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Who Is Jesus? The Life of Christ
Dr. Michael J. Shanlian, BRE, M.A., Ph.D. ABD, D.D.


In This Lesson
Introduction | How Jesus Handled Temptation
How Jesus Handled Success | How Jesus Handled Rejection
How Jesus Turned Humiliation and Death into Victory | Conclusion


The Gospel of Mark presents a vivid portrait of Jesus as a "suffering servant". Matthew presents Jesus as King, Luke the "Son of Man", and John as the Son of God.

Mark's Gospel is the shortest of the four Gospels, but his book contains the most descriptive and passionate commentary about Jesus' ministry. Mark does not focus on Jesus' teaching but on His accomplishments. Mark records many of Jesus' miracles and also his confrontations with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. He records some parables, but Mark's main emphasis is on Jesus' final days and everything He suffered before and during His crucifixion. The summation verse of the book is in Jesus' own words: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

Many of today's churches are immersed in a "success-driven" mentality. They actually believe the Bible teaches that every Christian has a God-given right to a life of health and wealth. This is a form of Epicureanism1. They desire a utopian Christian world where God is at your beck and call to ease your pain and shower you with wealth.

Some of Jesus' disciples had the same world view. They expected Him to defeat the Romans, heal their diseases, and fill their pockets with money. Mark's Gospel reveals that the real character of Christian service is to serve, not to be served. Jesus made it clear to His followers that they should first count the cost before becoming one of His disciples. This message is quickly losing ground by the proliferation of prosperity teachers. The Church desperately needs a reformation in thinking!

As I look back over the past three decades of Christian ministry and marriage, I can easily confirm and affirm that serving God means putting aside your agenda for His! The Gospel of Mark highlights Jesus' attempt to prepare his disciples for ministry. Many scholars believe that Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome during the mid sixties when Nero was persecuting and killing those who were followers of Jesus. Mark makes it clear that following Jesus will cost you something.

In this lesson, we will discuss how Jesus handled Satan's temptations, how He dealt with His growing popularity and the lessons we can learn from it those events, etc. We will also document the dichotomy [being twofold; a classification into two opposed parts or sub-classes] which developed between His popularity with the people and the total disdain of the religious rulers because of His Messianic claims. Finally, it will we will show how Jesus faced the ultimate humiliation, death by crucifixion. We will conclude this lesson by looking into Jesus' ultimate victory over death.

While the conclusion in this lesson will challenge many of today's believers to adopt the servant/sacrificial model of Jesus in response to the "What's in it for me?" mentality from the perverted prosperity teachings of the last twenty-some years.

I maintain that the Church of Jesus Christ has exchanged the power of Pentecost for the golden calf of prosperity. Buried in all of this "bless me" mentality is the idea that true discipleship may actually require something from us. Christianity is not about being "comfortable"; it is about becoming "fruitful". Picking up one's cross is anathema [detested person or formal ecclesiastical curse ] to most Christians. The Gospel of Mark brings us back to the reality that if we claim to be Jesus' disciple, we had better take the time to count the cost and be prepared to lay it all down for Him.

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How Jesus Handled Temptation
The first Adam was placed in a beautiful garden paradise. He was given advantage and connivance [implied agreement or consent] that would allow him to live forever and not even break a sweat. Jesus - who is described as the second Adam - after his baptism and ordination into His public ministry found himself in a wilderness among the wild animals. While the first Adam feasted, the second Adam fasted for forty days. Jesus denied himself food and human company because He wanted to be tested by Satan when He was at His most vulnerable moment to prove His power superior.

In Scripture the number forty represents a test or trial.

  • Moses' life was divided by three forty-year periods:
    • forty years in Egypt,
    • forty years in the wilderness, and
    • forty years of service to God leading the people of God.

  • Moses waited for forty days on Sinai to receive the Law;

  • Jesus spent forty days with his disciples after His resurrection.

  • Forty years after the Jesus' crucifixion the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.

The temptation of Jesus begs the question, "Was Jesus capable of sin? Could Jesus actually sin? Was Satan's temptation a legitimate one?" Walvoord says, "The point of view that Christ could not sin is designated by the term 'peccability' [liable to sin], and the doctrine that Christ could not sin is referred to as the "impeccability of Christ".2 Adherents of both views agree that Christ did not sin. However, but those who affirm peccability hold that He could not sin, whereas those who declare the impeccability of Christ believe that He could notsin due to the presence of the His divine nature.

