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Jesus is kind of a big deal in Mark.
Right off the bat, Jesus is announced as the subject of this story (1:1), and his actions and words are at the core of every single episode.
The first thing we have to remember is that Mark was being written for a very particular audience. These people are expected to accept everything that Jesus says as truth. So when we hear that Jesus is called "Christ" (a.k.a. "Messiah") and "Son of God" in 1:1, and that God's voice declares him his "beloved son" in 1:11, we're supposed to buy it.
And, in Jesus's, words we're supposed to set our minds "on divine things" and not "on human things" (8:33). Jesus is giving us a pass to the cool-kid table, and all we're asked to do is accept.
Easier said than done. Even the disciples have a tough time with this one. While on the road to Jerusalem, Jesus foretells his nearing betrayal and death in no uncertain terms:
"The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." (9:31)
The disciples' reaction? They play a round "Oh yeah?" trying to duke it out for best disciple. If we accept Jesus's words as truth—which Mark's ideal readers would—it's pretty clear how stupid the disciples are being.
But wait—what if we're not ideal readers? Is it possible that Jesus is the one being crazy?
Mark loves irony as much as most of us love frosting, and one of the more profound results of Jesus's trustworthy character is constant irony. Dust off your old notes for English class and remember that (simply put) dramatic irony is generated when readers or spectators know more than the characters themselves. By trusting the words of Jesus, Mark's readers are almost always given the privilege of knowing more than the characters in the story.
Again—if you don't trust Jesus as a character, you can consider yourself in the dark.
Ready for an example? When the soldiers mock Jesus as a king (15:16-20) and the Jewish leaders ridicule him as "the Messiah, the King of Israel" (15:32), Jesus-trusting readers see that these actions and statements accurately reflect his identity and fulfill his own prophecies (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). Joke's on you, mockers.
This kind of thing plays out repeatedly throughout Mark's story. A good question to ask continually is: how can we use what Jesus says and does to judge and interpret any particular character or event? How does it change if we don't see Jesus as a trustworthy figure in the text?
Jesus is also kind of an alien.
Think about it—Mark consistently portrays Jesus as an otherworldly being of immense power. His status as a divinity among mortals is beyond doubt. Again and again Jesus defeats his opponents with superior arguments, heals the sick and handicapped, exorcizes demons, and defies the laws of nature. This is the stuff of movies.
He's not from Mars (we think), but the fear and awe with which characters respond to Jesus are the characteristic emotions mortals feel when in the presence of the divine in ancient literature. This guy means business, and he's about to take Galilee and then Jerusalem by storm.
That's right, he suffers like everyone else. Complications, reversals, wayward followers, and opposition allow mortal readers (sorry, ETs) to sympathize and feel some sense of solidarity.
Things start as early as 3:6, when opposition against Jesus solidifies. It continues in 3:19, when we learn of his eventual betrayal, and grows in intensity on the way to Jerusalem, as Jesus predicts his coming passion three times—count 'em: 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-33. The climax comes in Jerusalem with grief, abandonment, betrayal, conviction, and execution. Other than the execution thing, we can totally relate.
To recap, Jesus is
• an absolutely trustworthy and all-knowing guide.
• a staunch, otherworldly being manifest among mortals.
• a sufferer who is vulnerable to all things human.
These conflicting aspects make Jesus's characterization tough, and Mark needs to make it work. Why? Because his endgame is to affirm that this guy really is the Messiah and Son of God.
Are you convinced?