The plan Mark follows is the least systematic of all the Synoptics. The preaching of John the Baptist plus the baptism and temptation of Jesus make up his prelude (1:1-13); next comes a period of ministry which according to occasional hints was in Galilee (1:14-7:23), then a journey by Jesus and his apostles to the district of Tyre and Sidon, the Decapolis, the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi and back to Galilee (7:24-9:50); then lastly the final journey through Peraea and Jericho to Jerusalem where the Passion and resurrection take place (10:1-16:8). Apart from individual sequences of fact, this broad outline itself is purely conventional since it is historically probable, and to judge by the fourth gospel fairly certain, that Jesus visited Jerusalem several times before the last Passover of his life. All the same, this outline, broad as it is, does trace for us an important development which is both factually and theologically significant.
The general public received Jesus warmly at first but their enthusiasm waned as they found that his meek and otherworldly conception of the Messiah did not fulfil their hopes. As a result, Jesus left Galilee to devote himself to the instruction of a small group of faithful followers, and the profession of faith at Caesarea Philippi showed that he had secured their absolute allegiance. This was a decisive turning-point: after it Jerusalem became the focus of attention, and it was there that further opposition continued mounting only to end in the drama of the Passion and in the final triumph of the resurrection.
This paradox provides the central interest of the second gospel i.e. how Jesus, while remaining misunderstood and rejected by men, was at the same time God’s triumphant envoy.
The gospel is not particularly concerned with elaborating the Master’s teaching and it records few of his Sayings: the real point of its message is the manifestation of the crucified Messiah. On the one hand Jesus is the Son of God, acknowledged as such by the Father (1:11; 9:7), by the devils (1:24; 3:11; 5:7) and even by men (15:39); he is the Messiah claiming divine rank (14:62), higher than the angels (13:32), taking on himself the forgiveness of sins (2:10), vindicating his power and his Mission by miracle (1:31; 4:41) etc.) and by exorcism (1:27; 3:23f etc.). On the other hand the gospel puts great emphasis on his apparent frustration at the hands of men: the mockery or refusal of the public (5:40; 6:2f), the antagonism of the Jewish leaders (2:1-3:6 etc), the lack of understanding even on his disciples’ part (4:13+) – all the hostile activities that were to lead to the shame of the Cross. It is this ‘scandal’, this refusal, that the gospel is intent on explaining. This it does not merely by contrasting it with the crowning triumph of the resurrection but also by showing that the hostility was itself an integral part of God’s mysterious plan. It was necessary that Christ should suffer and so redeem man (10:45; 14:24), since this had been foretold by the scriptures (9:12; 14:21, 49).
Both for himself (8:31; 9:31; 10:33f) and for his own followers (8:34f; 9:35; 10:15, 24f, 29f, 39; 13:9-13) Jesus laid down a way of humility and suffering; but the Jews, expected a victorious warrior-Messiah were ill prepared for this answer to their hope, and the reason why Jesus wanted silence about his miracles (5:43 etc.) and his identity (7:24; 9:30) was to avoid an enthusiasm which would have been as ill-advised as it would have been mistaken. Rather than call himself the Messiah, (8:29f), which would have been too suggestive of human dignity, he took the modest and mysterious title ‘Son of Man’ (2:10 etc.; CD. Mt 8:20+). This cautionary measure is what is called the ‘messianic secret’ (Mk 1:34+) and is a basic idea of Mark’s Gospel. It was not something Mark had invented: it corresponded to that underlying reality in Christ’s life of suffering which, in the light of a faith finally and fully established by the Easter event, the evangelist was able to perceive and to place before us for our understanding.
(Copyright, Jerusalem Bible, Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd, 1966)
(to be completed)