Mark 1: 9-11 – Baptism of Jesus

After the brief report of John the Baptist’s ministry, the evangelist introduces Jesus into the scene. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not describe Jesus’ birth ad infancy. He focuses his readers’ attention on the public ministry of Jesus and on what immediately precedes it. Mark presents only the adult Jesus “from Nazareth” and he quickly takes his readers to the action-filled ministry of Jesus. Jesus comes from the village of Nazareth in Galilee to be baptized by John. By undergoing the rite of John’s baptism Jesus identifies himself with the people who are in need of conversion and God’s forgiveness (Mk 1: 4-5). We have here an anticipation, as it were, of what is going to be a feature of Jesus’ ministry, namely, his association with sinners.

This is the first instance of Jesus’ immersion into the reality of sinful people. At this moment Jesus is presented as experiencing (‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’) his unique relationship with God. He is God’s “beloved Son”. The significance of Jesus’ baptism is indicated by what he sees and hears. The rending of the heavens, the descent of the Spirit and the voice from heaven point to divine revelation marking Jesus out for his mission. The phrase “opening of the heavens” occurs in Isaiah 64: 1 in a prayer for the final intervention of God to hasten the people’s deliverance: “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down…”

The declaration from heaven has particular significance for Jesus and his mission. “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” Notice that these words are addressed to Jesus (but differently in Mk 9: 7), and they express Jesus’ divine Sonship and imply his appointed mission. The expression “beloved Son” may echo Isaiah 42: 1 and the destiny of the suffering servant. Again, the term translated as “beloved” can also signify ‘only’ or ‘unique’. In Genesis 22: 2 the expression “only son” is used of Isaac, who was to be offered up in sacrifice: “Take your son, your only son Isaac whom you love… and offer him there as a burnt offering…” (Cf. also Gen 22: 12). The same expression occurs also in Mark 12: 6 which symbolically refers to Jesus’ own suffering destiny (Cf. also Mk 9: 7; in Mk 10: 38 the word “baptism” symbolises Jesus’ passion and death).

In short, the revelation of the Sonship of Jesus at his baptism is at the same time a revelation of the mission of Jesus to establish the reign of God through suffering.

Jesus’ Baptismal Experience

Context

Content

Purpose

Jesus the man “from Nazareth” is identified with sinful humanity.

  • Experience of his unique Divine Sonship (and the Fatherhood of God) in the theophany.
  • In Jesus the Father loves and accepts the sinful humanity unconditionally.

In view of the mission of the Son-servant of God – i.e., the destiny of Jesus.

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