The Passion Accounts of Mark and John (Part 1)

For Mark, Jesus was a divine figure sent by God, whose death and resurrection made his life intelligible, heralded the coming “end of the age”, and created hope in a post-war Judea. Because of this Christology, Mark presents the passion as the experience of a divinely appointed emissary who was accursed of blasphemy, and sent to a noble, sacrificial death for all. John, on the other hand, saw Jesus as the pre-existent, completely divine Logos whose incarnation was the coming of the Son of Man – hence, the judgment occurred with his arrival. John, subsequently, displays a passion account of a savior rejected by the world, but who also brings redeems his followers from darkness. For both authors, a sociological circumstance illuminates the significance of Jesus, creating a Christological passion tailored to the experience of the “true” followers of Christ, reflecting their experience of rejection and disillusionment vicariously through Jesus.

Jesus, for Mark, exists as a divine messenger who proclaims the gospel of God, or euangelion.1 Mark 1:11 establishes his divine origins, while Mark 1:38-39 show what he came to do: spread the gospel, both through word (teaching) and action (miracles).Quite literally, Jesus is the founder of the Jesus Movement, the community to which the author of Mark belonged. However, Jesus also came to preach a message: the kingdom of God is near, repent and believe.i Even so, Jesus takes great pains to not be “revealed” as the messiah; in Mark 1:43-44, for example, he tells the leprous man not to reveal his identity to the public. He even orders the spiritual beings to remain silent!ii Even with the crowds that gather in the wake of his miraculous actions, the “secret” of his identity remains until Mark 7:29-30, when he reveals his identity as the “Son of God” to the disciples. Even after his “coming out”, so to speak, Jesus was not a conspicuous emissary, but a mysterious visitor whose mission on earth, to die, was veiled in prophecy.

The passion reveals, in turn, Mark’s community theology. Mark frames the passion narrative with Mark 14:22-25. Yarbo Collins sees the specific “blood of the covenant” as a reference to Exodus 24:3-8, wherein an ox was killed in sacrifice. In Collins’ words, “Its metaphorical evocation in Mark expresses the idea that the death of Jesus is a sacrifice that ratifies the establishment of a covenant relationship between God and the followers of Jesus.”2 Given this motivation, Jesus dies a “noble death”. To die a “noble death” is to give one’s most precious possession, one’s own life, for something other, usually to display a point or to achieve a higher goal.3 If Mark 10:45 is any indication, then “…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Thus, Mark’s Jesus came to die specifically for this salvific end. Mark was playing on the expectations of a Jewish audience familiar with Greco-Roman myths, who could relate to Jesus in this framework.

Furthermore, the passion narrative subtly hints at messages to the Markan community. When Jesus is arrested, for example, one of his disciples strikes a slave’s ear clean off. Jesus tells the disciple who brandished a weapon “‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit?”iii If Mark identifies the revolutionaries of the Jewish Wars with bandits, Mark makes a strict distinction between Jesus and those leaders. Jesus declares, before the high priest, that “I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power, and “coming with the clouds of heaven.”iv Because of this, Mark states Jesus was condemned to death for blasphemy, but this is purely in the literary sense – those who stand with Jesus, namely Mark’s community, will be accused of blasphemy. Given that Jesus is “fulfilling Scripture”, Mark’s community confront the same rejection of the “cornerstone” that Jesus experiences on earth.v Mark’s community still waits, but persecution will continue. Though times will be tough until then – if the Word of Abandonment does not make it clear enough – the Markan community must hold out. Jesus’ death and resurrection, subsequently, prove the truth of Mark’s message.

However, Mark’s community did not know when Jesus would return. In fact, most of Judea believed the end times had come with the advent of the Jewish Wars of 67-73 CE. However, what appeared to be the restoration of Israel and the end of time proved to be a brief rebellion in the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire, destroying Jerusalem in the process. Mark frames a narrative wherein, according to White, the disciples are stand-ins for Mark’s community – they, in the war’s aftermath, do not have the ability to understand the message. Mark 13 thus becomes a stirring indictment of those who believed the revolt heralded Jesus’ coming – those who saw this as the eschatological homecoming were not only wrong, but did not listen to what Jesus said! Mark’s author, thus, creates a convincing Jesus narrative that both encourages and disciplines his audience, ensuring they wait patiently for Christ’s return.

John’s Jesus, in turn, expresses similar concerns for a particular community. Jesus, for John, exists as one with YHWH, thus placing him in the highest authority possible. John makes Jesus the striking point in a dualistic universe between good and evil, darkness and light, God and Satan. Because of this dualism, the author of John portrays Jesus in explicit public actions, performing miracles and signs of all kinds. Every event in John prior to the passion narrative follows a specific format in which Jesus does something miraculous or incendiary, and then utters a particular saying related to that event which could be understood before or after the resurrection.4 Jesus makes it clear that “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.”vi. However, judgment is not all of the story. As the ever-popular John 3:16 notes, God sent Jesus into the world to save that world – all that believe will gain eternal life. It is by choice, or perhaps ignorance, that anyone would not believe the message of Jesus. Jesus, however, mysteriously states in John 7:33b-34 that “I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” This exact phrasing occurs multiple times throughout the Gospel – Jesus is certainly going somewhere, but his disciples cannot follow him to this location. What does Jesus mean?

Part Two

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iMark 1:15

iiMark 3:11

iiiMark 14:48

ivMark 14:62

vMark 12:10-11

viJohn 12:31

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.