St Marks Talk Session 3

St Marks Gospel - Speaker Notes, Session 3, 20th December 2017



1 Princess Elizabeth way, Cheltenham GL51 7RA

Professor Hazel Bryan and Professor Philip Esler
(The University of Gloucestershire)

7.00 pm on Wednesday 29th November and 6th, 13th and 20th December 2017.



There are a number of important theological areas in Mark’s Gospel: discipleship,
eschatology and ecclesiology, for example. But the most important area, and the one
most closely tied to the narrative, is Christology. This word means how we
understand the role of Jesus in God’s plan for us and for the world.


In 1901 the German New Testament critic William Wrede published a book that has
been translated as ‘the Messianic secret in the Gospels.’ Wrede as especially
interested in Mark’s Gospel and the way Mark tends to cast an aura of secrecy over
the person of Jesus. The key data for this view are the following:

A. Jesus sometimes tells demons not to reveal his identity:

Mark 1:23-25

[23] And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit;
[24] and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God."
[25] But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!"

Mark 1:34

And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Mark 3:11-12

[11] And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God."
[12] And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.

B. Jesus sometimes tells people he has cured not to reveal his identity:

Mark 1:43-45

43] And he sternly charged him, and sent him away at once,
[44] and said to him, "See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people."

Mark 5:43

[43] And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 7:36

[36] And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

Mark 8:26

And he sent him away to his home, saying, "Do not even enter the village."

C. The Parables are Designed to Hide the Truth

4:10-13 (Parables’ teaching: see last week)

D. Jesus gives his disciples private teaching

Mark 4:33-34

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.

Mark 7:17-18

And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him,

Mark 9:28

And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?"

Mark 13:3-4

And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?"

E. The Markan Jesus Seeks Privacy

Mark 1:35-38
And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, and they found him and said to him, "Everyone is searching for you."
And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out."

Mark 6:31-32

And he said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves.

Mark 7:24

And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house, and would not have any one know it; yet he could not be hid.

F. Jesus Tells the Disciples not to Disclose His Identity

Mark 8:27-31

[27] And Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?"
[28] And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets."
[29] And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ."
[30] And he charged them to tell no one about him.
[31] And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (note this is the first of three Passion Predictions, the others being 9:31 and 10:32-33).

This may be the clearest and most important example, since only here is there a reference to Jesus as the Christos (‘the Anointed One’, ‘the Messiah’) accompanied by Jesus’ command for silence.

Mark 9:9-10 (end of the Transfiguration account, Matt 9:2-10)

And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of man should have risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant.

G. Very often the Disciples fail to understand what Jesus has said.

(We will cover some of the relevant data for this next week)

H. But Sometimes Secrecy is Breached!

Mark 1:44-45

and said to him (sc. the leper), "See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people." But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Mark 5:18-20

[18] And as he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him.
[19] But he refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you."
[20] And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and all men marveled.

Mark 7:36

(after the cure of the man who was deaf and dumb) And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

Here was how William Wrede explained this type of data, in brief, by saying that the Messianic Secret theme was theology not history:

A. Jesus thought of himself as the future Messiah but made no Messianic claims and was known to have made none.
B. Christian faith developed the view that he became the Messiah in his resurrection.
C. This faith was then read back into his earthly life, that is, on the basis that he did tell his disciples that he was the Messiah but told them to keep quiet about it until after his resurrection (which well explains Mark 8:29-30 and 9:9).
D. Step C. was taken by the Christ-following tradition before Mark.
E. Mark, although he did not invent the idea of Jesus’ Messianic Secret, nevertheless developed it and made it central to his Gospel (see Boring 2006: 265).

