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Mark 1:9-20 Notes

Mark 1:9-20 Biblical Commentary

CONTEXT (1:9-15):  Mark covers a great deal of territory in these few verses. They pull together Jesus' baptism, his temptation, his announcement of the coming near of the kingdom, and his call to repentance and belief.  Mark uses strong, very forceful language. The heavens were "parting" (Greek: schizo-ripped open) (v. 10). The Spirit "drove (Jesus) out" into the wilderness "immediately" following the baptism (v. 12). Jesus was tempted by Satan. He dwelled with wild animals, and was attended to by angels (v. 13). He preaches, "Repent, and believe in the Good News" (v. 15).  In the Exodus, Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea into the dry air of the desert wilderness. There they encountered many temptations during their forty-year wilderness journey. Now Jesus passes through the baptismal waters of the Jordan and goes directly from the cool water to the hot wilderness. We can almost feel the quick chill as the desert air quickly evaporates the water from his body.  There is an important difference between the experience of the ancient Israelites and Jesus' experience, however. The Israelites often failed their test-Jesus will not fail his.


9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  10Immedi-ately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him;11 and a voice came out of the heavens: "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased."

"In those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan" (v. 9). Each of the four Gospels includes an account of Jesus' baptism. Mark's account is the earliest, and Matthew and Luke both use Mark as one of their sources. Luke's account (3:21-22), like Mark's, is spare. Matthew (3:13-17) adds dialogue between Jesus and John, who would have prevented Jesus from being baptized. John's account (1:29-34) is distinctive and begins with the Lamb of God testimony from John the Baptist.

"It happened in those days" (v. 9a). These words, "in those days," are eschatological (related to the end of time-see Jeremiah 31:33; Joel 3:1; Zechariah 8:23; Matthew 7:22; 9:15; Mark 13:17, 19, 24). They serve as a transition-telling us that the one who is to come (v. 7) has arrived.

"Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee" (v. 9b). Jerusalem is the site of the temple, and is therefore associated with the presence of God. One would think that Jesus, like Samuel, would grow up in the temple (1 Samuel 1-2), but Nazareth is far removed from the temple and has none of the religious status associated with Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a great city, but Nazareth "was such an obscure village it is not mentioned in the Old Testament, Josephus, or rabbinic literature" (Brooks, 42).  Yet it is from Galilee that Jesus comes, and it will be to Galilee that he will return after his resurrection (16:7). Jerusalem and the temple will be associated with his opposition, not his support. The first ten chapters of this Gospel, encompassing the bulk of Jesus' public ministry, take place in Galilee. Chapters 11-16, located in Jerusalem, tell of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection as well as the events leading up to them.

"and was baptized by John in the Jordan" (v. 9c). The purpose of Jesus' baptism, in this Gospel, is to establish his identity as the Son of God. Verses 10-11, which tell of Jesus' vision and the voice from heaven, constitute the core of this baptismal story.

"Immediately (euthus) coming up from the water" (v. 10a) indicates that Jesus was down in the water. That fact, combined with the meaning of the Greek word, baptizo (dipped or immersed) suggests immersion baptism.

The word euthus (immediately) in verse 10 is a key word in this Gospel. Mark uses it forty-two times, giving his short Gospel a sense of quick movement-a sense of urgency.

"he saw the heavens parting, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove" (v. 10b). In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist tells of seeing "the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove" (John 1:33). In Mark's Gospel, only Jesus sees the vision of the torn-apart heavens and the Spirit. The voice from heaven is addressed to him, "You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased," and presumably he is also the only one to hear the voice. For other people to recognize Jesus' true identity, they must listen to Jesus' words and observe his deeds.

Jesus "saw the heavens parting" (Greek: schizomenous-from schizein-v. 10)-the wording hearkens back to Isaiah's prayer "that you would tear open the heavens and come down" (Isaiah 64:1). The people of Isaiah's time imagined God dwelling at the top of a multi-storied heaven, an image suggesting a great gulf between God and humans. Isaiah's prayer is that God will come down and be fully present with humanity. Mark clearly intends to say that, at Jesus' baptism, God answers Isaiah's prayer.

Matthew and Luke use a gentler word, anoigo, which means open, instead of schizein. Mark will also use this word, schizein, to describe the ripping of the temple veil from top to bottom at the moment of Jesus' death-an event followed by the testimony of the Roman centurion, who will say of Jesus, "Truly, this man was God's son" (15:38-39-see also Hebrews 10:19-22). In both instances, Mark intends the schizein (parting, ripping open) to announce Jesus as God's Son.

"and the Spirit descending on (eis-into) him like a dove" (v. 10c). The point of this verse is that the Spirit descended on Jesus. Some scholars link the dove to Genesis 1:2, because rabbinic tradition has God's Spirit "brooding on the face of the waters like a dove" (Hasel, 988). However, that is quite a stretch, given that the Genesis account includes no dove. More likely, Mark simply intends "like a dove" to help us to visualize the descent of the Spirit.  The Spirit descends "into" (Greek: eis) Jesus rather than "on" (Greek: epi) Jesus, suggesting a complete union between Jesus and Spirit. The Spirit of God is the controlling, empowering force behind Jesus' ministry and life.

