Mark 1:10 Commentary | Jesus Ascending, Heavens Tearing, Spirit Descending

Mark Commentary

Mark 1:10 Text & Translation

10 καὶ εὐθὺς ἀναβαίνων ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος εἶδεν σχιζομένους τοὺς οὐρανοὺς καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα ὡς περιστερὰν καταβαῖνον εἰς αὐτόν1

And straight away, after ascending up out of the water, He saw2 the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending like a dove into Him (Mk 1:10, AT)

Straight Away

Straight away (εὐθύς| euthys) is the adverbial form of the adjective translated “straight” in Mk 1:3 (i.e., make His paths straight).

The adverb, often translated immediately, occurs over 40 times in Mark.3

It is often used as a connecting particle between accounts (e.g, “so then”).4 It does not always literally mean immediately.5

Nonetheless, its repetition gives readers the impression that the narrative is progressing “at a breakneck or breathless pace”, 6 “heighten[ing] dramatic tension”.7

Unless it makes absolutely no sense, I will continue to translate this word straight away. 

It is general enough to not always mean immediately, and I want to preserve Mark’s repetition. I believe he does it for a reason.

Jesus’ Baptism: Ascent and Descent

Jesus ascending or coming up (ἀναβαίνω | anabainō) likely implies immersion8 (which is what the word baptize means).

Jesus’ ascent out of the water is paralleled with the descent (καταβαίνω | katabainō) of the Spirit.9

Heavens Torn Open

The text says that Jesus saw, 10 but this does not mean that only Jesus saw11(cf. Mt 3:16-17). John the Baptist saw as well (Jn 1:32-34).12

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” (Jn 1:32-34, NIV)

The word translated torn (σχίζω | schizō) means to split, “divide, separate”13 Matthew (Mt 3:16) and Luke (Lk 3:21) use a less violent word that simply means “to open” (ἀνοίγω | anoigō).14

Divine Blessing?

The heavens being torn open can imply “outpouring of divine blessing” (cf. Mal 3:10).15 For example:

12 The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none (Dt 28:12, NIV)16

23 Yet he gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens; 24 he rained down manna for the people to eat, he gave them the grain of heaven. 25 Human beings ate the bread of angels; he sent them all the food they could eat. (Ps 78:23-25, NIV).17

Divine Disclosure?

The heavens being torn open can also imply “divine disclosure” (cf. John 1:51; Acts 7:56;18 cf. Rev 4:1, 11:19).19 For example:

9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. (Ac 10:9-11, NIV).20

Before it is divinely disclosed to him that all food is now to be considered (ceremonially) clean (Ac 10:15), Peter sees heaven opened.

In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. (Eze 1:1, NIV).21

At the outset of Ezekiel’s prophecy, he also records seeing the heavens opened.

Interestingly, Jesus was about thirty years old when He began His public ministry (Lk 3:23).22

Divine Demonstration?

In the Septuagint (LXX), the ancient translation of the Old Testament, the word schizō also appears in Jewish literature for cataclysmic demonstrations of God’s power.”23 For example:

Referring to when Moses struck the rock in the wilderness and water miraculously sprang out for the thirsty Israelites (Ex 17:1-7; Num 20:11), Isaiah says:

They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock; he split [schizō] the rock and water gushed out. (Is 48:21, NIV cf. Zec 14:4).24

Also, in Exodus, it reads:

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided [schizō(Ex 14:21, NIV).25

God did not merely part the Red Sea — He split it! In addition, about the great Day of the LORD, Zechariah prophesies:

3 Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle. 4 On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split [schizō] in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. (Zec 14:3-4, NIV).26

The LORD has done and will do mighty works that entail splitting.

Divine Arrival

These are all possibilities, but we should probably see an allusion to Isaiah 64:1,27 where Isaiah asks the LORD to come down and deliver His people.28

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! (Is 64:1, NIV)

As it’s been said, “When Jesus comes out of the water, Mark tells us, all heaven breaks loose.”29

This word schizō appears only one other time in Mark. In Chapter 15:

The curtain of the temple was torn [schizō] in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:38-39, NIV).30

Both rendings are “supernatural occurrences revealing Jesus as the Son of God”;31 they serve as “bookends” (i.e., an inclusio)32 that bracket the entire Gospel of Mark.

Interestingly, as we mentioned in reference to John’s baptism (i.e., repentance-baptism), in the first exodus, God did not come down until the people were consecrated and washed (Ex 19:10).33

Descend Like a Dove

After the symbolic washing of John’s baptism, The Spirit comes down — like a dove.

