The Herald of the New King (Mark 1:1-8)

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way; The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight.’” John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (1:1-8)

No narrative is more compelling, and no message more essential, than the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the greatest story ever told because it centers on the greatest person to ever walk this earth. The history of His earthly ministry is perfectly recorded in four complementary accounts—written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Their writings, known collectively as the four Gospels, provide a factual record of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Matthew and John were apostolic eyewitnesses to the events of which they wrote; Luke thoroughly investigated the details of our Lord’s ministry in order to produce his testimony (cf. Luke 1:3-4); and, according to early church tradition, Mark wrote his gospel based on the preaching of the apostle Peter. Though penned by different men, these four accounts harmonize perfectly, providing their readers with a full-orbed understanding of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. (For an integrated harmony of the Gospels, see John MacArthur, One Perfect Life [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012].) Of the four gospel writers, only Mark used the word gospel (euangelion) to introduce his history of the Lord Jesus. In keeping with his quick, staccato style, Mark opens his account with one brief introductory phrase: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

The word gospel is a familiar one to us—frequently used to designate the first four books of the New Testament. But that is not how the biblical writers employed the term, nor is it how Mark uses it in the opening verse of his historical account. In the New Testament, the gospel is never a reference to a book; rather, it always refers to the message of salvation. That is Mark’s intended meaning here. His first-century audience would have understood the word “gospel” to mean “good news” or “glad tidings” of salvation. But it had an even more specific meaning that would have been familiar to both Jewish and Gentile people in ancient times.

First-century Jews would have been familiar with the word euangelion from its occurrence in the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. There it is used to speak of military victory, political triumph, or physical rescue (cf. 1 Sam. 31:9; 2 Sam. 4:10; 18:20-27; 2 Kings 7:9; Ps. 40:9). Significantly, the term is also found in a messianic context, where it points to the ultimate salvation of God’s people through the messianic King. Speaking of Israel’s future deliverance, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed:

Get yourself up on a high mountain,

O Zion, bearer of good news,

Lift up your voice mightily,

O Jerusalem, bearer of good news;

Lift it up, do not fear.

Say to the cities of Judah,

“Here is your God!”

Behold, the Lord God will come with might,

With His arm ruling for Him.

Behold, His reward is with Him

And His recompense before Him.

(Isa. 40:9-10)

In those verses, the Septuagint translates the Hebrew word for “good news” (basar) with forms of the Greek word euangelion. In Isaiah 40, this “good news” consisted of more than mere tidings of military victory or physical rescue. It encompassed a message of ultimate victory, triumph, and eternal rescue, making it the best news possible. After thirty-nine chapters of judgment and rebuke, Isaiah concluded his prophetic masterpiece (in chapters 40-66) with promises of hope and deliverance. Those promises proclaimed the reality of God’s future reign and the restoration of His people.

In Isaiah 52:7, we find another familiar proclamation of hope:

How lovely on the mountains

Are the feet of him who brings good news,

Who announces peace

And brings good news of happiness,

Who announces salvation,

And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

As in Isaiah 40:9, the prophet used the Hebrew term basar or “good news” (cf. Isa. 61:1-2), which is again translated by euangelion in the Septuagint. Significantly, this passage precedes Isaiah’s extended discussion of the Suffering Servant—the Messiah through whom this promised salvation would come (Isa. 52:13-53:12). When Mark stated that this was the gospel of Jesus Christ, his use of the word Christos (the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Messiah”) would have made this connection inescapable in the minds of those familiar with the Septuagint. The word gospel, which was associated with the Messiah, was a word of enthronement and royal exaltation; the glorious tidings of the King of kings coming to take His rightful throne.

