A Voice and a Voice


Mark 1:1-13

Introduction: Mark looks at this opening narrative as the “Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark sees everything as happening quickly. Jesus moves toward his purposed end with resolve, without hesitation; there is no time to waste, there is too much to do, and the end for which he came stands ever in his mind. The word for “immediately,” or “straightway” is used 37 times. The Gospel begins abruptly and ends abruptly. Mark includes no preparatory events concerning Mary and Joseph, birth narrative, angelic announcement, childhood events, or any responses to the birth of the child but immediately is into the public introduction of the ministry and self–revelation of Jesus. If verse 16:8 is the ending, we have no post-resurrection appearances or discussions. He includes enough to make the point indisputable: an eyewitness encounter with the empty tomb, the inquisitiveness of the women, the announcement of the resurrection by an angel, his instruction to the women to tell the disciples “and Peter” where to meet the risen Jesus, and their terrified flight from the tomb. The best manuscripts end with Mark 16:8. It seems that some early copyists, uneasy with the ending, conflated narratives from Luke and Matthew to bring the events to a more satisfying resolution. These endings roughly constituting verse 9–20 have several variations. A. T. Robertson observed, “So the facts are very complicated, but argue strongly against the genuineness of verse 9 to 20 of Mark 16.” [Word Pictures 1:402]. Mark’s writing probably has the apostolic report of Peter behind it (See 1 Peter 5:13).


I. Mark states that his narrative is “the beginning of he gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1).

A. How is this the case?

It is not the beginning absolutely, for it existed in the counsel of God within his own eternity in the eternal covenant of redemption (Titus 1:1,2; 2 Timothy 1:9). Nor is he referring to its beginning in time, for that occurred with the impregnation of Mary by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). He refers to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in which he gradually would unfold his identity and for what purpose he had come. While the gospel is indeed a message (and Jesus preached it even before he had accomplished it—Mark 1:15), it is also the accumulation of necessary historical events by which sinners may be saved. Jesus showed his ability to crush the serpent’s head (1:24–27; 5:6–13), his prerogative and intention to forgive sins (2:5, 17), his perfect grasp of the law of God (2:25–27; 7:1–22), and his power over death (5:35–43). He moved with determination toward these salvific events that would give justification to each of these evidences of the conquering of sin (8:31–33; 9:30, 31; 10:32–36). The gospel consists of these historical events for without them there would be no salvation (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:2–4). Though many other things happened in preparation for this, Mark starts his narrative with the public events that led with unbroken connections and ever-increasing speed to the crucifixion.

B. He gives the name and the canonical title.

He is Jesus, the child born of Mary, who lived in Nazareth. His name was given to him by divine mandate for it means “Jehovah is salvation” (Matthew 1:20, 21). He is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one who would bring to perfect fulfillment all the prophecies about an eternal king, a final prophet, a perfect priest and sacrifice, and the ultimate Deliverer.

C. He calls him the Son of God. So said Nathanael on meeting Jesus (John1:49) and John the Baptist in his narrative concerning the person of Christ (John 1:34).

Peter gave this confession when Jesus asked about the identity of himself as “the Son of Man” (Matthew 16:13–16). This title constitutes the first confession given after the death of Jesus (Mark 15:39). One of the aspects so prominent in Mark’s narrative is the power Jesus had over all things—nature, sickness, demons, and the entire moral sphere. His power as well as his authority truly was divine. In the final words to his disciples, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Only the Son of God could also be the Christ. In both his humanity as Jesus, and his deity as the Son of God, he is the final and perfect prophet (Hebrews 1:1–4; John 1:14–18), the final and perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 2:14–18), and the King with redemptive rule and absolutely final judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10, 21; Philippians 2:9–11).

D. An illustration of the uniqueness and necessity of this person being the Christ is made clear in the exposition given to the prophetic ministry of Jesus the Christ by the First London Confession:

“That He might be such a Prophet as thereby to every way complete, it was necessary that He should be God, and with all also that He should be man; for unless He had been God, He could have never perfectly understood the will of God, neither would He have been able to reveal it throughout all ages; and unless He had been man, He could not fitly have unfolded it in His own person to man.” Similar constructions concerning Jesus as priest and king follow in the confession.


