Our Mistaken Master

We call him Jesus the Christ — a name which, combined, denotes the anointed savior. However, he is so much more than that.


In truth, our master is a man with many designations, perhaps because he is many things to many people. To put it another way, he is universally relatable.

To the baker, he is the bread of life (Jn. 6.35);

to the logician, he is the word (Jn. 1.1) and the truth (Jn. 14.6);

to the politician: the prince of peace (Isa. 9.6), governor (Mt. 2.6), and king of kings (1 Tim. 6.15);

to the zoologist: the lion from the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5.5) and the lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13.8);

the biologist appreciates him as “the life” (Jn. 14.6),

while the mortician, by contrast, appeals to him as “the resurrection” (Jn. 11.25);

to the psychologist, he is the counselor (Isa. 9.6);

to the theologian: the mighty God (Isa. 9.6);

to the doctor: the great physician (Mk. 2.17; Lk 4.23);

the astronomer views him as the sun of righteousness (Mal. 4.2) and the sunrise from on high (Lk. 1.78);

the lawyer admires him as the advocate (1 Jn. 2.1) and the righteous judge (2 Tim. 4.8; cf. Jn. 5.22);

to the rancher he is the chief Shepherd (1 Pt. 5.4);

to the farmer: the true vine (Jn. 15.1);

to the educator: the master teacher (Jn. 3.1f);

to all of us, he is our Lord (Acts 2.36), our brother (Heb. 2.11-12), our friend (Jn. 15.14).


He appeals to one and all, in one way or another.


But in spite of his universal appeal, and despite his flawless capabilities, many misunderstand who Jesus really is. In his own lifetime — among his own neighbors — our master was mistaken on occasion — not, of course, by anything which he said or did; but by men and women who failed to appreciate the full majesty of that man (cf. 2 Pt. 1.16).


There are several occasions in Mark 6, each occurring in successive episodes, in which four different groups of people mistook the Lord for being something less than what he really is. Consider each of these.


They Mistook His Nature (Mark 6.1-6)

When Jesus returned to his hometown, he exhibited a level of wisdom in his teaching which took his countrymen by surprise (Mk. 6.2). In response, they asked:

Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”

They had seen him grow up; they saw him talk like a man, eat like a man, sleep like a man; but they couldn’t conceive of him as being anything more than just a man. And “so they were offended at him” (Mk. 6.3), and Jesus “marveled because of their unbelief” (Mk. 6.6).


They weren’t entirely wrong. Jesus was a man.


He was born of a virgin woman as a “son” and a “child” (Isa. 7.14; Gal. 4.4; Isa. 9.6). He had earthly relatives and an earthly upbringing (Mk. 6.4). He clothed himself with the lowliness of the human nature (Phil. 2.7-8; cf. Heb. 2.9). It is his humanity that enables him to be the perfect mediator (1 Tim. 2.5 “the man Christ Jesus), judge (Acts 17.31, “that man”), and high priest (Heb. 2.11-18, “made like his brethren”) for mankind.


But Jesus was more than a man; he was God incarnate.


(1) In John’s account of Jesus’ homecoming, the apostle provides further insight into why his countrymen rejected him. While teaching in the synagogue, the Lord claimed, among other things, to have “come down from heaven” to be the provider of “everlasting life” (Jn. 6.42ff). He was no mere mortal.


(2) Jesus characterized himself as the “only-begotten son of God” (Jn. 3.16, 18). Only-begotten stems from the term, monogenes. Though traditional translations render the term as stemming from the verb, genan (to beget or sire), it more likely comes from the noun, genos (a kind, offspring, stock). As such, it literally denotes: one (mono) of a kind (genes), and accentuates that fact that he is the only one of his class (see Danker, et al., 658; and Strong, 3413).