"A voice came out of the sky, "You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (v. 11). In the first verse of this Gospel, we learned that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (v. 1). Now God confirms Jesus' identity as Son-God's beloved Son-a Son whose faithfulness has pleased the Father.

God directs these words to Jesus, and it is he who hears them. We cannot know for sure the extent to which Jesus understood his unique status as the Son of God prior to his baptism, but these words from heaven remove any ambiguity from his mind.  These signs, the rent heavens, the descent of the Spirit, and the voice, make it clear that Jesus is not just another prophet, but is God's son in a way that others created in God's image are not.  God's words in verse 11 have various Old Testament roots:

     • First, we have God's commandment to Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you" (Genesis 22:2). Abraham set out to obey God's command. God prevented him from following through, but blessed him, saying, "Because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, ...I will bless you greatly" (Genesis 22:16-17). Paul echoes this incident in his epistle to the Romans, speaking now of God's offering of Jesus, "He who didn't spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also with him freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32-see also Hebrews 11:17-19). Clearly, God intends Abraham's sacrifice, even though not consummated, to serve as an archetype for God's own sacrifice.

     • "You are my son. Today I have become your father" (Psalm 2:7)-words spoken to the king on his enthronement. In this instance, the king is a proxy for the nation Israel.

     • "Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delights" (Isaiah 42:1).

     • The servant of the Lord is the lamb led to the slaughter but who "didn't open his mouth" but "was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:7, 12). The linkage to Jesus is unmistakable.

The baptismal words will be repeated at Jesus' transfiguration, when God speaks to the disciples, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him" (9:7). Some scholars have interpreted the baptismal words as an adoption formula, as if Jesus became the Son of God at his baptism. However, since it is clear that these words spoken at the transfiguration cannot also be an adoption formula, there is no reason to consider the baptismal words an adoption formula. Matthew and Luke make it clear that Jesus becomes God's Son at conception rather than at baptism (Matthew 1:18, 20, 23; Luke 1:31-37).


12 Immediately the Spirit *impelled Him to go out into the wilderness.13 And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.

"Immediately (euthusthe Spirit drove him out (ekballeiinto the wilderness" (v. 12). Here we encounter the word euthus(pronounced you-THOOS) once again (see v. 10). The Spirit doesn't give Jesus time to celebrate his baptism. Immediately-straightway-directly-the Spirit who had descended so gently on Jesus in verse 10 drives him out into the desert wilderness. There is an abruptness here that we hadn't expected. What's the hurry? Why not give Jesus a little time to enjoy his baptism? 

The answer is that God the Father sent Jesus the Son into the world to bring about the defeat of sin and death, and it is time to get on with the job. There will be time for celebration later-after the resurrection-when the job is finally done. What is needed now was to get started-to send Jesus out onto the battlefield where he will encounter Satan face to face-where Jesus will confront Satan and Satan's minions with the power of God-where Jesus will deliver Satan a small but telling defeat.   

In each of the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus goes straight from his baptism into his temptation (Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1). We might think of his baptism as a commissioning and his temptation as a strengthening, toughening, hardening experience. Throughout Israel's history, the wilderness has been where the Israelites have been tested, often failing, but it is also where they have been deepened spiritually. Unlike the Israelites, Jesus will not fail his testing.                       

If I may use a military analogy, the baptism would have been like the recruit holding up his hand and swearing to uphold the Constitution. The temptation would be like basic training-an intense, mostly painful time designed to prepare the recruit for the difficult challenges that he will face later.                                                               

Luccock notes that the life of a Christian is not characterized by a long series of high moments, but a rhythm of hills and valleys. Jesus' baptism is a grand moment, but is followed immediately (Mark's favorite word) by the testing in the wilderness. So it is also for us. Our lives will have their ups and downs. We shouldn't anticipate a bed of roses, lest we invite disappointment (Luccock, 655).

"He was there in the wilderness forty days tempted by Satan" (v. 13a). Forty is a number often associated with intense spiritual experiences. God caused it to rain for forty days and forty nights to cleanse the earth (Genesis 7:12). The Israelites were in the wilderness forty years. Moses spent forty days and nights on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18; 34:28), and Elijah journeyed forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).  Jesus is tempted by Satan. The Greek word peirazo can mean tempt or test. To tempt is to entice a person to do what is wrong; to test is to give a person the opportunity to choose what is right. To tempt is to hope for failure; to test is to hope for success. Testing has precedents in the Old Testament (see Genesis 22:1-19; Deuteronomy 8:2-5).

Satan is a Hebrew word that was brought into Greek and English by transliteration (creating a same-sounding word in another language). Satan sounds much the same in all three languages, but we can best ascertain its meaning by looking at the Hebrew. In Hebrew, satan means adversary or opponent or enemy. Because of its usage in the Old Testament, it came to mean "the demonic archenemy of God."

In Jesus' baptism, God revealed his true identity as God's Son, and the Holy Spirit descended on him, empowering him to do God's work. Then "immediately" (Mark's favorite word), "the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness," where he began his Godly work of opposing Satan.

While Mark doesn't describe specific temptations, Matthew (who uses Mark as one of his sources) tells of three temptations:

• To make bread from stones
• To throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple and
• To worship Satan (Matthew 4:3-10).