Scholars agree that Jesus' divine nature was impeccable. He also possessed a human nature that was peccable. On the divine side, it was impossible for Jesus to sin, yet it was very possible on the human side. It appears that Jesus' divine nature trumped His human nature. This is important to note because, if Jesus was totally incapable of yielding to Satan's seduction, then Christ's temptation holds no validity.

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter one, the first eleven verses describe the ministry of John the Baptist and the account of Jesus' baptism. Then, in verse twelve Mark states that,: "Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness" (NKJV). Matthew, who portrays Jesus as the King, records that Jesus was "led" into the wilderness. A servant would "be made to go" and while a King would be "led to go". Mark does not provide us with details of Jesus' temptations. You have to read the other three Gospel writers accounts for the sequence of events. It is, however, significant to note that Jesus' reaction to being drove "driven" or "sent" into the wilderness signifies that He was willing to do whatever His father required of Him. Facing the Prince of Darkness after forty days of self denial was a formidable challenge. Jesus did not vacillate [to be undecided] or capitulate [surrender]. As we discover from the other Gospel writers, each one of Satan's solicitations was met with Old Testament quotes repudiating his assertions that Jesus could possibly benefit by giving in to Satan's offers.

A Victory for Each Believer
Jesus' reaction to Satan's onslaught was a victory for each believer, 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. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-16).

When Satan comes to tempt us, we can stand on the authority of God's Word, and by Jesus' example, send Satan on his way. Temptation will always be just around the corner. Though we are peccable, we still have a choice, as did Jesus, to use Biblical authority against Satan and to flee from his presence.

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How Jesus Handled Success
The old idiom states, "Nothing succeeds like success". In America we are obsessed with success. Webster says, "Success is a favorable or satisfactory outcome or result". Success is something many desire, very few achieve, and everyone envies.

In Mark's recording of the life of Jesus, Mark emphasizes Jesus' actions above what Jesus taught. The general consensus by conservative theologians is that Mark wrote his Gospel from Rome to a mostly Gentile audience. Non-Jewish listeners would have less interest in what a Jewish teacher had to say and more interested in what a Messianic leader was doing.

Using Webster's definition of success, we would have to admit that Jesus experienced some. After briefly mentioning the temptation of Jesus and the calling of Jesus' first disciples, Mark spends the rest of chapter one through chapter ten with miracle narratives interspersed with some of Jesus' teaching. In chapter one, after Jesus had performed several exorcisms and healings — including Peter's mother-in-law — the word of Jesus' success is spreading quickly. Peter says to Jesus in verse 37 that "Everyone is looking for You." So Jesus replies that it is time to move on to another town. Jesus is on a journey from unknown carpenter to a miracle-working icon. What was the secret for Jesus' success? Maclaren offers these observations about Jesus' touch:

  • He puts out His hand, and 'lifts up' Peter's wife and mother-in-law, and immediately the fever leaves her (v. 31);

  • Unrepelled by the foul disease, He lays His pure hand upon the leper, and the living mass of corruption is healed (v. 41);

  • He lays His hand on the clammy marble of the dead child's forehead, and she lives (v. 41);

  • Further, we have the incidental statement that He was so hindered in His mighty works by unbelief that He could only lay His hands on a few sick folk and heal them (v. 5).

Maclaren continues, it is Mark alone who records for us the fact that He took little children into His arms and blessed them. And it is Mark alone who records the fact that when He came down from the Mount of Transfiguration He laid His hand upon the demoniac boy, writhing in the grip of his tormentor, and lifted him up.3

It seems Jesus had found His key to success: "His touch". Not only was there healing power in His physical touch, but in His personal touch as well. Jesus utilized His divinity to reverse physical maladies, remove demons, and raise the dead. He was able to touch people with the compassion of His humanity. No other being was ever so gifted. This one-two punch of Jesus propelled His popularity to celebrity status in a very short time. An important distinction is that Jesus' motive was not popularity or success as we define it. He was seeking to accommodate His Father's will. The mission was the redemption of a fallen humanity. Unlike many today in our culture who covet success as a means to gain fame, wealth or power, Jesus was interested in service and sacrifice.

Mark reveals the disciples' misconceptions of what successful discipleship involved. Carson-Moo: Mark portrays the disciples as hard of heart (cf. Mark 6:52), spiritually weak (cf. 14:32-42), and incredibly dim-witted (cf. 8:14-21) 4. As Guelich puts it, Mark presents the disciples as both "privileged and perplexed"5. Perhaps in both these ways they are models for the disciples of Mark's day and of ours: privileged to belong to the kingdom, yet perplexed about the apparent reverses suffered by the kingdom when Christians suffer.