The term euangelion also had special significance to those outside of Judaism. Though largely ignorant of Jewish history, first-century Romans would have similarly understood the term to refer to the good tidings of a coming king. A Roman inscription dating back to 9 b.c. provides insight into how the word gospel was understood in an ancient Gentile context. Speaking of the birth of Caesar Augustus, a portion of the inscription reads:

Whereas the Providence ... which has ordered the whole of our life, showing concern and zeal, has ordained the most perfect consummation for human life by giving to it Augustus, by filling him with virtue for doing the work of a benefactor among men, and by sending him, as it were, [as] a saviour for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease, to create order everywhere ... and whereas the birthday of the God [Augustus] was the beginning of the world of the glad tidings that have come to men through him... (Inscrip. Priene, cited from Gene L. Gree, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002] 94)

The inscription speaks of “glad tidings” (a form of euangelion) to describe the birth and reign of Caesar Augustus—a ruler whom the Romans regarded as their divine deliverer. The word gospel thus functioned as a technical term, even in secular society, to refer to the arrival, ascendency, and triumph of an emperor.

As these examples from both Jewish and pagan sources illustrate, the first-century readers of Mark’s account would have understood the gospel to be a royal pronouncement, declaring that a powerful monarch had arrived—one who would usher in a new order of salvation, peace, and blessing. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Mark chose that word in order to effectively communicate—both to Jews and to Gentiles—that he was presenting the good news of the divine King.

Mark opens his account by noting that this is the beginning of his royal declaration. Such naturally stands at the head of his historical account. Yet, it also serves as a reminder that what follows is not the end of the story. The history of Jesus Christ is still being written. The King has not fully taken His throne. One day, He will return to establish His kingdom and He will reign as the eternal Sovereign. Mark’s account only begins to tell the story of the arrival, ascendency, establishment, and enthronement of the new King who is far more glorious than all other kings.

In this way, Mark’s record of the life of the Lord Jesus opens with language that would signal to his readers that the most glorious King has come—and it is not Caesar. In fact, this divine Monarch sets Himself against all other earthly rivals including Caesar. He is the theme, not only of Mark’s history but of all history. And what is His name? Mark wastes no time in declaring who He is: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The name Jesus (Greek, Iesous) is His human name. It is a Greek form of the name Joshua (Hebrew, Yeshua), which means “Yahweh is salvation.” As the angel explained to Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The term Christ is not a name but a title. It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word translated “messiah,” which means “anointed one.” A royal title, it was used in the Old Testament to refer to the divinely appointed kings of Israel (cf. 1 Sam. 2:10; 2 Sam. 22:51) and ultimately to the great eschatological deliverer and ruler, the Messiah (Dan. 9:25-26; cf. Isa. 9:1-7; 11:1-5; 61:1). Any Jewish reader would have immediately understood the significance of the title—an explicit reference to the promised Savior of Israel.

The name Son of God speaks of Jesus’ lineage and right to rule. He is one in nature with God—coeternal and coequal with the Father. For those Roman pagans who wrongly regarded Caesar as a god, Mark introduces them to the true divine King: the Lord Jesus Christ. As Nathaniel said to Jesus, “You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel” (John 1:49). Throughout the course of His earthly ministry, Jesus repeatedly demonstrated Himself to be the divine King, and Mark is careful to present the overwhelming case to his readers (cf. 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 13:32; 15:39). In the first half of his gospel record (chapters 1-8), Mark highlights the Lord’s astonishing words and works. In the second half (chapters 9-16), he focuses on Jesus’ death and resurrection. Both sections reach the same inevitable conclusion: through His words, works, death, and resurrection, Jesus proved Himself to be the promised messianic King, the Son of God and Savior of the world. Peter’s confession articulates this theme in unmistakable language: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29; cf. Matt. 16:16). That this majestic confession stands in the middle of the book is certainly no accident. It represents the very heart of Mark’s message: the Lord Jesus is exactly who He claimed to be.

In his account of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Mark is consumed with the arrival of the greatest King ever: the messianic Monarch who will introduce His glorious kingdom of salvation and usher in a new era for the world. But Mark’s gospel is only the beginning of the good news because the story of Christ’s kingdom will continue through all of human history and into eternity. Mark introduces the sovereign Savior by looking at three facets of His royal arrival: the promise of the new King, the prophet of the new King, and the preeminence of the new King.