To demonstrate that the term does not allude to his generation (his begetting; cf. Heb. 1.5; 5.5; Acts 13.33; Ps. 2.7), but rather to his uniqueness, consider how the term is employed in Hebrews 11.17. There, Isaac is called Abraham’s monogenes. Of course, Isaac was not Abraham’s only-begotten (sired) son (Ishmael preceded him, Gen. 16.15). He was, however, his one-of-a-kind son, for it was only through Isaac that God’s supernal promises to Abraham were extended (Gen. 21.12; Heb. 11.18; cf. Gen. 17.18-19).


In like vein, though God has begotten many children (cf. Acts 17.28; Jms. 1.18), Christ is God’s one-of-a-kind son, insofar as he “was the sole representative of the Being and character of the One who sent Him” (Vine, 447). He is the only one among God’s “sons” who is also divine in nature (Jn. 1.1, 14).


(3) In his conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus admitted to being the Christ, who would declare “all things” to us (Jn. 4.25-26; cf. 9.35-37).


(4) To his detractors, the Lord demonstrated that he was deserving of “equal…honor” with God, the father (Jn. 5.16-23). No mere man can claim that.


(5) While teaching in the temple treasury area, Jesus proclaimed his perfect obedience to the Father (Jn. 8.28-29), his heavenly source (Jn. 8.42; cf. 3.13, 31; 6.38, 62; 1 Cor. 15.47), and his eternal existence (Jn. 8.57-59). He was so much more than a man.


(6) He claimed the right to forgive sins, something only God can do (cf. Mark 2.1-12).


(7) Later, at the feast of dedication — a Jewish winter festival commemorating the victory of the Maccabees over the tyrannical rule of Antiochus Epiphanes, cir. 165 B.C. (today known as Hanukkah, or the festival of lights) — Jesus was confronted by the Jews while walking through the columns of Solomon’s porch (Jn. 10.22f). They wanted the suspense to end: they said, “if you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (Jn. 10.24). Jesus reminded them that he had already told them that, but they refused to believe his testimony (v. 25).


Since that is so, he directed their attention instead to his works, which were designed to serve as unequivocal proof that he is “the son of God” (v. 36), and that he is “one” with the Father (v. 30). The grammar (we are onething/nature) here is significant. Wayne Jackson explains:

“The term “one” is neuter gender, singular number, yet the verb is plural. Thus, John is not arguing that Christ and the Father are the same person (as “oneness” Pentecostals assert), but he is contending for a oneness of nature with the Father. He was not affirming a mere oneness of will or purpose, as some commentators allege. He was claiming to be God in essence, as in 1.1ff. This is confirmed by the Jew’s reaction; they attempted to kill him — quite obviously for blasphemy. The ancient Hebrews certainly were in a better position to comprehend the nature of his statement than modern writers, many of whom are prone to override the sacred text with their own opinions” (39).

Ample evidence exists to bolster the Lord’s claims of possessing the divine nature, including, as he observed, his own miraculous works (Jn. 10.36-38; Acts 2.22), as well as the messianic prophecies written about him hundreds of years prior to his arrival (Lk. 24.44ff).


Believing that Jesus is more than a good man — that he is “the Christ, the son of God” — is essential to “have life” (Jn. 20.30-31; 8.24). And no one can insist that Jesus was a good man while disregarding his divinity without mistaking who he really is (see ± below).

They Mistook His Purpose (Mark 6.14-16)

As Jesus’ reputation spread, many surmised that he must be “a prophet, or one of the prophets” (v. 15). Some speculated that Jesus may have been Elijah making a reappearance (cf. Lk. 9.8). Herod believed Jesus was John the immerser, whom he had beheaded, risen from the dead (Mk. 6.14; cf. Mt. 14.1-2).

Again, they weren’t far off. Jesus was a prophet (cf. Deut. 18.15f; Acts 3.22). A prophet was one who spoke forth the word of God. And Jesus came for the very “purpose” of preaching that word (Lk. 4.43). Hence, he referred to himself as “a prophet” (Mk. 6.4).


But Jesus had a higher purpose, as mankind’s redeemer, which no other prophet could accomplish. As such, he was not like Moses, Elijah, or John the immerser. For,

Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood he entered the most holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9.11-12).

