Rend the Heavens!

Jesus first appears in the Gospel of Mark when John baptizes him in the Jordan River. The account identifies him with his hometown, Nazareth, a village of no consequence, though its insignificance plays a role in the story. He is the “Servant of the LORD” anointed by the Spirit who does not conform to popular expectations about the Messiah.

John was baptizing suppliants in the river, including the man from Nazareth. The account in Mark stresses the audible and visual phenomena that accompanied the baptism of Jesus, the “rending” of the heavens, the Divine voice, and the descent of the Spirit “like a dove”:

Dove Sky - Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
[Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash]

  • (Mark 1:9-11) - “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And immediately, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the HEAVENS BEING RENT ASUNDER and the SPIRIT DESCENDING AS A DOVE to him. And a VOICE CAME OUT OF THE HEAVENS: You are my Son, the Beloved. In you, I delight.”

The Greek verb translated as “rent asunder” is schizō, which means to “split, rip open, tear apart; to rend asunder.” It provides a graphic image. The same term occurs once more in Mark when the veil of the Temple was “torn in two” as Jesus died. That verbal link is deliberate. In the same way as the rending of the heavens above the Jordan River revealed the Messiah, so also the “rending of the Temple veil” preceded the moment of revelation when the Roman centurion identified Jesus as the “Son of God” - (Mark 15:36-39).

The “tearing open of the heavens” pointed to the cosmic significance of his arrival along the banks of the Jordan River. From then on, the Kingdom of God would be open to all men who repented and embraced the message of Jesus, and likewise, the presence of God became accessible to everyone.

No longer would the Divine presence be confined to the Temple in Jerusalem or restricted only to one nation. From that moment – “In those days” - the Creator of all things could be seen and understood only in the man from the small village of Nazareth.

The description echoes a passage in the Book of Isaiah addressed originally to the God of Israel: “Oh, that you would REND THE HEAVENS, that you would come down so the mountains might quake at your presence… that the nations may tremble at your presence” – (Isaiah 64:1).

The plea of Isaiah was fulfilled when God “rent the heavens” and anointed His Son with the Spirit to carry out his mission, but it was not the mountains of Judea that quaked, but the hearts of men as they saw him and heard his words.

The preposition applied to the descent of the Spirit stresses movement “into” or “onto” something or someone (eis), in this case, Jesus. Perhaps the Spirit entered him at this point, though the verb and preposition more likely picture the Spirit coming to rest upon him. At this moment, he was anointed for his messianic ministry and received the “Spirit without measure.”


Jesus heard the voice calling him “Beloved Son.” The same voice is heard only once more in the Gospel of Mark when it made a similar declaration at the Transfiguration of Jesus. In the present passage, the voice combines words from two Old Testament passages to identify Jesus as the Son of God who came to fulfill the promises:

  • (Psalm 2:7) - “I will surely tell of the decree of Yahweh: he said to me, YOU ARE MY SON, today, I have begotten you.”
  • (Isaiah 42:1) - “Behold, my servant whom I uphold; MY CHOSEN ONE IN WHOM MY SOUL DELIGHTS. I HAVE PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”

Both prophecies were Messianic. By combining them, Mark clarified the identity and mission of Jesus. He was God’s “Son” and the Suffering Servant described by Isaiah. Unjust suffering would characterize his ministry and sonship.

The descent of the Spirit meant he was equipped to proclaim the Kingdom of God. The heavenly voice confirmed the Divine approval of his mission and person, not just because of who he was, but also due to his submission to the baptism of John in obedience to his Father and Scripture.

The ministry of Jesus began in fulfillment of Scripture as the “heavens were rent” and the Spirit descended on him. Whether his contemporaries understood his mission or not, he was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel sent to save his people from their sins, establish the Kingdom of God, and “shepherd the nations.”

Above all, he would carry out his Messianic role as the Suffering Servant of the LORD, something none of his contemporaries expected, and a reality that would defy all popular expectations and desires.

  • The Messiah Arrives - (In the ministry of Jesus, the kingdom of God arrived, commencing with his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist – Mark 1:1-3)
  • The Forerunner - (John the Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah, the herald of the Good News of the Kingdom of God – Mark 1:4-8)
  • In Spirit and Fire - (The Spirit of God descended on Jesus, equipping him for his Messianic mission. He is the One who baptizes his followers in the Spirit)

{Published originally on the Kingdom Disciples website}



The Word Made Flesh

Language of the New Testament