"He was with the wild animals" (v. 13b). It seems odd that Mark would mention Jesus being with wild beasts. While a number of species make the desert their home, they tend to be reptilian rather than mammalian-quiet, hidden, unobtrusive. The desert appears to be barren-empty. Why would Mark mention wild animals? While some scholars have suggested that Mark intends to show Jesus living peaceably with wild animals, most see the wild beasts as allied with Satan (Guelich, 38; Lane, 61).

There may be an allusion here to Psalm 91:11-13, which says:

"For he will put his angels in charge of you, to guard you in all your ways.  They will bear you up in their hands, so that you won't dash your foot against a stone.  You will tread on the lion and cobra. You will trample the young lion and the serpent underfoot." 

Mark's Gospel was probably written in the 60s when Nero was having Christians torn to pieces by wild animals. We can be sure that Mark's mention of wild animals did not cause his first readers to think of the peaceable kingdom.

"and the angels were serving (diekonounhim" (v. 13c). The angels that we expected following Jesus' baptism finally come to wait on (diekonoun) him. Diekonoun is the word from which we get the word "deacon" and has to do with service. What kinds of service might the angels render Jesus? At the end of Jesus' time in the wilderness, they could provide food and drink. However, the angels may have been with Jesus throughout his wilderness experience to support him in his conflict with Satan (Hooker, 51).

The picture, then, is of two opposing camps:  "On the one side, supporting Jesus, are the Spirit and the angels; on the other, Satan and the wild animals" (France, 83).  Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not report the outcome of the temptation. There is no mention of specific temptations or Jesus' quick ripostes to counter Satan's proposals.

14 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God,    15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

"Now after John [the Baptist] was taken into custody" (paradothenai-from paradidomi - to hand over - to deliver up-to betray-"taken into custody" is a weak translation) (v. 14a). Paradidomi will be used in this Gospel not only of John the Baptist, but also of the disciples (13:9, 11-12) and of Jesus (9:31; 10:33; 14:21, 41, etc.).

Herod Antipas had married his brother's wife, Herodias, and John had rebuked him for this. Herod had him arrested and imprisoned. Later, Herodias successfully schemed to force Herod to behead John (6:17-29; Matthew 14:3-12; Luke 3:19-20).

The hand of God was in this. God's plan was being implemented. John was the forerunner, the one who was to prepare the way for the one who was to come (vv. 1-8), and the paradidomi (handing over) of John ushered in the beginning of Jesus' ministry. "The passion (death) of a faithful messenger of God is never a defeat for the secret kingdom (4:11); it is always a doorway through which the kingdom advances and grows" (Geddert, 35).

At the very beginning of this Gospel, John was the preacher, and now Jesus takes his place, "preaching the Gospel (euangelion-Gospel or good news) of the Kingdom of God, and saying,'The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News'" (vv. 14b-15). Mark began this Gospel with the words, "The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (v. 1). Now he says, "Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God" (v. 14). After the resurrection, the focus will shift back to the good news about Jesus (1:1) (Marcus, 172).

Jesus preaches the Good News, but he also embodies the Good News. He is more than John's successor, because he has been baptized with the Holy Spirit and so is able to baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:8).  "The time (kairos) is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe in the Good News" (v. 15). The good news of God has two components-"the time (kairos) is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God at hand," and requires two responses-"Repent and believe in the Good News."

• "The time (kairos) is fulfilled" (v. 15a). The Greeks have two words for time, chronos and kairos.  Chronos is chronological time-the time of day or the time of year. Kairos is significant time-opportune time-decisive time-critical time. To be late for a chronos appointment can be embarrassing, but to be late for a kairos appointment can be tragic-the equivalent of "missing one's boat"-missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Jesus is saying that the Great Day has come, because the kingdom of God has come near. The kingdom comes wherever people embrace God as king of their lives.

• "Repent and believe the good news" (v. 15b). The proper response is to repent and to believe the good news. The "truth is not self-evident. To be seen, it must be believed" (Williamson, 42). "If repentance denotes that which one turns from, belief denotes that which one turns to-the gospel" (Edwards, 47).

"Jesus came into Galilee" (v. 14b). Judea was John's domain, but Galilee was Jesus' domain. The people of Jerusalem and Judea went to the wilderness to hear John preach (Matthew 3:1-6). While people from Jerusalem and Judea will be among those who come to hear Jesus (Mark 3:8), Jesus begins and ends his ministry in Galilee (see 16:7). Most of his ministry, other than his death and resurrection, takes place in Galilee. Jerusalem will be associated with opposition to Jesus. The religious authorities (priests, scribes, and Pharisees) will engineer his execution there.

"preaching the Good News (euangelionof God" (v. 14c). The euangelion (Good News) is that God loves us and has made provision to save us. This idea has deep Old Testament roots. Isaiah tells us that all people are like grass, which withers-but assures Israel that "the word of our God will stand forever-and that God "will feed his flock like a shepherd." These are the "good tidings" of which Jerusalem is to be herald (Isaiah 40:6-11). In the New Testament, euangelion is usually the good news of Jesus Christ and the salvation that he offers. In this case, however, Jesus proclaims the good news of God.

