Jesus as Christ, Teacher and Son of God In the Gospel of St. Mark

     Each of the four Gospels is a part of the Divine Revelation of God. Through Divine Revelation contained in Sacred Scripture “God chose to show forth and communicate Himself and the eternal decisions of His will regarding the salvation of men.”[1] Each of the four Gospel writers selected for the content of their Gospels those things that had been handed on to them from apostolic origin. While their accounts differ in some places, some omit stories and others have a different account of how events happened, they are composed “in such a fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus.”[2] Since the Gospels tell us the truth about Jesus they are indispensable for coming to a proper understanding of Jesus Christ.

     At their core, each of the Gospels answers the question posed by Jesus to his disciples, “Who do you say that I am” (Mk 8:27 NRSV) in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.[3] This paper intends to examine three key Christological themes from the Gospel of Mark, namely Jesus the Christ, Jesus the teacher, and Jesus the beloved Son of the Father.

     Tradition holds and modern biblical scholarship continues verify the belief that the Gospel of Mark was composed by Mark, a scribe of St. Peter, around the year 70 near Rome. The Gospel of Mark was composed for primarily a Roman Christian audience, yet like all the Gospel writers his work is universal.[4] Since the Gospel according to Mark is one of the four canonical Gospels, it gives us an insight into who Jesus is.

     St. Mark, throughout the Gospel, repeatedly refers to Jesus as the Christ or the Messiah. In fact Mark uses the word “Christ,” referring to Jesus, seven times in his Gospel. The Word “Christ” is derived from the Hebrew word Māšîăḥ meaning the “anointed one.” Māšîăḥ is transcribed into Greek as messias and translated to the Latin as christos. In the Old Testament the term is used most often when talking about anointing. The word “Christo” appears in the first book of Chronicles and is repeated word for word in Pslam 105 referring to an anointed head. “Touch not my anointed, and to my prophets do no harm.” (1 Chr 16:22 NAB)[5] The word Māšîăḥ becomes synonymous with the word king and eventually evolves to be applied to the long -awaited king.[6]

            Mark begins his Gospel by demonstrating that his Gospel tells the story of the man Jesus who is the Christ, the Son of God. “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mk 1:1) By beginning his Gospel by attributing the title of Christ to Jesus, Mark is testifying that Christ is properly the son of God, the anointed one sent by God, by His nature.[7] St. Mark testifies that God, beyond the expectations of His chosen people, sent Jesus, His only son as the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham.[8]

     Jesus reveals for himself that that He is the Christ. “But he was silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him and said to him, ‘are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?’ Then Jesus answered, ‘I am.’” (Mk 14:61) As Blessed Pope John Paul II notes Christ himself, before the high priest and the Hebraic Sanhedrin, was to refer explicitly to the Psalm, proclaiming that he would henceforth “sit at the right hand of divine power,” as it also says in Psalm 110.”[9] Jesus does not say simply that He is a Christ but clearly makes it known that He is the one and only true Christ. “And if anyone says to you then, ‘look, here is the Messiah! Look, there he is!’ Do not believe it.”(Mk 13:21)

     St. Peter is the first person in St. Mark’s Gospel to call Jesus the Christ. St. Peter calls Jesus the Messiah only after he has asked by Christ who He is. “And he asked them, ‘but who do you say that I am?’ Peter said to him in reply, ‘You are the Messiah.” (Mk 8:29) Mark’s revelation of Jesus as the Messiah is intended to lead the reader to repeat St. Peter’s confession. Mark intends for the reader to come to accept for themselves that Jesus is truly the anointed one of the Father.[10]

     Others in the Gospel of Mark who did not know Christ well refer to Jesus as the Christ. The High Priests publicly cry out “let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” (Mk 15:32) Jesus is not only called the anointed one by himself and his disciples but even by others against his will attesting to who Jesus really is. “Thus also they confess, though against their will, that he saved many.”[11]

     St. Mark also demonstrates throughout his Gospels Jesus is a teacher. Christ’s role of teacher is demonstrated by Mark through the way others address him. In the New Revised Standard translation of the Bible Jesus is called “teacher” no less than twelve times. In each of these twelve instances the NRSV uses the word teacher when the Latin term for teacher, magister is used in the Neo Vulgate demonstrating that those who witnessed the life of Jesus considered him to be a teacher.[12] Jesus teaches in varied ways and on a wide variety of subjects, but it is clear that Christ came to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven.