Mark may not be saying that Spirit looks like a dove.34 Perhaps the Spirit has a “dove-like descent”,35 “like a dove coming gently down for a landing”.36

But it could mean that the Spirit did look like a dove.37 Luke is more explicit:

“and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove” (Lk 3:22a, NIV; cf. Mt 3:16; Jn 1:32-34).38

New Israel?

Writers used doves symbolically in various ways, but most often to refer to the people of Israel (cf. Hos 7:11).39 The Spirit was rarely likened to a dove.40

If the dove does represent Israel, then it may be the case, as one scholar writes, that:

“At the moment of his baptism Jesus is the one true Israelite, in whom the election of God is concentrated. The descent of the Spirit ‘as a dove’ indicates that he is the unique representative of the new Israel created through the Spirit.”41

New Creation?

Others think this alludes to God’s promise of a new world after the Flood, since Noah sent out a dove (Gen 8:10-12).42

Others believe it could allude to Genesis 1 where we read:

2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Gen 1:2, NIV).43

This could symbolically signify the beginning of a new creation (cf. 2 Cor 5:17).44

As one scholar writes:

“Many thought the end time would be like the beginning. Creation would be renewed and Paradise restored. The hovering of  God’s Spirit on Jesus like a dove was a sign that this new creation had begun. The beginning of the gospel  [cf. Mk 1:1] is then also the beginning of a new creation. This time, however, the Spirit hovers over a human being, not over a formless void, which suggests that God intends to transform humanity.”45

Yet, it might just be the case that the Spirit looked like a bird, and doves were common birds.46

Doves were seen as innocent (Mt 10:16) and were one of the few birds that were permitted by the Law to be sacrificed (Lev 1:14).47

However, perhaps we should not read too much symbolism into the Spirit being described as a dove.

No Ex Opere Operato

It is important to note that the Spirit descends after baptism, not during.48 Baptism is the occasion not the means or cause of the Spirit’s descent.49

Contrary to what some believe, baptism itself does not lead to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (i.e., ex opere operato).50

If one does not repent and believe the Gospel (Mk 1:15), if one goes down into the water, one will just come up a wet sinner!

In Acts, several people actually receive the Holy Spirit before baptism (but not before believing!):

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (Ac 10:44-48, NIV).

Descent Into Jesus

In Scripture, typically it is said that the Spirit comes upon someone (cf. Num 24:2, Judg 3:10, 11:29; 1 Sam 19:20, 23; 2 Ch 15:1; cf. Mt 3:16; Lk 3:22).51

For example, as we read about Samson in judges:

As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men. (Judg 15:14-15, NIV)

And with David in 1 Samuel:

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah. (1 Sam 16:13, NIV).52

This is interesting because prophecy about the Messiah (i.e., the Christ) in Isaiah 11 foretold that the Christ would be a descendant of David — who’s father was Jesse (1 Sam 16:1, 3, 5, 10) — and that the Spirit of the LORD would rest on Him:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD (Is 11:1-2, NIV; cf. Is 61:1).53

Here in Mark, however, the Spirit does not merely come upon or rest on Jesus, He descends into Jesus. Jesus is “Spirit-filled and Spirit-led”54

In Luke we read:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, (Lk 4:1, NIV).55

Jesus is “anointed by the very presence and power of God”.56 The Spirit empowers Jesus’ words and deeds.57

This confirms that Jesus is the Messiah (Mk 1:1; cf. Is 61:1).58 As we’ve previously stated, Messiah means Anointed One.59

Here, Jesus is anointed by the Spirit, fulfilling the (often misinterpreted) prophecy of Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Is 61:1, NIV)60

Jesus quotes this passage explicitly in Luke (Lk 4:18-19).

Also, contrary to what we read of figures in the Old Testament where the Spirit could come upon someone for just a certain period of time in their lives, this indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not temporary but permanent.61

This likely foreshadows how the Holy Spirit indwells those who are faithful to Christ even today (albeit in a way not comparable to how Christ was indwelt).

As it’s been said:

The Spirit will teach them, guide them into truth, remind them of what he taught them, and comfort them ([Jn 14:16–20, 26–27; 15:26–27; 16:5–16]). The same Spirit who filled and empowered Jesus at his baptism was poured out on the first disciples by the exalted Messiah on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4, 17, 33, 38). This same Spirit baptizes and empowers believers today (1 Cor 12:13). Christians can be successful only if they “abide” in Christ through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (John 15:1–8).62

Conclusion

After Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, he sees the heavens being torn open — likely indicating a divine arrival (cf. Is 64:1).

He also sees the Holy Spirit descending into Him like a dove, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy that the Anointed One (i.e., Christ, Messiah) would be anointed by the Spirit (Is 11:2, 61:1).

Jesus is permanently indwelt and empowered by the Spirit, perhaps foreshadowing how followers of Jesus are (to a lesser degree, of course) indwelt and empowered by the Spirit today.