"The time (kairosis fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand" (v. 15a). The Greeks have two words for time:

• Chronos is chronological time-the kind of time that we measure on clocks and calendars-the kind of time by which we keep appointments.

• Kairos is significant time-the moment of truth-the decisive moment-the fork in the road that makes all the difference. A kairos moment divides past from future-ushers us into a new kind of life.

The number of days that a ship takes to go from one port to the next is chronos time, but when we say, "When my ship comes in," we are talking about kairos time. If we are late for an appointment (chronos time), that might or might not turn out to be important. However, if "our ship came in" (kairos time) and we missed it, that will almost certainly be tragic.

Jesus says that the kairos "is fulfilled." The decisive moment has arrived. God's reign is at hand. Heads up! Pay attention! Don't miss this one! Your life is at stake!

"the Kingdom (basileiaof God is at hand" (v. 15a). Hooker suggests that we might translate basileia as kingship rather than kingdom. The word kingdom implies the geographical territory over which a king reigns, but God's kingship is his sovereign rule over the hearts of people-not land (Hooker, 55).

The idea of the kingdom of God has its roots in the Old Testament (see Psalms 45:6; 103:19; 145:10-13; Isaiah 52:7), although that phrase is not found there. The early Israelites, in their rebellion, rejected God's kingship in favor of a king like the ones that they saw in surrounding nations (1 Samuel 8:5-22), but the promise of God's kingdom and the salvation that it brings was always present.

The Israelites of Jesus' day thought of God's kingdom as a restoration of the power and glory that Israel enjoyed during David's reign-God ruling through his chosen people, Israel.

Jesus tells of a very different kind of kingdom-a kingdom that "is at hand" (v. 15)-a spiritual kingdom that is realized when we surrender our hearts to God-a kingdom that began with Jesus' first coming, but which will be fully manifested only in his Second Coming.

Jesus will say much more about the Kingdom of God. He says:

• "To you (his disciples) is given the mystery of the Kingdom of God, but to those who are outside, all things are done in parables" (4:11).

• "The Kingdom of God is as if a man should cast seed on the earth, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, he doesn't know how"(4:26-27).

• "How will we liken the Kingdom of God? Or with what parable will we illustrate it? It's like a grain of mustard seed" (4:30-31).

• "Allow the little children to come to me! Don't forbid them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (10:14).

• See also 10:23-24; 12:34; 14-25.

Given that Jesus made the Kingdom of God such a central part of his teaching and preaching, we disciples need to do the same. The church, however, is always tempted to let other things displace the proclamation of the kingdom of God. When we allow that to happen, we are being unfaithful.  Whatever we thought was more important than the proclamation of the kingdom becomes an idol, and cannot serve either the church or society well.

"Repent, and believe in the Good News" (v. 15b). The appropriate response to the coming of the kingdom is twofold: Repent (Greek: metanoeo-to change one's mind or direction) and believe the good news! We tend to think of repentance as feeling guilty, but it is really a change of mind or direction-seeing things from a different perspective. Once we begin to see things rightly, we will probably feel bad about having been wrong for so long-but repentance starts with the new vision rather than the guilt feelings. When Jesus called the Israelites to repentance, he was calling them to turn away from false gods (human efforts or alliances that would betray them in the end) and turn to the true God (who could and would save them).

"and believe (pisteuoin the Good News" (euangelion) (v. 15c). To believe (pisteuo) is to be convinced that something is true-to trust it-to have faith. The author of Hebrews defines faith as the "assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).

Belief makes it possible for people to live confidently in the midst of difficulty. Belief makes it possible to keep moving forward toward seemingly impossible goals. Belief makes it possible for us to step out into the darkness, certain that God will give us sure footing.

But the object of our belief is critical. People believed in Hitler, but Hitler betrayed their trust. His legacy was shattered lives and rubble. People believed in Mao with similar results. Extremist religious beliefs drive most of the world's terrorist activity today. Any number of people believe in money or power.

But Jesus calls us to believe in the Good News (euangelion). The Greek word euangelion combines the words eu (good) and angellos (to proclaim-related to our word angel, because angels were God's messengers). In the New Testament, euangelion means the Good News of Jesus Christ.

That might sound like spiritual claptrap, except that we have seen how belief in Jesus Christ has transformed lives. One of my favorite stories has to do with an alcoholic who became a Christian and was able, by the grace of God, to quit drinking. His old drinking buddies made fun of him. One of them asked, "Do you really believe that Jesus turned water into wine?" The new Christian thought for a moment and then replied, "I don't know whether Jesus turned water into wine-but I do know that, in my house, he turned beer into furniture." The stories of lives transformed by belief in Jesus are legion-and true.

NOTE:  The next series of verses tell the story of Jesus' call to the first disciples, which opens Jesus' ministry.
Why does Jesus call these four disciples? Why do they follow? Nothing in the text fully answers either question. Apparently Jesus sees something worthwhile in these four men-not necessarily what they are but what they could be. Apparently the four men see something compelling in Jesus-something that causes them to walk away from that which is precious to follow him. For Simon and Andrew, the sacrifice is leaving their nets. For James and John, it is leaving their father.  These men did not seek to become Jesus' disciples. They had not presented Jesus with their resumes and begged him to accept them as students. It was Jesus' initiative, not theirs, that resulted in their becoming Jesus' followers. That is typical of call stories.  See the story of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-9)-and Moses (Exodus 3:1-21)-and Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-18)-and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-8). God chooses whom God chooses.