But, there are other explanations that do say it went back to the historical Jesus. He understood Messiahship in a radically different way. Perhaps Jesus was worried that if too many people thought that he was the Messiah it would lead to a mass rebellion against Rome. But there are problems with views like this:

(i) If it is a historical fact and not a Marcan theme, why does Matthew get rid of much of it, for example, by omitting or modifying every passage where the disciples fail to understand. In Matthew, Luke and John Jesus’ identity is revealed from the first chapter and there is no rowing back on this later.
(ii) Numerous scenes in which the Messianic Secret appears are difficult to imagine historically. The demons’ announcements as to who Jesus is have no effect on the bystanders. Jesus’ various commands to silence do not work.

A mediating position between this one and Wrede is to say that Mark sought to redefine the meaning of ‘Messiah’and other Christological titles in the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and so he puts off revealing Jesus’ true identity until his death: at Mark 15:39: ‘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!"’ This explanation fits well with Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christos followed by Jesus’ command for silence and the Passion Prediction. The secret then is what sort of Messiah he would be: something we only finally learn with his death on the Cross (see Donahue and Harrington 2002: 28-29). This is linked to discipleship:

Mark 8:31-34

[31] And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
[32] And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.
[32] And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.
[33] But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men."
[34] And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Another explanation (Boring 2006: 269-270) is that the Messianic Secret forms part of the author’s narrative Christology. He takes traditional ideas about the secrecy of Jesus’ identity and moulds them into a new narrative-rhetorical strategy presenting Jesus as ‘a paradoxical unity of divine power and human weakness.’ This was a way of toning down too triumphalist an account of Jesus’ identity that would have made it difficult for him to serve as an exemplar of human discipleship.


The suggestion by Eugene Boring that the Messianic Secret brings together divine power and human weakness is a good entry-point for considering the various titles used of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, because they also relate to his Christology in a similar way. But we must keep them closely connect them to the narrative and not make the mistake of viewing them as stand-alone phenomena.


We have already seen this in Mark 1:1, the title; in 1:34, where a demon recognizes him and in 8:29, where Peter recognizes him. It occurs five more times in the Gospel. It is the Greek translation of Hebrew Messiah, meaning ‘Anointed.’ It is a Judean word, with no real Greco-Roman equivalent. In Israel priests were anointed, as were prophets and kings. The figure in Psalm 17 is called the Lord Messiah in v. 32. Anointed means that God has anointed him. It is a word that draws attention to God’s action in Jesus. It is a vital word for describing Jesus in Mark (especially at 1:1 and 8:29).

Son of God (Ho Huios tou Theou)

This expression was in currency among Judeans and also Greeks and Romans. ‘Son of God’ could be used of angels, but also of Israel (Exod 4:220. The Judean king was adopted as God’s son at his coronation (Ps 2:7). Among Greeks and Romans a son of God was often thought of as a person capable of superhuman feats.

Mark has the expression Son of God applied to Jesus by;
The narrator (1:1)
God (1:11; 9:7 – but now ‘This is my beloved Son’)
Unclean spirits (3:11; 5:7)
Jesus himself (14:61-62)
The centurion at the Cross (15:39; the only human to use the expression and he is a

This is an exalted title.

Son of Man

This is probably the most interesting of all the titles of Jesus. In the Old Testament son of man really means a human being. But it is also used of an apparently heavenly figure (Dan 7:13) which later came to be interpreted in what has been called ‘apocalyptic Judaism’ as ‘an individual, transcendent, eschatological agent (cf. 1 En. 48; 69:26-29; 71:14-17; 4 Ezra 13:1-13).

Let us look at the data.

The expression is always used on the lips of Jesus (no one else, not even the narrator) and falls into three categories:

1. Sayings that depict Jesus as the Son of Man acting in various ways in his lifetime:

a. 2:10
[10] But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he said to the paralytic --
[11] "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home."

b. 2:28
[27] And he said to them, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath;
[28] so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath."

c. 10:45
For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

2. Sayings that speak of the suffering, dying and rising of Jesus as the Son of Man:

a. 8:31
And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

b. 9:9
And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of man should have risen from the dead.

c. 9:12
And he said to them, "Elijah does come first to restore all things; and how is it written of the Son of man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?

d. 9:31
for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise."

e. 10:33-34
"Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles;
[34] and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise."

f. 14:21 (twice)
For the Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born."

g. 14:41
And he came the third time, and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

3. Sayings that portray the future apocalyptic coming of the Son of Man at the end of history:

a. 8:38
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

b. 13:26
And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory.

c. 14:62
[61] But he was silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?"
[62] And Jesus said, "I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven."

