Q. What do you mean by saying this Gospel has an apocalyptic character or flavor, especially in certain revelatory scenes like the one at the baptism or the Transfiguration? Is this somehow related to Mark’s famous ‘messianic secret’ motif?
CCB: “Apocalypticism” is among the most misunderstood phenomena in biblical interpretation. Partly that’s because in everyday English the term often carries very narrow, constrictive connotations: “catastrophic doom” or “the world’s complete annihilation.”
Literally, an apocalypse is a revelation: a “pulling away” of the veil to disclose what is real but hidden. Some episodes in Mark are blatantly apocalyptic by ancient Jewish norms. You’ve mentioned two of them. The baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9–11) is accompanied by the rending of the heavens (compare Isaiah 64:1; Ezekiel 1:1; John 1:51; Acts 7:56; Rev 4:1), the descent of the divine Spirit (1 Samuel 10:6, 10; Revelation 1:10; 4:2), and the bath–qol, or heavenly voice (Daniel 4:31; Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 13.10.3; John 12:28; Acts 9:4; 10:13; various rabbinic tractates). Jesus’ transfiguration (Mark 9:2–8) takes place on a high mountain, where, in the Old Testament, divine revelation typically occurs (Exodus 19:3-25; 24:12-18; 1 Kings 19:8). Dazzling radiance is another apocalyptic trope (Daniel 7:19; 12:3; Matthew 13:43; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Revelation 3:5). Attending Jesus in Mark 9:4 are Elijah and Moses, heavenly messengers in Malachi 4:5–6 and Sirach 45:1–22; 48:1–16. As in Mark 1:11, the divine voice in 9:7 declares Jesus as God’s Son. In his marvelously ironic manner, Mark pretzels these revelatory tropes in 15:33–39 and 16:1–8: Jesus’ acclamation as God’s Son occurs in darkness or at daybreak, after curtains are split and boulders rolled away, and is ratified by unexpected witnesses under the most preposterous of circumstances: crucifixion. In such Jewish books as Isaiah (26:19) 2 Maccabees, 1 Enoch, and 2 Baruch, resurrection of the dead is an intrinsically apocalyptic belief. All these episodes—Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration, crucifixion–resurrection—are tent poles that support a narrative in Mark that is apocalyptic through and through. Jesus is the vanguard of God’s kingdom, which is routing the forces of Satan (1:12–13; 3:22–35). History is pushing forward to the Son of Man’s return to judge those ashamed of him (8:34–9:1) and to deliver those faithful to the gospel (10:29–31; 13:1–37). The wildest aspect of Mark’s apocalypticism is its confounding mystery: a kingdom that appears as little more than seed blithely sown (4:3–8, 26–32), whose anointed emissary dies by the most excruciating humiliation, whose character of self-sacrifice ridicules ancient and modern cultures of narcissistic success (8:24–37; 10:42–45).