Commentary on Mark: Mark 1:4

This, and the coming commentary on the following verses, serves as my response to those that deny that Peter preached water baptism on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Hold off until I get to Mark 1:8 before you cast me out of the synagogue. 🙂

Mark 1:4

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness…”

 In Acts 7:30, Stephen recalls how a messenger (angelos) appeared in the wilderness to Moses to call him to lead an Exodus from Egypt. Now, in Mark 1:4, a messenger (angelos) appears calling for a new type of Exodus.

The journey from Egypt to the wilderness to the Promised Land is a wonderful metaphor for what the church would have to endure and for what we all endure when we are called to leave something behind and march forward.

In the first century, the saints were called to leave behind everything they knew. They had to give up all of their attachment to “this age” in order to prepare themselves for “the age to come.” Jesus called this a new birth in John 3:3.

Paul, as the chief of all sinners, was called to be an example to all would-be believers (1 Timothy 1:15-16). His personal journey is representative of the church’s exodus in the first century (Romans 7:14-25).

In describing his own transformation, he said,

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

For Paul, giving up that which was for gain for him was a great loss, and he described the experience as suffering with Christ. Resurrection, for Paul, wasn’t about being physically raised at the end of time but joining Christ in dying to “this age” so that he could enjoy all the blessings of “the age to come.”

At his conversion, he followed the call of God into the wilderness, and, after much wandering and pain, attained to the resurrection.

We follow a similar journey: we live in Egypt, we hear God’s call, we wander in the wilderness, and then, after crucifying ourselves to the world, we are resurrected with Christ.  

“…preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Baptism, here, is baptism in water as seen in the account of Jesus’s baptism as well as in John’s own personal testimony in verse 8.

John’s baptism was a baptism of metanoias eis aphesin hamartiōn. That is, a baptism of reconsideration for the forgiveness of sins. This call to reconsideration involved a transformation of Israel’s view of the kingdom, worship, and the eschatological promises. It was a call to separate themselves from the violent mindset of Rome and ready themselves to receive the teaching and kingdom of the Messiah.

Now, the purpose of John’s water baptism was to bring about the forgiveness of sins. This is the exact expression in the Greek used to describe the blood of Jesus: “for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many eis aphesin hamartiōn” (Matthew 26:28). The article, though present in the English text of Mark, is not found in either Greek text.

To add to this observation, notice Peter’s words in Acts 2:38: “Peter said to them, ‘Metanoēsate, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ eis aphesin ⸀tōn hamartiōn ⸀hymōn; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

So, Peter commands his audience to undergo a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins – the same thing said of baptism of Mark 1:4. Now, this will come as a shock to some, so allow me to provide additional evidence: in Luke 16:16, Jesus says,

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.

The “gospel of the kingdom” had been preached since John, according to Jesus. This is the same gospel that Jesus Himself proclaimed in Matthew 4:23:

Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.

How does one respond to the gospel of the kingdom? Through repentance and baptism in water:

John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized. (John 3:23)

Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. (John 4:1-3)

As for why Jesus didn’t participate in baptizing people Himself, I imagine it’s for a similar reason to Paul in 1 Corinthians 1. He did not want individuals to claim superiority to others because of their baptizer:

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. (1 Corinthians 1:14-15).

They were all “baptized by the authority of Christ” regardless of who was doing the baptism, but some may claim special privilege if they had been baptized by Jesus Himself. It’s also possible that the church would have placed special emphasis on someone like that in ways that have been done to other saints.

Now, Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:38 and John’s baptism in Mark 1:4 is connected by the expression “gospel of the kingdom” because of what Jesus said in Matthew 24:14:

This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

Which means that when Peter stood up on Acts 2:38, he was operating not only on the great commission but upon Jesus’s words in Matthew 24:14, so he preached a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins like John. There is no grammatical or contextual reason up to this point in the narrative to reject this conclusion as far as I can tell.

Now, there is the teaching of Apollos and the belief of the Ephesians which deserves our attention:

Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; 26 and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (Acts 18:25)

This text does not indicate that Apollos himself was rebaptized. I believe this is because he was baptized prior to the ministry of Jesus. Though both baptisms were done in the same manner, under the same program (gospel of the kingdom), and for the same purpose (for the forgiveness of sins), there is a difference as we are about to see.

It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:1-6)

The distinction between the two baptisms, then, is as follows: one was to prepare the people for the Christ while the other was done in response to faith in Christ. This second baptism is also associated with the giving of the Spirit. These saints in Ephesus did not even know that the Spirit had been given yet.

This is also the distinction made by John himself in Mark, but we will get to that in the comments on that passage below.

For now, notice that Peter promised, in Acts 2:38, that those who would be baptized would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which, in Acts, always refers to the charismatic gifts that would accompany response to the great commission (Mark 16:15ff; Acts 8:20, 10:45, 11:17). The gift is a confirmation of the promise as we will notice.

I see no reason to deny the presence of water baptism in the teaching of the first century saints up to this point. If the response to the gospel of the kingdom was a baptism of repentance in water for the forgiveness of sins, I don’t see why that would change – especially when Phillip baptized the Eunuch with water in a similar way to John’s baptism of Jesus. Further reasons for this will be seen in the coming commentary.

One Reply to “Commentary on Mark: Mark 1:4”

  1. The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John,since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached,and everyone is forcing his way into it…isnt this proof that in the law and prophets something was taught and been contrast with something different been taught after
    the gospel of john,text looks like it suggest additional information after the law and the prophets?seems to sugguest more than the old testament been unveiled in the new,like i said maybe new or more revelation..

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