Son of Man and Suffering Servant: King Jesus in the Gospel of Mark

Titles and labels can be extremely important, especially when they are self-designations. How a person refers to themselves says something important about who they believe they are and what they believe they will accomplish. Such is the case when we consider the titles given to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. In painting a picture of Jesus Mark utilizes two Old Testament images for theological purpose. The image of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah and the Son of Man from Daniel both masked and revealed who Jesus really was.

“Son of Man” is often misunderstood. It’s not a phrase that identifies, primarily, Jesus’ humanity. As if it is the natural opposite of “Son of God”. Jesus is the God-Man but “Son of Man” is not meant to point to his humanity; rather, the term is meant to apply to Jesus’ authority as the glorious King. Daniel 7 records several important features about this “Son of Man”. He is given dominion and authority. He is to be served by all. His rule will never be destroyed. Here is how Daniel describes the vision of the Son of Man:

13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.  14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

When Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man he is identifying himself with this figure, with this authority. We read in various places in Mark that the Son of Man “has authority to forgive sins” (2:10), and he is Lord of the Sabbath (2:28). In the future, too, all peoples will see him “coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (13:26), and eventually “sitting at the right hand of Power” (14:62). Brian Vickers comments, “Rather than a designation of his humanity, the title Son of Man identifies Jesus as the divine King himself. The Kingdom is at hand because the King is at hand” (Mark’s Good News of the Kingdom). But the reason that this would have been confusing to some is because Jesus seems to parallel this glorious King with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, and the two themes seem quite contrary to one another.

In Mark 9:12 Jesus observes the disparity between the two characters when he says, “And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” Jesus is here alluding to Isaiah 53, not to Daniel 7 and yet he draws a line directly from the one to the other. Jesus is contending that the way to victory, the way to His Kingship is through suffering. There are several moments throughout Jesus’ ministry where the Jews are ready to make Jesus their King, but that is not the path that the Messiah must take. Jesus will accomplish his trek to the throne of heaven and earth by means of suffering and death. He says this over and over again in Mark.

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know,  31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9:30-31)

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,  33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles.  34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:32-34)

The Jews wanted a Messiah who would come riding in on a white horse and save them from the evil Roman empire. Jesus, instead, comes riding in on a colt, and dies. But it is a death that leads to resurrection and a resurrection that leads to victory. For Jesus the glory of his Kingship comes through the agony of the cross.

What does this mean, then, for those who follow this Suffering King? We will explore that next week.


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