Mark’s gospel has an emphasis on showing the reading audience who this Jesus is. The first eight verses of Mark focused on the anticipation of Jesus’ arrival. Remember that the gospel opens calling for people to prepare the way for the king’s arrival. Get your hearts ready by confessing your sins because the mightier One is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. One question that we have when we come to the baptism of Jesus is why was he baptized? The answer is in verse 9 as we see the king arrive for his royal coronation ceremony. Open your copies of God’s word to Mark 1:9-11 to see this coronation scene.
The Baptism of Jesus (1:9-10)
What appears to be Mark quickly glossing over this scene is actually filled with important explanations about Jesus. Jesus comes to John for baptism. Please notice that in his being baptized, “He came up out of the water.” Baptism requires going down into the water, being buried under the water, and coming up out of the water. It is not baptism if any other form is used. Baptism means to be immersed and this is what Jesus himself does.
But notice what happens next. When Jesus comes up out of the water, “Immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” The language of Mark’s account is unique from the other gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism. The text says that the heavens were torn apart. The language is not that the heavens were merely opened (as unfortunately some translations indicate). The picture is of the heavens violently splitting apart as Jesus comes up out of the water. The heavens are being torn open as if God was coming in from outside of earth and invading its space. To help understand this violent tearing, this is the same Greek word that is used at the end of this gospel in Mark 15:38 to describe the tearing in two of the curtain in the temple when Jesus was crucified.
We have noticed that this gospel has told us that Mark’s reference point is the prophecies of Isaiah. This is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus as it is written by the prophet Isaiah (1:1-2). This picture is also found in one of Isaiah’s prophecies, particularly Isaiah 63-64. Isaiah 63:10-14 describes the rebellion of the nation of Israel. Though God had rescued them from Egyptian slavery, the people rebelled against the Lord and became enemies of the Lord. Isaiah then calls for God to bring about a new exodus for his people in the way that he did the first time when he rescued his people from Egypt. Isaiah 63:15-19 is a cry for mercy and a cry for God to intervene. The cry is for God to return to his people and rescue them as he had in the past. Now listen to Isaiah 64.
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. (Isaiah 64:1–3 ESV)
The call is for God to tear the heavens apart because it pictures divine intervention and rescue. The language reminds the reader of when God tore the heavens and came down on Mount Sinai, causing the mountain to burn and quake. God’s people are in need of rescue and the cry is for God to tear apart the heavens and come down to rescue his people. So at the baptism of Jesus the heavens are torn open because God has come down. This is the beginning of the rescue of Israel and the rescue of the world. This is the new exodus bringing new salvation.
In fact, the heavens are torn apart and the Spirit of God is descending. Not only is the picture that God has torn apart the heavens to come down and rescue, but an indication of who Jesus is. Isaiah also prophesied about this.
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. (Isaiah 11:1–4 ESV)
The baptism of Jesus is pictured as a scene of a king’s coronation. Notice that the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon this descendant of Jesse who will rule as king. He will rule and judge in righteousness and by his very words conquer nations and judge the wicked. Jesus is the long awaited king who has come to rescue the world. By the way, the text does not say that the Spirit took the form of a dove. We need to watch for similes and metaphors. The Spirit came down like how a dove would come down. So our picture is that of the exodus. Moses passes through the Red Sea, the heavens are opened, and God comes down visibly on Mount Sinai. Now Jesus passes through the waters of the Jordan River, the heavens are torn open, and God comes down visibly on Jesus. Jesus is presented as the agent of the new exodus who inaugurates God’s sovereign universal rule over the nations.
The Voice From Heaven (1:11)
But the coronation scene is not over. The Father speaks from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Listen to Psalm 2:6-7 as God speaks.
“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” (Psalm 2:6–7 ESV)
God says that he is installing his King in Zion. The King then declares what he heard the Father say to him: “You are my Son.” This is what we are reading at the baptism of Jesus. This is the installation of Jesus as King over all creation. Sometimes people wonder why Jesus was baptized because we know he was not baptized as if he needed to be forgiven from sins. Nor was he baptized to infuse him with the Holy Spirit as if he were not divine until this point. The baptism of Jesus points to prophecy. The events of Jesus’ baptism reveal him to be the Son of God and this is the coronation scene.
Not only is this a coronation scene, but also a declaration of coming success. The picture here sets up a contrast. There is another place in scriptures where someone was called God’s son. In Exodus 4:22-23 we see that God called Israel his son. But there was a problem with Israel. God was not well-pleased with Israel for they rebelled and disobeyed. This is why Israel fell in the wilderness. Now Jesus is the beloved Son but with him God will be well-pleased. Unlike Israel who failed in its God-given mission because of its sinfulness and rebellion, Jesus will not fail. Jesus is the beloved Son and he will succeed at the mission given to him by God. This is the picture of Isaiah 42.
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1 ESV)
God’s delight in his suffering servant, his beloved Son, means that the Son will succeed in the work given to him. God’s glory will be displayed through Jesus (cf. Isaiah 49:3). But there is one more picture where this image relates from in the scriptures. Turn in your copies of God’s word to Genesis 22.
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:1–2 ESV)
Notice the parallel language in Genesis 22:2 and Mark 1:11. Isaac is the son whom Abraham loves and Jesus is the Son that the Father loves. As Abraham and Isaac travel to Mount Moriah for the sacrifice Isaac recognizes that they do not have a lamb for the offering. Listen to Abraham’s response:
Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:8 ESV)
God will provide for himself the sacrifice. This is exactly what happens as the story unfolds with Abraham and Isaac. Rather than Isaac being offered God provides a ram for the sacrifice on the mountain.
So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” (Genesis 22:14 ESV)
In declaring Jesus to be the beloved Son whom the Father loves we are seeing multiple images of who Jesus is. Jesus is the one who has come to rescue and save the world. The heavens are torn apart as God comes down mightily to save his people. We see Jesus as the King who is enthroned and rules over all creation. We see Jesus as the one in whom God is well-pleased. Jesus will succeed where Israel failed in the past. Jesus will fully obey the will of the Lord and complete the Father’s mission. Finally, Jesus is the beloved Son. God will take his only Son whom he loves and offering him on this mountain as a sacrifice needed to rescue us from our sins. The gospel began by declaring that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The baptism of Jesus showed the Father confirming that this Jesus is the Son of God in whom the Father takes delight. We are called to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and to love and take delight in him also. He is the beloved Son. Will you love the Son for who he is and all that he has given for you?