“Let the reader understand…”
There is perhaps no phrase in the Gospel of Mark that reveals the author’s intentions more than this small parenthetical remark in Mark 13:14. Mark breaks the “fourth wall” and addresses his reader directly. It is a plea. He is trying to show the reader something. He is pulling back the curtain for the reader that they may see the truth in full light. A Gospel is no simple history. It is not an academic exercise. It is not presented as general information to be cataloged by the reader. Mark is trying to reveal to the reader theological significance in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. To borrow from the Gospel of John, Mark is writing these things “in order that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” For Mark, this revelation of Jesus as Messiah is a matter of life and death.
N.T. Wright has noted this “revealing” aspect of Mark and argued that the Gospel is best understood as an apocalypse. Characteristically, Wright refuses to play by the generally accepted rules and uses his own definition of apocalypse. To summarize, Wright dismisses the idea that Jewish apocalyptic writing is a form of escape from the suffering of the present physical world. Jewish apocalyptic was not hoping for the world’s end. It is not longing for a spiritual heaven for a disembodied soul. It actually sees the hope for the physical world. God is acting in space and time to redeem the world. It is rather meant to “invest the space-time events of Israel’s past, present, and future with their full theological significance.”
It is then appropriate that Mark makes his appeal to the reader in chapter 13, which is the most “apocalyptic” section of the book. Mark is taking the reader on a journey through the history of Jesus of Nazareth illuminating its full theological significance. As Wright points out, “The reader is constantly invited by the gospel as a whole to do what the disciples are invited to do in the parable-chapter, that is, to come closer and discover the inner secret behind the strange outer story.” Mark’s story of Jesus is subverting the norms of Jewish apocalyptic hope. This Messiah is different. He is not a political messiah or a warrior-king in the sense that Jews of the day would expect. He will not rule a physical kingdom among other kingdoms like David. Yet, he is still the Son of David. Mark is methodically lifting the curtain for the reader to see how this crucified messiah actually fulfills all the promises God has made to Israel and the world through Abraham.
This concept of Mark as a revealing apocalypse coheres with the tension found in the Gospel between openness and secret. A past post was on the Messianic Secret in Mark. However, Mark has been open about Jesus’s identity from the first line of the Gospel. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Mark’s first major recorded event is Jesus’s baptism. In that episode, a voice comes out of heaven telling Jesus and the reader, “You are my beloved Son, in you I am pleased.” The reader is fully aware of Mark’s claim. However, the base claim is not enough. Mark takes the reader on a journey unveiling the full truth. You need to be fully convinced. Additionally, you need to understand the nature of Jesus’s Messiahship because it does not fit the general expectations of the Jewish world.
Most of Mark’s original readers were probably aware of the general contours of the history he was presenting. After all, it was most likely first read at church meetings. Mark is imbuing that common history with its full theological import. It reminds me of Karl Barth’s discussion of eschatology in a little book entitled Prayer. For Barth, Jesus is already victorious over all creation. Unfortunately, the full nature of the victory is covered or veiled so that we cannot the world as it truly is. “We [then] pray in order that the covering which still veils the reality of the kingdom may be removed, in order that the reality of everything already changed in Jesus Christ may be made visible. All of God’s depth is there.” Using Barth’s language, Mark is an eschatological prayer that pulls back the curtain on space-time history and reveals its full theological depth. Reading Mark is similar to going to a play or movie for the first time. You probably know the plot synopsis. However, it is only after the credits or curtain call that you see the full reality.
I believe that two healings of blind men show the progress of unveiling the full truth in the Gospel of Mark. In the introduction to this series of posts on Mark, the healing of the blind man in Mark 8:22-26 was discussed as a kind of narrative frame. It highlights the gradual unveiling of the truth through its two-part structure. There is a second healing of a blind man in Mark. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52. I believe that there are significant differences in the two healings and that they serve as important keystone passages for the unfolding drama.
In Mark 8, the blind man was brought to Jesus. He was taken away from the village and Jesus touched him and spit in his eyes. The first attempt to heal him was incomplete. He could only see vague shapes. Jesus tried again and the man was healed on the second attempt. In the introduction, we showed how this seemingly botched healing serves as a literary device illustrating the progress of the narrative. Things are beginning to come into focus for characters in the story and for the reader.
In the healing of blind Bartimaeus, the narrative has progressed even further. Peter has uttered his confession that Jesus is Christ. Jesus has been transfigured on the mountain. He has taught many things concerning the Kingdom of God. He has foretold of his impending death and resurrection many times. The reader is prepared for the passion narrative and the full truth of the Gospel.
Blind Bartimaeus symbolizes this progress. The blind man sees Jesus in truth. Bartimaeus cries out over the crowd, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Even before his physical sight is healed, the blind man recognizes the nature of Jesus. The crowd rebukes him, but Jesus calls him to his side. The man is not escorted away from the throng. In the full view of the crowd Jesus engages Bartimaeus. There is no botched healing. Jesus does not even have to touch Bartimaeus. There is only the proclamation, “Your faith has made you well.” Mark’s foundation is complete. The blind can see. We are prepared for the passion narrative. The reader is ready to greet Son of David with the crowds at the gate singing, “Hosanna in the highest.”
These two healings of blind men serve as key frame events that mark progress and transition within the Gospel. They indicate forward motion between the opening and closing statements of the Gospel. The first claim at the beginning of the Gospel is an introductory statement from the author/narrator, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.” This statement is closely followed by a confirming voice from heaven at Jesus’s baptism, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am pleased” (Mark 1:11). The ending of Mark has a similar structure. At the crucifixion, the claim of the author/narrator in 1:1 is placed in the mouth of a Roman centurion, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). This proclamation is confirmed at the tomb of Jesus by another voice from heaven, “Do not be alarmed, you seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, He is risen! He is not here!” (Mark 16:6). In fact, the resurrection of Jesus serves to confirm the entire Gospel of Mark. The claim of Jesus as Messiah is vindicated by the fact of the physical resurrection of Jesus. In between the beginning and the final victory of the resurrection, Mark has taken the reader on an extended historical/theological journey. He does not want to leave any doubt. He does not simply make claims about Jesus. He establishes them with historical evidence and theological subtlety. He reinforces the truth with incredible skills in storytelling and narrative structure. He masters a tension between openness and secret that forces the reader to peek behind the veil and see the full theological depth of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He is molding his reader hoping to fully convince all doubters. Mark’s purpose and sincere hope is that by the finish of his Gospel the reader can join with the centurion saying, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.”
 John 20:31.
 This is not a slight. It is one of my favorite things about Wright’s work. For his definition of apocalyptic see N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, vol 1 of Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 280-299. For his discussion on Mark as Apocalypse see ibid, 390-396.
 Wright, 286.
 Wright, 395.
 See Genesis 12:1-3.
 It is worth noting here that the voice out of heaven is addressing Jesus personally with singular second person pronouns. In the story, it is a one-sided conversation between Jesus and the voice. However, the reader is allowed to hear the declaration along with Jesus.
 Karl Barth, Prayer, 50th anniversary edition, ed. Don E. Saliers (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 38.
 Technically, the text describes the person in the tomb as “a young man sitting on the right side dressed in a white robe.” I interpret this to be an angel and thus a voice from heaven.