John the Baptist Prepares the Way (1:1-8)
(Matthew 3:1-6,11; Luke 3:3-4,16; John 1:23,26)
1 In this very first verse of his Gospel, Mark introduces Jesus Christ as the Son of God (see Mark 1:11; 3:11; 9:7; 13:32; 14:60-61). The most important thing we must understand about Jesus is that He was not only a man but He was also God. He was God’s own Son (see General Article: Jesus Christ). He had no human father, but was born through the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18,20-21).
2-3 Mark here quotes from Isaiah the prophet1 (Isaiah 40:3), and also from the prophet Malachi (Malachi 3:1). These Old Testament prophets prophesied about John the Baptist, who came before Christ to announce His coming. Here, through the prophet, God says to Christ: “I will send my messenger (John the Baptist) ahead of you.” John came to prepare people’s hearts to receive Jesus, and he did this by preaching that they should repent of their sins (verse 4).
Luke in his Gospel quotes not only Isaiah 40:3 but also Isaiah 40:4-5 (see Luke 3:56). Isaiah prophesied that one would come to make straight paths for the Lord, Christ. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight (Luke 3:5). This means that in order for the people to receive the salvation which Christ will bring, the valleys—that is, whatever is spiritually lacking (such as faith)—must be filled up. Obstructions in the way like a mountain or hill—that is, pride or self-confidence—must be made low. Those walking on crooked roads must return to straight paths (Luke 3:4). Only then will all mankind see God’s SALVATION (Luke 3:6). Salvation will be given not only to the JEWS but also to non-Jews. Salvation will be given to all men and women who have prepared their hearts by repenting and by turning to Christ in faith.
The birth of John the Baptist is described in Luke 1:5-17,57-60,80.
4 And so John came … preaching a BAPTISM of REPENTANCE. In order to receive Jesus as Savior, a man must first realize he is a sinner and then repent of his sin. The man who does not consider himself a sinner in God’s sight will think, “I have no need of a savior.” But every man is a sinner (Romans 3:9-10), and every man needs a savior. Therefore, John called all men to repent—that is, to confess and turn from their sins. His message was: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). This was the same message that Jesus Himself preached (verse 15). Those who repented John then baptized with water, which was a sign that their sins were washed away, that they were now forgiven and cleansed from sin (see General Article: Water Baptism).
5 The people of the province of Judea2 and the city of Jerusalem3 came to John to be baptized. John baptized them in the Jordan River, probably by immersion. The Jordan River is the major river of Israel; it forms part of the eastern boundary of modern Israel. The area on either side of the Jordan River is desert wasteland. It was here that John lived, preached, and baptized.
6 John was a prophet of God, who announced the coming of the Savior Christ. As a prophet, he gave up worldly comfort and pleasure (Matthew 11:7-9). He led a life of poverty. Like other Old Testament prophets, he wore very rough clothing (2 Kings 1:8) and ate locusts, which only the poorest people ate.
7 John was the greatest and most powerful of all the Jewish prophets (Matthew 11:11). Yet he was not worthy to untie the thongs of the One coming after him—Jesus. According to Jewish custom, even the lowliest slave did not have to untie his master’s sandals; it was too demeaning a task for even a slave to perform. But here the greatest man born of woman was not worthy to do this lowly task for Jesus, because Jesus was not just a man—He was God Himself.
8 John only baptized with water. But Jesus baptized with the HOLY SPIRIT (Isaiah 44:3: Ezekiel 36:24-27; Joel 2:28-32). The Holy Spirit is God’s own Spirit, which enters a person when he or she believes in Christ. Or we can equally well say that the Holy Spirit is Christ’s Spirit; it is saying the same thing. Because the one true God is a “triune” God. That is, He has three forms, or persons:4 God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are one God.
Therefore, when a man accepts Jesus, Jesus comes into that man’s life in the form of the Holy Spirit (Revelation 3:20). In this way a man is born anew (see John 3:5 and comment). Through the Holy Spirit he becomes a new creation (see 2 Corinthians 5:17 and comment). And through the Holy Spirit he is anointed and empowered for ministry (see Acts 1:4-5 and comment). This is, broadly speaking, what it means to be baptized with the Holy Spirit (see General Article: Holy Spirit Baptism).
Therefore, John’s baptism with water was a temporary outward cleansing of sins. Water washes only the surface. But Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit is a permanent inward cleansing, a changing of the heart and the creating of new spiritual life within. The purpose of John’s baptism with water was to prepare men to receive the greater baptism of the Holy Spirit.
In the corresponding passage in Matthew 3:11, Matthew writes that Jesus will not only baptize with the Holy Spirit, but He will also baptize with fire. Fire, like water, is also a sign of cleansing, of burning away the chaff, the impurities, the burning away of our old sinful nature (Matthew 3:10,12; 1 Peter 1:7). Fire is a sign of God’s presence (see Acts 2:2-3 and comment). Fire is also a sign of JUDGMENT. Those who accept Christ will be saved on the day of judgment. Those who do not accept Christ will be condemned (see John 3:16-18,36 and comment).