16 As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men." 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.

"Passing along by the sea of Galilee" (v. 16a). The Sea of Galilee is a large freshwater lake near the headwaters of the Jordan River-13 miles (21 km) long at its longest point and 8 miles (13 km) wide at its widest point-surrounded for the most part by high hills. The Sea of Galilee is also known by three other names:

• The Sea of Chinnereth (the Hebrew word for harp), because of its harp-like shape (Numbers 34:11; Joshua 12:3; 13:27).

• The Lake of Gennesaret, because of the plain of that name that adjoins it (Luke 5:1).

• The Sea of Tiberius, because of the city by that name on its shores (John 6:1; 21:1).

In Jesus' day the Sea of Galilee supported a substantial fishing industry that exported fish to Egypt and other distant locations (Edwards, 49). While some fishermen would practice subsistence fishing (fishing primarily to feed their own family), there would also be substantial export trade. Some fishermen would be poor-most would be comfortable-and some would be quite prosperous.  Simon and Andrew are from Bethsaida (John 1:44), probably located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee east of Capernaum.

Jesus "saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen" (v. 16b). Jesus sees them. They weren't looking for him. Their attention is focused on the task at hand-casting their net-hoping for a good catch.

Casting a net into the sea involves a large circular net with weights fastened around the edges and a draw rope to trap fish. Nets of this type are still used in some parts of the world, and it is a thing of beauty to watch a skilled fisherman cast such a net. Larger fishing operations would use a boat and dragnet. Some scholars contrast Simon and Peter (less affluent brothers who cast a net) with James and John (more affluent brothers whose father not only owns a boat but also has hired hands-v. 20). However, Luke 5:3 says that Simon owns a boat, so this contrast is probably overdrawn.

"Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men" (halieis anthropon) (v. 17). I must confess that one of my favorite songs as a child was, "I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men. I will make you fishers of men if you follow me." That, of course, was another century-another millennium-but I feel cheated not to hear children singing it-and go through the motions that accompanied it.

The call, "Follow Me,"  is personal-an invitation to follow Jesus rather than to join a cause. Most rabbis expect aspiring students to seek permission to follow, but the initiative here is with Jesus. He chooses his disciples rather than waiting to be sought out by them. Jesus' call is also different in that he calls them , not to follow the Torah, but to follow himself (Edwards, 49).

In a society where family ties are strong and fathers expect sons to take over the family business and to support elderly parents, Jesus' call demands a radical break from:

• Social ties that bind men to their extended families. Their work will support their families financially. In the event that they are injured or ill, their families will support them. When they grow old, their children will support them.

• The economic security represented by fishing, the only work that they know.  Jesus calls Simon and Andrew to let go of everything that they know so that they can step out onto a pathway that he will show them-a pathway that he does not define for them in advance-a pathway that they will not understand until they have walked it. That is what discipleship involves-faith to step into the unknown, trusting Christ to lead us to the right destination.

"fishers of men" (anthropon-men, humankind) (v. 17b). Some scholars believe that "fishers of "men"  involves gathering people for judgment, because the Old Testament uses the fishing metaphor in that sense (see Jeremiah 16:16; Amos 4:2).  The context in Mark, however, makes it clear that Jesus is calling these men to an evangelistic task. They, like Jesus, are to proclaim the Good News-the Good News of the Kingdom of God-the Good News of Jesus Christ who is ushering in the kingdom. These four men will invite people to make God their king-to submit to his reign (Geddert, 57).

"Immediately (euthus-one of Mark's favorite words) they left their nets, and followed him" (v. 18).

• In Luke's version of this story, the call of these four disciples follows a great fishing miracle-of-abundance (Luke 5:1-11), which makes it easy to understand why they follow Jesus.

• In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist announces that Jesus is the Lamb of God, and two of his disciples (including Andrew) follow Jesus. Andrew then goes to his brother, Peter, announcing that he has found the Messiah (John 1:35-41). Again, it is easy to understand why they follow Jesus.

• Mark, however, gives us none of this background. Perhaps he is simply reducing the story to its barest essentials, but he is probably just emphasizing the compelling nature of Jesus' call. In Mark's Gospel, Andrew appears only once more (13:3), although there are two more mentions of his name, including one in a list of apostles (see 1:29; 3:18). Jesus will give Simon the name Peter at 3:16, and Peter will go on to become the most prominent of the apostles. Prior to the resurrection, his behavior will be uneven, and he will deny Jesus (14:26-31; 66-72). After the resurrection, he will become the rock that his new name predicted.

Simon and Andrew follow Jesus, but Jesus keeps them near their home for quite some time. They will go to the synagogue at Capernaum, near their hometown, for the sabbath (vv. 21-28), and will then return to their home where Jesus will heal Simon's mother-in-law (vv. 29-34). They will stay in Galilee for the first nine chapters of this Gospel, at which time they will go to Judea (10:1). They will return to Galilee after the resurrection (16:7).