II. The Forerunner

A. Prophecy about the prophet.

Mark cites Malachi 3:1 (quoted by Jesus in Luke 7:27) as an introductory phrase and completes the prophetic citation with from Isaiah 40:3. This shows that the Old Testament prophets concurred in their prediction about a forerunner, a preparer of the way. By divine revelation, they established an expectation that the Messiah’s appearance would be anticipated by one who would preach with power and conviction a preparatory message. He would not dwell among the rich or the soft but would raise his voice in “the wilderness.” Jesus pointed to John as a “burning and shining light” and one of the four witnesses that converged to make his own messianic status certain (John 5: 31–47). He served as a constant witness, even after his execution by Herod, throughout the ministry of Jesus for “everything that John spoke about this Man [Jesus] was true” (John 10:41). See Luke 20:1–8.

B. The Prophet’s proclamation. Mark pointed out that John appeared in “the wilderness” in direct fulfillment of prophecy.

    1. John was preaching “a baptism.” This indicates that God had given him a public mark of physical identification with his message. This mark would then be perpetuated by Jesus in his earthly ministry and would be continued as a sign throughout this present age (Matthew 28:19) as a sign of public identification with Jesus in his work of redemption accomplished by death, burial, and resurrection.
    2. The baptism was not in itself efficacious for salvation but indicated the state of the heart. Baptism was given to those who knew that their sins held them under condemnation, and they needed forgiveness. They repented, therefore, in order to receive forgiveness of sins and then received baptism at the hands of John in confirmation of his message. His father Zechariah had prophesied about him at his birth, “You child will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:76–78). Jesus referred to this reality in Mathew 21:30–32 when he pointed out that “tax-collectors and harlots” came to John upon hearing his message about “the way of righteousness” and would enter “the kingdom of God” before all who sought to find their righteousness in themselves. (verses 4, 5).
    3. John’s rugged appearance, simple clothes, and natural diet showed that he did not court the high opinion of any sector of society but focused only on his task of proclamation. The only attraction found in him was his message. Jesus pointed to John’s ascetic simplicity (Matthew 11:18) as a reason that the proud took offense at him. Jesus indicated that if people had understood the prophets they would have known to expect no “reed shaken by the wind” nor a man “clothed in soft garments.” This prophet must stand against the hypocrisy of his age and give himself no hope of comfort. (Luke 7:24–27).
    4. He knew clearly that he came only to set the stage for another who was mightier and more worthy than he. Also, the one to whom John pointed would have the power and prerogative not only to call for repentance but to grant the work of the Spirit by which transformation of soul would take place (verses 7, 8). As the narrative unfolds, we see more of the magnitude of each of these statements. Jesus not only is mightier, but, as God, is omnipotent; not only is worthier, but is the Holy One worthy of all worship; not only baptizes with the Spirit but is of one essence with the Spirit and sends Him from the Father (John 15:26).


III. The Prophesied Messiah

A. Baptized by John. Why was Jesus baptized with a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins?”

He was not sinful, either in disposition or commission, and needed no repentance. This submission to John’s baptism showed that Jesus was in full harmony with the message of John and was indeed its perfect fulfillment. The promise of forgiveness on the event of repentance is possible only through the work of Christ. In this act he identified with his people’s need for repentance and forgiveness; in his death on the cross he identified with them as their perfect substitute, dying the just for the unjust. As one who had no personal obligation to suffer for sins, nevertheless, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement that gave us peace fell upon him. As one who needs no repentance, he embraced and identified his entire being with the veracity of John’s message.

B. Baptized by the Spirit. When the Spirit descended on him, this was a testimony to three things.

      1. First, this marked Jesus out as the anointed one, the Messiah. Every work for which spiritual blessing and power was needed (the symbol invested in anointing with oil) would be accomplished by Jesus.
      2. Second, it showed that God had given Jesus the sustaining power of the Spirit up to this point and would now bless him with unstinted operations of the Spirit. As John the Baptist testified, “He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure” (John 3:34). In the mystery of the incarnation, the Son of God was sent. Already co-eternal and of the same divine essence as the Spirit, and having the Spirit proceed from Him in an eternal reciprocity of love with the Father, now as Jesus of Nazareth the Son of man, he is given the Spirit in an unmeasured way that in his humanity he might still speak the words of God and do the works of God, not only in his intrinsic authority (cf. 2:10) but as energized by the Holy Spirit (3:27–30; Matthew 12:28).
      3. Though in his person, Jesus was impeccable as Son of God immutably holy, yet in his humanity he must persevere in obedience in the power of the Spirit. (1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 9:14). He would present himself as a blameless sacrifice, unwaveringly righteous, who “knew no sin” and this would be accomplished

