Messiah and Servant

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus first appears when he is baptized by John in the River Jordan. The passage identifies him with his hometown of Nazareth, a small village of no consequence, though its very insignificance plays an important part in the larger narrative. Jesus is the Messiah who does not fit popular expectations even as he is anointed by the Spirit of God in fulfillment of Scripture, a role he fulfills as the Servant of Yahweh.

River Cascades - Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash
[Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash]

 provides the time element for his baptism, “IN THOSE DAYS.” John was baptizing suppliants in the Jordan. But rather than recount the details of Christ’s actual baptism in water, Mark stresses the things that accompanied it – The “rending” of the heavens, the Divine voice, and the descent of the Spirit “like a dove”:

  • (Mark 1:9-11) - “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And immediately, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the HEAVENS BEING RENT ASUNDER and the SPIRIT DESCENDING AS A DOVE to him. And a VOICE CAME OUT OF THE HEAVENS: You are my Son, the Beloved. In you, I delight.”

The clause describing how the heavens were “RENT ASUNDER” translates the Greek verb schizō, meaning to “split, rip open, tear apart; to rend asunder” (Strong’s - #G4977). The same term occurs once more in Mark’s account when the veil of the Temple was “rent” as Jesus died. The verbal link is deliberate:

  • (Mark 15:36-39) – “But Jesus, sending out a loud voice, ceased to breathe. And the VEIL OF THE TEMPLE WAS RENT INTO TWO from top to bottom. Now the centurion who was standing near, seeing that thus he ceased to breathe, said: Truly, this man was God’s son!

At his baptism, the “rending of the heavens” pointed to the cosmic significance of the arrival of the Son of God. From then on, the Kingdom of God was open to humanity, therefore, His presence was and is accessible to all men and women.

In Mark, it is Jesus who sees the Spirit descending “like a dove” and hears the heavenly voice. That he did so demonstrates that this was an actual event, not a mystical experience or vision.

The preposition applied to the Spirit’s descent stresses movement “into” or “onto” something or someone (eis). Perhaps the Spirit entered Jesus at this point, although the verb and preposition more likely point to its coming to rest upon him. This was the moment when he was anointed for his messianic mission.

Mark’s account employs a simile. The descent of the Spirit was “like” a dove. It does not say the Spirit was a dove or looked like a dove. Rather, its gentle descent was analogous to a dove landing on the earth or a perch.


Jesus then heard the voice calling him “beloved Son.” This voice is heard only once more in Mark when it makes a similar declaration at the Transfiguration.

In the present passage, the heavenly voice combines words from two Old Testament passages in presenting the scriptural understanding of just who and what the Son of God is since he arrived on the scene to fulfill the promises of Yahweh:

  • (Psalm 2:7) - “I will surely tell of the decree of Yahweh: he said to me, YOU ARE MY SON, today, I have begotten you.”
  • (Isaiah 42:1) - “Behold, my servant whom I uphold; MY CHOSEN ONE IN WHOM MY SOUL DELIGHTS. I HAVE PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”

Both passages are messianic. By combining them, Mark clarifies the identity and mission of Jesus. He is God’s “Son” AND the SUFFERING SERVANT described in the Book of Isaiah. Unjust suffering would characterize his messianic ministry and his sonship.

The descent of the Spirit meant that Jesus was equipped at that point to proclaim the Kingdom of God. The heavenly voice confirmed God’s approval of his mission, not just because of who he was, but also due to his submission to the baptism of John.

Thus, his ministry began with an act of obedience, and in fulfillment of Scripture. Whether his contemporaries understood his mission or not, Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel sent to save his people from their sins and establish the Kingdom of God. And his messianic role would be that of the anointed Suffering Servant of Yahweh.




Becoming His Disciple

His Kingdom