Mark's Picture of Jesus

by Darrel Cline

Chapter Five

The Final Major Section of Mark

A Broad Overview

In keeping with the Baptizer's broad outline of the picture of Messiah, Mark penned 9:1-16:8 in order to develop the two basic directions which John presented regarding the exercise of power by the "Mighty One". The Baptizer had said that One was coming after him who was "mightier". Mark developed the evidence for that in 1:21-8:26. The Baptizer then gave two directions of thought for that "might" by saying that the coming One was far "worthier" than he, and that He would accomplish far more than he ("I baptize you ... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."). Mark 9:1-16:8 is Mark's development of these two sub-themes.

This means that there are two major sub-sections to this final section of Mark. One of them develops the thesis that Jesus is "worthier" than the most worthy of Old Testament prophets. This theme is found in 9:1-13:37. The claim of this paper is that that worthiness is ethical/moral superiority. This claim is founded upon three factors. First, the worthiness thesis is set in contrast to what a slave could, and would naturally, do for his master. To be unworthy is to be disqualified even as a slave. Theologically, this can only result from moral impurity. Second, in Mark's development of John's categories in 1:9-15 he puts Jesus' temptation in a juxtaposition with John's "worthier" thesis. The temptation introduces ethical/moral issues. And, third, this major sub-section to the last half of Mark's Gospel (9:1-13:37), which is the development of the "worthier" thesis, puts a primary focus upon the ethical issues of humility (a concept that is at the very heart of sin/righteousness because it was its lack that brought about sin in the very beginning of Satan's pride).

Interestingly, this first sub-section develops "worthiness" in terms of the demands regarding the Kingdom of God against the backdrop of Satan's effective distortion of men's expectations regarding that Kingdom. This is shown in two ways. First, Satan's temptation of Jesus is the seed-plot for this section. Second, Peter's opposition to Jesus' announcement of the direction that Messiah's course will take (to the cross) is called a Satanic thing (8:33). This description forms the hinge material that relates to this sub-section.

In the minds of men, rank in the Kingdom of God will mean what rank in the kingdoms of this world means: status over others with corresponding power to dominate and control. In the Kingdom of God, however, rank is a matter of humility and service. This contrast of meanings indicates that there has come a gross distortion in the hearts of men that cause the best of them to be "unholy" (i.e. more interested in dominion and control than in humility and service) -- so that even the greatest of the prophets (John) finds himself "unworthy" to loose the thongs of the sandals of the One Whose commitment is to humility and service.

The second sub-section (14:1-16:8) develops "effectiveness" in terms of Jesus' death and resurrection against the backdrop of the failure of the flesh of man. In this unit, Jesus' condemnation, crucifixion, and resurrection are constantly set against the inability of men to pay that kind of price. The ungodly have no interest. The godly have no power. Only a superior "might" to baptize with a superior enablement can resolve this difficulty.

The First Sub-Section

Mark's development of John's theme of worthiness is found in 9:1-13:37. The evidence for this is partly structural and partly related to content. Since the structural arguments will dominate this chapter, a few comments will be made first regarding content.

An Argument From Content

Chapter 13 is the longest actual didactic section of Mark. Its emphasis is established by the questions of the disciples which form the basis for the entire response by Jesus. Those questions are two: "when?"; and "what will be the sign?". However, the second is simply a desire for a clarification of the first -- thus making the chapter a dissertation on the timing of the coming of the Kingdom of God. This focus on the coming kingdom does two things simultaneously. First, it completes a focus upon the kingdom which is begun in 9:1. Second, it provides a fairly radical break between Jesus' kingdom teaching and the passion narrative that follows. Thus, the content of 9:1-13:37 is graphically different from the content of 14:1 and following. This, of itself, would argue for making a break between 13:37 and 14:1.

The Argument From Structure

The material contained in 9:1-13:37 falls into three units. The first unit consists of a chiasm that includes 9:1-11:11. The second unit consists of 11:12-12:44. The third unit consists of chapter 13. This structure is defined most sharply by the chiasm and the didactic material of chapter 13.

