More thoughts on Mark 1:1-8.
As I think more about the words of these eight verses, one small phrase stands out. It is a phrase that appears in almost the same form about 150 times in the New Testament. It is a phrase that should encourage and strengthen us as we read, study, and teach the Bible...for the rest of our lives. At the same time, it is tempting to think of this phrase as just an introductory one, with no real significance. Looking at the pages of the New Testament, this can't be true. What are these words? Look to the beginning of verse 2 and you'll see them. They are the words "as it is written".
All 150 times that this phrase appears, including the one here in Mark 1, this verb "is written" is in the perfect tense. The perfect tense in the Greek language has a wonderful meaning. When a verb is in the perfect tense, it means that the action is complete, but the action has lasting consequences. In other words, the verb tense of "it is written" communicates that the words Mark quotes have been written in the past, but the value and effects of those words are lasting. They continue to resonate with truth. As Mark uses this phrase to introduce prophecy about John the Baptist and his ministry, he is affirming the enduring authority and sufficiency of the Scripture.
This should encourage and strengthen us in our daily Bible reading, in our personal study of the Bible, and in our corporate teaching of the Bible. The Scripture that has been handed down to us has authority to teach us about God, man, sin, salvation, life, the church, and more. In addition to this, the Scripture is sufficient for all that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Every time we open the Scripture, this phrase...at least its meaning...should prepare our minds and hearts to receive what we read, study, and hear taught.
So, in addition to affirming the abiding value and authority of the Old Testament, Mark will show us how he interprets the Old Testament. This interpretation shows up in all the major English translations of the Bible. When Mark quotes Malachi 3:1, the Old Testament wording that the coming messenger would "prepare (or clear the way) before me" becomes "who will prepare your/thy way" in Mark 1:2. The first person ('me') becomes the second person ('your'). In addition, Isaiah 40:3 says that the messenger would prepare "a highway for our God", and this is changed to "his paths" or "paths for him" (Mark 1:3), pointing Mark's readers to a person.
What's happening here? What is Mark doing? How is he interpreting these Old Testament passages? Mark does not see the Old Testament in the same way anymore. It looks different in his eyes, and it is quoted differently through his pen. Why? The answer lies in his opening phrase. This is the gospel about "Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Not only is Mark pointing his readers to Jesus, he sees the Old Testament prophecies about John the Baptist ultimately pointing to Jesus, too.
J.C. Ryle has written, "There was nothing unforeseen and suddenly contrived in the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. In the very beginning of Genesis we find it predicted that the woman’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). All through the OT we find the same event foretold with constantly increasing clearness. It was a promise often renewed to patriarchs, and repeated by prophets, that a deliverer and redeemer would one day come. His birth, his character, his life, his death, his resurrection, his forerunner were all prophesied long before he came. Redemption was worked out and accomplished in every step, just as it was written.
"We should always read the OT with a desire to find something in it about Jesus Christ. We study this part of the Bible with little profit if we can see nothing but Moses, David, Samuel and the prophets. Let us search the books of the OT more carefully. It was said by Jesus, whose words can never pass away, ‘these are the Scriptures that testify about me’ (John 5:39)."
So, as we read, study, and teach the Bible, let us be confident in the authority and sufficiency of the Scripture. As we read, study, and teach the Bible, let us keep our eyes looking toward the author and perfecter of our faith...the Lord Jesus Christ.