Mark 1:5-6 Commentary: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jordan

Mark Commentary

Mark 1:5-6 Text & Translation

5 καὶ ἐξεπορεύετο πρὸς αὐτὸν πᾶσα ἡ Ἰουδαία χώρα καὶ οἱ Ἱεροσολυμῖται πάντες, καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο ὑπʼ αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ Ἰορδάνῃ ποταμῷ ἐξομολογούμενοι τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν.1

The whole land of Judah and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sin. (Mk 1:5, AT)

6 καὶ ἦν ὁ Ἰωάννης ἐνδεδυμένος τρίχας4 καμήλου καὶ ζώνην δερματίνην περὶ τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐσθίων ἀκρίδας καὶ μέλι ἄγριον.2

John was clothed with camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and [would] eat locusts and wild honey. (Mk 1:6, AT)

Dunked in the Jordan

I always really wanted to dunk on somebody (in basketball). Now I really want to dunk somebody (in baptism).

Whole land is likely an exaggeration (hyperbole).3 Apparently, there were 60,000 – 70,000 people living in Jerusalem at the time.4

Nonetheless, the point is: John’s ministry was very popular.

Confess (ὁμολογέω | homologeō) means “to make an admission of wrong-doing/sin.”5

The Jordan River is where Jacob crossed to meet Esau (Genesis 33).6

Also, Joshua (the Hebrew equivalent of the name Jesus) led Israel across the Jordan into the Promised Land (Joshua 3).7

Moreover, both Elijah (2 Ki 2:6-14) and Elisha (2 Ki 5:8-14) ministered near the Jordan.8

Christ’s crucifixion and Resurrection likely took place around AD 30. This would place John the Baptist’s ministry around AD 26/27.9

At this point, it had been about four hundred years since the prophet Malachi (who was considered to be the last true prophet). Jews were eagerly awaiting salvation from the yoke of their Roman oppressors.10

It seems there was quite a bit of excitement and anticipation; God was about to act and deliver His people.

Eccentric Dress & Diet

Belt (ζώνη | zōnē) is actually a  “girdle”,11 which is is related to ζώννυμι (zōnnymi) meaning “to gird… oneself”.12

This is not exactly a belt; it held one’s robe around one’s waist to allow for quicker movement.13 In the house, garments were ungirded. “Girding denotes preparation for activity”,14 hence the expression: “gird yourself”.

Locusts were considered (ceremonially) clean (Lev 11:20-23).16

Prophetic Dress & Diet

If I described someone wearing a blue uniform, with a taser and gun on their belt, driving a car with flashing lights, who would come to mind? A police officer.

If I described someone wearing a white hat and a white shirt, with a spatula in their hand, who would come to mind? A chef.

If I described someone wearing a white coat, with charts in their hand, and a stethoscrope around their neck…? A doctor.

Here we read of John the Baptist clothed in camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. In Zechariah, it appears that prophets wore garments of hair:

“…They will not put on a prophet’s garment of hair in order to deceive. (Zec 13:4b, NIV).17

Moreover, this description doesn’t bring to mind just any prophet, but a certain prophet in particular. As we find in 2 Kings:

7 The king asked them, “What kind of man was it who came to meet you and told you this?” 8 They replied, “He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.” (2 Ki 1:7-8, NIV; cf. Mal 3:1, 4:5).18 cf. Lk 1:15, 80; 7:25)19

The language is nearly identical.

John the Baptist –> Elijah?

As we’ve said, many Jews believed that Malachi was the last true prophet.20

Many also thought Elijah, who did not die (2 Ki 2:11) would return before God established His end-time (eschatological) kingdom.21

As we mentioned in the previous commentary on Mark 1:2-3, John the Baptist fulfills the prophecy of the LORD’s messenger who was to prepare His way in Malachi 3:1. Later in Malachi 4, it reads:

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. (Mal 4:5, NIV).22

As we’ve seen, John the Baptist’s clothing was like that of a prophet,23 and He is the prophetic forerunner of the Lord (i.e., Jesus).24

Furthermore, though some doubt it, it is likely that John the Baptist is being paralleled to Elijah.25

Later in Mark, it seems that even Jesus makes this connection. After John the Baptist is beheaded (Mk 6:14-29), in Mark 9 it says:

And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” 12 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? 13 But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” (Mk 9:11-13, NIV).26

Here, Jesus is likely referring to John the Baptist who came and was executed before Him.

As we’ve said in a previous sermon, this is even more explicit in Matthew.

In Matthew 11:14, when describing John, Jesus says, “…he is the Elijah who was to come.” (Mt 11:14b, NIV cf. Mt 17:11-13; esp. Mt 17:13).

Conclusion

John the Baptist has a popular ministry of repentance-baptism in the wilderness at the Jordan River, a location with a rich Old Testament history. The people of Jerusalem were coming out in droves, confessing their sin.

Moreover, John is dressed like a prophet — likely the prophet Elijah, who was prophesied to come before the coming of the LORD Himself (as John comes before the Lord Jesus).

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

Sources

  1. Barbara Aland et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, Fifth Revised Edition (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2014), Mk 1:5.
  2. Barbara Aland et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, Fifth Revised Edition (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2014), Mk 1:6.
  3. cf. English, 32; Witherington, 73; Brooks, 41; Guelich, 20; Stein, 46; Strauss, 65
  4. Schnabel, 41
  5. BDAG, 351 cf. EDNT, 9; NIDNTTE, 509
  6. cf. Genesis 13 English, 31
  7. English, 31
  8. Bock, 404 cf. English, 31; Edwards, 29
  9. Schnabel, 38
  10. English, 32 cf. Kernaghan, 30
  11. NIDNTTE, 372
  12. NIDNTTE, 372
  13. UBS, 20
  14. BDAG, 730
  15. Witherington, 73; Edwards, 32; Schnabel, 42; France, 69;Stein,49;Strauss, 65.

    “This was not all that John ate, but it was what the tradition and Mark wanted to emphasize. John’s eating habits are referred to in several places in the tradition. Like a nazirite (Num. 6:2–21; Judg. 13:2–7), he drank no wine (Luke 1:15; 7:33), for he was set aside by God for a holy task, and his ascetic eating habits were well known (Luke 7:33/Matt. 11:18). The nature of his eating is emphasized by Mark to show that John ministered in the ‘wilderness,’ where he preached in fulfillment of Isa. 40:3.”15Stein, 49

  16. UBS, 20; Garland, 46; Edwards, 32; Schnabel, 42; France, 69; Guelich, 21; Stein, 47; Strauss, 65
  17. NIDNTTE, 372;
  18. UBS, 20; cf. English, 33; Witherington, 73; Bock, 404; Cole T, 107; Garland, 46; Brooks, 40; Lane, 51; Edwards, 32; Schnabel, 42; France, 69; Guelich, 21; Stein, 47; Strauss, 65
  19. Keener, 129; France, 62
  20. Edwards, 27
  21. Keener, 129; Bock, 406; Kernaghan, 29; Garland, 46; Brooks, 40; Lane, 45; Edwards, 27; Schnabel, 42; France, 63; Guelich, 10; Stein, 48; Strauss, 62
  22. Cole, 950; Keener, 129; Guelich, 21
  23. Keener, 129
  24. Bock, 404; Kernaghan, 31; Garland, 44; Edwards, 29; Stein, 39; Stein, 47; contra Guelich, 21
  25. Bock, 406;Garland, 46;Brooks, 40;Lane, 51;France, 69;Stein, 47;Strauss, 62
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