Recognized on the Cross

The inability of men to recognize Jesus as the Son of God until after his crucifixion is a central theme of the Gospel of Mark. Ironically, the first man to do so is the Roman centurion on duty at his execution. His self-identification as the suffering “Son of Man” made him unrecognizable to unregenerate men and even his disciples, at least for a time. He was the kind of Savior no one expected or wanted.

His identity and mission can only be understood in light of the Cross of Calvary. As Paul wrote, the proclamation of a crucified Messiah is “God’s power and wisdom.”

By stressing the necessity of his death, Mark establishes his identity as the “Son of God,” and demonstrates what it means to be the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the World. Demons recognized him and declared who he was, but men remained confused about who he was. He was not the Messiah they nor the Jewish nation wanted.

Sanctitified - Photo by Xan Griffin on Unsplash
[Photo by Xan Griffin on Unsplash]

At the Jordan River, the Scriptures, John the Baptist, the voice from heaven, and supernatural signs all attested that Jesus was the Messiah, the “
Son of God,” and the heavens were “rent asunder.” This English rendering translates the Greek verb schizō, meaning, “to rend asunder, cleave, cleave asunder, split open.” The term occurs once more in Mark as the veil of the Temple was “rent in two” when Jesus died. - (Mark 1:11, 15:37).

The “rending of the heavens” at the arrival of Jesus was predicted by Isaiah when the prophet longed for God to “rend the heavens” and make His name known “to your enemies, that the nations may tremble at your presence.” Not coincidentally, Jesus appeared a few weeks later in “Galilee of the Nations” and began proclaiming the Reign of God - (Isaiah 64:1-2).

The declaration by the heavenly voice - “You are my Son, the Beloved One; in you, I delight!” - echoed the Second Psalm and another passage of Isaiah. The Nazarene was the promised Messiah, and both passages described him bringing justice to the “nations” - (Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 42:1).

One of his first acts in Galilee was to cast out an “unclean spirit.” The demon knew him to be the “Holy One of God” and declared it, but he commanded the demonic spirit to remain silent. The men present asked one another, “Who is this?” Despite his impressive deed, they could not understand who Jesus was, although the demons knew (“Are you come to destroy us?”) - (Mark 1:23-27).

This pattern was repeated during his ministry in Galilee. Although demonic spirits recognized the “Son of God,” men and women could not, including members of his own family - (Mark 3:11-12, Mark 5:1-7).

When his friends heard of his activities, they “went out to lay hold on him, for they said, ‘He is beside himself’.” This included members of his family. Proximity to Jesus did not guarantee the correct understanding of who he was - (Mark 3:21).

The Scribes could not deny his ability to exorcise demons. However, rather than acknowledge that he did so by the authority of God, they charged him with casting out demons by “Beelzebub, the prince of demons.” Demons recognized him but not the religious leaders of Israel - (Mark 3:22-30).

By his word alone, Jesus calmed a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee that threatened the disciples. In great fear, they asked, “WHO IS THIS, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Even this display of power was insufficient to prove he was the prophesied “Son of Man” - (Mark 4:36-41).

He healed the dying daughter of a local synagogue leader, leaving the crowd dumbfounded but unenlightened. Even his ability to raise the dead did not convince anyone that he was the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of Mankind - (Mark 5:21-43).

When he returned to his hometown, Jesus began teaching in the synagogue. Many who heard him began to question, “Whence has this man these things… Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” Rather than rejoice that the Messiah was present, “they were offended by him” - (Mark 6:1-6).


On the way to Jerusalem, Peter was on the verge of grasping his identity. When Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am,” Peter declared, “You are the Christ!” Then he explained how the “Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the Chief Priests and the Scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” - (Mark 8:31).

Peter objected vehemently. The notion that the Messiah of Israel would be subjected to suffering and death was unacceptable. Moreover, whatever insight Peter may have gained momentarily was lost when he was confronted with the idea of a suffering Messiah. But his Messiahship meant exactly that - suffering, rejection, and death.

Likewise, as recorded in Mark 9:31-32, Jesus stated that he must be “delivered up into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he shall rise again.” Once more, the disciples did not understand his words and could not comprehend who he was.

Crown of Thorns - Photo by BBC Creative on Unsplash
[Photo by BBC Creative on Unsplash]

Again, while “
on the way up to Jerusalem,” Jesus explained how he would be “delivered to the Chief Priests and the Scribes, and they will condemn him to death.” To this, James and John responded by requesting to sit at his side when he came into his Kingdom. However, the Nazarene responded:

  • You know not what ye ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with…whoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be slave of all, for the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY” - (Mark 10:32-45).

The way of his Kingdom was self-sacrificial service, not dominion over others or outward glory, a truth that he demonstrated by giving his own life to ransom a great many others from bondage to sin and Satan.

When the High Priest examined Jesus, he asked, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” He responded, “I am he. And you will see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

Before the highest religious authority, he identified himself as the Messiah. There could be no more doubt. However, rather than recognize him, the High Priest charged Jesus with blasphemy, and the “Chief Priests and the whole council” condemned him to death - (Mark 14:60-64).

The Roman governor confirmed his Messianic status when he had “King of the Jews” inscribed and mounted on his cross. As he was dying, Jewish spectators mocked him, declaring, “You who were pulling down the Temple and building one in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross.” The Chief Priests and Scribes likewise ridiculed him despite the confirmation of the voice of God, Scripture, his miracles, and his testimony before the High Priest - (Mark 15:26).

The demons knew who he was before he did anything, yet the Temple authorities remained clueless despite the evidence of their eyes and ears. Instead, they challenged him, “Let him come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even the two brigands who were crucified alongside him “were casting it in his teeth.”

Finally, Jesus was declared the “Son of God” by a human voice. As death overwhelmed him, he uttered a loud cry. At that moment, the “veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom,” and the Roman centurion declared, “Truly this man was the Son of God” - (Mark 15:37-39).

Just as the “rending of the heavens” at his baptism produced a declaration regarding his status, so the “rending of the Temple veil” put the same confession on the lips of the centurion. Just as the prophet Isaiah hoped, the Gentiles did indeed “tremble” at his presence, only in repentance and submission. The Roman officer was the first of many Gentiles to submit to him.

Only as he was crucified did a human being understand who Jesus was, and paradoxically, not a devout Jew, the High Priest, or even one of his closest disciples, but a Gentile who was probably the officer in charge of the execution squad.

Thus, his sacrificial death defined his Messiahship. Only in his suffering and death can we begin to understand the identity of Jesus, the nature of his mission, the heart of his message, and what it means to become his disciple.


  • Servant and King - (Following his baptism in the Jordan, the voice from heaven identified Jesus as the Son of God and the Servant of Yahweh)
  • Calvary or Rome? - (Satan offered Jesus unlimited political power to achieve his messianic mission if only he acknowledged the Devil as his overlord)
  • The Son of Man - (The one like a Son of Man in Daniel is the source of Christ’s self-designation as the Son of Man and his authority to reign)



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