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Orthodox Christians believe that God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three persons in the Trinity are one, but yet distinct. However, the authors of the New Testament identify Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 3-4), while also ascribing to him the status of Yahweh (Rom. 10:8-13).

By doing this, the New Testament authors do not confuse Jesus, the Son, with God, the Father. Rather, they include Jesus within the divine identity of Yahweh by ascribing to him actions, words, and Jewish Scriptures that refer to Yahweh. In this piece, I want to display this truth from the first few verses of Mark’s prologue.

Old Testament Texts about Yahweh Applied to Jesus

In Mark 1:2-3, Mark brings together three Old Testament texts: Mal. 3:1, Exod. 23:30, and Isa. 40:3. Mark probably cites Isaiah alone as the author of the citation instead of Malachi, Exodus, and Isaiah because more of the quoted material comes from Isaiah. In the Greek version of Mal. 3:1 (the version Mark cites), the Lord is speaking and says he will send his messenger “before me” (i.e., before Yahweh), who will “look attentively at the way before me” (i.e., before Yahweh) (emphasis mine).

In Exod. 23:20, Yahweh tells Moses he will send an angel before him (Moses) to bring him to the place that he (Yahweh) prepared and that Moses should listen to the angel, but Mark’s citation states that “I” (i.e., Yahweh) will send my messenger “before you.” Mal. 3:1 states Yahweh would send his messenger and that the messenger would prepare a way “for me” (for Yahweh).

Mark conflates Exod. 23:20 along with Isa. 40:3 and Mal. 3:1, but his use of these texts do not perfectly correlate with either one of these texts in their original context. It’s very likely that Mark’s use of these texts represent his Christological interpretation of the Old Testament in light of the coming of Jesus Christ. Mark endeavors to demonstrate that Jesus is in fact this Yahweh who brings salvation and whose way is being prepared by his messenger, John the Baptist (Mark 1:4).

Isa. 40:3 originally referred to the announcement that Yahweh’s judgment and salvation are near (Isa 40:3-41:19). In Mal .3:1 and Isa. 40:3, Yahweh himself promises to bring salvation to his people, and he sends a prophetic messenger to make this announcement. This prophetic element is absent from Exod. 23:20. Instead, a messenger goes before Israel in the wilderness.

Mark’s citation suggests that John the Baptist is the one crying out in the wilderness and that Jesus is the Lord about whom John is crying out. Mark, thus, seems especially to bring together these two Old Testament texts, both of which speak of Yahweh’s salvation for his people at a time when salvation seemed far away because of sin (Isa. 40:1). Hence, Mark’s emphasis is on Jesus, for the Lord’s coming in these Old Testament prophecies is seen by Mark as the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God (see Mark 1:1).

Jesus and Yahweh’s Divine Identity

To clarify, I don’t mean that Jesus is the Father or that the Father is Jesus. I mean that Jesus is Yahweh. In other words, Mark’s interpretation of these Old Testament texts suggests that Mark includes Jesus into the divine identity of Yahweh. Jesus is the Son, but he is Yahweh in the flesh, while simultaneously remaining God’s Son (compare Mark 1:2-3 with 1:11 and 2:7-12).

The Preaching of John the Baptist (Mark 1:4-8)

John’s baptism confirms my interpretation of Jesus’ identity. In v. 4, John baptizes in the wilderness (a clear connection with the citation from Isa. 40:3), and he preaches a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Scholars debate the origin of John’s baptism (e.g., Jewish Proselyte baptism or the Qumran Community responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls [cf. 1QS 3.4—“purification by cleansing water”; 1 QS 3:9—“flesh cleansed by being sprinkled with cleansing water] or Jewish ritual washings [cf. 4Q514 and 4Q274 with Mark 7:1-24]) to which there is not a conclusive answer. But Mark states that John’s baptism was Christological in nature.

Mark records in chapter 1, verses 4-5 that many Jews came out to John to be baptized and that they were confessing their sins. In vv. 7-8, Mark states that John’s preaching and baptism consisted of the announcement that Israel’s God (i.e., Jesus) is coming after him to bring salvation (again a clear connection with the above Old Testament citations). The salvation aspect of his coming is represented by John’s reference to the Spirit.

Mark leaves out fire in his narrative, but Matthew includes fire with Spirit. Many texts in extra-biblical Jewish literature speak of God’s judgment with the imagery of fire (Jubilees 9:15; 36:10; 1 Enoch 10:6; 54: 6; 60:24-27; 4 Ezra [2 Esdras] 7:36-38; 13:4; Pss Sol 15:4-7; 1 QH 3:28-31 [col. 11]). Mark emphasizes Jesus’ superiority over John in that he states that “John baptizes by means of water,” but Jesus “will baptize by means of the Holy Spirit,” which means that Jesus brings salvation and ushers in the age of the Spirit by his coming (Ezekiel 36-37; Joel 2; Acts 2; 10:45; 1 Cor. 12:13). This salvation is what Yahweh promised to bring to Israel.

John’s baptism, says Mark, is a “baptism of repentance” (see also Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4). John’s baptism was characterized by the recipients of it repenting of their sins. As John preached, he called his readers to repent, and they demonstrate such repentance by embracing his baptism. This act of repentance-baptism would affirm they embraced his message about the coming Messiah, because Mark 1:7 states he “preached saying the greater one than me is coming after me.” This implies that his hearers should yield their allegiance to Jesus, this coming one (see also Acts 13:24; 19:4).

Why Does Mark Describe John’s Clothing and Diet?

Mark’s description of John’s apparel in 1:6 (“hair of a camel,” “leather belt around his waist”) probably invoked in Mark’s original hearers the imagery of Elijah. 2 Kings 1:8 states Elijah wore a garment of “hair with a leather belt around his waist.” In light of Mark’s appeal to Mal. 3:1 and in light of Malachi’s discussion regarding the future of Elijah (Mal. 4:5; see also Zech. 13:4), Mark’s readers/hearers could have seen a connection between John’s prophetic ministry and the coming of Elijah by virtue of Mark describing John’s clothing similarly as the Old Testament described Elijah’s.

John’s choice of food (“eating locusts and wild honey”) makes sense in light of his Jewish and wilderness context. Locusts were the only insects permitted as food according to the Mosaic Law (Lev. 11:20-23; Dead Sea Scroll, The Damascus Document 12.14-15; see also Josephus, Life 11). Wild honey from wild bees was typical of the food that one would find in the wilderness too (Lev. 11:21-23).

But why else would Mark mention John’s eating habits in chapter 1? He does so because this further emphasizes that Mark understood the Old Testament texts to be fulfilled in the coming of Jesus and his messenger John. Mark’s description of John’s clothing and eating habits further support that he ministered in the wilderness, from where the announcement about the coming of Yahweh would come, and Jesus is the coming one about whom John makes the announcement. Because Jesus is Yahweh coming to save his people, John says he’s unworthy to take off Jesus’ sandals (Mark 1:7).

Conclusion

Christians worship the one and true living God. This God is Father, Son, and Spirit. But this one God has chosen to reveal himself to sinful humans by means of the incarnation of the Son, Jesus Christ. When Jesus became a man, he did not become a god, but God, the Son, became Jesus a Jewish man. When Christians worship Jesus, we worship Yahweh. When Christians serve Jesus, we serve Yahweh. When Christians wholly devote their lives to Jesus, we wholly devote our lives to Yahweh. May God help Christians to worship Jesus with urgency, joy, and passion, because he is Yahweh.

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