C. Sonship assured.

The Father spoke from heaven addressing Jesus, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (11). He makes the statement again in the midst of a display of heavenly glory (9:7). This Sonship is a consistent theme through Mark. The demons knew it (1:34; 3:11; 5:7). Jesus confessed it before his death (14:62). In the first confession after his death, the centurion recognized it (15:39).


III. The Wilderness Work.

Amazingly, the Spirit who had descended on Jesus as an anointing for his messianic work compelled him into the wilderness to confront his ancient foe whose single goal was to cause the failure of the mission of the Son of God. This was necessary, for Jesus must be tempted in all points even as we are, yet, even with their extremity, without sin.

A. In the fallen natural world subjected to vanity, into this desolate place the Spirit drove him.

Jesus submitted himself to a place in which the vanity of the natural world (Romans 8:20) as an expression of the curse brought by the Fall of Adam would be at its most distressing.

B. Jesus met face to face with the chief of the fallen angels.

The Devil who had rebelled in heaven (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), and had corrupted the purity of the Edenic paradise by his deceit (Genesis 3:4, 5; 2 Corinthians 11:3), now comes also to the wilderness to take on the Son of God (Matthew 4:3, 6). Should he defeat him now, God’s eternal covenant becomes an absolute failure. The devil would come to Jesus at other seasons also even to the end, trying different schemes to defeat this mission of redemption (Mark 8:32, 33; John 13:26, 27).

C. Among the wild animals who also manifest the reality of the fall, Jesus was with his own creatures who had lost their highest perfection, that is, “loving obedience to man” [John Wesley].

Only a few domestic animals maintain that temperament, and then only in part. Others live in “savage fierceness [and] unrelenting cruelty.” Many creatures on land, in the sea, and in the air “tear the flesh, suck the blood, and crush the bones of their helpless fellow creatures.” Even the “innocent songsters of the groves” devour “innumerable tribes of poor insects” including the “painted butterfly.” There is hardly any form of life in the sea that does maintain its own life at the expense of another. Only after the flood was animal life made a fair source of food for humans.

D. Granted the ministry of angels, he was given sustaining aid by those to whom he was intrinsically superior (Hebrews 1:13, 14).

Now as a man under temptation Jesus must be ministered to by those who in heaven constantly proclaimed his holiness, his infinite glory, and his sovereign prerogative over all things.

E. Among all these other beings, Jesus was the only man given the task of reversing the fall and bringing justice in the context of mercy.

By this tempted one, subjected to the full force of the fallenness of this world, would a new heaven and new earth emerge and a place wherein dwelleth righteousness be inhabited by all the redeemed of all the ages. (2 Peter 3:10–13; Revelation 21:22 – 22:5).


No time existed before grace was planned.
The Father, Spirit, Son would conquer sin.
In patience, mercy’s purpose could expand.
The time had now come for it to begin.

The prophets said a voice would come before.
The wilderness would be his only home.
Wild food he ate and camel skin he wore.
With pow’r he pointed to the One to come.

The triune God had planned it long ago;
The time arrived for work to see it done.
When Christ came forth the messenger would know;
In Jordan’s tide the voice baptized the Son.

Infinite power, infinite merit,
The Lamb told the voice, “Sustain your own call.
Point, then die.” Nothing else to inherit,
The increase of Jesus the Lamb was all.

The voice proclaimed repentance unto life.
The water pointed to the Spirit’s power.
The worthy Man of Goodness embraced strife,
The task of treading to a dying hour.

With awe a holy scene would now unfold.
Jesus the Lord to his servant resigned.
Water and Spirit marked suff’ring untold,
Confirmed by double Voice to death consigned.

Fasting and Satan and beasts on the prowl—
The life he took was brutal from the start.
No friendly path, no smiles, but vicious scowls,
The building wrath he shouldered on our part.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts