Good News about Jesus Christ and the introduction to Mark’s Gospel—Mark 1:1

Mark titles either his Gospel or its opening words with,“the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.” So even a previously uninformed reader knows Jesus’s identity from the start, even as it unfolds only gradually in the narrative. It’s no surprise when the Father honors Jesus as his Son in Mark 1:11. What is more of a surprise for the uninformed reader will be how little his human contemporaries recognize him, and how the Gospel will climax in and elaborate the crucifixion of God’s Son.

“Good news,” or euangelion, applied to all sorts of things in Greek, but given Mark’s signaled interest in Isaiah in v. 2, it probably evokes the promised good news of Israel’s restoration emphasized there. In v. 3, Mark will note the herald of Isa 40:3 who prepares the way for YHWH, who leads his people through the wilderness in a new exodus, bringing them back to their land from exile and restoring them. Many Jews had resettled in the land, but they still awaited the full restoration of their people, along with the renewed creation God had promised (such as new heavens and new earth, Isa 65:17; 66:22). Isaiah goes on to speak of this way-preparing herald in terms of the remnant of God’s people, announcing good tidings to the rest of them (Isa 40:9, the standard Greek translation twice using the verb euaggelizô).

The next use of this verb in standard Greek translation of Isaiah appears in Isa 52:7, speaking of the messenger who “brings good news” (euangelizomenou) about peace for God’s people, who brings good news (euangelizomenos) involving salvation and God’s reign. In this context in Isaiah, this is good news that judgment has ended, and God is restoring his people. Isaiah 52:7 speaks of this as the good news, or gospel, of peace, of salvation, and of God’s kingdom.

That Mark wants to emphasize good news is clear because it frames Mark’s introduction. Mark treats John the Baptist as the optimum model of this herald, this way-preparer for YHWH, as he prepares the way for Jesus. (This should also let the biblically informed reader of Mark know something further about Jesus’s identity: he is YHWH.) But after John the Baptist’s arrest in 1:14, Jesus begins the public ministry that Mark’s Gospel addresses. Mark describes it this way: “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming God’s good news, by saying: ‘The time has been fulfilled! God’s kingdom has drawn near! Turn your lives around and depend on the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15).

That Mark’s understanding of this good news evokes Isaiah is also clear because of the mention of God’s kingdom, or God’s reign, as part of this good news (1:15). Remember Isa 52:7: part of this good news is, “Our God reigns.” Other Scripture praised God’s kingship as most evident in the conspicuous day of God’s justice (e.g., Ps 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1). It would be the kingdom that would shatter temporary earthly kingdoms with an eternal one (Dan 2:44), the kingdom of the Son of Man (Dan 7:14) and his people (7:18, 27). Jesus, too, places no trust in such temporary kingdoms and rulers (Mark 13:8-9).

Jesus uses “kingship” language to describe the content of his parabolic teaching (Mark 4:11, 26, 30; 9:47); it contrasts with the pseudo-royal governor of Galilee (6:14, 22-27) who executes God’s herald (6:27). Disciples see a foretaste of kingdom glory (8:38—9:1) in Jesus’s transfiguration (9:2). As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowds hail the promised kingdom of the Davidic king (11:10)—although they may overplay the Davidic part (12:37). Jesus announces to his disciples that they will share in the expected messianic banquet with him in God’s kingdom (14:25)—though separation between them must intervene.

Here we can begin to catch the irony of this “kingdom” from a human vantage point. But Jesus declares that this kingdom belongs to children (10:14-15) and to those who love their neighbor (12:34). He brings it not to prestigious and powerful people such as Herod Antipas, Jerusalem’s high council, Pilate, or to those proud of their wealth (10:23-25), but to people who are disabled (such as blind beggars), who are socially marginalized (such as tax collectors), and to others who are the antithesis of social prestige. (One prestigious person, Joseph of Arimathea, does somehow get the kingdom message closer to right than his colleagues; 15:43.)

But from here on out, Mark’s Gospel uses royal language almost exclusively in one way: for Jesus as the rejected king of his people, crowned with thorns and enthroned on a cross (Mark 15:2, 9, 12, 18, 26, 32, 43). We should have suspected as much, when already in the introduction the kingdom herald John was arrested (1:14), and in the last verse about “king” Herod Antipas Mark gets beheaded (6:27). The kingdom of this world was not ready to give up its worldly power.

Yet Jesus will return to Galilee to meet his disciples (16:7), so the preaching of the good news will start again, and spread among all nations (13:10), even in the face of hostility (13:9-11).

The fulness of the kingdom will come. Jesus’s signs of and teaching about the kingdom will prevail. But Mark is realistic about this world. This world’s kingdom’s will not surrender until the Son of Man returns (8:38; 13:26; 14:62). In Daniel, the reign of the Son of Man (the human one [Dan 7:13-14], contrasted with the preceding kingdoms depicted as beasts [7:3-8]) is linked with the triumph of the consecrated ones of the Most High (7:22, 27)—after suffering (7:21, 25). Let no one deceive you: suffering continues in this present age. But also let no one deceive you that this age is all there is. The fullness of our promised home is yet to come.

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