19 Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets.20 Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away [b]to follow Him.

"Going on a little further from there, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets" (v. 19). This story is roughly modeled after the call of Elisha by Elijah in 1 Kings 19:19-21, but with notable differences:

• Elisha received permission to say goodbye to his father and mother prior to following Elijah, whereas Mark says that James and John simply leave their father to follow Jesus.

• Upon returning from his goodbyes, Elisha slaughtered the oxen with which he had been plowing and boiled them, using their yokes as fuel-thus insuring that he could not turn back to his old way of life. James and John do not destroy their boat and nets, but simply leave them behind.

"Immediately (euthushe called them" (v. 20a). Again we hear Mark's characteristic euthus-immediately. In the last instance, Simon and Andrew "immediately...left their nets and followed him" (v. 18). In this instance, Jesus immediately calls James and John.

"and they left their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him" (v. 20b). Like Peter and Andrew, James and John hear Jesus' call and leave their father to follow Jesus. The detail about Zebedee remaining in the boat with the hired men illustrates the suddenness with which James and John make their decision and follow through on it. The point of their quick departure is the compelling nature of Jesus' call.  The mention of hired hands suggests that Zebedee is running a larger enterprise than Peter and Andrew-just how large we cannot know. The mention of hired men also softens the departure of James and John-they do not leave their father bereft of help.

James and John will be known as Sons of Thunder (3:17), and will join Peter as members of a small inner circle that is present at the Transfiguration (9:2-9), Gethsemane (14:33 ff.), and other significant moments.

Mark 1:19-20 - Notes

 9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11and a voice came out of the heavens: "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased."

1:9 "Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee" Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, lived a few years in Egypt, and then settled in Nazareth, the hometown of Joseph and Mary, which was a small, new settlement of Judeans in the north. Jesus' early ministry was in this northern area around the Sea of Galilee, which fulfills the prophecy of Isa. 9:1.

v. 9:  ▣ "Jesus. . .was baptized" The Gospels differ in their early chronologies of Jesus' ministries in Galilee and Judea. It seems that there was an early Judean ministry and a later one, but all four Gospels' chronologies must be harmonized in order to see this early Judean visit (i.e., John 2:13-4:3).

Why Jesus was baptized has always been a concern for believers because John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. Jesus did not need forgiveness for He was sinless (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5).

The theories have been:

1. it was an example for believers to follow

2. it was His identification with believers' need

3. it was His ordination and equipping for ministry

4. it was a symbol of His redemptive task

5. it was His approval of the ministry and message of John the Baptist

6. it was a prophetic foreshadowing of His death, burial, and resurrection (cf. Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).

Whatever the reason, this was a defining moment in Jesus' life. Although it does not imply that Jesus became the Messiah at this point, which is the early heresy of adoptionism (cf. The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture by Bart D. Ehrman, pp. 47-118), it held great significance for Him.

v.  10:  NASB, NKJV "immediately" - This is a very common term in Mark. It characterizes his Gospel. Here euthus is translated "immediately" or "straightway" (cf. Mark 1:10,12,18,20,21,20,28,42; 2:2,8,12; 3:6; 4:5,15,16,17,29; 5:5,29,42; 6:25,27,45, 50,54; 7:35; 8:10; 9:15,20,24; 10:52; 11:3; 14:43,45; 15:1).

This is the term that gives the Gospel of Mark its fast-paced, action-oriented feel, which would have appealed to Romans. This word group is used about 47 times in Mark (cf. A Translator's Handbook on the Gospel of Mark by Robert Bratcher and Eugene Nida, p. 29).

     ▣ "coming up out of the water" This may be an allusion to Isaiah 63:11, where it originally would have referred to the Red Sea (i.e., a new exodus in Jesus, who would soon be tempted for forty days as Israel was for forty years). This verse cannot be used as a proof-text for immersion. In context it may imply coming out of the river, not coming from under the water.

     ▣ "He saw" This may imply that only Jesus saw and heard this Messianic affirmation. If so, this would fit into the recurrent theme of Mark's Messianic Secret. However, the other Gospels also record this event in a similar way (cf. Matt. 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22).

     ▣ "heavens opening" This may be an allusion to Isa. 64:1. This term means to rip open, which would have been a metaphor for tearing open the canopy above the earth (cf. Gen. 1:6).

     ▣ "the Spirit like a dove" The origin of this metaphor may be

Parallels:  1. the Spirit brooding over the water in Gen. 1:2, 2. the birds Noah sent out of the Ark in Gen. 8:6-12, 3. the rabbis' use of it as a symbol of the nation of Israel (cf. Psalms 68:13; 74:19), and 4. a symbol of gentleness and peace (cf. Matt. 10:16)

One reason I personally am so committed to the historical-grammatical method of biblical interpretation, which focuses on authorial intent as expressed in the literary context, is the tricky or clever way ancient interpreters (as well as modern ones) manipulated the text to fit their preset theological structure. By adding the numerical value of the letters of the Greek word "dove" (peristera), which equals 801, one gets the same numerical value of the Greek words alpha (equals 1) and omega (equals 800), so the dove equals the eternal Christ Spirit. This is so clever, but it is isogetic, not exegetic!

