In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.
Translation: And it happened in those days, Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee, and he was baptized into the Jordan by John. And immediately, rising up out of the water, he saw the heavens being split open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending into him. And a voice happened out of the heavens, "You are my son, the beloved. In you, I am pleased."
And immediately, the Spirit threw him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels served him.
But after John was delivered over, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time has been fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Turn and trust in the good news."
Background and situation: For background on the significance of Galilee see this previous post on Mark 1: 4-11, the lection from a few weeks ago which overlaps significantly with this week's reading for the first Sunday in Lent.
We are, of course, still in the densely packed first chapter of Mark. The lection is preceded by the title of the book, the invocation of the prophet Isaiah, and five verses relating the message of John the Baptist.
The baptism of Jesus: The actual baptism of Jesus is mentioned only briefly, and in the passive voice. He "was baptized into the Jordan by John." Those who went out from Jerusalem were baptized "in" the Jordan River while Jesus goes one better and is baptized "into" the Jordan. Characteristically, Jesus goes all the way in.
Mark's brief statement regarding the actual baptism is a way of sliding by John's involvement in that baptism. All four gospels are at pains to put John subordinate to Jesus in every way. None of them accent Jesus' actual baptism by John because that would imply Jesus' subordination to John. (Crassly but accurately put: The baptizee is subordinate to the baptizor, or so it was supposed in the world of that time.)
Mark wants to move quickly past the baptism in order to get to the voice from heaven. "Immediately" after Jesus goes "into" the Jordan, he "rises up out of the water." Upon rising up out of the water, Jesus "sees," and only Jesus sees. The ensuing revelation is not meant for the crowds, but only for Jesus--(and Mark's readers).
What did Jesus see? "The heavens being split open." (The word is schizomenous. Schizo means "split." Schizophrenia, for example, literally means "split mind.") No doubt Mark intends a reference to Isaiah 64:1: "Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down."
Indeed, that is what happens. After the splitting of the heavens, Jesus also sees "the Spirit like a dove descending into him." Not only did the Spirit "come down," it went into Jesus. As Jesus went into the Jordan, the Spirit goes into Jesus. The plea of Isaiah is answered, and dramatically!
For the third time, the word egeneto appears in this short lection--"it happened." First, John "happened." Then Jesus "happened." Now the voice from heaven "happened." The voice, clearly God's, identifies Jesus as "my son, the beloved." This recalls Psalm 2:7--"You are my son"--and Isaiah 42:1: "I will put my spirit upon him."
The temptation of Jesus: Matthew's and Luke's version of this episode, amplified by Q, is more elaborate and features actual dialog between Jesus and Satan as well as three specific temptations.
Mark's story is simpler, and rather less focused on temptation than is Matthew or Luke. In Mark, the word "temptation" is used only once, but "wilderness" (eremos) is used twice. For Mark, the emphasis is less on being tempted than it is on Jesus being in uncharted territory, without maps or guides--more a wilderness experience, in other words, than a temptation experience.
Fred Craddock makes the interesting point that the first chapter of Mark recalls the early history of Israel. "In a new exodus," he writes, "Jesus recapitulates the journey of Israel." The baptism of Jesus recalls the Red Sea. Forty days in the wilderness obviously recalls the forty years the Israelites spent in the wilderness. The "good news" recalls the Promised Land.
Several commentators say that the Spirit accompanied Jesus into the wilderness, but, to me, the opposite is indicated by the word ekballei--"threw out from." There is no reason to assume that the Spirit went along with Jesus into the wilderness. The plain sense of the word would indicate otherwise. Jesus is not without divine help, however. In the face of temptation from Satan, Jesus is served by angels or divine messengers.
The wild beasts: He is also "with the wild beasts." People in the first century would have likely identified the "wild beasts" with those spoken of by the prophet Daniel: "I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another (7:2)."
In Daniel, the "great beasts" are the political powers of the world. Traditionally, they have been identified as Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Thus, Mark proposes this basic confrontation: Satan and worldly political powers on the one side versus Jesus and the angels on the other. This theme will continue throughout Mark.
We are not told of an outcome of the testing in the wilderness, but the very next phrase indicates that the worldly political powers are continuing to assert their influence. Immediately after Jesus' encounter in the wilderness, Mark tells us that John the baptist has just been arrested by those same powers.
Mark is writing a devastating political commentary. He is saying that the powers of the world--the Jerusalem establishment and Rome--are in league with Satan. Jesus' struggle with these demonic powers takes place in the political realm, i.e. this world, but Mark also wants his readers to understand that that struggle is also a spiritual, i.e. cosmic, battle.
Jesus had come from Galilee and now, after John's arrest, he comes to Galilee. For Mark, Jesus is very closely identified with the region of Galilee. He had come from Galilee to go to the region of the Jordan. At the Jordan, Jesus is baptized, receives the Spirit and divine imprimatur, and is then tested by Satan in the "wilderness," a place of indeterminate geographical specificity.
Now, Jesus returns to Galilee, this time preaching the "good news of God." His first utterance in Mark's gospel is: "The time has been fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Turn and trust in the good news."
The time, of course, is kairos--"special time," or even "God's time." This "God's time" has been fulfilled. (The verb is past perfect, meaning already done with continuing effects into the present.) The arrival of the kingdom is "close at hand"--engizo. The "time" and the "kingdom" are presented both as having been done and having arrived. Both are immediate and momentous.
Jesus exhorts: turn and trust. For Mark, to turn (metanoeite) means to turn from the established order of the worldly political powers with their heirarchy and cultural division, and trust (pisteuete) Jesus who leads the way into a future of reconciliation and equality.
Image: Christ in the Wilderness, Ivan Kramskoy, 1872