Many of us think of the catastrophic end of the world when we hear the word apocalypse, but that’s not what this word means in the Bible. The biblical words for apocalypse (Hebrew: galah, Greek: apokalupto) mean “to reveal” or “to uncover.” So in a literal sense, the Gospel accounts reveal the identity of Jesus.
In his Gospel, Mark has designed the story of Jesus as a drama with three acts. The first act is set in Galilee, the second act takes place on the road as Jesus travels from one place to the other, and the third act takes place in Jerusalem. And strategically located in each section we find a revelation story—an apocalypse of Jesus. And in each apocalypse, Jesus is identified as the long-awaited royal priest.
Let’s take a look!
Jesus’ Baptism and Role as Royal Priest
In the first act, as Jesus enters the scene, the heavens are ripped open, or “torn asunder” (Greek: schizo). In the Greek, this is a violent term that conveys intense action. The image is of God ripping into our world as his Spirit descends upon Jesus. And from the skies, God proclaims, “You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:9-11).
God’s apocalyptic statement here blends together phrases from three biblical texts to identify Jesus as the seed of Abraham (Genesis 22:2), the royal son of David (Psalm 2:7), and the servant who will suffer for the sins of his people (Isaiah 42:1).
Jesus’ baptism is connecting him to the royal priesthood. Just as the Aaronic priesthood was consecrated or set apart through water (Leviticus 8:6) and anointing oil (Leviticus 8:30), Jesus too participated in this ancient ritual through his baptism. In the Bible, anointing was reserved for only two roles: priests and kings. Jesus is anointed with water and the Spirit in his consecration—his setting apart for his role as a priest (Isaiah 61:1).
As the Spirit comes upon Jesus, he is revealed to be the anointed one of God (i.e. the royal son of David from Psalm 2:7) who is going to ascend Mount Zion (Moriah, connected to the seed of Abraham in Genesis 22) to surrender his life as a sacrifice for the sins of his people (like the servant of Isaiah 42).
God commissions Jesus as royal priest, and after this revealing moment, Jesus begins to fulfill his role as priest for his people. A key example of this is in Mark 2:5-12, when a group of men lower their paralyzed friend through the roof of a house in order to get him to Jesus. They recognize something unique about his work, which they quickly find out is the kind of work that priests do.
Throughout the Bible, we see priests serve under God’s authority, acting as mediators of God’s forgiveness to others. However, in a surprising turn of events, Jesus forgives the man’s sins, echoing the pronouncement made by the priests in the Jerusalem temple (e.g. Leviticus 4:20-35; Leviticus 5:13-18). Jesus’ pronouncement makes clear that he is different from any other priest. He is pronouncing divine forgiveness by his own authority. Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man who has earthly authority to offer divine forgiveness. His words are poignant, combining the royal and priestly motifs already present in the Son of Man figure from Daniel 7 and attributing to himself the divine authority to dispense God’s own forgiveness. Priests operated by delegated authority from God, but Jesus operated by his own authority.
Apocalypse of Jesus at the Transfiguration
As the narrative continues, Mark places another key story in the second act that looks and sounds similar to the opening act. Jesus takes three of his disciples up to a mountain where he is suddenly transformed, radiating with light and glory as a cloud envelops them (Mark 9:2-4). This is similar to the glory of the God of Israel that showed up on Mount Sinai (e.g. Exodus 19-20; 1 Kings 19). And the two prophets who previously stood in God’s presence on Mount Sinai, Moses and Elijah, appear next to Jesus as God announces again, “This is my beloved Son” (Mark 9:7).
The entire scene hyperlinks to key moments in Exodus (e.g.. Exodus 24, 28, and 32-34) where Moses ascends Mount Sinai to wait for six days before entering the cloud of the divine glory on the seventh day (Exodus 24:16-18). There on the mountain, the blueprints of the tabernacle are revealed to Moses, including the high priestly garments adorned with sparkling and shining jewels and gold (Exodus 28:12-30), along with a white linen tunic (Exodus 28:39-40). And we’re told that Moses’ face “shines” after being in the presence of God (Exodus 34:29-35).
All of these details are activated in Mark 9: the six days, the high mountain, the cloud of divine glory, the priestly garments, and Jesus’ shining appearance. Jesus appears as a royal priest shining on a mountain!
Jesus’ Trial and Crucifixion
This brings us to the third and final act where Jesus makes his public, royal entry into Jerusalem for Passover. At first, Jesus is hailed as the long-awaited Messiah. Many expected the messiah to come and judge (and even destroy) everyone outside Israel, but Jesus brought judgment against the temple system and its most powerful leaders instead (Mark 11:15-19). This kicks off a whole week of Jesus debating and confronting the leaders of Israel and exposing their hypocrisy. And in response, these leaders set in motion a plan to have Jesus killed.
Jesus is eventually arrested and put on trial before the Sanhedrin—70 members comprised primarily of Sadducees and Pharisees, along with priests, and one high priest. The high priest overseeing Jesus’ trial was Caiaphas.
Jesus is questioned, and after refusing to respond to his accusers, Caiaphas confronts him directly. He asks Jesus if he is the anointed Son of God (Mark 14:61-62), and in this crucial moment in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says that he is the enthroned, priestly Son of Man. In his statement, Jesus references both Daniel 7 and Psalm 110. Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus hints at his identity as the royal priestly Son of Man from Daniel 7, but in this moment he makes it explicit.
By using the Son of Man title from the Hebrew Bible, Jesus is claiming to be a divine priestly figure sent by God. But Caiphas has already determined that Jesus is a threat and an agent acting against God's will. Jesus is confronting people like Caiaphas, but Caiaphas thinks the messiah should be against Gentiles. So Jesus' claim to be the promised Son of Man angers Caiaphas so intensely that he wants Jesus dead.
Jesus’ crucifixion culminates in a scene that links to the apocalyptic scenes in the first and second acts of Mark. But this time darkness descends instead of a glorious cloud, and instead of a voice calling from heaven, Jesus cries out in a loud voice before he dies (Mark 15:33-34). And surprisingly, a Roman soldier is the one who articulates the apocalypse of Jesus: “This man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).
An Abrupt Ending
Mark’s Gospel has two endings.
In the first ending, some women discover the empty tomb, and they flee in terror (Mark 16:8). In the second ending, Jesus appears and speaks to his disciples (Mark 16:9-20). However, there is a note in most Bibles that tells us that this second ending was not part of the original book but only found later in less reliable manuscripts. It’s possible that the original ending was lost or that Mark never actually finished his account. But Mark is a brilliant storyteller, and perhaps he is intentionally ending this book abruptly.
Throughout Mark’s story we see a shocking apocalypse develop—the suffering, crucified, and risen Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah and the royal priest King. Mark’s story ends without closure, but perhaps Mark is acknowledging just how startling this claim really is. Perhaps he wants the reader to wrestle with this strange and scandalous apocalypse of Jesus.
Will we run away like the disciples? Will we recognize the crucified Jesus as our priest and King? Will we go forth and tell the good news that Jesus is the ruling priest King and work to spread his Kingdom on Earth?
How will we respond to the apocalypse of Jesus?