He came not only to be a prophet, but for the “purpose” of shedding his “blood” for the “remission” of the “sins” of humanity (Jn. 12.27; Mt. 26.28). As such, he was not just a prophet, as Herod and the others misunderstood, and as many muslims misunderstand today; more than that, he was “the savior of the world” (Jn. 4.42).


They Mistook His Relationship To Us (Mark 6.45-52)

Shortly after Herod’s assassination of John, the Lord sent his disciples on a boat to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, while he himself stayed behind to pray in isolation. Meanwhile, a storm developed, causing the disciples to “strain at rowing, for the wind was against them” (Mk. 6.48).

Sometime between three and six in the morning, the Lord began walking across the sea to meet them on the other side. He came to their position in the “middle of the sea” (Mk. 6.47) — some “three or four miles” from land (Jn. 6.19) — and when they saw him, they became “afraid” (Jn. 6.19). Why? Because they “supposed it was a ghost” (Mk. 6.49; lit., a phantom; see also Lk. 24.37).


Their fear was baseless of course. But there is a sense in which Jesus is untouchable —like a ghost. Paul wrote that Jesus “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen nor can see” (1 Tim. 6.16). There is an aspect of Christ that is illusory and phantasmic to us, which no mere mortal can equal. He alone “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5.21). He alone radiates “the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person” (Heb. 1.3).


Still, as high and as unreachable as Jesus is, he is not so high and unreachable that he cannot relate to us, or feel for us. He identifies himself as our “brother” (Heb. 2.11); he is “merciful and faithful” in his service to God on our behalf (Heb. 2.17). He may be one who “dwells in unapproachable light,” but he himself is not unapproachable.


That night, on the sea of Galilee, Jesus quickly encouraged his forlorn disciples (Mk. 6.50-51). He was not some supercilious snob. He who majestically walked on water was more than willing also to ride with his disciples on the boat!


The compassion of Jesus — his ability to empathize with his inferiors — is often noted in the gospel records. One of the most sublime verses in the Bible also happens to be one of the shortest: “Jesus wept” (Jn. 11.35). The term denotes, to shed tears. Lazarus, his beloved friend, had passed away.

But he was not shedding tears because he felt sorry for Lazarus — his friend was in a “far better” place, keeping “greater” company (Phil. 1.23; Jn. 14.28; cf. 1 These. 4.13). Nor did Jesus weep because he missed his friend — he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead (v. 25).


Some suggest Jesus wept because he was bringing Lazarus from paradise back into a world of woe. Perhaps. In the next chapter, at least, after his resurrection, the Jews plotted to put Lazarus back into the ground, since his very existence served as powerful proof of Jesus’ divine capabilities (Jn. 12.10-11). Perhaps Jesus, in his compassion, did not want to see his friend have to endure that type of persecution.


Nevertheless, the context indicates that Jesus’ spirit was broken before he ever got to Lazarus’ resting place. John is careful to observe that Jesus “saw” Mary, and those with her, “weeping.” At the sight of this mournful display, Jesus “groaned in the spirit” (ESV, “was deeply moved”) and “was troubled” (v. 33). These terms hint at an inner frustration which gives grief — a disappointment.


His friends still did not understand that he could raise the dead; still did not believe in him. When they expressed their disappointment in him for not being there to save Lazarus (v. 32, 37), Jesus became deeply disappointed in them, greived by their unbelief (vv. 40-42).


But he did not shed tears for himself — for being misunderstood or disbelieved. Rather, he was troubled over the hopeless, faithlessness of his friends. He was mourning that they were mourning, when they had no reason to be in anguish! It was an agitation born out of pure love, motivated by the desire that they no longer grieve without hope for Lazarus, but that they would be comforted by faith.


In short, they were emotionally torturing themselves unnecessarily, and Jesus literally shed tears at the sight! Hence, even in frustration, the Lord exercised compassion for others.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4.15).

They Mistook His Authority (Jn. 6.15)

A few hours before the incident on the Sea of Galilee, the Lord fed more than five thousand people with only five loaves and two fish (Mk. 6.30-44). There is a detail to this episode not recorded by Mark, but mentioned in John.


