Over the years it has been claimed (again and again) that John presents Jesus as divine, and the Synoptic gospels, particularly Mark, present Jesus as human. Therefore, it is argued, we have different versions of Christology within early Christianity.
While we certainly can agree that different gospels have different emphases, and that they articulate Christological truths in their own ways, is it really the case that gospels like Mark view Jesus as merely human? Not at all. In fact, it is worth noting that Mark presents Jesus as God from the very opening few verses in his gospel, in a manner that is often missed on a quick reading of that passage.
For a gospel apparently written with a Gentile audience in mind, Mark does not begin his story of Jesus where we might expect. He doesn’t begin with Jesus’ birth, or his baptism, or with any other event in the first century. Instead, Mark reminds the reader that the story of the gospel began many generations before when God made promises to the people of Israel.
In other words, Mark does not present the Jesus as the start of a new story, but as the completion of an old one.
Mark accomplishes this by beginning his gospel with citations from the Old Testament. Let us consider the first one which is from Mal 3:1 (with a little help from Ex 23:20). When we compare Mark’s citation of Mal 3:1 with the original wording of Mal 3:1, some interesting things emerge:
Mark 1:2 (citing Mal 3:1): “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way”
Mal 3:1: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.”
The first notable observation is that in the original context of Mal 3:1, it is God himself who is coming. Notice that Mal 3:1 originally read “my messenger” who will prepare the way before “me.” The rest of Mal 3:1 (not cited by Mark) makes this clear, “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”
For Mark to apply Mal 3:1 to the coming of Jesus, which he is clearly doing, is a very plain way of saying that Jesus is God coming to visit his people. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise in Mal 3:1.
In order to make this point even more clearly, Mark offer a messianic interpretation of the verse. Mal 3:1 originally read “prepare the way before me,” but Mark changes the phrase to “who will prepare your way.”
By doing this, Mark introduces a third person into the OT citation. Originally, the verse spoke of God (who is coming) and the messenger (who is preparing the way). Now, with Mark’s adjustment, the text speaks of God, the messenger, and the one who is coming in God’s place.
And that one who is coming God’s place is none other than Jesus.
The fact that Mark is putting Jesus in the place of Yahweh is confirmed when we consider the second OT citation from Is 40:3:
Mark 1:3 (citing Is 40:3): “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
Is 40:3: A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Notice again that in the original context of Is 40:3, it is the LORD who is coming. And Mark applies this verse to Jesus. Moreover, notice that Mark offers another Christological change to his citation. Originally, Is 40:3 read “make straight…a highway for our God” but Mark changes it to “make his paths straight.”
Once again, Mark uses this little textual change to show that the coming of Yahweh, promised in Is 40:3, will be fulfilled by another coming in God’s place. And that person is Jesus.
In the end, Mark’s use of these OT passages is rather stunning. Rather than seeing Jesus as merely human, Mark wastes no time presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to come visit his people.
Thus, for Mark, Jesus is God.