▣ "upon Him" This is the preposition eis which means "into." It is not meant to imply that Jesus did not already have the Holy Spirit, but this was a special visible sign of the Spirit's empowerment for His assigned Messianic task. This may also be an allusion to fulfilled prophecy (cf. Isa. 63:11).

Mark uses the preposition "into" (eis), but Matthew and Luke use "upon" (epi). This is because Mark's Gospel, which has none of the birth narratives or visitations, begins Jesus' ministry with the baptismal event. This brevity was used by the heretical groups, Adoptionists and Gnostics, to assert that Jesus, a normal human, was supernaturally empowered with "the Christ Spirit" at this juncture and thereafter was able to do the miraculous. Later scribes, therefore, changed the preposition to "to" (pros).

v. 11:   "a voice came out of the heavens" The rabbis called the heavenly voice a Bath Kol (cf. Mark 9:7), which was the method of affirming God's will during the interbiblical period when there was no prophet. This would have been a powerful divine affirmation to those familiar with rabbinical Judaism.

     ▣ "'You are My beloved Son'" These two titles unite the royal aspect of the Messiah (Psalms 2:7) to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1). The term "son" in the OT could refer to (1) the nation of Israel; (2) the King of Israel; or (3) the coming Davidic Messianic King. See Special Topic at Mark 3:16.

Notice the three persons of the Trinity in Mark 1:11: the Spirit, the voice from heaven, and the Son, the recipient of both.

     ▣ "My beloved" This phrase is either (1) a title for the Messiah as in the NRSV, NJB, and Williams translations or (2) a descriptive phrase as in the NASB, NKJV, and TEV. In the Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint, this would be understood as "favorite" or even "only," similar to John 3:16.

     ▣ "'in You I am well-pleased'" This descriptive phrase is paralleled in Matthew 3:17 and 17:5 (the Transfiguration). However, the descriptive phrase is missing in Mark 9:7 and Luke 9:35.

 12Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. 13And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.

1:12-13 This account of the temptation of Jesus is so brief compared to Matt. 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. In these accounts the purpose of the temptation is clear: how would Jesus use His Messianic powers to accomplish His redemptive task (cf. James Stewart, The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ, pp. 39-46)? But what could Mark's brief account mean? It is possible that Peter saw this event as a symbol of Jesus' defeat of evil (i.e., by the empowering of the Spirit), a foreshadowing of the Passion Week. But this is only speculation. The text itself gives no clue except the event's timing-just after Jesus' (1) enduing by the Spirit and (2) affirmation by the Father, but before His public ministry. This is one of the three events mentioned before Jesus' public ministry ([1] John's ministry; [2] John's baptism; and [3] Satan's temptation).

v. 12:   "Immediately" See note at Mark 1:10.

     ▣ "the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness" The term "impelled" is the strong term "throw out" (often used of exorcisms, cf. Mark 1:34,39; 3:15,22,23; 6:13; 7:26; 9:18,28,38). The Son's temptation was by the agency of the evil one, but instigated by the Spirit (cf. Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). It was God's will that Jesus be tested! I would like to recommend two good books on this topic, The Life and Teaching of Jesus by James S. Stewart and Between God and Satan by Helmut Thielicke. In the OT the wilderness was a time of testing for Israel, but also a time of intimate fellowship. The rabbis called the wilderness wandering period the honeymoon between YHWH and Israel. Elijah and John the Baptist grew up in the wilderness. It was a place of seclusion for training, meditation, and preparation for active ministry. This period was crucial for Jesus' preparation (cf. Heb. 5:8). 1:13 "forty days" This is used both literally and figuratively in the Bible. It denotes a long indeterminate period of time (i.e., longer than a lunar cycle, but shorter than a seasonal change).

V. 13:  "was being tempted" This is an imperfect passive periphrastic linked to an imperfect active "to be" verb. The term "tempt" (peirazō) has the connotation of "to test with a view toward destruction." From the first class conditional sentences in Matt. 4 (cf. Mark 4:3,6) we learn that the temptation was over how to use His Messianic power to accomplish God's redemptive will.

     ▣ "by Satan" The Bible repeatedly asserts a personal, supernatural force of evil.

     ▣ "the wild beasts" This is possibly a simple reference to an uninhabited area. However, because wild beasts are used as metaphors for or names of the demonic in the OT (cf. NEB) this could also refer to a place of demonic activity (cf. Ps. 22:12-13,16,21; Isa. 13:21-22; 34:11-15).

These wild beasts could also be a continuing allusion to the new exodus, the new age of restored fellowship between mankind and the animals (cf. Isa. 11:6-9; 65:25; Hos. 2:18). The Bible often describes the new age as a restoration of the Garden Eden (cf. Genesis 2; Rev. 21-22). The original image of God in mankind (cf. Gen. 1:26-27) is restored through Jesus' sacrificial death. Full fellowship, which existed before the Fall (cf. Genesis 3), is possible again.

