I’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark together with some Christians and “seekers” over the past several weeks. (We’ve been using a fantastic study put out by the folks at The Good Book Company entitled Christianity Explored.) One thing that has struck me while re-reading Mark is that no one in the narrative doubts that Jesus had power. No one doubts he’s a wonder-worker. That part of his identity was really unmistakable. You don’t find anyone going around trying to dispute it, trying to prove that Jesus really didn’t heal the fellow with leprosy (Mark 1:40-45), the lame guy who’d been lowered through the roof (Mark 2:1-12), or the synagogue leader’s daughter (Mark 5:21-43). Maybe some did—though I suspect they would have had a difficult time, considering the nature of the maladies Jesus cured. (They were slightly higher up on the difficulty—and conspicuous—scale than headaches or insomnia.)
What you find instead are his religious opponents waiting around “to see if he would heal [anyone] on the Sabbath” (Mark 3:2), because, in their view, that would prove that he was colluding with the devil. In fact, this is what leads his opponents to make the implausible suggestion that Jesus healed sickness and cast out demons—i.e., that he brought order out of the chaos sin created—by the power of devil (Mark 3:20-30 and par.; see also Matthew 9:27-34; John 8:48-59; John 10:1-21)! Considering Jesus’ unmistakable power and his attitude toward the law, that was the only option open for them.
What I’ve tried to say to my friends throughout our study is that this is precisely how Mark wants to leave his readers. He only gives us these two options: either Jesus was in league with the devil and was justly crucified as a messianic pretender OR he was Israel’s long-awaited messiah, sent from God to do away with humanity’s sin once-and-for-all (see, e.g., Mark 10:45). There’s really no middle ground.* There’s no version that allows readers to conclude that Jesus was simply a good teacher or an inspiring example. His amazing works and attendant claims refuse to fit into such tight quarters. They will not be domesticated like this. They demand a more profound verdict.
*Editor’s note: For early non-Christian corroboration of Mark’s portrait, see, e.g., the Jewish tradition preserved in Justin, Dial. 69.7 (cf. Deuteronomy 13:5); Jos., Ant. 18.63–64 [XVIII, iii 3]; and b. Sanh. 43A.