The desert: leaving

christ+in+the+wilderness14 After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: 15 “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Now that Jesus has been introduced as the unique Son of God, the one who will embody the Spirit and even reverse the story of sinful humanity, his public ministry can begin. Mark notes that Jesus came to Galilee to preach after the arrest of John the Baptist (v. 14). His return to Galilee cannot have been an attempt to escape danger, since Herod Antipas, who executed John the Baptist (6:14–29), ruled Galilee and Perea.

Most scholars hold that it is significant that Jesus does not enter upon his own distinctive ministry until after John has been arrested. They suggest that the wording of v.14 is such that Jesus is restrained by God from his ministry of proclamation until the Baptist is removed from the scene. His arrest indicates that the time has come for Jesus to act. Jesus enters into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God.

What is meant by “the gospel of God” is defined by the summary of Jesus’ proclamation in 1:15; each element clarifies God’s decisive action in sending forth his Son at this particular moment in history. The emphasis upon the fullness of time grounds Jesus’ proclamation securely in the history of revelation and redemption. It focuses attention upon the God who acts, whose past election and redemption of Israel provided the pledge of his activity in the future. Jesus declares that the critical moment has come: God begins to act in a new and decisive way, bringing his promise of ultimate redemption to the point of fulfillment. By sovereign decision God makes this point in time the critical one in which all the moments of promise and fulfillment in the past find their significance in one awesome moment. In comparison with John’s preaching, the distinctive note sounded by Jesus is the emphasis upon fulfillment.. Its exact nuance is clarified by the phrase which follows.

What Jesus meant when he affirmed that the kingdom of God had drawn near is nowhere explicitly defined. The emphasis upon the “kingdom,” however, links his proclamation to the self-revelation of God in the OT and stresses the continuity between the new and older revelation. In announcing “the kingdom of God,” the accent falls upon God’s initiative and action. The kingdom of God is a distinctive component of redemptive history. It belongs to the God who comes and invades history in order to secure man’s redemption. The emphasis falls upon God who is doing something and who will do something that radically affects men in their alienation and rebellion against himself.

The kingdom may be proclaimed as near, if God’s decisive action in its realization has already begun. John’s ministry had centered upon the urgent demand for repentance because God was about to act decisively in bringing among the people “the Coming One.” Jesus then proclaims that the kingdom has drawn near, and while his proclamation is veiled, Mark clearly understands that it is Jesus’ own appearance which is the decisive event in the redemptive plan of God. The coming of the kingdom remains future, but it is certain precisely because God has begun to bring it to pass in the coming of his Son. The announcement that the consummation is at hand affirms that the decisive events in its approach are under way. The Anointed One is already present among the covenant people, and through him the royal act of God in redeeming his people has begun. The kingdom has drawn near, spatially in the person of Jesus who embodied the kingdom in a veiled way, and temporally because it is the only event which takes place prior to the end. In the person of Jesus men are confronted by the kingdom of God in its nearness. A faithful response to the proclamation of the gospel is imperative.

The summons to “repent and believe in the gospel” is not new, but a fresh reiteration of the word addressed to men through the prophets. But the note of urgency in the summons to repent is sharpened, for now the nature of the gospel is clearer than ever before. The brief parable of the fig tree preserved by Mark in 13:28 echoes Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom has come near and clarifies why the nearness of the kingdom imposes radical demands upon men: “When the branch becomes tender and the leaves are about to sprout, you know that the summer has come near”; i.e., the summer is the next thing that comes. Jesus’ action in confronting Satan, sin, disease and death, and subduing nature is the sign that the end stands as the next act of God in man’s future. Provision has been made for men to repent, but there is no time for delay. Only through repentance can a man participate with joy in the kingdom when it does break forth. Jesus accordingly calls men to radical decision. In Jesus men are confronted by the word and act of God; he himself is the crucial term by which belief and unbelief come to fruition. Jesus proclaims the kingdom not to give content but to convey a summons. He stands as God’s final word of address to man in man’s last hour. Either a man submits to the summons of God or he chooses this world and its riches and honor. The either/or character of this decision is of immense importance and permits of no postponement. That is what repentance is all about. The radicalness of Jesus’ kingdom proclamation is well caught in the saying, “He who is near me is near to the fire; he who is far from me is far from the kingdom” (The Coptic Gospel of Thomas, Logion 82) Jesus himself, though veiled in the midst of men, becomes the crucial term by which men enter the kingdom of God, or exclude themselves from it. What he does is the work of God.

Notes

Mark 1:14 gospel. The Gr. word euangelion repeated in 1:15, forms an inclusio with 1:1 and concludes the introduction.

Mark 1:15 the time of fulfillment: The conceptual connection forms another inclusio between the beginning and the end of the introduction. ‘The time is fulfillment” indicates that the threshold of the great future has been reached, that the door has been opened, and the prerequisites for the realization of the divine work of consummation are present, so that now the concluding drama can start. Owing to this, Jesus’ initial proclamation of the nearness of the kingdom seems to speak of a more advanced point of time than that of John who had not yet mentioned the beginning of fulfillment.” Cf. H. Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia, 1962), p. 48: “

Mark 1:15 the kingdom of God: It is not possible to give an adequate exposition of the kingdom of God (basileia) within the limits of a simple commentary such as this. The primary meaning of the Aramaic term likely used by Jesus is not properly “kingdom” but “sovereign authority” or “reigning.” Whenever the biblical texts speak of God becoming king the Targumim speak of God’s exercise of sovereign authority, and render the Hebrew verb by an Aramaic noun – for example:

Ex. 15:18
“The Lord shall reign forever and ever.”
Targ. Onkelos
“The sovereignty of the Lord endures forever and ever.”
Isa. 40:10
“Behold, the Lord will come as a mighty man, and his arm will rule for him.”
Targum
“The sovereignty of your God will be revealed.”

Particularly this second example illustrates the interpretation of the Targum: for the Lord to come as a mighty one and for his arm to rule for him signifies the revelation of God’s sovereignty through a saving action. This indicates well the dynamic character in the concept of the kingdom: God is he who comes and exercises his sovereign authority in the redemption of men.

Sources

  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007).
  • Alan Cole, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989) 109-10
  • John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina v.2 (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazer / Liturgical Press, 2001) 59-72
  • Wilfred Harrington, Mark, The New Testament Message, v.4 (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazer Press, 1979) 5-14
  • William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974) 59-66
  • Philip Van Linden, C.M., “Mark” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, ed. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) 906-7
  • Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press,1994) 534-37
  • Ben Worthington, The Gospel of Mark: A Social-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001) 67-75
  • David Turner and Darrell L. Bock, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005) 408-9
  • Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks Christian Resources, available at crossmarks.com/brian/

Dictionaries

  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)
  • The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, Gary A. Herion, David F. Graf, John David Pleins and Astrid B. Beck (New York: Doubleday, 1996).

Scripture – The New American Bible available on-line at http://www.usccb.org/bible

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