     ▣ "angels were ministering to Him" This is an Imperfect tense which means (1) ongoing action in past time or (2) the beginning of an activity in past time. Angels ministered to (1) Elijah in the wilderness in the same way (i.e., providing food, cf. 1 Kgs. 18:7-8). This may imply Jesus as the new prophetic voice (cf. Deut. 18:18-22) and (2) Israel in the wilderness, so too, to Jesus while in the wilderness. This may have implied Jesus as the new Moses paralleling his baptism and testing (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-13).

 14Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

vv. 14-15:  These two verses are a summary statement. Mark often uses this technique (cf. Mark 1:14-15,21-22,39; 2:13; 3:7b-9; 6:7,12-13). These summaries convey several theological truths:

1. Jesus was popular and many came to hear Him preach/teach

2. Jesus was powerful, exorcizing demons and healing people

3. He transferred His power to His disciples (i.e., the mission trips of the Twelve and the seventy)

4. the purpose of Jesus' proclamation was repentance and faith

v. 14:  "John had been taken into custody" John was imprisoned (i.e., paradidōmi, which is used twenty times in Mark for "turned over to the authorities") by Herod Antipas because he continued to publicly condemn Herod's marriage to his brother's ex-wife (cf. Mark 6:16-17).

     ▣ "Jesus came into Galilee" The Gospel records Jesus' ministry geographically in Galilee, in Judea, in Galilee, and in Judea. Jesus left southern Palestine when John was arrested (cf. Matt. 4:12; Luke 4:14-15; John 1:43). Ministry in the predominantly Gentile northern Palestine was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isa. 9. No one expected anything spiritually significant to begin in this region, far removed from the Temple (cf. John 1:46) and the first to be defeated and exiled by the Mesopotamian powers (i.e., Assyria and neo-Babylon).

     ▣ "preaching the gospel of God" This use of the term "gospel" must be qualified. At first Jesus' message was similar to John's. The full gospel of Jesus will not be complete until after His life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Verse 15 gives the content of Jesus' early preaching. What John preached was personally embodied in Jesus of Nazareth (cf. John 14:6).

v. 15:   "'time is fulfilled'" This phrase is introduced by hoti, which usually denotes a quote and is common in Mark. This reflects Peter's memory of Jesus' words. This is perfect passive indicative, which has prophetic/messianic significance (cf. Eph. 1:10; Gal. 4:4; 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 1:3). The passive voice reflects God's activity in and control of time and history.

     ▣ "'the kingdom of God'" This refers to God's reign. It is both a present reality and a future consummation. In Matthew's Gospel this is usually referred to as "kingdom of heaven." These phrases are synonymous (compare Matt. 13:11 with Mark 4:11 and Luke 8:10). The kingdom arrived when Jesus was born. It is described and embodied in Jesus' life and teachings. It will be consummated at His return. It was the subject of Jesus' sermons and parables. It was the central theme of His spoken messages.

This is a perfect active indicative, which implies that the kingdom was a past reality (cf. Mark 1:1-3) as well as a current reality (cf. Matt. 12:28; Luke 11:20; 17:21). The phrase "the time is fulfilled" parallels this phrase and emphasizes the reality of God's prophetic word now becoming a historical event. The "New Age of Righteousness" was inaugurated at Jesus' birth, but not fully known until the Passion Week's events and not fully empowered until Pentecost.

Although the Kingdom has truly come, there are also NT texts which imply that its complete manifestation is future (cf. Mark 9:1; 14:25; Matt. 26:29; Luke 22:18; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). What we do with Christ now determines our eschatological hope (cf. Mark 8:38).

     ▣ "'repent'" See Special Topic on Repentance at Mark 1:4.

     ▣ "'and believe in the gospel'" parallels in Mt. 4:17 and Lk. 4:14-15 do not have the same summary.


v. 16:  "the Sea of Galilee" This lake goes by several names in the Bible.

1. the Sea of Chinnereth (cf. Num. 34:11; Jos. 12:3; 13:27)

2. Lake of Gennesaret (cf. Luke 5:1)

3. Sea of Tiberias (cf. John 6:1; 21:1)

4. Sea of Galilee (most common, cf. Mark 1:16; 7:31; Matt. 4:18; 15:29; John 6:1)

     ▣ "Simon and Andrew. . .casting a net" Notice Peter is the first officially called in Mark, while in John 1:35-42 it was Andrew. The Sea of Galilee supplied all of Palestine with fish. This net refers to hand nets, which were about 10 feet by 15 feet across. Fish were a main staple of the Jewish diet.

1:17 "'Follow Me'" This is an adverb functioning as an Aorist imperative. This must not have been the first encounter between Jesus and these fishermen (cf. John 1:35ff). This is their call to be official, permanent followers of a rabbi (cf. Mark 1:17 and 20).

     ▣ "'I will make you become fishers of men'" This is a word play on their vocation. Fishing in the OT was often a metaphor for judgment (cf. Jer. 16:16. Ezek. 29:4-5; 38:4; Amos 4:2; Hab.1:14-17). Here it is a metaphor of salvation.

v. 18:   This is repeated in Matt. 4:18-22, but a slightly different account is found in Luke 5:1-11.

vv. 19-20:   "boat" These were large fishing boats. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were prosperous middle class fishermen (i.e., had hired servants). John apparently had business contracts to regularly sell fish to the priestly families in Jerusalem (i.e., John was known by them, cf. John 18:15-16).