It seems intuitively obvious that what Jesus Himself said and did ought to be of surpassing interest to Christians. The red-letter Bibles make sense to me. And I would add that this is true not only of how we are to act but also of what we are to believe, and by the latter I’m including what we call theology.
Accordingly, I’m going to write a series of posts on Jesus’ theology is each of the four Gospels. Almost all of what we know about what Jesus said and did is found in the Gospels, as I discuss at an earlier and related post on this blogsite. In this post, my first in this series, I’m going to look at Mark, which is I think a logical place to begin. It is the earliest Gospel, and apparently source for Matthew and Luke, and, we think, reflects the perspectives of Peter, a very important New Testament actor. It’s also the shortest Gospel.
I’ll list briefly the theological takeaways from Mark and then discuss them.
The first thing Jesus is quoted as saying is (1:15): “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Throughout Mark, Jesus forgives sins. He also says that we should forgive others, so that we will be forgiven our transgressions (11:25-26).
Jesus also performs miracles, often healing ones (and I’ll note that, where the healing is an exorcism, there is either implicit or explicit recognition by Him of Satan — see, e.g., 3:23-26).
Note that, when the disciples fail in an exorcism and ask Jesus why He then succeeded, Jesus replies, “This kind can come out only by prayer” (9:29). This episode not only endorses prayer, but is a good segue between miracles and faith.
Also throughout Mark is Jesus’ emphasis on the importance of faith, of believing in Him. Indeed, it apparently has eternal consequences (see 16:16).
Jesus also affirms Jewish law. See 7:21-23 (listing various sins); 10:17-21 (adding that the rich man should also sell all he possesses and give it to the poor; he also adds to Jewish law in his teaching on divorce at 10:2-12); 12:30-31 (listing the two greatest commandments). In this vein, He affirms the legitimacy of Old Testament prophecy of the future (14:49).
There are two possible exceptions with regard to Jesus’ attitude toward Jewish law, although I think He actually makes only one. While He is often criticized by the Pharisees for working (viz, healing people) on the Sabbath, His justifications for doing so do not reject the principle of keeping the Sabbath holy, and clearly the real issue here is that He sees that the Pharisees are making a pretextual criticism. The reversal He apparently does make in the law is with respect to dietary restrictions (see 7:15-18).
In verse 10:45, Jesus tells the twelve disciples, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Jesus refers to “the fact that the dead rise again” (12:26; see also the preceding verse, 12:25).
Chapter 13 is almost entirely Jesus’ foretelling of the End Times. It is interesting that this is His longest extended discourse (only chapter 4’s discussion of the parable of seed sowing comes even close). In a nutshell, things will get bad before His return, and we’ll never know when that return will be. Jesus also refers to Holy Spirit here (13:11), so in Mark He acknowledges all three persons in the Trinity.
Jesus refers specifically to His own Resurrection at 14:28: “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”
Jesus performs the first Eucharist at 14:22-24. Oh, and He was baptized in the first chapter.
When asked by the high priest, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?,” Jesus replied, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (14:61-62).
Jesus’ words at the end of Mark (16:16) include: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” See also, perhaps, the parable of the wicked tenants (12:1-11, especially the last four verses).
It’s interesting and important that we find all the important points of Christian theology here, and I think it is also significant that Jesus does not spend much time discoursing on the finer points. No intricate theology.
I want to make clear that the list above is comprehensive; I have tried to include everything that Jesus said regarding what we would call theology.
Thus, it seems almost matter of fact to Jesus that what you need to be saved is faith, but He also leaves no doubt that God demands that we act righteously, too. To put it another way, He talks a lot about faith, but also teaches about what good works are — and definitely affirms human agency and the consequences of making bad decisions. [Footnote: I don’t think that Jesus’ use of the word “elect” in Mark 13:20 bears on the doctrine of predestination, and would note that not even a strong Calvinist like John MacArthur, in the annotation of this verse in his study Bible, interprets it this way.]
He does not denigrate the law (except for dietary restrictions). Rather, He expands it.
He is likewise matter of fact in His divinity and Resurrection and about life after death and resurrection for all of us. He says He is “to give His life a ransom for many.”
He endorses baptism and establishes the Eucharist. He prays.
The reader will see that these themes are all found, and generally developed at greater length, in the other three Gospels (see my posts on this blogsite regarding Jesus’ theology in Luke, John, and Matthew).