Mark, like the other Gospel writers, is very interested in conveying much about the identity of Jesus Christ. This is clear in his opening statement, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). While Mark is keen on his reader knowing Jesus’ true identity, he is also frank about Jesus’ disciples’ inability to understand accordingly. Only after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead did His disciples understand who Jesus really was and is.
Mark presents Jesus as a unique person from the beginning. Jesus is the “Son of God” (1:1), the “Holy One of God” (1:24), the “Lord of the Sabbath” (2:28), and more. Jesus is seen proclaiming the gospel of God (1:15), rebuking and silencing demonic spirits (1:21-28), commanding the stormy sea (4:35-41), and bringing a dead girl back to life (5:35-42).
All of this is designed to answer the question Mark tell us Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” (8:29). Peter rightly confessed, “You are the Christ,” and this is the same confession Mark desires his reader to make. Just as the Roman centurion proclaimed, after the death of Jesus upon the cross, Mark’s purpose is to demonstrate that Jesus was and is the Son of God (15:39; cf. 1:1).
While Mark is adamant about Jesus’ identity, he is also blatantly honest about Jesus’ disciples’ lack of understanding on this vital point. Mark repeatedly exposes the disciples as confused and ignorant.
When Jesus rebuked the storm, demonstrating His divine power and authority, the disciples feared and said, “Who is this?” (4:41). Just after Jesus miraculously fed more than 5,000 people with divine bread, Jesus walked upon the water and met His disciples in their boat on the sea of Galilee. Again they are described as fearful, and they are also said to lack understanding since “their hearts were hardened” (6:52). These are just two examples, but Mark does not paint Jesus’ disciples in any positive light on the matter of Jesus’ identity.
The fact is, apart from Peter’s famous confession (8:29), the only ones in Mark’s Gospel who perceive Jesus as the Son of God are the demons (1:24, 5:7), one of the Roman soldiers who watched Jesus die (15:39), and possibly the Greek/Syrophoenician woman who begged for ‘crumbs‘ from the Master’s table (7:28).
Nothing is more important than the identity and activity of Jesus Christ. Mark wants his reader to see Jesus for who He is and to believe or trust in Jesus. It seems that the reason Mark presented the disciples in such dramatic ignorance and confusion may have been to draw his reader’s attention to the absurdity of doing as they did.
It may be that Mark is artfully and skillfully saying, “See how bumbling and slow to understand these disciples were! Isn’t it obvious who Jesus is?! Don’t be like those disciples… Look! Understand! Believe! This is the Son of God!”
May God open our eyes to see, and may we trust ourselves to Jesus – the Son of God and Savior of sinners.