Mark begins his gospel by saying two things about the beginning of the gospel or good news:
The word “gospel”,which comes from the old English word “Godspel”, does not mean a book or a genre but rather the message of salvation in Jesus itself. The Greek word for “gospel” means “good news.” In the Greek Old Testament the term was used in this sense in passages like 1 Sam. 31:9, and even in the Greco-Roman world, Caesar Augustus’ birth (63 BC–AD 14) was referred to as “good news.” For Mark however, the advent of Jesus is “good news” because it fulfills God’s promise of deliverance from sin and oppression and the proclamation of peace foretold by the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 52:7; 61:1–3).
Of Jesus Christ
This phrase can be understood as either objective genitive, meaning “about Jesus Christ” or subjective genitive, meaning “from or brought by Jesus Christ.” The gospel is “about” Jesus, but it is also “from” Him (Rom. 1:9; 1 Cor. 9:12; 2 Cor. 10:14).
Jesus Christ, The Son of God
Mark proceeds and declares from the outset that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God, a claim that he makes throughout the book (Mark 1:11; 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 12:6; 13:32; 14:61-62 ;15:39), contrary to what the claims of the skeptics.
The Christ was thought to be several things. He is the King who will defeat Israel’s enemies and oppressors, whose kingdom is everlasting, a supernatural being that will speak for God himself and the One who will bring peace on earth. Jesus Christ accepted the title of Messiah on three different occasions (Mt. 16:17; Mark 14:61; Jn. 4:26), but he came not riding a horse with legions of army to defeat the Roman Empire, but to defeat sin and offer pardon to rebels like us.
The name “Christ” shows Him to be God’s Anointed One and God himself. Christ is not a surname but Jesus’ official title. It identifies Him as the great Prophet (De. 18:15-19), the Eternal Priest who would come from the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4), and the King that will usher in his everlasting kingdom(2 Samuel 7:12-13). These three offices were always anointed with oil, a symbol of the Holy Spirit who was to perfectly anoint the Christ, the Messiah (Mt. 3:16; Mark 1:10-11;Lu. 3:21-22; Jn. 1:32-33).
Instead of emphasizing the events leading up to Jesus’ public ministry in terms of his genealogy and family roots (as do Matthew and Luke) or in terms of its theological foundation (as does John), Mark focuses on its actual beginning. The “Beginning” here is not to be understood as the first of several things in a sequence but as first in terms of “source” or “origin”. The gospel is the good news of the fulfillment of God’s promises. In the OT (Isa. 40:9; 52:7; Nah. 1:15) “good news” is connected with the saving intervention of God to help his people.¹
As it is written
Mark shows the progressive nature of revelation by placing the citation first and interpreted the passages to refer to John the Baptist as the messenger and Jesus as the Lord himself. Since the OT is the gospel’s beginning and source, the gospel revealed through Jesus Christ is the final and inspired interpretation and completion of the OT message.²
“It is written,” calls attention to the authority of God. The quotation is an amalgamation of two to three Old Testament passages: verse 2 comes from Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1; and verse 3 comes from Isaiah 40:3. The whole is attributed to Isaiah, though some later greek manuscripts read as “the prophets”—The one with Isaiah is more likely the original since it is a much harder reading—Since Isaiah is considered to be a major prophet, it is only natural to attribute the quotation to him. Also the first two passages is serving as an interpretation of the one in Isaiah. In Exodus 23:20, 23, the “messenger” who would lead God’s people is a divine messenger of Yahweh, but here it applies to John, thus indicating his divinely ordained purpose. The references to the 2nd person personal pronoun in “ahead of you” (literally “before your face”), “who will prepare your way,” and “prepare the way for the Lord” all refer to Yahweh in the Old Testament, but here they refer to Jesus, whom Mark depicts as fulfilling the role of God. Thus, Mark employs the quotation to indicate that John the Baptizer is the divinely appointed messenger of Yahweh who does not simply herald the advent of the Messiah but of God himself appearing in Jesus of Nazareth. Mark’s opening shows that the mission of Jesus is not understandable apart from the Old Testament.
Prepare the Way
In ancient days, when a king was about to visit a certain place, a runner would run some distance ahead of the king and shout, “Prepare! The king is coming.” And the people would immediately begin to clean and level the dusty and rocky road for the coming king. John was saying, “I am but a voice crying, ‘Make ready! Prepare! The King is coming!’” The crooked and rocky roads signifies the unrepentant hearts of sinners.
Mark described the fulfillment of the promise beginning with God’s purpose in sending a messenger ahead of him; to make his paths straight. The means by which John prepared the way of the Lord was by preparing the hearts and minds of the people through the preaching of repentance. In Luke 1:17 it says;
He will turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.
The Greek word “Metanoia”, in English “repentance” means “change of one’s disposition” and has a connotation of changing one’s own ways and not just change of emotion. Repentance, which must result in “fruit” (Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8), is the single prerequisite necessary to prepare for the imminent in-breaking of God.
Remember that Mark’s primary audience were gentiles and in telling them that John preached repentance first to the children of Israel, we’re reminded that the gospel was to the Jews first and we are grafted in because of their rejection.
John’s camel-hair garment and leather belt, as unusual in his day as they would be in ours, signified the dress of a prophet. Because in Zech. 13:4 false prophets would cloth themselves with such in order to decieve others. In other words true prophets used them. Another example is Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8. In the Old Testament, Elijah was more than the forerunner of the Messiah; he was the forerunner of the Day of the Lord, God’s eschatological kingdom (Mal. 3:1). John the Baptist was said to have come with the spirit of Elijah, making him the immediate near fulfillment of the prophecy.
John’s lifestyle characterized his humility and self denial. Mark chose not to include details like that of his miraculous conception and birth, that he’s the cousin of Jesus, and that he’s the only son of a priest. None of those. John must decrease and Christ must increase.
In first-century Judaism, loosing of sandals and washing of feet were duties of Gentile slaves; the assumption of this role by John signifies his humility and subordination in relation to Jesus. John’s baptism in water was intended to symbolize Jesus’s baptism in the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8). In the Old Testament, bestowal of the Spirit belonged exclusively to God. John’s attributing of this function to Jesus, the More Powerful One, again signifies that Jesus comes in the power and prerogative of God. John only officiate the sign but Jesus does what’s being signified.
In a very real sense, all Christians are called to prepare the way of the Lord by preaching repentance to all nations. We are to announce and herald that the King came and that he’s coming again, and with him, judgment for the rebel, and reward for the repentant.
¹ ESV Study Bible, ² Reformation Study Bible