Mark 1:9 Commentary | Jesus From Where? Baptized by Who?

Mark Commentary

Mark 1:9 Text & Translation

9 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις ἦλθεν Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ Ναζαρὲτ τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ ἐβαπτίσθη εἰς τὸν Ἰορδάνην ὑπὸ Ἰωάννου.1

And it came to pass,2 in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John (Mark 1:9, AT)

Jesus From Where?

There may be a parallel in the wording of Mark 1:9 and Mark 1:5. As we mentioned earlier, our translation of Mark 1:5 reads:

(And) 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)

Mark may be contrasting the One (i.e. Jesus) vs. all the people, as well as Nazareth of Galilee vs. Jerusalem of Judah.3

Nazareth was an insignificant village;4 Jerusalem was religious center of Judaism.5

Nazareth is not even mentioned in the Old Testament — 6 or by Josephus or the Talmud.7 It seems that it was only a town of about 400 people.8

Although Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Mt 2:1; Lk 2:4), likely around 6-4 BC,9  Nazareth was likely where Jesus grew up (cf. (Mt 2:23; Lk 2:39-40, 4:16).10

How ironic: here we have the Messiah, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1) who is just a small town boy!11

In addition, apparently, there was a mutual distrust/hostility between the people of Judea in the south and the people of Galilee in the north (cf. Mk 14:67, 70; Jn 7:40-52; esp Jn 7:52).12

One might expect the Messiah to come from the holy city of Jerusalem in Judah; instead He comes from the lowly town of Nazareth in Galilee.

In John 1, Nathanael asks:

Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (Jn 1:46a, NIV).13

In any case, The Stronger One — who was to come after John (Mk 1:7) — has come.14

Jesus Baptized by Who?

There is an interesting juxtaposition between Mark 1:8 and Mark 1:9: John said he baptized by water but the One who would come after Him (Mk 1:7) would baptize by the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:8).

Then Jesus is baptized by John…15 This certainly can cause some head-scratching.

The New Testament tells us that Jesus was sinless (cf. 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:22, etc.). Yet, Mark tells us that John the Baptist proclaimed a repentance-baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Mk 1:4).

So, especially since Mark does not mention a reason, Jesus being baptized by John is puzzling.16

In Matthew, this tension is alleviated:

14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. (Mt 3:14-15, NIV).17

But Mark seems content to let readers sit in this theological tension.

Criterion of Embarrassment

Nonetheless, because this is potentially embarrassing, it speaks to the event’s authenticity.18

If someone asked me how I got a certain scar, and I start telling them how I was heroically chasing down a man who had stolen some poor old lady’s purse, one might suspect that I am embellishing.

I am likely stretching the truth to present myself in a positive light.

On the other hand, if I say that someone blocked my shot on the basketball court and I fell… this is likely true (it is true in my case!).

When people lie, they usually lie to elevate themselves, not to embarrass themselves. Historians use this reasoning and call it the criterion of embarrassment.

Thus, because of the embarrassment and tension, we can have great confidence that this truly happened. For if Mark was making up a story, why would he include this?

Or why would he include that Peter opposed Jesus and was called Satan (Mk 8:33)? Or that Peter denied Jesus three times (Mk 14:30, 66-72)?

Or that one of His own disciples betrayed Him (Mk 14:43-46)? Or that His own disciples deserted Him (Mk 14:40)?

If Mark was writing a fairy tale, one would expect him to omit some of these embarrasing facts.

Two Baptisms of Jesus

That being said, Christ’s baptism can be historically true and yet theologically puzzling.

By being baptized, Jesus identifies with the people He has come to save.19 Like Moses, who was raised in Pharoah’s palace (cf. Ex 2:9-10), He gives up His regal status to enter the ranks of His people.20

Jesus did not need to repent from sin at His first baptism; He did not deserve to die because of sin at His second baptism — His death (cf. Rom 6:3-4).

When James and John ask to sit at Jesus’ right hand and left hand in glory, Jesus says:

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mk 10:38, NIV)

Later in Mark, Jesus will refer to His death on the cross as His metaphorical cup (Mk 14:23-24, 36).21 In Mark 14 he says:

36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will. (Mk 14:36, NIV)

This cup likely alludes to the Old Testament notion of the “cup of judgment”. (Ps 75:8; Is 51:17-23; Jer 25:15-29, 49:12; Lam 4:21; Zec 12:2).22

For example, as we read in Jeremiah:

15 This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. (Jer 25:15, NIV)

Similarly, the baptism Jesus refers to in Mk 10:38 also refers metaphorically to His death (cf. Lk 12:50; Ps 69:2, 14-15).23

I say all that to say, Mark is bracketed by Jesus’ two baptisms — in the water and on the cross.24

Neither was due to His own sin, but for His identification with and the salvation of His people.

Conclusion

Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God (Mk 1:1), the Stronger One — who was to come after John the Baptist (Mk 1:7) — comes. But He comes from an unexpected place (i.e., Nazareth) and does the unexpected (i.e., being baptized by John).

Throughout Mark, He will continue to correct everyone’s expectations about what it means to be the Messiah. It entails identifying with His people and their sin — both in the water and on the cross — in order to save them.

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 1:9
  2. ““It came to pass in those days” ([NIV] “at the time”), is a phrase that has a scriptural ring to it (Judg. 19:1; 1 Sam. 28:1)” Garland, 47. “By echoing the language of the OT, Mark recalls the story’s OT background and reinforces his fulfillment theme (Mark 1:2).”
  3. Witherington, 73; Lane, 54; cf. France, 76
  4. Witherington, 73
  5. cf. Garland, 47; Lane, 54
  6. Garland, 47; Lane, 54
  7. Schnabel, 44; Brooks, 42; France, 75; Stein, 55.

    “Talmud. Word meaning “to study,” “to learn.” It is a body of literature in Hebrew and Aramaic, covering interpretations of legal portions of the OT, progressive establishment of traditional materials, and addition of a body of wise counsel from many rabbinical sources, spanning a time period from shortly after Ezra at about 400 BC. until approximately the AD 500s.”

    Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Talmud,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2031.

  8. Schnabel, 44
  9. “Both Matthew and Luke record that, though he grew up in Nazareth, Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea (Matt 2:1, 23; Luke 2:4, 39). Herod the Great died in 4 BC, so Jesus must have been born shortly before this, around 6–4 BC. Luke identifies Jesus’ age at the beginning of his public ministry as ‘about thirty years old’ (Luke 3:23). These approximations result in uncertainties concerning the dates and length of Jesus’ ministry.” Strauss, 71.
  10. Brooks, 42; cf. Edwards, 34
  11. cf. “…one might expect a more eye-catching appearance for the greater successor to John…” Garland, 47
  12. France, 75
  13. English, 38; Schnabel, 44; France, 75; Strauss, 71
  14. Stein, 55
  15. cf. Lane, 54; France, 75; cf. Stein, 55
  16. Garland, 47; Cole, 107; Brooks, 42
  17. English, 39; Garland, 47; Cole, 107; Schnabel, 45; Brooks, 42; Guelich, 31; France, 75; Stein, 55; Strauss, 75
  18. English, 39; Brooks, 42; Stein, 55
  19. English, 39; Bock, 409; Schnabel, 45
  20. Garland, 53; Lane, 55
  21. Keener, 155
  22. Keener, 155
  23. Keener, 155
  24. Witherington, 79
About @DannyScottonJr 219 Articles
Imperfect Servant ✝📖⛪ | Husband | Princeton U. Alum | M. Div. | Assistant (to the) Pastor | Sound Doctrine & Apologetics @catchforchrist