman audience. “Tacitus spoke of Nero’s savagery towards Christians in the sixties of the first century in these words, ‘they were covered with the hides of wild beasts and torn to pieces by dogs’ (Ann. 15.44). Given the ravaging of Christians by ferocious animals during Nero’s reign, it is not difficult to imagine Mark including the unusual phrase “with the wild beasts” in order to remind his Roman readers that Christ, too, was thrown to wild beasts, and as the angels ministered to him, so, too, will they minister to Roman readers facing martyrdom.”
Wright says, “Any early Christian reading this passage would also, of course, believe that their own baptism into Jesus the Messiah was the moment when, for them, the curtain had been drawn back and these words had been spoken to them,” “You are my beloved Son; I take delight in you!” (v. 11). And we should all remember we are beloved sons and daughters of God through Christ (Ephesians 1:5). But we should also remember, as with the Roman citizens under Nero in the first century, that being a Christian does not protect us from suffering, in many ways it guarantees it. We are to take up our crosses and follow Christ. The Apostle Peter says, “Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory,” (1 Peter 4:12-13). In our sufferings or in our prosperity (both can be trials), let us remember our status as citizens of the kingdom of God and as beloved sons and daughters, and to live as though we believe it.
I am using two commentaries to help me study the Gospel of Mark. They are N. T. Wright’s Mark For Everyone from The New Testament for Everyone series, and The Gospel according to Mark from The Pillar New Testament Commentary series by James R. Edwards, Jr.