The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus (1:9-13)
(Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22)
9 Jesus was raised in Nazareth, a town in Galilee, the northern province of Israel. He came with all the other Jews to be baptized.
Jesus Himself had no sin (Hebrews 4:14-15). Therefore, He did not need to be baptized for His own sake. Rather, He was baptized for our sake. Jesus, the Son of God, humbled Himself. He took our sins upon Himself. He came and received the death penalty for sin in our place. He was numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12). According to Matthew 3:13-15, Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. It was God’s righteous will that Jesus come to earth in the form of a man, take man’s sins upon Himself, and suffer the punishment for sin in man’s place. Therefore, because Jesus came to take man’s sins upon Himself, it was necessary for Him to be baptized like other men.
According to Matthew 3:14, John at first did not want to baptize Jesus. He somehow knew that Jesus was sinless, that He was different from all the other sinful men who were coming to be baptized. Compared with Jesus, John felt like a sinner who needed baptism himself.5
10-11 As Jesus was coming out of the water after being baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him (Isaiah 11:2; 42:1; 61:1). The Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove (Luke 3:22). Then God spoke from heaven saying to Jesus: “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (see verse 1 and comment). In this way God manifested to John and to all men that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Savior, the Son of God (Psalm 2:7).
Jesus did not suddenly become God’s Son and receive the Holy Spirit only at the time of His baptism. He had always been God’s Son from before the beginning of the world (John 1:1-3). The Holy Spirit had always been with Jesus; the Holy Spirit was Jesus’ own Spirit (Genesis 1:1-2). But at His baptism Jesus was made manifest as the Son of God publicly before men.
Therefore, in the beginning of his Gospel, Mark has made clear that the Jesus about whom he is writing is no ordinary man, but is the sinless Son of the living God, who has come to baptize men and women with the Holy Spirit and to save them from their sins.
12-13 Immediately after His baptism, Jesus was sent into the desert, where He was tempted by SATAN. Jesus came to earth to defeat and destroy Satan. Thus, right in the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus struggled with Satan and overcame him. Satan attempted to turn Jesus from obedience to God’s will by tempting Him, but Jesus remained firm. In this Jesus has set an example for us. He suffered every TEMPTATION we suffer (Hebrews 2:18: 4:15). Every Christian who determines to follow Jesus must be ready to face similar temptations from Satan. And as Jesus was victorious over temptation, so He gives us the strength to be victorious also.
For a full description of the temptations of Jesus, see Matthew 4:1-11 and comment.
The Calling of the First Disciples (1:14-20)
14-15 After John was put in prison,6 Jesus returned to Galilee and began to preach. His preaching was simple: “The time has come. The kingdom of God7 is near” (see 2 Corinthians 6:2). The kingdom of God is God’s presence, power, and rule in men’s hearts and in society. In a way, Christ was Himself God’s kingdom which had come to earth. Through Him the power of evil was broken and men began experiencing joy and peace and healing. Christ was the embodiment of God’s kingdom. When men and women accept Jesus, they become citizens of the kingdom of God. Jesus came to establish a new nation of believers, whose ruler is God (see Mark 9:1; John 3:3 and comments).
Therefore, Jesus says to us, “Repent and believe the good news” (verse 15). The first step always is to repent (Acts 2:38; 17:30). Repentance is not only feeling sorry for our sins; it is also turning from our sins. To truly repent of a sin means that we cease committing that sin. Otherwise our repentance is false.
When we have repented, we are ready for the second step: to believe in the Savior Jesus Christ. To “believe,” that is, to have FAITH in Christ means not only that we accept Him as Lord of our lives but that we also obey Him. If we say we believe in Jesus but do not obey Him, we are liars (see Matthew 7:21; James 2:14,17,20-24; 1 John 2:4 and comments).
The good news is this: Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and to give all who believe in Him eternal life (see John 3:16 and comment). This, in short, is the Gospel of Christ.
Thus Jesus gives everyone a choice: to be a citizen of the kingdom of God or to be a citizen of the kingdom of Satan; to believe and receive eternal life, or to disbelieve and receive eternal punishment. In this life there are only two choices (see Matthew 7:13-14 and comment).
16-20 Mark here describes how Jesus chose His first four disciples. First He met Simon8 and his brother Andrew fishing in the Sea of Galilee.9
Jesus said, “Come, follow me.” At once they left their work and followed Him (verse 18). In the same way, He called James and John (not John the Baptist); they, too, immediately arose, left their family, their boat, their work, and followed Him10 (see Luke 5:1-11 and comment). Like Abraham, they didn’t know where they were going (Hebrews 11:8); but they knew who they were going with.
Earlier, Simon and Andrew had met Jesus and believed in Him (see John 1:3542). Now Jesus was calling them to be His close disciples. He was telling them to leave everything and follow Him. In the same way, Jesus also calls us to be His disciples. He says to us only this: “Come, follow me.” Like Peter and Andrew, James and John, let us, too, rise and without a word of argument follow Jesus.
