Searching for the true nature of Jesus
Who is Jesus, really? In the Gospel of Mark, the author is keenly interested in answering this question for his readers. And in this article, we will try to see what is Mark’s answer to this very important question. But that is not a novel theme found in Mark alone, for that seems to be the concern of much of the New Testament writing, found in the Bible. In these writings, Jesus identified himself in various ways and many times it was metaphorical in nature. He identified himself as the shepherd of the lost sheep, a physician for sin-sick people, the light for men living in darkness, a messenger of good news for the world and even the true vine whose branches bear fruit. But all those were metaphors, still leaving us with the question about his true nature.
What kind of Son of Man?
Other than the many metaphors that Jesus used, he generally referred to himself as ‘the Son of Man’. In the Old Testament, this title was often used to collectively refer to members of the human race (Ps. 8:4; Jb. 35:8). By using this title, Jesus was also probably showing himself to be a part of the human race. But when we survey all such usages by Jesus, we see that Jesus uses it in a more specific sense of referring to himself as an individual. For e.g. In Mk. 10:45 he says, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. He is claiming this for himself and not generally for the whole of mankind. It was an indirect way of saying ‘I’. But there is no doubt that his usage of the title left many more questions in the listener’s mind. Why would he call himself the ‘Son of Man’ and also say that ‘he can forgive sins’ (Mk. 2:10) and declare himself to be the ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ (Mk. 2:28), which were divine prerogatives in that culture. What kind of ‘Son of Man’ is this?
Son of David
We find that one point at which there ‘could’ have been a possible agreement between Jesus and his opponents about his identity was that of him being ‘the Messiah, Son of David’. How did the title of Messiah and Son of David come together for the Jews? God had promised many years back that King David’s throne will endure forever (2 Sam. 7:12-16). But contrary to this promise the nation of Israel faces severe setbacks in the form of foreigners who come and rule over them. And by the time of Jesus, the Romans were firmly in charge of the nation. But despite the setbacks, the Jews held on to the consistent promises made by God of a ‘son of David’ who would prove to be their deliverer. They began to expect a ‘Son of David’ who would become their ‘Messiah’. And Jesus clearly assumes both these titles without any protest (Mk. 8:29; Mk. 10:47-48). The Jews on their part were desperate for this human Messiah and they really had no reservations on Jesus filling that role for them. In fact, on his climactic entry in to Jerusalem, we see the Jews expecting this fulfilment when they cry out, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the Highest!” (Mk. 11:10). So, to answer the question, ‘what kind of son of man’? Jesus would obviously say, the one who is a descendant of David, the promised Messiah of Israel.
Is he also the Son of God?
But once again Jesus throws the spanner in to the works. Every time he proclaims himself to be ‘the Son of Man’ he would have this tendency to qualify it further. As if there was more to his identity than just being a son of David and the promised messiah of Israel. In Mk. 12:35-37, Jesus standing in the temple, questions the teaching of the scribes saying,
“How can the scribes say that the Christ (messiah) is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’’.
Primarily, Jesus was asking that if David himself prophesies that the Messiah would be his Lord, then how can we categorize the Messiah only as the ‘Son of David’? He was hinting that the messiah is not just a mere son of a human being but the very ‘Son of God’. Which really means that his origin is from God, and has a divine nature.
Although Jesus himself was never in a hurry to openly and clearly proclaim himself to be the Son of God, Mark says that there are enough testimonies to prove that he is indeed the Son of God. Mark begins to write his Gospel by saying “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk. 1:1). But his testimony is based on a more solid testimony from heaven, on the testimony of Father God who proclaims that Jesus is His Son (Mk. 1:11; also Mk. 9:7). This does not mean that Jesus was in any way created by the Father, in fact he pre-existed with the Father from all eternity. In fact, Paul says that he was a co-creator with the Father, “For by him all things were created… all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16). That is why John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:1, 3, 14). In other words, He is God who has now come down in human form.
Despite the great testimony from heaven, Jesus himself is very selective and subtle in proclaiming this truth with his own mouth. Although the religious leaders of Israel had enough doubts about the fact that Jesus is claiming to be God, in the Gospel of Mark this doubt is almost confirmed for the religious leaders (the Sanhedrin) when Jesus identifies himself to be the Son of God in the Parable of the Vineyard. Mark notes in Mk.12:12 that the Sanhedrin understood that the parable was spoken against them. Probably they also understood that the ‘son’ in the story was ‘Jesus’ (Mk. 12:6). And since then, they have been angry with him and have been itching to get this matter clarified with him.
Yes, Jesus is the Son of God!
And they get the opportunity to do that during Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. Due to Jesus’ hesitance in answering them, the High Priest puts him under an oath (Matt. 26:62-63) and asks him, “Are you the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the Blessed?” (Mk. 14:61). The Sanhedrin wants to know if Jesus is the human (Son of Man) Messiah, the Son of David or was Jesus claiming to be someone more radical, like being the ‘Son of God’. Due to the oath, Jesus finally answers their question which is also his first public and complete declaration of his own identity. To the High Priest’s question, he answers,
“I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mk. 14:62).
Jesus accepts that he is the Son of God and this radically qualifies his self-identity as the Son of Man. Therefore, he goes on to claim two specific things about his identity as the Son of Man: that this Son of Man will be seated at the right of God and then he will come with the clouds of heaven.
His first claim that he will be seated at the right hand of God, tells us that he will soon co-reign with God. And his reign as the Son of God begins on the day of his resurrection from the death (Rom. 1:4; Acts 2:32-33; 5:30-31) because it is on that day he shows himself to be more than just a mere ‘son of man’. It is on that day he defeats death which is sinful man’s greatest enemy. It makes him worthy to be coronated as the King of the Universe and the subjugation of all things under his feet remains a mere formality (1 Cor. 15:20-27). And this overlaps with Daniel’s vision of someone like a ‘Son of Man’ who approaches God on the clouds and receives the power to rule over everything (Dan. 7:13-14). This is where the titles, Son of God and ‘Son of Man’ become one, which was the case in Jesus’ mind from day one.
In Daniel we see the Son of Man approaching God to receive the power to rule. But here in Mark 14:62 Jesus adds that this ‘Son of Man’ who receives power will soon come down (to earth) on the clouds of heaven. This is his second claim. Jesus was referring to his second coming when he will come down to judge the world. I say this because he had used the same language of the ‘son of man coming on the clouds’ to talk about his second coming in Mk. 13:26. So after his enthronement as the Son of God, he then comes to judge the whole world on the clouds of heaven.
To conclude, although Jesus claims to be the Messiah and the Son of David and the Son of Man, all these titles are qualified by his ultimate identity of being the Son of God. One who by his victory over sin and death has proved his rightful position over everything in this world. And one day this reality would translate in to ‘every knee bowing to him and every tongue confessing that he is indeed Lord’ (Phil. 2:10-11). What this also means is that he will one day come to judge the whole world, which is a hope for his people but a stern warning for all those who have rejected him. And Mark would add that this warning is also for the Sanhedrin that sentenced Jesus to death. They who judged and rejected him 2000 years back will one day be judged by Him. And this leaves one question for all of us to answer, ‘on which side are we’? Have we received him only as a good man or as our Lord and Savior through whom we will gain our victory over sin and death? For that will decide our eternal destiny.