Rend the Heavens

The Spirit of God and the voice from heaven confirmed the calling and identity of Jesus – the Son, Messiah, and the Servant of YahwehIn the Gospel of Mark, Jesus first appeared when he was baptized by John in the Jordan River. The passage identified him with his hometown of Nazareth, a small village of no consequence, though its very insignificance plays an important part in the narrative. He is the Messiah who does not conform to popular expectations even as he is anointed by the Spirit of God in fulfillment of Scripture.

Mark provides the time element for his baptism, “IN THOSE DAYS.” John was baptizing suppliants in the Jordan. Rather than recount the details of his actual baptism in water, Mark’s account stresses the things that accompanied it – The “rending” of the heavens, the Divine voice, and the descent of the Spirit “like a dove”:

River and Rainbow - Photo by Sorasak on Unsplash
[Photo by Sorasak 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” (Strong’s - #G4977).

The same term occurs once more in Mark’s Gospel when the veil of the Temple was “rent” as Jesus died. The verbal link is deliberate. Just as the rending of the heavens above the Jordan revealed the Messiah, so the “rending of the Temple veil” preceded the moment of revelation when the centurion identified Jesus as the “Son of God” before the Cross - (Mark 15:36-39).

Furthermore, the “rending of the heavens” pointed to the cosmic significance of the arrival of the Son of God along the banks of the Jordan River. From then on, the Kingdom of God would be open, and therefore, His presence would be accessible to all men and women. The description echoes a passage in the Book of Isaiah addressed originally to Yahweh:

  • Oh, that you would REND THE HEAVENS, that you would come down so the mountains might quake at your presence” – (Isaiah 64:1).

This passage was fulfilled as God Himself “rent the heavens” and anointed His Son with the Spirit to fulfill his calling. However, with the arrival of the Nazarene, it was not the mountains of Judea that were shaken, but the hearts of all men.

In the Gospel of Mark, it is Jesus who saw the Spirit descending “like a dove” and heard the heavenly voice. That he did so demonstrates this was an actual event, not a mystical experience or vision.

The preposition applied to the Spirit’s descent stresses movement “into” or “onto” something or someone (eis). Perhaps the Spirit entered Jesus at this point, although the verb and preposition more likely point to its coming to rest upon him. This was the moment when he was anointed for his messianic mission.

Mark’s account employs a simile. The descent of the Spirit was “like” a dove. It does not say the Spirit was a dove or looked like a dove. Rather, its gentle descent was analogous to a dove landing on the earth or a perch.


Jesus then heard the voice calling him “Beloved Son.” This same voice is heard only once more in Mark when it made a similar declaration at the Transfiguration. In the present passage, the heavenly voice combines words from two Old Testament passages in presenting the scriptural understanding of just who and what the Son of God was since he came to fulfill the promises of Yahweh:

  • (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 passages from the Hebrew Bible are messianic. By combining them, Mark clarified the identity and mission of Jesus. He was God’s “SonAND the SUFFERING SERVANT described in the Book of Isaiah. Unjust suffering would characterize his ministry and sonship.

Country Road - Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
[Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash]

The descent of the Spirit meant that Jesus was equipped from this point to proclaim the Kingdom of God. The heavenly voice confirmed the Divine approval of his mission, 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.

Thus, the ministry of Jesus began in fulfillment of Scripture as the “heavens were rent” and the Spirit of God descended upon 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 and establish the Kingdom of God. Moreover, his messianic role would be that of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, something none of his contemporaries at the time expected.




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