Since structural issues are subject to a great deal of subjectivism and individual interpretive choices, identifying sections as chiasms is often done in ways which leave readers' heads swimming and the question arises as to whether there is, in fact, any chiasm present. This means, then, that the real structural question in this sub-section is whether 9:1-11:11 actually constitutes such a chiasm. Though there are some difficulties, the proposed form is as follows:

9:1-13 -- Jesus identified as the Kingdom's King
9:14-29 -- Identity reinforced by power
9:30-37 -- the Kingdom's requirement of servanthood
9:38-50 -- the Kingdom's practice of reward
10:1-12 -- the attitude which blocks participation?
10:13-16 -- the attitude which enables participation
10:17-27 -- the attitude which blocks participation
10:28-31 -- the Kingdom's practice of reward
10:32-45 -- the Kingdom's requirement of servanthood
10:46-52 -- Identity reinforced by power
11:1-11 -- Jesus identified as the Kingdom's King

The arguments in support of this chiastic arrangement will be developed as we go along. First, a chiasm is defined by Man as follows:

"Chiasm, also called chiasmus, my be defined as a 'stylistic literary figure which consists of a series of two or more elements followed by a presentation of corresponding elements in reverse order'. The individual elements may consist of single words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or even longer sections of material".1

In addition, David Clark, in a reaction to an article by Joanna Dewey, dealing with how chiasm can be recognized, set forth five types of criteria. He wrote,

"This yields, then, basically three types of criteria (1) content -- the theme or themes of each pericope, (2) form or structure -- the type of narrative and/or dialogue of which the pericope is composed, (3) language -- primarily the occurrence of catchwords. In the body of the article of [sic] Dewey also uses two other features which are worth separate listing: (4) setting, and (5) theology".2

And, in the same article, he notes the chief difficulty. He calls it "some measure of abstraction".3 The key question in the proposed form consists primarily of the issue of Man's "parallelism" in respect to Clark's categories of criteria which, he himself admits, can neither individually establish chiastic arrangement, nor individually destroy it.4 In other words, only one of the criteria is insufficient to establish chiasm, and yet chiasm does not demand the use of all five of the elements.

The key question regarding our proposed chiastic arrangement of Mark 9:1-11:11 will focus primarily upon the parallelism between Mark 9:14-29 and 10:46-52 and between 10:1-12 and 10:17-27. The other paragraphs are relatively easy to see as parallel. However, the chiasm will be developed in order.

That 9:1-13 and 11:1-11 are in correspondance was recognized by Reedy. He writes in regard to the material in Mark 9:1-8 that there is a recognizable theological focus on Messianic authority.5 Then, he claims that there is a correspondance in that Jesus is "being endowed with" Messianic authority in 11:1-11.6 These claims are made on the basis of the texts of 9:7, where Heaven identifies Jesus as the Beloved Son, and 11:3 and 9-11, where Jesus is identified as the "Lord" who is the Coming Ruler of the kingdom of David. Thus there is a theological correspondance consisting in Jesus being identified as the King of the Kingdom; once by God, and once by the people.

Next, there is a thematic parallelism between the two paragraphs in that both are dealing with the coming of the Kingdom of God. In 9:1, where the opening of that paragraph is found, Jesus says, "... there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste of death until they see the Kingdom of God after it has come with power". (NASV). Then, in 11:10, at the conclusion of that paragraph, the people are crying out "blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David" (NASV). Third, there is a significant use of ercomai as a catch-word that brings the thematic parallelism into focus in 9:1,11,12 and 13 and 11:9 and 10. Fourth, both paragraphs are narrative in form, though theological in impact. Fifth, both have settings that are connected to mountains. Thus, all five of the criteria delineated by Clark are found in these two paragraphs. This is the strongest type of parallelism.

Next comes one of the problematical paragraphs. Mark 9:14-29 may not be readily recognized as corresponding to Mark 10:46-52. However, it has already been mentioned in this paper that Mark sometimes interchanged his stories of power in the spiritual realm with his stories of power in the physical realm. The reason for this is that Mark believed that Jesus' identity as the Mighty One (King) was established by His demonstrated ability to dominate both spiritual and physical forces. Thus, it would make sense, if he were attempting to reinforce Jesus' identification as King of the Kingdom to use neither two stories of power in the realm of the spirits, nor two stories of power in the physical realm, but, rather, one of each. This he does. Mark 9:14-29 is an account of Jesus' unique spiritual power (even the disciples who had been give authority to cast out demons were incapable of casting out this one). Mark 10:46-52 is an account of Jesus' awesome physical power. However, both accounts reinforce Jesus' identity as the Mighty King. In the former story the problem is unbelief in that identity. In the latter the point is that the blind man believed in Jesus as the "Son of David'. Thus the two stories are in correspondance thematically, theologically, and by deliberate contrast between faith/unbelief.

