Ancient biographies, such as the gospel of Mark, were rather different from modern ones. They did not try to chronicle a person's life from womb to tomb, but rather selected telling vignettes that revealed a person's character. This meant that historically significant moments in a person's life would not be the biographer's only interest. Even a historically trivial life event that nevertheless revealed a person's character might be included. Ancient biographers also normally focused only on the adult life of the person in question, because in antiquity it was not believed that character developed over time. Rather, the character one always had was revealed through time. Mark was under no obligation to include birth narratives just because he was writing an ancient biography.

It was also often thought that how a person died revealed the most about that person's character. This becomes a crucial matter for a gospel writer such as Mark, because Jesus died by the most humiliating means then available: crucifixion. It would require a lot of explanation in antiquity to explain how God's Son could end up on a cross, for normally such an end would suggest he was a wicked man, a person of bad character. I would suggest that the reason Mark spends one third of his narrative (Mark 11-16) on the very last week of Jesus' life is that there was much to explain about Jesus' demise if one was going to conclude that Jesus was a good person, let alone if one was going to argue he was the Son of God.

Besides a need to do apologetics in regard to Jesus' death, two other important factors strongly affected how Mark structured his gospel. The first of these was Mark's apocalyptic worldview. The word "apocalyptic," from the Greek apocalupsis, refers to the revelation of things, including secrets, that were hidden. Mark believes that in a dark and fallen world, it would not be self-evident to fallen persons that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. This truth had to be disclosed or revealed in a series of epiphanic moments if human beings were to know it.

Thus, in six places carefully spaced out in his gospel, Mark provides us with an account of these disclosure moments. (Of course, the reader of Mark's gospel knows from the very first verse that Mark is going to convey good news about Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.)

The first confirmation about the identity and character of Jesus comes in the very first chapter (Mark 1:9-11), where, at his baptism, Jesus has an apocalyptic vision, receives the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and is told by the heavenly voice, "You are my beloved Son." It is no accident that Jesus begins his ministry career shortly after this revelation.

The second major disclosure moment in the gospel comes at the climax of the gospel's first half, when Peter, as representative of the disciples, confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (8:27-30). That story ends with Jesus telling the disciples not to disclose this truth yet. The world is not ready to hear it.

The third disclosure moment occurs shortly after Peter's confession, when we hear about the Transfiguration of Jesus and his appearance with Moses and Elijah on a mountain (9:2-9). Here again, the heavenly voice reveals to the inner circle of the disciples that Jesus is God's beloved Son, and so he should be heeded.

The fourth disclosure moment does not come until the end of the Jewish judicial hearing, when Jesus is asked if he is the Christ, the Son of God, and he replies in the affirmative but qualifies his answer by making clear that he would prefer to call himself the Son of Man who would one day come on the clouds as the judge of even his current judges (14:61-62).

The fifth disclosure moment comes when Jesus is on the cross, and a Gentile centurion guarding him has an "aha" moment. Noticing how Jesus died, he says, "Surely this is the Son of God" (15:39).

Finally, there is the disclosure at the empty tomb on Easter morning by an angel to the women, but this disclosure is more about what has happened to Jesus than who he is--he is now the Crucified but Risen One (16:6).

Notice that the disclosure moments for the disciples cluster in Mark 8-9, at the climax of Jesus' Galilean ministry, before he went up to Jerusalem. This is because of the third major factor that determines the structure of Mark's gospel. According to Mark's way of evaluating Jesus' life, if you are to understand his ministry, and especially if you are to understand why he had to die on the cross, you first need to understand who Jesus was--the Christ, the Son of God.

Thus, the first half of Mark's gospel is dedicated to raising the "Who" question in various ways about Jesus. For example, in the very first miracle tale Jesus' words and actions raise the question, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits..." (1:27). Or in Mark 2:7, the question is raised after Jesus forgives a paralyzed man's sins, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Or again, when Jesus calms the rough waters and the wind when he and his disciples are on the Sea of Galilee, this event raises the question in Mark 4.41, "Who then is this that even wind and wave obey him?" The important point is that Jesus' words and deeds raise the question about who he is but do not in themselves provide the interpretive key to his identity. That requires a disclosure moment about his identity, a word from God above about Jesus.

It is no accident that once one has read the climactic disclosure to the disciples about who Jesus is in Mark 8, it is then and only then that Mark relates in three straight chapters the character of Jesus' mission--he, as the Son of Man, must suffer many things, be killed, but on the third day arise (Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34). This reflects the deliberate theological structuring of Mark's material. He is saying to his audience, "You must first have revealed to you who Jesus is, and only then can you understand his mission and why he had to die the death he did on the cross."

While, of course, it is true that Mark has in a broad way arranged his biographical account in a chronological order, equally important for understanding Mark's structure are his theological and christological agendas. They are summed up nicely in Mark 10.45: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but rather to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many." His death was not just another horrible example of man's inhumanity to man. It was, rather, the death of God's Son, which wrought the redemption of the world. This is the truth Mark most wishes to disclose in his apocalyptic gospel.

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