THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ISAIAH: MARK’S STRUCTURE AND JESUS’ IDENTITY
Joel Marcus has shed considerable light on the OT background to Mark’s gospel, noting especially the Isaianic influences in the words and actions of Jesus. Mark uses strategic Isaianic passages to show the reader that God is finally initiating the new exodus and ushering in the New Age through his servant Jesus. The entire gospel hangs on the initial thematic marker of 1:3, where Mark quotes Isaiah 40:3: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”
By reading the broader context of Isaiah 40, one finds that Mark sees Jesus’ entire life and ministry as the embodiment of YHWH’s glorious return to Jerusalem as conquering king.
Yet, can this theme be understood in light of the humiliating death that ultimately awaits the returning king when he arrives? It certainly can if we understand it in light of another salient theme in Isaiah—the suffering Servant of YHWH. As Marcus put it,
Nothing could be more antithetical to conventional notions of victory than Jesus’ long prophecy of his own betrayal, condemnation, mockery, physical abuse, and execution (10:33-34). Yet, it must be forcefully added, this prophecy is not a denial of the Deutero-Isaian hope for a holy war victory; it is, rather, a radical, cross-centered adaptation of it. For those with eyes to see (See 4:9, 23), the fearful trek of the befuddled, bedraggled little band of disciples is the return of Israel to Zion, and Jesus’ suffering and death there are the prophesied apocalyptic victory of the divine warrior.
It seems natural at this point to appeal to the puzzling passages of the suffering Servant of YHWH that strangely show up here in the midst of all this Isaianic language of glory, power, triumph, and restoration. Yet, this is the very hermeneutical move that many refuse to make concerning Mark 10:45.
Placed in the surrounding context, Jesus draws ever nearer to Zion and again attempts to open the disciples’ eyes to the true, yet perplexing pathway to glory—the cross. Yet, they still cannot grasp, in Macus’ words, Jesus’ “redefinition of apocalyptic eschatology that paradoxically hears in Jesus’ cry of dereliction the triumph song of Yahweh’s return to Zion, that paradoxically sees in his anguished, solitary death the long awaited advent of the kingdom of God.”
Jesus corrects James and John’s misunderstanding of Jesus’ destiny by saying that “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:38-45). The returning king (Isa. 40: 9-11) who will ultimately bring glory, restoration and comfort to Zion (Isa. 54-55) must first walk the path of the suffering servant (Isa. 52-53).
Hence, Mark’s way of suffering and death, including the notion of giving of one’s life as a ransom for many, fits nicely within the entire Isaianic theme of the new exodus and there is no reason why 10:45b should not have been the authentic words of Jesus. Then why has the majority view long disagreed and challenged such a conclusion?