For more commentary on Mark, please visit the Book Study Overview page. For the sources cited, please see the bibliography.

Sources

  1. Barbara Aland et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, Fifth Revised Edition (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2014), Mk 1:10.
  2. “Although Mark’s account of the baptism focuses strictly on Jesus rather than on the bystanders, as do Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts, he does not describe a subjective inner experience of Jesus. The emphasis on seeing and hearing attests to the empirical objectivity of the event.” Edwards, 36-37 cf. Stein, 58
  3. UBS, 27; Witherington, 74; Bock, 407; Brooks, 42; Edwards, 39; Stein, 56; Strauss, 71
  4. UBS, 27; Strauss, 71
  5. Witherington, 74; Stein, 56
  6. Witherington, 74 cf. Edwards, 39; Strauss, 71
  7. Brooks, 42
  8. Brooks, 42; Strauss, 72
  9. Lane, 55
  10. Witherington, 74; Kernaghan, 35; Bock, 407; Garland, 49
  11. cf. France, 74
  12. English, 39; France, 74; Strauss, 73
  13. NIDNTTE, 418 cf. EDNT, 318
  14. NIDNTTE, 419; Garland, 48; Edwards, 35.

  15. Deut 28:12; Ps 78:23 [LXX 77:23]; Mal 3:10; but note Gen 7:11; Isa 24:18; NIDNTTE, 419
  16. NIDNTTE, 419
  17. NIDNTTE, 419
  18. NIDNTTE, 419; cf. Keener, 130; France, 77
  19. Guelich, 32
  20. NIDNTTE, 419
  21. Keener, 130; English, 39; Garland, 48; cf. Lk 3:23; France, 77
  22. France, 77
  23. Edwards, 35-36
  24. Edwards, 35-36
  25. Edwards, 35-36
  26. Edwards, 35-36
  27. NIDNTTE, 419; Witherington, 74; Kernaghan, 35; Garland, 48; Brooks, 42; Lane, 55; Guelich, 32; Edwards, 34; cf. Keener, 130; France, 77; Strauss, 72; contra Stein, 57
  28. Bock, 407
  29. Garland, 48
  30. Bock, 407; Brooks, 42; Edwards, 35-36; France, 74; Stein, 56; Strauss, 72
  31. Edwards, 35-36
  32. Strauss, 72
  33. Lane, 55
  34. Witherington, 74; Bock, 407; Garland, 48
  35. BDAG, 806
  36. Witherington, 74 cf. Bock, 407; Garland, 48
  37. Schnabel, 45; Edwards, 36
  38. Guelich, 32; France, 78
  39. Keener, 130; Lane, 56; cf. Hos 7:11; France, 78
  40. Keener, 130
  41. Lane, 57
  42. Keener, 130; Cole, 109; cf. 1 Pet 3:20-21; France, 79; Strauss, 72; contra Schnabel, 45
  43. English, 40; Garland, 48; Cole, 108 cf. 2 Cor 5:17; Brooks, 43; Lane, 56; Edwards, 36; France, 79; Strauss, 72; contra Schnabel, 45; contra Stein, 57
  44. Brooks, 43
  45. Garland, 48-49
  46. France, 79
  47. Stein, 57
  48. Witherington, 74
  49. Guelich, 31; Stein, 56
  50. Ex Opere Operato. The historic Catholic view is that sacraments operate ex opere operato (from the work done). This position became official at the Council of Trent (1545–63). Canon VIII of the seventh session opposed the view that “grace is not conferred through the act performed, but that faith alone in the divine promise suffices for the obtaining of grace.” The condition for the recipient is only that one does not place an obstacle (obex, sinful act or disposition) against the sacrament’s administration. Grace is given by God when the sacrament is conferred rightly by the church. This ex opere operato working makes the sacraments unique conductors of divine grace.

    “The Reformers rejected this view. Calvin said that it contradicted the nature of the sacraments. Protestants stressed the need for faith to be present in the recipient for a sacrament to have validity. Sacraments are instruments used by God to confirm the word of his promise.”

    Donald K. McKim, “Ex Opere Operato,” ed. Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017), 299.

  51. UBS, 28; cf. France, 77
  52. Schnabel, 45; France, 77
  53. Schnabel, 45; Guelich, 32; France, 77; Stein, 57; Strauss, 72
  54. UBS, 29 cf. Edwards, 36; France, 78
  55. Guelich, 37
  56. Witherington, 75 cf. France, 74
  57. Witherington, 75; Strauss, 72
  58. Schnabel, 45
  59. Stein, 54; Strauss, 72
  60. Schnabel, 45
  61. France, 78
  62. Strauss, 75
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