The health-and-wealth Gospel of today has skewed many Christians' perspectives of kingdom living. In the earth there is a spiritual warfare brewing. Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about the cross and Jesus reminded him, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me." (Mark 8:34)

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How Jesus Handled Rejection
The prophet Isaiah records these words about the coming Messiah: "Who has believed our report? And to whom has the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." (Isaiah 53:1-3)

It would make sense to believe that Mark was intimate with Isaiah's prophecy recorded more than 700 years earlier. Mark was a simple man and very direct. He wanted his readers to experience some of the gut-wrenching episodes of Jesus' life. Jesus was born into a hostile world. Rome had a strangle hold on Palestine. King Herod, who himself had read Isaiah, had all the male children two years of age and under killed — in hopes that one of them was this Messiah that who would surely threaten his authority. An angel appeared to Joseph and instructed him to take his new family to Egypt until things cooled down. When King Herod died, an Angel told Joseph to go back to Palestine. Fearing Herod's son Achelaus, Joseph did not go to Bethlehem but north to Nazareth in Galilee where Jesus would spend his childhood.

When Jesus became an adult, he faced more rejection and persecution. In Mark, chapter six, Jesus has returned to Nazareth and experienced rejection in the synagogue.

In the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus followed Jewish custom by standing to read Scripture and by sitting to explain it. Two features of his message angered the people:

  • His insistence that He was the servant of the Lord spoken of in Isaiah 61:1-2; and

  • His suggestion that God would pass over a rebellious Israel and give His blessings to the Gentiles (Luke 4:25-27).

The residents remembered Him as a hometown boy and were unable to see supernatural power in Him. Jesus quoted a Semitic proverb to indicate that the only place where He could not be acclaimed was in his own hometown. He could help only those humbled enough by their pain and sickness to receive the healing offered.

The old saying, "Familiarity breeds contempt" certainly applied to Jesus — as it does many times for us. The people who know us best have seen us at our worst. They know all of our idiosyncrasies and character flaws. Where the analogy with Jesus breaks down is that His childhood was unique. In many ways it was a normal maturation, but Jesus also possessed a divine nature. Jesus the child never sinned. No other child ever born could make that claim. His friends and neighbors must have recognized this unique quality in His character. Apparently, it did not mean very much to the religious crowd gathered in the synagogue.

The Synagogue Incident
"And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, 'Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His Hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?' So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.'" (Mark 6:1-4).

We can see that Jesus' reaction to these comments made to and about Him in the synagogue upset Him. Jesus felt scorned by the fact that His hometown dismissed Him as nobody important because, evidently, not much good could come out of Nazareth. What hurt Jesus even more was His inability to significantly serve His fellow Nasserites. Verses five and six tell us that Jesus did heal some and went about teaching in the villages but His effectiveness was limited by their unwillingness to accept Him as the Messiah. Many today also reject Jesus as Savior. This rejection grieves the heart of God because the only sin He cannot forgive is the sin of unbelief.

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How Jesus Turned Humiliation and Death into Victory
All human beings experience suffering and pain. It is part of the package that comes with sin. We cannot avoid it or ignore it. What makes Jesus' suffering and crucifixion even more intense is that He came to this earth for that very purpose. Jesus volunteered to leave Heaven's perfect environment and be exposed to the hazards of a sinful environment while preparing to suffer one of the most agonizing forms of death ever devised by man. Some who read this may have served in the military and even fought in a war. Many soldiers come back from the battlefield with a condition referred to as "post traumatic stress disorder" [PTSD]. This psychosocial impairment impedes the soldier from disconnecting from the horror s/he experienced on the battlefield. Many soldiers become dysfunctional and some even suicidal because they cannot shake off those awful memories.

How could the cross be a victory?

Jesus bore every one of those on the cross! Jesus experienced every possible physical pain and human torture possible. Every psychological demon from the pit of Hell tormented Jesus as He hung on that wooden torture device. The weight of every sin ever committed crushed His body and soul. No one could help relieve this excruciating agony, not even His Father.

The cross was the most disgraceful and one of the cruelest instruments of death ever invented. The Romans, who borrowed the idea from the Carthaginians, would not allow a Roman citizen to be crucified; but reserved crucifixion for slaves and foreigners or provincials. The Jews customarily used stoning, but never crucifixion. It was not only the death of greatest ignominy [shame] but of the most extreme anguish and suffering...

