Mark 1:14-15

The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry.
(Mark 1:14-15)

INTRODUCTION

Mark, like Matthew, skips some part of the early ministry of Jesus, especially in Judea, to fast forward his activity in Galilee after the arrest of John the Baptist but before his martyrdom. The main theme of his preaching was announcing the time of redemption God had promised to Israel, need of repentance to reconcile with God, and to have faith in the one, God sent on His behalf. As Christians we need to act in the present time with repentance and acts of faith.

Bible Text

(14) After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: (15) “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

 Interpretation

(14) After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:

After John had been arrested
Mark does not specify who arrested John immediately after the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The common assumption is that King Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea had imprisoned John. It is true that Herod had arrested Jesus for imprisonment. However, that would have happened at a later time because of the following reasons:

1. According to John the Evangelist, there was a time when Jesus along with his disciples, and John were baptizing at the same time in Judea (John 3:22-23). John specifies that John had not yet been imprisoned (John 3:24).

2. Herod could not arrest John in Judea because he had no jurisdiction there. Mark adds that Jesus moved to Galilee because of John’s arrest giving the impression that the arrest was in Judea and Jesus wanted to avoid trouble for his ministry at that time by preaching in Judea.

3. Herod was not against the baptism of John. He arrested John the Baptist because he questioned Herod’s immoral behavior of taking his brother Philip’s wife Herodias as his own, and for other evil’s Herod had done (Luke 3:19-20). That could not make a threat to the ministry or life of Jesus.

4. Mark gives an account of the arrest of John by Herod later in Mark 6:17-20.

So an assumption is that John was arrested twice. One in Judea by the Jewish leaders and later in Galilee a year after by King Herod Antipas. The first arrest must be by the Jews from Jerusalem who sent priests and Levites to question John the Baptist. They might not have been satisfied with John’s clarification for his baptism. So they might have arrested John to question him in front of the Sanhedrin. They might have released him warning not to continue baptizing people. That must be the reason for Jesus withdrawing from Judea to Galilee to avoid an early trouble for his ministry. John also moved from Judea to Galilee where he preached against the local King Herod that led to his imprisonment and beheading.

Jesus came to Galilee
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) present Jesus moving to Galilee to preach immediately after his baptism, 40 days of fasting, and temptation. However, John’s gospel demonstrates an early Judean ministry of Jesus prior to his ministry in Galilee. Since John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing in the lower Jordan River valley, Jesus was baptized there. After his fasting in the Judean desert for 40 days, he returned to John (John 1:29-34) when he testified to the public that Jesus was the Son of God. The next day John introduced two of his disciples, Peter and Andrew to Jesus (John 1: 35-42). The next day Jesus moved to Galilee and called Philip and interacted with Nathaniel (John 1: 43-51). Then he performed his first miracle at the wedding at Cana in Galilee (John 2:11). Though Jesus went to Capernaum from Cana, he stayed there only few days (John 2:12) and then went to Jerusalem for the Passover and cleansed the Temple (John 2:13-22). “While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing.” (John 2:23). Then Nicodemus met Jesus (John 3:1-21). “After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptizing.” (John 3:22). So, Jesus had a ministry of many months in Judea prior to his lengthy ministry in Galilee.

The name Galilee had derived from the Hebrew word “galil” which means circle. The full name was the Galilee of the Gentiles. Galilee was, in fact circled by gentiles. Phoenicians on the west, Syrians on the north and east, and Samaritans on the south, were their neighbors. Since Galilee was encircled by the gentiles, the Jews there were more open to new ideas compared to other parts of Palestine.

Isaiah 9:1-6 (Matthew 4:13-17) had predicted the preaching of Jesus in Galilee, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. They were attacked first and deported by Assyrians. Similar disaster came only later to Judea by Babylonians. The offer of Jesus’ extended ministry to the Galileans was a compensation for the calamity they had to face first.

proclaiming the gospel of God
The literal meaning of gospel is good news. Proclamation of the gospel is the revelation of the long awaited salvation that God had promised that came to a fulfillment in time with the incarnation of Jesus. The good news is that Jesus ransomed us from the bondage of sin and eternal punishment through his death and resurrection. He has invited us to a new covenant relationship with God by loving and serving God and fellow humans.

(15) “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

This is the time of fulfillment.
The arrival of Jesus as the Messiah was the time of fulfillment of the promises God made through Adam, Abraham, David and the prophets throughout the centuries. Jesus was the offspring God promised to Adam who would crush Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15). Jesus is the descendent of Abraham through whom God promised blessings for all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). He is the son of Judah who would rule eternally as king (Gen. 49:10). He is the offspring God promised to David who would build a house for God and reign forever (2 Samuel 7:12-13). He is the great light that came to the people who walked in darkness (Isaiah 9:1). He is the child given to us who is named “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:5). He is the one who would gather the remnant of God’ flock from all the lands to which God had banished (Jeremiah 23:3).

The kingdom of God is at hand
The kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven is widely used in the Synoptic gospels. Both mean the same. Matthew preferred Kingdom of heaven because he wanted to avoid the word “God” that his Jewish readers would not use. In a broader sense, both refer primarily to the rule of the Almighty over the whole universe without any territory because the everything belongs to God without any border. “The LORD has set his throne in heaven; his dominion extends over all.” (Psalm 103:19).

