Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mark’s Presentation of Jesus’ Vindication and Exaltation as an Act of God

In a recent post, I surveyed the words of Jesus concerning his death in the Gospel of Mark, demonstrating that the overall theological intention of the narrative presentation of Jesus’ death in Mark’s Gospel is to show that redemption and salvation are God’s initiative and purpose, accomplished through the divinely ordained death of Jesus. But, thankfully the story does not end there. 

Indeed, if Jesus understands his death as an act of and for God, then he surely also understood that his vindication and exaltation would also be an act of God. 

In that previous post, I drew attention to the passion predictions of Jesus in Mark. In those predictions, Jesus also speaks of his resurrection of as that which is done by God’s power. 

Though Jesus uses the active verb a)nasth=nai in 8:31 and a)nasth/setai in 9: 31 and 10:34, because he has already spoken of his death as that which God wills, and implies it as that in which God participates, the audience understands the act of Jesus’ resurrection as that which is done by God. 
This, of course, is brought out clearly in Jesus’ statement to the disciples in 14:28 when he tells them that after he has been raised he will go before them to Galilee. Jesus’ use here of the passive e)gerqh=nai certainly implies that he understands his resurrection to happen by an act of God. Moreover, the young man who meets the women at the tomb echoes this understanding through his use of h)ge/rqh in16:6.
Added to this understanding of Jesus’ vindication as that which God does is the presentation of Jesus’ exaltation as an act of God. Jesus speaks of his exaltation at several points in the narrative, although it is presented in cloaked language. The predominant characteristic of these sayings is that in them Jesus uses the reference Son of Man.
The use of this title as a self-reference by Jesus helps audience know who the Son of Man is, and they easily identify this person to be Jesus. Thus when Jesus speaks of the exaltation of the Son of Man the Markan audience knows that Jesus speaks of his own exaltation, and not some other being as some have argued.
In each of these sayings, however, there is included language that is used either to refer explicitly to God’s activity or to imply God’s presence in this act of exaltation. In 8:38, Jesus speaks of the Son of Man coming in the glory of his father (patro\j au)tou=), a reference to God. In this verse Jesus implies his role as that which gives testimony before God concerning the faithfulness of his followers. But the image of God’s eschatological glory, and Jesus’ presence with God and the holy angels, looks past the event of the cross to the time when Jesus is exalted at God’s right hand. 
The presence of God is also narrated in 13:24-26, where the audience hears the Markan Jesus describe the future coming of the Son of Man. The light-bearers in the sky will be darkened, as the sky itself is made black to allow the glory of the coming Son of Man to be visible to all. The implied actor in this coming is God, in that the darkening of the sun and moon, and the casting down of the stars are done by the Creator, God. 
Moreover, the coming of the Son of Man on clouds and in glory presents the audience with God’s presence and activity. This is brought out even more specifically in 14:62, where again Jesus speaks of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, this time however, telling the high priest that he will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, a circumlocution for God.
This picture of the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God triggers in the audience’s minds the statement made by Jesus in 12:36 when he speaks of David’s words concerning the Messiah.  The Messiah is the Lord who will be exalted at the right hand of the ku/rioj. Again, Jesus is the figure in Mark who is identified as the Messiah (Cf. 1:1). Thus, here also Jesus’ exaltation must be viewed as that which God does for Jesus.
The presentation of the vindication and exaltation of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel is focused on God’s power and presence. As God is the one who both wills and participates in the handing over of Jesus to death, a death in which Jesus accomplishes the purpose of God, so God is viewed in the narrative as the faithful Father of the obedient Son. In the mind of the Markan Jesus, God’s actions for Jesus will bring about his exaltation and triumph despite his suffering and death.


Rev. Steven F. Kindle said...

Two questions. 1) Do you see Mark using Jesus' faithfulness as a way of encouraging the Markan church to remain faithful in their distress? And 2) what is the purpose Jesus' death accomplished that was willed by God?

C. Drew Smith, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for the questions, Rev. Kindle. To the first one, I definitely see that Mark uses Jesus' faithfulness as an example to his audience. In fact, I see the Gospel of Mark as somewhat of a manual of discipleship. It begins at baptism, where Mark begins, and ends in death. All along "the way" the followers will be tested in their faithfulness. This seems to me to be why the disciples come off as weak. Their portrayal points to Jesus as the faithful one of God who is to be followed. On the second question, Mark suggests that Jesus death is a ransom for all to establish a new covenant between God and humanity. I don''t mean in the Anselm atonement theory way, but more in the sense of what Isaiah may have envisioned as a new Exodus. Thus, Mark ties his whole Gospel to Isaiah, beginning if verses 2-3. Thanks again.