Authority and Servanthood in the Gospel of Mark, Part II: Tracing Themes

Two weeks ago, we started a series on authority and servanthood in the gospel of Mark. If you haven’t read Part I, where I introduced some of the historical backrground to the gospel, I would encourage you to do so.

Two weeks ago, we started a series on authority and servanthood in the gospel of Mark. If you haven’t read Part I, where I introduced some of the historical backrground to the gospel, I would encourage you to do so.

Today we’ll trace themes of Jesus’ authority in the gospel. We are looking for events, teachings, and interactions that show Jesus as the Authoritative One. Here is a brief list of 6 elements in the gospel that highlight this motif (for further study look at Slave of All: The Paradox of Authority and Servanthood in the Gospel of Mark, by Narry Santos, 2003).

1) The use of the term "authority." The term authority is found 10 times in the gospel: the crowds recognize his authority (1:22, 27); Jesus gives authority to his disciples (3:15; 6:7); Jesus claims the authority to forgive sins (2:10); and servants are given authority in a parable (13:34). In 11:27-33, the religious leaders question Jesus’ authority to cleanse the temple. The picture is one of Jesus having divine authority and thus the right to reorder priorities, (re)define Torah commandments, and claim prerogatives which are otherwise God’s alone (forgiveness of sins, right to cleanse the temple).

2) Jesus’ supernatural deeds. These include his exorcisms (1:21; 5:1; 7:24; 9:14), healings (1:29, 40; 2:1; 3:1; 5:25, 35; 7:31; 8:22; 10:46), and other miracles (4:35; 6:32, 45; 8:1; 11:12). These supernatural actions take little effort from Jesus–his word or touch is sufficient. They also highlight his authority to forgive, his authority over the Sabbath, and his authority over nature. We should take careful note of the beneficiaries of these supernatural deeds of Jesus: children, lepers, women, Gentiles, the handicapped, the silent, the isolated. These were the unclean and expendable of society; they had little power or influence and nothing to offer Jesus, nothing to further his ministry. His words and emotions in these verses show Jesus’ willingness to serve those most in need of his help.

3) Actions and Testimony of Characters. Unclean spirits identify Jesus as the Holy One and the Son of God (1:24; 5:7) as does a Roman centurion (15:39). Other characters fall on their knees before him or bow (1:40; 5:6, 33). Crowds are amazed at him (1:27; 2:12; 5:42; 7:37) and seek him out for healing. The clearest statement, however comes from Christ himself at his trial: "I am [the Christ, the Son of the Blessed]; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven." (14:62)

4) The prologue. In the first few verses of the gospel of Mark, there are several elements which highlight the divine authority of Jesus. Mark identifies Jesus as the Son of God (1:1), and John’s preparatory ministry is pictured as the fulfillment of prophecy (1:2-3). The Spirit’s actions and presence at Jesus’ baptism and temptation and the voice from heaven also give Jesus divine authority from the very beginning of Mark’s story.

5) Rebuke of opposing religious authorities. Confrontations between Jesus and the religious leaders are an important part of Mark’s gospel (2:15–3:6; 3:20-27; 7:1-13; 8:11-21; 10:2-9; 11:27–12:44; 14:53-65). The leaders question him and plot amongst themselves as to how to trap Jesus, while Jesus is consistent and firm in his responses, usually silencing them with a sentence or two. He "wins" every argument and openly rebukes the religious leaders, until they resort to treachery in their opposition. The contrast is stark: the religious leaders claim authority but do not wish to truly serve, while Jesus holds true authority and is a willing servant.

6) Other events. This catch-all category includes actions and events that quite clearly show Jesus’ authority: the call and commissioning of disciples (1:16-20; 2:13-14; 3:13-19; 6:6-13), Jesus’ predicitons of his future glorious return (13:24-27; 14:62), the transfiguration (9:1-8), his entry into Jerusalem (11:1-11), the cleansing of the temple (11:15-19), and ultimately the empty tomb and the announcement of the risen Jesus.

These six categories show that Mark presents Jesus to us at The Authoritative One. He is God’s Son and has the power and authority of God. Next week we will look at the motif of servanthood in the gospel. How did Jesus serve? Who did he serve? What did he teach about service and sacrifice? What we will learn stands out all the more clearly against the background of this clear picture of the divine authority of our Lord.

See you in two weeks!


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    There is no question Authority was important. It still is. The proper authority from God is needed today, just as it has been since the dawn of man.
    Thanks for sharing this/