     One of Jesus’s primary ways of preaching was through parables. “And he taught them many things in parables.” (Mk 4:1) When Jesus was asked why he teaches in parables he explains that they are a means of teaching about the kingdom and calling people to repentance. “And when he was alone, those who were about him with the twelve asked him concerning parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven.” (Mk 4:10) We are further told by St. Mark that while he used parables to teach others he explained everything to his disciples. “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” (Mk 4:33-34)

     While Jesus frequently spoke in parables to the populous he did not shy away from answering direct questions. When Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees he answers their questions, not simply in a yes or no fashion, but rather he takes their question as an opportunity to teach the deeper meaning to their question. “And they brought one. And he said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said to him ‘Caesar’s.’ Jesus said to them ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mk12:16–17) Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ trick question regarding the payment of taxes gives Jesus the opportunity not to simply tell that they should pay their taxes, but also an opportunity to teach more broadly about giving to God what is His and giving to man what belongs to man.

     St. Mark also portrays Jesus as the beloved Son of the Father. St. Mark makes it clear from the first line of his Gospel that Jesus is the Son of God. “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mk 1:1) Mark is able to say with certainty that Jesus is the Son of God because God the Father calls Jesus his son, Jesus refers to God as His Father, and others call Jesus the Son of God.

     God the Father himself clearly makes it known that Jesus is His son. “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.” (Mk 1:10-11) St. Augustine commenting on this passage claims that the Father by saying these words wanted all who heard to know that Jesus was His Son.[13] Jesus his called the beloved Son again at the Transfiguration. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”(Mk 9:7). God the Father, by calling out again that Jesus is the beloved Son, was teaching and commanding those present to know who Jesus truly was. The Father intended for Peter, James, and John, the only disciples present on the mountain, to know definitively that Jesus is the Son of God.

     Jesus, himself also refers to God as his Father. At the moment of intense suffering as he agonized in the garden before his death, Jesus calls out to his Father with the intimate title Abba, Father. (Mk14:36) Fr. Roch Kereszty properly points out that by using the name Abba in His prayer Jesus is aware of his unique relationship with the Father. Fr. Kereszty goes on to point out that while Jesus has instructed his disciples to address God as our Father, He addresses him as Abba, clearly marking a distinction in the relationship we share with the Father and the relationship Jesus has with the Father.[14] Jesus knows that he is the Son of God. This is attested to by the fact that when He is asked by the High Priest if he is “the Son of the Blessed One” Jesus answers truthfully that he is. Jesus, even though He must have known answering in the affirmative would have ended in certain death, knows he is the Son of God and honestly attests to who he is.

     Jesus is also called the Son of the Father by others. St. Mark, in his Gospel, relays the story of a demon who begs Jesus under the title of the Son of God not to hurt him. “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Mk 5:7) Not only do the demons realize that Jesus is the Son of God but even a soldier who witnessed Christ’s example by dying on the cross comes to realize that He is the Son of God. “And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mk 15:39)

     The Gospels present for us the life of Jesus Christ, and as such are invaluable tools for coming to an understanding of who Jesus is. St. Mark’s Gospel, one of the four canonical Gospels, answers Jesus question posed to the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” in light of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In reading and studying it becomes clear that St. Mark clearly presents his answer in part to that question by demonstrating Jesus as the Christ, Jesus as the teacher, and Jesus as the beloved Son of the Father.

[1] Pope Paul VI, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum (18 November 1965), §6, at The Holy See, http://www.vatican.va.

[2] Dei Verbum §19.

[3] Roch A. Kereszty, Jesus Christ Fundamentals of Christology (New York: Society of St. Paul, 2011),143.

[4] Vincente Balaguer, “The Gospel According to Mark,” in Understanding the Gospels, ed. Vicente Balaguer (New York: Scepter Publishers. 2005), 83 – 87.

[5] “Nolinte tangere christos meos et in prophetis meis nolite malignari” (1 Chr 16:22 Neo Vulgata)

[6] John F.A. Sawyer, “Messiah,” in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 513-514.

[7] Hilary of Poitiers, The Trinity, 3, in The Fathers of the Church, trans. Stephen McKenna, (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1954), 73 – 74.

[8] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 422.

[9] Pope John Paul II, General Audience (18 August 2004), at The Holy See, http://www.vatican.va.

[10]PopeJohn Paul II, Encyclical Letter on the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate Redemptoris Missio (7 December 1990), §23 (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conrence, 1990), 38 – 40.

[11] Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, v2, ed. John Newman (Boonville, NY: PCP Books, 2009).

[12] In the NRSV Mk:4:38, 5:35, 9:17, 9:38, 10:17, 10:20, 10:35, 12:14, 12:19, 12:32, 13:1, and 14:4.

[13] Augustine, The Harmony of the Gospels, II, 14, 31,  in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers vol 6 trans. Rev S.D.F. Salmond, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 13.

[14] Roch A Kereszty, Jesus Christ Fundamentals of Christology (New York: Society of St. Paul, 2011),151.

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