Musings on Mark: The Baptism of Jesus (2) – Baptized in the Spirit

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 
Mark 1:11b, NRSV


In my first post covering Jesus’ baptism I argued that the baptism Jesus underwent implied that he too needed to repent of his sins (Mark 1:4). Not only is that the express purpose of the baptism that John performed but later writers tried to avoid the implication by either adding dialogue (as in Matthew) or by omitting the baptism altogether (as in John). Recall also that John told the people that while he had been baptizing them with water, Jesus would baptize them with the Holy Spirit (1:8). There are certainly eschatological overtones to such a statement but it also has some importance in the immediate context of the Markan narrative.

10   And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

Jesus first experiences a baptism of water, a prerequisite for him to be the Messiah. But that wasn’t the only anointing required: he also needed to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. And so, as he comes up out of the water, Jesus sees the skies open and the Spirit descend to him.

The scene in Mark is a subtle allusion to the anointing of the kings of Israel, especially that of David. David was chosen by God to lead Israel (1 Samuel 16:1-13) after Saul was rejected (1 Samuel 15:10-35). Samuel is ordered by God to prepare anointing oil and to go to Bethlehem to anoint the new king from among the sons of Jesse. Each of the sons pass by Samuel but not one of them is chosen. Finally, the youngest son David comes before Samuel and God says, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one” (16:12). So Samuel takes the anointing oil and places it upon David. Then we read this: “And the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward” (16:13). This is precisely what is going on in the Gospel of Mark.

John the Baptist is much like Samuel. He has anointed Jesus by baptism and immediately following this act the Spirit comes upon Jesus and continues with him from that day forward.

11   And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

Having been anointed for the work of the Messiah and empowered by the Holy Spirit, God thunders from heaven and declares Jesus to be his “Son, the Beloved.” It is in him that God is “well pleased.”

The words of God in 1:11 are a combination of wording found in two passages of the Hebrew Bible: Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1. Psalm 2 is commonly referred to as a royal psalm since thematically it deals with the king of Israel, referred to as Yahweh’s “anointed” (Psalm 2:2). The Hebrew word used there comes from mashiach where we get the word “messiah.” In 2:7 we read, “I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you.'” The king has been adopted by Yahweh to be his son.

In Isaiah 42:1 we read, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” 42:1 opens up the first of the four Servant Songs in the book of Isaiah. And while in context the Servant likely refers to Israel, Mark has applied the words to Jesus, particularly the phrase “in whom my soul delights.” Furthermore, just as Yahweh “put [his] spirit upon” the Servant, so too God has placed the Spirit upon Jesus in Mark 1:10.

Mark has combined the words of these two biblical texts and applied them directly to Jesus’ anointing as Messiah. He has been adopted by God in the way the kings of Israel had been declared to be God’s sons and it is in Jesus the Son that God is delighted.

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