As a result of Jesus’ notable miracle, the people were “about to come and take him by force to make him king” (Jn. 6.15). They, like so many other Jews of that era, believed the Messiah was to be a political figure, who would rid Jewry of their Roman oppressors and reestablish a sovereign, Jewish, earthly kingdom (cf. Acts 1.6). Jesus had nothing to do with their error, and, instead, isolated himself from everyone overnight.


But Jesus was a king. The messiah would be “given dominion and glory and a kingdom” (Dan. 7.14; cf. Lk. 19.12). When Jesus told Pontius Pilate that his “kingdom is not of this world,” Pilate plainly asked him: “Are you a king then?” To which, Jesus responded: “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world” (Jn. 18.36-37).


However, Jesus is more than a king. He is “the king of kings, and lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6.15). The five thousand Jews misunderstood the nature of his kingship. His kingdom does not belong to this lowly realm — it envelops everything, “in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28.18).


So absolute and pervasive is the Lord’s authority that Paul calls him the “only potentate” (1 Tim. 6.15). “Potentate” has to do with one’s sovereign right to rule. In English, the term, dynasty, stems from this Greek word (dunastes).


In essence, Christ alone has the dynastic right to rule over the universe — a power which remains exclusive to the Godhead family. Earthly kings and governments only think they wield sovereign control over their respective realms, while it is God who is actually expanding or contracting their territories (cf. Acts 17.26).


Conclusion

Let us honor Christ for who he truly is — not for what we merely want him to be.


As to his nature, he is the great man-God; as to his purpose, he is the great prophet-redeemer; as to his relationship to us, he is the great untouchable-sympathizer; and as to his authority, he is the great king-of-kings!


You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power” (Rev. 4.11)!

Danker, Frederick William (et al.).  Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.  Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, Third Edition, 2000.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1960. 

Montgomery, John Warwick. History And Christianity. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1965. 

Morgan, G. Campbell. The Westminster Pulpit, Vols. 9 & 10. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2006. 

Jackson, Wayne. Jesus Christ: The Master Teacher. Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications, 2013. 

Strong, James. The Strongest Strong's: Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Vine, W.E.  Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.  Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1985.

± Many have developed the following argument through the centuries. In simple form, it states: either Jesus was the Lord, a liar, a lunatic, or a legend; since he was neither a liar, a lunatic, nor a legend, he must be the Lord! See works by C.S. Lewis (55-56), and especially by John Montgomery (61ff). A more fleshed-out version follows:


Clearly, Jesus claimed to be more than just a man. Either that was true or false. If true, then let us confess him as the divine son of God. If false, then either Jesus knew he spoke falsely, making him a liar; or, Jesus did not know he wasn’t divine, and yet thought it anyway, making him insane.


Yet, the wisdom of Christ, and his keen powers of reasoning, clearly disprove the notion that he was insane. He is not someone who speaks nonsensically, with cluttered non-sequiturs. Hence, his claim of being divine was not false on the basis of insanity.


Too, the character of Christ is pure and honest. He tells the truth, even if his truth-telling causes him to suffer and be killed. Liars lie for worldly gain; yet, in claiming to be God, Jesus gained nothing in this world, and lost everything. He does not behave consistent with dishonesty. Hence, his claim of being divine was not false on the basis of a lie.

The only other possibility, as a last-ditch, grasping-at-straws attempt to disprove the divinity of Christ, is to suggest that the Lord himself never actually existed, a claim that goes beyond rational thought and ignores historical evidence (see: Jesus Christ: Real or Myth?).


Since his claim of divinity was neither false by insanity nor by lying, then, by process of elimination, his claim could not be false. And since his claim could not be false, it must therefore be true!


Accordingly, if he was a good man (as so many esteem him), then he must also be God (since he claimed such); if he is not God (and is either a liar or insane), then he must not be honored as a good man. In short, no one can honor his goodness without also honoring his divinity; and no one can reject his divinity without also rejecting his goodness. They stand or fall together!



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