Jesus’ Parable of the Tenants (Mark 12) really summarises the message of Mark’s Gospel. In the story the farm hands recognise Jesus as the son of the landowner. Their response is to kill him. How do we identify Jesus, and how do we respond?
Mark opens his writing with the statement “The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” From his opening the other three accounts of Jesus’ life took their title. They were not histories, or biographies, they were Good News written to persuade people to believe and trust the person of Jesus.
As Mark introduces Jesus to the world, he elects to use the title, “Son of God” to describe Him. We find this title not only in 1:1, but also at other key events in the book. Jesus is described as the Son of God at his baptism (1:11),at the transfiguration (9:7), and at the cross the centurion after observing his death observes, “surely this man was the Son of God.” (15:39)
The Gospel of Mark pivots on 8:29. Jesus asks his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and the apostle Peter replies, “You are the Messiah.” Finally, someone accepted Jesus’ message about who he is in relationship with God. In a sense, it’s mission accomplished, but Jesus immediately changes the mission. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things… and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (8:31)
Having established his claim to the title of Israel’s promised Messiah, Jesus immediately emphasises humility, service, and death. It’s fascinating to see the apostles response move in the exact opposite direction. Three times Jesus predicts his death and the apostles respond by arguing about who is the greatest among them.
|Mark 8:31-34||“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things…”||Peter arrogantly rebukes Jesus and tells him that he’s wrong.|
|Mark 9:31-35||“The Son of Man… will be killed.”||“…on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.”|
|Mark 10:32-41||“The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests… they will condemn him to death…”||James and John ask to sit at the left and right hands of Jesus’ throne in glory. This upset the rest of the disciples.|
The apostles slowly learned that it’s one thing to intellectually recognise the Lordship of Jesus, but another challenge altogether to submit to Him. Finally, in 10:45 Jesus laid it out for them in very plain language, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Mark is very concerned that people acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, as Messiah, as Lord. The first step is to learn and believe this truth. The second step is to allow that truth to transform our lives. Knowing the truth of the majesty of Jesus makes us servants, not superiors.
So I don’t want this article to just be an interesting intellectual blog post. Let me close by posing three questions:
- Who is Jesus to you? (Go ahead, write it down. It’s harder than just thinking it.)
- Who in your life could you serve in a meaningful way in the next two days?
- Will you?
On an academic note, here’s a brief note of caution by NT Wright on how to understand the title “Son of God”. It’s part of a much longer essay available here.
‘Messiah’, or ‘Christ’, does not mean ‘the/a divine one’. It is very misleading to use the words as shorthands for the divine name or being of Jesus. It is comparatively easy to argue that Jesus (like several other first-century Jews) believed he was the Messiah (see JVG, ch. 11). It is much harder, and a very different thing, to argue that he thought he was in some sense identified with Israel’s God. In this context, the phrase ‘son of God’ is systematically misleading because in pre- and non-Christian Judaism its primary referent is either Israel or the Messiah, and it retains these meanings in early  Christianity (e.g. Rom. 1:3-4) while also picking up the overtones of Paul’s early, high Christology. It seems to me, in fact, that the title was perceived very early on in Christianity—within the first decade or so at least—as an ideal one for Jesus because it enabled one to say both ‘Messiah’ and ‘the incarnate one’. However, its subsequent use simply for the latter meaning, coupled with its too-ready identification with the virginal conception story, make it in my view difficult to use without constant qualification in contemporary in systematic discussions.
There’s another short and helpful summary of Wright’s understanding of the title “Son of God” here.