Then, there is the parallelism of the settings: both stories are connected with a great crowd of observers. Mark 9:30-37 has two parts. First, there is the prediction of the suffering of the Christ (which was introduced by Mark 8:31). Then there is a story of how little the disciples grasped the critical point that no one escapes the principle of greatness coming from great service -- not even the King. But the two parts serve as one unit: a declaration that the Kingdom is one of servants from the King on up, and that the disciples were not even close to grasping that fact. Their perception of the Kingdom is that of a pyramid with the greatest at the top, being served the most. Jesus' is that of an inverted pyramid with the greatest on the bottom serving the most. Mark 10:32-45 is in strict correspondance with this form. There the King is again identified as One who must suffer. And the disciples are again shown to be completely at odds with the principle of greatness coming out of servanthood. Thus these two paragraphs contain the same themes, theology, wording, form, and setting -- since both take place "along the way". Thus there is no problem with Mark 9:30-37 being in correspondance with Mark 10:32-45.

Next are Mark 9:38-50 and Mark 10:28-31. These are easily seen in correspondance because they both deal precisely with the fact that the Kingdom is marked by retributive justice -- including reward as well as punitive judgment. It is true that Mark 9:38-50 has a major focus upon the negative aspect (retributive judgment) and that Mark 10:28-31 has its focus upon the positive aspect (retributive reward), but the fact remains that both are dealing with the same issue: the Kingdom is such that one cannot act without that act generating consequences (positive or negative). Both paragraphs are introduced by the issue of "following" Jesus. Both paragraphs have no particular setting given. And both emphasize the magnitude of the repayment in judgment. Thus the criteria for parallelism is met again.

Then comes the second of the major difficulties. It is not readily apparent that Mark 10:1-12 is in correspondance with Mark 10:17-27. The former is a record of the Pharisees tempting Jesus with a divorce question. The latter is a record of a wealthy young man who rejects Jesus' requirement that he sell all if he would inherit in the Kingdom. However, below the surface the issues are the same. Both parties are self-righteous. Both parties reject Jesus' Kingdom principles. Both parties are confronted with extremely difficult issues. The point of both stories is that one cannot come into the Kingdom of which Jesus is the King with their own attitudes unchanged. This is most easily seen in that both reject Jesus' "Kingdom" teaching. Their rejection of His Kingdom principles automatically implies the Kingdom's rejection of them. Thus the stories correspond by dealing with the attitude that keeps one from participation in the Kingdom of the Christ. In addition there is a deliberate correspondance of form between the two units: they both have the main issue presented and then it is followed by a private conversation between Jesus and the disciples in which amazing issues are clearly stated.

Then comes the brief unit of Mark 10:13-16. This is what Man calls "the single central element"7 of the chiasm. The importance of this element, which is derived from the stylistic device of chiasm, makes it immediately clear that Mark is dealing with the issues that surround participation in the Kingdom of the Christ. This does two things simultaneously. First it makes the rejection by the Pharisees and the rich man stand out as the key to non-participation. Second it makes the entire sub-section of 9:1-11:11 a focus upon the issue of how one can participate in the Kingdom of the Christ.

Therefore, the first part (9:1-11:11) of the sub-section (9:1-13:37) is of a chiastic arrangement. The arrangement gives us the structural form and a focus for understanding.

That brings us to the next unit of the sub-section: 11:12-12:44. This unit consists of six parts: 11:12-26 (the cursing of the fig tree); 11:27-33 (the nation's leaders rejection of Jesus' authority); 12:1-12 (Jesus' rejection of the nation's leaders); 12:13-34 (the trap questions of the rejectors/rejected with a conclusion by one who was close to the truth); 12:35-40 (the difference between the common people and the religious leaders); and 12:41-44 (the story of the widow's farthing).

The meaning of this unit is most easily seen when set in its place between 9:1-11:11 and 13:1-37. In 9:1-11:11 the issue is participation in the Kingdom of the Christ. In chapter 13 the issue is "when shall all these things be fulfilled" (13:4). Thus there are two questions being answered: what does it take to participate in the Kingdom? and when will that Kingdom come? Between these two questions is the extended record of rejection -- both Jesus' rejection of the nation and the nation's rejection of Jesus. The question of this unit is, therefore, why is the Kingdom not now?

