John the Baptist and Jesus
If you had the responsibility of sharing vital information with all of humanity, where would you start? Would you tell every news outlet? Post on social media with a catchy hashtag? How would you tell people what’s coming and how to be ready for it?
God spent centuries preparing His people for the most important event in human history. In fact, that’s the story of the Old Testament—God preparing His people. Mark wants his reader to understand that while he is describing the beginning of the gospel, it is not the beginning of God’s plan of redemption. God has been preparing the world for this event from all the way back in Eden (Genesis 3:15).
Preparing God's People
Mark grounds his gospel in the Old Testament by quoting the prophets Isaiah and Malachi. He reminds us how God promised that before the Messiah’s arrival, He would send a messenger to prepare the people. Enter John the Baptist.
Not only did John’s words line up with God’s message but everything about him fit the bill. His call to repentance from a camp in the wilderness reminded the people of Isaiah’s call to leave exile for deliverance. He wore the clothes of a prophet. Everything about John—his words, clothes, food, and where he lived— was a sign to the people. It’s as if he was a walking, breathing billboard shouting, “I am the messenger, and the Messiah is coming!”
And it worked! Mark 1:5 tells us, “all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (emphasis added). How amazing is that? John prepared the people for Jesus! And that’s exactly what he told them he was doing. In verses 7 and 8 we read John’s words about the One coming after him.
We first see Jesus in verse 9 as he comes to the Jordan to be baptized by John. It raises the question, why did Jesus need to be baptized? Verse 4 tells us that John’s baptism was one of repentance. If Jesus was the perfect Messiah, why would He need to be baptized? By submitting to baptism, Jesus publically aligned Himself with fallen humanity. Jesus demonstrated that He was taking our side through this powerfully symbolic act.
In verse 12, we come to one of Mark’s favorite words, immediately. In this fast-paced story, every moment holds incredible meaning. After Jesus’ baptism (where He publicly aligned Himself with sinful humanity), the Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. Mark uses only a few words to describe this scene, perhaps because he wanted to emphasize that Jesus was tempted throughout His earthly life. We know from the other gospel writers that Jesus did not give into temptation (Matthew 4:1–11, Luke 4:1–13). As the writer of Hebrews put it, “We do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).