The victim was usually first stripped naked, the garments falling to the lot of the executioners; but in the crucifixion of Jesus, tradition says that a loincloth was used. First the upright was planted firmly in the ground and then the victim was laid down with arms extended on the crossbar to which they were fastened by cords and afterwards by nails through the palms. Then the transom [horizontal crosspiece ] was raised to its position on the upright and nailed while the body was left to swing or its weight rested on an iron saddle peg driven into the upright. Following this the feet were nailed either through the instep separately, or both together with a single iron spike. There the body was left to hang in agony sometimes two or three days, until death from pain, asphyxiation, and starvation ensued.

For those followers of Jesus who witnessed this gruesome spectacle on that fateful day, it must have seemed like the world was coming to an end. Mark recalls that just before Jesus died He cried out, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthaini?" which is translated, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34b) For a brief moment Jesus experienced what it was like to be alone in the universe without hope. If this were a novel, we would be reading the closing chapter. The hero is dead, his enemies have prevailed, and all hope is shattered. How could the hero ever extricate himself from this situation?

Why would God allow Jesus to suffer such a horrendous death? Why did God allow Jesus to experience rejection by His own friends and family? Why did God allow Jesus to experience limited success? Since Jesus was God, He could have built a huge world headquarters in Jerusalem. He could have ridden in the finest chariots, eaten at all the exclusive restaurants, and sported a solid gold sundial on His wrist. Why did He have to humble Himself like a servant? Why was He laughed out of His own synagogue? Why did all His brothers and sisters not believe in Him until after the resurrection? How could the cross be a victory?

This one verse says it all, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16) The essence of God's nature is love. In order to love, you must give. Man rejected God's first offer of a perfect world, so God went to plan B. Jesus would experience living in a human body, living as a suffering servant, dying an excruciating death, and exiting the grave, a total Victor over sin and death!

The night before Jesus was crucified we find Him in the Garden of Gethsemane praying. Mark gives us a vivid description of Jesus' anxiety and dread for what awaited Him.

"Then He said to them, 'My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.' He went a little further, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, 'Abba Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.'" (Mark 14:34-36)

Pentacost comments on Jesus' emotional trauma in the garden: This suffering was not external physical suffering, but rather internal. Christ explained, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (v. 38). While God's will for Christ did entail physical suffering, it also involved the suffering of His soul (Isa. 53:10-11). As Christ entered into these sufferings, He exhorted the men to "watch and pray" (Matt 26:41). Christ then went on into the garden and "fell to the ground" (Mark 14:35), that is, He "knelt down" (Luke 22:41) "with His face to the ground" (Matt 26:39). His posture showed both the enormity of the weight that He was here bearing in His soul and also His complete submission as a Servant to the will of His Master6.

It is clear in Mark's Gospel that Jesus was the "suffering servant":

  • The attempts on His life at birth;

  • His hometown rejecting Him as the Messiah;

  • The rejection by the religious leaders;

  • Being misunderstood by His own disciples; and

  • Most of Jesus' success and popularity was due to His miracles, not that He was the Savior.

Thank God that the definition of success in the Kingdom does not hinge on popularity or social standing or material possessions! Jesus understood "success" to mean complete obedience to His Father's will no matter what it cost. Jesus had to serve and to suffer so that He would have the opportunity to rise from the dead and complete the plan of redemption. The resurrection was the reward for all of Christ's suffering and rejection. Jesus had to pay the ultimate price to experience the ultimate victory. His victory over the grave took the sting out of death for every believer.

Jesus' example of a 'suffering servant' in Mark's Gospel has been lost to many that who call themselves Christians. When Jesus' disciples confronted Him about special treatment in the Kingdom He replied, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" (Mark 10:38) Reclaiming real Christianity involves the complete surrender of our will for His will.

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Dr. Michael John ShanlianQuestions/Comments?
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1Epicureanism - n. A doctrine of hedonism that was defended by several ancient Greek philosophers.

2 Walvoord, John F. Jesus Christ Our Lord. Chicago: Moody Press, 1969.

3 Maclaren, Alexander. Expositions of Holy Scripture Volume VIII. Grand Rapids Michigan: Eerdmans, 1949.

4Carson, D.A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to The New Testament , Second ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.


6 Pentecost, J. Dwight. The Words and Works of Jesus Christ: A Study of The Life of Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1981.