The Last Supper and Markan Christology 1

MARKAN CHRISTOLOGY AND THE LAST SUPPER

Mark’s carefully layered plot gradually elaborates the mystery surrounding the identity of Jesus. In the early moments of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is a powerful wonder-working figure who seems comparable to Elijah or one of the prophets of old (e.g., Mark 6:15). At other points in the tale, his words and actions seem to correspond typologically to the words and actions of Moses or Joshua or Jeremiah. As the plot moves toward its climax in Jerusalem, there are abundant hints that Jesus is the bearer of David’s legacy as king of Israel. Each of these images of Jesus illumines some facet of his mission and identity, yet the images all remain tentative, partial, and inadequate. Jesus remains elusive and avoids direct speech about the secret of his own personhood, except in his cryptic declarations about the Son of Man.[1]

Whatever else may be true of Mark’s Gospel and its Christology, it is certain that Mark intends to present Jesus as the Messianic Son of God (see Mark 8:30–31, 14:61–62, and 15:39). Following Jesus’s Last Supper and his betrayal by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus stands before the Jewish leadership (Mark includes the chief priests, elders, scribes, and the Sanhedrin) and boldly declares, in answer to the high priest’s question Σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ εὐλογητοῦ (“Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?”), ἐγώ εἰμι, καὶ ὄψεσθε τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ δεξιῶν καθήμενον τῆς δυνάμεως καὶ ἐρχόμενον μετὰ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ  (“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”).[2]

For N. T. Wright, the response of the high priest ––“Blasphemy!” (Mark 14:63) –– was due, not just to Jesus’s claim of Messiahship, or to his remarks against the temple. It was the both together which “pointed towards an enthronement in which the Messiah, or the ‘son of man’, would share the very throne of Israel’s [G]od…”[3] The response prompted an exclamatory “Blasphemy!” because Jesus identified himself as sharing in the divine prerogatives included in both Psalm 110 and Daniel 7’s Son of Man. This is complementary to Bock’s understanding of the blasphemy exclamation, since Mark likely intends the allusion to Psalm 110 and Daniel 7, where the latter

describes the vindicating judgment authority of a figure who shares end-time judicial power received from God. Jesus applies this role to himself. In other words, Jesus ironically claims that rather than the council being his judge, he is the judge of the final judgment. The authority that Jesus possesses, he has received from God directly, like the ‘son of man’ image in Daniel. Implicit here is a claim to be able to go directly into God’s presence and work at his side, a claim that he is really their judge.[4]

Commenting on this passage, Bauckham provides an entire section under the heading: “The revelation of Jesus’ divine identity in Mark.” He explains,

Throughout the narrative, Mark provides indications for his readers that Jesus does not merely act on God’s behalf [i.e. agency], as the messianic king might be expected to do, but actually belongs to the divine identity. It is doubtful whether anyone within the narrative, other than the demons, really perceives this, and so, after the prologue, Mark does not state it outright but implies it for readers as the true implications of what Jesus or others say. The culmination of these indications comes in Jesus’ words to the high priest (14:62), where Jesus’ claim to be seated beside God on the cosmic throne from which God rules all things can only be, from a Jewish theological perspective, a claim to share in the unique divine identity of the God who alone rules over all things.[5]

Hays picks up on the importance of the blasphemy exclamation where he notes that,

If Jesus is identified, through Mark’s references to Daniel 7, as the eschatological Son of Man enthroned in heavenly glory, the question inevitably arises of how to understand his relation to the ‘Ancient One,’ the God of Israel. (…). Unlike the Gospel of John, which explicitly declares that Jesus is the Logos who is one with the Father, Mark shies away from overt ontological declarations. Nonetheless, Mark’s Gospel suggests that Jesus is, in some way that defies comprehension, the embodiment of God’s presence. Mark never quite dares to articulate this claim explicitly; it is too scandalous for direct speech. (…). For Mark, the character of God’s presence in Jesus is a mystery that can be approached only by indirection, through riddle-like allusions to the Old Testament, as several passages prior to the passion narrative indicate.[6]

The point in examining the trial is to see a larger context of Markan Christology, and to lend support to Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’s deity. The Supper, betrayal, and trial of Jesus form a connected unit that historical Jesus scholars all understand as operating as a whole from very early on (the pre-Markan passion unit). So it is difficult to think that what Mark intends to illustrate in one part, namely the trial, is not informative of the earlier part, since they are a whole.

[1]Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 61.

[2]Compare Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi in Mark 8:30: “σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστός.” Son of the Blessed one is a circumlocution for Son of God and is, interestingly, used in 1 Enoch 77:2; see Bock and Simpson, Jesus According to Scripture, 2nd ed., 478. Bock and Simpson note that the high priest is probably thinking of Son of God in messianic terms, as in Psalm 2 or 2 Samuel 7 (478). Wright also cautions that we do not know how much the high priest knew of Second Temple literature, including 1 Enoch (or, I would add, if it was even available in Palestine at this time; see Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 642).

[3]Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 642.

[4]Bock and Simpson, Jesus According to Scripture, 2nd ed., 479.

[5]Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, 265.

[6]Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 62.

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Codex Bezae

I have been studying Maurice Casey on the Last Supper in his books Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel and Jesus of Nazareth. His interest in the Semitisms (Aramaisms) of Codex Bezae prompted me to look further into this codex. Because of Casey’s many appeals to the witness of Codex Bezae, I searched online for the Greek text. I learned that Logos presently has the Greek transcription of the codex compiled by the International Greek New Testament Project and Cambridge University Press — for free! Logos has added many helpful aids for interested researchers as well. (Note also that Logos has Codex Sinaiticus for free download.)

https://www.logos.com/product/35581/codex-sinaiticus