Friday, November 24, 2023

Unwelcome Messiah

The Gospel of Mark highlights the inability of men to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and King of Israel until AFTER his crucifixion, let alone embrace him. Yet paradoxically, the first man in Mark to see him as the “Son of God” was the Roman centurion at his execution, with the VERY brief exception of Peter. His role as the suffering “Son of Man” made him unacceptable to his contemporaries and unwelcome among his own people. His way of conquering his enemies was contrary to the political systems and expectations of the present world order.

Unlike the presidents, dictators, emperors, and legislators of this age, Jesus laid down his life for friend and foe alike. He is the one whom God installed as the Lord over all things. “I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession” – (Psalm 2:8).

Cross on Rocks - Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash
[Cross Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash]

Mark, the identity and mission of Jesus could not, and to this day cannot, be understood apart from his sacrificial death at the hands of the World Empire of his day, namely, Rome. Nevertheless, as Paul wrote many years later, the proclamation of a “crucified Messiah” was and is “God’s power and God’s wisdom.”

By stressing the necessity of his suffering and death, the Gospel of Mark not only establishes his identity as the “Son of God,” but demonstrates what it truly meant to be the Messiah and God’s appointed King.

Demons exorcised by Jesus recognized him, but despite his many impressive miracles, men and women remained in the dark about his identity. He was not the ruler they expected or wanted. He may as well have been from Mars or Venus.

At the Jordan River, the Scriptures, John the Baptist, the voice from heaven, and supernatural signs all attested that he was the Messiah, the mighty one who would baptize his followers in the Spirit. The voice identified him as “My beloved Son” after the heavens were “rent asunder.” This English rendering translates the Greek verb schiz┼Ź, meaning, “to rend asunder, cleave, cleave asunder, split open.” The term occurs once more in Mark when the veil of the Temple was “rent in two” when Jesus died - (Mark 1:11).

The description of the heavens being “rent” alludes to a passage in the Book of Isaiah where the prophet longs for Yahweh to “rend the heavens” and make His name known “to your enemies, that the NATIONS may TREMBLE at your presence.” That prophecy was fulfilled with the arrival of the Messiah, and shortly afterward, he appeared in “Galilee of the NATIONS” where he began to proclaim the Kingdom of God - (Isaiah 64:1-2).

The declaration by the voice from heaven echoed the Second Psalm and another passage in Isaiah. Jesus was the promised Messiah, and both passages include references to the Messiah bringing justice to the “NATIONS” - (Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 42:1).


One of his first acts was to cast out an “unclean spirit.” The men present in the Synagogue were astounded and asked, “Who is this?” Despite his miraculous deeds, Jesus remained unrecognized, although demons understood who he was and the danger that he posed to them - (“Are you come to destroy us?”).

This pattern is repeated in Mark. Although demonic spirits recognized the “Son of God,” human beings failed to do so, including members of his own family. When his friends heard of his activities, they “went out to lay hold on him, for they said, ‘He is beside himself’” - (Mark 3:11-12, 3:21, Mark 5:1-7).

The scribes from Jerusalem could not deny his ability to exorcise demons. But 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.” The irony was that demons did recognize him, but not these religious leaders of the Jewish nation - (Mark 3:22-30).

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

When he returned to his hometown, Jesus began teaching in the synagogue. Many who heard him began to ask, “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?” Rather than rejoice that the Messiah was present, “they were offended by him” - (Mark 6:1-6).

After he fed five thousand men with “five loaves and two fishes,” Jesus departed to pray on a mountain. To join him, the disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat, struggling against a contrary wind. However, Jesus appeared, walking on the water. The disciples thought it was a ghostly apparition and cried out in fear. He identified himself, entered the boat, and caused the winds to cease.

Previously, they saw him calm a great storm, yet this most recent display of authority over natural forces also failed to convince them that he was the Messiah, “because their hearts were hardened” - (Mark 6:35-52).


On the way to Jerusalem, Peter appeared 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” - (Mark 8:31).

The preceding passage uses the Greek verb dei, meaning, “must, it is necessary,” pointing to the Divine purpose in his impending death. The Cross was neither optional nor unplanned, but a fundamental part of the plan to redeem humanity and creation.

To this prediction, Peter objected. The notion that the Messiah would be subjected to suffering and death at the hands of Israel’s enemies was unacceptable. Moreover, whatever insight Peter momentarily had was lost when he was confronted with the idea of a suffering king. But HIS Messiahship meant exactly that - suffering, rejection, and death – (Compare also Mark 9:31-32).

Again, while “on the way up to Jerusalem,” Jesus explained how he would be “delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death.” To this, and rather strangely, James and John responded by requesting to sit at his side when he came into his Kingdom. However, he responded:

  • You know not what ye ask… 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 (are remains) self-sacrificial service, not dominion over others, a truth that he demonstrated by giving his own life to ransom a great many others from bondage to sin, death, and Satan, including his enemies - (Romans 5:10).

When the High Priest examined him, he asked Jesus, “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.”

In the Temple, and before the highest religious authority in the land, he had identified himself as the Messiah. There could be no more doubt. However, rather than submit to him, the High Priest charged Jesus with blasphemy, and condemned him to death - (Mark 14:60-64).

Unintentionally, the Roman governor, Pontious Pilate, confirmed his Messianic status when he had “King of the Jews” inscribed on a plaque that was mounted on his cross. As he was dying, 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 this dying and helpless man despite the testimony of God, Scripture, his miracles, and his own testimony before the High Priest confirming his Messianic status - (Mark 15:26).

Starry Sky - Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash
[Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash]


Finally, Jesus was declared the “Son of God” by a human voice. As death overwhelmed him, he uttered a loud cry, and the “veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom.” It was then that 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” produced the same confession, only this time on the lips of a pagan officer.

Just as the prophet Isaiah hoped, the Gentiles would indeed “tremble” at his presence, only after his resurrection and in repentance and submission rather than fear at the onslaught of a would-be conqueror.

Only as he was crucified did a human being finally 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 very likely the Roman 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, what it means to become his disciple, and HOW Jesus now reigns over the Earth.