Jesus’ first appearance in the Gospel of Mark is remarkable for the fact that it is so unremarkable–Jesus comes to John to be baptized, just like everyone else. If it were not for verse 1, where Mark explicitly tells us that Jesus is the Son of God, one would never assume anything extraordinary about him, at least until his baptism began.
For some time (we don’t really know how long), we see John is baptizing people and calling them to repentance. And in the midst of this baptism, John is also constantly pointing to the coming Messiah. Day after day, John says to anyone who would listen, “Don’t look to me! I’m not the one that you are waiting for! Indeed, the day is coming where that man will come, and I won’t even be worthy to untie his sandals from his feet! You think my baptism with water is impressive and significant? Just wait for this man to come, for he will come baptizing with the very Spirit of God.”
Day after day, John proclaimed this message, but no one knew exactly who this person was. Until Jesus went underneath the water. And in that moment, everything changed.
What started looked like another baptism by John became a significant work of God, signaling something new.
Mark declares in verse 10 that the heavens were ‘torn open’ during Jesus’ baptism. In wording it this way, Mark is making reference to Isaiah 64:1, where Isaiah pleads with God:
“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!”
Centuries after Isaiah’s prayer, it is answered, and God has come to dwell among his people once more. God dwells among humanity in the person of Jesus. He has already been dwelling among the people for 30 years, but people just didn’t recognize it. But here, at his baptism, Jesus makes it known, at least to those who have eyes to see, that he is God, and he is dwelling among his people.
The tragic news of Mark? Very few of the people that were present recognized the significance of what they just witnessed, starting one of the themes of Mark–people not understanding who Jesus is.