In a specific sense, Israel was the kingdom of God because God’s kingdom is a spiritual rule over the lives and hearts of those remain faithful to God. Jesus reconstituted it forming the church with Jesus as its head. This kingdom is spiritual and that is why Jesus said to Pilate: “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” (John 18:36). The church is only a foretaste of God’s kingdom that will happen later in its fullness when the time of redemption is over and when the time of judgement will arrive with the second coming of Christ. This kingdom will be governed by God, eternal, peaceful, free from any struggle, and will be open only for the faithful children of God. “In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.” (Daniel 2:44). Thus the Kingdom of God has different stages. It was initially established in the world at large, then among the chosen people of Israel, renewed later through Jesus by establishing the church, and will come to its perfection with the second coming of Christ.

Repent
Repentance is a prevalent theme in the Old and New Testament. Whenever Israelites broke away from God, God sent prophets asking them to repent and reconcile with God. The message of John the Baptist who came to prepare the way for the Lord was also repentance. The baptism he administered was external sign of accepting repentance. Jesus and his disciples also called people to repent.

Jesus presented repentance in the vivid parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The son had deviated from his father by his own mistake. He came back to his senses and returned and reconciled with the father. However, the father was generous to accept him as his son with full rights which was more than the expectation of the prodigal son. In the parable, repentance presumes sin, that is deviation from the intimate relationship with God by our own fault. Our reviewing of faults, feeling of regret for the wrong actions, a resolution to change our behavior, and meeting God through baptism and later through the sacrament of reconciliation are necessary.

The Greek word for repentance is Metanoia. It implies a change of mind and change of conduct. The prodigal son was supposed to change his behavior and relation with his father. Jesus said to the adulterous woman who was brought to be stoned, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Repentance and reconciliation become complete only with the grace of God’s acceptance of our repentance and our willingness to change our sinful life.

Jesus came to help people to repent so that they shall be saved and become citizens of the Kingdom of God. John the Baptist also asked people to repent before the imminent judgment. Repentance included regret on one’s failures along with a change of mind, heart, and lifestyle.

Repentance primarily involves turning away from sinful life. When tax collectors and soldiers came to John for baptism, they asked what they should do as part of repentance. He said to tax collectors: “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” To the soldiers he said: “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Luke 3:12-14).

Repentance also involves compensation for the mistakes done. When Jesus came to the house of Zacchaeus, out of repentance he declared: ‘“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house.’” (Luke 19:8-9). Saul, who persecuted the early church, compensated by working enthusiastically for evangelization and even becoming a martyr for Jesus. Augustine who had led a sinful life in the early stages of his life, when converted by the prayers of his mother Monica, served the church earnestly and became a bishop and doctor of the church. Church declared him as a saint.

Repentance is required from the righteous also. It can mean a change of mind or direction for betterment. God who is perfect is said to have repented. God had decided to destroy the people of Israel at Mount Sinai because they worshipped golden calf under the leadership of Aaron. However, Moses interceded for them. Then “Then the LORD repented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” (Exodus 32:14). Here, the meaning of repentance is a change of mind as given in modern translations of the Bible.

Taking care of the needy by acts of charity was also a sign of repentance. John the Baptist’s reply to the crowds that asked him what they should do for repentance was: “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” (Luke 3:10-11). He asked people “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance” (Luke 3:8). Again John said, “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:9).

Lack of good work also is part of sin. People who do not produce good fruit out of the resources God gave them need repentance. That was why Jesus asked the young man who kept all the commandments of God, to sell his property, give to the poor and then follow Jesus. The prodigal son’s elder brother did not commit any sin other than his unwilling to accept his repentant brother. This elder son also had to turn away from his ill feeling against his brother whom the father welcomed. The action required is as Jesus taught, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). Thus, its twofold dimension are turning away from sin and turning towards God. So, after giving up sinful ways, we have to put into practice the gospel of Jesus Christ in preparation for the Kingdom of God that would be fulfilled in his second coming.

Repentance, like faith, is also a gift of God to which we cooperate. Jesus came to the world with this gift for which he gave his life as ransom for our sins. When we positively respond to it, we become eligible for its benefits. Repentance is not a ritual of baptism alone. It is an ongoing process of renewing our life in Jesus and trying to do good in favor of the Kingdom of God.

believe in the gospel.
We might be believing in many realities and ideologies of the world. However, the Biblical meaning of belief is more than agreeing in our minds the truthfulness of the matter. It involves the commitment of our life to the teachings that came from God. Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ revealed to us, that is, God’s promise has been fulfilled in Jesus and that he has ransomed us from the bondage of sin and eternal punishment through his death and resurrection. So, our faith in the gospel is the commitment we make for Jesus to obey his teachings and to continue his mission in our lives.

Repentance and belief have to go together. They presuppose that we have been deviating from where we were supposed to go. So, we change our life direction and follow Jesus, the way to the Father. Our repentance is to the Father and faith is in the Son who has redeemed us.

Message

1. John the Baptist was bold enough to question the misdeeds of King Herod Antipas. Though John could presume that it would not change the mind of Herod but would harden his heart to persecute him, John fearlessly and openly stood for God’s teaching so that the people would not be misguided by the immoral life of the king. Are we doing our prophetic role or adjusting with the unethical flow of the world?

2. The sacrificial ministry of Jesus for humanity is the good news. We are called to be the “good news” for others through our works of love and mercy on behalf of Jesus. Are we self-centered or service oriented?

3. Through baptism, we became members of the spiritual Kingdom of God that Jesus established. However, we need to keep on repenting and believing in the gospel to inherit the Kingdom of God in its fullness. The time of renewal cannot be procrastinated because we do not know how long we get the chance to do good and to improve our spiritual lives.

4. Belief in the gospel is not just agreeing that what Jesus taught is true. It also involves implementation of Jesus’ teachings by the commitment of our lives for Jesus. “A person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24).