Parallel Texts: Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-18
As you can see, Mark doesn’t get into the birth of Christ, or the genealogies or anything else, he jumps in right where the action begins with John the Baptist preparing the way. Ironically for him, he does so with his only extended quote from an Old Testament prophet, in this case Isaiah. Notice how Mark quotes the prophet and immediately follows with “and so…” It’s almost as if God spoke through Isaiah, and bam, there was John preaching. As you will come to recognize, this is Mark’s style: action and facts, then more action and more facts.
Notice that John is preaching a baptism of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (1:4) As you know, this revolutionary development will get the attention of the Jewish authorities, who are not only well aware of the prophecy in question, but they are also well aware of the fact that in the Law of Moses, there was no such thing as “baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”
In verse 5, we encounter Mark’s first use of hyperbole when he writes that the “whole Judean countryside” and “all the people of Jerusalem” went out and confessed their sins and were baptized by John. Sounds like a big claim to me, and frankly I can’t quite imagine the Pharisees and the High Priest hopping in the Jordan with John. I think Mark was saying that many did so. You’ll see a lot of this as we go on.
In the remainder of this passage, Mark describes the eccentric costume of John and then gets to the important fact that John was only the messenger sent to prepare the way for the One who was to be sent. This is a very important detail because everybody knew that the Messiah was coming. Not only the gospels tell us this, but also the historical sources from that time, for Daniel’s prophecies were well-known. Unlike many scholars of our own time, they could do the math in relation to Daniel’s seventy sevens in Daniel chapter 9; they knew Messiah was just about to appear and were on the lookout.
Now Mark has set the stage, and we will meet Jesus for the first time when we pick up at verse 9. Next time.