Note that Mark 13:26 and 14:62 are quoting Dan 7:13, where Daniel is recounting a
vision that he had:

[13] I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
[14] And to him was given dominion
and glory and kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and language
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

Some scholars say that the human sense was original to Jesus and the Dan 7:13 imagery came later. Another school says, no, the Dan 7:13 and 1 Enoch eschatological figure came first and with Jesus.

Whatever the historical truth of the matter, Mark integrates these three strands of Jesus-tradition to create a rich Christology for Jesus, noting that it encompasses purely human and also divine dimensions.


The third dimension of Jesus as Son of Man is richly elaborated upon in the great 13th chapter of the Gospel, specifically Mark 13:5-37. This has been called the apocalyptic or eschatological discourse. Although it has been called the ‘Little Apocalypse’ in contrast to the Book of Revelation, the ‘Great Apocalypse’, it is not really an apocalypse (meaning ‘revelation’) in the full sense since it is not an account of a vision that Jesus had but is a discourse by him on End-time matters.

It looks directly to the time of the reader. Jesus acts as the revealer of the future.

Mark 13

[1] And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!"
[2] And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down."
[3] And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,
[4] "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?"

(Part 1)
[5] And Jesus began to say to them, "Take heed that no one leads you astray.
[6] Many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray.
[7] And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is not yet.
[8] For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places, there will be famines; this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.
[9] "But take heed to yourselves; for they will deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them.
[10] And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.
[11] And when they bring you to trial and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.
[12] And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death;
[13] and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

(Part 2)
[14] "But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains;
[15] let him who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything away;
[16] and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle.
[17] And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days!
[18] Pray that it may not happen in winter.
[19] For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be.
[20] And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.
[21] And then if any one says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it.
[22] False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
[23] But take heed; I have told you all things beforehand.

(Part 3)
[24] "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
[25] and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
[26] And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
[27] And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

(Part 4)
[28] "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
[29] So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
[30] Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place.
[31] Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
[32] "But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
[33] Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come.
[34] It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
[35] Watch therefore -- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning --
[36] lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.
[37] And what I say to you I say to all: Watch."

Note that in v. 14 the ‘desolating sacrilege’ may be a reference to Caligula’s plan in 40 CE to set up a statue of himself as Zeus in the Jerusalem temple, a plan that caused consternation in Judea and was only thwarted by his death. Perhaps Mark has utilized, at least in part, a Judean apocalypse from that period. Apocalypses are often composed for people under severe threat by outsiders. Cf. the Ghost Dance of the 19th century US native Americans and the cargo cults of the twentieth century Pacific.

Vv. 9-13 focus on the suffering that Christians can expect to endure. Opposition will come from the civic authorities and from one’s own family members. If they ask why they suffer, it is because of their fidelity to the Gospel and to its proclaimer and the God who sent him. But in the longer term their suffering will find an answer if God’s final vindication in the arrival of the Son of Man with this angels. This is the third aspect of the Son of Man sayings. We recall here Mark 8:38 which speaks of the Son of Man coming in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’ and 14:62 where Jesus speaks of himself in similar terms citing the son of man figure in Daniel 7:13. So we can see that this material is important for Marcan Christology. But this Son of Man is also someone who suffers and dies. The Christology is not allowed to become too glorious or disconnected with the realities of human existence.

But the full arrival of God’s Kingdom is deferred to a future time. In the meantime, extreme wakefulness is needed.