An Islamic commentary of the Gospel of Mark – Part II (Chapter 1: Verses 9-18)


Click here for Part I

Azhar Goraya, Missionary Puerto Rico
Bible 1

Chapter 1: Verse 9

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan.

Galilee is located in the Northern part of the land of Israel between the Jezreel Valley and the Litani (Leontes) River. The region is bordered on the west by the Mediterranean Sea and on the east by the Sea of Galilee and Upper Jordan Valley. The area was fertile. It was divided into two parts, Upper (a mountainous area) and Lower Galilee (small valleys and basins between low mountain ranges). Upper Galilee had elevations ranging from 3962 feet at Mount Meron to 680 feet below sea level at the Sea of Galilee in Lower Galilee.

Nazareth was a small village in lower Galilee which is identified in the gospels as the birthplace of Jesusas. It most likely had a population of approximately 500 people when Jesusas was born. (The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press)

It was not a famous village and seemed to have been viewed scornfully by the locals (John 1:46).

Jesusas is mentioned explicitly for the first time in this passage. The author does not mention anything regarding the life of Jesusas before this point. He does not claim that Jesus had a divine pre-existence before his birth on earth, nor does he affirm in any place that Jesusas was born of a virgin. In contrast, the Holy Quran narrates the story of Jesusas in Surah Maryam, beginning with the life of the mother of Maryas and the history of Maryas, affirming that Maryas was a virgin when she miraculously conceived without the agency of a male and continuing on with a narration about the infancy of Jesusas before coming to his life as a prophet.

The author of this gospel instead begins the story of Jesusas at the time of his baptism, which was to mark the beginning of his ministry. The prophets of God before their ministry are honourable and pious individuals, but they are as of yet hidden from the eyes of the common people. It is when Allah elevates them to the rank of prophethood and places them as His vicegerent before the people that people begin to flock to them and begin to record their histories. It is their life after prophethood that serves as a guide for their people.

No other prophet’s life has been recorded as well as that of the Prophet Muhammadsa. There exist thousands of narrations about his life from many of his companions, and the Quran itself relates his history. Nonetheless, there is relatively little information that exists about the first 40 years of his life before his call to prophethood.

Nevertheless, even in this aspect, we see superiority in the life of the Prophet Muhammadsa. Whereas practically no mention at all has been made of the life of Jesusas before his baptism in the gospels, and nothing at all in the Gospel of Mark. The Quran declares that the life of the Prophet Muhammadsa, before as well as after his prophethood, was faultless and his inner purity before his claim to prophethood stood as a challenge to all his opponents who accused him of fraud and deceit. (Surah Yunus, Ch.10: V.17)

“…and was baptised by John in the Jordan.

The previous verses explain that the baptism of John was for repentance from sin. If Jesusas was truly sinless from birth, as most Christians insist, why was baptism necessary for him? There is no explanation provided by Mark. Some have suggested it was only to signal approval of John’s work. Nevertheless, the events that transpired after the baptism show this could not be the case and seem to demonstrate that Jesusas was impure before the baptism and that only after being purified was he deemed worthy by God to start his ministry.

However, this is difficult to believe. If he was actually baptised by John, then it was most likely only done as a formality, perhaps to signal the beginning of his ministry, of which he had undoubtedly already been informed beforehand by God.

Chapter 1: Verse 10

10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

The Spirit here does not refer to one part of the triune God; rather, it is a reference to the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel. Angels have been referred to as “spirits” in the Old and New Testaments. (Psalms 104:4, Hebrews 1:7)

This appears to be a vision that God showed to Jesusas or to the people who were possibly present at the Baptism. Gabriel’s taking on the form of a dove was symbolic. In general, the form that Gabriel takes before prophets is consistent with their level of spiritual development. This is why Gabrielas appeared as a bird before Jesusas but took on the form of a fully developed human being when he appeared before the Holy Prophetsa at the time of his first revelation.

Chapter 1: Verse 11

11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

The term “son” used for Jesus here is not literal, rather it is only metaphorical (see the discussion under 1:1). The metaphorical interpretation of the term “Son” rather than a literal one is borne out by the text itself. God states here that Jesusas is His son because He is well pleased with him, meaning that sonship of God is a title that is bestowed on those with whom God is pleased. If Jesusas was his actual son, then here the qualifying phrase should have been “whom I have begotten in the flesh”.

This revelation signalled the beginning of the ministry of Jesusas. It appears that the term “Son of God” is used here as a synonym for prophethood.

Chapter 1: Verse 12

12At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness.

It seems that after receiving his revelation, Jesus was instructed to go out into the wilderness by the Archangel Gabrielas and worship God in isolation in preparation for his future ministry.

To worship in seclusion in preparation for future ministry and deeply spiritual work is a hallmark of prophets. Mosesas was instructed to worship for 40 days and nights according to both the Bible and the Quran (Exodus 24:18, Quran 2:52). Prophet Muhammadsa used to retire to the wilderness to worship God in seclusion for many years before his ministry. He would spend much time in private worship and contemplation after his mission began as well.

Chapter 1: Verse 13

13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

The author does not elaborate on how Jesus was tempted by satan, although other gospel writers do (Matthew 4:1-11). As a prophet of God, it is inconceivable that he was tempted to sin during his time in seclusion. The prophets of God are purified by God and do not experience the urge to sin; rather, they are disgusted even by the thought of disobedience.

