After his surprising opening sentence, Mark introduces us to John the Baptist, the prophet whom God has chosen to be the forerunner of the Messiah—whom we now know to be Jesus.
John is—unusual, to say the least. He’s very much in the mold of the Old Testament prophets—Amos, Micah, Hosea, Isaiah, and others—who denounce the corruption of Israel’s leaders and the mindlessness of the people. But despite—or perhaps because of—the edge on his behavior and his message, the people throng to hear him (Mk 1.5), responding positively to his call for repentance.
Mark introduces this character as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy himself—specifically, God’s last words to his people (Mal 3.1) before the four centuries of silence out of which Israel is now to emerge. John, he claims, is the promised messenger who will clear the way for God’s arrival.
Let’s not pass over that too quickly. He is preparing the way for whose arrival?
Malachi’s prophecy had said, “He will clear the way before Me”—meaning, not Malachi, but God himself; for “me” in this passage is identified at the opening of the book as “the LORD”—Yahweh—whose word to Israel Malachi is relating (Mal 1.1). The prophecy goes on to say, “the Lord [Adonai], whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple” (Mal 3.1).
As if to double down on this claim, knowing that the hearers will reflexively resist believing it, Mark quotes a second prophecy, that of the highly respected prophet Isaiah:
The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight (Mk 1.3, citing Is 40.3).
The choice of this Isaianic prophecy is significant for at least two reasons. First, it is the opening of the second major section of Isaiah’s prophecy, where the message turns from judgment for sin to future gracious restoration—a shift in tone that perfectly parallels the movement from Old Covenant to New. And second, the prophecy is that the Coming One is “the Lord,” as it appears in Mark. In the OT prophecy, the word LORD is in ALL CAPS, signifying that the Hebrew name here is not “Adonai,” “Lord,” but “YHWH,” “Yahweh”—not the title of sovereignty, but the personal name of the covenant God of Israel, the Creator of the world.
John is preparing the way for Yahweh, the Coming One.
So who is Jesus, the Christ?
He is not only “the Son of God,” a title that some sceptics twist to imply someone less than God himself; he is Yahweh, God himself, all that God is, ever has been, or ever will be (He 13.8).
Now Mark adds John’s testimony to that of the two OT prophets:
There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose (Mk 1.7).
Well, if the coming One is Yahweh, he’s certainly greater than John; that should go without saying.
But it doesn’t.
Further, the Coming One is going to baptize in, or with, the Holy Spirit (Mk 1.8), acting in concert with the very Godhead.
With John the Baptist’s pronouncement narrated, Mark now recounts John’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River (Mk 1.9-11).
And here we see explicitly what has just been implied: the Godhead’s embrace of Jesus as one of their (his? its?) own:
He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Mk 1.10-11).
Father and Spirit act together to publicly recognize the Son and to announce his complete acceptance. Here again the relationship is expressed as sonship, but in context the full equality of the Son is clear.
This servant, it turns out, is God himself.