Gary Greenberg's blog on biblical studies and related matters

Did Mark think Jesus was a Davidic Messiah?

Paul, Matthew and Luke all portray Jesus as a descendant of David. Matthew and Luke even provide Jesus with a lengthy genealogical trail showing his Davidic relationship. Mark, on the other hand, has no birth story and does not appear to recognize or accept that Jesus was a descendant of David. Let’s look at the evidence.

A chief theme of Mark’s gospel, according to most New Testament scholars is that, while Jesus was alive, no one knew who Jesus truly was. Scholars refer to this theme as the “messianic secret.” Only in death does Jesus’s true nature become evident.

In Mark’s gospel, in the first verse, Jesus is described as the Son of God. Mark never makes reference to the existence of Jesus’ father, and never makes any direct connection between Jesus and David. In Mark’s story of Jesus’ rejection in his hometown synagogue, the community that knows Jesus’ family knows nothing about an unusual birth of Jesus or anything special about him (Mark 6:1–6).

As far as the public knows, according to Mark, Jesus is thought of as a prophet, not as a messiah (Mark 8:27–28). Peter identifies Jesus as a messiah but we are not told what kind of messiah Peter means (Mark 8:29). Almost immediately thereafter, when Jesus says that he will have to die and be resurrected, Peter rebukes Jesus for such a teaching, and Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things (Mark 8:33).” This suggests that Peter thinks of Jesus as an earthly human (Davidic?) king and not a divine entity. This is consistent with the “secret messiah” theme. Peter just didn’t know who Jesus truly was.

Later in Mark, on the way to Jerusalem for the last time, a blind man calls out to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me (Mark 10:47)!” If scholars are correct about the “messianic secret” in Mark’s gospel, then obviously, the person who called out “son of David” must be thought of as misidentifying Jesus, because no human in the gospel knows Jesus’ true identity until after Jesus dies.

During Mark’s account of the Jewish trial of Jesus, the High Priest asks Jesus if he is “the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One (Mark 14:61)?” The question is somewhat vague and open-ended, combining two titles into one question,, “messiah” and “son of the blessed one.” Neither title can be specifically identified as meaning only a “son of David.”

Jesus responds to the question by saying, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’ (Mark 14:62)” In this admission, Jesus’s response references only the Danielic “son of Man” version of the messiah and not the Davidic sense of the messiah. Jesus’ quotations in his reply refer directly to Daniel 7:11–14. Despite his “I am,” there is no public claim by Jesus that he is a Davidic messiah.

Finally, if there were any doubt as to Mark’s rejection of Jesus as a Davidic messiah, Mark has Jesus, at the Temple in his final week, directly and specifically say the messiah can’t be a descendant of David. Jesus said,

“How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’ David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” And the large crowd was listening to him with delight (Mark 12:35–37).

Despite centuries of denial and exegesis, I don’t think Mark could have been any more direct about Jesus not being a Davidic messiah. Mark’s passage could be interpreted in two ways. Either Jesus was descended from David and couldn’t be the messiah, or Jesus wasn’t descended from David and could be the messiah.

The evidence suggests that whatever Mark believed about Jesus being a messiah, the evangelist did not think of Jesus as a descendant of David, and therefore, he didn’t see Jesus as a Davidic messiah. From Mark’s perspective, identifying Jesus with David focuses “not on divine things but on human things.”


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