Mark’s Big Idea
As I’ve written before, Mark’s Gospel is the simplest and most concise account of Jesus’ life. But this simple narrative poses a challenge to interpreters by rarely coming out and stating its points explicitly. Mark is the Gospel of showing, not telling. The Jesus portrayed by Mark wants us to investigate his remarkable deeds and pursue our own process of discovery.
And the result leads in one direction. At key points, Mark shows his cards. His book describes “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). From that first verse, Mark’s presentation of Jesus’ identity has two parts. After the book’s first half, Peter nails the first bit: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). After the book’s second half, a Roman centurion can’t deny the second bit: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). Together, these pieces drive to a singular conclusion: Jesus is the appointed King of heaven and earth. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the one anointed to take up God’s cause on earth. And he is God’s Son, the one in close fellowship with the Father, appointed to represent God’s interests in the well-being of his people.
Both titles, Messiah and Son of God, have to do with the kingship of Israel, mediating God’s blessing to all nations. “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill…You are my Son…Now therefore, O kings, be wise…Serve the LORD with fear…Kiss the Son” (Psalm 2:1-12).
So Mark wants us to see Jesus as God’s reigning king. But how does the resurrection narrative advance this idea?
Anointing the Anointed One
In Mark alone, of all four Gospels, are we told that the women took spices to the tomb that morning “to anoint him” (Mark 16:1). In Matthew 28:1, they go to see the tomb. In Luke 24:1, they take spices, but we’re never told what they intended to do with said spices. In John 20:1, they merely come early and see that the stone was taken away. And though the women want to anoint Jesus, he had already been anointed, by his own account, by the woman who blew 300 denarii worth of ointment on his kingly pate (Mark 14:8).
When did they go to the tomb? Not just “while it was dark” (John 20:1), nor “toward dawn” (Matt 28:1, Luke 24:1), but “when the sun had risen” (Mark 16:2). This temporal setting signifies another day, an arrival, a new age.
On the way, they don’t contemplate how to roll the stone away, but who will roll it away. They need a patriarch like Jacob (Gen 29:2-3, 10), a judge like Samson (Judg 16:3), an emperor like Darius (Dan 6:17-19). They need someone with either strength, authority, or—preferably—both, because this stone is “very large” (Mark 16:4).
They enter the tomb only to find a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe. The right side, hmm? Isn’t that where the Lord’s ruler sits (Psalm 110:1)? Where Jesus himself will ascend to take his post (Mark 16:19)? Now this young man is not the King; he merely tells them of the king who is not here. Note that Mark’s sepulchral messenger is not an “angel” but a “young man” robed in white. Jesus’ resurrection, according to Mark, is not so much about heaven coming down to earth (à la Matthew) as it is about humanity being glorified and lifted up to God. Mark’s portrayal of Jesus is certainly divine, but with a clear focus on being a human king, glorified to God’s right hand.
Remember, the Greek word Christ = the Hebrew word Messiah = the English phrase Anointed One. Or more colloquially, the Chosen One. The king of the ages. The ruler of all nations. Jesus Christ = King Jesus.
Seeing and Serving Your King
“All hail King Jesus! All hail Emmanuel!”
“Hail Jesus, you’re my king.”
“Rejoice! The Lord is King!”
We celebrate Jesus’ kingship in our songs, as we ought to do. But have you ever actually entered the presence of royalty? Have you spoken with the Queen of England? Have you shaken the President’s hand? Have you visited the Principal’s office?
Such experiences expose our insecurities and raise fundamental questions about our worthiness. No wonder these women were alarmed (Mark 16:6)—though they need not be (Mark 16:7)—trembling, astonished, and seized with fear (Mark 16:8). If you can’t relate, you may need to revisit your understanding of Jesus’ kingship. When the true king is elevated on high to God’s right hand, everything changes. You can’t hide. You can’t mind your own business and be left alone. You can’t settle for the applause of men.
What’s the Main Point?
In recounting Jesus’ resurrection, Mark wants to communicate that the King has come, but he is not here; so everything must change. Seek him. Look for him. Tell others about him. Tremble. But…don’t be alarmed. All is just as he told you.
Excursus: The Difference Between Matthew and Mark
In Ryan’s excellent post on Matthew’s account of the resurrection, he offered the following main point: The risen Jesus is the gracious king of the Jews, the Messiah. How is my analysis of Mark any different? Or is it the same?
I propose the following. Though both Matthew and Mark focus on Jesus’ role as King, ushering in the promised Kingdom, they still present Jesus differently:
- In Matthew, Jesus is primarily God, who has come to dwell with us (Matt 1:23). In Mark, Jesus is primarily human, though elevated to his rightful place at God’s right hand (Mark 16:19). Both perspectives are crucial to understanding the person of Jesus Christ.
- In Matthew, Jesus’ kingship focuses on his authority to determine who is in the kingdom and who is outside of it. In Mark, Jesus’ kingship focuses on his authority to rule the world benevolently. Both perspectives are crucial to understanding the kingly office of Jesus Christ.