A better interpretation could be that whenever a prophet desires to attain his object, i.e. whenever he preaches the message of truth and desires that Divine Unity may be established in the earth, satanic persons seek to retard the progress of truth by putting all sorts of obstacles in his way. They wish to see his mission fail. But they cannot frustrate the Divine plan and God removes all those impediments and makes the cause of Truth prevail and triumph.  (Five Volume Commentary, Vol. 4, p. 1760) The Holy Quran confirms that such attempts are thwarted by God. (Surah al-Hajj, Ch.22: V.53) This interpretation sits better within the context, as the verse also mentions that the “angels attended to him,” meaning the angels of God were ever with Jesus and never left him even for a moment to be subject to the temptation of sin. Man is weak, and it is only when God purifies him and confers on him His constant help and succour that he can be free from the inclination to sin. As prophet Josephas is mentioned to have stated in the Holy Quran:

“And I do not hold my own self to be free from weakness; for, the soul is surely prone to enjoin evil, save that whereon my Lord has mercy. Surely, my Lord is Most Forgiving, Merciful.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.54)

Chapter 1: Verse 14

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

The author doesn’t explain here why John was arrested. This is explained later in Mark 6:17-29. In any case, it doesn’t seem like the arrest of John was connected in any way with Jesus’ coming to Galilee. Jesus, being a prophet of God, would have continued his preaching amongst the Jews regardless.

The good news of God means that Jesus was preaching the message of God, a separate entity, which he received through divine revelation. This highlights the fact that he was a messenger of God and not God himself.

Chapter 1: Verse 15

15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

The time is fulfilled means the prophecies about the advent of the awaited Jewish messiah had been fulfilled with his advent.

The kingdom of God has come near means that whenever a prophet of God appears, the blessings of God are brought near. Those that follow the messenger, especially in the early days and stick with him through thick and thin, are rewarded enormously by God. The Quran confirms this phenomenon in Surah at-Takwir, Ch.81: V.14: “And when heaven is brought close”.

Repent, and believe in the good news is a message that is reflected in the teachings of all prophets. Prophet Shu’aib declared before his people, the people of Midian, “And seek forgiveness of your Lord; then turn to Him [wholeheartedly]. Verily, my Lord is Merciful, Most Loving. (Surah Hud, Ch.11: V.91)

Chapter 1: Verse 16

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.

The Sea of Galilee is a lake on the Jordan River in the region of Galilee. It is also known as the Sea of Chinnereth or Chinneroth (Num. 34:11), the Sea of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1) and the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1). It is located below the headwaters of the Jordan, which flows downhill from the Upper Galilee region, empties into the lake, proceeds out the south end, and finally arrives at the Dead Sea. (The Lexham Bible Dictionary., Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press)

On its Northwest shore were the towns of Capernaum, Magdala, Chorazin, and Bethsaida. Its eastern shore, being uninhabited, was the place to which Jesus used to retire. It was a lake 12 miles long, and six miles wide at the place of greatest width. The Jordan River enters it about 20 miles from its source. (A critical and exegetical commentary on the Gospel according to St. Mark, p. 17, New York: C. Scribner’s Sons)

In the first century, fishing was a thriving industry on the Sea of Galilee, which counted no fewer than sixteen bustling ports on the lake and several towns on the Northwest shore, including Bethsaida (“house of the fisher”), Magdala (“fish tower”), and Taricheae (“salted fish”), named for the fishing trade. So numerous were fishing boats that Josephus was able to commandeer 230 of them during the war in Galilee in 68 CE. (The Gospel according to Mark, p. 49, Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos)

Simon, the son of Jonah (Matthew 16:17), later named Peter by Jesus, was a prominent disciple. He was also known by the name of Cephas. He and his brother Andrew were fishermen who had a fishing business in the seaport town of Capernaum, although their home was in Bethsaida (John 1:44). The Bible does not give much information on Andrew beyond the fact that he was one of Jesus’ disciples.

Chapter 1: Verses 17-18

17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18At once they left their nets and followed him.

The fact that Simon and Andrew immediately left their nets and followed him demonstrates that they were most likely acquainted with him before his ministry and esteemed him highly. The prophets of God are always pillars of virtue, even before their call to prophethood, and the righteous people in society do not fail to notice their noble natures and are drawn to them. The incident of Abu Bakrra and the Prophet Muhammadsa is quite similar. Abu Bakrra was a close friend of the Prophet Muhammadsa. When he made his claim to prophethood, Abu Bakrra heard of it from others and immediately went and asked him if he had claimed to be a prophet. Upon learning that he had, he immediately accepted him and did not ask for any further proof. He was well-acquainted with his high standard of truthfulness and spotless lifestyle, and therefore did not for a moment doubt what his friend was stating.

Jesusas was quite given to speaking in parables and metaphors. It seems that this was the best way to convey deeper philosophies to his people, who otherwise would have found such ideas difficult to comprehend or even blasphemous. Fishing for people means that after they were purified by Jesusas, they would be sent out to preach the message of Jesusas to the Jews and fish, as it were, for the righteous amongst them who were willing and able to understand and accept his message.

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