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Topic: Theology Proper

The Theological Setting of Mark's Picture of Jesus

by Darrel Cline

There are a whole host of concepts that affect our understanding of what a writer tries to communicate with his words. This is true of all communication, not just written material. However, when it comes to the Bible, the issues become more than just a matter of passing interest or lack thereof. If the Bible is a revelation from God through men to men, it must be true. And if it is true, its truth is critical because it addresses all of our daily concerns in the light of final realities. It is how we perceive these final realities that guides our perception of the daily concerns. As the apostle said, "If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." In other words, final reality has something serious to say about temporal activity.


Biblical authors were Spirit-empowered masters of word-craft. Sometimes they plumbed the depths of infinity with their remarks, and sometimes they so succinctly summarized their thinking that they became masters of understatement. Who has never read Paul without getting lost? And who has thought about John's summary of the Promise as "eternal life" without going by it so fast that the summary of the Promise escaped them? Thus, the depth and the simplicity combine to set a significant task before us when we attempt to give Mark's picture of Jesus a theological setting.

But we have to start somewhere. So, for the purposes of this effort, we will start with the assumptions of revelation in general. What is the first major assumption of Mark as he picks up his quill to attempt to word-paint a picture of Jesus? Perhaps this: that God is, and that He has man's well being somewhere near the top of His value system.

Why do I say this?

Because Mark did write. If there is no God, there would be no point in writing about God; i. e. there isn't much sense in writing about God if He is not. And there is no rationale for writing for, and about, God if He doesn't care what happens to men; i.e. if God had no care for man, silence would be quite an effective tool for his destruction. What I mean is this: even with divine communication, man has done a tolerably good job of setting the stage for his own destruction, so what would things have been like if there were no words from God? The fact that God has spoken to men, through men, has to mean that He cares somewhat about how men fare in eternity. As I said, if He didn't exist, all God-talk would be meaningless; and if He didn't care, silence would be an effective method of man's demise.

Most folks don't realize that it is the reality of God that gives their lives meaning. Think for a brief minute about the significance of life and all of its particulars (thoughts, actions, dreams, goals, etc.). What significance do those things have if physical death is also final extinction? What will it mean to a person who is not what happens after he has been? You might want to read that sentence again! In the final analysis, significance only exists if the person who is concerned about it also exists. Maybe an illustration will help. Many of our politicians, once they have had their say in the details of the way they have impacted our lives, begin to think about how history will treat them long after they have passed off the scene. Why? They cannot tell how history will treat them long after they have passed from the scene because they have no omniscience-based foresight as to how men will think of them years after they have died. And, frankly, it will not matter to them how men think of them after they cannot participate in that thinking. Once they die, if they have ceased to exist, what will have been the point in all of their worrying about what men would think of them? So, the question still begs for an answer: Why?

I'd like to suggest that men intuitively sense that significance is a real issue. But for it to be a real issue, they have to exist. Thus, only continuing existence gives meaning to anything. And that means that there must be a God Who underwrites continuing existence in order for significance to be more than a passing notion. If man is nothing more than a highly evolved machine, his existence has no significance beyond the immediate minute because that is all the existence of which he has any guarantee. Significance is tied inextricably to existing. And existing is inextricably tied to the eternal God. So it is, after all, God Who makes significance a real issue in our lives.

A second suggestion is this: not only do men intuitively sense that significance is a real issue, they also sense that significance has to do with the value with which other persons hold them. There are those who attempt to find their significance in the adoration of their dog or cat or horse or (well, you get the picture). Those folks are not deeply satisfied; they are only attempting to stave off their sense of insignificance by leaning desperately upon their pets' need of them. The rest of us are painfully aware that if all others consider us worthless, we are. By the same token, if someone values us, we are valuable. This is not a comfortable position to be in (given the fickle nature of everyone we have ever met in this physical existence -- who hasn't proven to be fickle in love and hate?), but it is one which we can only deny with difficulty and no success. This means that it is, again, God Who gives true meaning to our existence, for He alone is not fickle and He alone really matters when it comes to deciding who or what is valuable. If all men think me of great value, but God does not, I am not of much value. By the same token, if God thinks me of great value, but men do not, I retain my value simply because God defines final reality, not fickle men.