Jesus said to Simon (Peter) and Andrew, “I will make you fishers of men” (verse 17). Jesus took their natural abilities (as fishermen) and transformed them into something useful for the kingdom of God. In the same way, Jesus takes us and our natural gifts and abilities and transforms us into useful disciples fit for the work He has appointed us to do.
Finally, we can see that these disciples were ordinary men—fishermen. They were poor men. They had to work hard and endure hardship. They were uneducated. They were from Galilee, the most backward province of Israel. Yet Jesus chose these men to help establish His kingdom.
Jesus Drives Out an Evil Spirit (1:21-28)
21-22 Jesus and His four new disciples then went to Capernaum, Peter’s home town, near the Sea of Galilee. On the Sabbath—that is, Saturday—they went to the Jewish synagogue,11 where the Jews met each week. There Jesus was invited to teach the people. The people were amazed because He did not teach like the teachers of the law.12 These teachers of the law were scholars who knew all about the Jewish LAW, the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament), and other writings. These teachers taught not by their own authority but only with an authority derived from other writers. But Jesus taught by His own authority, which came directly from God (see Matthew 7:28-29 and comment).
23-28 One of the Jews in the synagogue was possessed by an EVIL SPIRIT. This evil spirit, or demon, immediately recognized who Jesus was. Though the others in the synagogue had read the prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament week after week, none of them recognized Jesus; only the evil spirit recognized Him. The evil spirit knew that Jesus had already overcome Satan during Jesus’ time of temptation in the desert (verse 13). He knew that Jesus had also come to destroy all of the evil spirits working under Satan. By saying Jesus’ name, the evil spirit hoped to prevent Jesus from exercising authority over him13 (verse 24).
But Jesus, with only a word, drove out the evil spirit, and the man was at once completely healed. Jesus’ power was in His word. The people were amazed. They had never seen anyone exercise authority over evil spirits like this.
We must remember that demon possession is not a form of mental disease. Demons, or evil spirits, are servants of the chief demon, Satan. They are workers of evil. When they come into a man, they make him a prisoner or slave of Satan. Only through the power of Jesus can these demons be overcome and the man be given freedom.
Jesus Heals Many (1:29-39)
(Matthew 8:14-17; Luke 4:38-44)
29-31 Jesus then went to Simon and Andrew’s house, where He healed Simon’s mother-in-law. She was healed so quickly and completely that she was able at once to get up and serve Jesus and the four disciples.
32-34 Jesus is known as the “Great Physician.” According to Matthew 8:16, on this occasion He healed all the sick. He didn’t use medicine. His “treatment” was always successful; the sick were healed immediately and completely. Matthew says that this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17).
The people brought the sick to Jesus after sunset, because it was against the Jewish law to move the sick on the Sabbath day. According to the law, no work of any kind could be done on the Sabbath.
Jesus also cast out DEMONS from all who were demon-possessed. Again, only the demons knew who He was. Other people thought He was only a wonder-worker. But Jesus forbade the demons to say who He was (verse 34). Except for the disciples, He did not want others to know He was the Christ. Otherwise, all the people would try to make Him an earthly king. They would not understand that He had come to earth to suffer and die for their sins (see Mark 10:45 and comment).
35-39 Even though Jesus was the Son of God, He still needed to be alone and to pray and receive strength from God. Therefore, before dawn Jesus went away to a solitary place to pray. The disciples couldn’t understand why He had left suddenly and for no apparent reason, because there were still sick people coming to be healed. But Jesus told them that He hadn’t come to earth only to heal the sick. He had come mainly to preach that men should repent and believe the Gospel (verses 14-15). But when crowds of sick people gathered, it was difficult to preach. Therefore, He and His disciples left Capernaum and traveled to other towns throughout Galilee.
A Man With Leprosy (1:40-45)
(Matthew 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-16)
40-42 A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged him on his knees to heal him: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” The man had faith in Jesus’ power, but he also submitted himself to Jesus’ will. So we, too, must pray with complete faith in Jesus and with earnestness. But at the same time we must also pray for Christ’s will to be done.
Christ was willing to heal the man. “Be clean!” He said. He healed the man’s leprosy by His word alone.
43-44 After Jesus healed the man with leprosy, He told him to go to the priest and offer sacrifices according to the commandment of Moses,14 that is, according to the Jewish law (Leviticus 14:1-20). Only the Jewish priests were qualified to determine if a leprosy victim had been cleansed or not. Therefore, Jesus wanted this man whom He had healed to be a witness, a testimony, to the priests and other Jews of the healing power that He possessed. Man is not healed and saved by following the law. Only through the power of Christ can man be healed and saved. Only through Christ’s power can the requirements of the law be fulfilled (see Romans 8:1-4 and comment).
45 In verse 44, Jesus had commanded the man with leprosy not to tell anyone about his healing (see verse 34 and comment). But the man, not obeying, announced the news everywhere, with the result that more and more people sought Jesus for healing. Therefore, Jesus could no longer go into the cities because of the crowds of sick people. Instead He preached in the countryside.