When Mark 11:12-12:44 is evaluated under the question of why the Kingdom is not present, it immediately becomes clear that Mark was showing that the Kingdom was not on the scene because of the religious perversion of the nation by its leaders. This seems to be a direct parallel to Mark's concept that moral superiority stems from overcoming the distortion introduced by Satan as the Opposer of the King's plans for a righteous kingdom. The nation's leaders have become Satan's instruments. The fig tree should have had fruit for its Maker (like the widow). But it was fruitless (like the nation) because of the religious leaders' perversion of true righteousness and servanthood.

This brings us to the third unit: chapter 13. Since this is one discourse, it is easy to see as one unit. Since the discourse opens because the disciples want to know when the things of which Jesus spoke were to be fulfilled, the focus of the unit is easily seen: the timing of the coming of the Kingdom.


The material of Mark 9:1-13:37 falls into three units. There is a chiasm of 9:1-11:11 which raises and answers the question: what does the Kingdom of God require of its participants? There is a rejection section of 11:12-12:44 which raises and answers the question: why is the Kingdom not now (especially if Jesus is so "mighty")? There is a concluding section of 13:1-37 which raises and answers the question: if not now, when?

The entire sub-section is dealing with the Kingdom of the Christ. The focus of the sub-section is upon the fact that the Kingdom requires its participants to be servants; this it will reject those who reject its servant-demands; and that it will only come after the King has judged all of those who have rejected this fundamental premise of life.

This raises a final question. How does this material fit John's statement of Jesus' superior worthiness? The answer is that Jesus is presented in this entire unit as the King of the Kingdom -- One superior to everyone else in it. But the superiority is ethical: the King has not refused to become the greatest servant, who service consists of dying for the heirs of the Kingdom. The King does not require of any others what He Himself is unwilling to perform. Thus because the King is destined to suffer and die for others, and because Satan's rejection of that selflessness is mirrored in the national leaders, men must choose which loyalty they will adopt. John's message of repentance was a call to adopt the loyalty to the King whose moral superiority meant their salvation.

The Second Sub-section

The second sub-section within the last half of Mark's work consists of 14:1-16:8. There is no solid evidence that Mark penned the words of 16:9 and following. The arguments regarding that portion are matter for another work. For this paper the consensus of scholarship will be accepted that verse 8 concludes Mark's effort (or, at least, what we have of it).

This second sub-section develops Mark's argument for the second part of the development of the "might" thesis of the Mighty One: His superior effectiveness. It consists of three parts: first, there is the record of the betrayal and denial of Jesus; second, there is the record of the trials and crucifixion of Jesus; and third, there is the record of the triumph of resurrection.

The First Part

Mark 14:1-72 presents the nature of the difficulty which Mark saw as requiring the superior effectiveness of the Mighty One. In John's preaching, the Mighty One was superior to him because He effected a baptism with the Spirit as opposed to his own baptism with water (1:8). In his development of that superior impact, Mark related the baptism with the Spirit to Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom being "at hand" and the requisite "belief in the Gospel" (1:14-15). This was in keeping with the Old Era's expectation that the Kingdom would come by the power of the Spirit.

In order to develop the thesis of the Mighty One's superior impact, Mark apparently felt it necessary to delineate the specific cause of the inferiority of John's method. Repentance and water baptism could not bring about the Kingdom of God. Repentance changes only the mindset of the respondent and is only temporally effective (attitudes of regret and determination to yield to God's truth are notably short-lived). Water baptism makes public the decision, but carries no effectual impact for continuation. The problem is the corruption of the flesh -- a problem of sufficient severity that repentance and water baptism cannot reverse. Thus, if there is to be a Kingdom of God with any hope of established practice of righteousness, something more must be done for the repentant than baptism with water. The only sufficient power for control over the flesh is the Spirit. Thus, He who will establish the Kingdom will do so through the superior baptism with the Spirit. Therefore Mark begins this final sub-section, dealing with the superior impact of the Christ, by revealing the essence of the problem: the flesh.

This was done by Mark by means of a specific structure of his material. In 14:1-31 he introduces the actions of two specific disciples that spring out of their rejection of His method of greatness through self sacrifice. Judas is presented as so thoroughly antagonized by Jesus' "greatness through death" principle that he determines to betray Him to those who have set themselves to eliminate Jesus. Peter is presented as so blind to the meaning of the same principle that he boastfully commits himself to death if necessary to loyalty. The problem in each case is antagonism to the underlying essence of God's Kingdom: a mindset of righteous service.

