Modern Christians often start reading the Bible in the New Testament. New converts are often told to read one of the Gospels. There is good reason for this; the New Testament believer needs to understand the New Testament! But there is a major deficit when this happens. Since the New Testament is written with the interpretive background of the Old Testament, it is difficult to understand the New Testament without a knowledge of the Old Testament. It is like deciding to go to see the last hour of the movie Titanic. You can see the crisis of the sinking ship and the death of a lover, but the story is lost without seeing the first two hours of the movie. At least the movie goer needs a cursory familiarity with what has gone before.
Understanding Mark's Gospel is no different. Mark proclaims the coming of the Son of God and the Kingdom. There is conflict with the Jewish leaders, and the Romans authorize Jesus’ crucifixion. Historically, this provides the contextual period for the book, but it also references the Old Testament background. The nations of the world are seen as beasts vying for the kingdom rights to the earth (Dan 7:1-8). The Jewish leaders lead God’s disobedient Old Covenant people. The background even speaks to the genre of Mark itself.
Mark’s genre has been the subject of much scrutiny. Mark is probably the first Gospel account of the four. Did Mark invent a new genre? Meredith Kline argues convincingly that the Gospels are not a new genre, but rather are like the book of Exodus. Both Exodus and the Gospels consist in historical narrative and teaching. Both set forth the mediator of the respective covenants. Both give the covenant's inauguration: Moses on Sinai, Jesus on Golgotha.
The last half of Mark is focused on the Jesus' passion as He makes the New Covenant. But the parallels with Israel’s Exodus run the length of the book. Jesus came through the baptismal waters; so, Israel was baptized into Moses as they passed through the Red Sea (1 Cor 10:2). Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by Satan. Israel came out of the Red Sea into the forty-year wilderness wandering under the glory-cloud, “Spirit.” Moses’ face shone when he saw the back side of God on Sinai under the glory cloud. Jesus’ face shone like the sun on the mount of transfiguration under the glory cloud. Israel ate manna in the wilderness; the crowds following Jesus were fed miraculously in the wilderness. When they prepared the Passover Meal, the perfect lamb was slain. Jesus takes the words of the Passover as the basis of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is the Lamb slain at Passover!
But as is soon evident to the reader, Mark shouts loudly in his gospel that Jesus is the Second Adam, Son of God. The question then immediately faced is how to put these background pieces together. A careful study of the Old Testament disallows regarding them as just a pile of foreshadowing pictures fulfilled in Jesus: “Jesus is the Second Adam; Jesus is the true Israel; Jesus is the promised prophet like Moses.” This leveling approach actually destroys the message of Mark. The Kingdom of God itself provides the interpretive guide.
The Kingdom of God is administrated by the Sovereign through covenants. The contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant consists in two essential points. Old Covenant blessings are received by the vassal nation, Israel, based on a covenant of works. If they obey, they are blessed; if they disobey, they are cursed. The New Covenant blessings are given freely by grace to all who believe based on the obedience of Jesus to the Pactum Salutis. The Old Covenant is based on recompense for works; the New Covenant blessings are received by grace, not based at all on the inevitable obedience of the New Covenant believer. Second, the Old Covenant was made with the nation of Israel at Sinai with national blessings and curses. The sanctions of the covenant did not damn the disobedient or save the obedient. In contrast the blessings of the New Covenant are eschatologically redemptive. But both covenants administer the kingdom of God. The Old Covenant administers the kingdom of God in picture, as a type, like a toy castle. The New Covenant administers the Kingdom of God in reality, like a real kingdom castle! So Israel’s Exodus is a toy type of the true Exodus in Christ Jesus. The kings and kingdom of Israel were the types that pointed to the true King and Kingdom. Both the type and the reality are fulfillments of the kingdom promises to the Patriarchs. But Israel in the land is a type, a toy version of the promise; the reality comes in Jesus. So, when Isaiah or Malachi surveys the failure of the Old Covenant, they promise that God will bring the Kingdom in the New. Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1 “Out of Egypt have I called My Son” to refer to Jesus, when it obviously spoke of Israel (Matt 2:15). But as Israel was God’s covenant son, now the faithful vassal Son has come! The promise of the kingdom made to Abraham was fulfilled in type in Israel, and now finally truly in the Kingdom of God in Jesus.
The kingdom centric understanding then explains how Jesus can bring a New Exodus and yet be the Second Adam. The Covenant of Works made with the first Adam was to issue forth in the Kingdom of God on earth, and ultimately in heaven and earth, the glorious Kingdom of God. Where Adam failed, Jesus Christ was victorious. Before creation, God the Father covenanted with God the Son, in what is called the Pactum Salutis (Covenant of Salvation), for the Son to be the Second Adam to redeem believers. Jesus covenanted both to take the penalty they owed under the Covenant of Works and to be the faithful and righteous covenant servant thus meriting the blessings of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom and its blessings were promised to the Patriarchs, typologically fulfilled in Israel under the Old Covenant, and find their eschatological fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Jesus kept the Pactum Salutis and thus was exalted as Second Adam to the right hand of the Father. He is Lord. The blessings He merited He freely gives to believers in the New Covenant.
Early in the Mark’s gospel, Jesus is contrasted is with the first Adam. Jesus is the faithful servant King of the Kingdom of God. The second half of the book compares Jesus’ Exodus with Israel’s. He is the Lamb. Mark both presents Jesus as the faithful servant King of the Pactum Salutis and as the victorious Lord of the New Covenant. Both are necessarily intertwined. Jesus is the federal head who has brought the New Covenant Kingdom blessings to the redeemed.
Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority
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Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from NASB. Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org
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