Mark 1:2-15 – The Coming of John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus


Mark 1:2-15


Mark grounds the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus in the prophets of the Old Testament.


Mark introduces John the Baptist with a pastiche of prophetic imagery that connects him to the entirety of the prophetic tradition. He begins with a quotation that combines words from both a major prophet (Isaiah 40:3) and a minor prophet (Malachi 3:1). He references a third prophet, Elijah, through the description of John’s clothing (cf. 2 Kings 1:8). Finally, the location in the wilderness and the Jordan River evokes Israel’s first great prophet, Moses.

Mark then weaves the preparatory themes of his quotation together with the tradition that the return of the prophet Elijah would precede the Messiah (Mark 9:13). The entrance of Jesus onto the scene places Jesus within this prophetic lineage and establishes him squarely within Israelite tradition. Mark takes pains to point out, however, that Jesus is not merely a prophet like John. John the Baptist himself points out the contrast: his baptism is with water, whereas Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:8). Further, Jesus’ baptism becomes a theophany (i.e., an appearance of God), wherein Jesus is proclaimed as God’s beloved Son. 

The baptism scene also serves as the first part of a literary device known as an inclusio. In an inclusio, an author frames their story by beginning and ending with the same motif or theme. Mark begins his Gospel with the motif of the heavens tearing and he returns to this same motif at the end of the Gospel when the curtain of the Temple tears at Jesus’ death. This inclusio serves to tie the narrative together and also to highlight Mark’s contention that with the coming of Jesus, God can no longer be contained.