The root is developed by Mark in 14:32-42 where he keys on Peter's spiritual "readiness", but his fleshly "weakness". He who boasted so confidently cannot watch and pray for even one hour. This paragraph concludes with the coming of the betrayer -- a factor that links Peter and Judas together as somehow alike.

Then in 14:43-52 Mark shows how Judas, who betrays with a kiss, and Peter, who flees as soon as his sword is denied him, are both dominated by fleshliness. This paragraph intensifies the nature of the problem by concluding with the record of the nameless one who is so intent on flight that he does so even that it means nakedness for him.

In 14:53-72 the focus is upon the contrast between Jesus, who accepts the unjust condemnation of the nation's leaders, and Peter, who denies his relationship to Jesus with curses. This paragraph concludes the deliberate intensification of the problem Messiah faces if He is to establish the Kingdom of God. The ungodly will betray and condemn even if they have to pervert justice to do so, and the faithful disciples will ultimately prove loyal only to their own well-being if pushed to the wall. How can a Kingdom ever come with this kind of flesh-dominated humanity -- where even the most vocally committed followers end up being hollow hypocrites?

Thus, Mark 14:1-72, which begins and ends with disciples which are less than spiritually genuine, sets a significant problem before the reader: how can repentance and water baptism bring about the Kingdom of God? The answer is that it cannot come by that means. There has to be One who can produce a genuine victory over fleshly weakness.

The Second Part

In Mark 15:1-47 the gospel writer presents the service of the Greatest Servant. The true "Son of the Father" is delivered to be crucified while the false Barabbas (son the the father) is released because Pilate is committed to Herod's leaven of seeking to please people (15:1-15). Then, He who is identified as the "King of the Jews" is crucified to the scorn of the false rulers of the Jews (15:16-32). In Mark 15:33-41 the true Son of God is forsaken by His Father so that the veil in the temple, which kept men from God, could be torn from top to bottom. And, finally, in 15:42-47 one who waited for the Kingdom of God risks identification with Jesus in order to bury Him. Thus the stage is set. The Greatest Servant has rendered the service that sets the stage for open access to God that will overcome the weakness of the flesh. But was He effective?

The Third Part

Mark 16:1-8 sets forth the triumph of the Servant against the backdrop of the problem of servants. The resurrection of Jesus is recorded against the backdrop of the fear of the disciples. Interestingly, the victory is recorded so that the last words we have of Mark are "for they were afraid". Mark set out to present Jesus as the Mighty One whose might would be effective in overcoming the difficulty of the fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15). But his message ends with the disciples yet caught in fear. He called his message "the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ". His assumption is that his readers will now understand that the death and resurrection of Jesus paved the way for the coming of the Spirit, with which they have been baptized, so that they will no longer have to function under the dominion of the flesh through fear.


The second major section of Mark is a development of the point of the first section. That Jesus is the Christ is established there. But what does that mean? That Jesus is the Mighty One is clear, but what that might mean is not clear. Thus Mark develops the two sub-themes that are intended to clarify the significance of Jesus' identity.

By means of chiasm and extended discourse Mark sets forth the first meaning of that might: it means holiness in terms of seeking the best interests of others -- being their servant. Jesus alone actually reaches to that extreme of selfless holiness. He leaves John far behind -- so far that he becomes unworthy to loose the sandal thongs of the Mighty One. Yet Jesus is set to develop disciples who will pursue that objective.

Then, by telling the details of Jesus' experience of betrayal, denial, unjust condemnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, Marks sets forth the "might" thesis in terms of accomplishment. The problem is the fleshliness of man. There is nothing in hi which can make him ready for the Servant Kingdom even if he repents and is baptized in water. Only a superior baptism that will impart ability within the context of the flesh's weakness will make such a Kingdom possible. But that baptism cannot be extended until forgiveness can be granted. Thus the King dies to forgive and rises to baptize.

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Footnotes for Chapter Five

1 Ronald E. Man, "The Value of Chiasm for New Testament Interpretation." BibliothecaSacra 141 (April-June 1984): 146.

2 David J. Clark, "Criteria for Identifying Chiasm." LingBib 35 (1975): 63.

3 Ibid., p. 65.

4 Ibid., p. 65.

5 Charles J. Reedy, "Mark 8:31 -- 11:10 AND THE GOSPEL ENDING." The Catholic Biblical Quarterly xxxiv (April 1972): 193.

6 Ibid., p. 197.

7 Man, p. 147.

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