So men do worry about their long-term significance. They do it intuitively, and they all do it. No one escapes the longing to be of value.

If that is so, God must have had a hand in it. And if He had a hand in it, His willingness to communicate with us in unchanging words must mean that He holds men in high enough value to attempt to impart some truth to them. Thus Mark wrote with the undergirding assumption that God is and that He has some concern about the final condition of men after this life is over.


Mark did not write only under the assumption of God's existence and of the value He placed upon men. He also wrote under the assumption that man's value-consciousness would push him to seek a way to be of significance. This is, technically, only "theological" in that God made man with the various drives and interests which he has, but it needs to be a part of our theology of Mark's picture of Jesus.


Because Mark painted a word-picture of Jesus in light of the way man is. Without God, man has no significance. But man is committed heart and soul to a pursuit of significance -- and many times he does this all of his lifetime without ever turning to God. (Talk about long-term frustration!) However, it is this commitment on the part of man, whom God values highly enough to address in words, that forms a part of the theological orientation of Mark's picture of Jesus. God is the solution to the needs of man. That sounds like a trite cliche, but it is not: it is, rather, one of those simple summaries of infinite truth that is more profound than man can ever grasp with any kind of fullness of comprehension.

That is why Jesus has four portraits in the New Testament. Each of the four address man from a different perspective. Matthew's perspective, arising out of his own personal relational chaos as a tax collector in an apostate theocracy, is a perspective of Jesus as the solution to the soul-needs of man as He addresses the issues of relationships and the inescapable part that behavior has in sustaining or destroying them. John's perspective, arising out of his own lust for life, is a perspective of Jesus as the Author of 120-180 gallons of joy. He addressed the quest of man for the essence of life. Luke, as a physician, wrote a picture of Jesus that addressed the difficulties man has in light of his physical identity and his problem of trying to find life without giving the spirit a sufficient consideration. Luke is the ideal answer for the "man is just a highly evolved machine" crowd. Mark, the particular object of our study, saw Jesus as the Servant God (see the first tome, "Mark's Picture of Jesus") because his interest was in attempting to give men the directions on how they could find the significance they lust after. Each of these four writers assumed that God is the answer to the needs of His own creatures.

So Mark wrote with a perspective of man as significance-driven. His picture of Jesus is a presentation of how that drivenness can be satisfied by the Servant God.


Mark not only believed in the God Who cares, and in the God Who satisfies the lust for significance, he also believed in a third issue: the inevitability of the eternal kingdom of God.

Thus he labored under the powerful conviction that the future will hold the enduring existence of a Kingdom over which God will rule without challenge. This meant a couple of things to him. First, it meant that every man has an appointment with the future that he cannot escape, nor will he be able, afterwards, to alter the decision about his worth that is handed down at the time of his appointment. The kingdom of God is coming. Man's best response is to prepare himself for this as an inescapable reality.

But the Kingdom's arrival is not supposed to be bad news. This is the second perspective Mark took in light of the inevitability of it. It is to be the dawning of the utopia of the prophets' declared ecstasy. There is a way to be prepared for, not only acceptance into the Kingdom, but also active participation in the activities of that eternal joy. Jesus is that Way. Mark's picture of Jesus is deliberately slanted to give men the key to entrance into, and participation in, the Ideal finally Realized. Jesus is coming again; and when He comes, the Kingdom of Promise is to be finally established. In that day, God's existence will not be challenged by the so-called intellectual elite (whom the Bible simply calls sinners who refuse to seek pardon), nor will His concern be challenged because the scars will be visible in the hands of the One Who renders His judgment, nor will man's interest in significance be shunted aside because he has an appointment with either a complete rejection from the Kingdom, or a blessed position of service within it. Man's future depends significantly upon whether he has come to grips with the theological orientation of Mark's picture of Jesus.

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This is article #321.
If you wish, you may contact Darrel as darrelcline at this site.